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How To Create Unforgettable Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies

Imagine exploring the majestic landscapes of the Canadian Rockies, where towering mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and stunning waterfalls await you and your family. From the vibrant Banff National Park to the serene retreat of Waterton Lakes, there’s a world of adventure waiting to be discovered.

We’ll guide you through unforgettable family adventures in the Canadian Rockies, highlighting the must-visit spots, family-friendly hikes, and hidden gems that we’ve found with our 3 boys.

Exploring Banff National Park with Kids

Banff National Park, a favorite amongst visitors to the national parks in the Rocky Mountains, offers an array of activities suitable for families, from popular hikes and gondola rides to exploring the charming towns of Banff and Canmore.

Whether it’s marveling at the turquoise waters of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake or experiencing the thrill of a boat tour on the Bow River, Banff National Park promises unforgettable memories for the entire family.

The Town of Banff & Banff National Park

Banff is a National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but there’s also a town inside the park named Banff (population just under 10,000).

If a local (or someone you meet along the way) suggests things for your family to do in Banff, be sure to clarify if they’re referring to the town or the park.

Visiting downtown Banff, Alberta
A family visit to downtown Banff, Alberta

Banff is a tourist town surrounded by the Canadian Rockies with quaint bed and breakfasts, small tourist shops, but plenty of chain restaurants you’ll recognize.

Johnston Canyon Hike

Johnston Canyon, a renowned attraction in Banff National Park, captivates families with waterfalls along the way, and a paved path (much of it on a boardwalk through a near slot canyon). This mesmerizing trail offers breathtaking views and easily navigable paths, making it an ideal choice for kids of all ages.

The best time to visit Johnston Canyon is early in the morning or late in the day, allowing you to enjoy its beauty without the crowds.

Loving the waterfalls on our family hike in Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
We loved the waterfalls on our family hike in Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park.

Continue along the path for an extended hike to visit the ink pots and upper falls. The inkpot portion of the hike took us another 90 minutes return trip, but the remoteness of that part of the hike meant we could explore in seclusion.

From the thundering waterfalls to the lush forest, the Johnston Canyon hike immerses you in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. As you make your way along the trail, don’t be surprised if you spot some mountain goats or other wildlife native to the area.

We found this hike by accident. We were wanting to camp at Protection Mountain (one of our favorite off-grid campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies) and realized it was still closed for the season, so we went to Johnston Canyon Campground instead, and the attendant recommended the hike across the road.

Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain

The Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain offer stunning views of the town of Banff and its surrounding mountains. At the top of Sulphur Mountain, you can:

  • Enjoy a short and easy walk
  • Discover the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station
  • Marvel at the 1903 weather observatory
  • Enjoy a coffee or meal at the restaurant
  • Learn at the interpretive center

The Banff Gondola is free for children under 5, making it an affordable activity for families with young kids. If you’re up for a challenge, you can also opt for the switchback hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain, a 5.5km climb that takes approximately 2 hours. This challenging ascent rewards you with awe-inspiring views of the Canadian Rockies, and you can enjoy the convenience of taking the gondola back down for half the ticket cost if you don’t want to walk both directions.

Additionally, the Lake Louise Gondola (available at the Lake Louise town visitors center, not at the lake itself) offers another opportunity to explore the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

The captivating beauty of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake make them two of the most famous spots in Banff National Park. Just a short drive from the town of Banff, these iconic lakes offer visitors the opportunity to experience the incredible beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Whether you choose to visit on your own or take an organized tour, you’ll be captivated by the breathtaking landscapes surrounding these turquoise waters.

Family photos at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Photos at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park after our hike

As of summer 2023, you can no longer drive your car to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake. Instead, reserve your shuttle tickets here for the Lake Louise Park & Ride. Some exceptions are made for people with disabilities or hotel guests of the Moraine Lake Lodge.

The Lake Agnes Trail at Lake Louise is a great option for hikers looking to explore more. It’s an exciting 4.6 miles (7,4 km) out-and-back journey that rewards with a 1300+ ft (435 m) elevation gain. The trail offers a wonderful reward at the top – the delightful Lake Agnes teahouse, where you can enjoy delicious afternoon tea, soup, hot chocolate, cake, and sandwiches. Along the way, you’ll also encounter a stunning small lake (Beehive Lake) and a breathtaking small waterfall. This trail is perfect for families seeking an unforgettable adventure in the heart of Banff National Park.

Our first time on the Lake Agnes Trail, we found snow in July, which our boys thought was the coolest thing to experience during the out-and-back hike. It’s a moderately difficult hike – not too difficult for our 3 boys (6, 8, and 10 at the time) but fewer crowds than around the lake itself.

Unfortunately, we went later in the day and the tea house had just closed, so our aim to grab a cup of tea and a quick snack at the top had to wait until we got back to the town of Lake Louise. (check those tea house hours!)

