Why I Left My Heart In The Canadian Rocky Mountains

Why I Left My Heart In The Canadian Rocky Mountains

I don’t know why it took me such a long time to write this post. It’s just another trip report, right? Wrong. Our time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains last year was such a deep experience for me. I’m not sure why, but for some reason it really has a special place in my heart. It’s possible that it has to do with the fact that I was unknowingly building up to a severe burnout, so this trip could not have been timed any better. But maybe I truly am a wild child deep down, and I finally was able to reconnect with that part of myself again while roaming through the mountains. Looking back, I feel like all those big life decisions I’ve made recently can be traced back to our time in the Rocky Mountains.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Moraine Lake Banff

The first time I realized this was when my therapist asked me, somewhere in November, when was the last time I felt completely calm and truly in the moment. I thought about it for a few seconds and then remembered one specific moment during our Canada trip. I was sitting on a deck chair at the banks of the Athabasca River, in Jasper National Park. The sun was setting and I watched the stream of the river flowing, the majestic Rocky Mountains with its peaks covered in a soft layer of snow, and the tall lines of trees glowing in the golden evening sun. I don’t think I’ve ever been more at peace than at that exact moment. The husband snapped a photo of me and it’s one of my dearest memories of that trip. Now every time my head is full and I get overwhelmed, I think about that moment and try to get back to that peace. Yeah, I know. I’ve changed. I can actually be calm and serene. Who knew!

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Athabasca River

From City Girl To Outdoor Woman

Until recently I always considered myself to be a true city girl. The lights, the chaos, the vibe, the hustle, the bustle, I loved it. New restaurants opening every other week. Your pick of theaters or festivals. Cool museum expositions. People watching from the many, many terraces. The amazing architecture. Even the tourists who set foot in the city for the first time. I loved it. All of it. But then something happened. I’m not really sure what, when or how, but I know that it did. Something changed. I changed. This city girl couldn’t wait to leave the city and get lost in the great outdoors. I think it started with our first trip to California, and specifically our time in Yosemite National Park, where I fell in love with the feeling of being so small in something so big and majestic. Something that wasn’t man-made, but created by Mother Nature. And during our time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains it suddenly hit me: why the hell do we choose to live on top of each other in packed cities when there is so much beauty out there?

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper

In this post I will share some details of our amazing road trip through the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains, but it will mostly be a photo journal since the phrase a picture can speak a thousand words has never been more true than with these images of the gorgeous Canadian Rockies. For more footage of our Canada road trip: check out our fun little travel video.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway

The Rocky Mountains

The Canadian Rockies are the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains range, that stretches out into the United States. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are located across the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. Although most people only visit the two more popular parks of Banff and Jasper, there are five national parks located in the Canadian Rockies. Kootenay and Yoho are adjacent to Banff and Jasper and if you have time it’s definitely worth it to explore these less visited parks. Waterton National Park lies more to the south, across the Canada/US border. Although we managed to squeeze in Banff, Jasper and Yoho, we are definitely planning to get back to the Canadian Rockies for a more extended trip that will also include Kootenay and possibly Waterton.

Jasper National Park

After our amazing time on a ranch in Wells Gray Provincial Park (see this post) we made our way to Jasper National Park. Although Jasper is getting more and more visitors each year, it definitely is not as popular as its brother to the south, Banff. We booked a lovely wooden cabin at the Alpine Village Cabin Resort, which highly contributed to our Canada experience. It’s set right on the banks of the Athabasca River, and it also has a nice outdoor hot tub from where you can look out over the gorgeous Rocky Mountains. Highly recommended!

