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Nature enthusiasts have long daydreamed of the lofty snow-capped peaks, mesmerizing blue-green lakes, massive glaciers and abundant wildlife of Alberta’s two oldest national parks: Jasper and Banff. Both are easily accessed and make for seamless entrée into what, for many, will be the truest wilderness they’ve ever experienced.
Your private, customized Alberta vacation will encompass as much adventure as you want to pack in throughout the Canadian Rockies, while sprinkling in cosmopolitan Calgary, home to the renowned Calgary Stampede, and Edmonton, the ultimate winter town with the ice castles to prove it.
Within this one province, there are five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and four national parks, so there’s certainly no shortage of beauty to behold. In the southern region of Waterton, savor mountain views from a crystalline lake or hike to picturesque Carthew-Alderson falls. In the east, marvel at the prehistoric fossils and dinosaur replicas in Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. Throughout the vast plains of the north, keep your eyes trained on the horizon for glimpses of free-roaming bison, elk and moose.
A Canada family vacation gives one a place to roam, a place to reflect and a place to experience some of our planet’s most rare and rugged treasures.
Don’t be fooled by its chic new restaurants, elegant hotels and lively nightlife – Calgary still maintains its roots as a brash frontier town, where every building tells a story and you can literally stand with one foot in the past and one in the present. This is a city that has survived natural disasters with grit and grace (look no further than the wildfires of 2016 as evidence), was the site of a hugely successful Winter Olympics in 1988 and hosts the annual Calgary Stampede, one of the country’s hottest tickets. More than just Stetsons, Calgary is looking toward a future in emerging technologies and green industries, while continuing to celebrate the great outdoors that lies at its edge. A Calgary vacation is a common start to visits to Canada’s two largest national parks, Banff and Jasper – or perhaps a good conclusion, as when you’re satisfied with mountain fare and hiking trails, you can return here for single-origin coffee and the latest in haute cuisine.
Calgary’s namesake annual Stampede is hailed as the greatest rodeo on earth! If you want to be a part of the celebration, plan your Calgary vacation for mid-July. You’ll see bucking broncos and covered wagons, blacksmith competitions and horse pulls, and everything in between. Beyond this July spectacular, there’s much to see and do. A Calgary family vacation might include a day at the Heritage Park Historical Village, an expansive living history museum, or a far-reaching view of the mountains and prairie from the Calgary Tower observation deck. Visit the Canada Olympic Park and test your rock-climbing and mountain-biking prowess in the summer. Or, ski and snowboard in the winter months. Later, dine heartily on Alberta beef in restaurants dedicated to the fresh-local trend.
BANFF & BANFF NATIONAL PARK
As Canada’s first national park, Banff is as dramatic and awe-inspiring as you’ve imagined… and perhaps more so. Nothing can quite prepare one for the lofty peaks reaching for the clouds, the aquamarine glacial lakes and the unfettered wildlife that roams free in abundance. Your Banff vacation will introduce you to the park’s top treasures – such as Lake Louise and Miette Hot Springs – but also to its lesser-known gems. You’ll hike, bike, paddle, ski and more in deep forests, wildflower-strewn meadows, towering, regal mountains, and emerald lakes. There’s an immensity here, a serenity along a remote trail, a mystifying air when you glimpse a far-off grizzly in its natural habitat, that seems to quiet the mind and stir the soul. The best part? There’s simply so much to discover that one Banff vacation is never enough!
In a park as vast as Banff, having an expert guide along for the ride proves invaluable. Your Banff family vacation with us will give you an extra edge when it comes to sightseeing, hiking tips and wildlife spotting. Explore the renowned mountain town of Banff, then journey up the Banff Gondola for 360-degree views of the six mountain ranges that surround you. Continue on a private guided tour of the area and learn about the people, geology and wildlife. Check out a submerged village at glacial Lake Minnewanka. Take to the skies for a heli-hiking experience; you’ll trek through alpine meadows on a trail that’s as aggressive as you wish, as an experienced guide provides knowledgeable commentary on the area’s geography, flora and fauna. Raft along the Kananaskis River, keeping an eye out for sauntering elk, mountain goats perched on craggy ledges and bears foraging for berries. Saddle up for a horseback ride along the base of Sulphur Mountain, complete with genuine western hospitality, lassos, and horseshoe games at a covered wagon cookout.
For many, the very mention of a Banff vacation conjures mental images of vibrantly turquoise Lake Louise. And we agree, this phenomenal body of water is mesmerizing – topped off by craggy peaks that house the massive Victoria Glacier. From the boardwalk at the edge of the lake, it’s all in view, with the famous Chateau Lake Louise behind you. Explore by canoe – gliding through these glassy, blue-green waters in a bright red canoe is certainly a defining moment of your Lake Louise vacation.