Visiting Canmore with Kids

A short drive from Banff, Canmore offers families:

  • A less crowded and more convenient option to explore the Canadian Rockies. Canmore is closer to the East side of Banff National Park making it the closest town if you’re coming in from Calgary, Alberta.
  • A variety of family-friendly activities, such as hiking, biking, and fishing, restaurants, and (or course) ice cream shops.
  • An abundance of accommodations like hotels, resorts, and campgrounds

Canmore is an excellent choice for an unforgettable family adventure. It’s located towards the east side of the park, about an hour from Calgary. Our first year on the road, my parents flew into Calgary for the week, and we spent a few days in the city of Calgary and a few days at an Airbnb in Canmore exploring the park.

If you’re staying in or near Calgary and want to get a taste of the Canadian rocky mountains, then Canmore is a great day trip with plenty of little restaurants, ice cream shops, souvenir stores, and something to see for the whole family.

Canmore is a hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies, perfect for a family visit.

Before you visit Canmore, check out this clip of “Mike from Canmore,” one of every Canadian 90’s kid’s favorite characters from “Royal Canadian Air Farce” – our sketch comedy version of Saturday Night Live.

Visiting Banff with Kids

Banff town, with its variety of kid-friendly attractions, shops, and restaurants, makes for a delightful destination for families. As you explore Banff Avenue, you can:

  • Indulge in delicious treats like beaver tails or Canadian maple syrup pancakes
  • Take home unique souvenirs from the local shops
  • Visit the Cascade of Time Garden, with interactive displays teaching children about the geological history of the Canadian Rockies.

If you happen to visit Banff during Canada Day on July 1st, don’t miss the exciting parade featuring the Mounties. This celebration is a great way to immerse your family in the local culture and enjoy the festivities.

Celine has a family tradition of visiting the Candy Shop in Banff, so whenever we take our boys, we have to make a stop at the candy shop.

Family Fun in Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park, Canada
Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park, known for its untamed and natural beauty, offers a plethora of activities designed for families that will undoubtedly create lasting memories. Like Banff, there is also a Town of Jasper within Jasper National Park.

From the exhilarating Jasper Skytram and the picturesque Maligne Lake boat tour to exploring the charming town of Jasper, to amazing scenery and cascading waterfalls, there’s something for everyone in this stunning national park.

Unlike the quaint towns to Banff, Canmore, and Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Jasper (just North of Banff) is all about hiking trails and outdoor exploration.

Whether you’re looking for a thrilling river rafting adventure or a relaxing getaway, Jasper National Park is a quieter opportunity than Banff for an amazing family-friendly adventure.

Maligne Lake Boat Tour

Experience the beauty of Maligne Lake in Jasper on a guided boat tour, offering opportunities for wildlife spotting and family-friendly hikes. As you cruise across the crystal-clear waters, you’ll have the chance to spot a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, and trumpeter swans. The tour also includes a stop at Spirit Island, the most photographed island in the Canadian Rockies.

The Maligne Lake boat tour offers:

  • A chance to explore the stunning landscapes of Jasper National Park
  • The opportunity to appreciate the captivating beauty of the Canadian Rockies
  • Tranquil waters of Maligne Lake
  • Majestic mountains that surround the lake

Things to do in the town of Jasper with kids

With a variety of kid-friendly attractions, shops, and restaurants, the town of Jasper serves as a delightful destination for families. As you explore the town, you’ll discover exciting activities such as:

  • Visiting Athabasca Falls
  • Exploring the Columbia Ice Field
  • Enjoying Pyramid and Patricia Lakes
  • Skiing at Marmot Basin (in the winter)
  • Visiting the Jasper Planetarium

In addition to these thrilling activities, Jasper also offers a range of accommodations, from hotels and cabins to campgrounds, ensuring a comfortable stay for your family. With so much to see and do, the town of Jasper is the perfect base for your family’s adventures in Jasper National Park.

Yoho National Park: A Hidden Gem in British Columbia

Yoho National Park, a hidden gem nestled on the picturesque British Columbia side along the Trans-Canada highway, provides a less crowded alternative to Banff. With picturesque hikes, stunning lakes, and the unique Spiral Tunnels, this national park is an ideal destination for families seeking a peaceful retreat in the Canadian Rockies.

The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, and many varieties of birds.

If you’re flying into Vancouver to visit Yoho, it’s worth the detour to visit Kelowna, BC with your family on your way to or from the Canadian Rockies.

Emerald Lake Exploration

Emerald Lake, delightfully situated in Yoho National Park, is a serene and picturesque spot perfect for family hikes and picnics. Its crystal-clear waters and surrounding mountains create a captivating landscape that will leave you and your family in awe.

Emerald lake, Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia

For a unique experience, families can rent canoes and kayaks to paddle across the tranquil waters of Emerald Lake.

