How to Avoid Tourists? And Enjoy the Hiking in Western Canada

Recently, a good friend from down south of the border reached out to ask the inevitable question when traveling to a fellow friend’s country… “what are the best places to go hiking in Vancouver? and where are some good places to eat?” followed by “can you advise us on the same in Banff? Oh Yeah… the less ‘touristy’ the better.”

First off, I started laughing as Vancouver is in the Top 3 of Canadian metropolis’ and would require extreme precision to “avoid tourists”. My suggestion for avoiding tourists in Vancouver would be, don’t travel to Vancouver, hahaha!

Vancouver is a great city if you like congestion, smog, rain, terrible drivers and long commutes. Otherwise it is a grand place to visit for a day or two if you can be in the heart of it and walk or ride a bicycle everywhere.

One of my old favourite haunts is the district known as Gas Town, or wandering through Stanley Park, taking a hike over the bridge up into North Van, or hang out in the valley with the suspension bridge, the walk out over a cliff edge and the tree top adventure walk. Sure the whole suspension bridge area is SUPER touristy but its an experience you’ll soon not forget.

If its not your cup of tea then try out the 2,800 steps to the top of Grouse Mountain or go for a hike above Howe Sound. There is tranquility to be found and a path less travelled if you’re willing to search it out.

Looking for a decent meal… sheesh Vancouver is popping with eateries for every budget. They’ve tons of fresh seafood, great Japanese izakaya’s or Korean BBQ. If you’re looking for a plush experience then there is always Top of The World Revolving restaurant downtown. To be honest the cuisine is superb and the 360-degree views of Vancouver are spectacular! Of course its a bit pricey and well worth every dime spent, if you can afford this experience. If you’re more into market places and tight spaces then take a water taxi up the sound to Granville Island and shop around till your heart’s content for finger foods, cafes and a touristy chunk of fudge.

Banff… my heart nearly stopped as the laughter erupted from my diaphragm and my wife asked, “what’s so funny?” After the laughter had subsided I replied, “Jordy just asked about hiking in Banff and how to stay away from the ‘touristy spots’!” upon hearing the words “Banff and touristy she too, began an uncontrollable laughter.

As the laughing subsided and our regular breathing became regular the two of us starred at our computer screens… “what’s the solution to this question?” the rhetoric question slipping out between my lips.

First off, Banff has some incredible hikes and don’t get us wrong its truly a spectacular place but getting away from the “tourists” in Banff is like going to an International Airport in any major city and saying “let’s travel at Noon to stay away from the crowds.”

Banff in the summer and fall triples in tourists.

Also this being the first fall that has been open to Foreign Tourists… its going to be one heck of a hectic place when that boarder eventually opens in late August to double dosed tourists from near and far.

If you must go to Banff, then I would make a short list of suggestions;

  1. Hike Johnson Canyon past the upper falls to the Ink Pots
    • Its approximately a 3 hour one way trip
  2. Hike Grotto Mountain in Canmore
    • Go on a guided Spelunking Tour of the caves
  3. Hike up to Spray Lakes near Canmore
    • Its southwest of town and has secluded spectacular views

However, if you TRULY want to explore Alberta then there is no better road to travel than Highway 93 aka the Ice fields Parkway. This one stretch of road which leads out of Banff up through Saskatchewan Crossing and through the Columbia Ice Field has waterfalls galore, the most pristine blue glacial lakes you will ever lay eyes upon, hike upon hike, short or long, easy or difficult from the southern tip to Jasper. This is the spot.

  • Hiking Along the Ice Fields Parkway
  • Recommended Hikes by Parks Canada
    • Athabasca Falls
    • Lower Sunwapta Falls
    • Forefield Trail
    • Top of the Athabasca Glacier
    • Wilcox Pass
    • Parker Ridge
    • Nigel Pass

The further north you travel the less tourists you will come into contact with. Of course when you reach the “big touristy area” known as Columbia Ice fields, you can take a tour, go for your own adventure hike or pass on by.

You’ll have plenty of chances to see a number of glaciers along this route.

Once you’re near Jasper National Park it’s just you and nature, all the time, in every direction. Until of course you you pop into the town site of Jasper for a bite to eat, or a coffee, or a sip of the local micro brewery. And to grab yourself a kick-arse t-shirt or hoody to commemorate your journey.

~ Aaron JacksonCrabb