Day 1: Calgary, Alberta / Banff
Arrive in Calgary, Alberta’s fast-growing capital that blends Old West cowboy heritage with a booming contemporary skyline. Banff lies less than two hours away via a scenic transfer over rolling prairies and pine-studded foothills. To the west, the monolithic peaks of the Canadian Rockies rise, an imposing gray barrier dividing the vast plains from range upon range of mountains that extend all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Our boutique hotel awaits in Banff, in the center of this globally acclaimed adventure hub. Depending on your arrival time, you may be able to hike up Tunnel Mountain for a broad view of the Bow Valley, backdropped by the limestone slab of Mt. Rundle, or wander over to Bow Falls. This evening, meet your Expedition Leader for a welcome dinner in town.
Day 2: Banff National Park—Bow Valley / Johnston Canyon / Lake Louise
Established in 1885, Banff is Canada’s first national park, created to protect the incomparable scenery, abundant wildlife and geothermal features within its bounds. Banff plus six other national and provincial parks in the region comprise the UNESCO Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site. This morning, follow the scenic Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon for a walk up the narrow gorge to Upper and Lower Johnston Falls. After lunch, continue to Lake Louise. In one of the most exquisite alpine settings in the world, the turquoise lake sits in a perfect bowl backdropped by the Victoria Glacier. We stay at the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, whose origins date back more than a century when the Canadian Pacific Railway developed a chain of grand hotels to attract visitors to Canada's mountain west.
Day 3: Banff National Park—Moraine Lake / Lake Louise
Rise early for a quiet experience of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks, one of the most famous settings in the Canadian Rockies. The lake's vivid blue-green color is the result of light refracting off the rock flour (fine particles of silt) in the glacier run-off that flows into it. The Rockpile Trail, a short path along the glacial moraine to the top of the natural dam, leads to a vista of the lake and surrounding peaks known as the “Twenty Dollar View,” capturing the scene featured on the back of a former issue of the Canadian $20 bill. Return to Lake Louise to spend the afternoon exploring its storybook environs. A walk along the forested shoreline takes us to closer views of Mt. Victoria and Mt. Lefroy, while a gentle climb to Fairview Overlook offers an iconic view of the castle-like hotel on the edge of the lake.
Day 4: Icefields Parkway / Athabasca Glacier / Bow Lake
Enjoy a serene sunrise at Lake Louise on an optional early-morning walk with our Expedition Leader. After breakfast, depart for the Icefields Parkway, one of the world's most scenic drives. Here, the journey is the destination, and we'll take a packed lunch for flexibility, allowing us to stop when and where we wish at some of the many classic vistas along our route. Near-vertical peaks rise on either side, with waterfalls coursing off glaciers into shadowed gorges. Continuing north, enter Jasper National Park to reach Athabasca Glacier, the largest accessible tongue of ice flowing off the mighty Columbia Icefield, which crowns the Continental Divide. Learn about glacial activity on a short hike to the toe of the rapidly receding glacier. Heading south again to reach Bow Lake, we arrive at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. Built in 1940, this vintage landmark exudes rustic mountain ambience in its log walls, Arts and Crafts furniture, and massive stone fireplace. After dinner, survey a peaceful sunset over Bow Glacier after day trippers have departed.
Please note: Peyto Lake, which we would typically visit on this day, will be closed to visitors in 2020 as improvements are made to the parking lot and trail system.
Day 5: Yoho National Park—Takkakaw Falls / Emerald Lake
Early risers know that greeting the dawn is the secret to a quiet encounter with the Canadian Rockies, and our Expedition Leader offers a sunrise walk along the edge of Bow Lake with views of Crowfoot Mountain. We then follow the Trans-Canada Highway westward, tracing the route of Canada's rich railway history over Kicking Horse Pass to reach Yoho National Park. Just over the border in British Columbia, Yoho is less well known than neighboring Banff but equally stunning. Its name comes from a Cree Indian word meaning “awe” or “wonder.” Renowned for its vertical rock walls, waterfalls and dizzying peaks, Yoho was sculpted over millennia by ice and water. Witness that power at work on a visit to Takkakaw Falls, Canada's second highest at 1,224 feet. The narrow white ribbon is glacial meltwater from the Waputik Icefield, and it sounds like deafening thunder when the volume is high. Emerald Lake is Yoho's most famous gem, set in a tucked-away cirque wrapped by the high peaks of Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain. Explore its forested shores on a guided hike around the lake before returning to Num-Ti-Jah Lodge for dinner.
