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Bucket list: 30 things to experience in the Rocky Mountains before you die

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Britanny Burr Dec 03, 2018 2:23 pm 871

If you haven’t visited the Rocky Mountains, you are missing out in a very real way. From awe-inspiring natural beauty to vibrant locally-run businesses, the Rockies are bursting with things to do, see, eat, drink, and buy.

When you make a trip out to the mountains from wherever home may be, it can be difficult to decide what to do once you arrive. Even the locals have trouble narrowing it down from time to time. So, because we want to help you make the most of your Rocky Mountain experience(s), we’ve compiled a round-up of things you simply must do in the Rockies. Enjoy!

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For your own safety, please make sure you are prepared before heading out on your next adventure. Information on how to prepare for your trip and stay safe while on your hike is available from Albertaparks.ca and AdventureSmart.

Visit the iconic Lake Louise

 

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If you know anyone who has visited the Rockies, we’re willing to bet they took a photo in front of Lake Louise — most likely the iconic view with the sparkling blue water in the background. Though it may be a tourist hot-spot, it’s an absolute must-see. From the historic Chateau Lake Louise to the breathtaking lake itself, you’d be crazy not to get your own picture (or you know, just look at it. Your choice!).

Attend the Canmore Folk Festival

The Canmore Folk Music Festival has been kickin’, loud and proud, since 1978. It takes place each year for three days during the August long weekend. You’ll find over 30 musical performers, countless vendors from near and far, a free downtown concert on Friday, an incredible kids’ area with crafts, music, a climbing wall, and SO much more — all surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. The festival pulls in some huge names and promises an unforgettable weekend for all ages every single year.

Warm up in the Banff Upper Hot Springs

 

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The Banff Upper Hot Springs are open year-round for visitors to take a dip in the steamy hot mineral water. The only hot springs in Banff National Park, the Upper Hot Springs have been hosting visitors for over 100 years. Warm up, dog-paddle around, read a book, chill out, and take in the stunning view. No suit? No problem. They rent out hilariously retro bathing suits that will make your experience just that much more memorable.

Go on a Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tour

 

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Though we probably don’t have to explain why this one is worthwhile, here goes anyway! BJust picture beautiful husky dogs pulling you through a winter wonderland. Yes, this is real life. You can either cozy up in the sled with an instructor driving or drive yourself on the back (depending on how brave you are). Either way, it’s a total blast. You’ll have between four to six sled dogs pulling you through the Rocky Mountain dreamland. Snowy Owl, the locally-run, family-owned business makes for the most wholesome, fun, enchanting experience you can imagine. You simply have to do this, trust us.

Go camping at Spray Lakes

Under a half hour from downtown Canmore, you will find Spray Lakes West Campground. A gravel road will lead you there with views from above the little valley town along the way. Soon, sprawling lakes will emerge before you and you’ll set up camp right along the water. Spray is the perfect place for a quick camping trip as it’s so close to town. The scenery sure doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, you just might recognize it from The Revenant.

Get fancy with High Tea at Banff Springs

 

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Get those pinkies up! Head over the iconic and historical Banff Springs Hotel, but more specifically, The Rundle Lounge. There you can take part in an elegant, traditional English ritual: high tea. Enjoy fine loose leaf teas and an assortment of Victorian scones, dainty finger sandwiches, and more. Open from 11 am to 3 pm daily, be sure to make a reservation. People love their tea.

Hike Grassi Lakes

 

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A relatively easy hike with truly remarkable views. The entire hike takes between one to two hours (up and down), though you’ll definitely want to spend some time at the top. The vibrant greens and blues of Grassi Lakes are nothing short of legendary. Any local will say they’ve been climbing this trail since they were toddlers, and for good reason, because it’s a must-stop when in Canmore. In addition, there is great rock climbing at the top for all levels. So, if you fancy taking your hike to the next level, maybe you want to get a little more vertical.

