Here’s what to do in Canada’s southern part of the Rockies over a 3-4 day period. Enjoy nature, culture, and adventure as you travel from the Alberta side through to British Columbia.
1) White Water Rafting
Day one of your 4-day trip around the Canadian Rockies is all about water.
With mountains comes snow, comes water, come creeks, rivers, waterfalls and thus watersports. Rafting, kayaking, and canoeing, or splashing and swimming, any of these activities. Depending on your time available, age and skill level there are a number of tours to choose from ranging easy to adventure.
For those traveling with kids, consider going to the Kananaskis River on the eastern side of the Rockies. Here at Chinook rafting groups with a minimum of 8 people (can be made up with other parties) and from 5 years of age can go rafting down the Kananaskis River.
At Nakoda Lakeside Lodge park your car and gather for a half-day or full-day experience. Here you’ll be kitted out with a wetsuit, a helmet, and a paddle, and after signing your form, a school bus takes the group to the meeting point.
The bright yellow rafts each are steered and commandeered by guides who know the river well. The boats are loaded to even out the weight and kids get to take turns to sit in front or in the back between adults.
Once the fleet of rafts departs, the guides will instruct you on when to paddle, on what side and whether you need to give it our all or not.
Rapids in this part of the Rockies may not be steep but the entire experience makes for a fun activity. You simply won’t be able to help yourself laughing out loud when you make it down them. The spray in your face, paddles held high and legs locked under the seats in front of you.
Need to know information
- Physical address: Nakoda Lakeside Lodge
- Cost: Adults (16+ y/o) CA$100-115, children: CA$ 62-77
- Time: tour is approx. 4 hours in total with 1.5 – 2 hours in the raft. Tour start time: 13.30 (1.30 pm)
- Kids age and weights: minimum 5 years old, weighing at least 20 kg
For those with a higher skill level or traveling without kids, check out these tours:
- Kicking Horse River with category IV rapids – minimum age 12 y/o, includes lunch and will take full day CA$ 149-169
- Horse Shoe Canyone waves and category IV rapids – an adventure ride, also minimum age 12 y/o
2) Lake Louise and the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
Time for a good hike this second day! Bring enough water, some snacks and wear proper footwear.
The earlier you arrive in the day, the closer you can park to Lake Louise, and the longer you can walk. There are plenty of parking areas in the surrounding area with shuttle buses traveling to the lake itself.
But maybe you were smart and booked a stay in any of the nearby hotels?
Maybe you even booked into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel? It’s an eye-catching building as it resembles a big castle. This was done on purpose. A series of chateau-like buildings were built along the main transport lines of the day: the railways.
Whenever you’ve looked up something about Canada and Canadian cities, chances are you’ve seen a couple of these buildings: the Frontenac in Quebec, the Empress in Victoria (Vancouver Island), the Royal York in Toronto and Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.
Over 33 hotels, most of them still around but no longer run by the railways can still be admired and booked today!
From the one on Lake Louise not only do you have the most amazing views but you’d be able to start your hike immediately. Others, like us, will just envy you for it. In the best possible way of course, because the hotel and the surroundings are simply stunning.
Though not that big – 0.8 km2 – Lake Louise is one of the most photographed lakes in Canada. Of course, the surroundings are beautiful but the colour of the lake sitting at the center of it all is the main reason.
The glacier shavings of rocks and minerals – aka rock flour- make it into the meltwater. The meltwater reaches the lake and the water takes on hues of green, turquoise and blue.
The ‘flour’ particles are so light, they float in the lake and stay near the surface for a long time. The lake takes on the well-known turquoise colour when the sunlight reflects on them. Best time of year to see this, July and August.
Did you know
… that Alberta and Lake Louise were both named after Prince William and Prince Harry’s great-grandaunt whose full name was Princess Louise Caroline Alberta?
The Rockies’ Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
The trail on the right side of the lake is quite easy to walk. Some areas, however, with big blocks, some boulders, and loose gravel can be challenging. Past a rock wall where people are bouldering and climbing, and along the river that transports the rock flour to the lake. Up, you go, gradually walking upwards.