We decided to hike the Emerald Lake circuit trail on our visit, a 5.3km easy, enjoyable, and family-friendly walk that allows you to explore the beauty of this stunning lake fully. Since it’s just off the edge of the lake, the hiking trails are mostly level.

Emerald Lake is truly a must-visit destination in Yoho National Park.

Takkakaw Falls Hike

Takkakaw Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Canada, is an awe-inspiring attraction in Yoho National Park. The Takkakaw Falls hike offers families an opportunity to witness this powerful waterfall up close, while also enjoying the breathtaking landscapes of the Canadian Rockies.

The hike to Takkakaw Falls offers:

  • A pleasant 10-minute stroll from the parking lot
  • Marveling at the cascading waters and towering mountains
  • Get ready to take plenty of photos of your family’s adventures in at Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park.

Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park

The Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park are a fascinating engineering marvel that showcases the ingenuity and determination of early railway builders. With 25-30 trains passing through the tunnels daily, this unique attraction offers an exciting glimpse into the history and development of the Canadian Rockies.

As you watch the trains navigate the complex twists and turns of the Spiral Tunnels, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges faced by early engineers in their quest to conquer the rugged landscape of the Canadian Rockies. This intriguing attraction is a must-see for families visiting Yoho National Park.

Kootenay National Park: An Alternative Adventure

Located in the scenic Columbia Valley, Kootenay National Park offers families an alternative adventure destination, complete with relaxing hot springs and picturesque hikes. As part of your family’s exploration of the Canadian Rockies, be sure to visit this enchanting national park for a truly unforgettable experience.

Radium Hot Springs Relaxation

Radium Hot Springs, nestled in Kootenay National Park, provides a relaxing experience for families, with natural mineral pools surrounded by beautiful scenery. As you soak in the warm waters, you’ll feel the stress of everyday life melting away, leaving you refreshed and rejuvenated.

Radium Hot Springs in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia

The cost of Radium Hot Springs is quite reasonable, with a variety of pricing options available for families and the duration of your stay. In addition to the soothing mineral pools, Radium Hot Springs also offers a swimming pool and additional services like massage therapy, a cafe, and a gift shop.

This tranquil retreat is the perfect way for your family to unwind and connect with nature in Kootenay National Park.

Marble Canyon Hike

The Marble Canyon hike in Kootenay National Park offers families an accessible and scenic trail, perfect for a day of exploration. This 4.5 km loop trail starts at the Marble Canyon parking lot and follows the Marble Canyon Creek, offering stunning waterfalls and viewpoints.

As you hike through the lush forest and marvel at the breathtaking landscapes, the Marble Canyon trail provides an exciting adventure for families of all ages. With its captivating scenery and accessible trail, this hike is a must-do activity for families visiting Kootenay National Park.

Waterton Lakes National Park: A Peaceful Retreat

For families seeking a break from the busier tourist areas of the Canadian Rockies, Waterton Lakes National Park, situated in Southern Alberta at the Montana border, provides a serene retreat. With beautiful trails, horseback riding excursions, and ideal visiting times, Waterton Lakes National Park is the perfect destination for a relaxing family getaway.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada
Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

Red Rock Canyon Trail

The Red Rock Canyon Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park (yet to be checked off our bucket list) is a family-friendly hike that showcases the park’s stunning landscapes. This captivating trail takes you through lush valleys, past tranquil lakes, and offers incredible views of the majestic mountains that surround the national park.

As you and your family navigate the easy-to-follow trail, you’ll be immersed in the natural beauty of Waterton Lakes National Park, making this hike a memorable part of your family’s adventure in the Canadian Rockies. The Red Rock Canyon Trail is an ideal choice for families seeking a leisurely hike with breathtaking scenery.

Horseback Riding Excursions

For a unique family adventure in Waterton Lakes National Park, consider taking a horseback riding excursion that’s suitable for all ages and experience levels. As you ride through the picturesque landscape, you’ll have an opportunity to witness the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the Kicking Horse River from a different perspective.

Horseback riding excursions in Waterton Lakes National Park offer:

  • A fantastic way to explore the park’s diverse terrain
  • An opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors with your family
  • Memorable experiences for both seasoned riders and beginners
  • An exciting element to your family’s adventure in the park

The best time of year to visit Waterton Lakes National Park

The best time of year to visit Waterton Lakes National Park is from May to September, when the park is open and offers a wide range of activities and opportunities for outdoor exploration. During this time, the weather is typically mild and sunny, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-70s Fahrenheit, making it a great time to be outdoors and enjoy the park’s stunning natural beauty.

Heads up: Weather can still be touchy even into late May. Our first visit to Waterton May 19th, 2019. There was a snow blizzard so thick that we couldn’t see mountains. It just looked like we were camping in our RV in the fog, so set your expectations (and dress) accordingly. We ended up only staying one night, then moving north into lower elevation in Alberta where the weather was perfect spring weather.