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Alpine Village

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Alpine Village

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Alpine Village

Jasper itself is a lovely mountain town where you can grab some groceries and buy all sorts of gear for your upcoming hikes. I can highly recommend stocking up on Darn Tough socks. We have never had more comfortable (and cute!) hiking socks than these babies, and we have even ordered some extra pairs when we got home. Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Alpine Village

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Alpine Village

And also: don’t forget to buy Bear Spray. Which is basically just a crazy strong pepper stray (I think they use it in the military as well). Yes, it sounds horrible, but trust me, you’d better come prepared if you run into one of the many, many grizzly bears or black bears that call the Rocky Mountains their home. I think we saw around 10 bears in the few days we were there. Almost as much as on our grizzly adventure on Vancouver Island.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Bow Valley Parkway

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Black Bear

№1 Medicine Lake

First stop when we entered Jasper was Medicine Lake. Technically it’s not a glacial lake like the many other lakes in the Rocky Mountains, but it’s an overflow lake for Maligne Lake. That said, it sure is beautiful and a wonderful welcome to the area.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Medicine Lake Jasper

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Medicine Lake Jasper

№2 Athabasca Falls

As I tried to capture with these images, Athabasca Falls is the most powerful waterfall in Jasper. You definitely don’t want to slip and fall here. Although there are enclosures and signs everywhere, we did encounter some crazy Asian teens, trying to get a group selfie right on the edge of the falls. I may or may not have yelled: “get away from there, I don’t want to see you die!”.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Athabasca Falls Jasper

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Athabasca Falls Jasper

№3 Sunwapta Falls

Like with all sights in the Rocky Mountains, well, and when you’re traveling in general, try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You will have way better light to photograph with, and there will be less crowds. As you can see, it was the middle of the day when we got to Sunwapta Falls, so I’m definitely not happy with the pictures, but since I’m always up for chasing waterfalls I guess we just have to come back here!

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Sunwapta Falls Jasper

№4 Jasper Skytram

Usually we try to stay away from these overly tourist attractions like boat tours, tram tours and bus tours, but we did make an exception for the Jasper Skytram. Simply because the views from the top can’t be beat, and you really feel like you’re on top of the world.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Skytram

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Skytram

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Skytram

№5 Maligne Lake

This is a very popular spot to take one of the aforementioned boat tours, hence we didn’t do it. If you want to make your way out to Spirit Island, in the middle of the lake, I would suggest you rent a kayak from the boat house and paddle yourself over there. We decided to do a hike along the shore, where we got away from the crowds within minutes. Full disclosure: we did, however, encounter a gazillion mosquitos. Fun times.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Maligne Lake Jasper

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Maligne Lake Jasper

№6 Maligne Canyon

This is a great spot for a hike, as you follow the canyon down on one side and you can come back up on the other side. Bonus: it’s a pretty decent workout. Work that ass!

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Maligne Canyon Jasper

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Jasper Maligne Canyon

№7 Paddling The Rockies

Pro tip: if you’re planning on spending at least a week or so in the Rocky Mountains, look into renting your own canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Non-motorized vehicles can be launched for free on pretty much every lake in the Rockies. Since we weren’t doing a loop road trip this didn’t work out for us (but we’ll definitely do it next time!). So we were super stoked to find out that you can rent paddleboards at Lake Edith. This was for sure the coolest place we’ve ever paddled (although we just got back from Maui so it might be a tie…). Quite literally the coolest, because although it was 30°C and the water looks very inviting, please note that it is still a glacial lake so be prepared to freeze your butt off if you decide to take a dip – or fall in.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies SUP Paddling Jasper

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies SUP Paddling Jasper

Icefields Parkway

The drive between Jasper and Banff is in no way any ordinary stretch of road. It is quite possibly the most beautiful highway you’ll ever have the pleasure of cruising around on.

№1 Take Your Time

My number one tip for the Icefields Parkway has to be to slow yourself down. It is only around 230 kilometers between Jasper and Banff (technically Highway 93 aka the Icefields Parkway stops in Lake Louise) but the biggest mistake you can make here is to drive it like any other highway. There’s a lot to be seen along the way and you may or may not feel inclined to stop every other mile or so.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway

