Sample Tours: Rocky Mountains

The Grand Adventure

See history and geography up close. Explore Alberta's Cowboy Trail and the majestic Canadian Rockies in a rental motorhome from CanaDream RV Rentals.

Duration: 12 Days
Total Distance: 1720 km/1070 mi

Tour Map - The Grand Adventure view larger map
Horseriding on the Cowboy Trail
Days 1 & 2 - Calgary to Mayerthorpe - 420 km/260 mi
Please phone our station at 403-291-1000 to arrange your transfer from the hotel to our station. Detailed vehicle instruction will be provided. Do your grocery shopping and head out on the first section of your Grand Adventure - the northern section of the Cowboy Trail!  full details

Officially, the 640-kilometre-long Cowboy Trail stretches the entire distance of Highway 22 from Mayerthorpe (northwest of Edmonton ) south to Pincher Creek. It then jogs south on Highway 6 and east on Highway 5, ending in Cardston, a nudge above Montana, USA .

You'll see cowboys ropin' cattle, experience small town rodeos, country fairs and rich ranchland where quarter horses still reign. The proximity to the Rockies means you'll also witness a great diversity in wildlife and scenery. From deer and elk to numerous small town rodeos - the Cowboy Trail section of The Grand Adventure is full of geographic and historic gems. If you're in Calgary in early July, treat yourself to the Calgary Stampede and kick up your heels at the 10-day whoop-up, known as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth". Getting started you will head north from Calgary to Sundre, which is a good jumping-off point for wilderness trips or horseback ventures into the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve. Or, just poke around Sundre's Pioneer Museum .

From here, you'll continue north to Rocky Mountain House to discover a superb National Historic Site where the story of Canada's fur trade and rugged voyageur life is re-enacted. For a different perspective take a Voyageur Canoe trip down the North Saskatchewan River. So wild is this forested area that when you spot the teepees and smell the smoke from the site's camp, you'll be spirited back 200 years when the trading post was first built.  Rocky Mountain House may be a good choice for an overnight stop.  CanaDream Club campground partner, Riverview Campground, is a quiet family campground along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River and offers CanaDream guests a discount on presentation of their CanaDream key tag.

If you'd rather continue on your journey, following the eastern flanks of the foothills, you will continue up Highway 22 to Mayerthorpe and pitch your camp at this northern terminus of the Cowboy Trail.

CanaDream Club partners on today's route:

Riverview Campground


Spirit Island Maligne Lake Alberta - Stock Photo
Days 3 & 4 - Mayerthorpe to Jasper - 340 km/210 mi
Leaving Mayerthorpe, you will continue to see countryside that is ideal for anglers, nature lovers, big game hunters, and those who want to explore the wilderness. Bear, deer, moose, mountain sheep and wapiti are found throughout the region. full details

Hunters regard this as one of the finest big game areas in the world and, in particular, flock to Edson and Hinton in the autumn.

Within easy reach of these towns are abandoned mines - ghostly reminders of the heyday of the "Coal Branch." This once thriving area of coal-mining towns pros­pered from 1910 to the 1930s, revived during the Second World War, but slumped again in the late 1940s, when the railways introduced diesel-powered engines.

Edson was created by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1910 when it built a branch line from here into the coal-rich area to the south. In its heyday, Edson was promoted as "Gateway to the Last Great West." Today, although most of the branch installations are gone, Edson is still an important stop on the CN line. Summer events here include a rodeo and a two-day sidewalk jamboree featuring street dancing, bands, auctions, and art and craft displays.

Just south of Edson is the McLeod River. This clear, cold river, fed by melting snow and rain, abounds with Rocky Mountain whitefish, Dolly Varden, eastern brook trout, walleye, northern pike and arctic grayling.

Continuing along Highway 16, you will come to Hinton. Hikers and horseback riders can explore a 20-kilometre restored section of the Bighorn Trail, an early pack trail that extended some 140 kilometres along the Bighorn Ridge between Hinton and Nordegg. There are two wilderness campsites on the trail.

