When people ask for my all-time best trip, I usually reply with the great national park destinations of the Canadian Rockies: Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. Each scene is so perfect, so stunningly beautiful, it’s like you’ve become part of a fairy tale. This trip is so extraordinary that we’ve broken it into four parts, so we can give it adequate coverage and show you all the photographs that will make you want to drop everything and fly there right away! The manageable itinerary, with two nights in each park, showcases all the “greatest hits” of this unique region. This trip was truly unforgettable—our best ever.
AOPA provides an excellent overview of flying into Canada. Those with drunk driving or other criminal convictions, carrying restricted items, or traveling with children, should check with Canadian Immigration to be sure they will be allowed into the country. Follow the rules—passport, eAPIS, sticker, be on time, etc.—and it’s a breeze. If you’re based far from Canada, stopping and spending the night near the border on the U.S. side leaves you fresh the following day and eases compliance with customs procedures (i.e., arriving on time). Read the Canadian aviation regulations to understand standard operating procedures for flight within Canada. Our cross-border flight began at Missoula, Montana, and provided spectacular flightseeing over Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Springbank Airport, just west of Calgary, is an airport of entry and has rental cars.
It’s a 60-minute drive west from Springbank Airport to Banff, located in the Bow Valley. The Bow River runs past the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, first opened in 1888 and rebuilt after a fire. The Canadian Pacific Railway originally built and operated the luxury hotels of the Canadian Rockies to attract wealthy tourists, employing Swiss hiking guides to assist hikers. When CP Hotels purchased Fairmont in 1999 the hotels took on the Fairmont name, maintaining the highest-quality service and food and modernizing where needed. Having seen this hotel in so many photos, it’s almost déjà-vu to actually pull up the driveway. One of the world’s premier resort hotels, this Scottish Baronial “castle in the Rockies” is built of stone and looks toward the famed Mt. Rundle, whose seabeds have been thrust up, tilted toward the east, and exposed by eons of weather. The lush gardens are a riot of color; baskets overflowing with flowers hang from the lampposts. Numerous fine restaurants, a 27-hole championship golf course alongside the river that’s famed worldwide, and luxurious spa all ensure the hotel lives up to its reputation.
We stayed at the equally fabulous Rimrock Resort Hotel, perched above it all beside the Banff Upper Hot Springs and gondola. The Rimrock, deservedly an AAA/CAA 4-Diamond Hotel, features rooms and a lobby decorated with rich woods and furnishings, large windows, and a luxurious spa. A high corner room like the spacious Grandview Room 800 boasts views of both the Bow and Spray valleys. The next morning we followed the concierge’s directions to a hike up Ha Ling Peak to carefully crawl the last few feet and hang our heads over the cornice, with thousands of feet of air between our faces and the forest below. If you’d rather not climb a mountain, ride the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, reminiscent of the Mt. Pilatus gondola above Lucerne in Switzerland. Enjoy the view at the restaurant or take the easy 1-kilometer self-guided tour of the Banff Skywalk; hikers here will find access to trails where wildlife abounds.
Next, it’s on to Lake Louise.