Experience the Canadian Rockies with Kids
Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Leg 3: A Canadian Itinerary – Follow our journey to help plan your best family road trip to Western Canada.
Visiting the Canadian Rockies with kids is a non-negotiable on any Canadian road trip itinerary. The soaring ice capped peaks and glacial fed lakes as blue as blue that reflect the mountain scenes at the right time of day will be entrenched in your memory long after you return home.
The area is perfect for epic walks and sightseeing and the Canadian Rocky Mountains in summer is a bucket list destination for exciting family adventures.
Getting your family to Banff and Canada to experience the jaw-dropping scenery combined with extraordinary wild animals and amazing outdoor scenery will be the trip of a lifetime.
Stay in Banff or Canmore?
Most visitors to the Rocky Mountains in Canada choose to stay in either Banff or Canmore which are only 20 minutes away from each other. The distance between Banff and Canmore is only 26 kms so staying in Banff is not essential.
There are pros and cons to both options however here is a guide to help you decide which may suit your travel style better.
Banff is the tourism hub of the mountains and has loads to do and lots of places to visit close by. Banff is the most stunning of towns with a bustling town centre, a lovely river location and looming Sulphur Mountain back-dropping the town (a photographers’ dream!)
It truly is a super gorgeous town and warrants all the attention it gets.
A word of warning – hotels and resorts in Banff are extremely expensive so you need to be organised and book ahead to score a decent deal and find availability. You can use the search box below to look at your options for Banff family accommodation.
In the peak summer period from June to August Banff is extremely busy and the line just to drive in and out of town can be very long. If you don’t mind things bustling then Banff is a good central option with a choice of resorts, hotels, vacation rentals and hostel options.
If you want the mountain scenery and easy accessibility to everything in the region but without the crowds then I highly recommend neighbouring Canmore. Much smaller in size, Canmore still has loads of convenience with a large supermarket and service stations along with a good tourism office.
Canmore also has top-quality restaurants and a great range of accommodation options that will suit travelling families at a much friendlier price point in the peak summer season. We loved the stroll into town for food and the easy access to the National Parks as well as strolling the river in the evenings.
We have stayed in both towns on separate visits and given the popularity and crowds in Banff we now much prefer the beautiful option of Canmore. It is relaxed, friendly and still has beautiful scenery and lots to do for families in the immediate area.
Canmore Vacation Rentals and Hotels
We stayed in this condo on our last visit to Canada and really loved the homely comforts along with the perfect location. This two bedroom, two bathroom condo with full kitchen and laundry facilities has lovely mountain views and overlooks the creek.
It is located across the road from the Safeway supermarket and the Elevation Place recreation facility. Within easy walking distance is also the main street with restaurants and cafes aplenty. See if this Canmore condo is available for your travel dates by clicking here.
This place is a great option if you want a resort style accommodation with apartment facilities - perfect for families. Offering one and two bedroom suites with cozy, warm styling and extras like an outdoor swimming pool and spa this place is a great Canmore option. Click to find prices for your travel dates here.
Another resort offering with one and two bedroom suites. Fully equipped kitchens and resort facilities close to Canmore town. Book via this link or check out the rooms on offer.
How Long to Stay in Banff or Canmore?
If this is your bucket list trip to Canada then it is essential to spend at least one full week in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is an absolute highlight of a Canada trip and there are loads of day tours and things to do to keep you busy for a month if you really wanted.
If your goal is to tick off a list to say you have stood at Lake Louise, seen a grizzly in the Canadian wilderness and walked down Banff’s main street then you can cover this with a 3 day stay but do yourself a favour and allow yourself waaaay more time.
Getting to Banff and Canmore
The majority of International travellers will arrive into Canada via Vancouver and the road trip via the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to Banff is an epic road trip in itself. The most direct route is approximately 850kms or 9-10 hours but it is worth breaking it up with some stops along the way.
