Scenic Roads in the Canadian Rockies

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

14 Bow Valley
Bow Valley Parkway sign depicting an osprey fishing.  Lowell Silverman photography, 2014
1 Bow Valley Parkway
View from the 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.

15 Morant's Curve
Morant’s Curve

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.

2 Morant's Curve
Mountains seen from Morant’s Curve in HDR.  The three prominent ones are, from left to right: Haddo Peak, Saddle Mountain, and Fairview Mountain.
16 Mt Temple HDR
Mount Temple as seen from Morant’s Curve in HDR

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.

1200Castle-Mountain-Panorama
Castle Mountain panorama
Castle-Mountain-Small
Castle Mountain, known for a few decades after World War II as Mount Eisenhower

Trans-Canada Highway

5 TCH

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.

Eastbound:

6 TCH

7 TCH

8 Mt Rundle TCH
Mt. Rundle in infrared
9 Vermilion Lakes
Vermilion Lakes

Westbound:

11 Mt Brett TCH
Mount Brett
1200Massive-Range-TCH-Panorama-8x24
Panorama of the Massive Range in Banff National Park with Mount Brett at left and Pilot Mountain at right.  Infrared
Mt-Ishbel-8x24-Narrow-Crop
Mt Ishbel panorama
12 Pilot Mountain
Pilot Mountain
13 Castle Mtn TCH
Castle Mountain is visible from the TCH at a greater distance (though with fewer foreground obstructions) than on the Bow Valley Parkway

Yellowhead Highway

17 Yellowhead Hwy

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).

19 Yellowhead Hwy

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.

20 Yellowhead Hwy
Yellow trees on the Yellowhead Highway

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.

21 Medicine Lake
Medicine Lake

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.

22 Side View
Side view mirror along Medicine Lake
24 Return from Maligne Lake
Mountains looming above Medicine Lake.
23 Maligne Lake
The end of the road: Maligne Lake in HDR.

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.

Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon seen from its hiking trail
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s