There they are…
It is hard to recognize and it looks more like a sand or gravel quarry but here 6 glaciers converge. The steep smooth sides tell of tons of frozen water scraping, pushing and polishing their way to the lake. And it’s just breathtaking.
Not just because of this natural phenomenon but also because you’ve made it up to 587 meters/1,929 ft after a 7 km/ 4.5 mi trail. At this first resting level, you’ll find washrooms underneath the Teahouse where you can buy something to eat and drink while enjoying the view.
After a good rest, plenty of pictures (including selfies), the trail down will take about the same amount of time. As a family (youngest 5 years of age) it took us approximately 2 – 2.5 hours each way.
The trail past the teahouse, we were told, holds even better views and is literally much less traveled.
The Pika trail, located on the other side of the plain, provides another great view of this area of the Rockies. And it has the benefit that it isn’t as busy as this well-known climb. You may even take a gondola up halfway the mountain to get you started.
Need to know information
To make your way through a big expanse of rocks to get to the teahouse, make sure to wear proper footwear, also in summer. The trail itself is moderately easy to walk.
Depending on the time of the year and which trail you intend to hike, please inform yourself about the protection from bears. Both grizzly and black bears roam these areas.
3) Hot Springs in the Rockies
After two strenuous days of kayaking and hiking in nature, you deserve to kickback. Time to relax in the natural hot springs in Banff Upper Hot Springs in Banff or Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National park and Fairmont Hot Springs on the British Columbian side of the mountains.
Here, soak your weary bones and muscles in the natural and mineral (they contain sulfate, magnesium, calcium, silica, and bicarbonate) hot waters. With opening times in all seasons and until late at night, either bask in the sun, warm up while looking out over snow or see the moon reflecting off the steaming water.
The hot pools are not deep, up to thigh height and thus a great option to also bring the kids.
Upon checking the website for Radium Hot Springs when putting this blog life, the website states that the springs in Radium are currently closed due to structural safety concerns.
4) Culture on the tracks
Day 4 of your itinerary through the Rockies, today is a leisurely day where you simply drive a little and take in the sights related to train tracks. If you stayed in Radium, you squeeze your way out of the Kootenay Mountains through this canyon into British Columbia.
Slowly make your way down through the Kootenay mountains towards Kimberley. This charming little city is not just home to the biggest freestanding cuckoo clock in Canada, but it also houses the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway
A lead-zinc mine was operational in Kimberley (named after a South African mine) until 2001 and it featured a narrow-gauge railway. These railways were ideal for mining because the rails are narrower than regular tracks. Thus allowing for narrower tunnels (to be dug) through the terrain and thus sharper and shorter corners too.
In Kimberley, during the summer months (June – September), you can visit a full underground interpretation center and you can take a Mining Tour train ride at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm.
Cranbrook History Centre
A mere 30 kilometers away lies the pretty little town of Cranbrook with the Cranbrook History Centre.
Go here to get a sense of Cranbrook and its surroundings over time. There are a paleontology exhibit and a spectacular tea room that was built in 1906 in Winnipeg. It was saved from getting demolished to make way for modern times and added to the museum in Cranbrook.
Plus, in the centre find general local historical information and even, over 45,000 historical documents.
Getting back on track, though (yes, I had to), there’s a model railway set up. Here the trains run through mountains, over waterfalls and through little villages along the sides of the room.
Train Car Collection
There is a real train car collection outside. There are different tours that take you through these railway cars and their history.
You’ll get a good idea of what travel was like in the early twentieth century and why it was expensive. Beautiful swiveling chairs set alongside the cars’ windows in one carriage and the full plated services in the buffet car.
A lot of restoration has gone into this, something you’d entirely overlook if it wasn’t for the fact that in places, the restored parts are set across from the non-restored ones. The sickly green of the ‘modern’ day in the 1940-1950s is offset by the beautiful mahogany from the earlier decades.
Make sure to take a good look at the ‘tea cabinet’ in the dining car, in this light, and listen to where this was salvaged from.
Time to leave
Adventure, sports, relaxation, and culture in four days. What else would you like to see in the Rockies? What would be your first choice to go and do?