You can read more about all the incredible places to visit on a Canadian road trip here. If you feel like getting off the main route consider visiting Whistler and then take the back roads from Whistler via Revelstoke for a beautiful and varied drive with awesome stopover options. Otherwise consider stopover points on the direct road trip between Vancouver and Calgary.
A closer option for driving is to arrive into Calgary International and drive the much shorter 128 kms to reach Banff. If you aren’t a local then a good car hire can be found via this link.
The earlier you can book a car the cheaper the deal and if you are okay with collecting a vehicle from a depot away from the airport this can literally save you hundreds of dollars on a longer rental.
Of course the Rocky Mountaineer train is a splurge that is well worth the money for spectacular views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Passing through some of the most pristine scenery you can sit back and enjoy the ride without worrying about driving.
The train is a slower mode of transport but it is all about the journey rather than getting to the destination too quickly.
Transport in the Rocky Mountains
Once you have arrived in Banff or Canmore it really is essential to have a vehicle to see the best sights of the area. If you don't have a car then you will need to join lots of tours but your own car will have you zipping to all the best bits with the minimum of hassle with kids.
Use the link below to book yourself a car in Banff if you arrive via another mode of transport.
Due to increasing numbers of tourists there are now shuttles operating from the Highway into both Lake Louise and Moraine Lakes. Unless you are planning on a very early morning visit it is best to use these shuttles as car parking is a nightmare otherwise.
Banff and Canmore Alberta Summer Weather
With elevations above 1400m Canada's Rocky Mountains region experiences sunny and warm summers with the average top daily temperature being around 22 degrees Celsius. Nights can be pretty chilly still so you will need to dress in layers and be prepared for quick weather changes even in the midst of summer.
On our last visit in mid-July we did experience an unfortunate wet spell with 4-5 days of consistent heavy rain, fog and cold temperatures so it is best to pack expecting any weather. Fingers crossed for you that you get crystal clear skies and warmth to take in the views at their most stunning.
Banff National Park Information
To visit any of the National Parks in the Rocky Mountains area you will need to purchase a National Parks Pass. If like us you take an extended trip through Canada and its National Parks you may find it useful to purchase a Family Discovery Pass which gives you up to a year of access to many of the most popular parks. In 2020 this pass cost $139 CAD.
You can also purchase shorter stay passes depending on the parks and dates of your visit. Best to stop in at a tourism information office on arrival to determine your best option.
19 Things to Do and Places to Visit in Banff and Canmore in Summer
There are loads of beautiful places to visit in Canada and Banff and the Rocky Mountains certainly come close to topping the list. Read on to discover the best things to do in the region.
Experience the 360 degree views of the Banff National Park from the scenic Banff Gondola which takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. On a clear day the views are spectacular with birds-eye sight over Cascade and Rundle Mountains as well as many of the surrounding ranges.
To avoid the crowds (this is Banff's most popular tourist attraction) aim for first thing in the morning as soon as the lift opens at 8.00am in the summer peak or even late in the afternoon. Many of the large groups will visit through the middle of the day.
Tip for families: the Banff Gondola is free for children under 5. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.
At the top you have lots of options to keep yourself busy or to relax and enjoy the scenery. The Sky Bistro is a stunning place to have a meal particularly in the evening with the sun setting.
Take a leisurely walk along the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk which stretches for 2 kilometres out to Sanson's Peak. Or for the educational perspective have a wander through the Above Banff Interpretive Centre to learn about the surrounding environment and visit the eagle eye cinema.
If your family loves hiking and you have older kids you can opt for the switchback hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain instead. The climb is 5.5kms and will take approximately 2 hours and you can take the gondola back down for half the ticket cost if you don't want to walk both directions.
Lake Louise is one of the jewels of a visit to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Situated just outside of Banff it is easily reached by car or via an organised tour if you would like an experienced guide and driver for the day.
If you are wondering how to get those reflective photos showing the mountains bouncing back on the turquoise waters then the trick is in the timing of your visit. We captured this by arriving right as the sun was rising over the mountains. This is also the most relaxing time of day to capture Lake Louise and it's surrounds before the masses arrive.
