My friend wouldn't spend the money to go up the Gondola to the top because "he'd been on gondolas before" - I decided that it was worth my while and money! I think that I was right, because it wasn't just about the ride, it was the view from the top - the chance to see all around.
Do go up - but do wear warmer clothes and some walking shoes so that you can enjoy yourself up there. You can walk around, or even walk down if you so desire.
I stopped at Castle Mountain, which is half way between Banff and Lake Louise, on a few occasions during my visits to the Canadian Rockies. This mountain was named in 1858 by James Hector because it had an appearance of a castle. The mountain was renamed as Eisenhower in honour of the US president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, after World II, but then was reverted back to the original name in 1979. However, there is a pinncale on the mountain called Eisenhower Tower. There is a picnic spot nearby and this area including the mountain is popular for hiking and climbing.
Here, you get a chance to soak in naturally heated mineral water ( sometimes the staff help mother nature a little). The water is monitored frequently to keep it at least at 40C. Recently, they have had to add some municipal water to the pool, as the drought that Alberta has been experiencing every summer has been drying up the natural source.
The Upper Hot Springs consists of a large soaking pool, plus an a shallow area for children as well. There is also a spa here , offering massages and body treatments.
The best time to visit here is in the winter, where the contrast between the cold air and hot water is invigorating, plus you can't beat the view of the snow covered mountains. During the summer, try coming later at night, around 10 pm to avoid the crowds. The cost is $7.50 per entry, and if you want a private soak, $250.00 an hour.
The closest lake to the park entrance just north is Lake Minnewanka, or "Water of the Spirits" in the Stoney Indian language. It is just 5 km (3 miles) from the town in Banff and is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies.
A dam built in 1942 burried a village, some pilings and an even older dam, making this a popular place for scuba diving.
Many complain that Banff National Park is over-crowded and as Canada's most popular National Park, it does get its fair share of visitors but with over 1000 miles of trails, it is not likely all of them are jam-packed. Of course, the trails around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake get the most action so if seeking solitude, they are not your best choice. That said, we chose to do just that as with limited time in the park, I wanted to show my wife an area I knew to be quite beautiful despite the crowds and development.
The Plain of Six Glaciers is a 5.3 kilometer one-way hike that takes you along the shore of Lake Louise before rising up 365 meters into an alpine area featuring six glaciers. Unfortunately, the glaciers have receded a lot due to global warming and you may have to strain a bit to see some of them. It remains a beautiful hike though it is very busy up to a teahouse half-way up the trail. Beyond that it is a scree walk and thins out quite a bit. This is a pretty hike in itself but can easily be connected to the Beehive hike and Lake Agnes. By doing that, you will be hiking 14.6 kilometers which will take about 5 hours, only about an hour more than returning the way you came though you will have an additional climb by combining the two.
Lake Agnes gets lost in the shuffle between its more famous sister lakes of Louise and Moraine but though smaller and a tad less pretty, it is surely a better place to find some solitude. Of course, to do that, you will have to head to the far end of the small lake.
Lake Agnes is only a 3.5 kilometer hike from Lake Louise though you pick up a fairly steep 385 meters of elevation along the way. This will bring you to a charming little teahouse that serves light snacks and beverages. For many, this is what makes this area special, for others it is a sign of over development. Since I do not use such facilities, I fall into the later category but there are only a couple in the park so there are numerous trails without such man made structures.
The round trip to the teahouse is around 2.5 hours. On the opposite side of the lake, you will escape 90% of the people that hike up to the teahouse and can continue on to make a circuit rather than return the way you came. You can also connect this hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers that way.
The Bow Valley Parkway is the original #1 highway through the park. It is now the #1A highway, and is called the Bow Valley Parkway. This roads winds its way for 31 miles through the forest and along the Bow River just north of the Trans Canada Highway. It is a very scenic and relaxing route to get from Banff to Lake Louise. While the road is open year round, the eastern half from Banff to Castle Mountain Junction is closed from 6pm to 9am from March 1 to June 25, due to spring mating season.
This road is a great place to spot wildlife. Due to the curving nature and slower pace of this road, it is also a great road for a motorbike. I would caution all riders though to keep a sharp watch for wildlife and don't ride this road in the early morning or after about 6:00 pm, due to the increased activity of deer and elk during these periods. All drivers are cautioned to follow the posted speed limits on this road, since there are collisions with wildlife on this highway all year round.
