Travel Chapters: Canadian Rockies Summer Edition
So I already wrote a post about how to visit Alberta in the winter, so here is the summer version. It includes more places, mostly because places are much more accessible in the summer. I will start at Kananaskis and make my way to Jasper through Banff National Park. By no means have I covered everything!
From Calgary you will come to Kananaskis firstly on Hwy One. I highly recommend renting a car because there is a lot of driving in Canada and buses don’t operate early for sunrises or late for sunsets. You can get a bus to most of these places if you look up” Brewster” Online. They are Banff to Jasper major tour company.
If you are able to make your way to Kananaskis there are several note worthy stops to make in the area situated beside Canmore area. I can’t go into detail on the hiking in this area because they have entire books written on the different trails to hike out here. The Peter-Lougheed road runs beside spray Lakes and these lakes are a really nice place to stop for lunch. There are also a couple camp grounds along this road. Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes are also beautiful. There are many hikes around these lakes, I recommend going into the info centre and tell them what kind of trails you are looking for. They can supply you with maps and more info. Rawson Lake, Tent Ridge, Ha Ling, Chester Lake and Assiniboine all start from this large area. Highly recommend trails with all different skill levels, so do thorough research. Mt Engadine Lodge is also located in this area, probably one of my top three picks of lodges I have every stayed at, I have a blog coming on a weekend I spent out here.
The start to the Assiniboine and the heli pad to the Assiniboine is also located in Kananaskis. You can also hike in through Sunshine and hike out through Mt. Shark. It is a 30km hike one way and I would rate it difficult. The helicopter is 150$ one way and it is an 8min ride. It books up very quickly however. Nassit huts are available to book up at the Assiniboine but they are often booked 6 months in advance. Camping is also booked in advance through BC parks website.
Canmore is a very quant small town with many little shops and businesses. You could spend an afternoon strolling through downtown. The Bagel Co. is an amazing place to stop in for breakfast or lunch, and then there is also Good Earth which is an equally solid (bit healthier) choice not far in downtown as well. I haven’t done too many dinners in Canmore but I’m sure you would have no trouble finding a good eat in the town. Stoneridge Lodge is my favourite hotel in Canmore, but you have many choices and the cost and availability is often better than Banff. Banff is about a 15 min drive from Canmore. Car camping is not easy in Canmore, I recommend going to Banff to find a campground (but often booked out in high season). I am not aware of any overflow lots in Canmore or Banff. I usually always stay at the Lake Louise Overflow with my vehicle when I am tight on money.
So from Canmore you head North towards Banff. It is not uncommon to wait in a very long line for a park pass. If you want to skip the line, take the right lane into the park but be sure to stop at the info centre in downtown Banff and purchase a pass there before you head out anywhere else in the park, if you don’t purchase a pass they will stop you (there are many checks around the park). Banff is best explained as a “Nature Disneyland”. The town was built to be very tourist friendly and there are countless candy, clothing and outdoor shops to keep you busy. I recommended these restaurants in my Winter blog but I will say them again. “The Tavern” has amazing pizza and baked Mac and Cheese, I really can’t help myself from this place whenever I have a night in Banff. “Park” is also a really yummy place for lunch or dinner, and a really cool camp vibe inside. “The Wildflower” is the healthiest place with an environmentally friendly vibe, the food is amazing and baked fresh.
Again there are several hikes in Banff and area, research will be your best friend in what you are looking for. Johnston Canyon is always a hit but can be extremely busy so go very early and avoid weekends. The bow Valley parkway has quite a few hikes from it including Cory’s Pass which I haven’t done yet but I have heard good things. Wildlife is very abundant on this road called the Bow Valley Parkway and I had the pleasure of seeing the Bow Valley Pack of wolves this January. I have also seen grizzly, moose and elk from this side road. There are also many hikes around Lake Minnewanka and Tunnel Mountain. You can climb big mountains almost everywhere if you have the experience. Mt. Rundle is the big attraction in Banff. It is an extremely long hike with a lot of elevation so make sure you research before you attempt the climb.
Vermillion Lakes are a beautiful place to put the kayaks in or to sit at dawn or dusk to enjoy the colour of the sky. Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka are both stunning and off the road spots as well.
You can venture out to other back country spots from here but to be honest I haven’t done too many backcountry trips near Banff.
I find that there is quite a lot more to Lake Louise area, look up all of these lakes: Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Lake Agnes and the constellation lakes. All of these spots are within an hour from each other (some are much closer). Obviously you’ve heard of many of these before. I recommend renting a canoe on Louise or Moraine because it will be the bluest water you have ever seen, I promise you.
