Spirit Island (Shutterstock)
List Words : Ailsa Ross | 25 April 2019

5 hidden spots to explore in the Canadian Rockies

Author Ailsa Ross has lived in all three of its mountain national parks: Banff, Waterton Lakes, and now Jasper. She reveals the hidden gems that only locals know about for you to explore...

1. Rockbound Lake, Banff National Park

Castle Mountain and Rockbound Lake (Shutterstock)

Castle Mountain and Rockbound Lake (Shutterstock)

At Rockbound Lake, larch trees wave under the sun and polished rocks smooth as ostrich eggs cover the ground.

Sharp mountains curve into the blue water like an amphitheatre, and it's all so beautiful that the first time I came here I took just one picture, looked at it and laughed... because how can all that be captured by pixels?

Getting there:

Just east of Castle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise, you’ll find Rockbound Lake car park.

From there, it’s a steady five-mile hike through thick woods up to the lake.

In total, there’s a 2,500-feet elevation gain and a decent number of switchbacks, and the hike in total takes about five hours.

2. Hidden Cove, Jasper National Park

Spirit Island (Shutterstock)

Spirit Island (Shutterstock)

To get here in summer you can kayak, canoe, or if you’re my friend Anna you can head in on a stand-up paddle board while balancing a cooler bag full of ice-cream for your pals.

The newest campground in Jasper, Hidden Cove can only be reached by water. And even though it’s just a couple of miles from the north shore, where queues of visitors hop on boats headed for Spirit Island, it’s peacefully quiet here.

That’s especially true in winter when you’ll be skiing, snowshoeing, or walking over ice and snow to get to this your own private island for the night.

You'll need to bring your own drinking water and, if it’s cold, also bring logs to keep the wood-burning stove going in the day-use shelter.

 

Getting there:

To take your kayak out onto the water, head to the last car park at the far end of Maligne Lake Road. The one you’re looking for is next to the Bald Hills trailhead.

3. Ink Pots, Banff National Park

Visitors walking through the fields near the Ink Pots (Shutterstock)

Visitors walking through the fields near the Ink Pots (Shutterstock)

Johnston Canyon may be as popular as Lake Louise, but walk the trail beyond the Upper Falls and you'll find quiet there. 

This trail through the pine trees descends into Johnston Valley and an open meadow. Here, you’ll have views of those biting mountains that have been perfected over 65 million years.

Also, you’ll find the Ink Pots — seven, bubbling blue-green pools that look just like witches’ cauldrons. It’s so fun to sit and watch, mesmerised, as black sand swirls in perfect circles under the water.

New images are created every moment. It’s like nature is playing Etch a Sketch with the sand. And it’s totally magic.

Getting there:

To reach the Ink Pots via Johnston Canyon, head to the parking area on the east side of Johnston Creek and follow the trail, almost 4 miles, for its length.

For a quieter hike that bypasses the canyon, you can reach the Ink Pots via Moose Meadows. The trailhead is three and a half miles west of Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway.

4. Stanley Falls, Jasper National Park

Stanley Falls in Beauty Creek Canyon (Shutterstock)

Stanley Falls in Beauty Creek Canyon (Shutterstock)

I once read that chimpanzees dance when they see waterfalls — and when I reach Stanley Falls, I dance, too.

The first time I came here, I was just looking to stretch my legs on the drive from Banff to Jasper. I wasn’t expecting to walk above twisting blue waters rumbling their way through Beauty Creek Canyon.

I wasn’t expecting to see waterfalls upon waterfalls as I tripped over roots and wildflowers and moss, on what turned out to be the best short wander I’ve ever been on. I truly love it here.

Getting there:

Follow the Icefields Parkway south from Jasper for 53 miles, and just past Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint (and about a mile before Beauty Creek Wilderness Hostel) you’ll see a small parking area on the left. That’s your trailhead.

5. Vimy, Waterton Lakes National Park

Red Rock Creek near Vimy Peak (Shutterstock)

Red Rock Creek near Vimy Peak (Shutterstock)

Waterton is the smallest of the Canadian Rockies national parks, and its village must be the prettiest. Especially around sunset, when pink light moves across the mountain faces and the resident bald eagle goes into hunting overtime on the water.

Kayaking the lake on the edge of the village, I’ve seen deer swimming and black bears ambling over the beach. I've also found my perfect picnic spot — the foot of Vimy Mountain, where the krummholz pine trees are bonsai small and the summer orchids are purple and yellow and exploding and perfect. 

Getting there:

In summer, you can rent a kayak from Waterton village, paddle the isthmus and be at the foot of Vimy in about ten minutes. You can also hike or bike ride there by following the Wishbone Trail that starts on Highway 6 (it’s around a 5-mile hike each way)

Ailsa Ross is the author of The Woman Who Rode a Shark: And Fifty More Female Adventurers. You can order your copy on Amazon now.

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