Recently I had the opportunity to go with my friend Ben and his friend Steve to the Canadian Rockies for an opportunity to explore, photograph, and recharge.
We chased the sunlight from dawn to dusk to photograph the lakes, mountains, rivers and glaciers that make this region famous.
Ben and I backpacked here about 12 years ago but we realized that with all of our time spent in the back country, there were a lot of great things we missed right near the roads.
We met up at the Calgary airport and drove from there to Banff National Park.
Our first stop was Lake Minnewanka in the mid afternoon.
It was a beautiful day with white puffy clouds. This lake ended up being a short stop.
Next was on to Vermillion Lakes. I had seen many photographs of beautiful mountain reflections in the perfectly still water at Vermillion Lakes. However, it was windy today so we didn’t get that view. Another quick stop.
Driving up the road, there was a beautiful view of Castle Mountain with the river snaking it’s way through the scene.
By now it was late evening and it was cloudy, rainy, and windy. We had time for one more stop and decided on Moraine Lake. This spot is one of my favorite places in the world. The beautiful jagged peaks seem close enough to touch over the incredible aquamarine water. When we arrived it was raining but it stopped shortly after so we did the quick 10 minute hike to the top of a viewpoint overlooking the lake. The lake is definitely more colorful when the sun hits it but it was still beautiful and we got a hint of color in the sky from the sunset light.
The next morning we woke up before sunrise and headed out to Lake Louise. For anyone that hasn’t heard of it, it’s by far the biggest tourist spot in this region. There is an incredible hotel (Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise) that overlooks the lake, although I’ve never stayed there.
There were busloads of Japanese tourists which made it tough to get a clear photo of the lake. It’s amazing when there are 15 photographers with tripods, that someone will just walk right in front of them all and start taking pics on their phone and not move.
Once the sun started rising, we were able to find a few clear spots to get some beautiful photos of the morning sun lighting up the glacial peaks reflecting across the colorful water.
Right near Lake Louise is Moraine Lake where we went yesterday. It was a beautiful morning so we decided to go back and see if we would get a better view. The morning sun was not yet hitting the lake but the water was still and provided an amazing reflection.
This truly is one of the most beautiful views in the world.
We headed back south closer to the town of Banff and back to Vermillion Lakes. It was another windy morning which provided no reflections again so we kept on moving.
From there we took the turn off and headed towards Johnston Canyon where we found an Aspen grove lit up by the morning sun.
Johnston Canyon is a deep gorge and a beautiful waterfall at the end of the trail. It was VERY crowded there with horrible lighting on the main waterfall. The light was so bad, it didn’t even justify a photo. However, there was a beautiful scene close to the main falls that provided a nice photo opportunity. Most people passed right on by as they headed to the larger falls up the trail.
We then drove to Yoho National Park which borders Banff. We headed to the 1260 ft. high Takakkaw Falls which is a really pretty ribbon waterfall. The white puffy clouds provided some nice mountain scenery on the short walk to the falls.
We went a little farther into Yoho National Park to Emerald Lake. This is a beautiful location. Another turquoise lake buried in the mountains. The color of these lakes comes from light that reflects off the glacial silt that is scraped into the lake from the moving/melting glacier.
Emerald Lake is a very touristy area with a number of chalets for rent. You can also rent canoes and go for a paddle around the lake. This would be a very peaceful place for a romantic getaway.
Not far down the highway is Glacier National Park (the Canadian one). We had plans to drive up to Rogers pass and then keep going to Mt. Revelstoke National Park to drive the Meadows in the Park Skyway. However, the weather was getting dark and cloudy and wasn’t leading to any nice mountain views so we turned around and headed back east. On the way we found a secluded lake down a dirt road. What a beautiful piece of real estate!
We figured we should probably get one group shot while we had our tripods out.
There was a stunning mountain view off on the horizon.
We stopped in Golden for the night. Being in Golden felt just like being in America with Dairy Queen, Wendy’s, KFC, Subway, and a number of other American businesses.
We started our next day back at Emerald Lake for sunrise. It was a misty/rainy morning which often is not good weather to photograph in. However, in the mountains, it can provide some low hanging clouds and mist that make for some eerie photos.
When the rain let up enough we were able to get out and get some great photos before sunrise.
These photos are similar but I liked them both so much I wanted to post them both.
Our plan for the day was to make our way up to Jasper National Park. It was about 4-5 hours of driving with some stops along the way.
The first stop was at Bow Lake. However, it was so windy and the water was so choppy that I didn’t even get my camera out. A few minutes up the road is Peyto Lake which is simply incredible. We drove up to the bus parking area (none in site) which is only a one minute walk from an incredible overlook. Peyto Lake is another turqoise lake underneath a beautiful glacier and a mountain backdrop. The stormy skies led to some incredible views.
