The Canadian Rockies are truly amazing and, if you’re visiting Canada, you should definitely check them out.
There are many great places to visit in the Canadien Rockies, so this article presents you an idea of an itinerary for this area.
Included in this perfect 7-day Canadian Rockies itinerary are the famous Banff and Jasper areas, with all their amazing sights and attractions.
Discover what to do in the Canadian Rockies in 7 days from this itinerary from an insider – Karen from Forever Karen.
The Perfect 7-Day Canadian Rockies Itinerary
Arriving in the Canadian Rockies the first time, I was swept away by its heart-stopping vistas, and I understood why this is a bucket list destination.
I have traveled to the Rockies for almost forty years and experienced it by camping in a tent trailer to staying in luxury hotels. I’ve completed nearly every day hike, got up in the wee hours to watch the sunrise, and witnessed its magnificent wildlife.
If you’re planning your first trip, this 7-day itinerary of the Canadian Rockies will allow you to see the best lakes, waterfalls, canyons and hopefully view some of its incredible creatures.
While most travel to the Rockies to hike its many trails, the mountains offer something for everyone, from the drive-up views and easy wheelchair-accessible walks to the overnight hikes for the avid backpackers.
This 7-day itinerary includes three days in Banff, three days in Jasper, and one day traveling between the parks. You can include more hikes or explore the adjoining Yoho and Kootenay National Parks if you have more time.
To visit a Canadian National Park, visitors must purchase a Discovery Pass. A daily pass costs CAD 10 for adults, CAD 8.40 for seniors, or CAD 20 for families or groups. With a 7-day itinerary, it’s cheaper to purchase a yearly pass at CAD 69.19 per adult, CAD 59.17 for seniors, or CAD 139.40 for groups or families.
What To Pack for the Canadian Rockies
The temperatures can vary significantly in the Canadian Rockies regardless of the time of year. I wore shorts and a t-shirt during a 35c July day and woke up to snow the following day. So, pack plenty of layers because the early mornings and evenings can chill you to the bone, especially if you’re camping.
Pack a small waterproof backpack to carry water, snacks and to keep your electronics dry. For excursions on the gondolas and a tour of the Columbia Icefields, you’ll need a 3-in-1 jacket and a hat to stay warm.
For hiking, wear a comfortable hiking boot with good ankle support that’s preferably waterproof. Pair your boots with a wool hiking sock to keep your feet dry, prevent blisters, and the compression helps prevent muscle strain.
Some hikers prefer the use of hiking poles on some trails. It’s advisable to carry bear spray and a bear bell when hiking. For trails near water, I recommend the use of mosquito repellent.
Be responsible when hiking in the National Parks and ‘Leave no trace.’ Remember to respect the land, do not remove plants and rocks, and dispose of trash responsibly.
Staying In The Canadian Rockies
Whether you have seven days or a longer or shorter itinerary, you need to decide where to stay. In National Parks, hotels are limited, outdated, and come with sticker shock. Expect to pay CAD 250 to over CAD 1000 a night in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
Hotels fill up fast during the summer, with July and August being peak months. Hotels rates vary by the day of the week and the month of visitation. However, some hotels offer better rates if you stay longer.
Plan ahead and book your hotels in advance. During my last visit in September, most hotels (even the luxury ones) were completely sold out.
Banff attracts more travelers than Jasper, so it gets jam-packed with tourists in the summer. Its downtown area (two blocks of Banff Ave) closes to vehicles, and paid parking fills up fast. While the train station offers free parking, it remains full most of the day, so having a hotel within walking distance of restaurants and shops is preferred.
Alternatively, those on a budget can camp at numerous campgrounds throughout the parks. Some allow for reservations, while others are on a first-come basis. While this 7-day Canadian Rocky adventure starts in Banff and finishes in Jasper, travelers can reverse the itinerary.