Go for a skate on Johnson Lake

 

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You’ll find this stunning, crystal-clear lake just outside of Banff. The clear ice and incredible surroundings make for a perfect day of skating. Whether you’re throwing down for a game of hockey or pushing a chair around the perimeter, you’ll enjoy yourself without a doubt. Even if you’re not much of a skater, you should definitely check it out. It’s best in the fall before a big dump of snow comes and covers the ice. It’s especially gorgeous around sunrise and sunset. Toss on some skates and feel extremely Canadian for a few hours in the Rockies.

Explore in an alternative way with Mystery Towns

Mystery Towns is an excellent way for locals and travellers alike to engage with a community while having a blast and challenging themselves. Sign up for an adventure, download the app, and follow your app around town solving clues and engaging with local businesses until you reach the finish line! Picture a combination between a scavenger hunt, an escape room, and The Amazing Race. Pretty cool, right? Now offered in both Canmore and Banff, you’ll be able to spend a couple hours solving problems and exploring with your friends and really get to know your surroundings.

Go on a distillery tour and tasting at Wild Life Distillery

 

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Founded by locals Matt Widmer, and Keith Robinson, Wild Life Distillery deserves a spot on your Bow Valley bucket list. Book a distillery tour for only $10 and learn about the production process and company history… and, most importantly, sample the goods. The in-house-made spirits are uniquely delicious. Just a ‘lil taste of the Rockies (in alcohol form).

Canoe or SUP on Vermillion Lakes

Both Canoeing and stand up paddleboarding are awesome and relatively leisurely activities to enjoy in the Rocky Mountains during the warmer months. An excellent spot for both is Vermillion Lakes. They are a series of lakes just west of Banff in the Bow River Valley. Enjoy the reflection of Mount Rundle in the rippling water as you paddle through. The lakes are on the shallow side, so you can usually see the bottom and spot a couple of creatures while you’re at it. Vermillion Lakes is home to a great deal of wildlife, so you just might lay eyes on an eagle flying overhead or elk along the road. Enjoy a serene paddle with incredible views and (hopefully) good company. If you’re more of a land animal, we’d still suggest taking a drive to check it out. It really is beautiful. Timing it just right for sunrise or sunset isn’t a bad idea either!

Kick back at Kananaskis Nordic Spa

 

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Referred to as “your alpine sanctuary,” you don’t just need to visit this magical place, you need to spend an entire day there. Yes, it’s a need. Kananaskis Nordic Spa features outdoor pools, saunas, and steam rooms, along with massage treatments and an outstanding dining experience (if you can drag your butt out of the pools). The scene is truly something out of a dream with the pools and saunas located amongst pine trees, fire pits, and winterized hammocks. This experience will make your Rocky Mountain getaway or staycation a million times more relaxing.

Take a ride up Sulpher Mountain on the Banff Gondola

 

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The Banff Gondola is an extraordinary experience for both locals and tourists alike. Ride up a scenic cableway to the summit of Sulpher Mountain and take a walk along the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk. Or, you can head inside and enjoy three delicious restaurant menus. If you’re interested in adding an educational element to your adventure, check out the new Above Banff interpretive center. You can’t miss out on these views.

Drink a Trashcan at the Eddie Burger + Bar

 

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Banff’s Eddie Burger + Bar is a small, lively bar and burger joint located downtown. Not only does this hot-spot have a whole lot of character, but they have truly incredible burgers (as you’d expect) and amazing cocktails to boot. So, here’s what you need to do. Head to the Eddie to watch a game, unwind after a day at the hill, or pre-game for a night out in Banff. Order yourself one of their famous Trashcans and see where the night takes you. A Trashcan is a 3oz cocktail with a whole medley of liquors and a can of Redbull to garnish. They’ve also introduced different flavours for you to enjoy.

Check out the Cave and Basin National Historic Site

This incredible historical site is most certainly worth a visit. Here’s the scoop: In 1883 three railway workers stumbled upon a cave full of mineral spring waters. From there, Canada’s first national park was born. That cave became Banff’s Cave and Basin. Visitors can explore the cave, trails, historic buildings, and exhibits. This is a perfect activity if you’re looking to learn and take in some of the natural wonders of the world. It’s pretty incredible.

