Banff, Jasper & The Icefields Parkway

By Jenny Peters

While we all know that there are stunning landscapes to discover in virtually every country on the planet, there’s one part of the world that is truly incredible, both in winter and during less chilly times of the year.

That’s the stretch of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta that begins in Banff and ends in Jasper—better known as The Incredibles—rolling through Banff National Park and points north, through picturesque places with names like White Goat, Marmot Mountain, and Weeping Wall.

We’ll take a winter trip to The Incredibles by flying into Calgary, then catch the Sundog Tours Mountain Connector shuttle bus for the 1.5-hour drive to Banff. Watch closely as the Great Plains that extend into Canada begin to morph into the vast Rocky Mountain range, which starts in New Mexico and stretches to northern British Columbia and Alberta. Just one look around in scenic Banff reveals why this is one of Western Canada’s most popular destinations.

Perched inside Banff National Park, this picturesque town has everything, including three nearby ski/snowboard/tubing resorts in winter, with plenty of snow on the mountains. Be sure to pack your warm clothes, waterproof boots, and cute toques (woolen caps), or shop the chic boutiques that line the main blocks, like SmartWool, for socks and more that won’t let you down on this snowy adventure.

Don’t be surprised to see a herd of elk wandering by; after all, you’re already in the wilderness. You might even spot a moose down the Bow River nearby, but most of the region’s bears have gone off to hibernate as the snow falls. Spend a few days here to soak in the sights, including taking the Banff Gondola up Sulfur Mountain for spectacular 360-degree views of the national park.

Stay at the historic Mount Royal Hotel, built in 1908, for a comfortable and central spot, with a cozy mountain-fare-inspired restaurant called Brazen (try the buffalo skewers), and you’ll have a perfect jumping-off spot. Or go high-end and a bit out of town up to Lake Louise to sleep in the legendary five-star Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Get up before sunrise to watch the lake and mountains change color as the sun comes up, as that’s a magical experience. 

Now, the truly magical part of this winter wonderland adventure begins as you roll up the Icefields Parkway. Again, depend on the comfy Sundog Tours small motorcoach to get you there in winter, as the four-hour ride that wends along this breathtaking wilderness route is without any cell service (but the driver has radio phone communications), so going it alone in a car can be dicey.

Snowy mountains, icy waterfalls, and the jewel of the trip, the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier, await. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, elk, and even foxes along the way, as they don’t seem to mind the snow and cold. Stop and have a snowball fight, take photos, and marvel at landscapes whose beauty is unmatched, but don’t try to climb up the icefields onto the glacier, for conditions are extreme in the winter months.

Reaching Jasper means you’ve made it well into the northern Rockies to the small town with a big heart. In Jasper, you’ll see the whole Milky Way in the clear, dark sky, and on a perfect night, the Northern Lights will put on a fantastic show.

By day, get geared up warmly and head out to Maligne Canyon, the magical limestone canyon carved out by the Maligne River in Jasper National Park. In wintertime, it is a jewel-like place that glistens and glitters with ice, so much so that you’ll get boots and cleats to make your way on the guided tour. Over bridges, down ravines, past frozen waterfalls, and into an ice cave, this is an unforgettable adventure.

And if money truly is no object, put Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge on your list, as it is his newesAdd elk sightings right in front of your hotel and ice skating on the naturally frozen Pyramid Lake, complete with hot chocolate and s’mores over a warm fire pit, and you might be satisfied. But then strap on cross-country skis to glide across frozen Summit, Lorraine, or Maligne lakes, and try snowshoeing through snowy meadows, glades, and even on the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge golf course. You’ll get the total outdoor winter vibe of Jasper. t Yountville outpost, with jazz bands on selected evenings. You’ll need a reservation there, and we’d advise you to bring your Black card.

Stay at the newly expanded and comfortably rustic Forest Park Hotel, a leisurely walk to the fine dining spots in downtown Jasper, where Terra restaurant leads the way, serving locally sourced (and foraged!) dishes centered on meats and forest mushrooms, winter greens, and root vegetables. It’s the perfect place to refuel and prepare for another day in this winter jewel of the Canadian Rockies.  

When your adventure ends, return the way you came and fly from Calgary or drive east from Jasper back onto the never-ending Great Plains to Edmonton, where there is another international airport. Whichever way you choose, you’ll be sad to say goodbye to the Canadian Rockies, so plan to return for a completely different summer visit next time. These places are just as incredible when the weather is warm.  

For more information on visiting Banff, the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper,

Advertisement - Woodloch-Spa -