The Canadian Rockies Itinerary At A Glance
- Day 1
- Johnston Canyon
- Sulphur Mountain (Banff) Gondola
- Bow Falls
- Drive the scenic Golf Course Road
- Day 2
- Cave & Basin National Historic Site
- Surprise Corner viewpoint
- Hoodoos viewpoint
- Two Jack Lake
- Lake Minnewanka
- Mount Norquay Scenic Drive
- Vermillion Lakes
- Day 3
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Day 4
- Herbert Lake
- Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake (a must-see)
- Waterfowl Lakes
- The Weeping Wall
- Columbia Icefields
- Day 5
- Parker’s Ridge
- Sunwapta Falls
- Goat Lick viewpoint
- Athabasca Falls
- Mistaya Canyon
- Day 6
- Edith Cavell
- Maligne Canyon
- Jasper and Talbot Lakes
- Day 7
- Medicine Lake
- Maligne Lake
- Patricia Lake
- Pyramid Lake
Canadian Rockies Itinerary: Day 1 In Banff
The day starts at Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway, probably the best canyon in the Canadian Rockies. Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s best hikes, and despite the challenge of finding parking, it’s a must-do in the Canadian Rockies.
The 1.2 km trail to the lower falls has little elevation gain. However, I suggest hiking to the upper falls, a distance of 2.5 km one way with a 100 m elevation gain.
Johnston Canyon’s heavily trafficked trail is picturesque despite the crowds. Currently, park wardens suggest hikers wear masks during the trek as parts of the path are narrow and highly congested.
During my walk on a suspended walkway over the canyon, I viewed seven jaw-dropping waterfalls in total.
At the end of the hike, visitors can enjoy a caffeine jolt from the small coffee hut at the start of the trail.
The Bow Valley Parkway runs parallel to the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise. While the Icefields Parkway is fenced to keep wildlife away from traffic, the Bow Valley Parkway runs inside the fenced area.
Driving this road, especially in the morning and evening, increases your chance of seeing wildlife. I have seen elk, deer, and bears along this roadway.
If the skies are clear with little wind, head over to the Banff Gondola, where you’ll enjoy 360-degree views from the top of Sulphur Mountain.
If it’s cloudy or windy, switch this activity with one on another day and wait for good weather. I recommend taking a jacket because it can be cooler at the summit.
The small gondolas seat up to four people, but parties of two can take their own car. The eight-minute ride offers sweeping views of Banff, Mount Rundle, and Tunnel Mountain.
At the top, the interpretation center has activities for children while adults can learn about the Rockies. On the observation decks, prepared to be wowed by heart-stopping vistas that go on forever.
Take the 1 km scenic walkway to the Sanson’s Peak old weather station to continue enjoying the panoramas. While the walkway consists of many stairs, the addition of many benches and informational plaques break up the trek.
After spending several hours on Sulphur Mountain, enjoy another scenic ride down. Alternatively, Sulphur Mountain has a fantastic restaurant called the ‘Sky Bistro.’ Consider making a reservation for dinner and traveling up the mountain late in the afternoon.
Continue onwards to the Bow Falls lookout on the south side of Bow River for the perfect selfie spot. Consider a drive on the Golf Course Road in the evening, where visitors sometimes spot elk and other wildlife on the golf greens.
Day 2 In Banff
A Canadian Rockies itinerary tends to lean towards a lot of hiking. I try to balance the hiking with rest days in between. So, day two starts at the Cave & Basin on 311 Cave Ave. Your Discovery Pass gives you free admission; otherwise, it’s a CAD 9 fee.
At the small museum, visitors can see an indoor cave fed by an underground hot spring, learn about retreating glaciers and how we can slow the process of global warming.
Take the 0.5 km looping marsh trail outside the museum to see how the hot spring creates a warm environment for plants and wildlife.
From the Cave & Basin, drive to the north side of Bow River to the Surprise Corner Viewpoint. Here, you can capture incredible images of Bow Falls and the imposing Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Continue on the Tunnel Mountain Drive to the Hoodoos Viewpoint. Hoodoos are a naturally occurring formation where soft rock erodes beneath hard rock, leaving unusual chimney creations.
In the afternoon, spend some time at either Two Jack Lake or Lake Minnewanka, or visit them both. Two Jack Lake is smaller and ideal for boating, kayaking, or enjoying a lazy day at the beach.
Lake Minnewanka offers an option to do a scenic boat cruise. From there, travel to Mount Norquay Scenic Drive to see the views of Banff from the lookout.
After dinner, enjoy the picturesque views of Mount Rundle from the Vermillion Lakes Road.
