Driving the Icefields Parkway, Part II: Banff National Park

Seeing that I’m snowed in by the East Coast Blizzard of 2016, it seems somehow appropriate to be writing this article about driving the Icefields Parkway back on October 18, 2014.

1200Saskatchewan-River-Crossing-IR-Panorama
Panorama of mountains looming above Saskatchewan River Crossing in infrared.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

After leaving the Columbia Icefield (see part I of this article) around 12:15pm, we drove another 45 minutes to Saskatchewan River Crossing (km 153 southbound, km 77 northbound).  As the name suggests, it was originally a ford for the North Saskatchewan River, a crossing made significantly less treacherous by the construction of the bridge used by the Icefields Parkway.  Open seasonally, it is the only place on the Icefields Parkway for travelers to purchase gasoline (and one of the few places selling food) but they will pay a premium for the privilege.  Travelers in winter will miss out on being able to get lunch at the cafeteria-like restaurant, where C$10 got me a tuna sandwich on grocery store bread.

18 Nevermore
Raven at Saskatchewan River Crossing.  He probably would have been tastier (and a better value) than the tuna sandwich I got at the cafeteria there.
17 Saskatchewan River Crossing
Mountains visible from Saskatchewan River Crossing.  Converted from RAW
19 More Mts
Mountain visible from Saskatchewan River Crossing in infrared

There were a few brief glimpses of sun during our visit, although it remained generally overcast until almost the end of the drive.  We got back on the road around 1:30pm.

21 Icefields Pkwy
Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park
22 Close-up
Close-up of the mountain in the above photograph.  Converted from RAW
23 Mirror Icefields Pkwy
Side view mirror view behind.  I actually kind of wish I’d stopped and gotten out of the car for that view.  Converted from RAW

Around 2:15pm we reached Bow Summit (km 190 southbound, km 40 northbound), the high point of the Icefields Parkway (2,088 m or 6,850′).  Dad recommended we take a detour to a viewpoint there.  There’s a parking lot for the viewpoint just off the road.  After a short walk on a paved trail we arrived at the viewpoint.  The viewpoint features a spectacular panorama of Peyto Lake.  Despite the cloudiness, there was enough sunlight to catch water droplets and form a rainbow.

24a Peyto HDR
Peyto Lake from Bow Summit.  HDR

Peyto Lake is a glacial lake with just about the bluest water I’ve ever seen with the possible exception of Crater Lake in Oregon.  While Crater Lake is exceptionally blue due to the purity of its water, Peyto is amazingly blue for exactly the opposite reason.  Like other glacial lakes, Peyto’s color is due to glacial flour: suspended particles from rocks pulverized by glacial ice.  Peyto Lake seems to have a particularly high concentration of glacial flour, because in sunlight it looks like it’s the product of Photoshop!

25 Peyto Blue
They should sell a color of paint called “Peyto Blue.”  Converted from RAW and only modest (I promise!) levels processing.

The lake looks even better in full sunlight, as we saw on our return trip.  It’s really a postcard view.  Delta Airlines recently used a photo from the same vantage point to advertise their Black Friday sale (though ironically enough, it was just US domestic flights that were discounted).

Peyto Lake
This photo is from the return trip on October 20, 2014.  The weather was better, but there was no rainbow
33 Peyto Lake Mts
Close-up of mountains looming over Peyto Lake from the return trip.
34 Bow Summit View
View down the valley from Bow Summit

While walking back to our car, we got a close look at an American three-toed woodpecker chiseling a snag for insects.  The bird was apparently unconcerned with our proximity.  As the name implies, the species and closely related Eurasian three-toed woodpecker have an unusual foot structure with three toes on each foot rather than four like most birds.  (Technically it might have been more accurate to name it the six-toed woodpecker though…)

3-toed-woodpecker
Slightly cropped since I only had a 105 mm lens on the camera.

We descended from Bow Summit to the picturesque Bow Lake (km 196 southbound, km 34 northbound).  The lake is fed by Bow Glacier in the nearby Wapta Icefield.  We’d have a closer look at the Bow River–which flows out of the lake–later that evening in Banff.

27 Another Lake
Bow Lake in HDR.

The sun began to come out as we got closer to the end of the parkway.  We arrived at the interchange with the Trans-Canada Highway around 3:10pm.  Fortunately, there was more spectacular scenery to come on both the TCH and the Bow Valley Parkway.  Stay tuned for next post, featuring more of the Canadian Rockies’ most breathtaking drives.

31 Glacier Carved
This mountain has that glacier carved look also common in other areas of the Rockies
South End Icefields Pkwy
Last photo before leaving the south end of the Icefields Parkway.  Converted from RAW.
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