Midway through our Western tour, we left Revelstoke with our sights
set firmly on Lake Louise. By now we had spent nine days racing around
much of British Columbia, from Kelowna to Vancouver to Victoria and
then across much of the BC interior. We just wanted to settle for a
few days in one place. Though we didn't have any reservations in Lake
Louise, and others have warned us we would have a hard time finding a
place to stay, we didn't give it a second thought.
We soared through Glacier National Park, with a quick stop at Rogers
Pass to stretch our legs and grab some refreshments. Historically
significant as the last great obstacle facing the trans-continental
railway, we didn't find anything of real interest other than the
Just west of Lake Louise, we found a comfortable lodge called,
what else, West Louise Lodge. Formerly the
historic Wapta bungalow camp built by the CPR in 1921, West Louise Lodge
has been visited for over 80 years by people from around the world
searching for that Ultimate Rocky Mountain Experience. To our surprise,
the room rates were very reasonable starting from $99.00. We paid $129.00
per night for a theme suite with a loft and fireplace... and breakfast
was included! This would be our home base for the next 5 days.
Batty in Lake Louise
On the third night, I awoke about 2 a.m. to the sight of something
flirting around in the darkness. Quickly turning on the light, I spotted
a single black bat heading for the rafters. I shook Carole awake and we both
just sat there awhile trying to figure out what to do next. For sure we
weren't going to get back to sleep in that suite that night. "Oh, he's back",
was the calm, cool response from the night clerk. "Thought we got rid of
him." Apparently, he was a recurring visitor the staff had become familiar
with. We weren't amused and switched rooms, but didn't sleep quite right for the
next couple of nights.
Still in British Columbia, Yoho National Park begins where Banff National
Park ends along the Trans-Canada Highway a few minutes west of Lake Louise.
The first great site of the day was the Natural Bridge near the small town
of Field. Carved by the Kicking Horse River, this limestone arch over the river
could be used as a bridge though you can't get anywhere near this natural
landmark due to the safety fences and turbulent waters. Once a waterfall, as
water found its way through cracks in the rock, it gradually enlarged them,
cutting a new channel through which to flow. Eventually, the bridge will
collapse creating a gorge.
Emerald Lake is an absolute treasure to be found in Yoho National Park.
Legendary guide Tom Wilson first discovered Emerald Lake in 1882 during
the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Interestingly, Tom Wilson
also discovered Lake Louise and also called it Emerald Lake.) The CPR built
the original guest lodge in 1902. By the mid-1920s, the lodge had been
expanded, and road improvements made it possible to reach the resort by car.
Since then, the Canadian government has permitted no additional development,
so there are no other lodges in the area. If time permits, you can hike the
five kilometers around the lake. Interestingly, the climate on the far side
of the lake away from the lodge is much drier and this is shown in the
surrounding vegetation. But, no matter from which side you view the lake, it
A Mini United Nations
Surely one of the most beautiful places in the world, Lake Louise is also
one of the most popular areas in the Rockies. On any given summer day, Lake
Louise is like a mini United Nations with hoards of people speaking different
languages, snapping pictures and just enjoying the majestic view of the Victoria
Glacier towering over the calm, turquoise-blue water.
To get the best light for picture taking, visit early in the day. There are
also less crowds at this time. Arriving first thing in the morning, we
walked along side the lake enjoying the view from the every vantage point.
We had expected to go swimming here, but to our surprise, the
water was freezing cold. The reason the lake is the beautiful color it is has
to do with the minerals washed into the water from the Victoria Glacier. Think
of it as a giant ice cube melting into the water. Though you can't swim here,
you can rent a canoe and paddle around the lake for an hour or so.
One little known treat involves a bit of hiking up the mountainside
beside the lake. The uphill hike takes about three hours but is well worth
the trip. The final destination is a small tea room overhanging the Victoria
Glacier and Lake Louise and providing incredible views.
Diamond in the Wilderness
We finished off our stay here touring around the lower shopping concourse
in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, known by polished travelers as "The
Diamond in the Wilderness". The upstairs areas, including the lobby
and inviting picture window sitting area, are reserved for guests, but we
did take a quick stroll around just the same. Later, we had a late lunch and
beverage in the restaurant overlooking the gardens before heading back to
Of the three main tourist destinations in the Rockies - Banff, Lake Louise
and Jasper - Banff definitely has more going on. At least for the general
tourist. The downtown core is central to all there is to do in the area, and
is a good place to start. Banff Avenue, the main street, is full of tourists
exploring souvenir shops, enjoying a fine meal or beer on a patio, or just
admiring the great scenery. The awesome Cascade Mountain, one of the most
photographed landmarks in Banff, appears to rise straight out of the east
end of the avenue.
The town - and it really is a town with a permanent population of only
8,000 - is easy to get around in, and is best explored by foot. We strolled
west along Banff Avenue towards the Administration Building on the other
side of Bow River. Once on the west side of Bow River, we found a path that
leads down to the river and followed the flow of water deeper into the
wilderness. We were amazed by the incredibly clear water, which flows rapidly
as we approached the Bow Falls and then calms right down. If you've signed
up for a slow raft tour down the river, this is the spot where the tour begins.
Through a clearing to the west, we can see the famous Banff Springs Hotel.
Tired, we made our way back to the car, took a scenic drive around the
area and discovered the hoodoos along Tunnel Mountain Drive. Hoodoos are
interesting rock formations carved into the mountainside by the force of
wind and water over thousands of years.
In the afternoon, we visited Sulphur Mountain... possibly the most popular
attraction in Banff. Similar to most tourists visiting the mountain, we
took the gondola up to the lookout near the top of the mountain at an
altitude of some 7,486 feet. From there, the 360 degree view is absolutely
stunning. From the lookout, we walked the wooden board walk path still
further up the mountain to a stone weather station, named in honour of
Norman Bethume Sanson, who religiously hiked the trail up the mountain
over 1,000 times in his lifetime to record weather observations.
Now, if you're feeling fit and frugal, you too can hike the 5.5 km winding trail
up the mountainside. If you're in shape, you should be able to reach the top
in about three hours. And for all your efforts, enjoy a free ride back down
in the gondola.
Take the Waters
At the base of Sulphur Mountain, we relaxed in the warm waters of the Banff
Upper Hot Springs for the better part of an hour. This splendid, historic
spa and bath house is set against a backdrop of spectacular alpine scenery.
Travelers have come here to "take the waters" for more than a century. The
mineral rich water soothes both the body and soul.
After our "bath", we sought out the original hot springs known as the
Cave and Basin, now a National Historic Site. Here, in 1883, three CPR workers
noticed steam rising from a vent in the mountain, and descended on a rope to
investigate. The original basin is no longer open to the public, but you can
tour the grounds and find the small vent where the hot springs were first
The Vermillion Lakes to the west of Banff are a series of three shallow lakes
framed by jutting Mount Rundle and the Fairholme Range to the east. Hearing
that the mountains reflect beautifully in the calm waters at dusk, we drove
slowly along the road beside the lake and waited for the sun to go down. Some
photographers were perched along the water's edge eagerly anticipating sunset.
The Celebrated Icefield Parkway
Day three and we left the lodge early to spend the day driving the 230 km
stretch between Lake Louise and Jasper known as the Icefield Parkway. This is
one of the most celebrated drives in North America. It traverses a massive
wilderness, broken only by a few outposts along the way. Parts of the route
were a Native trail, but for many years after Jasper and Banff became settled,
the area was almost completely impassable, used only by trappers, surveyors
or adventurous tourists on guided trips.
The first road through the mountains was built in the 1930s as a depression-era
make-work project. Crews started in both Jasper and Lake Louise and met up at
"Big Bend" in the Columbia Icefields. Essentially, the road has not changed
significantly since the 1960s.
Entering the parkway at Lake Louise, our first stop was Crowfoot Glacier.
Many years ago there were three distinct "toes" to the glacier, hence the
name. Though there are now only two "toes" this was still an impressive site
A short distance away, Bow Lake is one of the loveliest sights in the Rockies
and is the source for the Bow River. This is a highly recommended place to stop
and take a walk or hike. Posed on the lakeshore, the
Num-Ti-Jah Lodge is a
handsome log and stone building built in 1937. The distinctive red roof
is something of an icon in the Rockies. The cozy lodge offers very rustic, simple
accommodations without television or phones in the rooms. If you want to stay
here, book early as this is a favorite stop in both summer and winter.
