Experience Canada: the Rocky Mountains

Edmonton, Alberta is only hours away from the world famous Rocky Mountains. As a student of the University of alberta, it is very easy to take weekend trips and experience Canadian-Mountain culture; International students also have many opportunies to travel to the mountains with other international students while studying here. Check out some of the things you can see and do in the Alberta Rockies.

1.     National Parks

Photo credit: Evolve Tours

Canada has over 40 National Parks and Reserves, covering more than 300,000 km² --about 3%-- of Canada's total land coverage! Alberta has five National Parks across the province: Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Elk Island, and Wood Buffalo. Banff and Jasper are the most popular because the are situated in the mountains close to the major cities, but all are stunning for experiencing Canada's diverse landscape and wildlife. UAlberta's International offices often organize student trips to Banff, Jasper, and Elk Island.

2.     Go For a Hike

Photo credit: Hike Jasper

Alberta is the perfect place to go hiking -- whether you are experienced or just beginning, there are hundreds of hikes to take year-round. Popular trails in Banff include the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon and the panoramic view of Sulphur Mountain (which also is accessible by gondola ride). Popular hikes in Jasper include the trail through Maligne Canyon and the view from the Bald Hills hike. It is best to research the hike you want to go on before you do, just to check weather conditions and appropriate clothing and footwear required.

3.    See the Wildlife

Photo credit: Jason Leo Bantle

Because the National Parks are protected areas of nature, wild animals come with the territory. There are hundred of animals, big and small, that call the mountains home, but some famous and frequent inhabitants include the Bighorn Sheep, Bison, Lynx, Caribou, Cougar, Bear, Snowy Owl, Wolf, and Moose. And that's just to name a few! You can often see animals in the forests as you drive by on the road, and on occasion you may even see them in the town site or on someone's front yard. It is incredible to sit back and watch these animals graze in their natural habitats.

Note: It is extremely important to remember that the animals are wild, and by entering a National Park, you are entering their home. Never get too close to the animals -- even though they might be close to you and look friendly -- and never touch them or feed them. by leaving the animals alone to wander in their natural habitat, we help keep them safe and protected.

4.    Relax in the Hot Springs


Photo credit: Brewster

Hot Springs are natural phenomena that are produced by geothermal hot water that has been pushed up from the Earth's crust. Some can be very hot, but both Banff and Jasper have created commercial pools that allow you the experience these 'natural hottubes'. Jasper and Banff have incredible Hot Springs that are perfect for relaxing after a hike, spending time with friends, or watching the sun go down over the mountains. Believe it or not, hot springs can be used in both the summer and the winter! Because they keep you warm, they're are a popular tourist spot, no matter what time of the year.

5.     Go Shopping

Photo credit: Banff National Park

Because National Parks are protected areas of land, you can't take anything you find in the park, whether it's even just a rock on a trail, or a branch from a tree. Instead, you can buy souveniers to memorialize your trip, from t-shirts to crystals to fossils to pictures. by leaving things just the way we found them in the Parks, we help keep the land clean and untouched, ready for the next curious traveller.

The mountains also have unique specialty shops and popular restaurants, where you will definitely want to sample some of the amazing food and treats made. Cow’s Ice Cream is a well-known Canadian company with only one Albertan store in Banff! Also in Banff is the famous company BeaverTails, which makes fried dough pastries, hand-stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail. Banff also is their only store in Alberta. And, if you love chocolate, both Jasper and Banff have amazing chocolate shops with windows into their kitchen, so you can watch them as they make their fresh confections. Banff is the most commercialized of Alberta's National Parks, so if you want to spend some of your time exploring and enjoying the town site, Banff is the place to go!

6.    Take Snowboarding or Skiing Lessons

Photo credit: Sunshine

Alberta has world famous "powder" snow, which makes it a perfect destination for snowboarding and skiing. All ski slopes feature Bunny hills for beginners, lessons for all age and experience levels, slopes of varying difficulties, and of course, and amazing view of the mountains. If you want to hit the slopes in the mountains, Banff and Jasper are the places to visit. Jasper is home to Marmot Basin, Alberta’s “best kept skiing and snowboarding secret,” and Banff is home to Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay. Each ski hill offers different features and pass prices, so be sure to check out their websites to find the best one for you.

Note: the University of Alberta has a Ski & Snowboard Club which organizes student trips to the mountain ski resorts and offers deals for discounted lift passes. They might be worth checking out if you think you are going to want to go often.

7.    Check Out the View!


Photo credit: Couple of Yuppies

With views like these, the Rocky Mountains are a 'must do' for anyone travelling to, or living in, Alberta. Any turn you take in the mountains is a gorgeous one, but there are some sights you will really want to check out. The world famous Lake Louise Louise is a popular tourist attraction in both the winter and the summer. Rent a canoe in the summer, and skates in the winter, and go out onto the water. Between Jasper and Banff is a new tourism sight called the Glacier Skywalk (pictured below) that is near the Columbia Ice Field (which you can actually walk on with a tour company). The Skywalk features a glass floor that overhangs off a mountain to the valley below – test your nerves with a walk across!

8.     Go White Water Rafting

Photo credit: Jasper Sky Tram

Banff and Jasper are both near the Kicking Horse River, which travels down through Alberta, and our neighbouring province, British Columbia. Kicking Horse River is perfect for white water rafting, for both beginner and experienced paddlers. Tour companies take rafters down the river on big inflatable rafts, taking special routes for different experience levels. The speed of the water hitting rocks hidden under the surface creates the look of white water – rapids with white caps. It becomes a fun sport of paddling through the bumpy rapids, and who can stay on for the entire ride!

Most rafting companies will also offer “scenic tours” that feature very little rapids, if you instead want to just sit and enjoy the view as you float down the river.

9.     Come Back again!

Photo credit: Thousand Wonders

The University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is only hours away from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which means it is very easy to go back and visit. And we know, once you visit the Canadian Rockies once, you’ll want to come back another time.




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Article by Maryn Sommerfeldt

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