My daughter lives in Calgary, Alberta, and that means I left no stone unturned, so to speak, in exploring the Canadian Rockies. The area is often called the Alps of North America and is more beautiful, some say, than the American Rockies. Only an hour from my daughter’s house, Banff National Park is the oldest and most visited park in all of Canada. But Banff is really just the beginning of Wonderland; beyond lies a region full of beauty to behold and adventure to be had.
Three other adjacent national parks – Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper – and three British Columbia provincial parks – Hamber, Mount Assiniboine and Mount Robson – have been collectively designated, along with Banff, as the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. . And all around the parks are not only a multitude of beautiful cities, but also natural and man-made attractions.
1. Visit Kootenay National Park, just outside Banff
From Banff en route to Kootenay National Park, we were greeted by the old Continental Divide sign. I was thrilled that everything was yellow but unhappy that the letters didn’t register well on my camera. He said, “It’s the continental backbone of western North America. At this point, it separates two watersheds, two provinces and two national parks. »
Kootenay is not a large park, but Highway 93 south passes through it as an alternative route to the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rockies. It offers a scenic 60 minute drive with beautiful stops like Marble Canyon and then Paint Pots, similar to Yellowstone. Unfortunately the bridge had collapsed at Numa Falls so we couldn’t get the right angle to appreciate the scene. But just after spotting the sign for Radium Hot Springs, we knew we had arrived at Sinclair Canyon, which offers a breathtaking scene, a romantic glimpse of the village below.
Pro Tip: If you’re short on time, don’t miss the Kootenay Valley Lookout.
2. After Kootenay, descend into the Columbia Valley
Only minutes later we reached our hotel in the Columbia Valley, the western foothills of the Canadian Rockies (affectionately called the hottest side of Canada) just 2.5 hours from Calgary. At the nearby Visitor Information Center, we were greeted by some of the bighorn sheep that call Radium home, waiting to be photographed by two eager new visitors.
3. Radium, a town in the Columbia Valley
Radium Hot Springs was very close to our hotel. It was named after the radioactive element when an analysis of its water showed it to contain small traces of radon, a decay product of radium. The radiation from bathing in the pools is inconsequential for a half hour bath, so that’s how long we stayed at the hot pool. Although its healing powers have been debunked, a hot spring in Canada (or anywhere cold) is generally a good idea.
4. Invermere, the central hub of the Columbia Valley
The center of the valley is the town of Invermere, eight miles south of Radium on beautiful Lake Windermere, popular for boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter. The road leading into town offered many interesting scenes to photograph: mountain goats, quaint red-lined churches, and fields of dandelions.
5. Golden, the western entrance to Yoho
Just 105 kilometers (65 miles) north of Radium is the town of Golden. Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the logging industry are tied to the history of this town that grew at the confluence of the Columbia and Kicking Horse rivers. Two other mountain ranges surround it, besides the Rockies.
Pro Tip: Right in the middle of Golden is the remarkable Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge, Canada’s longest free-standing timber frame bridge at 150 feet long and weighing 210,000 pounds in a beautiful Burr Arch design. As part of a Timber Framers Guild community project, Golden’s volunteers were joined by carpenters from the United States and Europe. It was completed in September 2001.
6. Be amazed by Yoho National Park
Golden takes you to Yoho National Park. In Cree, “yoho” means awe and wonder. The smallest of four contiguous national parks, the park’s visitor center is in the small unincorporated community of Field, British Columbia, within the park’s boundaries along the Trans-Canada Highway that runs through it. Just before reaching Field, the Emerald Lake Road leads to two major points of interest in the park.
7. Natural Bridge, an impressive rock formation
The first is the Natural Bridge, an impressive natural rock formation that spans the course of the Kicking Horse River where the slower flowing waters of Field begin their descent through a canyon. Water rushing over what was once a waterfall has helped sculpt the natural formation where the softer rock beneath its band of hard limestone has eroded faster into widened fissures.
8. The largest and most beautiful Emerald Lake
At the end of the road is Emerald Lake, the largest of Yoho’s 61 lakes and ponds, so named because of its vivid turquoise color from powdered limestone. Emerald Lake Lodge offers upscale local accommodation amidst three mountains that surround the lake. A 5.2-mile hiking trail circles the lake, half of which is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. In summer, wildflowers abound and canoe rentals are available. in winter, cross-country skiing is the sport.
Pro Tip: If you have time, try stopping at Big Hill on the Canadian Pacific main line. It was the most difficult section of the railroad until it was replaced in 1909 by the only spiral tunnel in North America (there are about 70 around the world, mostly in Europe). From the road, you may be able to see one end of the train exiting one tunnel opening while the other enters another.
9. The Icefields Parkway connects Banff to Jasper
From Banff to Jasper, you’ll take the Icefields Parkway, also known as Highway 93 North, which is 142 miles long and parallels the Continental Divide. National Geographic named him one of “20 Lifetime Readers.” This is where interconnected and limitless glaciers dominate the scene. You can experience them much better by taking these huge buses that criss-cross the Columbia Glacial Fields.
The Columbia Icefields Visitor Center offers a warm refuge indoors, fun shopping in the bustling gift shop, and a comforting bowl of hot soup in the cafeteria. Climbing up to the observation deck, you can take in the full view of the famous Athabasca Glacier, the largest in the icefield. Sadly it is said to be receding 5 meters (16ft) per year so it would be good to visit the boardwalk now.
Pro Tip: Take the shuttle to the Columbia Fields Skywalk, a narrow walkway built 300 meters into the sky at the edge of a cliff. It is America’s largest cantilever rig with a massive H-shaped polygonal steel support holding an all-glass curved tension bridge. It loops about 150 degrees around the outer edge of the cliff. This belvedere is part of an interpretation trail approximately 400 meters long.
10. The furthest, the second most visited and the largest: Jasper National Park
The furthest, second most visited and largest of them all, Jasper National Park, is only 3 1/2 hours from my daughter’s house. But it is such a beauty spot with elegant lakes in glacial waters of a milky greenish tint. And there were lakes galore and we saw three of them: Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake and Patricia Lake. Even with the many tourists around, one feels alone amidst the serenity of the lakes and the snow-capped mountains that shield them in varying shades of blue and purple. Each photo we took seemed to emerge like another painting. We also saw elk frolicking by the side of the road and took many pictures.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to try the aerial trams for an even better view of the beautiful landscape.
11. Mount Robson Provincial Park, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies
We also took a trip to the border of Alberta and British Columbia. There was another Continental Divide sign. And soon we reached the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, at over 14,000 feet. I don’t know why, but the peaks of Mount Robson were as imposing as the peak of Mount Rainier, even though they rested on a base already thousands of feet above sea level!
Pro Tip: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the other two provincial parks. If you want to complete your exploration of the World Heritage Site, find time for Hamber and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Parks.
12. The Overflow Town of Banff: Canmore
Finally, I have to tell you about the town of Canmore, a tourist overflow destination from the town of Banff and picture-perfect Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It is even closer to Calgary at the southeastern edge of the park. Since being chosen to host the Nordic events of the 1988 Winter Olympics, its population has grown to 12,000, surpassing Banff’s 9,000. But the latter is even larger and has more establishments. Canmore feels much the same when shopping and walking amid towering glacier-capped mountains.
The Canadian Rockies are one of those special places on earth, and UNESCO recognized it when it was named a World Heritage Site. We’ve covered it on several trips from my daughter’s house, but if you want to see everything including Banff in one trip, you probably need at least 2 weeks, better if 3.
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