Hike up to Lake Agnes from Lake Louise, it is less busy and such a beautiful spot with a small tea house. Bring some money if you want to order some cake and tea. You can go up past this lake to “the Big Beehive” or even further to Devils Thumb where you can view both Lake agnes and Lake Louise from above and it is quite spectacular. There are many trails that go past the back of Lake Louise as well which can take you into an entirely new landscape and change your perspective on the popular lake.
The same goes for Moraine Lake. There are many hike from Moraine Lake, including Tower of Babel, Consolation Lake and also Sentinel Pass. Also Moraine Lake is a stunner.
Yoho National Park:
I haven’t done too much in Yoho but I want to. There are some backcountry trips I want to do in the future there. The Rockwall and Lake O’Hara are on my list but I have had no luck booking Lake O’Hara. It is a silly busy place and booking a bus and camp spot is near impossible. You can venture out to Emerald Lake and Natural Bridge however. Emerald Lake is a great place to rent a canoe or just take in early or evening light. Sunrise is best for photography here at Emerald. There are also some nice hikes around Emerald Lake.
Going down the ice fields parkway may take you an entire day…or two. There is so much to see and do that you’ll be pulling over constantly. First stop is Herbert Lake, literally right after the parkway gate and right off the road. It isn’t a crystal blue lake like most of the others but I find the mountain backdrop probably one of the best. You can take a kayak here easy or even go for a chilly swim!
Next is Bow Lake. There is a small parking lot before the larger one with an accommodation and restaurant. This is a great place to stop for a walk on the rocky shore and to have a view of the Crowfoot Glacier or the Bow Glacier.
Peyto Lake (the wolf shaped lake) is directly after Bow Lake, about 5 mins to the turn off. You have to park in the lower lot and walk 15 mins to the view platform. The upper lot is for the tour buses, and I will warn you this place is always packed with tourists. I like to go very early or very late to avoid the crowds. Sunrise is very nice here.
Waterfowl Lakes are directly off the road as well a far bit up from Peyto. A beautiful domed mountain cascades over this milky blue lake. It is worth a stop for sure.
There are many other stops along this parkway but I am only pointing out the ones I think are really worth while, if you have the time I recommend stopping whenever you can. You can also turn at the Saskatchewan crossing towards Red Deer and drive about an hour to Abraham Lake. This lake is notorious for high winds but you are allowed to camp anywhere in along this shore and the view is pretty spectacular. The water is a deep bright baby blue. Please leave no trace and respect the freedom here however. There are also Crescent Falls out this direction, it is a bit out of the way so only if you have a lot of time.
I would definitely give the Columbia Icefields a stop. These massive Icefields are receding rapidly every year so this beautiful place won’t be around for long. If you want to do a hike I recommend Wilcox pass. It is the ridge opposite to the Icefields so you can get a nice aerial view of the glacier.
If you like waterfalls, tanglefoot falls are pretty beautiful, the parking is on a corner so be careful to not miss it. You can see them from the road.
Parker Ridge is also a good stop for another hike. It gives you a view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. I can’t say I have done this one but I was told to do it.
The parkway continues to inspire and awe you all the way to Jasper where my next section will provide you with some worth while stops.
Still driving on the Parkway you will come to Sunwapta Falls. These falls are very beautiful and I would recommend stopping here for sure. There is a small tourist village at the entrance to the falls about an hour from Jasper.
After Sunwapta about 25 mins down the road is Athabasca Falls. This is a must stop for there is a beautiful canyon behind the falls with crystal blue water flowing through. Many pictures are easily recognizable at this stop.
Once in Jasper there are two places to camp, “Whistlers” and “Wapiti.” It is about $30 a night at both places. Don’t bother parking up for the night in Jasper, it is highly patrolled and you will get a ticket for sleeping in your car (its happened to me). I think this is how the city makes there money because the “No overnight camping” signs are all hidden so it’s a trap. There is a overflow lot on the outskirts of Jasper which is $10 a night I’ve been told. Hotels are everywhere as well but extremely costly and usually booked out three months in advance in high season. The park lodges are a nice choice if you do want hotel accommodation.
The best places to eat are “Patricias Deli” on main street and also the “Jasper Curry Place” if you like Indian food. It is all you can eat too (my favourite). I often go to “Bears Paw Cafes” for my coffee or “Wicked Cup.” Don’t bother going to the laundry mat, unless you have laundry, they charge you for everything (wifi, even the bathroom!). Tim Hortons is a good place to charge up batteries if you are a car camper like me.
Jasper has so much to see and do and we had the pleasure of spending close to 2 weeks there this summer. Pre-Booking backpacking trips here is a requirement though. It books up 4 months prior to the season if not more. Here is a list of the places you need to book:
Maligne Lake- “Fishermans Bay”
If you want to go to Spirit Island and get a sunrise there you must book ahead this one is majorly popular not only for photographers but it is a high sought after place to fish. The paddle is about 3-4 hours one way depending on the wind and wind direction. We stop at 4 mile point for a snack and rest for this is about half way. You also need a canoe or kayak rental. They are between 80-100$ per day. It’s steep so hopefully you have access to your own.
