Canadian Rockies Van-Venture: Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, Alberta

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14250A, Lodge


  • Walk on the Athabasca Glacier
  • Explore Banff National Park, Lake Louise, and Jasper National Park


  • Hotel accommodations and all meals
  • On-trip transportation and scheduled airport pick-ups
  • Park admissions, fees, and tips, except on free day


DatesAug 9–16, 2014
StaffMargaret Elkins

Trip Overview

The Trip

If you love hiking but prefer clean sheets and hot showers to soggy tents and your cleanest dirty shirt, this is the trip for you! Our days will be spent exploring Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper national parks, and the Canadian Rockies, with moderate day hikes. In the evenings we will dine in restaurants and lodge in mid-range hotels.

This outing is an introduction to the Canadian Rockies. You could spend months exploring this visually spectacular region, but in the time we have, we'll focus on some of the highlights. We will drive past the tourist magnet of Banff, but spend our time at Lake Louise, the Icefields Parkway, and Jasper. Out hikes explore diverse landscapes and ecosystems: Trip highlights include seeing the Athabasca Glacier on-board a specially designed snowmobile coach, the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the Athabasca Falls, the Chateau at Lake Louise, and one or two of the teahouses above Lake Louise.

The Rocky Mountains achieve their most spectacular grandeur in the Canadian Rockies. In contrast to the Rocky Mountains in the U.S., the Canadian Rockies have a much wetter climate and thus many more glaciers and rivers. The effects of glaciation and relative geologic youth have created a landscape of jagged peaks, precipitous slopes, and broad U-shaped valleys. This combination has earned the Canadian Rockies the designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site:

"The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, ice fields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply incised canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess exceptional natural beauty." (UNESCO)

While human presence in the Banff area has been traced back at least 10,000 years, the area was relatively inaccessible until the Canadian Pacific Railway built a transcontinental railway in the 1880s and, more importantly, two resort hotels, the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. Jasper, on the other hand, began as a fur-trading outpost. When the Jasper Forest Park was created in 1907, Jasper became its commercial services center. The completion of the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper opened a corridor linking Banff and Jasper national parks.


Day 1: We will gather at 4:00 p.m. at our hotel in Calgary, Alberta for introductions and orientation before adjourning for a short walk to a favorite restaurant. We'll spend our first night in Calgary.

Day 2: We begin our day with breakfast in Calgary, then drive about two hours to the Banff area for our first hike. Afterward, we will drive about half an hour to our lodging in Canmore and have dinner at a restaurant in the heart of downtown Canmore.

Day 3: After having breakfast and preparing our own sack lunches at the hotel, we will drive into Banff National Park for today's hike. We will hike about seven miles round-trip with 1,200 feet of elevation gain to Eiffel Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Day 4: Today, we visit Lake Louise and hike to the teahouse at the Plain of Six Glaciers -- about 6.5 miles with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain. If conditions permit, participants may, if they wish, hike to Lake Agnes by way of the Highline Trail on the return and stop at a second teahouse. This longer option will be a total of nine miles with 1,300 feet of elevation gain.

Day 5: We leave the Banff area and travel to Jasper National Park with about four hours' driving time punctuated by several stops along the way for pictures. Midway, we will stop at the Columbia Icefield Center and take a 90-minute tour of the Athabasca Glacier on-board a specially designed snow coach. Our next stop is a side trip to see the Athabasca Falls. We continue on to Jasper for dinner and lodging. We will stay at our hotel in Jasper for three nights.

Day 6: This is a free day with no scheduled activities, but many options are available for you to undertake on your own, including riding the Jasper Tramway up Whistler Mountain, taking a boat cruise on Maligne Lake, hiking, horseback riding, rafting, soaking at Miette Hot Springs, shopping, or just relaxing.

Day 7: Today is our last day of hiking. We will hike the Cavell Meadows Loop, with views of Mt. Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier. The hike is about five miles with 1,300 feet of elevation gain.

Day 8: After breakfast, we'll say our goodbyes and make the six-hour drive back to Calgary for late-afternoon departures.

Note: While this is the intended itinerary, all hikes and programs are subject to change depending on a variety of factors, including trail conditions, weather, and other issues.



Getting There

The trip begins and ends in Calgary, Alberta. This airport (code YYC) is well served by most air carriers. Participants may need to schedule arrival a day early or departure a day late depending on airline schedules. A very nice hotel is conveniently located at the Calgary airport.