Go whitewater rafting in Kananaskis

 

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We know what you’re thinking, and, we promise, it’s a lot safer than it looks — especially when you’re in the capable hands of the staff at Canadian Rockies Rafting and Adventure Center. This family-friendly adventure along the Kananaskis River is perfect for everyone and anyone, and they allow rafters as young as five years old. You’ll raft down class two to three rapids for an invigorating, adrenaline-pumping afternoon. Just a heads’ up, you will get soaked from head to toe. On top of the fun to be had, there will be an on-site photographer capturing the experience from start to finish.

Walk the Icewalk in Jasper National Park

The Icewalk experience takes place in The Columbia Icefield, the largest mass of ice in the Rocky Mountains. The icefield straddles both Alberta and British Columbia and Banff and Jasper. These guided walks along the Athabasca Glacier are unlike anything you’ve seen before. No gear? No problem. The tour offers boots, spikes, waterproof pants, and hats if you come unprepared. How often do you get to walk along glacial plains surrounded by the Rocky Mountains? Definitely worth the trip.

Get geared up at Monod Sports

Monod’s is a family owned and operated business that has been a beloved mountain lifestyle retailer in Banff since 1949. Visiting this homey, fully-stacked Rocky Mountain shop truly is a key part of the Banff experience. Monod’s carries over 250 premium outdoor brands, is home to some of the most knowledgeable and friendly staff you’ll ever come across, and is a perfect representation of the vibrant, lively, adventurous inhabitants of the Rockies. Head on in, get geared up, and set off on your next Rocky Mountain adventure.

SkiBig3

People come from near and far to check out the Rockies. Though there are countless things drawing people in from around the globe, a common culprit is the ski hills. It’s true, the Canadian Rockies have got some pretty unbeatable skiing and snowboarding. So, you’d be silly not to give one (or three) of the hills a visit while in the area, right? SkiBig3 encompasses Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mt. Norquay. The three incredible resorts are all perfect for skiers and boarders of all levels and ages, offering lessons, some backcountry access, and apres ski beers in the lodge.

Hike Ha Ling Peak

 

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Did you even visit the Rockies if you didn’t hike a mountain? Not really. Well, if you don’t have an entire day (or more) to spend in pursuit of a summit, we’ve got the hike for you. Ha Ling Peak is located at the north end of Mount Lawerence Grassi, just south of Canmore. The hike is only about 5.4 km in total. But don’t be fooled, it is an (extremely) uphill battle. If you’re cool with a bit of a climb on the way up, the view is absolutely worth it.

Go caving in Rat’s Nest Cave

Join Canmore Cave Tours to experience the legendary Rat’s Nest Cave from the inside out. There are a number of ways you can go about your journey. You can take the explorer tour, adventure tour, discovery tour, or take the solo route with the solitude tour. Each offers various aspects for different types of caver. Special events and performances are even held in the cave from time to time to elevate the experience just that much further. Imagine the acoustics! If you’d like to dig deep into the world of caving, they also offer courses to take it to the next level.

Check out Bow Falls in Banff

 

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Bow Falls is another must-see on the Rocky Mountain sightseeing tour. Bow Falls is a major waterfall on the Bow River. The falls are visited by tourists from around the world and often locals, as well. Providing both amazing views and perfect photo ops, you’ve got to add this to your Rocky Mountain to-do list.

Play a round at Silvertip Golf Course

Silvertip Golf Course in Canmore is the perfect Rocky Mountain golfing experience. The sprawling course is located on a massive wilderness reserve on the sunny side of the bow valley. Picture gazing out upon peaks, valleys, and lush greenery while breathing mountain air and preparing to play a round of golf in good company. Pretty unbeatable, right? On top of that, you can enjoy fine dining at Rustica or beers and pub fare at Stoney’s. There’s no question why this stunning location hosts countless weddings and banquets each year.