About 1,000 wild horses, descendants of once-enormous herds, roam near Hinton in the wooded foothills of the Rockies. Relentlessly rounded up, first by cowboys, then by hunters, to supply pet-food manufacturers, wild horses have all but disappeared from the Canadian West.

About 7 kilometres (4 miles) past Hinton, you can turn North on Highway 40 for about 22 kilometres (13 miles) and reach William A Switzer Provincial Park. Five lakes, linked by Jarvis Creek, provide more than 30 kilometres of canoeing through this park in the foothills of the Rockies. One, Graveyard Lake, gets its name from a nearby Indian burial ground.

Moose, wapiti, lynx, coyotes, deer, marten, fisher, muskrat and beaver, owls, woodpeckers, loons and eagles inhabit the woods and waterways. A lush forest of lodgepole pine, white and black spruce, balsam poplar and trembling aspen supports a thick underbrush of saskatoon, cranberry, wild rose and juniper bushes. Harebell, lily-of-­the-valley, fireweed and Indian paintbrush blossom throughout spring and summer.

At Alberta Blue Lake Center in the park, you can study archery, canoe construction, bush survival, natural history, rock climbing, snowshoeing, sailing and fishing. The center was established in 1971 by the provincial government to develop public interest in the outdoors and to train recreation leaders for community agencies and educational institutions. In close proximity to the William A. Switzer Provincial Park is the 4,597-square-kilometre Willmore Wil­derness Park. Visitors can hike or canoe for a few days (or a few weeks) without meeting or seeing another person. There are no perma­nent residents and, except for a few Forest Service cabins and some fire lookouts, no buildings in this wilderness. Automobiles are prohibited. Local commercial outfitters take families horseback riding along trails in summer, and guide hunters in the fall.

Returning to Highway 16, you will continue on to Jasper National Park and the town of Jasper. Jasper National Park is a sweeping ex­panse of scenic beauty - of awesome mountain peaks and centuries-old gla­cial ice, of flower-carpeted meadows and mirror-like lakes.

In the early 1800s the need for a fur-trade route across the Continental Divide brought the first white men to this alpine wilderness. Three log buildings were built for weary voyageurs traveling over the Yel­lowhead and Athabasca passes. The ram­shackle settlement was named Jasper House after North West Company clerk Jasper Hawes. In 1907 the coming of the railway through the Yellowhead Pass prompted the federal government to preserve the area as a national park.

Today, the park covers more than 10,800 square kilometres, of which only 800 square kilometres are flat valley bottoms. Grassy meadows carpet the lower slopes, where rainfall is scant. Higher up, a moister cli­mate has produced bands of forest on the mountain flanks. Above the timberline­ - at about 2,100 metres - a sub-arctic climate stunts even tenacious alpine vegetation. Mule deer graze among the poplar and jack pine stands of the Miette and Atha­basca valleys. Bighorn sheep share their lofty range with mountain goats, but are left far behind when the goats climb to nar­row ledges shared only with eagles. Rarest of all sights in the park is the mountain cari­bou herd that ranges by the headwaters of Maligne Lake.  We recommend a drive out to Maligne Lake where you can take a scenic cruise to world-famous Spirit Island and capture your own photo of the iconic stand of trees with towering mountains in the background.

In the 1800's, the townsite of Jasper was was a way station for wilderness travelers - trappers, missionaries, geologists, surveyors, naturalists and pros­pectors. The first facility for park visitors was established in 1915 in the form of a tent camp on Lac Beauvert. Today the town is a year-round recreation center with facilities ranging from the primitive to the plush.

Located near the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette rivers, Old Fort Point is the site of Henry's House (1811), an early fur-trade post. Nearby grassy slopes are a grazing area for mule deer.

