Planning an Unforgettable Family Trip to the Canadian Rockies
So you want to plan a family trip to the Canadian Rockies, but there’s one problem: family trips are tough. You’ve got crying kids in airplanes, you forgot to pack snacks, your youngest gets a sunburn, and sightseeing runs into naptime. What makes it worth the hassle? Family trips can be absolutely unforgettable, too. Your kids seeing sky-high mountains for the first time, dipping their hands in impossibly blue lakes, or shrieking with surprise at a herd of elk makes the hassle of planning a family trip completely worth it. Showing the world’s most incredible corners to your family can create moments that you’ll hold onto for years to come, and some careful planning can go a long way in ensuring the rental car meltdowns or hotel crying sessions are kept to a minimum.
The Canadian Rockies are a must-see destination in every way, and families flock to the mountains in all seasons to catch a glimpse of their world-class scenery. If you’re ready to pack the backpacks and hit the trails, these tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your family trip to the Canadian Rockies!
Where to Stay and How to Get There
The Canadian Rockies are, well, huge. This range spans 194,000 square kilometres and plays host to more national and provincial parks than you can count on one hand. So, where to go?
Banff National Park is unarguably the top destination in the Canadian Rockies. This park is home to the famous turquoise Lake Louise, the castle-like Banff Springs Hotel, and more hiking trails than you can shake a stick at. The town of Banff is in the heart of the park and a perfect home base for your family trip to the Canadian Rockies. It has a charming Swiss alpine atmosphere, a plethora of family-friendly hotels to choose from, several renowned restaurants, and a scenic spot around every corner. The nearest major city is Calgary about an hour and a half away, where you can fly into the Calgary International Airport (YYC) and either rent a car or hop on one of the many shuttles directly into Banff.
If you’re eager to hike, bike, and explore, but the hustle and bustle of Banff isn’t your style, try the nearby town of Canmore. Canmore is just minutes away from Banff, but it’s larger and you won’t need to contend with the crowds of Banff Avenue on a weekend. You’ll find plenty of hotel options, or you can cozy up inside of a vacation rental if you want more privacy and unique amenities. There are tons of trailheads a stone’s throw from the town centre and the mountain valley the town is nestled in is simply beautiful. Canmore can be accessed by shuttle or rental car from Calgary in just over an hour.
Must-Try Activities on Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
Most visitors to the Canadian Rockies choose to visit in the summertime when warm weather and up to 17 hours of daylight each day provide the perfect opportunity to explore. If you and your family are keen to hike, bike, canoe or kayak, the months of July and August are the ideal time to visit. While the Canadian Rockies can offer unpredictable weather any time of year, these months enjoy the warmest weather and unbelievably long days.
If your family trip to the Canadian Rockies is planned for summer, plan for traditional activities like hiking and mountain biking. There are trails to suit every ability level, including plenty of family-friendly treks to enjoy. Families confident near the water can enjoy canoeing, paddleboarding, and kayaking on the many crystalline lakes in the region. Imagine paddling a red canoe on the pristine waters of Lake Louise, cradled by 3500-metre peaks. You can do it here!
If you’re looking for more unconventional adventures, the Rockies deliver. You can horseback ride up to airy summits, hop into helicopters for birds-eye views of glaciers and peaks, or try your hand at rock climbing. That should tire the kids out plenty by bedtime!
When the snow falls and the mountains become blanketed in white, hiking and paddling might be off the table, but some of the most magical moments in the mountains await. Don’t miss the chance to take the kids to one of the excellent ski resorts like Lake Louise or Sunshine Village to learn to ski or snowboard. What’s cuter than a little one in a snowsuit? Nothing. Ideal skiing conditions peak right around February.
If black diamonds aren’t your style, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing can be amazing fun for older children and parents. If your kids are little, they’re sure to fall in love with sleigh rides or skating on the frozen alpine lakes.
Looking to get outside the box? Dog sledding tours are simply unforgettable, ice climbing can challenge adventurous teenagers, and snowmobiling can be the thrill of the season. As long as you’re all bundled up, there’s no shortage of fun to be had.
Resources and Tips
You’ve got places to go and things to do, but planning your family trip to the Canadian Rockies can still be overwhelming. Picking a hiking trail alone can feel like you’re sorting through thousands of options (which really, you are). Here are some tips and tricks to help everything go off without a hitch.
If the idea of pulling together an entire family trip is all too daunting, booking a tour with a reputable tour company can seriously simplify the process. You can book a pre-planned family adventure in the Canadian Rockies where the transportation, lodging, meals, and activities are completely looked after, letting you focus on enjoying the time with your family.
If you want guidance but not a guide, self-guided tours can still ensure the logistics are taken care of but give you the freedom to enjoy included activities at your own pace.
If you’re set on DIY-ing your trip, there are plenty of resources on the internet to help you pick that perfect trail or figure out if that campsite has facilities. Each national park has its own page on the Government of Canada website, and you can find up to date trail conditions, closures, and important updates before you get there. There are several great websites that provide hiking route guides complete with user reviews and downloadable GPS maps, helping you stay on track and adventure with confidence.
Besides online tools, national parks have visitor centres where you can speak with local rangers to get one-on-one advice. Unsure if your kiddo’s shoes are fit for the trek ahead? Nervous about what to do if you run into wildlife? Visitor centres are there to help with whatever your family needs to have a safe, enjoyable trip.
Packing when you’ve got the whole gang in tow is a production, no doubt. Besides the essentials for each family member, there are a few things you don’t want to forget when packing for the Rockies. In the summer, think about good running shoes or hiking boots, hiking poles, a raincoat, a swimsuit, some warm layers for chilly mountain nights, and bear spray if you plan to hike, which you can get in most towns in the Rockies.
In the winter, make sure you bring warm coats, scarves, hats, gloves, proper boots, snow pants, sunglasses (winter sun reflected on the snow can be blinding!), and swimsuits for apres-ski hot tubs. No matter the season, come prepared with water bottles, backpacks, a park pass purchasable online, and a good camera- you’re going to want to remember these moments.
Family trips are about creating memories to hold close even as you all grow up and move forward in life. A summer afternoon eating ice cream next to the river in Banff or a crisp winter day whizzing along on a dog sled in the mountains can be looked back on forever. These moments are why planning a family trip in the Canadian Rockies is worth every single second of preparation it takes.