Rocky Mountains - West Trek Tours

Rocky Mountains

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The Rocky Mountains (The Rockies) are a mountain range that extends more than 4,830 km (3,000 miles) from northwestern British Columbia in Canada to New Mexico in the southwestern USA.  The Rockies were formed from 80 million to 55 million years ago when Pacific plates started to slide under the North American plate forming a ridge of mountains along western North America.

Millions of years of erosion and glacial activity have left behind a dramatic and beautiful landscape.  The highest point in the Rockies is Mount Elbert in Colorado at 4,400m (14,440 ft).  The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies is Mt. Robson in British Columbia approx. 1 hour west of Jasper.  Mt. Robson is 3,954 m (12,972 ft) high.

The Rockies range from 110 km (70 miles) to 480 km (300 miles) wide.  The Continental Divide runs through the Rockies.  Snow melt on the west side of the Divide flows to the Pacific while snow melt on the east side flows, eventually, to the Atlantic.  There are areas where the snow melt also flows north to the Arctic Ocean.

The Rockies are home to a number of animals including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, elk, big horn sheep, deer, moose, and mountain goats.  Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings while touring through the mountains!

Some of the indigenous peoples include the Apache, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow Nation, Flathead, Shoshone, Sioux, & Ute.   European exploration began in 1540 with the Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in the southern Rockies.  Sir Alexander MacKenzie was the first European to cross the Rockies in 1793.  The Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804 – 1806) was the first scientific exploration of the Rockies.

The fur trade, followed by mining, provided the early economic activity in the Rockies however, tourism is now the major economic force.   Both the US and Canada have set aside huge areas as National Parks or otherwise protected areas.

In Canada the Rocky Mountain National Parks include:

  • Banff National Park
  • Jasper National Park
  • Kootenay National Park
  • Waterton Lakes National Park
  • Yoho National Park

In addition British Columbia has the following Provincial Parks in the Rockies:

  • Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
  • Robson Provincial Park
  • Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park
  • Stone Mountain Provincial Park

The largest sub-Arctic ice field in North America is The Columbia Icefield and covers 325 sq km in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.  The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks plus Mt. Robson, Mt. Assiniboine, and Hamber Provincial Parks.

The Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park is considered one of the most significant fossil areas in the world.

The 2 main towns in the Canadian Rockies are Banff and Jasper.


There is evidence of early human habitation dating back 11,000 years in the area around the Vermillion Lakes and Lake Minnewanka.

European explorers started to come through in the 1700s with notable expeditions led by David Thompson, Sir George Simpson, and James Hector.

The discovery of natural hot springs by three railway workers in 1883 marked the beginning of the tourism and national park history in the Canadian Rockies.  In 1885 the Canadian government set aside 26 sq km around the hot springs as Canada’s first National Park.  With the railway passing right by, the area was quickly opened up to tourists from all over the world.  The original hot springs can still be seen at the Cave and Basin in the town of Banff.  In 1887 the park was renamed Rocky Mountains Park and expanded to 673 sq km.

Banff was originally Siding 29 along the Canadian Pacific Railroad however, in 1886 it was given the name Banff after Banffshire in Scotland, the birthplace of 2 CPR Directors.

Banff National Park now covers an area of 6,641 sq km and some 8 million people visit the park every year.

The Town of Banff became a self-governing municipality separate from the national park in 1990.


In 1813 the North West Company built a supply depot which became known as Jasper House after a popular fur trading post operator Jasper Hawes.  However, in 1884 Jasper House was abandoned as the fur trade dwindled.

In 1907 the Canadian Government established Jasper Forest Park.  In 1911 the Grand Trunk Railway reached the town of Fitzhugh Station (now the town of Jasper).  In 1930 Jasper National Park was officially created.  The park now covers 11,228 sq km (6,976 sq miles).

Check out our tours to the Rockies below:

The Rocky Mountain Explorer

The Rocky Mountain Explorer Plus

The Rocky Mountain Explorer Victoria Departure

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