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Many popular "extreme" activities are only available outside the national parks. This is because the mandate of Canada's national parks is to preserve and protect the parks for the enjoyment of all. This has been interpreted as limiting or banning certain activities which are considered to be damaging to the environment and/or the enjoyment of park visitors, such as hunting, heli-skiing, heli-hiking, and off-road vehicles (e.g. ATVs, snowmobiles). Even those who are licenced to operate within the park, such as climbing guides and dogsled operators, must operate within stringent park guidelines or risk losing their licences. As a result, most extreme tour operators in the Rockies operate outside of the mountain parks.
Some extreme tour operators try to give the impression that they are inside one of the mountain parks, even using the words "Banff" or "Jasper" prominently in their promotional materials or domain names, but in fact they operate outside the park boundaries. The shuttle ride that starts your trip is taking you outside the park.
A traditional activity permitted within the parks which people don't think of as "extreme" (but perhaps should!) is a day-long or overnight horseback trail ride with a licensed park operator. The horseback riding operators are Holiday on Horseback, Brewster, and Timberline Tours in Banff National Park, Pyramid Riding Stables in Jasper, and Alpine Stables in Waterton. In the winter, you can go dogsledding in the Lake Louise area with Kingmik Dog Sled Tours, or on a horse-drawn sleigh ride with Holiday on Horseback or Brewster.
An oar-powered float trip down the Bow River, starting near Tunnel Mountain in Banff, is offered by Rocky Mountain Raft Tours. Also on the Bow River in Banff, you can take a tour in a voyageur canoe and learn how to paddle with Banff Canoe Club (a private business, not an actual club).
Canoe (and sometimes kayak) rentals are available at a number of spots in the national parks. In Banff, Blue Canoe rents canoes and kayaks at their dock on the Bow River in the Banff townsite. You can also rent a canoe on Lake Louise, Emerald Lake, and Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, while canoe, rowboat, and kayak rentals are available on Maligne Lake in Jasper.
Motorized boats (aside from tour boats) are only allowed on Lake Minnewanka, in Banff, where you can rent an aluminum fishing boat to fish or just explore.
Lake Minnewanka Boat Tours offers a cruise on Lake Minnewanka to Devil's Gap,and Maligne Tours cruises to Spirit Island in Jasper National Park. Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise Co. offers boat cruises to the USA which also provides access to some great hiking trails in Glacier National Park.
There are a number of companies and guides authorized to operate ice climbing, mountaineering, ski-mountaineering, back country skiing and rock climbing courses and trips within (and outside) the national parks. Options include private guiding or organized group trips/courses, and range from 3 hour intro courses to multiple day trips. These companies include Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, MountainSense, and On Top Mountaineering. For those who want a brief taste of rock climbing, Yamnuska Mountain Adventures runs daily 3-hour lessons Tuesday-Saturday in July and August. Sessions meet at the Bow Falls parking lot in the Banff townsite, and all equipment is provided.
In winter, visit Calgary to plunge down Winsport Canada Olympic Park's Olympic bobsleigh track at speeds up to 120 km/h (75 mph). An experienced driver makes the exciting 60-second ride safe.
In the Canmore, Alberta area (just east of Banff National Park's boundary), you can experience guided caving in a "wild cave"--one without lights or handrails. Expect to do some crawling and squeezing. You can go caving with Canmore Caverns
With a pedigree that goes back well before European settlement, dog sledding is probably the oldest winter recreation in Canada! It's a unique way to experience the mountains in winter. You can enjoy the ride as a passenger, or learn how to "mush" a dog team. Some tour operators even offer moonlight runs and overnight trips.
Cold Fire Creek Dogsledding is based in Valemount, B.C., about 120 km west of Jasper, Alberta. Howling Dog Tours, Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen Expeditions do dog sled trips out of Canmore, Alberta, 25 km east of the town of Banff. Mountain Mushing is based at the Panorama Mountain Village near Invermere, BC, 170 km from the town of Banff.
Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, which is a ski hill in winter, offers mountain biking in summer; the mountain biking season opens in mid-May.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, near Golden, British Columbia, also offers mountain biking using its ski lift.
In Golden, BC, about an hour west of Lake Louise, Altitude Adventures offers tandem paragliding. There is a well-known hang-gliding operation (Muller Wind Sports) in Cochrane, not far from Calgary. They also teach para-gliding and kiting.
