Road tripping in the Rockies

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Banff, Canada, Valley of the Ten Peaks and Lake Moraine

Banff, Canada, Valley of the Ten Peaks and Lake Moraine

Canada is as beautiful as it is vast. Every province is wonderfully unique, but if time is limited and you need to prioritize your list of places to visit, I’d recommend putting a road tripping in the Canadian Rockies at the top of your list. The Rocky Mountain range of Canada straddles the border of Alberta and British Columbia, and has all the ingredients for a perfect Canadian adventure: glaciers, canyons, alpine lakes, waterfalls and moose. One of my own most memorable holiday experiences was road tripping through the Rockies.

Jasper National Park

Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park (Photo: Esther Lee)

Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park Photo: Esther Lee

Our road trip started in Jasper National Park, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The hub of Jasper National Park is the picturesque town of Jasper itself, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests. Jasper’s central location makes it a great base from which to explore the rest of the region. It’s a delightful town where seeing elk strolling through town is entirely normal. Visit the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum & Archives to find out more about the adventurous settlers and railway pioneers who made this little part of the Canadian Rockies their home.

You're bound to spot some elk around Jasper (Photo: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ)

You’re bound to spot some elk around Jasper Photo: Peggy2012Creativelenz

From the town of Jasper, head south towards Maligne Lake. Surrounded by towering mountains and alive with wildlife, beautiful Maligne Lake is best explored by boat. Although you can hire kayaks and canoes, there are also guided tours by boat to Spirit Island, a tiny island in the central part of the narrow lake.

Further south, along route 93A, you’ll find the picturesque Athabasca Falls. Although the falls are not high, centuries of flowing water have cut through the landscape in a fascinating way. There are bridges and walkways that allow visitors to see the falls from all angles. I got an education in the history of the falls reading the informative plaques along the way.

From Athabasca Falls we re-joined the Icefields Parkway (Route 93), and headed to the Columbia Icefield, on the border of Banff National Park.  The drive there is beautiful, and there are plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos.  The Columbia Icefield feeds eight glaciers, including Athabasca Glacier, which is a beautiful but fast-receding glacier. I found it fascinating to see the date markers which clearly show how the glacier recedes 2–3 metres (6.6–9.8 ft) per year. Visitors can get onto the glacier by snow coaches. Just a word of warning though: make sure you’re wearing closed shoes if you want to step out onto the glacier. Not realizing that we were going to be walking on a glacier that day, I made the mistake of wearing open-toe shoes and after about two minutes I couldn’t feel them anymore! When they went from zero feeling to burning and red in a matter of minutes, I was pretty sure I was going home with less toes than I arrived with. Thankfully I had a case of superficial frostbite; once I was in the car my toes quickly warmed up and thawed out.

Athabasca Glacier is fed by the Columbia Icefield. Don't forget to wear closed shoes!

Athabasca Glacier is fed by the Columbia Icefield. Don’t forget to wear closed shoes!

Banff National Park

Whether you’re travelling in winter or summer, there is a host of activities to keep you busy in Banff National Park. We visited during spring, which is the perfect time to put on your hiking boots or hire a bicycle and explore Canada’s first national park, which spans 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles).

The drive along Icefields Parkway towards Lake Louise is very scenic, with plenty of lakes along the way. I found places like Peyto Lake, Bow Lake and Hector Lake were great places to stop and stretch my legs while enjoying beautiful views of the incredible blue-green water surrounded by a backdrop of majestic limestone mountains. I felt like I had stepped into a postcard.

The scenery along the roads in Banff National Park is spectacular (Photo: Taylor McBride)

The scenery along the roads in Banff National Park is spectacular Photo: Taylor McBride

The small community of Lake Louise is built around the famous lake which has graced postcards and magazine covers because of its extraordinary beauty. It’s a quintessentially Canadian mountain scene in the summer and a popular ski area in winter. In the spring you can go paddling on the lake, do a spot of fishing or join a guided day hike. A trip to Lake Moraine is another great way to spend a morning.

Beautiful Lake Moraine at sunrise in Banff National Park, Canada (Photo: James Wheeler)

Beautiful Lake Moraine at sunrise in Banff National Park, Canada Photo: James Wheeler

Further south is the town of Banff. When you’re road tripping through the Rockies it’s convenient to spend a few days based in Jasper so you can explore Jasper National Park, and a few days based in Banff while you’re exploring Banff National Park. Although we started our road trip from the north and headed south, many tourists prefer starting in Banff and heading north, as the town is conveniently only 90 minutes from Calgary. If you have time while you’re in Banff, hire bicycles and cycle the along the Legacy Trail – the scenery is spectacular. For more spectacular views there is the Banff Gondola. Fishermen can try catching their supper at Lake Minnewanka, while adventure seekers can go kayaking along Bow River.  If you’re pregnant like I was, or just plain lazy, you can always leave the action to others and just enjoy the serene beauty of the Rockies.

If you’re looking for magnificent scenery and a quintessentially Canadian experience, you can’t go wrong creating happy memories while you’re road tripping in the Rockies.

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KerrynRoad tripping in the Rockies

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