Rockies West Mini-Safari, 8 Days
Banff, AB to Vancouver, BC
This sightseeing tour of Canada travels from Banff, Alberta to Vancouver BC by SUV/ Van. You will experience an ideal mix of iconic Rocky Mountain sights combined with explorations that take you off-the-beaten path into provincial and national parks.
- Banff to Icefield Parkway, AB via Lake Louise
After picking everyone up from their downtown hotel in Banff, our tour of the Rocky Mountains begins when we divert to a secondary road. This road to Lake Louise enables us to adopt a more relaxed pace while we look for wildlife including elk, deer, moose and bears.
From here we continue on to the world famous Chateau and Lake Louise (pop. 1,000). We are now in a subalpine zone characterized by a mixed forest with white spruce and lodgepole pine. Famous for its emerald green glacier fed lake, the stunning scenery is beautifully framed by rugged snow capped mountain peaks and the Victoria Glacier. We can tour the Chateau Lake Louise, take a stroll along the well groomed lakeside trails or simply enjoy a cup of tea and admire the views.
From Lake Louise we take a short drive to the Valley of Ten Peaks to Lake Moraine. Sitting at an elevation of 1185 metres, this turquoise blue glacier-fed lake was featured on the back of the old Canadian 20 Dollar Bill for many years. The glacier-fed lake may be a tad cool for a swim but is well worth an afternoon canoe rental.
At the beginning of the Icefield Parkway we steadily climb as we head north, passing the Crowfoot Glacier and entering alpine forests to Bow Summit. From the popular viewpoint at Bow Summit Pass, you can walk a short trail to see this iconic view, with a dreamy milky-blue lake, towering mountains, and a view of the Mistaya River Canyon to the north. If conditions are right, you'll see a reflection of those mountain peaks in the lake's surface.
From Bow Summit we drop down into the subalpine forests alongside the Mistaya River and Peyto Lake. We drop even further into the montane valley bottom of the Saskatchewan River and take a steep incline to the Icefields. Optional helicopter tours over the Rockies and Columbia Icefields are available.
- Jasper National Park, AB
After breakfast prepare to be astounded on one of the most spectacular roads in the world! Keeping our binoculars and camera close at hand, we make our way along the famous Icefield Parkway to Jasper National Park. Enroute we stop at the Icefield Centre to take in commanding views of the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefields. This icefield is the headwaters for the Fraser River and is the largest of the chain of ice fields along the Great Divide, separating Alberta and British Columbia. Its 325 square kilometre accumulation of ice feeds six large glaciers of which we’ll be able to see three: the Athabasca, the Dome, and Stutfield.
Overseen by certified mountain guides, we have the option to strap on crampons and join a naturalist for a two hour guided walk on the surface of the Athabasca Glacier, a massive river of ice riddled with an estimated 30,000 crevasses. The road after the Icelfield Centre includes views of Mt. Athabasca, the Columbia Glacier, and the Icefields. The last leg of our Rocky Mountain trip to Jasper travels through areas frequented by mountain goats, bighorn sheep and elk. This section climbs Tangle Ridge, then drops down into montane forest and follows the Sunwapta and Athabasca Rivers into the town of Jasper. Grizzly bears and mountain caribou are often seen on this last section near the townsite of Jasper.
By late afternoon we’ve arrived in Jasper National Park. This park encompasses 6,641 square kilometres of mountains, glaciers, forests and alpine meadows.
- Jasper National Park, AB
The friendly, picturesque community of Jasper (pop. 4050) is the heart of Jasper National Park, the largest and most northerly of the Canada’s Rocky Mountain national parks. This town is nestled in a rugged, unspoiled wilderness of unparallel beauty - towering snow-capped mountain peaks provide the backdrop for evergreen forests, pristine glacier-fed lakes and waterfalls.
Here we tour some of the scenic spots for wildlife viewing and photo taking. A morning drive along a mountain offers great chances of seeing elk, mule and white-tail deer, bighorn sheep and perhaps a grizzly bear. We stop at Pyramid Lake for short walk and then head to Maligne Canyon for a hike down the trail of Six Bridges. Our next stop is Maligne Lake where passengers will have the option of joining a scenic guided boat tour to the world famous Spirit Island. No trip to the Rockies could be complete without a picture of this Island, a quintessential symbol of pristine wilderness.
After Maligne Lake, guests can take the Jasper Tramway to the top of Whistlers Mountain. This tramway is the longest and highest guided tramway in Canada. From the top of the Tramway passengers will be able to see six mountain ranges, numerous glacier fed lakes and a spectacular view of the Athabasca Valley including the entire townsite of Jasper. Stroll the boardwalks while viewing the interpretive plaques and watch for wildlife. Alpine inhabitants include the Hoary Marmot (famous for its whistling alert call), White-tailed Ptarmigan, ground squirrels, pikas and the occasional Bighorn Sheep.
Other options for the day include mountain bike and canoe rentals. For those hot mountain days, we can find a spot to swim in the refreshing glacier-fed waters of a nearby shallow lake. At the end of the day guests have several dining options including the famous Jasper Lodge.