Day 3 In Banff
Having rested on the previous day, I included more hiking, but you can modify the itinerary to suit your ability. Today, you’ll experience two of Banff’s best lakes and the reason why many come to the Canadian Rockies.
Moraine Lake is an hour’s drive from Banff and best viewed in the early morning. To get one of the 60 coveted parking spots, visitors must arrive at Moraine Lake around 6 am. Once the parking spots are filled, park officers close the 14 km road and only allow visitors to enter after others have left.
Alternatively, if getting up before the birds isn’t your thing, you can take a shuttle to Moraine Lake and not have to worry about parking. Otherwise, go to lake Louise first since it has ample parking and try for Moraine Lake later in the day, after the crowds have left.
The Valley of the Ten Peaks surrounds the glacier-fed Moraine Lake, and its beautiful turquoise color becomes more vivid as the summer progresses.
Its hues are the result of the rock flour created when the snow melts. Once featured on the old Canadian $20 bill, its panoramic views are beyond gorgeous.
For the best photos, take the short walk up the rock pile where you might see pika, chipmunks, and hoary marmots. For those wanting to immerse themselves in the area’s beauty, consider renting a canoe or walking the 3 km shoreline trail.
Be warned though, canoe rentals at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise will set you back CAD 120 an hour.
Returning on the Moraine Lake Road, head to Lake Louise for equally mind-blowing vistas. Parking costs CAD 11.70, and should there be none, the park ‘n’ ride option comes in handy. While Lake Louise is more prominent in size, Moraine Lake takes the prize for scenic impact.
For many travelers, Lake Louise is known globally as the place to visit in Banff. Should you be staying at the Lake Loise Chateau, you’ll enjoy the incredible views right from the hotel.
After enjoying the views from the shore, Lake Louise offers visitors numerous hikes with varying degrees of difficulty. The 4 km roundtrip Lakeshore trail follows the lake on the right side. Walkers can stroll as far as they want before returning on the same route.
At the end of the lake, photo opportunities are endless, with views of the silty creek flowing into the lake and the distant views of the Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau.
For those who want an elevated view, take the Fairview Lookout Trail. It follows the lake’s left side. The 2 km roundtrip trail has only a 100 m elevation gain and takes under an hour.
The trail meanders through the forest before arriving at a lookout point overlooking the lake and the Chateau. For not much hiking effort, I enjoyed spectacular views and the hues of the lake seemed more vibrant.
Moderate hikers might prefer a climb to the Lake Agnes teahouse, where you can reward your climb with a cup of hot tea.
The well-trodden path has a series of switchbacks that is not for the faint of heart. Allow up to 3 hours to complete the hike, and consider side trips to the Little and Big Beehive, which offer spectacular lake views.
At the end of a busy day, relax in one of the Adirondack chairs on the Lake Louise grounds and savor the views.
If you prefer to forego the hiking, the Lake Louise Gondola offer distant views of the famous lake and a chance to see wildlife. Visitors often spot bears, elk, goats, and deer during the ascent and descent.
Canadian Rockies Itinerary: Day 4 In Banff/Jasper
It takes 3-1/2 hours to drive the almost 300 km to Jasper, with much to see along the way. So, arise early and hit the road to make the most of your day. The route travels on one road, the Icefields Parkway, with many viewpoints in between.
Recommended stops include views of Herbert Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake (a must-see), Waterfowl Lakes, and the Weeping Wall.
Once you reach the Columbia Icefields, stop at the centre for the icefields adventure, a bucket list excursion that takes almost three hours. Layer up because temperatures can drop more than 10 degrees on the glacier.
The experience includes a bus ride onto Athabasca Glacier, 30 minutes to walk on the icefield, and an excursion to the Skywalk, a glass floor catwalk built almost 300 meters above the valley. If you’re fearless, look down, and you may see mountain goats who live under the Skywalk.
On returning to the Columbia Icefields Centre, drive across the road and park at the end of the glacier road. Stay layered up and follow the trail to the glacier’s toe.
Along the route, markers show how much the glacier has receded. You can’t walk on the glacier at the end of the trail, but you can see the glacial water melting from the terminus and feel the cold air coming off the icefields.