Pyramid Lake Drive winds for eight kilo­metres north to 2,722-metre Pyramid Mountain and a pair of sparkling glacial lakes. Haida Indians of the Queen Charlotte Islands carved the totem pole outside the railway station. A cairn near the mouth of the Rocky River commemorates Jasper House, built by the North West Company in 1813 and run by Jasper Hawes.


Colourful Canoes on Lake Louise - Stock Photo
Days 5, 6 & 7 - Jasper to Banff (including the Icefields Parkway) - 292 km/182 mi
The 230-kilometre Icefields Parkway ranks among the great highroads of the world and commands some of the most majestic scenery in the Canadian Rockies.full details

It runs between Jasper townsite and Lake Louise, following in turn the Bow, Mistaya, North Saskatchewan, Sunwapta and Athabasca rivers, crossing the Bow and Sunwapta passes and presenting a panorama of peaks, glaciers, waterfalls and canyons.

Some landmarks bear the names of early guides and explorers - Wilcox, Stanley, Nigel. Others have descriptive names such as Tangle Ridge and Whirlpool River, or Indian names such as Sunwapta (turbulent river).

Once part of the vast ice sheet that covered most of Canada for more than a million years, the Columbia Icefield is the largest accumulation of ice in the Rocky Mountains. It blankets an area of nearly 300 square kilometres to depths of 900 metres. The most accessible of the many glaciers that jut from the main body of the icefield is the Athabasca Glacier, which can be reached from the Icefields Parkway. Tours on the glacier give visitors a close look at mill holes (deep, circular depressions) and crevasses (long, nearly vertical fissures).

Look for bighorn sheep and goats at Tangle Falls, Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint and Goat Lookout. Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint offers a view of the Sunwapta River, an excellent example of a braided river. The valley bottom is filled with sand and gravel spreading the river across the valley floor in interlacing channels. The Stutfield Glacier features a picturesque pair of ice falls, which spill down the face of Mt. Stutfield. Take the 1 km (1/2 mi) access road from the Icefields Parkway to Sunwapta Falls and Canyon and see where the Sunwapta River changes its course abruptly from northwest to southwest, then plummets into a deep canyon producing the spectacular Sunwapta waterfall.

Quartzite boulders litter both sides of the Icefields Parkway where rock slides have swept down here from the mountain slopes to the east. Above the boulder field, near the top of the ridge, is a distinct pink scar where part of the rock sheared away. The Sunwapta River now breaks in rapids over the foot of the slide area. The rock itself has been used extensively as building stone in Jasper National Park. To the southeast of Poboktan Creek loom Tangle Ridge and the 3,315 metre Sunwapta Peak. In the opposite direction, Endless Chain Ridge stretches to the northwest.

Just beyond this area is the Saskatchewan River Crossing, the junction of Highway 11. Take a short detour heading east and you'll discover fantastic tracts of wilderness noted for fishing, trail riding and hiking, such as the Wildland Recreation Area, White Goat Wilderness, Cline River and Abraham Lake.

Keep your eyes peeled for Bow Summit, which at 2,068 m (6,785 ft.) above sea level, is the highest point on the parkway and offers one of the best mountain panoramas in the world at Peyto Lake viewpoint.

Jasper and Banff National Parks border one another along the divide between the headwaters of the Sunwapta and North Saskatchewan rivers. Waters flowing north from this divide eventually reach the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River, while those flowing south cross the Prairies via the Saskatchewan River to Hudson Bay. The Icefields Parkway crosses the divide at 2,035 metres above sea level. At this elevation snow­banks remain in sheltered areas throughout the summer. Like many high valleys near timberline, the bottomland near Sunwapta Pass is virtually treeless. 