Approaching the Athabasca Glacier
We spent the next couple of hours exploring some of the more known attractions
of the Icefield Parkway before we got to the treasured highlight - the
Athabasca Glacier. The colourful Peyto Lake was captivating, as was the Mistaya
Canyon. The massive cliff face known as the Weeping Wall is world-renowned for
ice climbing in the winter when the falls are all frozen and glistening. At
the Big Bend, the expansive view southward was truly amazing. The sight of the
parkway cutting through the mountain range presents a reference point to measure
the vast scale of the landscape.
Approaching the Athabasca Glacier, we decided to take the road leading to
the glacier before visiting the Icefield Centre. In some respects, this may have
been a mistake. Athabasca Glacier, in Jasper National Park, is the best-known
glacier in the Rockies. One cannot drive directly up to it. We had to
park in the lot a couple of kilometers away and slowly hiked the uphill path to
the retreating foot of the glacier. Luckily, we had windbreakers handy as
the wind was bitterly cold blowing off the icefield.
The Athabasca Glacier is melting faster than the annual snowfall can replace.
Testimony to this are the numerous markers showing the glacier's edge position
year after year. It seems amazing the glacier doesn't disappear faster as
the ice water run off is heavy and non-stop. There are also many signs indicating
the danger of walking on the glacier, particularly near the crevices. It's
possible the ice can crack. Some children have fallen into the crevices and
froze to death before they could be rescued. As a result, many tourists with
small kids would not walk on the ice. I myself walked about thirty feet up the
glacier, but Carole wouldn't step on it. Mind you, she wasn't alone.
A Better Way - Brewster Snocoach
Back at the Icefield Centre, we learned the history of the Athabasca Glacier.
We also found out about the
Brewster Snocoach. This is a specially designed
vehicle that climbs directly onto the Athabasca Glacier. It offers a unique
perspective on the area, and provides a chance to walk in safety high above
the roadway. Sure beats the long cold hide from the parking lot.
Continuing our drive north through Jasper National Park, it's almost like we
were compelled to stop at all the waterfalls in the area. Sunwapta Falls is only
a short walk from the parking lot just off the parkway. This thunderous falls
winds through a limestone canyon, past more rapids and more falls downstream.
A short distance away, the impressive Athabasca Falls tumbles 23 metres through
a nice canyon. A clear view of Mount Kerkeslin frames the background. Still not
to be out done, the very pretty Tangle Falls is visible from the Icefield Parkway.
You have to be careful driving in this area as a number of people stop along
the road, and clamber around the rocks to get near the falls. A few minutes away,
we discovered what appeared to be a field of colorful stone. I don't know if
this place has a name, but it's a great place for some exciting photos.
Goat Lookout is a likely place to spot white shaggy mountain goats clinging
to the sides of the cliffs licking mineral salts from the earth. We actually
spotted a couple of goats right beside the road. Quite a few people stopped
and some foolish people approached within a few feet of them. Nothing happened,
but there are warnings everywhere about staying away from the wild animals.
Short Stay in Jasper
We arrived in Jasper mid-afternoon. The town is smaller and less crowded than
Banff, but offers similar striking mountain views, activities and attractions.
Though many may disagree, I found the journey to Jasper along the Icefield
Parkway more exciting and varied. The railway station appears to be the main
attraction here. Jasper is the only major railway destination in the Rockies
still reachable by passenger train. We grabbed a late lunch at Papa George's,
one of the oldest restaurants in town serving excellent food. Afterwards, we
quietly strolled through the downtown area before heading back to Lake Louise.
Our last day in the Rockies we elected to take it easy and visit Moraine Lake.
We saw signs to the lake on our way to and back from Lake Louise but never
ventured to check it out. I'm glad we finally did. Nestled in the Valley of
the Ten Peaks, this splendid lake is a must-see in the Rockies with its intense
blue-green water and magnificent mountain setting. The view looks very familiar,
and we soon found out the landscape is depicted on the back of the old twenty
dollar Canadian bill.
The view here is absolutely beautiful... really beyond words. There also seems
to be more to do here than in Lake Louise itself. As we had planned, we rented
a canoe for hour or so and explored the whole lake, found a couple of hidden
waterfalls and hiked some great trails.
We spent a great week in the Rockies. Sad to leave this magnificent
wilderness, we wished we could stay here on vacation forever. Or at least
a little longer.