Canada’s one of those countries I’d always wanted to go to. Since the day one of my primary school classmates packed her bag and moved across the Atlantic, sending us monthly postcards describing how incredible her new home was, Canada has been high on the bucket list.
And it seems I’m not the only one... since I spent 10 days in the Canadian Rockies in September (and ticked off not one but two of my bucket list items), so many people have asked me for tips. It seems Canada has a lot of almost-visitors and the Rockies are full of hiking opportunities, beautiful landscapes and ski resorts with some of the best vacation homes in Canada.
My main reason for not going sooner? The cost. Tell someone you’re going to Canada, and it’s pretty likely the conversation will turn to money. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it - Canada IS expensive compared to other destinations. It’s going to set you back more than most countries - but so, so worth it. Just check out my Instagram snaps if you don't believe me.
And if you’re going to have to spend a little to visit, you may as well save up and embrace it. Because if you’re prepared for the costs, you’ll have the most incredible time. Perhaps even the trip of a lifetime. Here’s how to make that trip and epic as can be:
How to get to the Canadian Rockies
If you're hoping for some magic way to see the Canadian Rockies on a shoestring, I have some bad news for you. The good news is you won't have to break the bank to get there because AirTransat offer trans-Atlantic flights to Calgary from London, Manchester and Glasgow at incredibly reasonable prices. Even better, they have regular sales that can see seat prices knocked down to less than £300 return - and the Club Class is probably one of the most affordable and worthwhile upgrades around.
Where to stay in the Canadian Rockies
There are loads of cool hotels in The Rockies, especially near the big attractions, but a double room will probably set you back at least $500 dollars per night. If you're travelling in a group or just want something a little more authentic, a private villa or lodge is an even better option - and will only set you back a little less (or a little more, if you choose!).
What to do in Alberta and British Columbia
The Canadian Rockies are packed with mountains (duh!), lakes and the most breathtaking views. Every time you turn a corner, you'll feel like you're in a dream. I visited both Alberta and British Columbia and probably enjoyed BC ever-so-slightly more.
My main advice for visiting the Canadian Rockies would be to simply cram in as much as you can. If you usually take it easy and aren't bothered about seeing much, make this the holiday that changes that. There's so much to see the Canadian Rockies that you could spend months exploring and still leave lots of ground uncovered. Plus, if you're going to splash a little, you may as well make it worth every penny.
The main attractions, such as Lake Louise, Banff National Park and Lake Minnewanka, are usually busy with tourists but completely unmissable. And the list of hidden gems is endless, too: Take a ski chair up the slopes and look for bears. Get lost in one of the national parks and take in the enormity of the scene around you. Head to Emerald Lake and watch the sun set over it. Ski in Whistler, home of the Olympic Park and one of the largest ski resorts in North America. Hike up to Takakkaw Falls and be amazed at the perfect turquoise water flowing from them. Hop on a bus and marvel at the icefields parkway.
And if you want to do something that will stay with you forevermore, take a helicopter tour over the Rockies. It's a truly mind-blowing experience. The Rockies are super impressive from the ground, but there's nothing like flying over them and seeing how enormous they are from the sky. You may even spot a bear wandering around!
When to visit the Canadian Rockies
High season runs from June to September, and while it's easier to access all the best spots during these months, it's not essential to visit then. If you're a skier, the winter months will offer some of the best snow and slopes in the whole world, while the weeks just after high season will mean everywhere is far less busy - even if the weather is a lot more unpredictable.
I visited the Rockies in mid-September and faced 30-degree sunshine (and sunburn!) one day, and ankle-deep snow the next. Canada has some of the most changeable weather in the world, so pack for all occasions and you'll be fine whatever.
What to eat in the Canadian Rockies
There's one dish that every visitor who visits Canada needs to try: poutine. The (in)famous dish of french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy is as sloppy and delicious as it sounds. It's certainly not one for Instagram, but so good that you won't mind not sharing a photo of your lunch with the world. And if you want to try something a little different, head to the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company in Canmore, Alberta, for some lobster poutine - it's unreal.
What you need to know before visiting the Canadian Rockies
Getting around - If you want to get the most out of your trip to the Canadian Rockies, it's well worth hiring a car - just make sure it's able to get you to all the best off-road spots. It's possible to join a bus tour as well, but the roads are mostly easy to drive and there's nothing like having your own set of wheels to explore as you wish.
Visiting the national parks - The National Parks were open to the public for free this year in honour of Canada's 150th birthday, but you'll usually have to buy a pass to enter - and that includes if you wish to drive through. You can buy a day pass that's valid until 4pm the next day or a 'discovery pass' for unlimited entry to all 100 national parks, valid for one year.
So there are my best tips for making the most of your trip the Canadian Rockies. Have you been or do you have any to add?