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Last Modified: December 6, 2023
9 Ways to Experience Shoulder Season in the Rocky Mountains

Avoid the crowds and explore golden views before the snow arrives this season.

By Elle McLean

Summer may be long gone, but there’s still plenty to do in the Rockies this season! Make the most of fall in the mountains with scenic hikes, luxurious spas, picnics, film festivals and more.

Larch Valley hike in Banff National Park. Photo by Elle McLean.

Hike to see the changing larch trees

One of the best ways to soak in the autumn majesty of the Rocky Mountains is with a hike and there are a plethora of ones to try, depending on your skill level, time commitment and region. Whether you’re an experienced trekker or you’re looking for Alberta hikes that are a little less technical and suited to beginners, there’s sure to be a trail for you. Here are five, easy hikes in Kananaskis recommended by Where Rockies. Pack your camera, lace up your boots, and get ready to be awed by the yellow, gold, and orange canopy overhead.

Kananaskis Nordic Spa. Photo by Elle McLean.

Relax and rejuvenate at a day spa

As the days get cooler and we begin to seek out cozy experiences, a spa is the perfect place to indulge in a little luxury while enjoying the healing magic of the surrounding mountains. Whether you visit the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Spa at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, or Verde Day Spa, read this helpful guide to spa treatments and etiquette from Avenue Calgary.

Quarry Lake, Canmore. Photo by Elle McLean.

Enjoy a mountain picnic

You can avoid the crowds of the summer and experience a day out in the sun with a picnic in the Rockies at a variety of parks, ponds, day-use areas and more. Pack blankets and lunches from home (or pick up a quick bite from Wild Flour Bakery in Banff or Sunhouse Cafe in Jasper) and enjoy the crisp mountain air with this low-impact and easy-to-organize excursion with your loved ones. For families, here’s a list from Calgary’s Child on the top 10 places to have a mountain picnic this fall.

Biking in Banff. Photo by Elle McLean.

Take a scenic cycle

Experiencing the stunning, mountain scenery on two wheels has become easier than ever in recent years. The Bow Valley Parkway makes for an excellent ride, as does one of the 110+ trails in Fernie or the cyclists’ paradise which is Panorama Mountain Resort. Edify Edmonton has compiled an excellent list of four places to mountain bike during the fall. Bring your own bike from home, or rent an electric bike from spots like Black Diamond Banff for a seamless day of riding. 

Meal from The Prow at Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Photo by Elle McLean.

Dine at local hotspots

Satisfy your tastebuds by sampling the best of the province’s eateries at any time of day. In addition to having brunch in Banff, grabbing a bite in Jasper, or sipping on spirits or a brew from one of the province’s many distilleries and breweries, there are also a variety of excellent vegan restaurants in the province and the mountains, some of which are included in Impact Magazine’s helpful list of the top vegan restaurants in Alberta.

Icefields Parkway. Photo by Elle McLean.

Drive the stunning Icefields Parkway

Arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the world is Highway 93 a.k.a. the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper – it was even named a “Drive of a Lifetime” by National Geographic. Through the summer months, this highway can get a little hectic (and rightfully so!), making autumn a great option to journey along this gorgeous route without worrying about crowds or snow and ice. For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of taking this journey yet, Edify Edmonton breaks down the history of the parkway and tips on safe winter driving in a piece on driving the Icefields Parkway.

Aurora Borealis at Middle Lake near Yamnuska, Kananaskis. Photo courtesy of Travel Alberta/Nick Fitzhardinge.

Look up… and up, and up!

Watch the Northern Lights soar above the Rockies this season and fall in love with Mother Nature all over again. As the nights get longer and colder, conditions become ideal for viewing the aurora borealis and Info Edmonton Magazine has tips on where and how to do so in this piece aptly titled Chase the Skies.

Mountain Film and Book Festival. Photo courtesy of Travel Alberta/Darren Roberts.

Catch a mountainous movie

Film buffs, rejoice! The 48th annual Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival is back this fall. Running from October 28 to November 5, the festival is a celebration of creative people and their adventurous spirits. Patrons can attend more than 60 events, showcasing 85 films and featuring discussion panels such as The Power of Women’s Stories and Breaking into the Industry. The Scene covers interesting context on the long-running festival as well as highlighting a few key events to check out in this piece, Mountainous Movie Adventures.