When most people hear of national parks in the summer season, they think of beautiful landscapes and unfortunately crowds. Our goal this summer was to visit a few of the major national parks, but also find some uncrowded gems in our attempt to cover 3,000 miles, across the United States and Canada. We definitely learned a few inside tips on which national parks were worth our time, pre-planning, and which were the hidden treasures.
Glacier National Park
Glacier, one of the more well-known national parks has some of the most stunning mountain terrain, giant mountain peaks, and glacial fed lakes. As suggested by most tour websites, our family headed out early in the day to enter the West side of the park–traffic was already busy in the park. As we hit the first few campgrounds, we had no luck for a camp spot. I would suggest booking a campsite prior to your arrival. Our gypsy style itinerary inhibited us from booking ahead. Regardless of not having a campsite, we opted to just try and enjoy the day in the park.
We had received a few recommendations for hikes in Glacier and chose the Trail of the Cedars, to Avalanche Lake. The hike was beautiful and the glacial lake at the top was stunning, unfortunately the hiking traffic was almost unbearable! We opted to head back to our van and continue on with Going to the Sun Road. I would suggest downloading the Gypsy Guide app for Glacier National Park. The app tracks your location and shares historical and geographical information in a storytelling format. Our kids enjoyed the facts and history as much as we did. We felt like we were getting an audio “tour guide” in our own vehicle.
Due to the high volume of visitors in Glacier National Park, we opted to exit the park, and cross the Canadian border just north on Highway 17. The picturesque landscape opened up, and we quickly realized this was where the views really began! It was uncrowded, we were flanked by the towering Canadian Rockies, and in our opinion was more beautiful than Glacier Park itself.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Just north of the US and Canadian border, we bumped into Waterton Lakes National Park. It is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, Canada. It is one of the smallest national parks in the Rockies, but offers stunning views from every vantage point. Waterton Lakes does not disappoint. We were lucky enough to grab a night at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel. The Swiss-inspired architecture, history, and grand window views are definitely worth a stop, even if you do not have a room booked. The town of Waterton sits directly below the Prince of Wales hotel and is superb for biking, great food, hikes, and boating. This park is definitely a hidden gem, uncrowded, stunning, and lots of activities for outdoor adventure.
Banff National Park
With a delightful time in Waterton National Park, we headed towards the infamous Banff National Park. We were excited to see Banff Township and the national park. We anticipated seeing beautiful images of turquoise glacial lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, we were stunned by the amount of people that had the same idea. We found tourism traffic at every turn. We tried to make the best of it and booked a stay at the adorable Paradise Bungalows, right near Lake Louise. The Bungalows location was ideal.
Thankfully, we were able to hike from our cabin doorstep to Lake Louise. In order to participate in the infamous canoe paddle across the lake, we chose an early morning visit to Lake Louise. Despite the crowds, we found Lake Louise stunning. We finished our early morning with a delicious brunch at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and left the crowds behind us. Our family was happy to head out and find some peace and quiet. We turned our van north towards the Columbia Icefields and Jasper National Park.
Jasper National Park
Heading north on Highway 93 out of Banff was a stunning drive! The vibrant turquoise lakes along the road were, in hindsight, where we should have canoed. Note to anyone wishing to skirt the Banff crowd: rent a canoe in town and head to one of the quiet lakes north of Banff. Hector or Bow Lake would be great options. The towering Canadian Rockies loaded with glaciers followed us all the way to Athabasca Glacier. Athabasca Glacier is one of six glaciers in the Columbia Icefields, also one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. The Columbia Icefield Adventure was a “must do” with our boys at ages 11 and 13 years. Our boys love expedition style adventure. So, we knew they would appreciate this unforgettable experience in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
The tour took us on an informative and entertaining ride directly onto the 10,000 year old Athabasca Glacier, and the ability to walk right on to the glacier itself. We all loved the massive ice Explorer vehicle and the rich stories of the area. Part two of the tour was a birds eye view on the glass-bottomed Columbia Icefield Skywalk. Gratefully, none of us have a deep fear of heights, it is 918 feet drop above the Sunwapta Valley! A stunning view with informative stations presented in a storytelling format. The tour was an engaging learning experience that we all enjoyed! I would suggest booking tickets prior to your arrival due to making the most of your time in Jasper National Park. For our family, the Columbia Icefields and Jasper National Park were the hidden diamond in the rough.
Does your family have a favorite National Park?
Share this Post