Tonquin Valley – “Amethyst Lake”
This is a great place to get some amazing sunrises and perhaps spot rare woodland caribou. It is about a 20km hike from the parking lot and you can do it in a loop. There are other camp sites along the way but the lake is the most beautiful and central. Its a very flat walk but notorious for very deep muddy sections. Bring Gators.
I can’t say I have done this one yet but it is on the list. I’ve been told it is a spectacular 40km loop hike on a high ridge with amazing views all around.
There are many non-backpacking places to visit in and around Jasper as well. Edith Cavell is a worth while stop. The Tonquin Valley Parking lot right before the main Cavell parking lot is a great place to stop and take a five min walk down to the Cavell Lake. It looks far from the lot but it’s actually very close to the road. Then afterwards you can drive up 5 mins to the main lot and walk to the Cavell pond view point (icebergs in this lake) and proceed to the Cavell Meadows if it isn’t closed off for Caribou migration (usually fall).
Jasper is also home to numerous amounts of wildlife. It isn’t uncommon to see Black Bear or Large Elk off the road. It is really important for you to make sure you are all the way off the highway with hazards on if you want to pull over for a better look of a wild animal. Many accidents happen because tourists stop in the middle of the highway. NEVER get out of your car. Especially with Male Elk. We saw a young boy almost get taken down by a large male elk. When the animal injures someone the parks are forced to shoot the animal so you are not only harming yourself when you want to get a closer picture, animals often suffer as well. It is a wonderful thing to enjoy wild animals but it is so important to respect their space.
I would also head to Medicine lake and read the info signs here, it has a really interesting drainage system. It is also a very pretty lake. You can keep going from Medicine Lake and head to Maligne Lake. If you don’t want to make the 8 hour paddle to Spirit Island and back you can go on the tour boats on the lake. They are pricy however and I’m not sure I believe in their large diesel motors spilling pollutants into the lake as the boats go up and down the lake close to 40 times per day. It does allow everyone to see the pretty place though however. I would take the time to canoe this lake personally.
There are many more lakes in and around Jasper that I recommend checking out if you have the time. There are many mountains to climb as well in and around the park.
Mount Robson Provincial Park:
Ah Berg Lake, did you think I might forget this gem! Never. Mt. Robson is located about an hour from Jasper towards Prince George. Berg Lake has to be one of the most spectacular areas in the Rockies. Mt Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian belt of rocky mountains at about 13,000ft. Booking this is yes, you guessed it, very difficult and often booked up well over three months before hand. There are seven sites to book along the Berg Lake trail. I recommend spending a night or two at Kinney lake. I think this lake comes close to Berg Lake’s beauty. It is about a 7km hike in to Kinney Lake from the trail head. Of course I would book Berg Lake campground, I would do more than one night here because the weather is unpredictable and there are many dray hikes in the valley. If you cant get a spot at Berg, the Robson Pass Campground is very close to the lake and a old alternative. Be sure to get your camp tags at the info centre before you go up. There are Rangers at most campgrounds (especially Berg). If you are unable to walk the 22km up to the lake and back down I highly recommend taking a flight with Robson Heli Magic. Matt who flies for RHM is a skilled and fun pilot. It also allows non strong hikers to witness the beauty of Berg. The flight over the lake is one of the best I’ve ever had. The walk down is fairly easy to do with only two small sections of downhill to walk out after the heli. Walking in and out is also a great option if you are able. The walk to Berg is one of the best. You pass beautiful Kinney lake, then go through a valley of waterfalls and then you see Emperor Falls. Emperor falls is very impressive, probably my favourite waterfall in Canada (and yes I have been to Niagara). Berg Lake is about 5km from Emperor falls campground, which is also another great place to camp. It is beside a beautiful river and the edge of Mt Robson towers beside your camp pad.
Day hikes at Berg include, Mumm Basin, Snowbird pass, and Hargreaves Lake. If you have the time I recommend all, especially Mumm Basin. Snowbird is quite a long one, 20km round trip from Berg Lake Campsite and 800m elevation gain. It is very worthwhile on a clear day though.
OKAY! Well That is a very small tiny bit of Canada in the Summer Time. I really hope this helps everyone. Please Please respect all the campgrounds and all the rules of the park so that everyone can enjoy the freedom we have for years to come. I really want everyone to experience the beauty of Canada without the place getting overused and run down. I think we should all have the same opportunity to enjoy perhaps some of the best Mountains in the world.