There is at least one heli-hiking operator (Alpine Helicopter) based in Canmore, Alberta (near Banff). Note that recreational and tourism flights are not permitted in the national parks, but helicopters do have access to mountain areas outside the park boundaries.
Icefield Helicopter Tours is based in the Nordegg, Alberta area (Cline River Heliport), roughly 60 km southeast of the Columbia Icefields. They offer helicopter tours, heli-hiking, and heli-skiing.
Robson Heli-Magic flies into Mt Robson Provincial Park (west of Jasper) and the Cariboo and Monashee mountains of British Columbia to offer helicopter tours, heli-hiking, heli-skiing, heli-snowboarding, and heli-snowshoeing.
Canadian Mountain Holidays offers heli-hiking based at a number of lodges in British Columbia, in addition to their better-known heli-skiing operations.
Several horseback guiding & outfitting operations are based in Kananaskis Country, east and south of Banff National Park. Many offer both day rides and overnight trips. See Anchor D Guiding and Outfitting, Boundary Ranch, Brewster Adventures (overnight trips only in Kananaskis), Rafter 6 Ranch Resort for details.
The Outpost at Warden Rock, west of Sundre, Alberta and just outside the eastern boundary of Banff National Park, is a backcountry lodge which offers horseback riding vacations, either with their horses or with your own.
Awesome All-Season Adventures has ATV tours which are based in Beaverfoot Lodge, B.C., just west of the Yoho National Park boundary. They also have snowmobile tours in winter. They will pick up guests from the Banff area. Calgary-based Xtreme ATV Adventures and Canmore-based Canmore Quad Tours both offer tours in the Ghost-Waiparous Forestry Land Use area, northeast of the town of Cochrane.
Toby Creek Adventures offers ATV and snowmobile tours from their Panorama, B.C.-area base, and Powder Hound's Snowmobile Tours is based in Kimberley, B.C. Great Canadian Snowmbobile Tours is based in Revelstoke, B.C. In Golden, B.C., snowmobile tours are offered by Rocky Mountain Riders, and White'n'Wild Adventures (the winter operations of Wet'n'Wild).
Wild Kakwa Safari offers ATV and snowmobile tours in the Rocky Mountain House/Nordegg area. A-Bob Snowmobiling is based in Calgary and offers snowmobile tours into the Rockies and foothills southwest of Calgary.
Instruction and guided trips are available within and outside the national parks. Companies that operate out of the Canmore/Banff area include Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, MountainSense, and On Top Mountaineering. All guides who operate in national or provincial parks must be certified by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG). The list of guides with current credentials can be found on the ACMG website.
A guided ice walk on the Athabasca Glacier, halfway between Jasper and Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) is a very unique opportunity. Half and full day walks with ACMG/IFMGA guides are available from IceWalk.
You can try the Scandinavian sport of ski-joring (cross-country skiing with a towing assist from dogs) through Mad Dogs and Englishmen Expeditions, based near Canmore, Alberta.
Alpine Rafting operates on the Kicking Horse River, near Golden, B.C.
Blast Adventures offers inflatable kayak trips based out of Canmore.
Canadian Rockies Rafting offers float trips down the Bow River, and whitewater trips down the Kananaskis River (east of Canmore) and Kicking Horse River (near Golden, B.C.). Riverboarding is also available on the Kananasksi River.
Chinook Rafting offers whitewater rafting on the Bow River (Horseshoe Canyon); Kicking Horse River, near Golden, B.C.; and the Kananaskis River, east of Canmore.
Hydra Whitewater Rafting operates on the Kicking Horse River, near Golden, B.C.
Inside Out Experience has rafting trips on many Alberta rivers, including the Kananaskis River, Bow River (Horseshoe Canyon), and Kicking Horse River (in BC).
Kootenay River Runners is based near Golden, B.C., and has whitewater trips on the Kootenay River, Kicking Horse River, and Toby Creek, as well as a gentle voyageur canoe paddle on the Columbia River.
Wet'n'Wild Adventures offers whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River near Golden, B.C.
Wildwater Adventures offers whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River near Golden, B.C.
Canada Olympic Park in Calgary has a zipline, billed as "North America's Fastest", which takes people flying off the 90 meter ski jump tower.
Awesome All Season Adventures, located 55 km west of Lake Louise (between Field and Golden, BC) has a zipline along the Kicking Horse valley.
Alternative Adventures, located near Hinton 80 km east of Jasper, has a "super hero" style (prone flying) zipline.
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