Best time to visit the Canadian Rockies

Wildflowers brighten the subalpine meadows in June. That’s also when bears and 200-strong elk herds emerge on the lower slopes to graze snow-free grassland.
Canadian Rockies holidays tend to gun for the summer months, well away from avalanche season and the well-below-zero winter. Mid-May to mid-September is when the hiking paths and rafting rivers open for business, and glacier hikes become more accessible due to snowmelt. Lakes often don’t fully defrost till mid-June; so consider whether you’d rather be kayaking or ice skating. Wearing layers is essential; although things cool at high altitude there have been some surprisingly hot summers in recent years. For autumn colours, the best time to go to the Canadian Rockies is mid-September, when the larch trees go for gold.

Jasper Weather Chart

RAIN (mm)
Travel Team
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Things to do in the Canadian Rockies…

Canada is even bigger than you think, so prepare yourself for long drives. It takes 8.5 hours to drive between Vancouver and Jasper (via the lovely lakes and orchards of the Okanagan, granted). And you’ll need 12 hours to make the most of the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper. On the upside, these are some of the most scenic drives in the world and offer some of the best opportunities to spot bears that come to strip the roadside berry bushes. Hike your heart out. After all, with soaring names like the Plain of Six Glaciers, Paradise Valley and Angel Glacier, how can you resist? Trails tend to be moderate to challenging: mostly low altitude paths of up to 2,500m but with some steep ascents. Organised tours will drive you between hikes and carry any luggage. Take the family. White water rafting up the Fraser River, hiking at Emerald Lake, kayaking on Lake Moraine, camping in Banff – almost all the activities can be tweaked for families, especially if you choose an organised tour with a guide that knows the challenges of the mountains. Add a few days in Vancouver. It’s a great warm up – or cool down – to your adventure, dealing out rainforested Stanley Park, sandy sunset beaches and high-design museums on the edge of the North Shore mountains that lie between you and the Rockies. It’s also got a quietly astronomical food scene that deals out everything from First Nation favourites (maple-drizzled sockeye salmon, anyone?) to sushi (watch out for B.C. rolls).

Things not  to do in the Canadian Rockies…

Forget your SLR camera. The Canadian Rockies roll out some of the most remarkable views in the world. Just remember to invest in a good lens of at least 300mm if you want to zoom in on the caribou migrating across the opposite valley or the bear scuffling around the forest just across the river. Expect it to be freezing. Although it’s chillier in the mountains, it’s also not unusual to wind up in t-shirts and shorts by your campfire. The summer can jump to peaks of 30°C, while spring can dip below zero, so pack layers. Hike or camp solo. The Canadian Rockies are the realm of the grizzlies, so your best bet is to let your guide lead the way. But if you do go wandering with friends, keep an eye on park advisories and pack bear spray (and learn how to use it). Rangers update the signs at trail heads telling you if grizzlies are active in the area. When camping, listen to your guide’s instructions on suspending your food above ground. No one wants their alarm call to be a grizzly rummaging around their tent for a stray Hershey’s wrapper. Make the mistake of thinking it’s all about Banff and Jasper. Smaller national parks like Yoho and Waterton offer up silent trails and less flighty wildlife.

Canadian Rockies travel advice

Laura McGowan, Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism Canada, shares her wildlife watching tips:

Go with the guidelines

“Wildlife watching is a big aspect of tourism in Canada, and a growing one, so you need to ensure that the tour operator you are choosing is following all the guidelines, and that they are not putting either the tourist or the animal in danger. A lot of times, especially in the Rocky Mountains, tourists will, when they see a bear, just want to get out of their vehicle and get a picture. Or even worse, try and feed the bear. Independent tour guides have been known to do this in order to attract bears for the visitors.That is dangerous – not only for the person, but also the bear, because this often ends up in the bear having to be destroyed. Tourists just don’t think about the consequences of approaching animals in the wild. So make sure you travel with an expert.”
Photo credits: [Page banner: Sergei Akulich] [Intro: Linford Miles] [Things to do: Kiemle] [Laura McGowan quote: brigachtal]