Thursday, September 13, 2018

The BEST of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies - updated 2023

Continuing with my "Gotta do THIS" seasonal series, here is my "BEST of Autumn Guide" for the Canadian Rockies (and beyond.) I encourage you to save this post because I will be updating it annually.

Hiking through a golden larch forest in the Canadian Rockies

Autumn is an exciting time for us because it means we get to enjoy all of our favourite sports and outdoor activities in the same season! We'll seize the warm fall days to get out for some final biking, hiking, or climbing days, we'll wrap up the season with one or two final camping trips, and we'll get the skis and skates out for our first cold weather adventures! And maybe we'll even squeeze in one more backcountry trip or river paddling day.

As with my other guides, this list is in no particular order (though I did try to go from warm to cold.) Follow the links to read stories I've already written on each topic.

Autumn colors at Sunshine Village, Banff 

The BEST of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies 

1. Enjoy one last picnic, day trip, or hike in the mountains

Visiting waterfalls above Troll Falls, Kananaskis

Get more inspiration from my Best Day Trips and Picnic Sites page.

Also get more inspiration from my Spring and Fall Hiking page. 

Quarry Lake, Canmore 

2. Take one last camping trip 

And get more inspiration from my Camping Super Guide Page.

And if you want a nice warm camping destination, check out the Red Streak Campground in the sunny Columbia Valley. We camp here for Thanksgiving each year. We also love fall camping at the Fairmont Hot Springs RV Campground.

For a campground close to Calgary, we love camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park each spring or fall.

Read: Why We Love Camping at Red Streak, Radium Hot Springs, BC

Read: 5 Reasons to Love Camping at the Bow Valley Campground, Kananaskis 

Read: Autumn Family Fun at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort 

We love camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park near Calgary

3. Go for a fall color hike or bike ride in Calgary

Top Picks for us include Bowmont and Bowness Parks on the west end of Calgary, Nose Hill Park in the north, and Fish Creek Provincial Park in the south. Find more suggestions here on my Calgary Urban Hikes Page.

Golden fall colors on Nose Hill, Calgary

4. Take a hike in the mountains to see the golden larch trees

Everything you need to know is in my brand new story below.

Golden larch trees at Pocaterra Cirque, Kananaskis

5. Climb one last mountain as a family before winter arrives 

There are so many beautiful choices for a fall summit. Check out all of the family-friendly mountains we've climbed in this popular story below.

Read: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies 

And, the trail for Prairie Mountain is open again (after closing for trail repairs in spring 2023.)

Prairie Mountain is a great fall hike!

6. Take a fall road trip 

We love to go to the Columbia Valley each fall for Thanksgiving. The weather is always warm until late October and you can still enjoy mountain biking, hiking, swimming at heated hot springs pools, and paddling on the Columbia River. 

A couple of years ago we also took a weekend trip to Jasper in mid-September and really enjoyed biking the quiet trails around town. The tourists had long gone home for the season and the town was back to being the peaceful place I remembered from my childhood.

Read: Our Top Ten Favourite Things to Do in Jasper 

Fall biking in the Columbia Valley, BC 

7. Go for a family bike ride

September is a great time to plan a family biking day with cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors.

Read some of the stories below for inspiration:

Fall biking in beautiful Drumheller, Alberta

And Bike the closed Highway 1A in Banff!

The Highway 1A is closed to cars between the Town of Banff and Johnston Canyon, allowing for great family biking!

Read more on the Parks Canada website. It is closed from September 1st through October 2nd.

Bike the Highway 1A in Banff this fall!

8. Plan an outdoor Halloween party and costume hike 

This has been one of our favourite things to do in October each year! We plan a ginormous outdoor Halloween party complete with a costume hike, pinatas, a bonfire, hot dogs and marshmallows. Add candy, snacks, and everything else that arrives for the pot luck affair and it's a great afternoon spent in Kananaskis. 

Halloween Costume Hike 

9. Hike to the top of the Banff Gondola

Save some $$ by hiking to the top of Sulphur Mountain, enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate on top, have lunch if you want to splurge, and enjoy the views from the scenic boardwalk.

And then you can either pay a discounted rate to ride down, or hike back down again.

Note that the trail to the upper gondola station could be covered in snow/ice and that you should have appropriate hiking gear suitable for winter conditions. Ice cleats or microspikes are very useful for this steep trail as well. 

Read more about the Sulphur Mountain Hiking Trail here. 

Read more about the Banff Gondola here.

Banff Gondola (in September!)

And Night Rise Returns in October!

Night Rise returns for the season in October, which is an incredible interactive evening event at the Banff Gondola blending lights, sound, culture, and music on top of the mountain. Read more here:  Night Rise, A Celebration of Winter at the Banff Gondola.

Night Rise is an incredible interactive winter event at the Banff Gondola 

10. Seek out early season snow at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis 

Kids LOVE hiking through snow because it means they can throw snowballs, build snowmen, and make snow angels. Just don't expect to get too far quickly.

Note that the road to Highwood Pass closes on December 1st. Also, there could be avalanche risk for trails in this area by November so check with a visitor centre before you head out after October.

Early season snowball fight in September at Highwood Pass 

11. Celebrate Christmas in November in Banff 

The Banff Santa Claus Parade has been a family favourite for us in past years. 

We like to stay overnight in Banff and to go for a hike (or a cross country ski some years) while we're out there. It's also a great time to visit the Banff hot springs or to check out the Christmas festival at the Banff Gondola.

The Santa Claus Parade has been cancelled for the past few years, but visit the Banff Lake Louise Tourism website for all Christmas events in Banff. 

The "In Search of Christmas Spirit" event has become very popular in recent years (info at the link above.)

Christmas in Banff at the Banff Gondola

12. Become a wild mountain skater!

We often get a brief window mid to late November where some mountain lakes have frozen (thick enough to skate on) without being snow covered yet. We call this Wild Mountain Skating!

Early season skating on Lake Louise

13. Enjoy November snowshoeing at Highwood Pass, Kananaskis 

We love visiting Highwood Pass in November because it's one of the first places where we can go snowshoeing (and by November we are more than ready for winter sports.)

Read: Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake 

ReadNovember Hiking and Backcountry Sledding at Highwood Pass 

Note that the road to Highwood Pass closes on December 1st. Also, there could be avalanche risk for trails in this area by November so check with a visitor centre before you head out.

November snowshoeing on the Elbow Lake Trail

14. Get the skis out for early season snow

This might actually be the biggest reason I love November. My skis FINALLY come up from the basement. My goal is to get out every year in late October as soon as there's an early dump of snow (early November at the latest!)

Early Season skiing at West Bragg Creek (in October!)

And for downhill skiing, we are usually out at Nakiska Ski Area for opening day each November. And while there might not be a "lot" of snow, there's still enough to ski off the gold chair at the top of the mountain. We go out for a few runs and then switch to cross country skiing at the village in the afternoon.

Nakiska usually has 3-4 preview weekends starting early November with an official opening day at the end of the month.

Opening day at Nakiska 2018

15. Plan a Pre-Christmas Getaway in the Mountains 

We often plan a weekend trip away as a family in late November or early to mid December. We seek out a good spot for our annual Christmas card photo and we enjoy time playing in the snow together.

Read: Christmas Getaway at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel

Read: Christmas Getaway at the HI Mosquito Creek Hostel

November weekend at Mount Engadine Lodge, Kananaskis 

16. Make plans for an outdoor Christmas 

I know Christmas isn't exactly "autumn" in the Canadian Rockies, but my "Best of Winter" story doesn't specifically cover the months of November or December.

Hiking Johnston Canyon  in December 

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