Travel Adventures in Western Canada
Discover the best of western Canada, from stunning Lake Louise and the snow-capped summits of Banff National Park to the scenic splendour of Vancouver Island, Johnston Strait and the friendly city of Vancouver. Western Canada is renowned for its stunningly beautiful landscapes and frontier heritage. Experience gold-rush ghost towns and pioneer villages set amid rugged peaks, glaciers, rivers, lakes and forests in a region famous for some of the best hiking, fishing, canoeing and skiing in the world – perfect for that adventure getaway in summer or winter.
In summer, explore the backcountry of Banff National Park on horseback. Spot brown bear, deer, osprey and eagles in between shooting rapids along the Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser Rivers. Watch enormous grizzly bears frolic in the rivers and inlets on the north-west coast at Great Bear Rainforest or encounter orca, minke and humpback whales, porpoises and dolphins from a sea kayak in Johnstone Strait. Watch pods of whales frolic just off the coast of Vancouver Island as bald eagles soar overhead and enjoy breathtaking views across Burrard Inlet and English Bay on a bike ride along Vancouver's Stanley Park Seawall. In winter, head to the perfect ski and snowboarding slopes of Whistler Blackcomb and Banff/Lake Louise.
Canadian Rockies-Extending for 640km along the British Columbia-Alberta border, the majestic snow-capped mountain peaks of the Canadian Rockies descend to some of the bluest lakes on earth. Experience this natural wonderland by rail and car, or on foot along marked trails that wind through national parks, forests and meadows covered with wildflowers in summer. Or trek across a glacier, go horseback riding, river rafting or cycle the forested shores of tranquil lakes. Take a guided tour of local historic sites in Banff, explore Lake Louise with a resident naturalist and discover the UNESCO World Heritage site of Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump in the foothills of the Rockies. Enjoy a breathtaking 360-degree view of the stunning Rocky Mountains from the peak of Eagle's Eye Mountain, then saddle up for a horseback tour of this high cattle country and later savour an authentic rustic steak pit lunch.
Banff National Park-Explore Canada's oldest national park, home to dramatic mountain peaks, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers and shimmering blue lakes. Discover also the lively towns of Banff and Lake Louise situated in some of Canada's most spectacular alpine scenery. In summer, hire a car and drive the Icefields Parkway, a 230km scenic route linking Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise – one of the most picturesque drives in North America. Along the way stop and tour the massive glacial Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, stroll a short distance to the Lower Sunwapta Falls and later discover the Athabasca Falls, a roaring torrent that cascades 25m into a narrow canyon.
See Banff on horseback or hike along some of the park’s 1600km of scenic trails – the narrow Johnston Canyon offers a winding trail that takes you past cascading waterfalls, through tunnels and across footbridges to a series of spring-fed, shimmering pools. At Lake Louise, try the Lake Agnes Trail that skirts the emerald-green lake before climbing upwards to the edge of Victoria Glacier, offering striking views over Chateau Lake Louise. Kayak across the shimmering turquoise surface of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, just 57km north-west of Banff town, take a two-hour float trip down the Bow River or tackle serious white water on Kicking Horse River near Lake Louise. Later revitalise with an evening dip in Banff’s therapeutic hot mineral springs.
In winter, choose from four mountain faces in three different ski areas for downhill and cross-country skiing, snow boarding, dogsledding and ice-skating. Discover numerous gentle slopes and long cruising runs – perfect for beginners and intermediate skiers – while expert skiers can explore endless chutes, gullies, wide-open bowls and tree-lined glades in some of the Rockies’ most challenging terrain. Afterwards soak in the naturally hot mineral springs of Banff Upper Hot Springs as falling snowflakes twirl around you.
Both Banff and Lake Louise offer numerous quality restaurants, pubs and shopping options. Banff provides more late-night action: party hard at Aurora Nightclub or relax over a locally brewed beer at Bear’s Den Pub.
Jaspar-Explore the largest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain national parks, crowded with rugged mountain scenery, full of crystal-clear mountain lakes and cascading waterfalls, and home to ancient glaciers and the spectacular Columbia Icefield – the largest ice field south of Alaska. Look out for grizzly brown bears, deer, elf and moose as well as more than 270 species of birds. Take the Jasper Tramway up the near-vertical side of Whistler Mountain, following with a 40-minute hike to the summit for an impressive view of the town and surrounding mountains. Drive up to Mount Edith Cavelle then stroll the 1km trail for views across the stunning Angel Glacier or try the steep 3km climb up the valley to Cavelle Meadows, which are typically blanketed with wildflowers from mid-July to mid-August.
Try a float or white-water rafting trip down the mild rapids (Class II-III) of the Athabasca River or head to the wild Class III runs down the Maligne River. Hike the scenic trails around Maligne Canyon or those that loop Pyramid and Patricia lakes just north of Jasper, or choose to take an easy trail ride on horseback instead. Revitalise at the naturally heated mineral waters of Miette Hot Springs – warm up in the two 40°C hot pools then chill down in the adjacent 15°C cold pool.
Calgary-Explore Calgary on a bike or stroll its network of scenic paths, browse the pedestrian-only Eau Claire Market, then on nearby Prince's Island Park, view hordes of Canada geese on the Bow River while strolling beneath beautiful cottonwood trees. See some of the region’s best flora and fauna at the Calgary Zoo and Botanic Gardens, take the children to the adjoining Prehistoric Park to spot their favourite dinosaurs and discover historic Fort Calgary. Learn about the local Blackfeet tribe and western Canada's exploration and settlement at the Glenbow Museum, one of Canada's finest museums. Experience one of the world’s biggest rodeos at the annual Calgary Stampede, which is held over ten days in the middle of July each year, or learn about ranching, past and present, at the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, a still-operating cattle ranch that dates from 1880.
