The Canadian Rockies—Much More than America’s Hat

The Canadian Rockies dominate the region and the imagination

How does a country become another country’s hat? Canada wants to know, and after my recent trek up to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta, so do I.

Admittedly, it was more tour than trek—I conquered new lands with air conditioning and listening to Sigur Rós—but it’s hard not to get caught up in the romance of raw exploration in a place like this. Over the course of a week, I was treated to some of the most jaw-dropping natural scenery I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see. Snow-capped mountains, cascading rock faces, rolling glaciers, turquoise lakes—the Canadian Rockies truly have to be seen to be believed.

Truly. People just don’t know what they’re missing up here. Many Americans still subscribe to the perception of Canada as traceable earth to our north, and not much else—“America’s hat,” as the saying goes. Around 80% of the Canadian population lives within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canadian border, after all, and in the world’s second-largest country, that sure seems to leave a lot of unappealing land left over.

Just off the highway in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

But alas, the numbers don’t tell the full story (when have they ever?). My hosts in Alberta—Banff, Jasper, Canmore and Kananaskis Country—gave me the more elusive real version, and it goes something like this: the Canadian Rockies should be on everyone’s bucket list.

For me, it starts and ends with the mountains. Rugged, raw, and many still snow-capped in the peak of summer, they towered above everything at all times, just daring us to look away. My advice here: smile and nod, then keep looking—it’s impossible not to. I lost golf balls by the sleeve trying and failing to ignore them on the courses there (some of the best in the world).

I’d seen the Rockies in Colorado—the world’s second-longest range runs as far south as New Mexico—but the landscapes they’ve woven north of the border are much more striking. As explained by my coach driver and fellow Ian (impossible to stump and one of the best guys I’ve ever met), the jagged peaks here are the work of millions of years of glacial anarchy. Glacial runoff, full of sediment, then gives the lakes and rivers here the absolutely surreal blue color I fell so in love with. You simply can’t resist nature’s advances up here, and in just six days, I saw exactly why lifers like Ian feel so close to it.

Relaxation at its finest on sparkling Lake Louise

In the presence of so much natural beauty, the ways to fill your days come standard (walking on a 300-foot thick glacier, for example, is pretty damn cool). But just as cool, for me, was how easily I got swept up in the Rockies lifestyle. I breathed it in Banff and Jasper, where wildlife have their own highway overpasses, and lived it out in Canmore and Kananaskis Country, where epic mountain backdrops cradle smaller-time charm. Protected by five national parks and an inspirited community, the paradise in the Canadian Rockies has an energy to it like nowhere I’ve ever been—and that, most of all, is why I know I’ll be back very soon.

More on the Canadian Rockies:

7 Must-Play Golf Courses in the Canadian Rockies

Introducing Canmore and Kananaskis Country

Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

Ian Livingston

About the Author

Ian Livingston
Traveler and writer Ian Livingston has lost his bearings in 52 countries, six continents and five NYC boroughs. He is better for it. Now living in Brooklyn, he reports on the world's lesser-known quantities as a self-calibrating writer and by way of his roles as Editor at and Chat Manager for the weekly #TravelSkills Twitter chat with Johnny Jet and Chris McGinnis. In his sights now: the polar regions.

3 Comments on "The Canadian Rockies—Much More than America’s Hat"

  1. We live in British Columbia and love love love the Rockies! It’s awesome to drive through them in our little convertible and be able to see them full on! We truly live in a beautiful part of the world!

  2. What a wonderful piece on the Rockies — loved all the links.

  3. I don’t even play golf, but this travelogue makes me want to take it up. Love all the links too!

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