The Chateau Lake Louise is a sight to see in itself perched on the edge of the lake.
Once you have snapped your perfect shot you can take the Lake Louise gondola for higher views of the lake and its surroundings. It can be a great way to spot a bear as well.
You can choose between the open chairlifts or an enclosed gondola but children under 106cm tall need to travel in the enclosed version.
There are some beautiful hikes of varying difficulty from the Lake Louise area. The Banff website provides great advice on options.
3. Moraine Lake
Nestled in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is gorgeous Moraine Lake. I think Moraine Lake is a little more rugged and untouched compared to Lake Louise. It is simply stunning to visit and will provide for postcard photo memories.
To avoid the crowds try and arrive before 9am or stop by late in the afternoon and enjoy the 1.4km lakeshore walk in relative peace.
If you would like to visit with an organised tour jump onto this option visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.
4. Emerald Lake and Yoho National Park
Whilst Lake Louise and Moraine Lake steal a lot of the attention my favourite Rockies Lake is Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, BC. It is a little further out of the way and many visitors pass by unknowingly making it a much quieter lake to visit but the word is definitely getting out!
Emerald Lake sits at a higher altitude meaning it remains frozen until June and the degree of glacial silt washing into the water means it has the most stunning of emerald (hence the name) colours.
Most tour bus visitors will stop, take a picture and then continue on their way. This means the 5.3km Emerald Lake circuit trail is a brilliant way to take in the pristine allure of this place. This easy, family-friendly walk is flat and meanders through the pretty greenery on the edge of the lake.
Our kids loved that it was a bit muddy in parts as they were climbing along logs, jumping over obstacles and sometimes just jumping in the muddy puddles which meant they didn't complain once about the walk.
We visited very late in the afternoon and had a lovely quiet visit - for the walk itself we barely passed any other groups which was awesome.
Not cheap but canoes and kayaks can be rented for a gentle paddle across Emerald Lake. The cost at the time of our visit was a whopping $70 per hour but hey it is a bucket list thing to do in Canada.
Consider a short stay at the Emerald Lake Lodge if you want to truly immerse yourself. This place was beautifully positioned at the end of the lake with amazing views from all angles.
5. Takkakaw Falls
Claiming the title for being the highest waterfalls in the Canadian Rockies the Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park are well worthy of a visit. Plummeting over the rock wall into a long vertical drop these falls are super pretty.
Getting to Takkakaw Falls is pretty straightforward. Just follow the signs off the Trans Canada highway and take your time along the road in as there are a couple of hair pin bends that need caution.
Once at the carpark you have an easy walk for about 10 minutes across the Yoho River up to the base of the falls. There are also some nice places to wander up and down the river as well.
The day we visited was a little overcast and drizzly so there weren't too many people about. There are picnic tables provided near the falls so its a great place for a picnic lunch.
The diverse and intriguing array of wildlife that live in the Rockies is a major drawcard for many visitors. There are a number of animals that are reasonably easy to spot without trying too hard and others that can be quite elusive.
For some reason we noticed a really significant reduction in the amount of wildlife spot-able from the roadside between our first Canada trip in 2003 to now (more than 15 years later). Unfortunately I fear this is due to the mass amount of people and traffic now arriving in the region each year which could be driving the animals further out of their original habitat. Essentially it feels a little like we are loving these national parks to death.
It could also be due to the wildlife fences now installed all the way along Canada's highways.
Whatever the reason it can be tricky to spot many animals. A great way to overcome this is to utilise local knowledge and consider an evening wildlife tour. Not only will your guide be knowledgeable on the best places to find the animals but you are taken out on dusk when the animals are on the move and active. You can sit back, relax and keep your eyes on the landscape rather than trying to drive at the same time.
Elk, deer and big horn sheep can be spotted in many places. We stumbled across a herd of elk along the bow valley parkway with the large antlers which the kids thought were pretty cool.