It is negative 6 degrees outside. Thankfully I have a remote starter in the car. I always wondered if I would use this thing. Living in San Francisco, I never had a use for it. Now I realized it’s importance. The forecast did not predict snow in the upcoming week. Albeit cold temperatures, the weather outlook was good. We decided it was safe to head north, into Alberta and up the Icefields Parkway. Driving for hours up the famous Icefields Parkway, it’s not clear whether it earned the name because you are driving through stretches of glaciers, or because we literally are driving on ice. For nearly 200 miles.
The beautiful mountains layered in limestone and shale bring a perfect palate of color along with the white snowy caps. Views around us are breathtaking. The ice and snow-covered lakes surround us as the road carves through the great Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed the scenery for hours. The road conditions did not allow us to drive faster than 30 miles per hour. Shortly after a sign for the Colombia Icefield Discovery Center, there is a parking lot on the left-hand side of the Icefields Parkway. We stopped for a hike to North America’s most visited glacier, the Athabasca Glacier.
It is now negative 20 degrees F (-28 Celsius). We bundle up and start out for a hike. The glacier looks close, but it is actually 2 miles away. Approaching the glacier, the size gets drastically more impressive. Underneath a fresh blanket of snow is a beautiful blue wall of ice nearly 20 meters tall. Alongside the front, an ice cave formed during the earlier summer. The shapes and colors were breathtaking, especially from inside the cave. We could barely spend more than thirty minutes there because our limbs felt numb. We hiked back to the car excited as could be, in search of our next destination in the Canadian Rockies.
The Canadian Rockies are an amazing place to explore year round. The summer is a popular time to come for hiking. The lakes glisten in the sun with pristine green and turquoise colors. However, winter is as beautiful in a different way. If you don’t mind the cold, this is a perfect time to visit the area. There are many activities to do in British Colombia and Alberta in the winter. We set out on our winter extravaganza exploring Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks.
Top 15 Things To Do in the Canadian Rockies in the Winter
in no particular order
1. Snowshoe on Mount Revelstoke
Snowshoeing is an excellent winter activity. Bundle up and cover terrain that is only accessible in winter by snowshoe. Mount Revelstoke has several trails, including the summit trail. Park in the Nels Nelson parking lot and start-up the Nels Nelson trail which connects to the summit trail for excellent views and exploring in the mountain woods.
2. Backcountry ski in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in Canada is World renowned for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Canada’s second oldest National Park is known for steep mountains that often see avalanches in this region. It is always safe to be prepared with some basic avalanche safety precautions. The backdrop of Rogers Pass and the drive on the Trans-Canada Highway is one of the best in North America.
3. Snowshoe Wapta Falls, Yoho National Park
Wapta Falls is the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River and is impressive in size at 100 feet high, 500 feet wide (30m by 150m). Visiting here in the winter is a different experience. The river freezes over, allowing you to get up close and personal to the waterfall, or what of it is still flowing. Check out our article on snowshoeing Wapta Falls for more information.
4. Snowshoe Hoodoo Creek, Yoho National Park
Hoodoo Creek is a wonderful hike in Yoho National Park. The trail can be difficult to follow during the winter as there is limited traffic. The end of the trail has unique rock formations with several hoodoos.
5. Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park
Just next to the small town of Field, Canada, take the turnoff for Emerald Lake Road. This lake glistens in the summertime, but it is packed with wintertime activities from ice skating, playing some ice hockey, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
6. Go Dog Sledding
Dog Sledding is a wonderful wintertime activity, whether by yourself or fun with the entire family. Golden Dog Sled Adventures is an excellent smaller family run business that truly cares about their dogs, all of which are Huskies from Siberia or Alaska. They instruct you on the role of each dog, allow you to help in putting on their harnesses, and even give everyone an opportunity to drive the sled.
7. Drive the Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park
The Icefields Parkway is one of those roads that once taken, stand out the many memories and leave a lasting impression. Views are stunning. On a 200 mile stretch of road, you cover terrain that includes lakes, waterfalls, hiking, mountain passes, glaciers, and gorges. The stunning Canadian Rocky Mountain peaks surround the Icefields Parkway for a very scenic drive.
8. Peyto Lake overlook at Bow Summit, Banff National Park
Peyto Lake is near the Icefields Parkway and is one of the most popular lakes visited in Canada. The mesmerizing green waters freeze over, yet the views from the bow summit overlook are still stunning in the wintertime.
9. Athabasca Glacier, Jasper National Park
Possibly the highlight of all winter activities in Alberta, the Athabasca Glacier is unique in that it is easily accessible from a major roadway. This glacier is receding at a rate of 16 feet (5m) per year, so each year or two there are differences in this glacier when it comes to winter exploring. In the Winter of 2015, there was an ice cave formed from the previous summer, bringing a new element of exploring this beautiful glacier.
10. Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park
This smaller waterfall is known for the force of the water driving through this gorge, with potholes and nice shapes formed from this constant flow of water. Easily accessible from the road, there are several walking platforms with good viewpoints.
11. Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
Drive the scenic 30 miles (1 hour) past Medicine Lake out to the famous Maligne Lake. The stunning lake surrounding, three glaciers, and Spirit Island are worth the visit, even in the Winter.
12. Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park
Maligne Canyon, located just outside of the town of Jasper, is a great stop on the way to or from Maligne Lake. Popular for Ice Climbing, this Canyon has several large stunning frozen waterfalls, including The Queen and Superman’s Lair. Check out Pyramid Lake nearby when finished.
13. Explore Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise is a popular tourist destination in Alberta where many come to venture to nearby National Parks. Activities in the area include ice skating on Lake Louise, ice climbing, skiing at Banff, watch a train pass at Morant’s Curve, or just enjoy the beautiful nature and scenery right at Lake Louise.
14. Ice climb at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
One can come to enjoy Johnston Canyon from the trails and walkways that can lead you down into the Canyon. However, the real winter activity here is ice climbing on one of the many frozen waterfalls. Head to Yamnuska for excellent ice climbing guides to take you there for the day.
15. Snowshoe the Ha Ling Peak, Canmore, Albert
Ha Ling Peak is a wonderful hike and one of the most scenic peaks near Canmore, Alberta. This is an excellent trail that has exposed scrambling as well as steep sections. Snowshoes will help in several sections of the hike. Check out our hike to Ha Ling Peak for more information.
Most think of Alberta as only a summer haven. For those that can bear the cold temperatures, winter is an excellent time to explore. For the bold who do enjoy the outdoors and nature, even in winter, Alberta is a perfect choice to connect with the land, often with solitude, while enjoying hiking, snowshoeing, dog sledding, skiing or one of the many other winter activities in Alberta, Canada.
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Visited from December 2015 through January 2016.