The Rocky Mountains is the land of water and rock. Ragged ridges, sparkling glaciers, still waters and cascading waterfalls make up this playground for the intrepid.
Wilderness lovers, water babies, peace seekers and wanderlusters will find joy in what they find here. Which parts you see is a tough choice, but it’s a great problem to have.
The vastness of the trip my husband and I planned for our honeymoon wasn’t lost on us. We chose to see the Rockies by campervan for a mix of camping and luxury. Guided by excursion tips from our Travel Expert, we embarked on a 1,800km drive that began in Vancouver and ended in Calgary, joined together by an unforgettable week in the mountains. Find out which parts of our trip were the jewels in the Rockies’ crown.
Our morning at Pyramid Lake was one of unexpected magic. It was the first lake/mountain combo that made the fascination of the Rockies fall into place for me. Was it the iridescent glow on the mountainside treetops, the reflective waters, or the inviting footbridge to Pyramid Island’s dense forest that swung it?
Spend time here: the shoreline is peppered with rocks you can perch on for a moment of serenity, Or for something more energetic, hire a kayak. Don’t miss the island either – crossing the footbridge offers an incredible 360° view of the ranges. And be sure you walk to the end of the island trail for uninterrupted views of its namesake mountain.
There’s something small but mighty about this island on the southern side of Maligne Lake. Spirit Island is a huge draw for anyone coming to the Rockies, despite being off the beaten path and only reachable by boat. Half of the joy is the cruise, which puts you out on the largest glacially-fed lake in Canada. Go out on deck if you can and be dazzled by the parade of peaks around you. Once you reach the dock, turn around and be wowed by a backdrop that looks like an oil painting. Walk far enough around the shoreline for the view of the island, framed between the distant peaks.
Sunwapta Falls is found off the scenic Icefields Parkway, a 232 km stretch linking Lake Louise to Jasper. They’re fed by the Athabasca Glacier, part of the Rockies’ largest ice source, the Columbia Icefield. Sunwapta offers something pretty unique, being both elegant and powerful in equal measure. The best part of these falls for me is the water’s curve around the miniature island of pine trees before it drops into the canyon below. There are plenty of vantage points and trails to guide you to the perfect viewing spot. Before you leave, take a walk along the lower trail to stand on the rocks (carefully!) for a front-row seat of the crashing waters.
Your Banff itinerary will no doubt take you to Lake Louise, a wide and vast body of water famous not just for its crowds, but for hikes, a teahouse and the grand Chateau Lake Louise. But 10 minutes down the road is a place I think blows Lake Louise out of its teal green water. It’s Moraine Lake, Louise’s more impressive little sister.
At Moraine you’ll find deep-blue water inside an amphitheatre of mountains known as the Valley of Ten Peaks. Moraine Lake is best viewed by taking a short walk up a trail for incredible perspective without a huge hike. Walk a little further and up the rockpile to grab that postcard-worthy moment. However you see this area, I’d recommend booking a tour for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake to beat the crowds, avoid queuing for a parking spot or worse – being sent into the overflow car park. (There’s always a parking spot for a tour bus!)
This is a place where you almost feel like you can touch the sky. Sulphur Mountain is set between six mountain ranges and the town of Banff below. There are just 8 minutes between you and the dizzy heights of its summit when you ride the Banff Gondola, or you can conquer it by foot and hike to the top instead.
At 2,281 metres, the air is chilly, windy and a little thinner. The 360° views, the change in perspective and the mountains beyond mountains will take your breath away – and not just because of the altitude. The very top of the mountain is a National Historic Site of Canada thanks to the findings its meteorological observatory and cosmic ray station made in the fifties. So climb to the top for snow peaks with a side of history.
Banff Hot Springs
The scenery and steam at Banff Hot Springs was unexpected. Relaxing in the naturally heated water with a mountain breeze in my hair was a highlight for the uniqueness of the experience alone. The hot springs are set on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain, so the two sites can easily be done on the same day. It’s the perfect antidote to weary legs (or in my case, knocking knees). If you’re doing it on a different day to the mountain, it’s an easy trip to make from Banff – just grab your bathers and hop on the free bus that leaves from the town centre.
Possibly the most aptly-named lake in the Rockies, Emerald Lake is a place of unmatchable beauty. I can vouch that it is indeed an incredible shade of emerald, making it something of an unbelievable sight. But I promise you it’s real, and it’s why it’s my favourite place in the Rockies. Emerald Lake deserves your attention for the day. Start by exploring its shoreline (wander through the thin scrub, into open marshland and onto dense forest to see all sides of the lake). For the full immersive experience finish the afternoon in a kayak to get closer to that unbelievable water. It’ll be an unforgettable day.