8 ways to visit the Canadian Rockies virtually right now

May 13, 2020

The Rockies are gorgeous in spring. Bright flowers bloom. Icy lakes thaw. Bears emerge from hibernation. And in 2020, a massive global pandemic means that no one gets to experience it. Thanks a lot, coronavirus. Good thing we have the internet. Thanks to a creative crew of video-takers, filmmakers, webcammers and Instagrammers, quarantined backpackers can still experience the majesty of the Rockies through their phone or laptop. From the summit of Sulphur Mountain to the depths of Johnston Canyon, bring the mountains into your living room with these nine electronic experiences of the Canadian Rockies. 

Live stream Banff National Park

More than three million visitors a year make the pilgrimage to Canada’s first national park. But while the pandemic presses pause on the chance to explore Banff’s bevvy of rugged peaks and glacial lakes, a collection of cameras continue to broadcast its beauty to all those admirers. See the slopes of Mount Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village. Watch Lake Louise thaw as the weather warms up. Take in a bird’s eye view of the town from Banff Gondola’s 360-degree webcam at the summit of Sulphur Mountain, or from street level as well. Or just browse the full range of live streams around Banff and Lake Louise.

Set out on an Ultra HD adventure

Banff National Park sparkles extra brightly in 4K. This ultra high-definition video covers Banff National Park’s two most famous bodies of water as well as the Lake Agnes Trail snaking above Lake Louise, the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, the Larch Valley Hike and Sentinel Pass, all bathed in summer sunshine. Travel Alberta also offers a stack of 360-degree videos throughout the Rockies, including ice climbing in Maligne Canyon, dog-sledding in Kananaskis Country and conquering the Columbia Icefield.

Virtual Rockies Moraine

Go on a virtual hike around Moraine Lake

Hikers’ boots have remained depressingly clean so far this spring. This video at least allows you to imagine them getting a little dirty. This 18-minute virtual hike hugs the edge of Moraine Lake, with no music and little editing—just the sound of twigs crunching beneath your feet and canoe paddles slicing through the turquoise water.

Enjoy the natural sounds of Johnston Canyon

Besides eye-popping mountain views, that serene soundscape is perhaps the most evocative part of hiking through the Rockies. And this 38-minute video captures the mosaic of noises that fill Johnston Canyon midway between HI Castle Mountain Wilderness Hostel and HI Banff Alpine Centre. Ignore the piano soundtrack that sounds like the music you’d hear in a dentist’s waiting room, and instead concentrate on the trickle of the waterfalls, the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of the birds that populate this stunning canyon carved out of limestone.

Virtual Rockies Johnston

Follow the Rockies’ top Instagrammers

The Rockies boast so many achingly gorgeous #nofilterneeded vistas that it feels like they were specially designed to be uploaded to Instagram. Joe Mackin (@joemackin), Erik McRitchie (@erikmcr), Robin Laurenson (@motherpixels) and Eric Shiozaki (@ericshio) are a handful of our favourite photographers in the Rockies—follow them to inject a much needed glimpse of the great outdoors into your feed during lockdown. 

Attend the Banff Film Festival online

Being cooped up at home is a gift-wrapped invitation to feast on as much guilt-free Netflix as you can possibly consume. But if binging all seven episodes of ‘Tiger King’ is the closest you’ve come to nature since this whole shutdown began, the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival is here to help. Coronavirus claimed some of the festival’s in-person screenings so they’ve uploaded the films to their website—a selection of spirit-lifting mountain stories from every corner of the globe, including right here in Canada.

Virtual Rockies Wildlife

Watch Waterton Lakes National Park

Tucked down in the Southwest corner of Alberta, near the US border, Waterton Lakes National Park is crawling with wildlife, including a population of extremely elusive cougars. One family—a mother and her kittens—was spotted on one of Parks Canada’s network of webcams, which cover even the most remote corners of the country. Check out the highlights of Waterton Lakes: we’re talking bears, wolves, bald eagles and rare lynx flirting with the camera.

Visit Cave and Basin National Historic Site

You might not be able to smell these mineral-rich thermal waters steaming below Sulphur Mountain, but thanks to Google, you can sure have a good look around. And there’s more to this place than these stinky hot springs. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is actually the birthplace of Canada’s national parks—after three railway workers stumbled upon the cave in the 1880s, Banff National Park was set up around it, the first of what is now 48 protected areas around the country. Google Street View strolls around the site and users’ photos delve deep inside the cavern, which sits just on the other side of town from HI Banff Alpine Centre.

Hop aboard the Jasper SkyTram

Jasper isn’t just home to HI’s newest hostel—it also boasts the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. Jasper SkyTram’s website is your digital gateway to Jasper National Park, with both a 360-degree webcam and an interactive map showcasing the lofty mountain vistas from the cablecar’s station. And when it’s safe to travel again, HI members also get 15% off their tickets to the real thing—the highest and longest guided aerial tramway in Canada, gliding high above Jasper’s turquoise lakes and alpine peaks.

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