We passed a few random lakes along the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper.
As we were driving I noticed this beautiful little waterfall that could have been easily missed. I guess that’s the benefit of just staring out the window while Ben was driving. This was on the east side of the Icefields Parkway about 2 miles from the border to Jasper National Park.
On the south end of Jasper National Park is the Columbia Icefields. This area is made from a series of glaciers that are the largest collection of glaciers south of the Arctic.
Here’s a shot of one of the glaciers spilling down the mountainside.
Sunwapta Falls was our next destination. This beautiful waterfall with aquamarine water and a mountain backdrop was a really nice setting.
Another half hour north and we were at Athabaska Falls which is another famous waterfall in the park. There was a network of wooden trails and metal railings for all the tourists that led to a number of different viewpoints that each provided an interesting view.
Just past the town of Jasper is Jasper Lake. We saw a number of elk hanging out off the road. The male seemed to be quite interested in all the females but the females were not so keen on all his advances.
We stopped just off the main road to photograph a grove of beautiful yellow Aspen trees being backlit by the late afternoon sun.
After checking in to our hotel it was time to get setup for sunset. Just nearby was Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake. The buses of Japanese tourists were out in force around Pyramid Lake. Driving just up the road around the south side of the Lake, we came to a little island that looked like a nice spot to setup for sunset without many people around. We took a few photos around the area as we waited for the sun to go down.
Waiting for the sunset was worth it. It was spectacular!!!!
As we were heading back to the hotel, we passed a small marshy area that was providing a mirror of the evening sky.
Early the next morning we woke up well before sunrise and drove the 45 minutes to Cavell Lake. It was a beautiful cool and crisp morning. It was only a 5 minute walk from the car to get to the lake, but it didn’t go smoothly. I turned my ankle pretty bad stepping on a tree root and Steve ended up having both feet slip into the glacial water. Poor guy had a 5 hour drive and a flight to catch right after the sunrise was done.
Although it wasn’t smooth getting there, it was totally worth it. The lake was still and gave us a nice mirror reflection of Mt. Edith Cavell with some warm sunlight lighting up the clouds just before the sun came up.
It was a beautiful morning and a really nice spot to be at.
Steve left to head back to the airport so Ben and I went on our way. The next spot was Medicine Lake which seemed to have very low water levels.
There was a group of wildlife photographers with gigantic lenses all pointed at the nearby rocks. I guess they were photographing a Pica which is like a small squirrel. I’m really glad that’s not what we were there for. Everyone has their different interests and I’m sure many people wouldn’t be interested in photographing what we were doing either. Medicine Lake didn’t photograph very well at the time we were there.
Farther down the road was Maligne Lake. Maligne Lake is known for having a boat cruise that takes you to the south side of the lake for an amazing photo op of Spirit Island. However, the boat had just recently stopped for the season so we were a bit too late.
Although, with no boats and a calm day, the water was perfectly still, giving us a mirror of the dramatic clouds overhead. We also had an opportunity to see a large moose on the other side of the lake but he was too far away to photograph.
By this point, we were only halfway done with our trip and we had already photographed everything on our list of places to see. Therefore we knew the second half of the trip would slow down a bit. We relaxed on the side of the lake, skipped some stones, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
On our drive away from Maligne Lake and back to the town of Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon which had a pretty incredible waterfall. The noise of the falls thundering through the canyon was awesome.
It was only mid-day and we were looking for more stuff to do. The weather was pretty miserable but we didn’t feel like just sitting around all day. Instead we drove to the west side of the park near Mt. Robson. Our first stop was Rearguard Falls. It was a 10 minute walk down to the waterfall. The falls were loud and booming!! Just as we arrived, we got to witness a kayaker kayak over the falls which was pretty amazing. Too bad our cameras weren’t out yet.
Next, we went to Overlander Falls which is famous for being a place to watch Salmon fighting their way up the river during the proper season.
The falls were beautiful but not easy to photograph as it was dark and overcast and the gushing water was washing everything out.
We were able to see two moose far off in the distance but too far to photograph.
We drove to Mt. Robson. It was pretty to see but didn’t photograph well due to the heavy overcast and dull lighting. Mt. Robson is a 12,000 ft peak that is used by climbers as they prepare for Mt. Everest. Unfortunately, the top of the mountain was not visible due to the clouds.
It was another day to see a lot of wildlife. We saw a ton more elk along with a wolf just trotting down the highway.
In the morning, we went back to our favorite spot at Pyramid Lake and waited for the sunrise.
