The Canadian Rockies take everything up a notch. Over the course of 1,000 miles, from the U.S.-Canada border in Montana to northern British Columbia, the jagged peaks look like layer cakes of snow, ice, and fossil-studded limestone and shale. As the mountains wind their way up along the border between Alberta and British Columbia, lakes sparkle in shades of aquamarine and turquoise, torrential rivers surge down from lofty icefields into deep valleys, and lush larch forests hug the roadsides. This protected land is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the birthplace of the Canadian national park system, and some of Mother Nature’s finest work.
The region has long been an outdoorsy playground for thrill-seekers (from kayakers in the summer to dog-sledders in the winter), but its food and drink scene is finally drawing the attention of adventurous eaters. To pair with the natural splendor, there’s equally dazzling Canadian Rocky Mountain cuisine, which encompasses elk, venison, and bison; trout-filled rivers; and abundant forageable ingredients like mushrooms, Saskatoon berries, and herbs. A locavore, mountain-to-table food movement has built on the endemic Rocky Mountain ingredients, along with the area’s overlapping historical culinary influences, to create bold meals fit for the breathtaking setting. Especially since the founding of local culinary festival Canmore Uncorked in 2014, chefs have shone a spotlight on regional dining, tempting travelers to pop over from nearby Calgary or Edmonton, or cross the border from the U.S., to taste the incredible bounty of the Canadian Rockies.
What is Rocky Mountain cuisine?
The many resources of the Rockies were crucial to a diverse network of First Nations groups, like the Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, and Blackfoot, who inhabited the area before colonization radically reshaped their environment and ways of life. Although erasure and assimilation policies have buried their impact on the area’s food culture, their influence remains implicit in the farm-to-table practices of chefs, restaurateurs, bakers, distillers, foragers, and brewers today. Modern Indigenous-owned restaurants and food businesses offer menus, educational tours, and provisions highlighting local ingredients and historic First Nations food practices, not only offering a glimpse of precolonization foodways but also emphasizing the ongoing contributions of Indigenous peoples to Rocky Mountain cuisine.
In the 19th century, following the negotiation of the controversial Numbered Treaties, the Canadian Pacific Railway cut across the Rockies, helping to proliferate new ingredients and spread European food cultures. Chefs aboard the trains — and at the grand hotels, including the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Springs, that the trains precipitated — introduced lavish Victorian fine dining. European mountaineering guides also brought dishes, like fondue, from their homelands. As the vast, fertile plains of Alberta became a farming and agricultural powerhouse, grains like wheat, barley, and canola, as well as the region’s internationally renowned beef, also joined the roster of signature local foods.
Today, the unique, hyper-regional flavors of the Canadian Rockies and the nearby Alberta prairies draw diners to mountain towns and remote backcountry lodges. You’ll also find plenty of other international cuisines represented, especially Germanic and European Alpine foodways. Despite the strong meat focus, there are some great vegan and vegetarian options. Thanks to Alberta’s bountiful grain fields and fresh water from glaciers, icefields, and snowmelt, the Canadian Rockies also has its own cottage industry of hip, independent craft breweries, as well as trendy distilleries incorporating native botanicals. And yes, you can also get your fill of beloved Canadian chains like Tim Hortons and BeaverTails, and quintessential Great White North dishes like poutine.
Key facts for food lovers
The parks: Covering roughly 9,000 square miles, the national parks of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay and the provincial parks of Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber see millions of visitors each year. As the main tourist draws of the area, parks like Banff and Jasper are where you’ll find many of the Rockies’ best restaurants, bars, breweries, and distilleries. Plus, with its low light pollution, Jasper also boasts the second-biggest dark-sky preserve in the world.
Canmore Uncorked: This award-winning food and drink festival takes place in Canmore, a town on the outskirts of Banff National Park that acts as the gateway to the Rockies for visitors coming in via Calgary. The event features some especially popular dining experiences, such as the multicourse Long Table Dinners, in which guests find a spot among more than 100 dining companions. The festival also continues to introduce new themed meals, like the Culinary Symphony, which pairs fine dining with live music.
