Looking to explore Canada’s spectacular Rocky Mountains without the crowds? British Columbia has strikingly beautiful mountain national parks within easy driving distance from scenic but often jam-packed Banff and Lake Louise.
Here’s our guide to several B.C. mountain parks, where you can escape for some outdoor adventure and old-fashioned R&R.
Yoho National Park
If you love the mountains, make a beeline for Yoho National Park, just west of Lake Louise. Not only does the park encompass 28 peaks of nearly 10,000 feet, you’ll also find spectacular glacier lakes and some of Canada’s highest waterfalls. Perhaps it’s no surprise that “Yoho” comes from a Cree First Nations term for “wonder” and “awe.”
Highlights: Don’t miss Emerald Lake, its waters an almost surreal and ever-changing green. To flee the photo-snapping tour-bus throngs, follow the trail through the forests around the lake or rent a canoe for a leisurely paddle. Elsewhere in the park, short scenic hikes take you to Wapta Falls along the Kicking Horse River or to Takakkaw Falls, which cascade down the rocks in the Yoho Valley.
Where to stay and eat: Book a lakeside room at Emerald Lake Lodge, a collection of comfortable cottages on the lakeshore, and you’ll wake to a stellar waterfront view. The lodge’s dining room, known for its game meats, overlooks the aquamarine waters, too. Cathedral Mountain Lodge is another excellent choice, where you can live out your Canadian wilderness fantasies in style in the deluxe log cabins and dine in the river-view Great Room. Or stay in nearby Lake Louise at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, on the shores of yet another stellar glacial lake.
Kootenay National Park
The varied terrain in Kootenay National Park, south of Yoho, ranges from mountain peaks to deep canyons and arid grasslands.
Highlights: Follow an easy trail to the Paint Pots, where unusual orange ochre beds surround several mineral pools, or hike across the gorge to Marble Canyon. And don’t miss a soak in Radium Hot Springs, natural pools at the park’s southern end.
Where to stay and eat: For a true outdoor getaway — with comfortable beds and hearty meals — book a cozy cabin just outside the park at the off-the-grid CrossRiver Wilderness Centre, where owners Robert and Marilyn Patenaude and their staff welcome guests who swap tales of their adventures around the lodge’s dinner table. They’ll pack your lunch and send you on local hikes where you might not see another soul. And if you reserve in advance, you can experience a traditional sweat lodge ceremony or cultural workshop with a native elder.
Glacier National Park
The U.S. has a Glacier National Park, but Canada’s park of the same name straddles the Trans-Canada Highway west of Yoho. As the title suggests, it’s known for its steep mountains and year-round ice masses.
Highlights: In the park visitor center at Rogers Pass National Historic Site, the informative exhibits teach you about the mountain terrain, avalanche control and local wildlife. If you’re ready for a challenging day hike, follow the steep Avalanche Crest Trail for panoramic views over Rogers Pass or climb the Asulkan Valley Trail to the base of the Illecillewaet Glacier.
Where to stay and eat: There are no services within the park, but just outside the eastern gate is Heather Mountain Lodge & Cabins (summer season starts on June 24), where the best, and most romantic, accommodations are in two private log cabins, outfitted with wood stoves, king beds and deep soaker tubs. In the restaurant, overlooking nearby peaks, the chef incorporates foraged local ingredients into the creative mountain fare.
Mount Revelstoke National Park
Located west of the Rockies near the outdoorsy town of Revelstoke, B.C., Mount Revelstoke National Park is another beautiful destination to explore.
Highlights: The park’s must-do drive is the 6,500-foot climb up the winding (yet easy to navigate) Meadows in the Sky Parkway. Several hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to more adventurous full-day excursions, begin at the summit above the parkway and, on a clear day, you can see for miles around.
Where to stay and eat: Revelstoke’s most deluxe accommodations are the spacious condo-style suites at the Sutton Place Hotel at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, at the base of the region’s ski mountain. In town, the Woolsey Creek Bistro serves creative contemporary dishes, while La Baguette should be your fuel-up stop for morning coffee and freshly baked pastries.
More Mountain Travel Tips
When to go: While the warm and sunny months of July and August are peak season in western Canada, the best time to travel in Canada’s mountain parks is September through early October. The summer crowds have returned home, the weather generally remains mild and the leaves begin to show their fall colors. If you do visit in busy mid-summer, staying at a lodge in or near the parks will let you explore early or late in the day when the day-tripping crowds are gone.
How to get there: Fly into Calgary to reach B.C.’s mountain national parks, where you can overnight en route at the classic Fairmont Palliser or the stylish boutique Le Germain Hotel Calgary. Or plan a road trip between Calgary and Vancouver, which can take you through all these parks for a spectacular Canadian mountain holiday.