№2 Columbia Icefield

Obviously the Icefields Parkway got its name for a reason, and that reason is the Columbia Icefield (although you’ll see plenty more ice and snow – depending on the season). It is the largest ice field in the North American Rocky Mountains, around 325 square kilometres, and it feeds eight glaciers. One of those glaciers is the Athabasca Glacier which you can visit by way of a special “snowcoach” transport. Yes, this is a bus tour and obviously super mega extremely touristy, but if I get the change to walk on a glacier in shorts, I will gladly (sort of) share the ride with hundreds of other people. And also, that “snowcoach” is pretty badass and our guide/driver was hilarious so it was definitely an experience I can recommend.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway Athabasca Glacier

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway Athabasca Glacier

№3 Glacier Skywalk

Another highlight of the Icefields Parkway is the Skywalk, and yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. If you look at this picture below you’ll probably think “oh, nice mountain”. Correct, but take a closer look. Look to the left please. You see that brown sort of arm entering the photo? Good. At the end of that arm you’ll notice a lot of people cramped together. On a glass skywalk. That’s right. GLASS. Now, I don’t have a fear of heights, but walking on that glass is not for the faint-hearted. Especially since they were repairing half of the glass skywalk. Yes, people. They were repairing the glass, a few feet from where we were standing. CRAZY.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Icefields Parkway Glacier Skywalk

Banff National Park

Before you enter the town of Banff, you’ll have stopped at multiple beautiful – nay, freaking stunning – sights, but for the sake of some sort of structure in this article I’ll start with the town itself. Well, all I can say is: don’t stay here. Okay, that might be a bit harsh, so I’ll rephrase. Unless you’re willing to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a place like the Fairmont Hotel, I would suggest staying in the town of Canmore. We had a great stay at the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge (although we might have checked in to the wrong hotel at first since “something something Rocky Mountain” is a VERY popular hotel name around here). Way more bang for your buck and let me tell you; you’ll spend only a few hours of sleep in your room. C’est tout. You’re in the Rocky Mountains for crying out loud, go explore and get lost in nature.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Fairmont Lodge

One thing you really should do in Banff is drive the Tunnel Mountain Road, where you can find some great viewpoints of Tunnel Mountain and the hoodoos.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Tunnel Mountain

№1 Peyto Lake

Ah, the beauty of Peyto Lake. This is unreal, right? I almost can’t blame the ignorant American woman asking her husband what they do to get the lake so blue… True story. For me, this is pretty much as good as it gets. Turquoise blue water. Lush green trees. Rugged mountain tops. A soft layer of snow. And did I mention it was 30°C during our time in the Rocky Mountains? Nature is so freaking beautiful.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Peyto Lake

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Peyto Lake

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Peyto Lake

№2 Lake Louise

Lake Louise is probably the most visited and most photographed lake in the entire Canadian Rockies. And yes, it is ridiculously beautiful. But mind you, it is crowded. So, so crowded. On the edge of the lake you can spend your hard earned cash in yet another fairytale Fairmont Hotel, but the best thing you can do at Lake Louise is get your hiking on. Only a few minutes’ walk from the boat dock will get you the peace and tranquility of the lake, and you only have to share it with a handful of others.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Lake Louise

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Lake Louise

№3 Lake Agnes Trail

This is the number one hike I would recommend around Lake Louise. You have some really amazing views over Lake Louise and if you soldier on, you’ll pass beautiful Mirror Lake and its stunning backdrop: Big Beehive. You can break your hike in the heat for some refreshments at the Lake Agnes Teahouse, that has been operating since 1905. The only way to get here is by hiking the trail – or let a horse carry you up. All the supplies for their many delicious homemade products are carried up the trail every single day. Respect guys.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Lake Louise Hike

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Lake Louise Mirror Lake

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Lake Louise Hike

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Lake Louise Lake Agnes

№4 Bow Valley Parkway

Between Banff and Lake Louise you have the option to take the Bow Valley Parkway instead of Highway 1. Since it’s a much quieter road, and you can only drive pretty slow here, you have a wonderful chance to spot some of the greats of Canadian wildlife. We not only encountered this happy looking grizzly bear (he is totally laughing on that first photo right?), but also a male elk and some mountain goats. But please, please, please, don’t be as stupid as some of the folks we saw all over the parks. Wildlife means wild animals (yeah, the name pretty much says it all, one would think). Don’t, I repeat DON’T, try to take a freaking selfie with a wild grizzly bear. Yes, we actually saw a dumbass lady – excuse my French – running towards a grizzly with a selfie stick. I. Kid. You. Not. Please, respect the animals and take photos from a distance or the safety of your car. Pro tip: rent a car with a rooftop window. Oh and bring a good telephoto lens and your binoculars. 