The Bow Valley Parkway is the access road to Johnston Canyon. There are also numerous pull-outs along this road, many of which explain the geography of the area. Also along this route is a monoment honouring the many Ukrainians who were held in internment camps in this area during the war. There are also a couple of campgrounds along this road. As an FYI to campers, these campgrounds tend to be the last ones to fill up daily, so keep that in mind if you don't have a reservation and are looking for a site inside the park.
Located well inside Jasper National Park, I had to make the drive to Maligne lake to visit spirit Island. The island itself is a cluster of only about 30 or 40 trees on a small spit of land just offshore. The only way to access the island is by a 1.5 hour roundtrip boat tour where you will only spend approximately 15 minutes at the island site. This was a must see for me as spirit Island was another iconic Canadian image that i had seen photos of several times in my life. Having finally had the chance to visit was amazing. The island, with it's emerald green waters, is a very special place, to see photos does not do it justice. It is a tranquil, peaceful and beautiful spot which seems to encompass the nature of the entire park.
The name Spirit Island comes from an American photographer who first photographed the Island in the 1930's. He entered his photo in a national Kodak photo contest and won.When asked why he chose to name his photo "Spirit Island", he declared that he felt this image embodied the true spirit of the Canadian Rockies. Hard to argue that.
Maligne Canyon is located well within Jasper national park. The canyon is very narrow and has rushing watter at the bottom some 40-50 feet below. you can walk the paved pathways that run along the top of the canyon but often times the views looking down are not the greatest. I'd researched visiting the canyon in the wintertime as the wate freezes over which allows you to walk along the canyon floor on the ice. That, i think, would be amazing!
Formerly the glacier had three pronounced fingers that appeared to be gripping the mountain in the same way a crows foor would. The third and lowest "finger" of the glacier has melted away leaving only two. This was a quick stop along the icefeilds parkway but i'm glad i took the time.
Measuring in as Canada's second highest waterfall, Takakkaw Falls doesn't not dissappoint. The official measurement puts the falls at 384 meters. The water hits the rock part way down causing the water to shoot outwards which makes for a great site to see. The actual freefalling water travels 254 meters down. Because of the height the water drops, there is s lot of mist in the air, so much so that you need to take care of your cameras and realize that if you spend 10 or 15 minutes close enough to the base of the falls, you'll leave soaking wet.
I loved the hike up to the lake agnes teahouse. the Hike was challenging enough taking around 1.5 hours to hike to the end along the way being treated to some amazing mountain scenery. While lake Louise is, for the most part, not visible because of tree cover, you will get great views of the big beehive, Mirror lake and lake agnes, as well as the waterfall located directly beside the teahouse. this was the highlite of my visit to lake louise and i would reccomend this hike to anybody! The beauty of this hike is that way up in the mountain, at the end of the hike you can relax, have something to eat or drink before heading back down. The teahouse has a small staff that operate the business and because of the time and energy used to get up to the teahouse the staff remains there overnight until their days off. behind the teahouse you'll see the living quarters.
There are a few hikes available while visiting Lake Louise and the chateau. Close to the end of the hike up to the lake Agnes tea house you will come across the very beautiful and very small mirror lake with the big bee hive accompanying it in the background. The bee hive is a giant rock formation that has a large rounded, rather unique rock face that faces the lake side. I thought that this would have been worth the hike alone but from this point you can continue further upwards and visit lake agnes and its accompanying tea house.
Located along highway 1A, also known as the bow valley parkway, only minutes before you reach the town of Banff, you'll come across a viewpoint called Morants Curve. Here you'll be treated toa very scenic photo as the river and the railway tracks that hug the shoreline take a very scenic bend and head towards the mountains. You can get a very nice picture and all it will cost you is a 5 minute stop on a road you will probably be traveling anyways.
Castle mountain becomes more spectacular as you get closer to it. Aptly named in my opinion as the jagged spear like summit does resemble the turrets of a castle. This mountain was actually re-named Eisenhower Mountain in recognition of US General Eisenhower's command of the allied forces during WWII. Citizens worldwide were saddened by the name change of their beloved mountain. This convinced the Canadian Government to revert back to the original name however the most prominant point on the mountian was named the Eisenhower Peak. While i was researching this trip another VT'er spoke about how specail this mountain was to her. I can honestly say that castle mountain did have a very powerful allure that makes it a little more special than the other mountains in the park. Let me know what you think should you ever have the priviledge of visiting this treasure in the Canadian Rockies.
Pyramid Lake Road, 5 km from Jasper, Jasper, Alberta, T0E 1E0, Canada
Good for: Business
Friend's of mine were visiting Alberta so we decided to splurge and share a room at the Fairmont...more
This is a fantastic place to stay if you are on a budget. The rooms are well equip with everything...more