I was fortunate enough to join a great group on our Canadian Rockies: Banff, Jasper & Vancouver tour. Western Canada had been high on my list for years, so I wasn’t ignorant to its reputation, but I was overwhelmed by how much this trip moved me.
There wasn’t a day, or sometimes an hour, that would pass without the chance to enjoy a beautiful vista, take a deep breath of the freshest air I’ve ever experienced, or learn about the geological or settlement history of Western Canada. I could go on and on about these experiences, but I’ve narrowed it down to the five most unforgettable moments of my trip.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
I realized shortly after departing the beautiful city of Calgary that my group was in for one of the most breathtaking trips of our lives. The plains quickly gave way to mountains and the roadside views along the Trans-Canada highway were incredible. I’ve considered myself a mountain person since my study abroad experience in Switzerland, and Canada was delivered right away. I wanted to get closer and see more. Little did I know, the perfect opportunity was already arranged for the next day.
After a restful night breathing in the crisp, Banff air, our group set off for the mountains. We pulled up to a fully enclosed gondola that quickly took us to the top of Sulphur Mountain, a stellar lookout point for the mountains of Alberta. I simultaneously felt like we were on top of the world looking down at Banff, as well as small and insignificant with mountains sprawling out as far as the eye could see.
Moraine Lake (seasonal)
If you know someone who’s traveled to Alberta, you’ve heard them rave about Lake Louise. Lake Louise has long been one of the largest draws of the Canadian Rockies for her stunning emerald color and location at the base of a major glacier. We were all expecting the beauty of Lake Louise, but none of us were prepared for the stop along the way: Moraine Lake—a seasonal optional excursion that starts around July. Entirely surrounded by 10 peaks, Moraine Lake’s brilliant turquoise color (a phenomenon caused by glacier silt in the water) reflects the mountains, displaying a view I would have thought was edited on a computer had I not seen it myself.
Forget everything you’ve seen in the movies about wild rapids and waterfalls. This rafting trip is the perfect mix of fun, light rapids, and overwhelming beauty. Our guide on the Athabasca River (which is runoff from the Athabasca glacier we saw earlier in our tour) pointed out mountains and wildlife around us all while calmly and safely guiding us down the river. My favorite point of interest while rafting was the man in the mountain, a natural phenomenon of a man’s face looking skyward just above the river.
Spirit Island on Maligne Lake
Our Tour Director nicknamed the Canadian Rockies trip the “ooh and aah trip” because of the 360 degrees of pristine views during the entirety of the trip. Every day was filled with more splendor than the last and the trip to Maligne Lake was no different. I chose to go on the optional excursion to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake, a very small island facing the aptly named the “Hall of the Gods.” This is perhaps the most untouched place we stepped foot on in the Rockies. Just about 40 people at a time can see the Hall of the Gods, after taking a 40-minute boat ride from the restaurant at Maligne Lake. The peace one feels here is spiritual, which no doubt inspired the name of the island.
Anybody can get in a bus and drive across the Canadian Rockies, but there’s something romantic and majestic about a train ride through the mountains. Rocky Mountaineer takes advantage of the famous Canadian National and Canadian Pacific rails snaking through the Canadian wilderness—a ride on this train allows you to view some sites you cannot see otherwise. A perfect example of the untouched sites you will see is Pyramid Falls, which the train gets right next to and slows down considerably for plenty of photo time. All of this, paired with the expert communication of the Rocky Mountaineer train staff, gives you plenty of opportunity to see some of the most exciting wildlife in North America.