The Canadian Rockies have everything that outdoor lovers can ask for in the mountains. Imagine being immersed in the mountains with gorgeous alpine lakes while hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, wildlife watching, canoeing, road-tripping, and much more.
The mountain range of the Canadian Rockies spreads between Alberta and British Columbia. I’ve lived in Alberta for almost a decade now and can tell you it’s a fantastic adventure playground. This guide covers the best things to do in the Canadian Rockies that I would recommend to travellers.
You’ll enjoy activities from Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Park, and I did my best to cover all four seasons. To have the best time, I suggest visiting for at least a week. You can cover a lot of sights and activities, and I’m sure you will want to come back. At least that’s what always happens to me.
The good news is, the mountains will be waiting for you. If you have more time and planning a road trip, our 2-week Canadian Rockies itinerary has you covered.
13 Best Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
1) Hike up Sulphur Mountain
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, and it’s the most visited place in the Rockies. The town of Banff sits in Bow Valley, surrounded by mountain peaks and several breathtaking lakes.
The top activity I recommend to travellers is hiking up the Sulphur Mountain overlooking Banff. While you see the Banff Gondola, which leads up the Sulphur Mountain marketed everywhere, hiking up is an active and budget option.
The trailhead starts at the Upper Hot Springs, and it takes you through gradual switchbacks up the mountain. In 5.5km, which takes around 2 hours with breaks, you get a view of Banff and the valley. The upper gondola terminal provides you with a viewing platform, interactive indoor displays, a restaurant, and a gift shop. A short 1km boardwalk can take you to the nearby Sanson’s Peak, an old weather station.
Sulphur Mountain is one of the very few year-round hikes in Banff, with incredible panoramic views. Wear microspikes in winter, and don’t forget to warm up by the outdoor campfire at the upper viewing platform. Sulphur Mountain is definitely one of the best family adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
2) Ice skate on Lake Minnewanka
There are many ways how to enjoy all the gorgeous lakes in the Rockies. It can be canoeing or stand-up paddleboarding in summer and cross country skiing or ice skating in winter.
Ice skating in Banff is one of the most popular family adventures in the Canadian Rockies. Imagine standing on a crystal clear lake surrounded by snowy mountains. Other popular lakes for ice skating are usually frozen in November, but because Lake Minnewanka is a huge deep lake, it starts to freeze over late December or January.
The conditions have to align perfectly, and it doesn’t happen every year. It has to be cold for quite some time, so the ice is thick enough to skate on and also needs to be before any snowfall. But the window you get the clear ice and mirror reflections of the mountains are out of this world.
I recommend learning about ice skating safety beforehand as you skate at your own risk. All lakes in Banff, except Lake Louise, are considered wild, and Parks Canada does not maintain them nor check the ice thickness for safety.
Are you interested in ice skating on Lake Louise? Check out our detailed post on visiting Lake Louise in the winter.
3) Visit Moraine Lake
Canadian Rockies itinerary is never complete without visiting Moraine Lake, no matter how many times you’ve been in Banff. The breathtaking turquoise lake with ten mountain peaks in the backdrop is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
You can rent a canoe on shore, bring your stand-up paddleboard or kayak, or hike in the area to see Moraine Lake from a different perspective or other beautiful alpine lakes.
Moraine Lake is at an elevation of 1,885m and starts to thaw in late May. Because it’s glacier-fed, it takes some time until the lake fills up and all the ice blocks melt. It gets the gorgeous turquoise colour by the end of June.
The Moraine Lake road, the only access point, is open from mid-May until mid-October. Drive by yourself or book a shuttle bus in advance to avoid disappointment. When the parking lot at Moraine Lake is full, Parks Canada closes the road, so getting in is a game of luck.
A little-known option is to go by bike. When the road closes in October, and there hasn’t been a heavy snowfall, you can bike the 11km road to Moraine Lake and have it all to yourself.
4) See Takakkaw Falls
Located in the small Yoho National Park, the Takakkaw Falls are one the most popular attractions and family adventures in the Canadian Rockies. They’re the 2nd highest waterfall in Canada and easily accessible for all, including wheelchairs and strollers.
Yoho Valley Road takes you to the parking lot, and from there, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the falls. I highly recommend visiting in June or July when the glaciers slowly melt, and Takakkaw Falls have the strongest flow. The spray from the falls provides a fantastic cool-down in the summer. If you watch closely, you might even spot climbers on the left side of the falls.
You can visit Takakkaw Falls from mid-June to mid-October; otherwise, the access road is closed due to avalanche risk. For an even better view of Takakkaw Falls and all the glaciers above, you can hike the 18km Iceline Trail. The trail passes different climates where you get close to the glaciers, waterfalls, and emerald lakes.
5) Stand up Paddleboarding on Emerald Lake
Another stop in Yoho National Park I recommend is Emerald Lake. The Emerald Lake Road takes you to the breathtaking Emerald Lake with a trail around the lake and a boathouse for canoe rental.
The canoe rental at Emerald Lake is the most budget-friendly option in the Rockies. If you prefer, you can bring your stand-up paddleboard. Let me tell you, paddleboarding on Emerald Lake when the boathouse is closed, and no one around, the emerald water calm, and you see all around you snow-capped mountain peaks is unforgettable.
Grab a snack or lunch in the restaurant and then walk the 4.5km loop to see different shades of the lake. You might see elk wandering in the forest which is one of the best family adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
If you’d like to stay longer, there’s a cozy Emerald Lake Lodge right onshore. You can hike Emerald Basin or Emerald Triangle in summer and cross country or snowshoe in winter.
6) Wildlife watching
Wildlife is often the #1 reason travellers visit the Canadian Rockies. There are a lot of tours offering wildlife watching, but you can also drive yourself. All you need to know is when and at what locations wild animals usually hang out.