Bike the Goat Creek Trail

The Goat Creek Trail is an exquisite trail that hugs the Rundle Mountain range and runs along Goat Creek. Stretching between Canmore and Banff, you can ride it back and forth, make it a loop with either the Rundle Riverside trail or the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, or take the Roam Bus back if you just want to bike one way. Though the trail is 19 km long (one way), it is typically seen as a beginner to intermediate level ride. The journey offers outstanding scenery and likely some wildlife spottings along the way. Make a day of it! Take breaks along the way and enjoy the ride.

Grab a late-night slice at Aardvarks

 

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Aardvark Pizza & Sub is the place for pizza in Banff. This family owned and operated business has been a staple eatery for over 25 years. Whether you’re heading home from the hill or from a night of dancing at the Sasquatch, you need to stop at Aardvarks. Feast on fresh, delicious pizza, subs, poutine, or, why not all three? If you wake up craving more (trust us, you will) they have breakfast wraps and FREE delivery anywhere in Banff. If you’re like us, you’re no stranger to a late night pizza party. From our pizza-loving family to yours, go try Aardvark’s pizza!

Cross-country ski at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park offers a wide variety of activities including skiing, biking, hiking, disk golf, and more. This gorgeous terrain hosts countless regional, national, and international events year round. In fact, it was home to the 1988 Olympic Winter Games. If you really want to feel like a Rocky Mountain Local, you should probably try cross-country skiing. It’s so popular in these parts that you can often find locals wearing their ski boots as shoes in cafes and around town. So, get in the Bow Valley spirit and give it a go.

Attend the Banff Centre Mountain Film + Book Festival

The Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival takes place each fall at the world-renowned Banff Centre. The Centre draws a diverse population of artists and creatives from around the globe to take part in programs, performances, residencies, and more. It is a hub of culture like no other. At the film and book festival, nine epic days of multi-media storytelling take place and never fail to wow attendees. If you’re in the area while the festival is taking place, be sure you check it out. If you’re looking for some inspiration, you’ve just found it.

Visit Johnston Canyon

 

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Not to be bossy, but you have to visit Johnston Canyon. You simply must. As Johnston Creek approaches its runoff into the Bow River, it flows right through a massive canyon made of sheer, stunning limestone rock. Within the canyon, you’ll find tunnels, pools, and (most importantly) utterly breathtaking waterfalls. The hiking trail follows the canyon into a meadow above the canyon. If you’re looking for a cool Rocky Mountain photo opp, this is your hot-spot. Additionally, you’ll come across the Ink Pots, which are six spring-fed pools of beautiful turquoise water. Get those eyes and cameras ready for some seriously beautiful sights.

Get your sweat on at WildHeart

 

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WildHeart is a yoga and barre studio located downtown Canmore. They have beautifully captured the vibrant Rocky Mountain culture and commitment to holistic wellness and it is most definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. Their classes are fun, upbeat, and will have you sweating within seconds. Geared toward active mountain folk, their classes are exactly what you need between trips to the hill. Or, if you’re more of an indoor creature, grab a pass and go all the time because, well, why the hell not? On top of their class offerings, they have their own fitness/leisure apparel that you will fall immediately in love with. Owned and operated by locals, you’ll feel right at home the second you step through the door.

Market days on the mountain

From May-October each year, the Mountain Market is held in Canmore and Banff. The market takes place on Wednesdays in Banff and Thursdays in Canmore. It is home to a ton of local vendors including artists, restaurants, jewellers, farmers, and more. There is often live entertainment, great people, and the vendors simply can’t be beat. These market days are beloved to locals and give tourists a glimpse into local talent and businesses in a raw, real, Rocky Mountain kind of way.

See also

And there you have it. The Rocky Mountains are a world of their own and they should be experienced by just about everyone. This Rocky Mountain bucket list will help you capture the experience through both the eyes of a local and a tourist. Do them all, take pictures along the way, and tag Daily Hive as you go, because we want to experience your adventures along with you.

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Britanny Burr
Britanny is a Writer and Editor from Canmore, Alberta. She has lived in Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, and New York. Though, she always finds herself drawn back home to the Rockies.

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