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One of the first trips I planned and paid for entirely by myself was a ski trip to Whistler with a quick whiz around the Canadian Rockies the year after my internship. The beauty of the Canadian Rockies in winter was such that this trip will forever live on in my memories as one of my favourite holidays. There’s so much in this world that I want to see that I don’t usually return to the same destination twice. However, the Canadian Rockies is such an amazing sight that, not only did I return in the summer for a road trip with some of my best friends, I could quite happily go back again.
One of my first blog posts was about travelling the Canadian Rockies in winter by Greyhound bus, going from Vancouver to Kamloops, then heading counter clockwise and finishing at Jasper. Today, I’d like to share with you some photos showing you that the area is just as stunning in the summer. Our summer itinerary included an overnight sleeper train from Vancouver to Jasper, where we picked up a rental car and drove clockwise back towards Vancouver. I had just as fantastic a time on both trips, but the added flexibility of self driving and the crazy times that always ensue on a road trip with friends probably tips the scale slightly towards my second visit.
Disclaimer: I lost all my Canadian Rockies photos when my home was broken into and my laptop got stolen! Luckily for me, I had already backed up all my photos from my previous trips. The only photos I lost were from that most recent trip and, unfortunately, some photos I’d taken at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party. Two takehome messages? (1) Always back up your photos. (2) Travelling with friends has the added benefit of you having back up photos – yay! All pics taken that follow are courtesy of L. Who, let’s face it, takes better photos than I do anyway!
We would have loved to take the Rocky Mountaineer, but due to significant price difference, opted for Via Rail’s overnight journey from Vancouver to Jasper with a pitstop at Kamloops. The service and comfort level were excellent, so I’m really glad we decided to save those pennies!
We had an early dinner before arriving at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station for check-in for an 8.30pm departure. As there were 4 of us, we had booked a 4 bunk cabin, which includes 4 very roomy seats by day. As you can see, each seat is large enough for me to lie back in and enjoy the view. Check-in baggage is stowed away by Via Rail, so all we had to do was to leave our overnight necessities in our cabin, then off we went to the panoramic car upstairs with our personal belongings to watch as our train chugged off into the sunset. We returned just in time to see one of the Via Rail staff converting our seats into bunk beds. The beds were cosy and comfortable, and with the rocking of the train, it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep!
Breakfast and lunch the next day were both silver service affairs in a separate dining car with large panoramic windows. Make sure you listen to the Via Rail announcements carefully as they do warn you when a particularly scenic viewpoint is coming up. We arrived at Jasper at 4pm, where our luggage was efficiently unloaded, and our rental car was already waiting for us.
Maybe it’s the bias of first love and, as an Australian, that novelty factor. If I must be honest, I still think the Canadian Rockies are more beautiful wrapped in a layer of powdery white snow. However, the benefits of visiting in the summer are long daylight hours, the clear blue skies, and of course, those mirror lakes. Despite not leaving Jasper station until about 5pm, we were able to squeeze in a stop at Pyramid Lake, where A and K paddled around for about an hour in one of those boats powered by foot pedals, before checking into our overnight lodge by Patricia Lake. As an added bonus on this self-drive trip, we were able to stop for wildlife photos, for instance when we saw these wapiti (white butts) by the roadside.
The next morning saw us driving towards Maligne Lake for a boat ride towards the unbelievably picturesque Spirit Island with the surrounding rugged mountains and the lake water an almost unreal shade of turquoise to match those pretty little jewellery boxes I love so much (ha!). Even our boats were in matching blues.
We rounded off our day with a walk around Maligne Canyon, followed by a pitstop at Miette Hot Springs, where I’m quite sure we were frightened off by the crowds!
The next day was about water and ice. The first stop, Athabasca Falls, was an eye-opener to me as I had previously seen it completely frozen over. Given how fast-flowing the water is in the summer, you can imagine how cold it gets in the winter!
Next, Sunwapta Falls, which is less crowded but probably more picturesque in my opinion, with that small island right in the middle of it.
Tangle Falls is right by the roadside and definitely worth a stop if you have your own wheels.
Our attention shifted towards the snow capped moutains as we made our way through the Columbia Icefields towards Athabasca Glacier.
That’s the view from the Athabasca Glacier Visitor Centre, where you can purchase tickets for a snocoach tour onto the glacier!
You’d think that ticking “standing on a glacier” off your bucket list would be enough excitement for one day. Not in Canada…
Roughly an hour drive away is the uniquely shaped Peyto Lake and nearby Bow Lake.
Just over half an hour from there is perhaps the jewel in the crown, beautiful Lake Louise. I highly recommend staying overnight at the Deer Lodge while you’re there. I stayed there on both my visits to the Canadian Rockies, and both times found both the service and dining options to be excellent. The Deer Lodge is styled as a cozy log cabin with an outdoor rooftop spa tub. It’s clean and comfortable, but best of all, it’s situated right next to Lake Louise, which means it’s a much more affordable option compared to staying at the Fairmont Lake Louise next door. As to why you should stay overnight instead of just stopping for a quick visit en route to Banff? This place is seriously stunning and should be enjoyed at both sunset and sunrise, in my opinion. In the summer, allow enough time to go for a walk around the lake in the morning before you depart for your next stop.
It’s a slight detour to Moraine Lake, but make sure you don’t miss this picturesque stop, giving yourself enough time to walk the easy 1.4km Rockpile Trail, which rewards you with amazing views of the lake at the top.
Our next stop was Johnston Canyon, which again looked very different in the summertime compared to when I previously went snowshoeing there in the winter!
Finally, a quick drive up Mount Norquay for our first look at Banff before driving into town for the night.
In Banff, you must of course take the gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain for magnificent views over town. No visit to Banff is complete without visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and admiring it from multiple vantage points. Other sights include Bow River and Falls, nearby Lake Minnewanka, a stroll through Cascade Gardens where you’ll find a lovely view of town with Cascade Mountain in the background, and the town itself is very cute and deserves a wander through.
The last two days involved a great deal more driving but were no less scenic. Our penultimate day saw us driving into Yoho National Park, where we stopped at Takkakaw Falls. We next stopped for a little picnic by the aptly named Emerald Lake, before driving onwards to Sun Peaks, where we spent the night.
On our last day, we stopped by Whistler Village on the way back to returning our car in Vancouver, but to be honest, it wasn’t half as pretty as it is during the winter. This is one stop that could be removed from your summer itinerary if you’re short of time.
For your convenience, I’ve included a rough map showing the figure 8 loop that we completed over our 7 day/6 night rail and road trip.
Have you been to the Canadian Rockies? Did you visit in the summer, winter, some other time, or several times throughout the year? If so, which is your favourite time of year to enjoy the Canadian Rockies? What other sights would you suggest adding to the itinerary for the next time I visit?
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