Participants must arrive by 2 p.m. on the first day of the outing. Departures should be scheduled at or after 4 p.m. on the last day of the trip. One airport pickup and drop-off will be provided to and from the Calgary Airport on the first and last days of the trip. Shuttles and taxis are also readily available. Those arriving early may join the group at the first hotel. Details and directions will be provided to confirmed participants.

Accommodations and Food

All on-trip meals and lodging will be provided. We will stay in mid-range hotels. While the hotels won't be providing turndown service and a chocolate on the pillow, the rooms will be clean and comfortable with private bathrooms. Accommodations are double occupancy. Participants traveling alone will be paired with another participant or may elect to pay an additional fee for a private room, depending on lodging capacities and group composition.

Restaurants will be selected based on cuisine that relates to the theme of the trip, quality, and vegetarian-friendly options. Lunches will be make-your-own picnic fare, such as sandwiches or cheese and crackers along with fruit, snacks, and chips. Some breakfasts will be provided in our lodgings, others will be in nearby restaurants. Participants who have dietary restrictions must discuss these restrictions with the leader long before the outing. Meals and soft drinks are included in the trip price, but participants are responsible for their own alcoholic beverages and specialty coffee drinks, if desired.

Trip Difficulty

The hikes are rated moderate although, at the discretion of the leader, more strenuous options may be made available should the group desire it. The hikes range from five to eight miles, with elevation gains up to 1,500 feet. See the itinerary for daily details. Rocky Mountain trails typically involve switchbacks, some scree, short snowfield crossings, and a few steep trail ascents. Anyone in good physical condition who hikes regularly should have no difficulty with the hiking. To be sure, participants should begin conditioning several months before the trip. Ideally, each participant will develop improved fitness by hiking and building up to 20 miles per week before the outing and becoming accustomed to carrying a loaded day pack.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will provide a packing list of required equipment prior to the trip. Participants must have good hiking boots that are well broken-in before the trip. Over-the-ankle boots are recommended. Participants should bring both shorts and long pants, and restaurant-appropriate apparel. A day pack, water storage method (bottles or reservoir), sunscreen, and raingear (both upper rain shell and rain pants) are required. Participants should carry with them any medications that may be needed during the trip or the hikes. Rain is always a possibility. You should be prepared for temperatures from 40 to 80 degrees.



  • Copeland, Kathy and Craig Copeland, Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies: The Opinionated Hiking Guide. Wilderness Press, 2009.
  • Patton, Brian and Bart Robinson, Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. Summerthought Publishing, 2007.
  • Skidmore, Dr. Colleen (Editor), This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. The University of Alberta Press, 2006. (The leader must confess that he has not read this book, but the title is irresistible.)
  • Jenish, D'Arcy, Epic Wanderer: David Thompson and the Mapping of the Canadian West. Anchor Canada, 2004.


The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers, aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward understanding parallel environmental concerns at home and on the trail. Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Banff National Park.

The primary conservation themes we will discuss during our trip are the need for ever-vigilant protection of wild spaces, the overuse phenomenon in which the most alluring parkland is "loved to death," the catastrophic impact of tar sand extraction, and our emerging awareness of the effects of climate change, especially on glaciers and run-off dependent ecosystems. We will learn what threatens the peaceful existence of wildlife in two of Canada's most beautiful national parks, and about local efforts to preserve the living and movement patterns of the animals in the park. We will also learn about and practice Leave No Trace principles.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Banff National Park.



Margaret Elkins has hiked in Greece, Tanzania, and Italy. But one of her favorite adventures outside the U.S. is the Canadian Van-Venture. She's excited to return to the Canadian Rockies for the third time and is looking forward to sharing the beauty of the mountains with fellow Sierrans. Margaret has been leading day hikes as a volunteer with Minnesota's North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club since 2003 and served as co-Chair of the chapter Outings Committee for three of those years. She has walked, skied, and biked dozens of state, county, and city parks and trails in her home state of Minnesota. She loves to share her adventures with other enthusiasts, and her dog, Charlotte, when trails permit.

Assistant Leader:

Julie Koivula has been a Sierra Club member for more than 25 years. She retired from teaching and coaching at the high school level. She also taught swimming and is a first aid/CPR instructor for the American Red Cross. She has her wilderness first aid certificate, and she loves to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, ski and play many other sports. She now leads and assists on a variety of Sierra Club outings, including backpacking, canoeing, service, biking, and archaeological survey trips. Julie is the Co-Chair for the Midwest Outings Subcommittee.

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