We had a years worth of fun planning our 50th anniversary “celebration tour” – seven days in the Canadian Rockies driving through Banff & Jasper National Parks. A beautiful adventure, much like our last 50 years. ❤️
Last summer we drove the Olympic Pennisula visiting Olympic National Park with our daughter Carrie and her boys. Between Lake Crescent and Hoh Rainforest, we saw a million shades of lucious green. This summer, our week in the Canadian Rockies was painted in an ombré of breathtaking blues all around us.
Our first surprise was a rental car upgrade to a Mercedes SUV at the Calgary airport. We were driving in style! Inside Banff National Park, our first Rockies destination was Fairmont Banff Springs, one of the magnificent hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway.
I guess I should mention that neither Ken or I are campers. Our parents were also non-campers. So although there are some incredible camping areas in the mountains, we were looking for “special occasion” accommodations for this trip and certainly found them.
First opened in 1888, Banff Springs is an imposing rock structure nicknamed “The Castle in the Rockies.” The rooms of this National Historic Site were splendidly appointed, and the views were amazing. We had a masterpiece “hanging” outside our window, the color of the Bow River changing its shade of crystal blue depending on the sun and time of day.
Bow Falls was a short walk from the rear of the hotel. A well-maintained walking path & guardrails took us to the edge of the falls and roaring rapids. We both remember the black & white Marilyn Monroe/Robert Mitchum movie, “River of No Return”, that was partially filmed on Bow River in the 1950s. They picked a good name for the film! Beautiful but treacherous waters.
Exquisite Lake Louise is a fairly congested 45-minute drive north from Banff. Where Banff was busy, Lake Louise was super busy, attracting an enthusiastic international crowd. Named for Queen Victoria’s 4th daughter, Princess Louise, the lake is definitely a pretty little thing. The color of the water is a turquoise blue that will blow your mind. I couldn’t begin to guess how many photos are taken there each day. Jillions. Heck, I probably took that many.
To be out in those turquoise waters in view of Victoria Glacier and surrounded by mountains is a beautiful thing. Canoes start going out from the boathouse at 7am, first come first serve. If you’re staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise as we were, your resort fee gives you a rental discount and a separate short que. The lake hike is easy and also very enjoyable. In addition to watching the boats, you have a gorgeous view of the hotel and its reflection.
A word about the stunning water colors of these glacier-fed lakes and rivers. It’s the result of rock flour. I thought I knew flour. I’ve used all purpose, gluten free, rice, almond, chickpea, corn, semolina and 00 pizza flour, but had no clue about rock flour. It’s very fine rock particles created by glacial erosion, and the flow of these particles into a glacial lake create the beautiful turquoise color. Who knew!
Nearby Moraine Lake is another stunner. If Lake Louise is “turquoise”, then this one is “Swiss Blue Topaz” – Canadian jewels! The lake hike is also a nice walk with many lovely views of water and boaters. The challenge to Moraine Lake is parking. Unless you plan to arrive well before dawn, you can forget it. Again, as a Chateau Lake Louise guest, you can book an out-and-back shuttle ride from the hotel for a small fee. Totally great deal. I’d never have made the pre-dawn excursion.
We drove the Icefields Parkway, Highway 93 from Lake Louise to Jasper. As National Geographic says, “Drive of a lifetime – one of the world’s most spectacular driving tours.” Following the Continental Divide, every stretch of the road was picturesque.
We had a simplified brochure on the Parkway that illustrated several points of interest along the way. It was a great tool, handy to keep in the car & easy to use.
Our first Parkway stop was a pull-off at Bow Lake. Incredible. Not just the water color, but the crystal clear reflection of the mountains in the lake. It was such a seamless reflection, it was a little disorienting. Still, really stunning.
Next stop for us along the Parkway was Peyto Lake. The parking lot wasn’t far from the road, but finding a spot was tough. The path to the lake was paved and only 1.2 km round trip. But it was steep, and to me, felt a lot longer than it was. It was an age + altitude thing. The viewing area was crowded, but the lake color spectacular. That rock flour really packs a punch!
Next stop was the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. We decided we really shouldn’t skip the chance to walk on the Athabascar Glacier. It was not a beautiful thing, but I must say, it’s a one of a kind experience. I only wish I’d been wearing my golf shoes for a little traction assistance on the slick ice.
The highlight of the Parkway for us was Athabasca Falls, roughly 30 minutes from Jasper. We’d been to Niagara Falls, but we’d never seen so much water traveling so fast, diving down and swirling around with so much loud force. If you went into this water, you’d be no more than a broken pretzel afterwards… if you were ever found. Impressive force of nature
Once in Jasper, we decided to swing by the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and check out their lakeside setting. The calm waters of Lac Beauvert were a clear steel blue in the early evening. Beautiful stands of birch trees dotted the roadsides. We drove on to our hotel at Pyramid Lake and enjoyed a quiet sunset over Pyramid Mountain.
The Pyramid Lake Resort rents boats & bikes from its lakefront boathouse, and a half hour boat rental is included in your stay. Up early on the morning of our departure, we enjoyed watching the voyager canoes and kayaks set out on the water. The red Adirondack chairs, Canada’s invitation for a great view, were in perfect position to enjoy the clear lake with its mountain backdrop.
We closed our Canadian Rockies adventure at Mount Robson Provincial Park, just a short drive west of Jasper on Yellowhead Highway 16. The road follows the beautiful aqua Moose Lake for several miles, but most of the scenic stops throughout the park were temporarily closed for construction. No matter. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and we ended our mountain driving tour on a literal high note!
Check back for the next leg of our “celebration tour”, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia!