For over the last one year, I had been looking at some pictures from Canadian Rockies and wondering if those were for real or photo shopped. We live in a world where it is hard to find any pictures that are not edited. So when a Europe trip did not materialize due to unavailability of visa appointments, we made a quick plan to travel to the Canadian Rockies. And boy, it was totally worth it!
Fortunately the Canadian Rockies is everything like those picture postcard images that you see splashed all over internet when you search for it. For about 2 weeks, we planned our 6 day itinerary from Calgary to visit the Banff and Jasper National Parks along with a detour to Yoho National Park in British Columbia. Despite Canadian Rockies being an expensive vacation, we realized that the best North American mountain ranges of Alberta were worth every penny we spent. So here are the 15 things that we think you should not miss when you are visiting the Canadian Rockies.
Ice field Parkway, Canadian Rockies
If driving on one of the world’s top 10 scenic roads is on your bucket list, Icefields Parkway of the Canadian Rockies is your answer. This is a spectacular ~230km stretch of road connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks and is dotted with ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls and emerald blue lakes that reflect the mountains surrounding them – everything set in never ending valleys of pine forests teeming with wildlife at every turn.
Travel Tip : Set an entire day or two in your itinerary for Ice field parkway. There are numerous scenic spots along the entire stretch. If possible, arrange your stay in Jasper and try to cover the entire stretch in two different trips – going to and fro.
Malign Lake, Jasper National Park
Most people we met during the journey were visiting only Banff and Icefield parkway and returning back to Banff. But if you choose to go ahead and stay a day in Jasper, you will realize why you need to add Jasper and Lake Malign to your travel map for Canadian Rockies.
En route to this picturesque lake you can also see Lake Medicine and the acres of forests that burnt in the wild fires years ago. Jasper also has some amazing hiking trails. Chances of spotting wildlife are also pretty high in the Jasper area due to crowd thinning. Jasper area accounted for 90% of the wildlife we did see during our entire trip.
Spirit Island, Jasper National Park
If you are visiting Lake Malign, the boat ride to Spirit Island is highly recommended. It is roughly about CAD 150 for two to take the boat cruise to this island 35 minutes away from the dock. You are given 15 minutes to explore the island and snap photographs.
The ride up to the island is scenic and you are allowed to stand in the open space of the boat as long as you ensure that there is no overcrowding. The island isn’t exactly an island in the summer months as the water recedes and brings up a tiny patch of land that links it to the island where the boat docks. You are allowed to click pictures of the place but not walk on this little piece of island. The water turns exceptionally blue in and around this island.
Travel Tip : It is best to take the last tour of the day because you would be the only final boat leaving the island. This also means lesser people photo bombing your perfect picture with spirit island in the background.
Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, Banff National Park
No trip to Banff National Park is ever complete without visiting these two lakes. Lake Moraine is that image that pops up when you enter “Canadian Rockies” in google and hit “Search”. Both these lakes are exquisitely beautiful alpine lakes set against ice capped mountains. You can rent canoes and go for a one hour trip across the lake. There are also hiking trails in and around the area. We reached both these lakes on a cloudy cold day and hence we couldn’t get those post card worthy pictures like what you see over the internet. However, the lakes are exceptionally beautiful and worth visiting in any kind of weather.
Travel Tip : Lake Moraine has a smaller parking facility and hence park facilities may close the diversion to this lake once parking gets full. There are overflow parking facilities where you need to park in that case and take the shuttles that keep plying to and from Lake Moraine.
Lake Peyton and Bow Summit – Ice field Parkway
When you drive through the Icefield Parkway from Banff to Jasper, Bow Summit is one of the first major stops that comes en route. Though we did not do the Bow Summit because the hike is supposed to take about 4 hours round-trip, we took the shorter one to Lake Peyton view point. This is a short 15 minute hike up to the view point from where you can see the immensely blue alpine lake of Peyton. This was the bluest lake we saw in our entire trip.
Travel Tip : The view point can be exceptionally crowded. If you go to the left from the view point, there is a short unmarked trail that leads you down to a rocky area from where you get an uninterrupted view of the lake and mountains. This place is generally deserted except for the hordes of mosquitoes that will keep you company. Bug spray ? Definitely Yes!
Bow and Waterfowl Lakes – Icefield Parkway
After the Bow Summit comes a series of lakes that are all so stunning that you wouldn’t know which one is better than the other. The lakes in this part are very blue from the glacial melts.
We stopped by the Bow and Waterfowl lakes view-points to click some amazing pictures. We were visiting in July and most mountains surrounding the lakes still had lots of snow on them.
Athabasca Glacier and Glacier Skywalk – Icefield Parkway
About two hours north of Banff lies the famous non polar Athabasca ice field where one can experience walking on a large glacier and have the ultimate viewing experience from a glass sky deck. Unlike other spots along the scenic route of Icefield Parkway, the Athabasca glacier tour and Glacier sky walk is a guided tour only. Buses depart at fixed schedules from the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center. The rates for these tours can be found here.
Travel Trip : Early birds who find tickets online get cheaper tickets!
Since we have our own version of glaciers to look at throughout the winter months in Michigan, we weren’t too excited about walking on ice/snow, so we skipped it. But for anyone who is excited about glaciers, this tour would definitely be a great experience and definitely recommended.
Sunwapta Falls – Icefield Parkway
600 meters off Icefield Parkway in an easily accessible location is this waterfall that drops 61 feet off a narrow opening. There is a bridge that connects over the falls and is definitely a must visit destination. There are upper and lower falls. The upper falls is easier to visit while the lower falls require a short walk along the marked trails.
Tannery Creek – Icefield Parkway
This is a roadside waterfall that you will come across while driving through Icefields Parkway. It has multiple levels and is situated right off the road side – there is no way you could miss this one. You can take the unmarked trails along the sides to climb to the top level of the waterfall or stay by the road side and click pictures. The trail can be mushy and slippery during the rains. Care must be exercised while hopping over the rocks to go near the falls to avoid slipping and injuries.
Athabasca Falls – Icefield Parkway
Yet another insanely beautiful spots off the scenic roads of Icefield parkway, this falls is known for the force with which the water flows down the gorge than the height of the falls. There are parking lots leading up to the falls and visitors can visit the upper falls where water thunders through the rocks and then take a walk down to the lower falls area where the waters are tamed and resume their normal flow once again.
Lake Talbot, Jasper National Park
One among the many other turquoise lakes that Jasper National Park area can boast of, Lake Talbot stands out distinctly due to its larger size and deeper green color. This is right off the road side and can be reached by a short walk after parking your car in a convenient spot. We also caught glimpse of a lone wolf near this lake. Having Binoculars might be a good idea to see to the other end of the lake for wildlife spotting.
This little beautiful town with the zing of adventure coursing through its vibrant streets attract thousands of visitors every day. This mountain downtown is set against mountains that appear as if they spring right from the road. The colorful streets with top notch restaurants and shops not to mention the various quaint art shops and little museums is sure to be a treat to anyone’s eyes.
Walk along and find some of those amazing coffee shops and savor some Banff special deserts despite the cool weather. Do not forget to do some souvenir shopping for your loved ones from here. And when it is evening, find one of those restaurants with roof top setting and enjoy a quiet dinner while the sun slowly sets off on the most beautiful town in the Rockies.
Though not as large or beautiful as Banff, Jasper downtown has its own unique beauty. Like Banff, this mountain downtown is also set against a backdrop of the snow capped Canadian Rockies. You would most likely see one of those trains passing through while you make an entry to the downtown area.
The downtown itself has a small little train station. Hop through the different restaurants and souvenir shops, visit Jasper Brewing Co and if time permits take a tour, click some pictures in front of the train engine near the station and enjoy an evening in this town.
Lake Emerald – Yoho National Park
As with Jasper, most of the tourists visiting Banff area do not travel to other parks in the area. But if time permits, a few you can try to knock of some picturesque places belonging to Yoho National Park area. The natural bridge across Kicking horse river is one such place you can visit on your way to Lake Emerald.
Emerald lake is clearly worthy of visiting while you are in the area. True to its name, the water is of stunning deep Emerald color and offers spectacular views with the rolling green hills around them.
Travel Tip : Stop by the small lakeside café “Cilantro By The Lake” and treat yourself to a delicious lunch or dinner by their lake side seating.
Takkakaw waterfalls – Yoho National Park
Fed from the Waputik Glacier melts, Takkakaw falls is a must see spot in the Yoho National Park Area. The walk leading up to the falls is scenic with pine trees and glacial streams against a beautiful waterfall in the background. This waterfall, being the 45th tallest in the entire Biritish Columbia area, makes a mighty impact even before you reach it. It takes about 15 minutes of one way hike through marked trails to reach.
We hope that these pictures have managed to add Canadian Rockies into your travel bucket list. While we continue exploring the rest of the world, to stay tuned to our updates subscribe to us at kindleandkompass.