It was a calm morning with some nice clouds so it looked promising.
The sky was on fire! It was an incredible sunrise.
On our way out of the Jasper area we passed a number of Elk on the side of the road. This time the camera was ready!!
We drove back south on the Icefield Parkway and stopped at a number of beautiful lakes and rivers on the side of the rd.
Next, we stopped at Tangle Falls right near the Columbia Icefield. It’s a waterfall tucked into the side of the mountain thats impossible to see when driving north but easy to see when driving south. It’s a beautiful waterfall that is a must-see right along the side of the highway.
It was time for lunch and there was a nice pull off the highway by Waterfowl Lakes.
I’ve had worse lunch stops than this before!
Since we were driving right by Peyto Lake again, we decided to make another quick stop to see if the light was better.
It was very beautiful there as always.
It was mid-day and we decided to go back to Lake Louise since the last time we had been there was early morning. The parking lots were all jammed full and there were people everywhere. However, we were still able to setup an a nice spot for a photo. We got a 1 minute patch of sun that burst through the clouds and lit up the lake which is all we needed.
For the third time we drove out to my favorite place at Moraine Lake and hiked up to the viewpoint again. It was another cloudy day with no lake reflections and no sunset light so I think the previous visits were better. But…it’s still incredible and I surely didn’t mind a third visit.
It was mid afternoon and to kill some time, we drove an hour south to the town of Banff and took the gondola up the mountain for incredible views of the whole valley. It was neat to have that vantage point over some of the places we had seen from the ground.
We drove to the town of Canmore where we were staying the night and got all checked in to our hotel. Unfortunately we didn’t realize that the sun sets 20 minutes earlier here than it does 4 hours north up in Jasper, so we mistimed the sunset. By the time we started heading out to our pre-picked spot at Goat Pond, we realized we were too late. The sky was lit up with brilliant colors just over the mountains where we were supposed to be. By the time we arrived, most of the color was gone, but we still had a peaceful setting for a few photos.
The next morning we got up well before sunrise at did the 30 minute drive out to Goat Pond again. It was a cool morning with some mist coming off the still water.
I just loved watching the light change as the sun came up.
On our drive back in to Canmore, there is a reservoir which also provided a beautiful mirror reflection.
We had now seen pretty much all we came for in Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks but we still had another day and a half so we decided to head farther south closer to the U.S. border.
We drove into the Kananaskis Country wilderness area and made a stop in a little secluded area called Wedge Pond. It was another peaceful stop. As odd as it is to say, we were starting to be done with lake reflections.
We headed into Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and when we went to the visitor center, we saw a grizzly bear and her cubs in the valley far away.
We then came across a number of goats licking the road to store up salt for the winter.
We continued on down to Waterton Lakes National Park which is on the U.S. Border on the north end of the U.S. Glacier National Park in Montana.
Our first stop was the bison paddock which is a short loop drive where you can see some bison.
Our next stop was an overlook with a nice view of the Prince of Wales Hotel with the mountains and lakes in the background.
The hotel, like most everything else around Waterton in October, was closed for the season. However, we could drive right up to it and enjoy the view.
I think this is seriously one of the most beautiful pieces of real estate I’ve ever seen. It’s a gorgeous hotel on a hilltop all by itself with a view down below of the town of Waterton, Upper Waterton Lake, along with the surrounding mountains. This would be a nice place for a romantic getaway.
We then went and checked out Cameron Falls which is actually right in the town of Waterton.
Trying to find the best spot for the sunset, we decided on the view from the hotel on the hill. It seemed to be the best spot so we went and hung out up there until the sun went down.
Late at night, we decided to go out and get some star/night shots. With a full moon lighting up the sky, the stars were washed out, but it was still really cool to get some shots of the hotel at night along with the town of Waterton below.
Today we had planned to drive into Montana and enjoy Glacier National Park but we found out that most of the eastern side of the park along with the hotels in the area were all closed for the season. The biggest disappointment was the Going to the Sun Road was closed which is the main highway that goes through the park. We decided to stay in Waterton for the day.
We started the morning getting another morning view of the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Then we drove up to Cameron Lake to enjoy a peaceful and quiet morning.
We drove along the Chief Mountain Highway but with blue skies and no clouds, the views were just not that inspiring. We then drive into Red Rock Canyon which was also not that great with the harsh lighting on a clear sunny day. We decided to drive into Calgary and just spend our remaining time relaxing. It was about a 3.5 hour drive back to Calgary and we got there in time to watch the beautiful evening light envelop the city.
It was a great trip but it was nice to relax for the night and fly home the next day.