In August 2002, we embarked on a road trip to the Canadian Rockies with our starting point in Calgary, Alberta. We caught a late afternoon flight on a Sunday from San Jose International Airport.
Our adventure began Monday morning. There was a lot of ground to cover considering the expanse of this mountain chain that divides British Columbia and Alberta for 500 miles.
On our itinerary was Waterton Lake National Park, which borders Montana, Glacier National Park in Montana, Banff National Park and the southern part of Jasper National Park. For the nature and scenery addict this landscape is world class.
From Calgary, we headed south to Waterton and Glacier parks. The countryside was lush with emerald green grass, abundant flowers and dotted with farms along the landscape. We had about a two- to three-hour drive before reaching Waterton National Park.
One thing I noticed driving along the two-lane highways was how clean everything was. Missing was the abandoned vehicles, dilapidated farm equipment and junk piles you often find on properties in the rural areas of the lower 48. I felt like I was back in Switzerland. The homes and buildings were well kept.
The Canadian Rockies southernmost point begins in Montana and continues all the way up to the Yukon Territory, literally a 1,000-mile-long stretch of wall that divides that part of North America.
Waterton Lake is home to the majestic Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1927. The park borders Glacier Park and both parks have formed the Waterton-Glacier Peace Park. You can take a lake tour and cross international borders several times during your excursion.
Only 200 square miles of land, Waterton has the greatest concentration of biological diversity with more than 25 different habitats. The park was named after the eccentric British naturalist Charles Waterton.
After our visit, we crossed the border into Montana to visit Glacier. The drive through the park is akin to driving through Yosemite, truly a must see destination. From the east we climbed a windy road that crosses the continental divide and drops down another scenic and windy journey.
If you don’t want to go to Canada to see this part of the Rockies, Glacier National Park will suffice. One can easily spend several days exploring this beautiful land.
Once on the western side of glacier, we headed north through Kalispell, Mont. and crossed the border back into maple leaf country. Now we were on the western slopes, paralleling the Kootenay River and headed towards Banff.
Something to note for the trivia buff: two smaller national parks border Banff, Kootenay and Yoho national parks. Why they’re not part of Banff? Ask the Canadians.
Lake Louise is the heart of this park aside from the city itself. Probably the most published location for picture books, posters, and artists worldwide. If you don’t go to Lake Louise, you’ve missed the Canadian Rockies.
Chateau Lake Louise started as a log chalet in 1890 and evolved into a grand hotel by the 1920s. With accommodations for several hundred, nearby area ski resorts and mountaineers from all over the planet come to train in this region as the climb the icy slopes of Mt Victoria and other nearby peaks.
Continue north along route 93, one enters Jasper national park and eventually the town of Jasper itself 150 miles further north. Along this route are numerous glaciers and ice fields that crown the peaks along the continental divide with the Columbia Icefield being the most famous. The route is nicknamed the “Icefields Parkway”.
The town of Banff is cosmopolitan. Situated in Bow Valley she is the largest town in any national park in North America.
The Banff Springs Hotel dominates the skyline and Cascade Mountain at 9,850 feet, watches over the township with an aura of divinity. Several thousand people call this township home.
Now it was time to head east towards Calgary. The demarcation from mountain fortress to prairie was sudden. One moment we’re winding our way through a gorge and then, wide open plains. Absolutely amazing!
So for your next vacation, consider a visit to the Canadian Rockies.