The vast majority of people that visit the Canadian Rockies each year head to Banff and Jasper National Parks. It’s not surprising considering the stunning beauty and everything else they offer, but there’s many other nearby parks and nature areas that often get overlooked. Although these neighbouring parks ae not exactly off the beaten path, they never get as crowded as Banff and Jasper. Consider them as an alternative way to experience beautiful scenery, an abundance of outdoor activities and chances to spot wildlife in a less commercialized and quieter setting.
The areas listed below are either adjacent to Banff or Jasper National Parks or within a few hours drive. This makes them an easy destination to add onto a Rocky Mountain vacation.
Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park sits to the southwest of Banff National Park. You can access it from Lake Louise or the town site of Banff within half an hour. The park has some excellent hiking trails, short interpretive walks, picnic sites, hot springs, wildflower meadows, old growth forests, rivers, waterfalls and chances to see wildlife. The scenic Banff-Windermere Parkway (Hwy 93 South) is a 104 kilometer route that cuts through the park from Castle Junction in Banff National Park to Radium Hot Springs along the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers. Wildlife commonly spotted along the parkway are elk, white tail deer, mule deer and bighorn sheep, along with less frequent sightings of black bear, moose, coyotes and wolves. Highlights of the park are Radium Hot Springs, the Sinclair and Marble Canyons, the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, the Paint Pots and backcountry hiking on the Rockwall Trail. See our post on winter snowshoeing to the Paint Pots.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park is small but charming. It’s been a popular spot with locals for years. The park is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, three hours south of Calgary and just under 4 hours from Banff. There’s several hiking trails offering beautiful views, an abundance of wildflowers in mid to late June, wildlife viewing opportunities and of course it’s beautiful and expansive lakes. Some highlights of the park besides Waterton Lakes themselves are the historic Prince Of Wales Hotel, Cameron Lake and Cameron Falls, the Red Rock Canyon, the Bear’s Hump Trail, Crypt Lake Trail and Bertha Falls.
Kananaskis Country is another area often overlooked by tourists, many have never heard of it. The town of Canmore just east of Banff is a gateway into the area. It’s a large system of provincial parks that sit along the foothills and front ranges of the Canadian Rockies. This recreational haven has been a best kept secret for years with Alberta locals wanting to avoid the crowds of Banff and the other parks. There are excellent opportunities to see wildlife such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep and coyotes as well as less frequent sightings of bear, wolves and moose. There’s endless hiking trails and scenic areas of rivers and lakes. In the winter Mount Nakiska offers downhill skiing and many areas are suitable for cross country skiing. It’s an area used by the dog sled companies for their tours. If you’re looking for a fairly easy winter hike, try the popular trail to the frozen Troll Falls.
Revelstoke National Park
Revelstoke National Park is located in the province of B.C., approximately three hours west of Banff. It includes highlights such as the Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail and the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk. The Meadows in the Sky Parkway is a road that allows you to drive to the top of the mountain in just 5 minutes. The summit offers spectacular views, hiking trails and opportunities to see an abundance of wildflowers, usually at their peak in late August. The town of Revelstoke is a charming mountain community where you can do a heritage walking tour or check out the Railway Museum.
In the winter Mount Revelstoke offers some incredible downhill skiing, the area is also known for its epic heli and backcountry skiing as well as lift skiing and snowboarding at Mount Revelstoke Resort.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park shares a border with the western edge of Banff National Park. It makes for a perfect day trip, you can be in Yoho in less than half an hour from Lake Louise or just over an hour from the Banff town site area.
The park has more of a wilderness feel as it lacks the major hotels and resorts of Banff. There’s some pretty spectacular highlights to see in Yoho National Park including Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge and Takkakaw Falls. The Kicking Horse River is one of the most popular spots for white water rafting.
Even though its visitors don’t come close to the numbers at Lake Louise, Emerald Lake and it’s parking area can become inundated with tourists and tour groups during the day. If you visit after 5pm in the summer most of the people will have moved on. In winter the lake is popular for cross country skiing.
The Lake O’Hara region of the Yoho is one of the most scenic and pristine areas for hiking. It’s kept that way through restricted access that limits the number of visitors entering the area each day. A ticket reserving a spot on the bus to the lake must be purchased in advance. Lake O’Hara Bus Reservations.
Mount Robson Provincial Park
Mount Robson Provincial Park sits in the province of British Columbia. Heading west from Jasper its with an hours drive. Mount Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The park is a lot quieter than the other National Parks. It offers some excellent hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities.
Abraham Lake, Nordegg And The David Thompson Corridor
Abraham Lake can be reached from the popular Icefields Parkway that runs between Banff and Jasper, yet there has been very little development. It’s a place to escape the crowded areas and trails of the National Parks. From Saskatchewan Crossing it’s a twenty minute drive along the David Thompson Highway 11. The lake is over 33 km’s long, much of which can be seen from the highway. It sits in the David Thompson corridor that offers plenty of camping opportunities and hiking to waterfalls and ridges that offer spectacular views. Abraham Lake itself is not suitable for recreational activities due to the water level fluctuation and the strong winds it can receive, but there’s plenty of other lakes in the area.
The lake has become a popular destination for photographers in the winter. You may have seen images of the bubbles displayed in the ice that occur from methane gas trapped below the surface.
A little further along Highway 11 is the historic town of Nordegg. It was a mining town built in the early 1900’s. When the mines shut down in the mid-century it nearly became a ghost town with only a few residents remaining. Today it’s becoming recognized again as a base for recreational activities such as hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, mountain biking and horseback trail adventures. Within the vicinity there are a few lodges, hostels and guest cottages.
From late May to mid-September daily tours take visitors through the coal processing facilities that remain. The original Nordegg town site is open to the pubic year round where you can do a self-guided walking tour.