THINK YOU KNOW THE ROCKIES?
Six common myths debunked
From summer road trips to geography school books, Canadians may think they’re familiar with the Rockies. Yet misconceptions about this remarkable mountainous region that stretches from Alberta to British Columbia continue to persist.
The Rocky Mountains offer diverse and memorable experiences that cater to a wide range of ages and interests. So it’s time to tackle six of the biggest beliefs that just aren't true.
1. National parks are only for hard-core outdoor adventurers.
Some people believe that the Rockies are primarily a hub for extreme sports enthusiasts and skiers. The fact is, the region caters to people of all ages and fitness levels.
“There are plenty of ways to get out and enjoy Canada's mountain national parks without breaking a sweat,” says Victoria Delorme, promotions officer with Banff National Park. She suggests taking a scenic trip from Banff, Alta. to the village of Radium Hot Springs, located next door in British Columbia. Along the way, there are many easy walking trails, including the Paint Pots trail, the wheelchair-accessible Olive Lake boardwalk trail and the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint.
In fact, gentle activities abound in the Rockies. At Lake Louise, get an up-close glimpse of its turquoise waters by renting a canoe for a leisurely paddle, or follow the path along the shore. In Banff, ride to the summit of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff Gondola, or take a walk along Bow River to Bow Falls. In Jasper, walk the nature trails and look for fossils underfoot at Maligne Canyon, or sit by the bonfires at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to soak in the views of shimmering Lac Beauvert. Or, relax completely and take a motorcoach tour to hit all the highlights.
2. There’s nothing to do at night.
Contrary to popular belief, Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise don’t shut down come nightfall. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for visitors to leave their hotel rooms once the sun goes down.
Spa lovers can relax at one of the Rockies’ three natural hot springs. Unwind in the soothing, natural Banff Upper Hot Springs which are open year-round until at least 10pm. Or drive the 61km from Jasper to Miette Hot Springs, the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies.
If you want to mingle with the locals, Park Distillery Restaurant + Bar in Banff offers artisanal spirits including its award-winning gin and vodka. The Rose & Crown pub has live music and dancing every night of the week, and at Jasper’s The Whistle Stop Pub, you can enjoy local talent as they jam into the wee hours.
Or, simply grab a blanket, lie back and look at the stars. Jasper is the world’s second-largest Dark Sky Preserve, and stretches more than 11,000 square kilometres. Dark-sky preserves aim to protect the night sky by reducing light pollution, which means unimpeded views of the heavens. Your best chance to see the northern lights dance across the sky is on cold, clear nights between September and May.
3. Resort towns are only for the young.
Skip the buzz and the bars, and opt instead to learn about local culture, visit historical sites or just relax in the silence.
Browsing local galleries and shops make for a perfect way to spend a day. Pick up hand-beaded moccasins made by First Nations artisans, a one-of-a-kind piece of art from a local gallery, or a fun souvenir. Or skip the shopping entirely and unwind at a local spa – Fairmont hotels in Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise all have luxury spas, and there are others located elsewhere in town that are worth checking out.
For those interested in local history, the Banff Park Museum, Western Canada's oldest natural history museum, offers a collection of vintage taxidermy, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies features fine art and artifacts that highlight the region’s history. Check out the Jasper Museum to gain an appreciation of the area’s rich history through exhibitions devoted to its evolution from wilderness outpost to tourism hub. Or visit Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where Canada’s national parks were born in 1885. Take the guided tour and touch the thermal waters seeping from the rocks.
Plus, one of the best things about Canada’s national parks is the ability to soak up their beauty in quiet surroundings. While cell service is available in the communities of Banff, Jasper, Field and Radium Hot Springs, as well as along sections of both highways 1 and 16, many areas in Banff and Jasper National Parks do not have coverage. Enjoy it while you can!
4. You need a car to get to Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.
Skip the car and let Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury rail company that features four incredible routes to Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, take you into the heart of the Rockies. You get to sit back and enjoy the scenery, gourmet meals, and fascinating commentary from onboard Hosts, without having to worry about taking your eyes off the road. Which means you’ll never miss a single majestic mountain peak, mighty canyon, turquoise lake or rushing river along the way. Plus, there are literally dozens of ways to customize your journey, whether that means adding a self-drive option, a motorcoach tour, or daytrip to see the highlights.
5. You need a car to get around Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.
In the Rockies, driving a car is optional. Because of the robust tourism industry, all areas are served by public and private transportation and, if you don’t want to include transfers in your journey from the start, there are shuttles from the Calgary International Airport to popular tourism spots. Local excursions will also take you to stunning lakes like Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Minnewanka and Maligne Lake.
The local public transit system, Roam, is available for those interested in having afternoon tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel or taking the Banff Gondola. Roam offers everything from one-way fares to multi-day passes good for stays of up to 186 days. Bike rentals and taxis are also options. Downtown Jasper and Banff are also highly walkable.
6. Once you've seen Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, you've seen the Rockies.
The Canadian Rockies expand far beyond these must-visit tourist destinations, and so you may want to book a rental car or a motorcoach tour to explore the beauty that lies beyond.
Wind your way along the Icefields Parkway, one of Canada’s most spectacular highways. Visitors will want to plan a stop for the Ice Explorer experience on Athabasca Glacier, where you can stand on a river of ice thousands of years old. Located along the Parkway in Jasper National Park, the Glacier Skywalk attracts guests worldwide who take the kilometre-long walk on a suspended glass-floor observation platform to catch glimpses of the scenery 280 metres below.
If you have a few extra days available for exploring, venture further to Yoho National Park in British Columbia. “It has jewels [that are] off the beaten path like the Burgess Shale, where one of the most significant fossil finds in the world is found,” explains Amélie Goulet-Boucher, promotions officer for Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.
While in Yoho National Park, enjoy long alpine walks, see waterfalls and go for a quiet stroll in the quaint village of Field. Take a break at the Truffle Pigs Bistro, a casual spot known for its gourmet flatbreads and pan-seared Kuterra salmon.
With so many myths swirling around, the best thing you can do to really understand the appeal of the Rockies is to visit (or revisit) them. There’s no shortage of ways to immerse yourself in their beauty and vibrant history. In no time, you’ll be thinking about this iconic part of Western Canada in a brand new way.
Rocky Mountaineer travels across four routes through the Pacific Northwest and into the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Its GoldLeaf Service, launched in 1995, features bi-level, glass-dome coaches with stunning panoramic views on the upper level and a dining room and outdoor viewing platform on the lower level. SilverLeaf Service features oversized windows, delicious meals served at your seat, and the same impeccable service and astounding views.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio.
The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.
More from the series:
In a fast-paced world, slow travel provides a more thoughtful option
Itʼs not a race, itʼs a journey, say fans of rail travel
How to pack for a journey by rail
What should you bring and how should you pack for a train trip? Here are some expert tips
Planning a trip to Banff, Lake Louise or Jasper? Here’s a complete guide
Get the most out of your vacation to Western Canada and the beautiful Canadian Rockies