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Bow Valley Parkway

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Bow Valley Parkway

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Bow Valley Parkway

№5 Moraine Lake

{Insert Prince voice} Could you be, the most beautiful lake in the world? Yes, it definitely is. Just when we thought we’d pretty much seen the most beautiful lakes on the planet, we walked up to Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Sigh… I’ll shut up for a moment so you can really take it all in.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Moraine Lake

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Moraine Lake

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Moraine Lake

I know right? Crazy beautiful. Once again, if you want to get rid of some dollar dollar bills, you can leave them at the Moraine Lake Lodge. Maybe one day…

№6 Johnston Canyon

As if hiking in the Canadian Rockies isn’t exciting enough (you know, wild bears and all) there was a high alert sign at the entrance of Johnston Canyon for the infamous Bow Valley Wolf Pack (yes, capitals needed). We weren’t really sure if our Bear Spray would be of any help in case we would be chased down the canyon by a pack of wild wolves, so I can honestly say I was quite happy that there were other people around on the trail.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Johnston Canyon

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Johnston Canyon

You can do a fairly easy hike to the Lower Falls (2,4 km loop) or continue to the Upper Falls (4,8 km loop). Most people turn back at the Lower Falls so in terms of the wolf alert you’re much more likely to become prey on the Upper Falls trail, but being the rebels that we are we kept on hiking. Full disclosure: yes, I was super scared.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Johnston Canyon

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Johnston Canyon

And just as I was patting myself on the back for being oh so brave, we spotted these daredevils in their bright colored kayaks. I mean, you have to be pretty badass if you’re willingly throwing yourself off a waterfall.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Johnston Canyon

№7 Vermillion Lakes

And what’s better than to end an adventurous day in the Rocky Mountains, than to enjoy a beautiful evening at a beautiful lake? Pro tip: bring some drinks and snacks and make a sunset cocktail hour out of it.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Vermillion Lakes

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Banff Vermillion Lakes

Yoho National Park

Although we didn’t have enough time to spend multiple days in Yoho National Park, I’m very happy that we decided to take a little detour before heading for Calgary. Yoho is much less visited than Jasper and Banff, and it has just as much beauty to offer.

№1 Emerald Lake

If you are keen on renting a canoe on one of the lakes in the Canadian Rockies, I can highly recommend you do it at Emerald Lake. Most people go for the canoeing experience at Lake Louise, and by all means do that if you don’t mind sharing the lake. But if you’re looking for a somewhat more intimate experience, Emerald Lake is where you need to be. We had a lovely and quiet picknick with this amazing view.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Yoho Emerald Lake

№2 Natural Bridge

Even though it’s technically not a waterfall, I think the Natural Bridge in Yoho trumps all the waterfalls we’ve seen in Jasper and Banff. I mean, how gorgeous is this? And I really love the little clip we made here for our Canada travel video.

Canada Rocky Mountains Canadian Rockies Yoho Natural Bridge

We’ll be back…

Yes, I know I say this a lot. But, we’re definitely coming back to the Canadian Rocky Mountains asap. In fact, we already planned a trip back here for this summer, but being pregnant and all kinda made us change our travel plans. Not that I think this is not a destination for preggo women, but I just prefer being able to do a lot of hiking to see even more amazing sights. We’ll just have to bring our little one next year! Of all the places in the world I’ve been to so far, the Rocky Mountains definitely have a piece of my heart ♡.

In a few weeks we’ll be going on a different kind of adventure: island hopping on the Azores Islands. I’m super excited to go to these gorgeous islands between Europe and America. So stay tuned!

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Canada Rocky Mountains Road Trip Banff Jasper Yoho National Parks

 

 

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