Whistler Blackcomb-Located just 120km north of Vancouver on Highway 99, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics is consistently voted the best ski resort in North America. Whistler Blackcomb together feature more than 3200 skiable hectares, a vertical drop of 1600m, more than 200 trails and an average annual snowfall of 900cm. In winter, the twin resorts offer excellent conditions for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding as well as great opportunities in spring and summer for kayaking, white-water rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking and golf. Rent a bike and explore some of the mountain trails or cycle the paved 30km Valley Trail around Whistler Village. For an easy 30km hike, try the Lost Lake Trail that winds through lush cedar groves, around creeks and beaver dams or take the Whistler Mountain Gondola to the mountain top and walk the Singing Pass Trail down to the village. Choose an easy paddle on the Cheakamus River or a roaring white-water adventure along the wild Squamish River.
Later relax at one of the more than 100 restaurants in Whistler’s village, catering to all budgets and tastes, and ranging from Spanish, Italian and French to Japanese and Mexican cuisine. Dance the night away at Garfinkel’s or Moe Joe’s, people-watch over a cool beer at Citta’s Bar or head over to Dubh Linn Gate for a bit of craic and live Irish music.
Note: Whistler is a popular weekend getaway for Vancouver residents and Canadians in general, hence many luxury hotels get booked for the holiday season six months in advance. Try to book at least three months ahead for the ski season and at least two months in advance at other times.
Great Bear Rainforest-Discover one of the world’s best places to observe grizzly (brown) bears in a 1.8 million hectare temperate coastal rainforest located on Canada’s Pacific Coast, about 80km by air from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. The Great Bear Rainforest is home to hundreds of animal species, including kermode and grizzly bears, cougars and wolves. Look out for bald eagles, 1000-year-old remnants of Native Indians who once lived here, as well as 61m-tall red cedar and spruce trees. In summer, spot grey and humpback whales, seal pups and merganser ducks, and in the evenings listen to wolves howling in the nearby forest.
Vancouver-Blessed with one of the most beautiful settings in the world, Canada’s largest port is ringed by snow-capped, forested mountains that descend to kilometres of sandy beaches. Go snowboarding and sailing on the same day, kayak into Indian Arm fjord or take the ferry to Granville Island. Enjoy a picnic on one of the numerous beaches close by or walk the historic cobblestone streets of Gastown, browse exotic Chinatown, discover the shiny post-modern glass cathedrals of downtown Vancouver and stroll past the striking collection of First Native totem poles set among the giant trees of lush Stanley Park. Then enjoy a dramatic sunset from the famous 10.5km Seawall, a cycleway and pedestrian track that runs around Stanley Park. At 400ha, and surrounded by ocean on three sides, the reserve is the largest urban park in North America.
Johnstone Strait-Explore the many coves and beaches along the narrow strait between the north-eastern tip of Vancouver Island and mainland Canada. Paddle a kayak through calm waters past rugged coastal scenery as sleek ebony and ivory orca whales breach, spout and swim nearby. Encounter minke and humpback whales, porpoises and dolphins, sea lions, seals and bald eagles. Johnstone Strait is said to be the world’s best place to watch orcas congregate during the summer months to feed, socialise and rub themselves against pebble beaches.
Vancouver Island-Getting there is half the fun: cruise past the Gulf or San Juan islands on the ferry, soar above in a floatplane or take a whale-watching boat, spotting orcas (killer whales), harbor seals, sea lions and Dahl's porpoises along the way. Vancouver Island's coastline offers a variety of adventure activities, from kayaking in calm and isolated bays, wandering along sandy beaches and hiking into pristine rainforest to deep-sea fishing and ocean wildlife viewing. Head into the Strait of Juan de Fuca aboard a wildlife-viewing boat and get up-close and personal with orcas, porpoises and various sea birds, or explore Long Beach, part of the Pacific Rim National Park. The spectacularly wide 16km-long beach is flanked by impressive rainforests of fir, cedar and Sitka spruce and offers the opportunity to watch basking sea lions as eagles soar overhead. Go fishing for salmon in the Campbell River, visit natural hot springs or discover ceremonial masks, tribal costumes and fascinating artefacts of the local First Nation's Blackfeet tribe at the Kwagiulth Museum and Cultural Centre.
Victoria-Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is known as the ‘Garden City’ and is famous for its historic buildings, charming atmosphere and bustling inner harbour. Stroll though the 20ha Butchart Gardens, home to more than a million plants displayed in themed gardens such as the Rose Garden, Italian Garden and Japanese Garden. Visit the Royal British Columbia Museum to see a myriad of displays and exhibits showcasing the best of western Canada. Tour the four-storey, 39-room Craigdarroch Castle built in the 1880s and located in the highlands above Oak Bay or explore the inner harbour on a ferry for a scenic view of Victoria.
Scenic Drive-Take Highway 99 from Vancouver to Lillooet, known as the Sea to Sky Highway. Experience an exciting drive along the coastline, past glaciers, pine forests and waterfalls, though Whistler's glacial mountains and the forested Cayoosh Creek Valley before reaching the craggy mountains surrounding the gold-rush town of Lillooet, located on the Fraser River and around four hours easy driving from Vancouver.
Best time to visit
Any time, depending on what you want to do. Summer, from June to August, averages 20˚C, with a high of 26˚C. Winter, from November to March, averages a daytime high of anywhere between 5˚C and 13˚C and is generally milder than most parts of Canada, although night-time temperatures can range from a chilly minus 25˚C to 8˚C.