A blizzard in late May at Waterton Lakes National Park
Not the view of the mountains we were hoping for in Waterton Lakes National Park

When planning your family’s visit to Waterton Lakes National Park, consider the range of incredible family activities available during this time, such as:

  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Wildlife viewing

Being ‘Bear Aware’ with kids in the Canadian Rockies

While few hikes in the Canadian Rockies are incredibly kid-friendly, it’s important to be ‘bear aware’ when exploring the great outdoors with your family. Being informed and prepared can help ensure a safe and enjoyable family adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

Some tips for being ‘bear aware’ include:

  • Having bear spray handy
  • Make your presence known in areas where bears have been spotted or in prime bear habitats by talking loudly and consistently while hiking. The worst thing you can do is surprise a bear by coming around a corner if they didn’t know you were there. Most of the time, by talking loudly, wildlife will hear you coming and get out of the way.
  • Enjoying the outdoors with family and friends rather than alone
  • Following Parks Canada’s guidelines for bear encounters
  • Respecting the bears by never feeding them. Feeding bears human food can mean they start to approach humans to be fed, which can be dangerous for people and can necessitate removing or euthanizing the bear.

By keeping these tips in mind, you and your family can have a safe and memorable adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

Tips for Planning Your Family Adventure in the Canadian Rockies

To plan a memorable family adventure in the Canadian Rockies, consider accommodations, transportation, and activities that align with your family’s needs and preferences. From cozy hotels and cabins to family-friendly campgrounds, there’s an array of accommodation options available to suit your budget and preferences.

If you’re flying in to enjoy the Canadian Rockies, renting a car is the best option for transportation. Public transportation within the National Parks can be thorough. By parking at the visitor center, you can get busses through most parks which save you having to look for parking, but public transportation to and from the parks is not common and not something to plan on for an entire vacation.

When choosing parks for your vacation, keep in mind that each park is unique. All parks will offer amazing scenery, hiking, and plenty of nature:

  • Discover picturesque scenery with plenty of development in Banff National Park
  • Enjoy plenty of hiking and unspoiled scenery in Jasper National Park
  • Uncovering Yoho National Park’s hidden gems without the crowds of Banff or Jasper
  • Explore Kootenay National Park and experience hot springs
  • Taking a peaceful retreat to Waterton Lakes National Park bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park.

With a few hours of careful planning and consideration, your family adventures in the Canadian Rockies are sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Sum It Up:

From the bustling Banff National Park to the serene Waterton Lakes, the Canadian Rockies offer a diverse range of unforgettable family adventures. Whether you’re exploring picturesque hikes, taking thrilling gondola rides, or relaxing in soothing hot springs, these breathtaking landscapes will leave you and your family with lasting memories.

As you venture into the great outdoors, remember to be ‘bear aware’ and follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. With so much to see and do, the Canadian Rockies are the perfect destination for your next family adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Canadian Rockies

What is the best month to visit Canadian Rockies?

Summer months offer the best chance to visit the stunning Canadian Rockies and take in the turquoise-colored lakes they are known for. Aim for late June to mid-September for the perfect trip! The Canadian Rockies are a must-see destination for any traveler. With its breathtaking views, crystal-clear lakes, and lush forests, it’s no wonder why it’s one of the most popular tourist spots in the world.

Looking for skiing? Because of the elevation, the Canadian Rockies offer an extended winter sport season. Contact the hotel or resort you’ll visit to ask about the best window to visit.

How many days are enough for Canadian Rockies?

For the best of the Canadian Rockies, we would recommend a minimum of 7 days so you have enough time to appreciate the beauty and take in all the other amazing scenery, sights, and experiences.

Can kids go on the Rocky Mountaineer Train Ride?

Yes, children can travel on the Rocky Mountaineer, although the two 8-hour days onboard might be too long for some.

What is the best of the Canadian Rockies?

The Canadian Rockies offer breathtaking views and plenty of activities to do, making it one of the best destinations to visit. Especially noteworthy are Icefields Parkway, Yoho National Park, Banff National Park, Peyto Lake, Johnston Canyon, Moraine Lake, Athabasca Falls, and Canmore.

Is there free RV Camping in the Canadian Rockies?

Yes, we found this site between Golden and Yoho National Park, and one of our favorite campsites at Horseshoe Lake in Southern British Columbia. Here’s how to find free RV camping in the Canadian Rockies.

Free RV campsite near Yoho National Park
Free RV Campsite near Yoho National Park, British Columbia

After visiting the Rockies, if you’re flying out of Vancouver, you might find a few amazing hidden gems in the Fraser Valley on your way.

If you’re looking for some other unique places to visit in Canada for your family vacation, here are our recommendations!

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