Many travellers ask us: "What do you recommend in the Rocky Mountains"?
When we get this question we don’t even know where to start. There is so much to do in the Rockies around Banff and Jasper that you would need weeks to explore the area. But many travellers reserve a car, RV or a camper only for a few days.
If you would like to explore the Rocky Mountains without a hassle, we recommend at least 7 days. That's why Backpacker's Loft offers a special price of $99/night for reservations over 7 nights.
First a few important information pieces for your trip planning to make your amazing experience as smooth as possible.
National Park Pass
A National Park Pass is required to travel to the National Parks.
The money from the pass will go into the support of visitor services and facilities, like the maintenance of trails, picnic areas, public washrooms, and much much more. There are two types of passes available:
2021 Daily Park Pass
(valid until 4pm of the following day)
Youth under 17: free
Adult (18-64 years): $10
Senior (over 65 years): $8.40
Family/Group up to 7 people in one vehicle: $20
2021 Annual Discovery Pass
(valid for 12 months from the month of purchase)
The Annual Discovery Passes gives you a year long access into over 100 National Parks in Canada, National Marine Conservation Areas and National Historic Sites. Be aware, camping fees are not included in the park pass fees.
Youth under 17: free
Adult (18-64 years): $69.19
Senior (over 65 years): $59.17
Family/Group up to 7 people in one vehicle: $139.40
Driving from Calgary you can buy the pass at the Park's entrance when driving into the Banff National Park.
More information >here< on the Parks Canada homepage.
2021 is going to be a very busy camping season and it is recommendable to have a campground reservation before driving to the Rocky Mountains. There are always left over 'first come first serve' spots but those spots are filled very quickly.
Banff National Park
2021 Reservation launch: April 12, 2021 at 8 am MDT
Jasper National Park
2021 Reservation launch: April 9, 2021 at 8 am MDT
Banff National Park - Lake Louise
Between Mid-May to Mid-October parking at Lake Louise is very limited and most of the day it is full. Pay parking is in effect for the Lake Louise Lakeshore parking lot. It will cost $11.70 per vehicle.
Beginning April 28, 2021 you can reserve a shuttle running to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
Shuttle operating May 14 to October 11, 2021
Banff and Lake Louise Area
Spend 1-2 nights in Banff, explore Johnston Canyon, Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. A favourite sunset or sunrise spot is Vermillion Lakes in Banff. If you are lucky you get a colourful sky mirroring in the calm lakes. Give it a try it is not far from your campground.
There are many campgrounds in Banff National Park. Some are reservable, some are first come, first served with self registration. You can find a very good list of all Banff National Park campgrounds >here<.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the two major attractions with millions of visitors every year can be visited on the way to the Icefields Parkway. Be very early to get a parking spot because those two lakes are very popular and the most photographed attractions in the Rocky Mountains. Drive up Moraine Lake before sunrise and have your breakfast at the lake. Then go exploring. You can hike to Consolation Lakes or in September the 'Larch Valley' hike is our favourite and a must. Check out some photos from our hikes >here<.
If you reserved the campervan for more than 7 days, there is time for a short detour to two other major attractions in the Rockies. Many travellers miss this opportunity because Emerald Lake is about 40 minutes west of Lake Louise past the Icefields Parkway entrance ramp. Don’t miss out on Emerald Lake where you can rent a canoe and spend a relaxing hour or two on the pristine lake. Takakkaw Falls are close by just a few more kilometres to the 2nd tallest waterfall in Canada.
Here are some inspirational photos taken over the many years while exploring the area.
Even though the Icefields Parkway is only 237km (147 miles) long, you will stop at least a hundred times to take photos to make your Instagram friends jealous, lol.
Don't drive all the way to Jasper in just one day. Take 1-2 nightly breaks somewhere at the many campgrounds on the Icefields Parkway. You will be in the middle of nature and undisturbed, oh well, maybe you will get a visit from the deer while having breakfast or dinner :)
You can find a list of the Jasper National Park campgrounds >here<.
Along the 'Icefields Parkway' you will pass many glaciers and waterfalls, drive along rivers and stop at lakes. A plethora of hiking trails are waiting for you. Just some of the many stopping points: Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, Columbia Icefield, Sunwapta Falls, Athabasca Falls.
Stop at the Columbia Icefields Centre (ahhh, the only phone reception and free Wi-Fi spot on the entire Icefield Parkway to check on life in civilization or post your first pictures on Instagram). If you would like to know more about glaciers, take a 3 hour or 6 hour guided interpretive Icewalk tour onto the Athabasca Glacier. You will never forget this adventure. More Info >here<.
Not mentioned in travel guides is Horseshoe Lake, a picturesque green lake just a short drive outside of Jasper (between Athabasca Falls and Jasper). The locals use it as a swimming hole in the summer months. Maybe you want to jump in for a cool off? Every time we passed we stopped and got the most gorgeous mirroring photos ever. It is only a short 10 minute walk through the forest.
In Jasper you can spend a few days hiking and soak in the hot springs of Miette Hot Springs after a day of hiking.
Main attractions not to be missed in Jasper: Pyramid Lake, Maligne Canyon, take a boat tour on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island.
The weather in the Rocky Mountains can be very unpredictable. Be prepared and bring a jacket for rain and light snow throughout the entire summer season (we even had snow in August, but of course it melted very quickly).
The outer shell of the roof top tent is very sturdy and protects you from rain and snow. The tent itself is made of durable poly-cotton which makes it water resistant (not waterproof), wind proof and retains more heat for better comfort.
Being elevated from the ground it is harder for the rainwater and mud to get into the tent.
However in case of constant pouring rain or when the nights are chilly, and you do not want to spend the night in the tent, there are some dry and warm hostels along the Icefields Parkway and around Banff and Jasper.
A list of hostels along the Icefields Parkway >here<
Another option are the "cooking shelters" at the campgrounds. They are dry shelters with roofs and somoetimes closed off areas where you can use the wood stove (if they have one) to warm up or cook your dinner. Or just take the propane stove from the campervan to those shelters....
You can also hang out in those shelters, plan your next day hike, play games, read a book instead of sitting in the camper or tent. We provide a lantern so you won't have to sit in the dark ;)
The following campgrounds have a cooking shelter:
Two Jack Main (Banff)
Two Jack Lakeside (Banff)
Johnston Canyon (Banff)
Castle Mountain (Banff)
Protection Mountain (Banff)
Mosquito Creek (Icefields Parkway)
Rampart Creek (Icefields Parkway)
Waterfowl Lakes (Icefields Parkway)
Wilcox Creek (Icefields Parkway)
Columbia Icefields Campground (Icefields Parkway)
Jonas Creek (Icefields Parkway)
Honeymoon Lake (Icefields Parkway)
Mount Kerkeslin (Icefields Parkway)
Wapiti Campground (Jasper)
Whistlers Campground (Jasper)
Wabasso Campground (Jasper)
Snaring Campground (Jasper)
Wilcox Creek Campground (Jasper)