Throw a dart at any map of the Canadian Rockies and you’ll suddenly find dozens of worthy additions to a bucket list of the world’s most breathtaking destinations.
Summertime and winter visits provide totally different experiences. Below, you’ll find some of the must-see points of interest in western Alberta.
1. Moraine Lake
Located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, northwest of Banff, Hiking, canoeing, and photography lovers will consider this glacier-fed lake paradise. Summertime visits are a must, as the access road is closed most of the year. At one time Moraine Lake was prominently featured on Canada’s 20 dollar bill. A short climb up a nearby rocky trail will provide breathtaking views of the pristine lake.
2. Lake Louise
Located along the Trans-Canada Highway, Lake Louise is a favorite among travelers. According to Parks Canada, the emerald hues and glacial backdrop of the lake have wowed visitors since the 1890s. Named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, Lake Louise features year-round recreation opportunities for visitors, as well as a memorable gondola ride. Built in the late 1800s, the popular Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort hotel is located on the eastern shore.
3. Bow Lake
A quaint escape from the hustle and bustle of crowded tourist areas, Bow Lake allows visitors to experience an unimaginable serenity. A walk along the pebble-lined shores offer peaceful views of the Crowfoot and Bow glaciers and the Waputik Range. The turquoise blue waters are fed by the Bow River. Motorists traversing the Icefields Parkway may breeze past this lake, without realizing the encounter with natural beauty that lies just beyond the highway.
4. Kananaskis Country
South of Banff, a trail of highways through Kananaskis Country features fields wildflowers and views of craggy, ice-covered peaks. Numerous lakes draw novice fisherman and expert anglers alike. Parking along one of the numerous scenic overlooks, with a little patience, may provide an encounter with bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Kananaskis Resort was featured on the world stage in 2002 as international leaders gathered in the front of the Canadian Rockies for the 28th G8 Summit.
5. Sulphur Mountain
In 1883, three railway workers discovered the Cave and Basin thermal springs, now a National Historic site. A cosmic ray station was operated atop the mountain from 1956 to 1978. Spectacular views from atop the mountain (Elevation: 7,486 ft.) are provided by a fully-enclosed gondola. The bubbling mineral springs in the cave are also home to the Banff Snail, an endangered species, found nowhere else in the world.
6. Grassi Lakes
Overlooking the quiet town of Canmore, the spring-fed Grassi Lakes are home to memorable sightseeing trails that can also be a unique destination on a bright, moon-lit night. The cliffs in the distance are popular among hikers and climbers. Ancient rock paintings, believed to be more than 1,000 years old, are visible on the canyon face beyond the lakes, according to MountainNature.com.
7. Icefields Parkway
National Geographic named Icefields Parkway one of the most scenic drives in the world. Stretching 143 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper, this remote expanse of Highway 93 parallels the Continental Divide. Aside from the 100-plus glaciers, breathtaking valleys, waterfalls, and countless other natural wonders, the Glacier Skywalk is an experience unlike any other along the route. Constructed in 2014, the observation platform provides an adrenaline rush for all who step onto the deck. Glass is all that separates visitors from the glacier-formed valley 915 feet below.
8. Athabasca Glacier
One of the most unique destination in the entire Canadian Rockies is located in the remote Columbia Icefield, 2.5 hours north of Banff. The Athabasca Glacier, one of the most-visited glaciers in North America, allows visitors to walk on ancient ice that’s as thick as the Eiffel Tower is tall. The surface of the glacier is accessible via specially manufactured Ice Explorer vehicles, which are able to navigate steep grades. The crawler’s six-wheel drive configuration with low-pressure tires minimizes the environmental impact, while allowing the vehicle to tackle a 60 percent grade. Each tire is 66 inches in diameter! Once on the ice, many take a sip from the pristine water flowing along the surface. Back at the visitor center, photographs document the dramatic retreat of the glacier. In the last century, the Athabasca Glacier has receded more than a mile. Melt from the Columbia Icefield drains into three oceans: Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic, making this one of the two triple continental divides in the world.
9. Johnston Canyon
One of the most popular short hikes in Banff National Park, the catwalk along the limestone canyon walls allows hikers to experience this breathtaking ecosystem, which is accessible from Bow Valley Parkway. Two waterfalls await visitors who complete the couple-mile trail through the roar of the turbulent creek. The spray from Upper Falls is a reward for those who make the trek on a warm Summer afternoon.
10. Peyto Lake
Suspended glacial sediment is responsible for the unmistakable brilliant hue of Peyto Lake. As noted in Where Canadian Rockies magazine, the lake is shaped like head of a wolf, which are commonly spotted in the area. Signs posted in the Bow Summit trail above the lake warn of the predator’s presence.
BONUS: Picturesque sites in the Canadian Rockies
Click the video below for more exciting places to visit in western Alberta.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Raycom Media. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2016 Lane Luckie