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 active travel opportunities like hiking, biking, boating, etc.
There’s so much to do, in fact, that pinpointing a destination among the many incredible options can be an overwhelming task. Thankfully, guest contributor Jacqueline Louie, is here to tell us about a few must-see spots for active fall travel in the Canadian Rockies.
Fall in all its splendor has arrived in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. The colors are unforgettable, with the gold of changing foliage, brilliant blue skies, and the white of early snow on the peaks. Luckily, there’s still time to get out on the trail or explore a scenic overlook before winter gets an icy grip on Alberta and British Columbia.
Active fall travel in the Canadian Rockies
You’ll find plenty of opportunities for active adventures on a fall trip to the Canadian Rockies. Are you a boomer hiker? You’ve lucked out with trails that offer color combined with great views of splendid mountain scenery. And when you tire of experiencing autumn’s natural beauty out on the trail, consider one of the many special events and festivals to enjoy as well.
Hiking in Kananaskis Country on a fall trip
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).
Where to stay in Kananaskis Country:
- Azuridge Estate Hotel: Compare prices. Read the reviews.
- Falcon Crest Lodge: Compare prices. Read the reviews.
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)
Where to stay in Lake Louise:
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: Compare prices. Read the reviews. Check out Alan and Donna’s experience at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
- Post Hotel & Spa. Compare prices. Read the reviews.
- Lake Louise Inn. Compare prices. Read the reviews.
Fall Festivals in the Canadian Rockies
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. If you can swing it, try to visit in October for the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.
This dark sky extravaganza features a star-studded line-up of guest speakers: a panel of North American astronomy and media professionals, including NASA astronauts. Photography workshops, and a little night music (Symphony under the Stars, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) are also on the festival agenda.
Where to stay in Jasper:
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge: Compare prices. Read the reviews. Check out Alan and Donna’s stay at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Having visited twice, they are huge fans.
- Filia Inn. Compare prices and read the reviews.
- Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites. Compare prices. Read the reviews.
Radium Headbanger Festival
Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia, located an hour-and-a-half drive southwest of Banff, hosts the Headbanger Festival in November celebrating bighorn sheep, as well as other mountain wildlife. Highlights include nature walks and talks, a photography workshop by noted wildlife photographers, and a presentations by naturalists and authors.
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.”