You’ve seen the pictures: lush mountain meadows spread beneath craggy peaks, turquoise lakes, thundering falls and endless kilometers of virgin forest. From the prairie city of Calgary to rustic Jasper, the Canadian Rockies beckon you on an unforgettable, and easily-drivable journey. Take a few days to explore some of nature’s best masterpieces, and also get a little luxury R’n’R in too.
Calgary to Banff: The Mountains Are Calling
The route begins in Calgary at The Fairmont Palliser, offering warm Western hospitality since opening its doors in 1914. When you're ready to hit the road again, consider taking Highway 1A, rather than the Trans-Canada Highway. This road less traveled takes you through the rolling foothills into the Rockies and past views of hidden lakes, streams and wildlife. Enter Banff National Park to encounter a landscape of staggering beauty. Meltwater pools in the alpine lakes and rushes down the valley walls and into flowing rivers, as mountains rise all around.
Within the park, the town of Banff awaits. “It’s special in that it embraces the surrounding wilderness,” says Sarah Pearson, manager of public relations for The Fairmont Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge. “It’s not uncommon to see elk and mule deer wandering through town.” You may spot them nibbling the fragrant cinquefoil and Alberta wild roses that perfume the air.
For people food, locals rave about Nourish Bistro, a vegetarian restaurant on Bear Street. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike enjoy the nachos with 23 different ingredients, including strawberries. A two-minute walk from Nourish, Canada House Gallery features impressive creations by Canadian painters, sculptors and Inuit artists.
The Fairmont Banff Springs is known as “the Castle in the Rockies” for a great reason. Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, the UNESCO World Heritage Site has stood for more than 125 years. “It’s as beautiful to look at, as it is to look out from,” says Pearson. Enjoy the sweeping views while taking Afternoon Tea in the Rundle Lounge.
Glacier-clad peaks surround Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies”
Banff to Lake Louise: Ink Pots and Paintbrush
Driving from Banff to Lake Louise, take Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) for a slower, winding drive with scenic views and a greater chance to see wildlife. At Johnston Canyon, park and hike through narrow canyon walls to the Ink Pots, deep pools of water in brilliant hues of blue and green. Abundant Indian paintbrush flowers decorate the landscape. Never pick these wild beauties (it is forbidden), but you can pluck the very center of a blossom and taste the nectar, which is similar in flavor to honey.
Stop at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery in the village of Lake Louise for one of their hearty cookies before ascending on your drive to Lake Louise, the “Jewel of the Rockies.” Soaring peaks cradle the lake’s emerald waters, with Victoria Glacier beyond. Have lunch in the Lakeview Lounge of The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where enormous windows overlook this dramatic gem of natural beauty, providing the most awesome of dining experiences.
After lunch (and perhaps a short nap), hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. It is a great half-day adventure with a rewarding pastry and cup of tea waiting for you upon arrival. For dinner, continue the European theme with fondue at Chateau Lake Louise's innovative alpine restaurant, Walliser Stube.
Lake Louise to Jasper: Waterfalls and Wildlife
Onwards from your stay in Lake Louise, a majestic realm of forested river valleys, crags and glaciers lies north along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Plan an entire day to drive this route, “Not because it’s a long drive,” says Pearson, “but because you’ll want to appreciate it. This is one of the most beautiful roads in the world.”
Stop for hikes at Crowfoot Glacier and breathtaking Peyto Lake. Do your refueling and have a bite to eat when you reach Saskatchewan River Crossing; it’s the only commercial place to stop between Lake Louise and Jasper. Cross into Jasper National Park and arrive at the Columbia Icefields. A shuttle bus departs from the Icefields Centre, taking you to the Glacier Skywalk, a unique attraction recently opened in May 2014. Jutting from the side of a cliff, this glass-floored observation platform is 280 meters above Sunwapta Valley. It’s dizzyingly beautiful.
Have your camera ready for the next stretch of road, because you’re likely to see abundant wildlife. Pay particular attention at Kilometre 38. There’s a natural mineral lick beside the parkway that’s appealing to mountain goats.
Jasper: Rustic Charm and Starry Nights
Train whistles regularly punctuate the pine-scented air of historic Jasper. The surroundings are laced with trails and sprinkled with small lakes.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge wraps around the shores of Lac Beauvert. A year-round mountain resort, the lodge is set on 700 acres and features a top-notch golf course. Also, Jasper is part of a Dark Sky Preserve. If you can manage it, stay up late into the night and you can see amazing constellations, shooting stars, the Milky Way, planets; it really is spectacular.
In town, visit the Bear’s Paw Bakery for a steaming mug of mountain-roasted coffee and a raspberry white-chocolate scone. For a thoughtful gift for friends, stroll over to Tea Leaf Boutique. In addition to a selection of blended loose teas, the shop offers an eclectic mix of women's fashions and accessories.
“I’m always blown away by how beautiful this drive is, because it changes all the time depending on how the clouds are, or the light, or the time of day,” says Pearson. “I love, love, love the Canadian Rockies. It’s such a great driving holiday.”
Holly Bowne is a freelance writer based in Michigan. She specializes in travel, parenting, health & wellness topics. Her work has appeared in regional, national and online publications.
Banff Springs Hotel 01 by Adam Kahtava
Lake Louise by Mark Stephenson
Classic view of a cloudfree Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada by Frank Kovalchek
Elk: Wildlife beauty in Jasper National Park by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ
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