The Canadian Rockies make a perfect playground for adrenaline-seeking adventurers.
By now, the story is well known. In 1883 three construction workers toiling away on the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled across a cave in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They encountered a series of hot springs. After various disputes, it was decided the area be protected. In 1885 Banff National Park was created; the very first in Canada.
The protected area that is the Rocky Mountains – or the ‘Canadian Rockies’ – evolved from there. Numerous national parks later emerged to give this vast terrain the protection it deserves. UNESCO listed the Rockies in 1984 under an umbrella entry that included the national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho, plus the provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine and Hamber.
Because of their size and protected status, the Canadian Rockies are largely uninhabited and unspoilt. The range stretches across 4,830 kilometres (3,000 miles) from New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. It continues throughout Canada where it balances on the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The mountain parks are estimated to cover a total of 23,000 square kilometres (9,000 square miles).
The scenery is spectacular. Forceful geological processes have shaped the mountain range into dramatic valleys, snow-clad mountain peaks and fluctuating glaciers (the Columbia Icefield, covering 325 square kilometres (125 square miles), is particularly notable). The forests are wild and pristine. There are uncharted canyons and emerald-blue mountain lakes governed by wooden huts. Humans’ relationship with nature can hardly be more intimate than here.
What to do? Well, where do you start. Given the variety of the terrain, virtually every wildlife and mountaineering activity is available. Banff National Park alone offers 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) of hiking trails. That is supplemented by 50 backcountry campsites, trail shelters, numerous alpine huts and licensed guide services. Routes go into desolate areas where map reading and navigation skills come in handy. Cross bridges, climb rocky hills and negotiate tricky rivers in the wildest of wildernesses.
There are of course facilities catered to specific sports. Travel companies offer a long list of activities. Stay eco-friendly: lay off the snowmobiles and get some proper exercise. For hikers, guides arrange trips into limestone caves, where the expedition explores chambers, twisted passageways and fossils. Rent a canoe and drift across the pristine lakes, or take a crash-course in how to manoeuvre a kayak. For more adrenaline-charged travellers, sign up for some white water rafting.
Like on Greenland and elsewhere in Canada, dog sledding is on the menu. As is ice climbing. There are organised zip liner trips where you swish over a river while hanging from a wire – at a reported speed of 50 kilometres per hour (31 miles). Do not forget the quintessential Canadian Rockies adventure: rock climbing. And whatever you decide on, keep an eye on the wildlife, with deer, red squirrel, grey wolf, black bear, wolverine, lynx, puma – and of course the grizzly bear all roaming around.
Photos: LaiQuocAnh, Sandra Cunningham, yuqun [all via Shutterstock.com].