Although Alberta 93, the Icefields Parkway (Part I: Jasper National Park, Part II: Banff National Park) was perhaps the most spectacular road I’ve ever driven, it is by no means the only road through the Canadian Rockies with jaw-dropping scenery. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the scenic roads I had the privilege to experience during my visit in October 2014. Unfortunately, even though I visited before the first big snowfall, many smaller roads (like the one to Moraine Lake) were already closed for the winter prior to my arrival.
Bow Valley Parkway
When my father and I finished driving the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to its southern terminus at the Trans-Canada Highway near Lake Louise, we only stayed on the TCH briefly before picking up the Bow Valley Parkway, Highway 1A.
Dad is the consummate railfan, so I’m sure there’s one main reason we visited the Bow Valley Parkway: It provides access to Morant’s Curve, a spot named for Canadian Pacific Railway photographer Nicholas Morant. From this vantage point, Morant had a photogenic setup that allowed him to capture CPR trains from a high angle as they entered a gentle curve above the Bow River. A cluster of snow capped mountains (which surround the well-known Lake Louise) complete the scene.
CPR’s (later Via Rail’s) Canadian once traveled these tracks before Via rerouted the train northward in 1990. The only passenger train traveling the route now is the privately-operated, seasonal Rocky Mountaineer. Now, unlike my father, I like riding on trains a lot more than photographing them. But Morant’s Curve is worth a stop if for no other reason than its spectacular view down the Bow Valley and its surrounding peaks.
The Bow Valley Parkway also provides a close look at the aptly-named Castle Mountain. Castle Mountain is also visible—though at a greater distance—from the Trans-Canada Highway.
The TCH spans the entire North American continent. We became well acquainted with the section running through Banff National Park, between Lake Louise and the town of Banff. The mountain views really improve what would otherwise be monotonous highway driving. The experience is slightly different depending on the direction. Eastbound there’s a scenic viewpoint overlooking Mount Rundle and the Vermilion Lakes, while westbound there’s a few viewpoints featuring the Massive Range and Mount Ishbel.
The Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) is part of the Trans-Canada Highway system but with a shorter (only as far east as Winnipeg, not transcontinental) and more northerly route than the main TCH, Highway 1. The Icefields Parkway connects these more or less parallel highways in spectacular fashion. The highway is named for Yellowhead Pass located west of Jasper (itself reportedly named for the blond explorer Pierre Bostonais).
After returning from Banff and Lake Louise, we traveled briefly on the highway. We would have driven on it quite a ways more if I hadn’t discovered that Dad had missed the turn for Maligne Lake! Still, there are worse places to miss a turn than this scenic road.
Maligne Lake Road
The road to Maligne Lake splits off from the Yellowhead Highway just northeast of Jasper. The road appears to have several names depending on the source: Maligne Lake Road, Maligne Valley Road, or Township Road 453A. The road begins near the spot where the Maligne River flows into the Athabasca River. The road runs east though Jasper National Park, continuing past Maligne Canyon before ending at Maligne Lake. More on the canyon later.
One scenic highlight along the road is Medicine Lake. This is where the Maligne River backs up after encountering what appears to be a natural dam. The oddest thing is that the Maligne River isn’t completely bottled up in Medicine Lake, but simply continues underground beyond it. The river re-emerges at Maligne Canyon and flows above ground until it reaches the Athabasca River.
On the drive back, we stopped briefly at Maligne Canyon. This limestone canyon is narrow and surprisingly deep. The Maligne River had very little water during our visit, making it hard to believe that it had cut so deeply through all that rock.