While the U.S. has its share of alpine scenery, let's be honest: Nothing rivals the Canadian Rockies. Matterhorn-like peaks hem broad alpine valleys and glaciers feed lakes so blue and green you'd think Mother Nature was fooling with food coloring. Five national parks—Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho—protect the lion's share of the sights. And together they make up one of the world's most stunning outdoor playgrounds.
One-Night Stand: Due to their heritage as retreats for wealthy railroad travelers, the parks of the Canadian Rockies meld adventure with comfort better than their U.S. counterparts. Case in point: the hike to Asulkan Cabin in B.C.'s Glacier National Park. From the Illecillewaet parking lot off the Trans-Canada Highway, the Asulkan Valley Trail traces a roaring brook for three miles (5 kilometers), then takes on an adrenaline-pumping knife-edge ridge. Trail's end is at a knotty-pine hut dramatically situated on the cusp of Illecillewaet Snowfield and at the maw of Asulkan Glacier. Outfitted with propane stoves and some basic but comfortable bunks, the hut is a godsend after a big day.
Three Days or More: The complete Canadian Rockies experience, the 34-mile Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park combines soaring peaks, outrageous wildflowers, groaning glaciers, and crystal clear meltwater lakes. Set out from the Floe Lake trailhead, off Provincial Route 93, and climb to an otherworldly tarn that reflects a towering 3,200-foot (5,150-kilometer) wall above. The next day hump over Numa and Tumbling Passes, gawking at the hanging glacier on the east flank of Mount Gray, and descend to a trail camp at Tumbling Creek. Finally, make the grunt up Rockwall Pass, and there you'll have it: an unadulterated view of the Rockwall, a sheer 19-mile (31-kilometer) face of Ottertail limestone. Drop down to Helmet Falls Campground, set up camp, and stroll upstream for a look at the nearby cascade. Hike back to your car shuttle by way of the Helmet Creek Trail.
Must-Do Secret: The Bow River is the absolute heart of the wildly popular Banff National Park, so it's remarkable few people ever think to paddle it. With only the occasional riffle greater than Class I, the river allows ample time to lay back and drink in Banff's seemingly endless procession of pyramid-shaped peaks. For a one-day trip, put in below Lake Louise and take out 14 miles (23 kilometers)southeast at Castle Junction.
Vitals: Though huts in the Canadian Rockies abound, most locals vie for the gloriously situated (and hard to reserve) Elizabeth Parker Hut ($27), at Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park. For reservations there or at the Asulkan Cabin ($17), contact the Alpine Club of Canada (www.alpineclubofcanada.ca). The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise rents canoes ($33 an hour; www.fairmont.com/lakelouise). For info on each of the parks, go to
PLUS: The Top Five
The Thrill Factor
Five unexpected itineraries that scream action
Trips Through the Ages
Five classic adventures that will never go out of style
Five off-the-charts escapes that reach deep into the wild
Moments to Live For
Five of life's most essential experiences, done perfectly in the parks
Pick up the June/July 2006 issue for 50 top adventures in the national parks; how to move to Montana; the best ten-day Brazil vacation; 11 instant weekend escapes; and new watches, cameras, and sunglasses for summer.