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Iconic Adventures: Alpine Hikes & Via Ferrata Climbs

July 9, 2016
By Afton Aikens with notes from Where writers

In the Canadian Rockies we take our cues from the mountains—we go big. We also get creative. Our tour operators offer activities that allow everyone to explore our wild alpine playground. We’ll get you to the summit; you choose whether you want to ride, fly or climb.


Sunshine Meadows (photo credit: Jack Newton)

Bus or Fly to Alpine Trails

Typically it takes hours on foot to get to the goods—high meadows where yellow columbine, red paintbrush and purple fireweed bloom mid-summer. In this coveted wilderness, blue-green lakes gleam and expansive vistas abound.

But Sunshine Meadows is attainable in minutes via the summer shuttle bus that ferries hikers to 2,159 m (7,082 ft) and Sunshine Village Nature Centre. Try our favourite day hike, the relatively easy 7-km (4.3-mi) loop past picturesque Rock Isle, Larix and Grizzly lakes. The route straddles the Continental Divide, traverses rocky ridges, crosses streams and skirts stands of larch trees that glow gold in autumn. Lonely Planet designated this one of Canada’s top five hiking areas.

While you can hike on your own at Sunshine Meadows, tour operator Gord Stermann says, “this high alpine environment is so interesting, it’s worth exploring with a guide.”

Photo Credit: Tourism Canmore Kananaskis

Photo Credit: Tourism Canmore Kananaskis

For a bigger thrill, take a helicopter past glaciers, waterfalls and peaks to your alpine hike. Rockies Heli Canada pilot Ralph Sliger suggests a hike at Lusk Hill overlooking Kananaskis mountains, and on a clear day ranchlands and the Calgary skyline. Combine your hike with heli-yoga or a heli-wedding.

West of Jasper fly with Yellowhead Helicopters past Mount Robson, the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, to a 23-km (14-mi) hike back to Hwy 16. See Berg Lake where the glacier descends to the water, aptly named Valley of a Thousand Falls and lovely Kinney Lake.

Mount Norquay's Via Ferrata

Mount Norquay’s Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata Guided Climbs

Safely tackle steep mountain terrain previously only accessible by seasoned climbers thanks to via ferrata (‘iron road’) anchors that support a network of fixed cables, ladders and bridges. Guided climbs at Banff’s Mount Norquay are suitable for first-timers with an appetite for thrills. The six-hour Mountaineer Route traverses an alpine ridge to the 2,450-m east summit; walk the suspension bridge over an impressive chasm and marvel at panoramic views.

“I love returning from a tour and listening to participants excitedly discuss the stunning views and their sense of achievement,” says Mount Norquay via ferrata guide John Thornton.

Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) operates luxury, helicopter-accessed backcountry lodges in BC. CMH’s guided Mount Nimbus via ferrata is North America’s longest; a suspension bridge between two spires is situated a mind-blowing 600 meters above the valley floor. Vacations that include both via ferrata and heli-hiking are CMH favourites.

Can’t get enough via ferrata? Routes at Kicking Horse and Fernie mountain resorts also beckon.

See more Bow Valley and Jasper activities and tours.

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

>> Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at whererockies and tag your Canadian Rockies posts and photos with #whererockies

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