The Canadian Rockies, located in Western Canada, reach high into the sky, teeming with activities for families. Whether you are seasoned hikers or just a family ready for an epic adventure, both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park provide the perfect setting for an unforgettable family vacation. Located 188 miles from each other, across the Icefields Parkway, you will never forget the beauty and adventure that abound in Alberta. Check out one (or all) of these experiences while in Alberta with kids.
1. Banff National Park on Horseback
Alberta, Canada is best known for its cowboys. Not only is it home to the Calgary Stampede, but it’s also home to some of the best trail riding in all of North America. The Cowboy Cookout Dinner offered by Banff Trail Riders is the best bet for families looking to explore the backcountry on horseback. Led by knowledgeable guides, children ages 6 and up are invited to ride on horseback while children under 6 can experience the adventure in an old-fashioned covered wagon. Both groups meet up at a family style cookout where you may even see a grizzly bear or two. Kids get to learn how to lasso a wooden steer and play horseshoes with some authentic cowboys. You will never forget the scenery, the food or the ride along the glacial fed Bow River.
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2. Hike Down Sulphur Mountain and Visit the Banff Hot Springs
In both Banff and Jasper National Parks, you will find an abundance of ski lifts and gondolas to take you up and down the mountains. To experience the beauty of Banff at a different pace and with fewer people, take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain, but choose to walk back down. The hike is easy for families and wildlife is everywhere. Once you reach the bottom of the hike, you will find yourself at the Banff Hot Springs (elevation: 5,200 feet). Bring your bathing suits or rent some onsite and relax in the five mineral springs kept between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Stand on the Edge and Play in the Snow
Almost exactly between Banff and Jasper, you will find the Glacier Sky Walk and Glacier Adventure. This is the perfect place for two very unique family-friendly experiences. First, stand 918 feet above the ground on the glass floor skywalk. Take your time and stop at the learning stations positioned along the walkway. Your children will delight in learning about the local animals and how the skywalk, which opened in 2014, was built.
Next, take a ride on an Ice Explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier. The experience of stepping onto the glacier is incredible. The glacier is also a great learning experience for people of all ages, as guides provide information on the glaciers, surrounding icefields, and the environment during the tour. Halfway through, you are able to step out onto the glacier and fill a water bottle with fresh glacier water.
Note: A number of tour buses run through this area and unless you arrive early in the morning, you may have trouble getting on a tour. Although tours leave every 15 to 30 minutes, the wait can be upwards of four hours for people with pre-purchased tickets, as you are assigned a tour time when you arrive at the departure point. Plan to visit as early in the day as possible.
4. Ride the Rapids
There is no experience in Jasper quite like taking to the river with Jasper Raft Tours. A family-friendly experience for people of any age, the large rafts are perfect for families with children under the age of 12. Enthusiastic guides who call Jasper home lead you through small, but fun rapids while ensuring everyone gets a little wet. What makes the tour unforgettable are the tales the guides share of the people who discovered Jasper and preserved it as it is today. No motorized boats are allowed in the river and you will see nature as it’s intended to be seen.
5. Visit with Marmots on Top of Whistler Mountain
Take the Jasper SkyTram for an entirely different experience and find out how Whistler Mountain in Jasper National Park got its name. Each tram car is accompanied by a guide who is able to tell you all about the view, as well as the regions on the mountain. Once you reach the top, head out and see the wild marmots, whose distinct whistle gave the mountain its name.