Explore along the Lake Louise shoreline on a lovely family-friendly path or take to the vast network of trails above the lake. A perennial favorite is Lake Agnes and its historic teahouse, where a delicious cup of tea and fresh pie are the perfect antidote to tired legs. Not to be overlooked, neighboring Moraine Lake is just as captivating, sitting at the bottom of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (all over 10,000 feet) and the Tower of Babel. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake can easily be visited together in one day, the latter being a slightly quieter and less populated destination. Cruise by bike or car along the quiet Bow Valley Parkway between Banff Town and Lake Louise, a popular spot for wildlife sightings. Fly fish with a private guide on the Bow River. Those visiting in the winter months experience Lake Louise Ski Resort’s legendary terrain.
JASPER & JASPER NATIONAL PARK
More remote, more wildlife-rich and definitely less trammeled, Jasper and Jasper National Park are beloved for iconic hiking and mountain biking, pioneering history and welcoming, western friendliness. Never trying to be more than it is – a magnificent example of the last great wilderness – Jasper wows even the most seasoned active traveler. To get there, most travel along the Icefields Parkway, certainly one of the world’s most scenic drives, stopping along the way to marvel at rushing rivers, gushing waterfalls, turquoise lakes and massive glaciers. Here, an expansive ice field, there, a thunderous canyon … there’s a reason it often takes all day to drive from Banff to Jasper along the Parkway. One viewpoint is more stunning than the last and every one of them is worth a stop. Then, finally, you pull into the frontier town of Jasper, in the shadows of Mount Edith Cavell and The Whistlers Mountain, and you capture that feeling of adventure and discovery held by the pioneers of yesteryear.
Travel along the spectacular Columbia Ice Field, massive monuments of ice and rock left over from the last Ice Age. Board the unique glacial exploration vehicle, the Ice Explorer, and climb up the thousand-foot-deep Athabasca Glacier, then step out onto the ice itself and enjoy a picnic lunch in a location like none you’ve ever experienced. Or, join an expert climbing guide and embark on an equipped ice walk up the lower two kilometers of the glacier, checking out the moraines, millwells and small crevasses along your journey. Explore Maligne Canyon on a gentle, guided walk to the bridges across this jaw-droppingly deep gorge and stop at “disappearing” Medicine Lake. Cruise across Maligne Lake to Spirit Island or hike along the Mary Schaffer Loop. Hike iconic Mount Edith Cavell, and listen for ice calving from a glacial mass crashing into the lake below. And always, train your eyes on the meadows and cliffsides around you for elk, caribou, moose and bears. This is their home, after all, and we’re simply passing through.
Amidst 800 species of wildflower, the resident grizzlies and cougars and a hilltop castle, your Waterton vacation encompasses two gorgeous tracts of wilderness: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana, which together comprise the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Compared to its looming brothers, Banff and Jasper to the north, off-the-beaten-path Waterton is relatively tranquil, centered on a charming village where no more than about 40 folks reside during the winter months. And that castle? It’s the 1920s-era Prince of Wales Hotel standing sentry over the town on the shores of Upper Waterton Lake, its angular turrets and dormers boasting dreamy lake views in a fairytale setting. Here, where Alberta prairie meets Canadian Rockies, revel in sunny summer weather, unfettered wildlife and verdant, tree-lined lakeshore. (And, fun fact, this is the only park in the world to have UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Peace Park and Biosphere Reserve designations.)
From a regal perch above the lake at Prince of Wales Hotel, your Waterton vacation days may include a cruise on Upper Waterton Lake to Goat Haunt, located on the United States side of the lake, taking in dramatic views along the way of towering cliffs, snow-covered peaks and gushing waterfalls. Canoe and picnic on Cameron Lake, below the peaks of the Continental Divide. Drive Red Rock Parkway along Blackiston Creek to family-favorite Red Rock Canyon and choose from several trails suitable for all levels of hiker. Watch the sun rise from a Waterton Valley vantage point along the Chief Mountain Highway. Hike the short but steep Bear’s Hump trail for picture-perfect valley views. Roam with a bison herd, direct descendants of the original Great Plains bison along Highway 6 as they live and graze in their natural habitat. Although this is the Canadian Rockies’ smallest national park, a Waterton family vacation packs quite a punch, showcasing some of Mother Nature’s most extraordinary scenaries.