Keep your food to yourself: Grizzly bears, black bears, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, and other wildlife roam free on the protected lands, and visitors are guests in their territory. Pack out whatever you pack in, and don’t leave behind litter, especially foodstuffs.
The Boss: If you hear locals talking about someone called the Boss, they’re not talking about Bruce Springsteen. The Boss is Banff’s most famous bear, a massive 600-plus-pound grizzly, whose size and stature have made him very popular. He’s survived being hit by a train, has fathered numerous offspring, and has been known to eat the occasional black bear. At Three Bears Brewery in Banff, there’s a rich brown ale named in his honor.
Après-ski: Powderhounds of all skill levels, from pizza-french-fry beginners to black diamond experts, love skiing here for the multilevel terrain, scenic vistas, and lengthy ski seasons. The ski resorts at Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine Village, and Mt. Norquay form the SkiBig3 trifecta, which dominates the local skiing scene. Post-slopes, tuck into Canadian comfort food staples, including poutine, and warming cocktails, mixed with locally produced spirits, at lively après-ski spots like Mad Trapper’s, a Banff Sunshine institution since 1928.
Seasons: The Canadian Rockies are a year-round destination. Park visitors enjoy hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, and navigating via ferratas in summer, and skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, dog-sledding, and ice-climbing in the winter. The passing seasons also bring different ingredients to restaurants, and visits at various times of year yield vastly distinct meals. Note: Not all hotels, restaurants, and attractions stay open year-round, so check before booking a visit.
Icefields Parkway: Set aside time to drive this 144-mile highway from Lake Louise to Jasper, considered one of the most scenic routes in the world. You’ll pass mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, forests, glaciers, famous viewpoints like the dog-head-shaped Peyto Lake, and, hopefully, wildlife. Restaurants are few and far between on this stretch of road, but you can pause for a meal at Glacier View Lodge in Jasper National Park, with a front-row seat to the 10,000-year-old Athabasca Glacier.
Rocky Mountaineer: One of the best ways to experience the Canadian Rockies is onboard the Rocky Mountaineer. With several different routes, all originating in Vancouver, the multiday train ride into the heart of the Rockies comes with a standout gourmet dining program featuring seasonal flavors and ingredients from British Columbia and Alberta. The train also offers unobstructed views of the mountains, thanks to the glass-ceiling observation cars.
The best restaurants in the Rockies
Canmore: Before heading into the Bow Valley, stop at the Nakoda First Nation-owned Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino in Kananaskis, where the menu uses traditional First Nations foods like elk, bannock, and Saskatoon berries. To learn more about local herbs and plants, go on an educational medicine walk with the Indigenous-owned and -operated Mahikan Trails. And at the foraging-focused Sauvage, chef Tracy Little interprets the wild and seasonal flavors of the surrounding forests, streams, and lakes in thoughtful tasting menus — available in a meat-focused Hunter option and a vegetarian Gatherer version — in an intimate, upscale setting.
Banff: Start the day with a cup of locally roasted coffee and a fresh-baked organic pastry at Wild Flour Bakery, which sits on the spot that, in the late 1800s, housed Banff’s first bakery. Then experience multiple expressions of Alberta bison — from sizzling tomahawk steaks to tender short ribs — at the Bison, featuring seasonal, farm-to-table Canadian fare with Mount Rundle views. Housed in a charming Bavarian-style cottage overlooking the Bow and Spray rivers, the Waldhaus Restaurant at the Fairmont Banff Springs whisks you from Canada to the Alps with its Alpine menu of crispy schnitzel and decadent fondue; you can also sample the area’s European mountaineering heritage at the Swiss Italian Ticino. For a meal with a view, dine at the Juniper Hotel’s valley-view Bistro or head up the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain’s Sky Bistro for “farm-to-summit” seasonal specialties like foraged mushroom toast or hearty bison sirloin, paired with a curated drinks menu of Canadian wines, local ales, and craft cocktails featuring local spirits.