- Mt. Robson Provincial Park, BC
Most of the morning is set aside for guests to explore Jasper on their own. We then head west, leaving the province of Alberta behind and crossing into British Columbia and into Mount Robson Provincial Park. This park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, is truly one of the world's crown jewels. The mountain, for which the park is named, guards the park's western entrance. At 3,954 meters Mt. Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
One of the best known trails in the Rocky Mountains, the Berg Lake Trail, has played host to school age children that have returned as parents with their own children to experience the simple joy of backcountry hiking. This trail will equally please the beginner to advanced hiker. Gaining just under 800 meters in 23 kilometers, the trail traverses three bio-geoclimatic zones. Interesting changes in vegetation, as the elevation gains, are most apparent on this trail. Other trails of interest is the trail to Rearguard Falls. In late August these powerful falls become the backdrop to the might salmon that leap out of the water and soar through the air in their attempt to make it over the falls to their spawning grounds.
- Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC
This morning we head south, following the mighty Thompson River, the largest tributary of the Fraser River.
We follow this river as it gains volume and speeds into the Clearwater Valley and Wells Gray Provincial Park. Enroute to our destination, guests have the option to enjoy a wildlife safari in a jet boat on the Blue River to look for wildlife, especially black and brown bears. We also stop at Spahats Falls Provincial Park to check out a two tiered waterfall that drops over 75 meters. Here we can see the unique geology that created this area, and take a close view of Pleistocene lava that helped shape the region.
We walk along the interpretative nature trail and learn about old growth forests before continuing onto Wells Gray Provincial Park. This park is more than 520,000 hectares in size and encompasses most of the Clearwater River watershed in the Caribou Mountains. The mountains in the south part of the park put on wildflower displays each summer that are among the most colourful in Canada.
Canada's fourth tallest waterfall, Helmcken Falls, is ensconced here Three times higher than Niagara and splendidly photogenic, the fast flowing Murtle River shoots over a volcanic cliff and falls 142 meters directly into a gorge in a roaring, misty display. Next we’ll visit Dawson Falls, a spectacular 91 meters wide waterfall!
By late afternoon we’ve made our way back to our ranch accommodation and its resident buffalo. Guest have the option to go horseback riding and take dinner at the ranch, where bison steaks are on the menu.
- Lillooet, BC
We tour Wells Gray Provincial Park and the Thompson River area before heading south towards Kamloops and the Fraser Canyon.
We'll stop at a local bakery, a favourite hang-out of the locals for lunch or snack before continuing.. After lunch we head south and then west, cutting across to the Cariboo Highway on the “Fishing Highway” named due to the numerous numbers of lakes in the area. While parts of the original trail can still be seen, the Fishing Highway remains virtually unchanged from the fur trading days. We find a nice spot by a lake for a picnic lunch.
Joining the Cariboo Highway, we head south a small but diverse community hidden away in the Cascade Mountains. While there are many places in BC that are well known and attractive to international visitors, the town of Lillooet (pop. 2780) remains relatively unknown, making it all the more fun to visit. On the way, we stop at some interesting and scenic places including Marble Canyon and Pavillion Lake, a beautiful green and blue lake that holds much interest to astrobioligists and NASA.>br/> Once a thriving Goldrush town of over 15,000, Lillooet is steeped in First Nation’s and Gold Rush history. Situated the stepped banks of the might Fraser River, we step back in time as we tour the visit historic buildings and significant sites such as The Bridge of the 23 Camels, The Hangman’s Tree and the Chinese Rocks. Optional activities here include jet boating, and fishing for the monster sturgeon, as well as walking and hiking.
- Whistler, BC
From the historic town of Lillooet we follow a historic First Nation trade route.
Leaving the arid lodge pine forests of the Lillooet Valley, we follow a secondary road into the Cascade Mountains. This drive is one of the most scenic and unspoiled in BC. Along the way, narrow one way bridges cross crystal clear streams, flourishing forests provide cover for wildlife and mountain meadows wave in the summer breeze. We pass a snow packed glacier.
Once on the other side of the mountains, we drop down into the Pemberton Valley. Whistler Village (pop. 10,000), home to the 2010 Olympic Games, is known to be one of the world’s best four season resorts. As we will experience, there is never a shortage of things to do in this mountain community.
During a tour of the Village, the driver/guide will point out the main attractions and then turn guests loose to explore. Optional activities include: Peak-to-Peak Gondola, hiking trails, zip trekking, ATV tours, jeep tours, bear tours, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, hang gliding, ice skating, rafting, golfing, helicopter tours and kayaking. Or, simply stroll the village and shops or take a walk along one of the village trails. In the evening, the nightlife of Whistler will call.
- Drop–off Vancouver, BC
In the early afternoon, as we descend from the 675 meter Whistler, we take the Sea to Sky Highway to the shores of Howe Sound and Horseshoe Bay. Along the way, we wind through five biogeoclimatic zones in the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region of BC, passing by Garibaldi Provincial Park, Squamish and the old Britannia Mine sits, now restored as a museum. As we pass Horseshoe Bay, the beautiful city of Vancouver comes into view.
We cross the Lions’ Gate Bridge and drop guests in the downtown hotel district.
Accommodation: None provided