March 26, 2018
Welcome to the Alaska Highway, where you’re more likely to see wildlife than people. Local photographer Ryan Dickie shows us his favourite places to photograph…
By Tiffany Lewis October 13, 2017 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Rocky Mountains. The name evokes images of towering, snow-capped peaks, turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, and dense evergreen forests. The kind of scenery that stays with you long after you’ve returned home. This spectacular beauty, combined with the significant natural history found in the area, inspired UNESCO to declare a group of seven contiguous parks along the BC/Alberta border to be a World Heritage Site, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks.
Visitors to the Canadian Rockies can indulge in just about any outdoor activity you can think of. From snow sports to water sports (even scuba diving!), from frontcountry camping to mountaineering, you can find it here on a grand scale. Driving through, you are likely to spot wildlife from your car: bighorn sheep, mountain goats, deer, elk, black and grizzly bears, and moose are just some of the animals that thrive here. There are opportunities to soak in mineral-rich hot springs, to learn about ecology and natural and human history, and to take some of the best vacation photos of your life.
From north to south, here are the parks the comprise the UNESCO site, and some don’t-miss experiences from each.
At the centre of the park, the town of Jasper is a great base for exploration. Ride the Jasper SkyTram for a 360-degree view, including half a dozen mountain ranges, glacial lakes, and the town itself. Athabasca Falls makes up in power what it lacks in height, and is a must-see. Need to warm up? The park’s Miette Hot Springs is the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies at its source (54 celsius/129 fahrenheit), and it is cooled to a comfortable 40 celsius (104 fahrenheit) in the pool. If you do nothing else in Jasper, drive south along the Icefields Parkway, the highway that connects Jasper to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This 232-km (144-mi) stretch of road has been called one of the world’s top drives by Condé Nast Traveller. In addition to the mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and rivers that define the park, you’ll pass more than 100 glaciers.
The defining feature here is the park’s namesake Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres (12,972 feet). Hiking and camping are the primary draws, and the most iconic hike is the Berg Lake Trail. This renowned backcountry trail is very popular, so be sure to reserve a spot with Discover Camping. From the trailhead, there are several options for day hikes, or you bring your camping gear and set out on a multi-day excursion. The trail gains 800 metres (2,625 feet) in elevation over its 23-kilometre (14-mile) length, circling around the base of Mount Robson and past an area known as the Valley of a Thousand Falls. You’ll find some of the province’s most stunning scenery, including the blue-green waters of Berg Lake, named for the floating icebergs that break off from the Berg Glacier.
The least known among the seven parks, Hamber has little in the way of infrastructure. Fortress Lake offers excellent trout fishing and an air-accessed fishing camp, and there are also some rustic campsites along the lake. Hikers can follow a 22-kilometre (14-mile) trail that starts at Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park. This is a true wilderness park for experienced, well prepared hikers only. The weather is unpredictable and can change quickly, and you are in the heart of bear country.
The oldest national park in Canada, Banff is also among the best known, drawing more than three million visitors each year. No trip to Banff is complete without visiting Lake Louise. Rent a canoe and paddle on the gorgeous, calm emerald waters and stay at the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, originally built more than 100 years ago as a base for outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to explore the alpine. Nearby Moraine Lake is another must-visit, as is Banff Upper Hot Springs, Canada’s highest elevation hot springs. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is home to an accessible underground cave where you can touch the thermal water as is seeps from the rocks.
Yoho is home to a huge number of natural treasures given its 1,313-square-kilometre (507-square-mile) size. The most significant of these is the Burgess Shale, a globally important site that is home to fossils of cambrian-aged creatures dating back 505 million years. Before the creation of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO site, the Burgess Shale was a UNESCO World Heritage Site on its own. Take a guided hike to one of two fossil beds, Stephen or Walcott, a seven- or an eleven-hour round trip respectively.
Explore further, and it becomes clear how Yoho got its name—Yoho is a Cree word for “awe.” Stay at Emerald Lake Lodge and paddle a canoe on the beautiful green lake, or book a night or two at Lake O’Hara Lodge, accessible only by shuttle bus, for a more remote stay. Visit Takakkaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest at 381 metres (1,250 feet), and see where the Kicking Horse River carved out a Natural Bridge. Or if railroad history is your thing, don’t miss the Spiral Tunnels. Learn about this engineering marvel and head to one of two viewpoints (upper and lower) to watch for some of the 30 or so trains that travel through the Kicking Horse Pass daily.
If you’re lucky, the highlight of your visit to Kootenay Park will be watching bighorn sheep traverse the rock walls of Sinclair Canyon as you soak in mineral-rich Radium Hot Springs. These impressive animals are regularly spotted here, but the best time to see them is in November during rutting season. Watch as they crash into one another at top speed during the annual Headbanger Festival, celebrated in the village of Radium Hot Springs.
Serious hikers can tackle the 55-kilometre (34-mile) Rockwall Trail and hike past towering limestone cliffs along this section of the extensive Great Divide Trail. The park’s natural features include the Paint Pots, a cold mineral spring with high iron content that colours the clay a vivid orange, and Marble Canyon, home to a short trail with multiple bridges spanning a narrow gorge. Look down from the bridges to a rushing, turquoise glacial river. The landscape in this section of the park was ravaged by a forest fire in 2003, and new growth is evident all around.
Known as the “Matterhorn of the Rockies,” Mount Assiniboine is easily recognizable because it closely resembles the famous mountain in the Alps. This wilderness park with no road access is home to Assiniboine Lodge, located close to scenic Lake Magog. Access the lodge either by hiking in (routes range from 8 hours to two days), or by booking a short helicopter flight. However you arrive, enjoy incredible Rocky Mountain scenery along a series of day hikes, or book one of six huts for an overnight excursion. Campgrounds are also an option for multi-day stays.
No matter what outdoor activity you are planning, you must be prepared. Remember to follow the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials. AdventureSmart is a great resource to get informed before heading outdoors.
Featured image: Emerald Lake Lodge in Yoho National Park. Photo: Kari Medig
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