Lake Louise: The house specialty at Walliser Stube — the intimate Alpine restaurant at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise — is indulgent fondue with all the fixings (plus foraged black truffles or Nova Scotia lobster, if you feel like zhuzhing it up), best enjoyed with something from the 500-plus-bottle wine list. Meanwhile, located inside a disused historic train station, the Station blends fine dining and railway history with local ingredients, for European-style dishes like schnitzel as well as homegrown items like succulent Alberta bison ribs.
Rocky Mountain House: While it’s a bit off the beaten path, this small town is worth a detour to pick up a Hunter Gatherer Graze Box from Creative Cuisine Catering, owned and operated by Dene chef Denia Baltzer (originally from the Northwest Territories). The to-go charcuterie selection is inspired by Canada’s First Foods (the ingredients of First Nations inhabitants), and might include items like venison or bison sausage, Alberta fireweed jelly, Saskatoon chutney, Indigenous honey, and bannock. Grab a box for a trailside picnic.
Jasper: Jasper’s lively food scene ranges from haute cuisine to laid-back pubs, which you can sample on a walking tour with Jasper Food Tours. Opened in 1952, regional favorite Tekarra offers hearty meals rooted in local, seasonal ingredients, all served inside a quaint, chalet-esque cabin on the grounds of the Tekarra Lodge; the meatloaf (prepared with elk, wild boar, bison, and forest mushrooms), wild mushroom ravioli, and sustainably harvested catch of the day are all crowd-pleasers and great expressions of local terroir. At Syrahs of Jasper, tuck into elk carpaccio, smoked bison ragout, or a charcuterie spread of house-made game sausage, candied boar bacon, and venison salami, paired with a classic Caesar cocktail topped with candied boar bacon.
The bars, breweries, and distilleries you need to visit
Canmore: Canmore Brewing Company’s lineup of pale ales, lagers, stouts, and IPAs, as well as seasonal sours and saisons, are named after local landmarks like mountains and hiking trails. Featuring a constantly rotating tap list, Sheepdog Brewing features fun beer styles like witbier and New England-style IPAs. With the aid of foraging tour operator Full Circle Adventures, Wild Life Distillery uses sustainably foraged summertime botanicals like Alberta juniper, Labrador tea, and wild sage to flavor the one-of-a-kind Alberta botanical gin.
Banff: The Banff Ave Brewing Co. is a cozy gastropub where house-made brews, like the rich Mt. Rundle stout, pair with hearty fare, such as poutine and Alberta beef smash burgers. The rustic, woodsy Three Bears Brewery and Restaurant brings the outdoors in with forest-inspired dining rooms; there’s also a beer garden, where you can enjoy signature microbrews, including the golden Pinery pilsner made with Alberta barley and wheat. Giant drafts of Rockies microbrews can be found at the hip High Rollers bowling alley. With an award-winning range of small-batch, “glacier-to-glass” spirits made from glacial water and high-altitude Alberta grain, Banff’s Park Distillery is the only distillery inside a Canadian national park; check out the London dry-style gin, flavored with Canadian spruce tips, or the rye, blended with Quebec maple syrup.
Lake Louise: The bars at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are popular après-ski spots for ski bums to unwind. There’s Lakeview Lounge, with terrific views out onto the lake; the cozy Art Deco-inspired hideaway Fairview Bar; and the mountaineering-themed Alpine Social. As if three bars weren’t enough, every winter an entire ice bar pops up on the lake, serving mulled wine and winter-inspired cocktails.
Golden: Take a trip through Yoho National Park to try Whitetooth Brewing Co.’s lineup of outdoorsy, adventure-geared brews. The Belgian-inspired and West Coast-influenced varieties include witbiers, stouts, and pale ales.
