As I mentioned back in this post in July, we spent several weeks this summer in Banff and Jasper National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. It was an amazing, wonderful trip, thanks in part to the several travel and trail guides we used both to plan the trip and make day-to-day decisions about what to do while we were there. Here are the books I found most useful:
CANADIAN ROCKIES TRAVEL GUIDES
Frommer’s Banff & Canadian Rockies Day by Day (2010)
This was probably the most useful guide I found on the Banff and Jasper area, for both advance planning and in deciding what to do on a daily basis. Jasper National Park gets plenty of attention, and the book includes excursions into both Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, which many Banff guides neglect. Particularly helpful are the day-by-day itineraries for one, two, and three days, a week, and more than a week, and the suggestions for family (i.e., kid-friendly) activities. If you’re a winter sports afficionado, there are suggestions for winter activities as well. The book is small enough to keep in the car or pop into a purse or backpack. The maps are also good, though you’ll want to pick up maps and trail guide pamphlets at each park’s information center as well. (ISBN: 9780470736289)
There’s lots of good information on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in this travel guide, but since we were renting an RV and doing most of our own cooking, the food and lodging information was less important to us than suggestions on what to do and see. I found the layout of the Frommer’s guide (above) easier to use for activity planning, though some of the trail descriptions here were helpful. I would definitely recommend this book if you’re planning to stay in hotels or cabins or you enjoy dining out. (ISBN: 9781741794052)
The Best Day Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, by Tim Jensen
Jensen’s book can be hard to find, but if you really love to walk or hike, it’s essential. The book is broken into sections geographically, each section covering a specific area. Jensen includes only his favorite trails in this book. He rates each hikes in terms of difficulty, gives the overall elevation gain, and describes the trail, terrain and views.
The one drawback to the book is that it doesn’t include many hikes rated easy. As someone who hadn’t done much physical exercise in the last year, I found the hikes rated “easy” in the book were actually “moderate to challenging” in practice (particularly when the going got steep!) However, an experienced hiker would probably be very comfortable with Jensen’s ratings. Again, we discovered that picking up the trail guide pamphlets available at the park information centers in Banff and Jasper was very helpful. In the end, we took several of Mr. Jensen’s “easy” trails as well as some trails chosen from the pamphlets, and enjoyed them all. (ISBN: 9780986492808)
Side note: On our last full day in the parks, I saw a book entitled Walks and Easy Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, by Graeme Pole (ISBN: 978-1551537085). I didn’t purchase it because we were leaving the next day, so I have no idea how useful it is. If we ever return to the area, I plan to track down a copy.
I also purchased several nature guides while on the trip. Easily the most portable and therefore the most usable on the trail were the Pocket Naturalist guides by James Kavanaugh: Rocky Mountain Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Birds, and Rocky Mountain Trees and Wildflowers. All the Pocket Naturalist publications are laminated, folded, single-sheet pamphlets, making them lightweight and ideal to stick in a day pack. I kept them in an outside pocket, handy for identifying the local flora and fauna.
Of course, since they are small, these pocket guides are not as thorough as, for instance, an Audubon or Petersen guide, so I sometimes found that I couldn’t find the flower or bird I was looking at, or couldn’t identify it with certainty. When that happened, I took digital photos and, upon returning to our vehicle, looked up the species in question in the Rocky Mountain Nature Guide by Lone Pine Publishing (ISBN: 9781551051789). This guide is a bit more thorough, and covers at least the common species of all sorts of flora and fauna, from trees and flowers to mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and even insects. Between the Pocket Naturalist guides and the all-in-one volume, I was able to identify most of what we saw, if not everything.