Those Spectacular Canadian Rockies ~ Banff and Yoho National Parks

While visiting friends in Cochrane, Alberta, we had to make the difficult decision of how to spread out our limited time in Canada.  I recall when we lived in Yellowstone shaking our heads each time a visitor came into the park with a few short hours to spend.  We wondered if it was worth the time to visit when so much would be missed.  Here we were faced with a similar decision, during peak tourist season, and I found myself as excited as those first-time Yellowstone visitors, wanting to see it all.  We were so close to many national parks so of course I wanted a taste of as much as possible, rationalizing that we could always return for more.

Our first stop was Banff National Park, in the Alberta province, where we pitched our tent for three nights at Lake Louise campground.  What began as a 16 square mile hot springs reserve is now 4125 square miles of unparalleled mountain terrain, Canada’s first National Park, home to seven National Historic Sites.  Banff, along with Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks is recognized as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Ok bear, here I come!
Ok bear, here I come!

I thought our western mountains were breathtaking, but Canada really takes it up a notch with their Rockies, a beautiful melding of heaven and earth.  There is an unspoiled “wild-ness” here, thanks to the  ice-age glaciers acting as landscape sculptors, creating the rugged mountain ranges and gouging out the valley into a deep basin.

Spectacular glaciers and turquoise lakes above treeline on the Iceline Trail
Spectacular glaciers and turquoise lakes above treeline on the Iceline Trail

The glaciers that covered the Canadian Rockies have vastly retreated but have left behind vivid memories found flowing in the turquoise and jade green waters, unusual gorges and canyons, and unique rock formations.

The next morning we set out for the much smaller Yoho National Park, in the province of British Columbia, and the second Canadian National Park.  The unusual name for this park is a Cree expression meaning awe and wonder, which was exactly what we were feeling throughout our first hike in a Canadian park.

Although the smallest of the four parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it holds some of the oldest and most significant shale fossil beds in the world, as well as 36 peaks soaring above 10,000 feet.  It packs a punch!

Takakkaw Falls - 830 foot drop in one stretch and 1260 foot drop in total, among the highest in Canada
Takakkaw Falls – 830 foot drop in one stretch and 1260 foot drop in total, among the highest in Canada

Since we had time for only one hike in Yoho, we chose a memorable hike, the Iceline Trail.  There are several ways to tackle this hike, out and back, a shorter loop and the big loop.  Guess which one I chose? 😉

Terry climbs to get a better view of Takakkaw Falls
Terry climbs to get a better view of Takakkaw Falls

The Iceline Trail via Little Yoho (the big loop) is 13-miles, with many of those above treeline.  It’s roughly 3000′ of elevation gain made for a challenging hike, but the 360º views of glaciers, flowing streams, and one of the tallest waterfalls in all of Canada made it worth the effort.

One of the infamous red chairs found after completing the Iceline Trail.
One of the infamous red chairs found after completing the Iceline Trail.

The next day we decided to scale back our hiking and chose to hike the Lake Agnes Trail in Banff National Park to a European-style tea house, the highest tea house in all of Canada. It is probably the most “civilized” way to see the Rockies.  The trail is 4-miles round-trip, with a 1300 foot elevation gain, just enough for me after our previous day’s trek.

Lake Agnes tea house
Lake Agnes tea house

And a visit to Banff is not complete without visiting the most iconic site in the park, the emerald waters of Lake Louise, where millions come every year to bask in her beauty.  It is the most famous glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies, named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter to Queen Victoria.

The iconic Lake Louise
The iconic Lake Louise

The world-famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits on the edge of the lake, striking an impressive pose.  And it looked like millions were there on the day we visited and none spoke our native tongue.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Enough though we visited during peak season and had little time to explore, we wouldn’t have passed on getting a glimpse into these two spectacular Canadian parks, and we will definitely be back.  I am already reading about Banff in the winter – snowmobiles, dog sleds, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Hubby is not convinced. 😉

Next Up:  Icefields Parkway

61 thoughts on “Those Spectacular Canadian Rockies ~ Banff and Yoho National Parks

  • Sounds like you packed a lot into a few days. Such beautiful country. Perhaps one day Don and I will go exploring in our own back yard. I’ve been to Banff and Yoho, but only to drive through – not the same as hiking. That opening shot is a beauty, and also the one of Terry alone on that narrow trail.

    • It isn’t the way we like to travel but I knew we were close enough to get back for further exploration. I’ve lived in several places where my back yard has been left unexplored…funny that.

  • Yay!! Cheering as you wander our beautiful parks. Good for you to tackle such a tough hike, one that we have not done. Of course Lake Louise is a top pick of ours since it was the scene of our honeymoon years ago. Such wonderful descriptions of your explorations. Loved this post! xoxo

  • Yes, the Canadian Rockies are spectacular and you captured some beautiful photos to prove it! Although we didn’t take the long hikes you did we made several scenic drives and never stopped being amazed at the scenery.