Jasper: At Jasper Brewing Co., opened in 2005, you’ll get to drink a microbrew at the first brewery in a Canadian national park. The trademark creations — like the fruit-forward Trail Session IPA or the Jasper the Bear honey ale, named for the town mascot — are equally good with elk meatloaf at the brewpub or in cans while exploring the trails. On the edge of the national park, Folding Mountain Brewing Taproom and Kitchen serves porters, hazy IPAs, lagers, and sours with great views. Not too far away, warming brown ales, crisp IPAs, and amber ales can be found at Three Ranges Brewing Co., near B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park.
The best hotels for great food and drink
First opened in 1888, the Fairmont Banff Springs feels like something out of Beauty and the Beast. With stately towers and steep gable roofs, the hotel rises dramatically out of the forest on the southern edge of town, overlooking the Bow River. The hotel has 739 rooms, 14 restaurants and bars, as well as a spa, summertime golf course, and childcare. Whether you’re staying here or not, take the Eat the Castle tour with Alberta Food Tours, which visits a handful of the castle’s eateries to sample house-made (or, rather, castle-made) seasonal specialties with curated beverage pairings. Just try not to sing “Be Our Guest” in your head the whole time. Prices start around 548 Canadian dollars ($409).
One of the grand, palatial hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to encourage tourism in the late 1800s, the elegant 539-room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise overlooks glacier-fed, aqua waters. The place has six bars and restaurants, and guests can enjoy the spa, canoe on the lake, hit the slopes, and hike to the historic Lake Agnes Tea House, set high in the mountains. Come winter, the lake completely freezes over, setting the stage for ice-skating and an epic ice sculpture contest most years. Rooms start at 399 Canadian dollars in the off season ($293).
This stylish boutique hotel, conveniently located on Banff’s main drag, is within walking distance of the bulk of Banff’s dining, shopping, and mass transit. With 133 rooms, guests have access to a cozy library, general store, and the Cascade Lounge. The best part may be the rooftop hot tub, where you can soak while soaking up views of Cascade and Sulphur mountains. Nightly rates start at 155 Canadian dollars ($114).
Instead of birdsong outside your window when you wake up, here you may hear the creaks and pops of a moving glacier. Located by the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, the luxe Glacier View Lodge has a front-row seat to the Athabasca Glacier, a 10,000-year-old giant that’s open to the public for walking tours. With two on-site restaurants, a majestic glacier-view lounge, and minimalist rooms, the lodge offers exclusive packages that include private glacier tours, bypassing the crowds. The resort is closed from early October to mid-April due to snowfall. Prices start at 404 Canadian dollars ($298) for a double room.
One of Yoho National Park’s few hotels, the remote Emerald Lake Lodge elevates the typical log cabin retreat with its rustic-chic decor, digital detox ethos, gourmet culinary program, and top-of-the-line bar. Situated on a peninsula in Emerald Lake, the 24 guest cabins come with cozy features like wood-burning fireplaces and private wraparound lake-view balconies. In the main lodge, with its rough-hewn wood and stone fireplaces, you’ll find the renowned Mount Burgess Dining Room, where chef Valerie Morrison serves free-range local meats like elk, bison, and caribou with seasonal sides. Take in local history — and some high-end scotch — at the Kicking Horse Lounge, whose bartop dates to the 1890s. In the low season, rooms start at around 242 Canadian dollars ($179) a night.
When it opened in 2022, the Forest Park Hotel was the first new hotel to debut in Jasper in 40 years. The chic, nature-inspired stay is full of odes to the great outdoors, with contemporary flair. Along with 88 bedrooms, the on-site spa and hot tub are the perfect refuge for relaxation after long days of outdoor adventure. Two restaurants serve Rocky Mountain cuisine: The grand Walter’s Dining Room — with its statement wood fireplace, lush greenery, and string lights — fuels guests up with hearty breakfasts. Then at night, tuck into salmon and leek fishcakes, mac and cheese with Alberta Gouda, and butcher boards at the Hearthstone Lounge. Stays start at around 159 Canadian dollars ($117) a night.
Zoe Baillargeon is an award-winning travel and food and drink writer currently based in Portland, Oregon. Along with Eater, her outlets include National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and Wine Enthusiast.