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The Rocky Mountains of western North America stretch more than 3,000 miles (4,828km) from Mexico, through the United States and into Canada and Alaska. Dividing the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the peaks of the Canadian Rockies tower over the plains, rising to 11,975ft (3,650m).
The alpine towns sprinkled along the Rockies in the southwest of Alberta are an unspoiled mountain playground where each season has its own unique beauty and selection of activities. National parks abound in this area, offering the chance for mountain adventures and recreation.
The main Rockies national parks in Alberta are Banff National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, and Jasper National Park. The Willmore Wilderness Park, just north of Jasper National Park, is also a glorious wilderness area. These beautiful, protected areas are home to some rare and endangered animals, including woodland caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, and great grey owls.
The towns in the area, like Banff and Jasper, offer a vast number of tourist attractions to entertain and entrance visitors all year round, with outdoor activities of all kinds designed to complement the natural attractions.
Affectionately known as 'the little town in the big park', Jasper lies in the middle of Canada's largest mountain park, the Jasper National Park, and makes a delightful base from which to explore the lakes and mountains.
The town of just over 4,000 people is 233 miles (373km) from Edmonton and lies among pristine wilderness, surrounded by a necklace of green lakes and majestic waterfalls. There are one or two attractions in the town itself, including the Jasper-Yellowhead Historical Society Museum, which features displays of early Canadian explorers; the 165 foot (55m) deep Maligne River Canyon; the longest and highest reversible tramway in Canada that transports passengers up Whistlers Mountain; and the Den Wildlife Museum that houses more than 100 animal specimens displayed in their natural habitat.
Driving to Jasper is relatively simple. However, harsh winter weather can sometimes make the roads impassable so check the weather reports before you go. In the surrounding areas, there are many natural wonders to explore.
Using Jasper as a base gives you the opportunity to try dog sledding, snowmobiling, cat-skiing, cross-country skiing, and ice climbing in the winter. Summer activities include white water rafting, hiking, horseback riding, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, and wildlife spotting.
The small resort town of Banff is a holiday destination situated inside the spectacular and unspoilt Banff National Park, Canada's first national park and most popular tourist attraction. About an hour and a half's drive west of Calgary, the surrounding national park offers 2,564 square miles (6,641 sq km) of unparalleled mountain scenery in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, including glaciers, ice fields, jagged peaks, crystal clear lakes, and raging rivers.
Holiday attractions in the town itself include the Banff Park Museum on Buffalo Street, which is the oldest natural history museum in western Canada and features a fantastic assortment of wildlife specimens, minerals, and other artefacts. Not far away is the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, dedicated to the rich cultural history of the area with four art galleries, a heritage gallery, and a research library.
The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, in Cave Avenue, tells the story of the discovery of the hot springs that led to the establishment of Canada's first national reserve in 1885. Visitors on holiday here can also take a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views from the observation deck at the top, or soak in hot mineral waters at the Upper Hot Springs in Mountain Avenue.
Winter is low season in Banff National Park, but skiers and snowboarders who brave the low temperatures are delighted with what they find. From steep couloirs to gentle cruising, the slopes have something for everyone, and the snow is some of the coldest, driest and most reliable anywhere in the world. And there's a lot of it, particularly in the Sunshine Village ski area.
The staggering scenery and mountain wildlife impresses visitors, as well as the welcoming Banff locals and excellent value. Lake Louise is the most extensive and popular ski resort in the Banff region. See our separate Lake Louise ski resort guide.
The Canadian Rockies experience a highland climate, characterised by warm summer days with long hours of sunshine, and cold, crisp winters when snow covers the ground from November to March. The coldest months are December and January when temperatures can plummet to well below freezing, exacerbated by the wind chill factor. Hikers in the summer months should note that May and June are the wettest time of year, and that even in summer weather conditions can be changeable and unpredictable.
Tourism in southwestern Alberta revolves primarily around the national parks which showcase the glorious Rocky Mountains. Calgary is the gateway to the Rockies in Alberta, and generally the starting point for holidaymakers heading into the mountainous national parks. In fact, for many visitors, the first view of the mountains is earned by climbing to the Observation Deck of the Calgary Tower.
The most frequented wilderness areas are enclosed within Banff National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, and Jasper National Park. Jasper National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, deep in the Rockies, where the main attraction is the Columbia Icefields, consisting of eight giant glaciers.
Lake Louise, a surreally turquoise lake trickling out of an ancient glacier in Banff National Park, is one of the must-see sights in the Rockies. There are even some natural hot springs in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, near Banff, which make a great excursion on a freezing winter's day. Waterton Lakes National Park combines with Montana's Glacier National Park to form UNESCO-listed Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, offering spectacular landscapes.
Popular activities in the Canadian Rockies include hiking, skiing, cross-country skiing, ice and rock climbing, dog-sledding, horse riding, paddling, and more. Visitors should note that the national parks have stringent rules about sports which damage the environment, and some activities are only allowed outside park boundaries.
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