A trip to Edmonton, Jasper and Banff National Parks, Canada

The second-biggest country in the world has a seemingly endless supply of unspoilt landscapes and extraordinary wildlife. Our writer Scott Balaam flew to Canada to explore some of the best parts of this famously beautiful corner of North America…

As I made my way up Whistler’s Mountain in the Skytram just a few hours after white-water rafting it occurred to me that Canada makes an excellent alternative to New Zealand. The land down under has long been a mecca for travelling adrenalin seekers but Alberta in Canada gives it some serious competition.

Our adventure started by flying to Edmonton, Alberta’s second-largest city where we were met by a local tour guide to travel overland to Calgary via Jasper and Banff. There are many epic national parks in Canada but these are often considered to be the most beautiful National Parks in Canada with UNESCO World Heritage status. On the surface, it seems like a demure government town but Edmonton has become to be known as the ‘Festival City’ in recent years due to the high number of festivals held there.

Edmonton

Fort Edmonton Park

Our base in the city was Metterra Hotel, an atheistically appealing luxury boutique hotel perfectly positioned on central Whyte Avenue which showcased some very cool art. The city is very proud of its West Edmonton Mall (the largest mall in North America) and the endearing historic Fort Edmonton Park where costumed actors play characters based on real-life individuals who lived in the area circa 1885, 1905 and 1920. My personal highlight though was Elk Island National Park. This is a very important place where the dedicated staff worked very hard to conserve bison. There was once between 30-60 million bison in the country but this has now diminished to only around 250,000.

Jasper National Park

Jasper

Next up was Jasper National Park and at an incredible 11,000 square kilometres it’s the largest National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It’s also where the adrenalin seekers dream starts.

The adrenalin kicked in with our first activity – white water rafting down the glacier created Sunwapta River with Jasper Rafting Adventures. Hitting the rapids with the feeling of the freezing cold water splashing against our faces was a truly spectacular experience and one that I would recommend to anyone!

Sky walk

Next it was time for the Skytram located at Whistler’s Mountain. Once up the top of the mountain the views of the beautiful wilderness below make it an essential park attraction. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, then follow the 1km hike to the summit – you could catch a glimpse of mountain goats, pikas and other interesting wildlife along the way,  just make sure you watch out for the bears!

Mountain Goat

There are also plenty of other activities to do in the Jasper National Park including taking a Harley Davidson tour, mountain biking, trekking, renting a boat or even horse riding. I would personally recommend the phenomenal Icefield Parkway (a scenic highway located between Jasper and Banff) which features more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from towering rock spires and emerald green lakes.

Banff National Park

lake louise

Tangle Creek2

Our final stop was Banff National Park but first there were a couple of special places to stop at. The three places that really stood out for me were awe-inspiring Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Tangle Creek. Banff National Park is smaller than Jasper National park at 6,600 square kilometres but is home to some gorgeous lakes including the very special Peyto Lake and the bustling Lake Louise (where visitors can go canoeing). When winter falls, the park turns into a snowy paradise for skiers and snowboarders.

Top of Gondola

The Banff Gondola, which goes to the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain was a very special journey which allows you to enjoy wonderful views of Banff from 7,486 feet above sea level. The park is surprisingly a great place to socialize – our group enjoyed hearty meal a Balkan, hit the main strip for drinks and then ended the night with a crisp bourbon on the terrace of Park Distillery on Banff Avenue.

Peyto Lake1

Filled with an endless supply of impossibly beautiful wilderness scenery and activities which make the most of the outdoors, this part of Canada makes for a very special trip – I think I’ll always remember how peaceful but insignificant I felt sitting at the top of Whistler’s Mountain. For UK visitors especially, Canada makes a great to alternative for New Zealand – you’ll find all the same activities and beautiful views but it only takes about half the time to get there!

Getting there

Canada

We flew with KLM to Edmonton via Amsterdam and then out of Calgary but you can do it either way. Whilst you can fly in and out of the same airport having the flexibility of arriving and departing at different airports allows you to see a lot more and you avoid having to go back on yourself.

The journey to and from was very comfortable and you have different options of classes – Business, Economy and Economy Comfort. Whilst ‘Business’ is for those with deep pockets (or if your company is paying) but for those who cannot afford that option but still want a little more space then ‘Economy Comfort’ is a financially viable option. A major selling point of this route is that you can fly out of 17 UK based airports to and from Amsterdam, meaning that you can travel from your local airport rather than having to travel to London or Manchester.

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Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland and the UK but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and has also just started his own blog called Bars and Spas. As well as Rome he also counts Melbourne and Tel Aviv among his favourite places and now permanently resides in Dublin. Follow Scott on Google+ and Twitter

12 Comments

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    Brian

    21 July, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Oh god I love Banff! I loved all of Canada but it was definitely my favourite place. I am dying to go back there. Just need to find someone to go with!

    Reply
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    Bron

    28 June, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I’ve already visited Jasper National Park and my next mission is to visit Banff National Park. The second last image is just too awesome, you nailed it!

    Reply
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    Suze The Luxury Columnist

    18 June, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Was that a pika in your photo? Canada looks so beautiful, I would love to visit. Did you enjoy the canoeing?

    Reply
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    Frank

    17 June, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Nice!We’re Canadian but haven’t gone out west in a long time. Heading out next month though and you’ve given us some ideas on what to see in the Rockies!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      19 June, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for your comments – it was my first time in Canada and I loved it.

      There is so much to do in the Rockies – I loved the rafting.

      The views throughout were incredible.

      Have a great time.

      Scott

      Reply
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    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren

    16 June, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    I have friends all across Canada so I’m really hoping to visit soon! Definitely bookmarking this post. Thanks for sharing, Scott!

    Happy travels 🙂

    Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      19 June, 2015 at 9:58 am

      Hi Lauren,

      It was my first time and I loved it – I really want to go back and see more!

      Whilst I also loved New Zealand I felt that Canada is a great alternative.

      If I were you I would make the most of those friends and their sofas!!!!

      All the best,

      Scott

      Reply
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    Marc

    16 June, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Simply beautiful. Canada has so much to offer. I have been several times to those areas mentioned and enjoyed being there. And getting lost in Edmonton mall was fun! 🙂

    Reply
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      Scott Balaam

      19 June, 2015 at 9:59 am

      So true Marc – I was shocked how big it was. Luckily I didn’t see the sign for the casino until we left!!!! If I was going back with my Mrs I know that I would have lots of things to do whilst she goes shopping!

      Reply

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