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Traveling Through a Postcard in the Canadian Rockies
Posted March 25, 2021
With apologies to some other scenic spots, there may be no more breathtaking display of natural beauty in North America than the forests, lakes, rivers, and soaring peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
The region is rightly celebrated for its landscapes, and it’s almost impossible to visit and not come away with some incredible photographs. But on our Canadian Rockies Explorer small group tour, we do much more than simply observe the scenery. Read on for an overview of our adventurous, hands-on trip through the rugged Canadian Rockies.
Riding the Red Jammers
After landing in Calgary and traveling to Montana’s Glacier National Park, we get our first encounter with both the history and natural splendor of this region via our ride on the Red Jammers. Boarding these canvas-topped convertibles is like stepping back in time, as the Red Jammers have carried park visitors since the 1930s.
These buses take their name from the sound of the early drivers jamming the manual transmission into low gear to negotiate steep roads, and we get an idea of how difficult this drive once was, as we negotiate fabled Going-to-the-Sun Road. This twisting, winding mountain pass traverses some 50 miles of parkland, offering us a series of unparalleled views as we make our way west across the Continental Divide.
Strolling along the Athabasca Glacier
A week into our tour, we board another vehicle uniquely suited to its environment, as we embark the Ice Explorer for our drive to Athabasca Glacier. The glacier sits in Banff National Park’s Columbia Icefield, at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet. It’s the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains, a tract of snow and ice roughly the size of Kansas City.
Equipped to drive right onto the glacier, the massive Ice Explorer boasts super-sized tires specially designed for glacier travel. Upon reaching Athabasca, we disembark and have the chance to stroll along the frozen surface of the glacier. Here, we’re able to take in the bracing air, admire the scenery, and fill our water bottles. Driving back to civilization while sipping glacier water is an experience that few travelers can say they’ve enjoyed.
Cruising the impossibly charming Maligne Lake
During our stay in Jasper, the scenery is once again the star of the show. After viewing Maligne Canyon, a geological marvel where the limestone bedrock has been eroded by several underground rivers to a depth of 160 feet, we embark on a cruise along cerulean Maligne Lake. The largest glacially formed lake in the Canadian Rockies, Maligne ranks as one of the region’s most popular destinations, and with good reason.
While it’s hard to take your eyes (or camera lenses) away from the sky-scraping mountain peaks, dark green forests, and three glaciers ringing the lake, the highlight of our cruise is Spirit Island. This tiny, yet acclaimed, islet of a few trees makes for a wonderful – and uniquely Canadian – photo opportunity.
Tiptoeing across the Columbia Icefield Skywalk
Sometimes, the scenery in the Canadian Rockies is simply too massive to engage with. And when you can’t ride, hike, or cruise through a landscape, you do the next best thing: you walk into the sky.
During our time in Jasper, we enjoy an exhilarating experience as we tiptoe along the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. One of the most unique ways to experience the majesty of the Canadian Rockies, this cliff-edge walkway leads to a semicircular glass-bottomed observation deck suspended nearly 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Here, where eagles and other mountain birds soar, the vast glaciers, snowcapped mountain peaks, and thundering waterfalls stand out in stark relief.
Soaring up the Banff Gondola
Our last full day in the Canadian Rockies begins with a ride aboard the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, so named for the hot springs on its lower flank. This 8,000-foot peak overlooking the town of Banff was the site of two research facilities, including the meteorological observatory built in 1903 which still stands atop Sanson Peak.
Both our ride and the time we spend atop Sulphur Mountain afford stunning mountain views in every direction; indeed, we can see six mountain ranges during this excursion. From this perspective, we can clearly see that the town of Banff sits in a natural bowl, with snowcapped mountain peaks thrusting up in every direction. It’s a truly breathtaking vista, and yet another opportunity for us to engage with this larger-than-life landscape.