Silver Travel writer Kerry Gallagher travelled to Alberta, Canada to explore the highlights of the Rocky Mountains.
Hello jet lag. It’s 4am on the first day of my travels in Alberta, Canada. The sun hasn’t risen, the birds are still asleep, but I’m wide awake. After another hour or so I decide there’s no point fighting it, so I get up and plan to go for a wander to get my bearings in Banff, the first stop on my tour of the Rocky Mountains. As soon as I step foot out of my hotel I am, probably for the first time in my life, thankful to jet lag. The main avenue is deserted, not a soul in sight. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful and so very pretty. I soak up the rustic, Alpine style buildings, oozing with charm and character and wonder if this could be the best time of day to appreciate the beauty of Banff. My thoughts are confirmed when I glance to my right and see the light of day start to creep from behind what I later found out was Cascade Mountain. A stunning sunrise scene, and just the beginning of many breathtaking moments in the Rocky Mountains.
Banff is a delight. The three days spent here were packed with activities and adventures, from scaling Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola, sightseeing at a leisurely pace on an e-bike tour, and hiking short trails to take in some fantastic scenery. From the Hoodoos Viewpoint you can see these unique rock formations framed by a backdrop of forest and mountains; and at Surprise Corner you’ll be afforded one of the best views of the Bow River and perched above it, the iconic castle-style Fairmont Banff Springs. But for me, the true highlights and best landscapes were found at the lakes dotted on the doorstep of Banff.
Lake Minnewanka is located just 5km from Banff’s downtown area, and is easily reached by car or the Roam public transport system. Its glacier blue waters glisten as the mountains behind stand tall and proud, a picturesque scene just made for a postcard. At the lake you can take a boat cruise to Devil’s Gap, or grab a paddle and canoe your way across the waters. There’s also hiking trails, cycling and fishing available. But I’d recommend you make some time for a quiet moment or two with a lakeside picnic to appreciate the pristine glory of the Rockies. Other lakes in the areas which are also well worth a visit are Two Jack Lake which is dominated by sweeping views of Mount Rundle on the far shore, and Vermilion Lake which can be reached on a short hike from the centre of Banff via the Fenland Trail.
As difficult as it was to leave Banff, the journey must continue. And the journey took us north along the Icefields Parkway – a 227km stretch of mountain road dubbed one of the most scenic drives in the world. I can see why! It winds through forests, passed waterfalls and alongside glacier lakes, this is not a car ride you want to doze off on. Not only because the scenery is so jaw-dropping but also because the chances of spotting wildlife are very high. On this one journey alone, I was lucky enough to spot two different sightings of black bear, one of which was a mama and her cub, and an incredible sighting of a large male grizzly bear. What a sight to behold!
Halfway along the Icefields Parkway we arrive at Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains which feeds six glaciers, and presents an entirely different landscape of snow and ice, a winter wonderland all year round. I wasn’t prepared for this sharp contrast from the balmy days in Banff, so after purchasing an emergency bobble hat it was time for an experience unlike any other – a walk on Athabasca Glacier. The glacier is reached on the Ice Explorer – a giant heavyweight truck with wheels that are taller than me! This huge all-terrain vehicle navigates its way down steep inclines and onto the glacier. Stepping out onto the ice is a magical moment, underfoot lie thousands of years’ worth of compact snow, 360 metres in fact, while above tower steep snow-covered mountains in every direction. It’s hard to process the vastness of the surrounding landscape.
After spending the night in nearby Jasper, it was time to return once again to Banff National Park, and this time to the beauty spot of Lake Louise. Visiting in late May the lake is still frozen, which gives a different dimension to the iconic lakeside scene which you may be familiar with from pictures. The mesmerising turquoise waters were replaced with a sheet of ice that sparkles under the sun, while bursts of blue make every effort to fight their way through as some areas of the lake start to thaw. From the shore a short walking trail leads to the Fairview Lookout providing sweeping views of the lake and its guardian – the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. But the best view, in my opinion, is the first time you lay eyes on the lake. As you make your way from the main parking area, following the pathway, you round the corner and there it is, it’s a truly majestic sight.
It’s not often I struggle to put things into words – that’s a writer’s job after all! But during my time in the Rocky Mountains I found myself lost for words on more than one occasion. Instead, the incomparable images are imprinted in my mind. The landscapes, the scenery, the sheer beauty of our wonderful world. It’s awe-inspiring, it’s breathtaking and it’s a place in the world you won’t forget any time soon.
Follow in our footsteps
Kerry flew to Calgary with Air Canada and travelled the Rocky Mountains with guided touring specialist Travelsphere. The 10-day Rockies Winter Wonderland tour starts from £1,949pp including private chauffeur service to the airport, return flights from London Heathrow, accommodation, selected meals and a tour manager.
For more information on holidays to Canada and touring options, speak to our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.