  • What beautiful pictures, LuAnn. Your pictures, for sure, make people want to go there. I hope I can make it up there, some day. I’ll have to work really hard, to do some of those hikes, however. I love that very tall waterfall. Thanks for making me drool.

  • Thanks for the memories:) Our trip with Glacier/Waterton/Jasper/Banff is my favorite trip in our six years. The Canadian Rockies are so spectacular that one must see them to understand. Of course, a fresh snowfall the night we arrived in Jasper sure did add to the magnificence of the area:) It was Sept. 7th and this was the earliest they have had snow in many, many years. It didn’t stay down below but made the mountains gorgeous:) The water is such a pretty color; I couldn’t get enough. So glad you got to have at least a little taste. Now you need a hard shell camping unit and return in the early fall for a longer stay:) Love the Iceline Trail hike!! Aren’t the red chairs a great idea! Your header photo is a real keeper:)

    • I did not want to leave Canada and I am already talking to Terry about a return visit. Although we didn’t get to do much, what with timing and a weather front moving in, I’m still glad we got to experience it for a short time. The fall would be a beautiful time to be there.

  • These photos are, as always, incredible. I mean, how is that lake so blue?! Beautiful, thank you for sharing x

    • We hadn’t heard of the park either until a friend told us about the Iceline Trail.
      When we were trudging above the treeline for miles on a rocky surface, I heard a voice behind me say “what are you trying to do to me?” I think I’m keeping him young. He thinks I’m vying for a 3.0 model (haha).

  • What a waterfall scene you captured there! That is the pick of a fantastic crop of photos but that is par for the course with you my friend. It’s refreshing to see such beautiful places and even better to know that people are actively celebrating them as well.

  • LuAnn, all of your photos are beautiful, but I especially love the one of you against the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. We can’t wait to experience this for ourselves—we’re thinking perhaps next September. I want to do it all—except I might skip the part of the Iceline Trail where where Terry hiked out to take a closer look at the falls. Looks terrifying. How fun that you hiked to the teahouse, too. My kind of traveling. 🙂

    • I’m already talking to Terry about a return visit next year. We had just enough time to whet our appetites. We had planned to camp along the Icefields Parkway for several days but a strong storm was moving in so we opted to just drive it instead. I will be posting that soon, just to entice you a bit more. As for the photo I took of Terry walking up to get a better look at the falls, it was a bit much for me so I decided to stay back and take his pic. There were plenty of views along the way of Takakkaw Falls, so I didn’t feel I had missed anything. Perhaps a visit together in the fall? 🙂

      • Lopez first, and then head up to the Canadian Rockies the first of September? Or do you think that would be too late? We really, really want to explore this area—it’s been on our list for several years now. It would be amazing to hike these places together! And have tea, of course. 🙂

      • That would be wonderful. I have heard that fall in the Canadian Rockies can be a bit iffy, but Pam and John found it to be wonderful. They did get snow in Jasper, but I believe it was just in the mountains. I may have to ask my friend Sue, who lives in Calgary, her thoughts on the matter.

  • We have never been to this gorgeous part of the country and probably never will. We have friends there right now. Between you two posting such awesome photos, we have an excellent idea of the scenery. I know it isn’t the same as being there though.

    I love photos of the glaciers. They’re so tall and strong and massive. I feel so insignificant just looking at them.

    What a fantastic hike. You too don’t shy away from challenges that’s for sure. My favorite photo is you I the famous red chair. The waterfall behind you just makes that a perfect picture.

    • I know what you mean Marsha. There are so many places we want to visit and probably never will so I have to content myself with drooling over others’ photos. Standing in front of the glaciers, I feel so small. It is sad to think that in a relatively short time they may all be gone.

  • Those photos brought back some wonderful memories. See you guys soon. Frank and Margee

  • I’m from ontario can.and live in new Brunswick can.and I just love the eastern life it’s just beutiful place to live.

  • I was eating a delicious chicken thigh, my most favorite, but you made me set it down just so I can stare at the incredibly wonderful views. And that header picture looks so unreal!!! I now have to be reminded not to eat chicken thigh when I visit your blog. 🙂 Until then, please excuse me. I am doing else something spectacular. 😀

    • No chicken thighs for you! Or perhaps I could entice you with my Peruvian chicken dish (made with thighs) when you return back to the states. 🙂

  • I agree the Canadian Rockies are fabulous. We took our kids when in High school skiing in that area. Staying in Banff and taking a bus to the different ski areas. Lake Louise Resort was our favorite. It has a ski lift called ‘top of the world’ that is breathtaking when it crests the mountain. We would love to see it in the summer. Thanks for the tour.

  • Spectacular scenery well captured that makes me go there now. Once again I enjoyed your giving us a peek of what to expect when our turn comes.
    Can Betsy be driven there or is it best driven in a small car?

    • Betsy will have no problem and she would enjoy the views as well. The only problem you could encounter, but I doubt it, is at the Columbia Icefields Centre, should the parking lot be full of travel buses. There were lots of buses when we were there, but I still think Betsy would have been just fine.

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