August 27, 2017

Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

by Steve Winogradsky

Upon leaving Vancouver and British Columbia, we drove east to Alberta and Banff National Park, located in the Canadian Rockies. I had never been to the Rocky Mountains, and I was constantly amazed at how beautiful they are. Everywhere we looked, there were peaks that defy description, so I will let these photos give you an idea of their grandeur. As we were staying in Canmore, on the east side of the park, we drove the Trans Canada Highway through the park before our visit "officially" began.

Due to wildfires in the area, there was usually a haze of smoke everywhere we went, which prevented clear photos of the mountains, but a close look at these pictures should give you a good idea of what we experienced. Even though it was the end of July, there was still snow on the upper peaks.




As we drove into the park, we noticed that some freeway overpasses were covered in vegetation, to provide a wildlife corridor from one side of the highway to the other.

Note the vegetation on the overpass.
On our first full day, we decided to go to Lake Louise, on the west side of the park. At the official entrance to the national park, we stopped to obtain a pass needed to park our car anywhere within its boundaries. To our delight, the ranger told us that it was Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation, and that all park passes were free and good until the end of 2017. We wished him a Happy Anniversary and proceeded on our way.

Due to its popularity, and limited space within the town of Lake Louise and near the lake itself, all the parking lots were full. Instead, the Interior Dept. set up a free shuttle service about two miles away from the town, where we parked, grabbed our backpack with food and water, and hopped on a school bus for a 15 minute ride to within about a quarter mile of the lake itself. The source of the water in the lake is runoff from the nearby glaciers, and the "rock flour" runoff from the glaciers is what causes the water to be so blue. It has to be seen in person to be believed, but these photos will offer a sample.

Snow on the mountains behind Lake Louise
The bluest water I have ever seen
At one end of the lake is the Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury resort pictured above in a photo taken from the Fairview Lookout, a 1.5 mile hike from the resort. It was a steep climb, but we made it! There were people canoeing on the lake. Everything was so beautiful that we didn't mind the crowds of tourists gathered around the edges.

On the second day, we drove the Bow Valley Parkway, a wilderness corridor with a low speed limit. Note that the sign is in English and French, as Canada is officially bilingual.


There were numerous reports of bear activity in the area, so we bought the bear spray that was highly recommended by all the local authorities. Luckily, we did not need it, as we did not see any bears. We did, however, see a herd of bighorn sheep that wandered down to the road for a snack, drawing a crowd of people. Some of the people tried to get too close to the sheep, which all the signs warned against, but the tourists didn't care. Fortunately, no one - sheep or human - got hurt.


In order to thin out some of the trees and vegetation and to stimulate plant growth by getting the nutrients back into the soil, there are sometimes prescribed burns of sections of the park. Here is a photo of a section of a prescribed burn from 1993 where vegetation had been rejuvenated.


Because of the numerous wildfires in the region, there was a complete ban on fires of any kind.


As we continued to drive, we saw more amazing views and some less threatening creatures.

Castle Mountain

What are you looking at?
Later that day, we went into the town of Banff, which was lined with hotels, shops and restaurants catering to the many tourists that were there. At the edge of town was the headquarters of the Parks Dept., with lovely gardens to stroll through. To get there, we had to cross the Bow River, which winds from Lake Louise through the park to the town of Banff and beyond.

Parks Dept headquarters

A view back into the main street of Banff

The Bow River as it passes through town
That night we ate in Canmore, where we saw a double-decker food truck, with a dining room on the second level.

We have seating on the upper level.  Do you have a reservation?
And, as they take the policy of being bilingual seriously, we saw this at breakfast on the day we left.

Leaving Banff to head back to the US, we passed the Continental Divide (which we did several more times on our subsequent travels) and drove though some areas where we could actually see some flames and very heavy smoke from the wildfires, to the point that our visibility was severely hampered.

Which way do I go?

These motorcyclists are not that far in front of us and still hard to see in all the smoke.
All in all, I was awestruck by the beauty of the landscape and the majesty of the mountains and can't wait to go back again. And we look forward to using our Canadian park pass as we travel further east across the US and Canada.


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