Thanks to hundreds of years of word-of-mouth marketing, Banff National Park has certainly risen to fame. However, with fame come negative aspects – the crowds! What if I told you that Banff is just a small drop in an ocean of awesomeness that can be found in Western Canada?
This article, part of my larger Canada Travel Guide, took 15 months of research. I’ve done my fair share of exploring and compiled a list of my favourite National and Provincial Parks of Western Canada going beyond Banff National Park.
Before you plan your road trip to the Canadian Rockies ask yourself: How much do I value serenity? Icefields, mountains, waterfalls and wildlife can be found all over Canada not just in Banff.
In the summer Banff gets extremely busy. The most popular hotels are booked out a year in advance and some touristy spots are like an Apple Store on iPhone release day. Probably not what you had in mind, am I right?
Before I start I’d like to say that I am not trying to convince you not to visit Banff National Park, but rather to educate you about other parks that you should visit as well. Especially if you are after an off-the-beaten-path experience!
All of my Canadian Rockies Itineraries stop in Banff. It simply cannot be missed, but it also includes lots of other parks that are just as noteworthy and even more unique.
1. Yoho National Park
Cree, one of the many languages spoken by First Nation communities in the Canadian Rockies, has the word Yoho in its vocabulary. It translates to “Awe” or “Wonder” which makes sense as it describes the park to a tee.
After Banff and joint with Glacier NP, Yoho is Canada’s second oldest national park. It was formed in 1886. Its eastern border marks the divide between Alberta and British Columbia.
Yoho’s Top Highlights: Lake O’Hara, Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls, The Iceline Trail
2. Kootenay National Park
In 2003, 5 lightning strikes started 5 fires in Kootenay National Park. They grew, eventually combining, into one of the biggest wildfires the Canadian Rockies have ever seen. It ultimately destroyed 17,000 hectares of land.
Although a recent fire in 2017 did take place, the area is mostly still rejuvenating. Fauna and Flora are thriving and the burnt area is now a prime wildlife habitat.
Kootenay’s Top Highlights: The Rockwall Trail, The Paint Pots, Marble Canyon, Stanley Glacier, Radium Hot Springs
3. Kananaskis Country
Kananaskis Country isn’t strictly a park but more a collection of provincial parks, lying south of Banff, just west of Calgary. They used to be within the boundary of Banff National Park until its reduction in size in the early 20th century.
These mountains are known as the foothills and front ranges of the Canadian Rockies and are my personal favourite hiking destination. Overlooked by many international tourists, the trails are quiet, the wildlife abundant and the skiing conditions, world-class.
4. Mount Revelstoke National Park
One of the smallest national parks in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Revelstoke still hosts lots to do for the budding adventurer. Initially, to enter the park, the curved Meadow in the Sky Parkway has to be driven.
It’s a popular spot to view muskrats, beavers along the creeks and bears foraging in the woods.
Highlights: Meadows in the Sky Parkway, Giant Cedars Boardwalk, Skunk-Cabbage Boardwalk
5. Wells Gray Provincial Park
The park that I would consider most famous for waterfalls, Wells Gray covers an expansive area in interior British Columbia.
Self-named by the Minister of Lands in the mid-1930s, Arthur Wellesley Wells dedicated most of the catchment area of the Clearwater River to a provincial park, making it the 4th biggest provincial park in BC.
Highlights: Maul Falls, Helmcken Falls, Spahat Falls, Clearwater Lake
6. Glacier National Park of Canada
Not to be confused with Glacier National Park in the US, Canada’s version is 24 years older. It’s one of the 7 Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site established in 1984.
The region is famous for heavy snowfall which draws lots of adventure skiers and snowboarders.
Highlights: Rogers Pass, The Amazing Trees Tour
7. Mount Robson Provincial Park
Home to the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson stands tall at 3,954m. Its first ascent was in 1913 by alpinist Konrad Kain.
The year also marks the time the park was created. The Berg Lake Trail offers unparalleled views of Mount Robson and is one of the many fantastic multi-day backcountry trips in the Canadian Rockies, I have completed.
Highlights: Berg Lake Trail, Kinney Lake, Yellow-Head Highway, Emperor Falls, The Valley of a Thousand Falls
8. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
The most diverse park on this list, the Pacific Rim National Park contains lush temperate rainforest and small mountains but also has a pristine piece of coastline. It hugs the coastline of the western shore of Vancouver Island.
Tofino is a nearby town that boasts a large amount of tourism but mainly shuts down during the winter season. The Broken Islands are located off the western coast of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Ocean but are still within the reserve. They are popular with kayakers and contain several campsites.
Highlights: West Coast Trail, Long Beach, Schooners Cove, Rainforest Trail
9. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Close to Vancouver, 30 minutes north of the Sea to Sky Highway, the three distinct Joffre Lakes are a splendid hike to start or finish, your vacation if you’re driving between Vancouver and Calgary.
The glacial lakes are fed by the Matier Glacier which is visible from the first lake, just a 5-minute walk from the car park. The recent 2017 upgrade to the trail makes the hike easier and a keen rambler can get to the highest lake and down again in 4 hours.
Highlights: The Matier Glacier; Hike to the first, second and third Joffre Lakes
10. Garibaldi Provincial Park
Northeast of Vancouver, and just off the Sea to Sky Highway, Garibaldi Provincial Park is accessible from 5 trailheads. The two most popular are the Diamond Head which leads to the Elfin Lakes Shelter and The Black Tusk Trailhead which leads to Panorama Ridge and Garibaldi Lake.
I was lucky enough to do a scenic flight over the park during the late afternoon and managed to capture some magical light conditions.
Highlights: Black Tusk Mountain, Mount Garibaldi, Garibaldi Lake, Elfin Lakes
11. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Currently my favourite park in the Canadian Rockies, I simply can’t get enough of this place. Located between Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country, Mount Assiniboine is accessible by foot, horse or helicopter.
Nicknamed the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies, Mount Assiniboine is a triangular-based pyramid-shaped peak. One of my favourite attributes of the park is that there is not a single drivable road there.
Highlights: Lake Magog, Lake Og, The Niblet & Nub Peak, The Wonder Pass, Sunshine Meadows, and The Assiniboine Lodge.
12. Jasper National Park
The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, and home to the northern section of the Icefields Parkway, Jasper is also one of the 7 parks that make up the UNESCO world heritage site.
Its size naturally means that it has a lot of interesting spots but its top attraction for me is its perseverance to be a dark sky reserve.
This means it’s one of the best places to see the stars, and the aurora borealis, in the Canadian Rockies.