Canadian Rockies Itinerary: Day 5 In Jasper
The first day in Jasper requires some backtracking down the Icefields Parkway. Start the day with a switchback hike to the top of Parker’s Ridge. The top of the ridge is often windy and cold so take a light jacket.
While the trail is not for the faint of heart, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Saskatchewan Glacier and a chance to see some mountain goats or bears. If you’re not up for a strenuous hike, take the Jasper Skytram instead for incredible views from the top of Whistlers Mountain.
On the return drive to Jasper, stop at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. Both are wheelchair accessible, and each has its own wow factor.
Athabasca Falls has more volume of water, and visitors can walk through an ancient canyon and see a giant pothole. Between the two falls, stop at the Goat Lick viewpoint for a chance to see some mountain goats.
Before arriving in Jasper, make one last stop at Mistaya Canyon. A short walk from the parking lot, visitors can see how the rushing waters of Mistaya River have eroded a channel through the rock.
Day 6 In Jasper
Edith Cavell, my favorite place in Jasper, has a little of everything. Its snow-capped mountain peak features ‘Angel Glacier,’ a hanging glacial mass that calves into a lake below. The terrain surrounding the iceberg-filled lake consists of many types of rock, from slate to colored quartz.
In the spring, hike a switchback trail to Cavell Meadows for a parallel view of Angel Glacier. Here, the Cavell Meadows blossom with mountain heather in pink, white and yellow.
The rock portion of the trail may offer sightings of pika, hoary marmots, or chipmunks. At the upper meadows, visitors occasionally see grizzly bears or caribou. Do note that due to the endangered caribou species, dogs (even on a leash) are forbidden on this trail.
Jasper’s Maligne Canyon offers visitors three starting points to enjoy its deep creviced canyon. The furthest parking lot from the Yellowhead Highway has a looping trail from the canyon teahouse. It allows beginner hikers to see two bridges over the deepest part of the canyon, with an option to walk further.
There are six bridges over Maligne River, and the roundtrip trail to see all six takes up to three hours. Alternatively, you can hike to bridges one thru four and drive to the other two parking lots to see bridges five and six, which span the widened river as it exits the canyon.
Should you choose to hike to all six, you have the option to have the uphill hike at the beginning by going from bridges six to one. Alternatively, hiking from one to six means you’ll climb the uphill section on the return route.
Complete your day with a drive north on the Yellowhead Highway towards Jasper and Talbot Lakes. Here, you’ll have a chance to see Big Horn Sheep grazing next to the highway.
Day 7 In Jasper
Your last day in Jasper includes two large lakes, Medicine and Maligne Lakes, both accessed from the Maligne Lake Road. Enjoy the leisurely drive and be on the lookout for elk, bear, deer, and sheep.
The first lake you’ll arrive at is Medicine Lake, famous for its underground drainage. If you arrive while its waters are low, the surrounding terrain turns into a mudflat.
At the end of the road, visitors view the much larger Maligne Lake. If you prefer a leisurely day, consider booking a boat cruise up the lake for opportunities to see Spirit Island and bear or moose sightings on the lakeshore.
To increase your chances of seeing moose, hike the 2.7 km Upper Moose Lake looping trail. Be sure to wear hiking boots and use mosquito repellent as the trail is often muddy, and there are lots of mosquitos on the trail adjacent to the lake.
Along the way, I saw dozens of different mushrooms, some bigger than my boots. While I saw no moose at Moose Lake, I spotted a cow and baby swimming across Maligne Lake on my return trek.
If you haven’t had much success seeing wildlife in the Rockies, consider driving to Patricia and Pyramid Lakes just north of Jasper. Not only will you see two more beautiful lakes, but you may be surprised by deer, elk, or bear sightings too.
An itinerary to the Canadian Rockies takes some research and planning, but you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping scenery and a yearning to return. If your goal is to view its wildlife, exercise patience and increase your chances of viewings by traveling to the best viewing spots at sunrise and before sunset.
Happy travels ~ Karen
About the author:
Karen is a traveler and cruiser at ForeverKaren. Born in Singapore to a British Military family, she grew up traveling the world and never lost her desire to spread her wings. An avid cruiser with her husband Brian, she continues to explore the oceans and far away lands. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.