Don’t get us wrong, Canada and Alaska both offer some exciting cities well worth exploring, but there’s no denying that some of the best things to do in these northern destinations are in the great outdoors. Whether you’re interested in hiking, climbing or going on a tour of the region’s mountains, valleys or waterways, there’s an incredible outdoor experience waiting for you. Here are just a few of our favourites.
The Columbia Icefield
One of the most scenic things to do in Canada is to drive the Icefields Parkway from Banff National Park up to Jasper National Park. While the drive in and of itself is spectacular, the route is also home to one of the Rocky Mountains’ biggest attractions: the Columbia Icefield. This natural wonder is the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies, measuring about 230 square kilometres in area. To experience the icefield up close, you have two options: you can either wander along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk, with this one-kilometre glass-bottomed walkway taking you out over the cliff’s edge, or you can climb aboard the massive Ice Explorer to journey out onto the Athabasca Glacier. Either way, the Columbia Icefield is easily one of the most beautiful places in Canada, and is well worth the road trip.
Rock Climbing in Squamish
Whistler may be known for its winter sports, but just an hours’ drive south, halfway between Vancouver and Whistler on the Sea to Sky Highway, you’ll find the west coast’s summer adventure capital. Squamish is a super popular day trip for those Vancouverites looking to go hiking, but the area is also home to the formidable rock face known as The Chief, which happens to be one of the best rock climbing areas in Canada, if not North America. Experienced climbers will feel right at home here on the many exhilarating pitches, but first-timers can also get in on the fun by signing up for an intro to rock climbing course at some of these least crowded walls in Squamish.
Ice Climbing in Canmore
Climbing isn’t only for when the sun is shining though, and hardcore climbers can get their fix during the winter by ice climbing in Canmore, a town 20 minutes’ drive down the road from Banff and just outside the limits of the Banff National Park. Even if you’ve never donned crampons or handled an ice pick before, ice climbing is a must-try experience during a Canadian winter, with half-day and full-day lessons available for individuals, groups and families. And really, who doesn’t want to be able to go home and brag about climbing up a frozen waterfall?
The Inside Passage in Alaska
Shaped by the massive glaciers of the Ice Age, Alaska’s Inside Passage offers wildlife-filled fjords and stunning island scenery. Joining an Alaska cruise through the Passage is the only way to experience this unique landscape, with the many different routes within this region providing access not only to temperate rainforests, glaciers and a whole host of whale watching opportunities, but to many quaint coastal towns as well. You simply cannot visit Alaska without experiencing this unbelievably beautiful landscape from the water.
Going out hiking is one of the best ways to view the mountains of Canada and Alaska, but if you have the time and the budget, heli-hiking is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to really get you out into the wilderness. The Canadian Rockies is a popular heli-hiking area, but if you want to experience something truly unique, head up the west coast to the mountain town of Bella Coola. Getting here involves a bit of a commitment, as the town lies 14 hours north of Vancouver, but your efforts will be rewarded once you reach this pocket of the beautiful Coast Mountains, with this area home to one of the largest grizzly bear populations in Canada. Tours are designed based on your fitness and interests, with every heli-hike offering fantastic exposure to this awe-inspiring part of the world.
Tour Through Denali National Park
Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the most striking areas in the world, owing to its vast tundras and its imposing peaks. Much of the park is inaccessible to cars, so one of the only ways to explore the heart of Denali is to jump on a bus. The Denali Park Road, which extends from the park entrance to the terminus in Kantishna, is 148 kilometres long, and runs parallel to the Alaska Range. On-board a narrated tour bus, you will learn about the national park while looking out for the park’s residents: namely, grizzly bears, caribou, moose and wolves. There are numerous bus tours offered depending on your time and interests, with the 12-hour Kantishna Experience Tour the only one to take you all the way to the end of the line and into the very depths of Denali National Park.