The national parks of the Canadian Rockies are stunningly beautiful. They are also laced with trails that allow visitors of all levels of athleticism to get off the highway and step right into that gorgeous scenery.
That is, IF you can find one of those trails.
While there is a very well-developed trail network, actually locating a specific trail can be a challenge. It’s almost as if Parks Canada doesn’t want visitors to find them. I found the parks of the Canadian Rockies (particularly Banff and Jasper) to be extremely frustrating to navigate, with almost no roadside wayfinding signage except to mark campgrounds or other built facilities. It’s not user-friendly if you just want to find a hiking trail.
Looking for the Beauty Creek trail? Do you think it might be at the (signed) Beauty Creek wayside by the hostel? Nope. It’s down the highway another mile or so at an unmarked parking lot on the opposite side of the road. There is a small trail marker once you find the trail at the far end of the parking area. Even then, there isn’t a sign to tell you what trail it is. I guess visitors are just supposed to know these things.
Not enough of a challenge? Why don’t you locate the trail to the Bow River outlet? Apparently the pull-off it is marked by fluorescent tape that local hikers wrapped around trees along the highway so they can find it. We weren’t able to spot it.
Even more frustrating is the fact that these short trails suitable for casual hikers. It would be nice if Parks Canada made it possible for us to find them.
Some guidebooks, like the Parkways of the Canadian Rockies and the How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies series, identify the location of trailheads by milepost. However, since mileage is not signed along the roadways, using this information requires setting your vehicle’s trip meter back to zero every time you begin a trip up or down a highway (which we never remembered to do) and, in the case of the photography series, it also requires having a vehicle that measures distance in kilometers (our car didn’t). On the other hand, the photography guides provide GPS coordinates, allowing those with a GPS (which we don’t have) to easily locate the trail of their choice.
It should be easier.
Our inability to locate specific trails was an ongoing frustration during our travels along the Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper.
It really did feel as if the system was designed specifically to keep visitors like us out.
Planning a Canadian Rockies Vacation