Four days in the Canadian Rockies: Jasper and Banff National Park road trip

It’s very hard to plan a trip to the Canadian Rockies. Why? No matter how ambitious your itinerary, there’s always one more place to visit just a few kilometers down the road. But if you do have to scale your trip to under one week, here’s how to spend four days in and around Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway, during a Jasper and Banff National Park road trip.

Jasper National Park

Start in Jasper:

The small town of Jasper is a gateway to outdoor adventure in every season. From late spring through early fall, hiking and lake visits reign, and in winter snowshoeing, skiing, and ice climbing can be found throughout the area. We visited in October and loved the beautiful scenery to low crowd ratio.

Maligne Canyon:
Head just a few minutes outside of Jasper on Highway 16 to Maligne Canyon. In winter, this is where you’ll see ice climbers navigating the frozen waterfalls, but in all other seasons, the flowing water of the Maligne River bubbles and falls over rocks and through gorges before disappearing underground (just to emerge again in blue pools). The trail loops with several options for return, allowing families to choose how long they hike. We hiked for approximately one hour and made it to five of six bridges that traverse the river.

The water is fast-flowing, but railings are in place to keep kids from getting too close. The incline can be steep and slippery at times, but the scenery is absolutely worth the effort.

Town of Jasper:
You don’t have to leave town to see wildlife and enjoy trails. Take the Discovery Trail through town, which includes interpretive signs throughout to teach about the history of the area. Look for elk strolling town in the early evenings and mornings; they often stop traffic! And when you’re back from your hike, stop for ice cream or shop for souvenirs or hiking gear in the easily-navigated 2-3 block downtown.

jasper

Where to stay:

The Tonquin Inn is located just a few blocks from downtown and has everything parents with kids need: a large indoor pool and hot tub, additional outdoor hot tubs, a comprehensive complimentary breakfast buffet, and comfortable rooms with scenic views.

Make the most of driving the Icefields Parkway:

The Icefields Parkways has been rated as one of the most scenic drives in the world, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a pit stop for two. Break up the four-hour drive from Jasper to Banff with a stop midway along the Icefields Parkway. Located at the border between the two national parks, the Columbia Icefields Centre is hard to miss. Here’s what to expect:

glacier adventure

The Columbia Icefields Centre is where you can stop for a meal and clean bathrooms, plus a great view of the Athabasca Glacier. Kids (and parents) will immediately notice the ‘Ice Explorers’ navigating the glacier surface…and want to ride in one. This attraction at the Centre is Brewster’s Glacier Adventure, and tickets can be bought in the lower level. The tour takes you on a short bus shuttle to the edge of the glacier, where you transfer to specially-designed Ice Explorers (souped up ATV-bus hybrids, for lack of a better description). The Ice Explorers take you on a short but exciting drive out onto the ice, where they stop and let you get out and walk around in a very contained circle. Because the space where visitors can stand on the ice is so small (and feels much like a parking lot with multiple Ice Explorers parked), most kids will find the ride out the most exciting part. Guides do a very good job of educating you on the glacier in an entertaining way, but the actual ice walk can be a let-down.

Closer stops to Jasper include either the Athabasca or Sunwapta falls. Both scenic falls are located roadside, necessitating only a short walk to the view points. At Sunwapta, a restaurant and other roadside facilities make for welcome additions. Closer to Banff, Bow Lake is an easy stop, and can include swimming in summer and short hiking options.

Up next, continuing your road trip to Banff National Park! Click on the button below to continue.

banff-road-trip

About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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