Bears are, without a doubt, the most popular. You can see black bears and brown grizzly bears. I recommend visiting the Rockies in spring if you’d like to see mama bears with cubs. Popular locations for bears are in Kananaskis, along Icefields Parkway or the Maligne Lake Road in Jasper National Park. But you can see them anywhere else, too.
I recommend driving to see the wildlife early in the morning or around sunset. Just remember they’re wild animals, and you can’t feed or approach them.
If you go hiking anywhere in the Rockies, including crowded locations, Parks Canada recommends making noise so you don’t surprise any bears and carrying a bear spray within arm’s reach. Other wild animals you can see are elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, chipmunks, foxes, coyotes, and bald eagles.
7) Hike in the Valley of the Five Lakes
Valley of the Five Lakes is the most popular family-friendly hike in Jasper National Park. The trail is easy and accessible for all levels and takes you around five emerald lakes in different shades. You can either choose the short 5.5km loop or the longer 9.5km loop.
Most hikers usually choose the short loop as it gives you an amazing experience without hiking longer. The trailhead is located along the Icefields Parkway before you reach Jasper town, and the parking lot fills up fast in summer.
You hike through the forest, where we spotted a moose in summer, and arrive on a meadow with blooming wildflowers. The lakes are close to each other, and you can enjoy a picnic with a lake view or take a picture in the famous red chairs.
8) Cruise or canoe on Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake, located in Jasper National Park, is the 2nd largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. It’s surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers with lots of options to enjoy the landscape.
The most popular is taking a cruise across the lake. It takes you to the famous Spirit Island, one of the most photographed spots in the Rockies. The boathouse also rents canoes, or you can bring your stand-up paddleboard.
To see Maligne Lake from above, I recommend hiking the 12km trail to Bald Hills. You can almost see the end of Maligne Lake from the top and several glaciers hidden in the mountain peaks.
An insider tip for you – on the way back from Maligne Lake to Jasper, stop at Medicine Lake around sunset; it’s a great wildlife watching spot, especially for bears.
9) Hike to Floe Lake
Kootenay National Park is often overlooked because most of the park is inaccessible. However, the Floe Lake hike is a hidden gem with very few people on the trail. If you’re looking for solitude in the mountains, this is a great place.
Floe Lake is best visited between June and October as it sits at an elevation of 2,053 m and gets a lot of snow. The trailhead is along the Banff-Windermere Highway. The trail has a gradual incline on many switchbacks and only one steep section before reaching the lake.
After hiking for 11km, you get rewarded with a stunning blue lake with a massive rock wall in the background. And if you’d like to take it a bit further, you can stay overnight at Floe Lake Campground, enjoy the views to the fullest and hike back the next day.
10) Road trip the Icefields Parkway
Icefields Parkway has been named the most stunning road in Canada by several publications. The 230km mountain road stretches from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper. It boasts an endless amount of glaciers, amazing hiking trails, alpine lakes, and waterfalls.
You can stay in campgrounds or mountain lodges along the way and explore the area. I highly suggest taking at least two days for a road trip on the Icefields Parkway.
The most stunning places to visit are Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Waterfowl Lake, Mistaya Canyon, Columbia Icefield/Athabasca Glacier, Parker Ridge Hike, Wilcox Pass Hike, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls, Horseshoe Lake, and Valley of the Five Lakes.
11) Athabasaca Falls
While not as high by Canadian Rockies standards, the 23-metre falls are still one of Canada’s most powerful and picturesque waterfalls. Carving intricate features including potholes in its softer limestone bed while pouring over a layer of hard quartzite that has been exposed due to erosion from above; this incredible natural wonder provides an unforgettable experience for travelers.
This is one of the best family adventures in the Canadian Rockies because the scenery is gorgeous, families can get out of the car after a long drive on the Icefields Parkway and stroll along the paths and there are endless locations and views of the falls to get some fantastic photos.
12) Guided Float Trip on the Bow River
What better way to see Banff National Park than by taking one of their stunning scenic guided float trips on the beautiful Bow River. The view from this route is unbeatable, with views that include Sleeping Buffalo and other nearby mountains such as Cascade Mountain (which you can also climb!)
You’ll be experiencing rapids rated at Class II & III; perfect if your first time rafting. There are several outfitters around who offer these activities including Rocky Mountain Raft Tours leaving near Banff Springs Golf Course.
It is perfect for families, friends, or anyone wanting to experience the thrill of floating on the Bow River while enjoying a relaxing scenic ride. Tours run from mid-May until the end of September, and the cost is $70 per adult and $30 per child under 15 years of age.
13) Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse
One of our favorite family adventures in the Canadian Rockies was hiking from Chateau Lake Louise to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The hike took our family 50 minutes and even though there is a constant incline all the way up, my seven-year-old had no difficulty doing it.
The start of the hike offers views of Lake Louise and partway up, you can stop for a rest at the beautiful Mirror Lake. Lake Agnes steals the show with its spectacular beauty and is well worth the effort to hike up there. The trail was packed by 10 am so I highly recommend that you leave by 8:30 am at the latest to avoid the crowds.
Interactive Map of Adventures in the Canadian Rockies
Click on any icon on the interactive map to learn more!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THESE FAMILY ADVENTURES IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
No matter how you choose to spend your time here, there are endless family adventures in the Canadian Rockies. One thing is for certain, make sure to pack your camera because everywhere you turn, you will be greeted with magnificent landscapes.
Maya is an adventure athlete and world traveler. After her trip around the world, she returned to the Canadian Rockies. Apart from adventure sports, she loves traveling to places beyond the beaten path which are not often visited. She shares her travel stories and comprehensive adventure travel guides on her blog Travel with the Smile.