If you’re looking to spend some time in the beautiful outdoors this fall, why not head up north to the Canadian Rockies? This majestic mountain range is full of opportunities for active travel such as hiking, biking, boating, etc. So much to do, in fact, that pinpointing a destination among so many incredible options can be an overwhelming task. Thankfully, today’s guest contributor, Jacqueline Louie, is here to tell us about a few must-see spots to visit this time of year.
Fall in all its splendor has arrived in the Canadian Rockies. The colors are unforgettable, with the gold of changing foliage, brilliant blue skies, and the white of early snow on the peaks.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or simply looking for some great views, there are countless activities that’ll help you experience this beautiful area. This time of year is very active, not just for the natural beauty of fall, but there are many special events and festivals to enjoy as well.
Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
Located an hour’s drive east of Calgary, Alberta on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, Kananaskis Country offers a wide variety of hikes, from short and sweet, to strenuous. Even the drive, which takes you through Kananaskis along Highway 40, offers superb views.
At the top of Highwood Pass – the highest paved pass in Canada at 7,238 feet above sea level – you’ll find the trailhead to Ptarmigan Cirque, a great place for viewing larch trees as they turn from green to gold.
Ptarmigan Cirque is one of my favorite Kananaskis hikes for fall color, because you get so much bang for your buck – superb views of the surrounding mountains, with slopes covered in larches (the only conifer that sheds its needles) as you walk through a beautiful alpine landscape. It’s a short walk that heads steadily uphill (2.8 miles return, 755 feet in elevation gain).
Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes Teahouse, Lake Louise
Lake Louise is one of the classic hiking areas in Banff National Park, offering stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, and glacier-fed turquoise lakes.
The area’s most popular hike is to Lake Agnes. As you walk up through open forest, gaze down at Lake Louise and marvel at how high you’ve come; then pass Mirror Lake, before walking up a staircase by a roaring waterfall to reach the tranquil shores of Lake Agnes. You can stop for tea and snacks at the red roofed Lake Agnes Tea House. (Approximately 4 miles return.)
Plain of Six Glaciers is a slightly longer walk, at nearly 7 miles return, offering stunning views of Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. You can reward yourself when you reach the end of the trail, by stopping for tea and treats at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
Little Beehive and Big Beehive, Lake Louise
From the Lake Agnes trail you can reach two high points with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. The Little Beehive and the Big Beehive are rock formations named for their distinctive beehive-like shapes. The Little Beehive trail branches off from the main Lake Agnes trail (2.7 miles from Lake Louise), while you reach the Big Beehive Trail (slightly more strenuous) via Lake Agnes. (one mile from Lake Agnes)
Later in the fall, when hiking season draws to a close and right before ski season starts, there is still plenty to see and do in the Canadian Rockies.
Jasper Dark Sky Festival, Jasper National Park
The drive from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park is one of the highlights of the Canadian Rockies, with dramatic peaks, glaciers and alpine lakes. When you arrive at the picturesque town of Jasper, an approximately three-hour drive from Lake Louise, you’ll find it’s less busy than Banff, with plentiful wildlife viewing opportunities.
Jasper is also home to one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves and if you can swing it, try to visit on the weekends of Oct. 14 – 16 and Oct. 21 – 23. Jasper will host the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, featuring a star-studded line-up of guest speakers and a panel of North American astronomy and media professionals, including NASA’s Bobak Ferdowsi.
Photography workshops, and a little night music (Symphony under the Stars, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) are also on the festival agenda.
Radium Headbanger Festival
Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, located an hour-and-a-half drive southwest of Banff, will host the Headbanger Festival celebrating bighorn sheep, as well as other mountain wildlife on November 5th and 6th. Highlights include nature walks and talks, a photography workshop by wildlife photographer Jim Lawrence, and a presentation by naturalist and author Charlie Russell.
As for the stars of the show, the local bighorn don’t exactly shy away from the spotlight. The Headbanger Festival takes place “right in prime rut,” says Kara Cassidy, marketing administrator for Tourism Radium Hot Springs Association, describing the bighorn sheep. “They start to put on a bit of a show.”