Thursday, September 13, 2018

The BEST of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies - updated 2022

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. Explore Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park 

We love playing at the bike park at the end of Bow Bottom Trail. It has two pump tracks and an awesome skills area where you can work on your single track mountain biking. From there we ride to the Bow Valley Ranch (perhaps a kilometre at most) for ice-cream at Annie's. We finish off with a ride down to the creek to play for an award winning family-fun day!

Having fun at the Fish Creek Bike Park 

4. 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

5. 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

6. 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 

Summit of Little Arethusa, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis (September 2017)

7. 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 

And for more suggestions, check out this story below which also includes biking around Drumheller.

Fall biking in beautiful Drumheller, Alberta

8. Explore the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis 

This brand new trail is great for a family bike ride or hike. And the suspension bridge is a destination worth visiting!

Biking the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis

9. Get out for one final paddle day this fall!

Just because it’s Fall and the kids are back in school doesn’t mean you have to say good-bye quite yet to beach days for another year.

Living in Calgary, we often get some gorgeous weekends in September and you can still enjoy a lakeside picnic while the kids play in the water. Rent inflatable stand up paddle boards (SUPs) for the family to take with you for a fun day at the beach (you may be inspired to add stand up paddle boards for the family to your Christmas wish list this year, too!)

Read: SUP Calgary! The Best Places to try Stand Up Paddleboarding in and around Calgary 

Stand up paddleboarding in Kananaskis 

10. 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 

11. Hike to the top of the Banff Gondola (and ride down for free!) 

Hikers have usually been able to walk to the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff with a free gondola ride down afterwards during the winter season (usually by October 10th.)

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.

2022 Update: Please contact the Banff Gondola directly with all Covid-related questions. As of September 1st, tickets are still required to ride down and this might extend through the fall season.

Banff Gondola (in September!)

12. 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.

2022 Disclaimers: The Elbow Lake Trailhead is closed until November for parking lot repairs. The Little Highwood Pass parking lot is also closed until November (affecting the full traverse of Pocaterra Ridge.) Read more on the Alberta Parks website

The trails to Ptarmigan Cirque and Arethusa Cirque are still open.

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 

13. Enjoy urban indoor adventures in Calgary

Looking at the weather forecast and wondering what to do with the kids on a cold weekend? Try out these suggestions below:

Rocky Mountain Climb Park, Calgary Climbing Centre

14. Celebrate Christmas in November in Banff 

The Banff Santa Claus Parade returns on November 19th for 2022. Read more about this great annual event here

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.

Christmas in Banff at the Banff Gondola

15. 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!

Skating on Vermilion Lake, Banff 

16. 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 

2022 Disclaimers: The Elbow Lake Trailhead is closed until November for parking lot repairs. Read more on the Alberta Parks website

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

17. 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. We got so excited for this one year that we were practically cross country skiing on dirt at Kananaskis Village on November 6th one year. (and in 2018 I had my skis out in October!)

Early November snow in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis 

18. Plan a weekend 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 

19. Hit the slopes for the first time this season 

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

And, for those who want to ski super close to home, check out the early bird winter alpine passes at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park

WinSport usually opens around mid-November.

Opening day at WinSport 2018

20. 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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