Day 6: Helicopter Flight to Bugaboo Lodge—Alpine Hiking
This morning we make a scenic two-hour drive to the heliport that is our jumping-off point into one of North America's most dramatic wild realms. Crossing into BC, we drop down into the Rocky Mountain Trench, a thousand-mile-long valley on the western flank of the Rockies that extends from northern Montana to the Yukon. In 1807, David Thompson—renowned fur trader, surveyor and mapmaker, and one of Canada's greatest explorers—was tasked by the North West Company to open up a trading route to the Pacific Northwest, and he became the first European to find the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia rivers near the present-day town of Golden. At this juncture, we turn south to follow the Columbia to the helipad near Spillimacheen, where we depart on a 10-minute flight to our wilderness lodge. In the never-ending jumble of mountain ranges, it's hard to tell we've technically left the Rockies to enter the Columbia Mountains, which are in turn divided into various sub-ranges of which the Bugaboos are a part. Our flight offers a tantalizing preview of what is to come, as we land at our alpine lodge in view of the Bugaboo Spire, one of Canada's most famous alpine rock-climbing challenges. On arrival, the staff provides an orientation before we sit down to lunch, followed by our first heli-hiking excursion. Later, dinner is served in the glass-walled dining room overlooking the peaks and glaciers beyond.
Days 7 & 8: Hiking in the Bugaboos
Over two more full days, explore a part of the greater Canadian Rockies that very few people get to see. The Columbia Mountains are comprised of the Cariboo, Monashee, Selkirk and Purcell ranges, all of which are world-famous helicopter skiing destinations. Bugaboo Lodge, in the Purcells, was the original heli-ski base, and its summer hiking offerings are equally spectacular. Each morning, we take to the sky to access the awe-inducing heights of Bugaboo Provincial Park. Several guided hikes of varying lengths and ability levels are offered each day. The helicopter provides transfers to remote valleys and high alpine meadows where we walk over trailless terrain, stopping for lunch at a spot of special beauty. Amid the dazzling scenery, keep an eye out for wildlife: we might see marmot, ground squirrel, pika, mountain goat, golden eagles, or possibly moose or grizzly bear. Choose to stay out all day, moving to a different hiking area in the afternoon, or return earlier to relax at the lodge and indulge in the sauna, steam room and hot tub, or book a massage (additional cost) to reward your efforts. Each evening, dinner is served family-style as we join our Expedition Leaders and local guides for convivial conversation.
Day 9: Kootenay National Park / Banff—Sulphur Mountain Gondola
After breakfast, depart by helicopter for the helipad in the Columbia Valley. Our Sprinter vans await, ready for a scenic journey back to Banff via a new route. Follow the Columbia River to Radium Hot Springs, then traverse Kootenay National Park on the Banff-Windermere Parkway, completed in 1923 to establish a new road across the Rockies and provide visitor access to newly created park. From frigid rivers to steaming springs, Kootenay holds dramatic contrasts. At Marble Canyon, admire the turbulent turquoise water blasting through the chasm's depths as the trail criss-crosses the gorge on a network of bridges through terrain burned by a large 2003 wildfire. Look for late summer's magenta fireweed as we learn about the important role of fire in regenerating landscapes, vital to forest health. Ascend to the Continental Divide once more, the mountain backbone that straddles two provinces, two watersheds and two national parks, then drop down into Banff. Once we check in to our hotel, it's time to head up high one last time aboard the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. On the summit, survey 360-views including the town and Bow Valley far below, and follow a boardwalk trail to the Suphur Mountain Weather Station. We're almost certain to meet Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which are usually abundant on the mountaintop. A farewell dinner this evening caps our grand Canadian Rockies adventure.
Day 10: Banff / Transfer to Calgary / Depart
After an early breakfast at the hotel, a group transfer is provided to Calgary for flights departing at noon or later.