The Icefield Parkway ends in the picturesque village of Lake Louise. Located in the Bow Valley, the village provides shopping, accommodation, meals, automotive services and tourist information. 4 km (2.5 mi) above the village is the lake itself, dominated by the majestic Victoria Glacier. Near Lake Louise, visit emerald-coloured Moraine Lake. Surrounded by a panorama of 10 glaciated summits, the Wenkchemna Peaks, Moraine Lake is found at the base of the Continental Divide, the geographic point where all waters flow either west to the Pacific Ocean or east to the Atlantic Ocean .

Continuing past Lake Louise, look for the turn-off to Mount Eisenhower. According to Indian legend, this 2,862 metre turreted peak is the home of the Chinook - a warm, dry winter wind that sweeps out of the Rockies to melt snow in the foothills and prairies. A hiking trail winds for eight kilometres from a warden station to Tower and Rockbound lakes, hidden in a hanging valley behind Mount Eisen­hower. Another trail follows a fire road to a lookout high on the mountain's flank.

Next stop along the road is Johnston Canyon, which was carved out of the soft underlying rock by Johnston Creek. Among the canyon's wildlife is the dipper or water ouzel, a bird which lives at the very edge of turbulent mountain streams. In feeding, the dipper will wade, swim, dive, and even walk underwater on the stream bed. In a meadow just beyond the canyon are a group of seven springs called the Ink Pots. Two of them are noted for their murky, blue-green color - a hue created by suspended sediments. To the west, open meadows mark the site of Silver City, a mining boom town. During its heyday (1883-85), the town boasted a population of 2,000, four general stores and several hotels. The mines failed to meet expectations however, and a disputed claim helped to speed the town's demise.

Proceeding up the highway you will find a nine-kilometre drive that skirts the shores of the three Vermilion Lakes. The surrounding wetland, a marshy area of the Bow River, is rich in plant and animal life. Sedges, rushes and swamp horsetail provide a habitat for beaver and muskrat. On slightly drier ground grow willows, black currants and bracted honeysuckle. Beyond the wetland are groves of white spruce sprinkled with poplars. Ringing the lakes are Sulphur Mountain, Mount Rundle and the peaks of the Sundance Range .

You will soon enter the town of Banff, which is a year-round recreation center for tourists, horseback riders, skiers, hikers and mountain climbers. Banff is the headquarters for the Banff National Park , which is the first and most famous of Canada's national parks with an incomparable com­bination of towering peaks and high mead­ows, emerald lakes and keen mountain air. These factors, and the sulphur hot springs, have made Banff National Park one of North America 's most spectacular scenic and rec­reation areas. It was here in the winter of 1883 that railway workmen no­ticed wisps of steam rising from a fissure on the south side of the Bow Valley. A can­dle lowered down the hole on a string revealed a cavern with a pool of steaming, sulphurous water. The upshot, in June 1887, was an Act of the Canadian Parliament designating 673 square kilometres around the springs as "Rocky Mountains Park".  Be sure to check out:

  • Cave and Basin Hot Springs - This is the birthplace of Banff National Park. In the early days, bathers descended into the cave by means of a ladder through a hole in the cavern ceiling. Since then a tunnel has been burrowed into the chamber so that visitors can view the historic site. Inside the grotto, jagged rock walls arch above steaming Cave Pool, fed by sulphur springs flowing at 675 litres a minute.
  • Sulphur Mountain - One of Banff's most popular attractions is the Banff Gondola. Gondolas rise 690 metres to the summit ridge (2,348 metres) and a sweeping panorama of mountains and valleys. At Banff Upper Hot Springs, a rich in minerals, outdoor swimming pool (47 0 C), is open year­ round.
  • Archives of the Canadian Rockies - These archives house a community library and research center for the history of the region.
  • Banff Natural History Museum - Specimens of wildlife native to Banff National Park are displayed here.
  • Luxton Museum - Indian lore and customs are shown in dioramas at the museum, which is built to resemble a 19th-century fur-trade post. 
If you're looking for something to do this evening, a stroll through Banff's downtown area is a good idea, as the shops are open late. 

