Activities you’ll cross off your bucket list with ease
May 25, 2016
By Afton Aikens with notes from Where writers
In the Canadian Rockies we take our cues from the mountains—we go big. We also get creative. Our tour operators offer activities that allow everyone to explore our wild alpine playground. We’ll get you to the summit; you choose whether you want to ride, fly or climb.
Glide to Gorgeous Views
Above treeline, peaks stud the skies and wildlife bask on slopes. Hop a sightseeing lift to the mountaintop and watch the terrain below expand. Observation decks, hiking trails and interpretive programs await.
After a $26-million renovation of the upper terminal, the Banff Gondola is back in full operation August 1. Marvel at views of Cascade and Rundle mountains, and the fairytale-esque Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Bighorn sheep greet you on the boardwalk stroll to the historic Cosmic Ray Station. “Now with an expansive interpretive area and immersive theatre, plus new food offerings, this is a premiere family destination,” says the gondola’s Michelle Gaudet.
At Mount Norquay, take the refurbished 1952 North American Chairlift to boardwalk views of Mount Rundle and the Banff townsite. Visit the Cliffhouse Bistro at 2,133 m (6,998 ft) where Marilyn Monroe once dined. Thrill-seekers can embark on a guided Via Ferrata climb, a former Where magazine Best New Attraction.
Farther west, ascend Mount Whitehorn over grizzly habitat aboard the Lake Louise Gondola. At 2,088 m (6,850 ft), get a stunning bird’s eye view of Victoria Glacier, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and its aquamarine namesake. Gaze across the valley at massive Mount Temple, stop at the Wildlife Interpretation Centre and take a guided walk.
In Jasper National Park, take the seven-minute SkyTram ride to the top of Whistlers Mountain. On Canada’s highest aerial tram, ‘flight attendants’ chat with up to 26 guests about the park’s history, geography and ecology. At 2,227 m (7,306 ft), see six mountain ranges and hike the Summit Trail. “You’ll be hiking above treeline in the alpine,” says manager Todd Noble. Fear not—the trail is enjoyed by all ages.
Does altitude give you an appetite? All lifts have dining at the top. Heading into BC? Try the gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort with grizzly bear refuge.
Discover Fascinating Glaciers
Prefer to stay on terra firma? The Icefields Parkway that connects Lake Louise to Jasper traces the spine of the Continental Divide. Of the 100 glaciers that grace its western edge, the most famous is the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield. Embark on an epic adventure here.
The ice is as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high, and its meltwaters feed the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The 215-sq km (83 sq mi) icefield continually changes. Millwells develop, crevasses open, seracs form, underground rivers flow and rock moves.
You can stroll the Toe of the Glacier Interpretive Trail, or take a guided Athabasca Glacier Icewalk atop this grand relic of the Ice Age. Brewster Ice Explorer all-terrain beasts journey over moraine and ice to the glacier headwall. In the last 125 years, the Athabasca Glacier has lost half its volume and receded by 1.5 km (.9 mi), up to 10 m (33 ft) annually. Climate change is evident here.
“The glacier’s erosive power affects much of what can be seen in the area,” says Brewster’s Anne Brouillette. “Everything from the creation of mountains to the turquoise colour of the lakes comes from this amazing process. The history of this landscape, although ancient, is still being written.”
Take the bus from the Glacier Discovery Centre to the Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edge walkway where you peer down 280 m (920 ft) through a glass floor to the Sunwapta Valley base. This interpretive attraction has won awards for its architecture and engineering. The cantilevered platform is anchored at one end and suspended beyond the cliff allowing a thrilling view of peaks, glaciers and waterfalls. Pick up a handheld audio guide and stop at stations that interpret geology, biology and ecology.
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