In the heart of The Rockies and surrounded by dramatically rugged peaks, the towns of Banff and Jasper offer a welcoming gateway to Alberta’s great outdoors and the National Parks that bear their names.

Situated on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper National Parks border each other and were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites for their beauty and geological significance. Both support small, relaxed resort towns with a friendly vibe and plentiful opportunities to enjoy mountain cuisine, famously featuring Albertan beef and bison.

Star of the show is the iconic Icefields Parkway which lies between the two - a stunning drive through the Rockies which features on every guided tour and independent itinerary to Alberta. But encourage visitors to go beyond the favourites like Brewster’s Athabasca glacier tours, to really get under the skin of this stunning destination.

Must-see

The newly-renovated Banff Gondola offers rides to the top of Sulphur Mountain for bird’s-eye views of six mountain ranges. There are observation decks and a Summit Walk to put the location in perspective.

Alternatively, the Via Ferrata is among Banff’s newest attractions – a unique climbing experience on Mount Norquay which takes hiking to a new level. Guides lead visitors along an anchored system of cables and ladders, conquering the pitches and crossing a suspension bridge for spectacular views.

In Jasper National Park, The Glacier Skywalk showcases Alberta’s awesome scale. Built into a natural bedrock with a glass floor that juts over the Sunwapta Valley, it overlooks the mountains and glaciers, some 280m (918 ft.) below.

Hidden treasures

Visitors can embrace the great outdoors with bike rentals, trail hikes and horse-riding in summer or ice cleats, skates and skis in winter.

Suggest canoeing on the Bow River as a peaceful and quintessential Canadian activity in Banff National Park. Banff Canoe Club hires the kit and offers a guided Voyageur Tour. No previous paddling experience is necessary.

In Jasper, flag up Pyramid Lake, one of 20 small lakes left behind by retreating glaciers in what’s known as the Pyramid Bench area. The lake is popular for fishing and paddling and also has hiking and biking trails that connect the lake to the town and other attractions such as Pyramid Island and Patricia Lake.

Highlight Jasper’s official dark-sky preserve status too which the locals celebrate with a special festival each October. Top scientists, astronomers, night photographers and story tellers come to the festival, when there is also a chance to see the Northern Lights.

Authentic experiences

Banff Trail Riders offers Alberta’s wild west heritage with horseback excursions, cowboy cookouts and backcountry stays. Or take a Maligne Adventures wildlife trip in Jasper NP with scenic cruises, hikes and whitewater rafting options.

Rich in minerals and reputedly packed with healing properties, The Banff Upper Hot Springs offer soothing relaxation with great views all year.

Hot news

Canada 150 celebrations mean all parks will be free to enter in 2017 making it a great time to sell both Banff and Jasper as well as Alberta's other national parks: Waterton NP and Elk Island NP.

Where to book it

First Class Holidays offers an eight-day Western Canada tour combining the Canadian Rockies with several nights overnight in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper plus a spectacular two-day Rocky Mountaineer rail journey from Jasper. Priced from £1755.