The Parks Canada campground at Tunnel Mountain is the most convenient campground to use as a base for exploring Banff.

CanaDream Club attraction partners on today's route:

Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure
Glacier Skywalk
Lake Louise Sightseeing Lift and Gondola
Banff Gondola
Banff Hot Springs


Waterton Lakes and Prince of Wales Hotel
Days 8, 9 & 10 - Banff to Waterton Lakes National Park & Cardston - 427 km/266 mi
Leaving Banff you will head back to the Cowboy Trail passing through 'Kananaskis Country' via highway 40. This area offers a mixture of year round activities such as: full details


  • Backpacking & Day Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking & Canoeing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Mountain Climbing
  • Mountain Biking
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Down Hill Skiing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing

If you feel like breaking your trip along the Kananaskis Trail, we suggest you stay at Sundance Lodges, a family campground located only 50 minutes from Banff.  Reservations are recommended, particularly during July and August.

Once at Longview, explore the area and search out the towns of Millarville (famous for its farmers market held on Saturdays throughout the summer), Turner Valley (it was here, in 1914, that Canada's first major crude-oil discovery was made), Black Diamond and Longview. These towns are all part of Diamond Valley - the Heart of the Cowboy Trail. For an unusual diversion take a gas plant tour in Turner Valley. The tour tells the story of the area, once one of the most active oil and gas fields in the British Empire .

Just south of Longview is another excellent interpretive centre, the Bar U Ranch, full of original buildings, ongoing archaeological digs and intriguing exhibits. From here, head south, bound for Pincher Creek - most noted for Kootenai Brown's Pioneer Village. Continue south on Highway 6 to Waterton Lakes National Park, full of charming B&Bs, lodges, hotels and natural mountain splendour.

The Cowboy Trail ends at Cardston where the Remington-Alberta Carriage Centre is the No. 1 magnet. Housing one of North America's largest collections of carriages, buggies and wagons, it's a spectacular example of another era...the Wild, Wild West.

CanaDream Club Partners offering discounts on today's itinerary are:

Sundance Lodges
Boundary Ranch


NWMP Musical Ride - Fort Museum, Fort Macleod - Photo Credit: Fort Museum of the NWMP
Days 11 & 12 - Waterton / Cardston to Calgary - 242 km/150 mi
From Cardston, head north on Highway 3 to Fort Macleod, the first outpost established by the North West Mounted Police (later RCMP) in 1874. Today Fort Macleod's top attractions include the downtown historic district, the province's oldest operating theatre (the Empress), the Fort Museum and the nearby UNESCO site of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  full details

This is the largest, oldest and best preserved of all bison jumps in the world.

Then turn north on Highway 2 en route to Calgary, where you can visit attractions like Heritage Park, the Calgary Zoo and the Glenbow Museum.  For a spectacular 360 degree view of Calgary, visit the Calgary Tower and dare to walk on their glass floor. Camp overnight at Calgary West Campground on the western edge of the city.

Great Canadian Barn Dance and Campground - Hillspring, AB
Fort Museum of the Northwest Mounted Police - Fort Macleod, AB
Calgary Tower
Calgary West Campground


Calgary Skyline
Day 13 - Drop RV Back in Calgary
Today marks the end of your Rocky Mountain adventure in your CanaDream RV.  Unless you have a late dropoff, your vehicle is due back at the Calgary location between 8.00am and 10.00am.  If you need transport from here to the airport or an airport hotel, we'll be happy to get you where you need to be.   full details

If you're flying out on an evening flight today, you're more than welcome to leave your suitcases with us while you take the train downtown or do a little last minute shopping at a local mall. Talk to our friendly staff about when you need to be back to pick up your bags and find out if they will be able to take you to the airport at that time. We thank you for choosing CanaDream for your RV vacation and look forward to having you back as our guest in the future.

CanaDream Club partners on today's itinerary:

Cross Iron Mills