Driving Through The Canadian Rockies

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For many years I have wanted to re-visit the Canadian Rockies. I had been there twice in the past, each time traveling by train from Vancouver. The train ride itself is wonderful moving through the beautiful Rockies in the luxury of the Canadian, which has today been completely renovated. You can still travel by the Canadian train today from Vancouver into the Rockies, getting off at Jasper National Park and seeing the Rockies by coach.

The Rocky Mountaineer luxury train also departs Vancouver and only travels during the day. You leave the train each evening and are transported to hotels and motels for the night, then the next morning re-board the train and continue your journey doing sightseeing in the various parks during the day by motor coach. It’s a great way to see the Rockies.

In Vancouver there is much to visit and see. The city is large and almost completely surrounded by water. There are parks, tall buildings and wonderful restaurants. Nearby is Victoria and it is available via a short ferry ride and you will enjoy sightseeing here.

High in the mountains above Vancouver is the famous ski resort, Whistler. You can take a coach to visit here or board a very modern train to do the same. Plan to spend at least three days in Vancouver before moving on.

We flew to Vancouver for an overnight stay before boarding the cruise ship Zuiderdam of Holland America Line for a seven-night cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage. When the ship returned to Vancouver we took a taxi to the Hertz downtown office in Vancouver and rented an automobile to tour the Canadian Rockies. We felt an automobile would be best for us so that we could stop along the way to photograph and sightsee and not be on a schedule. The Canadian highways are in very good condition and better than most in the United States. The Canadian drivers are also very polite on the roads, which make it a pleasure to drive in Canada. The roads are also well marked. You really can’t get lost.

So, from Vancouver we headed out of town into the very green countryside with rolling hills. We saw small farms, vineyards, rivers, lakes and villages as we moved in a northeast direction. Our destination was Kamloops. After driving for about five hours, we arrived in this city of 85,000, which is located in a green valley and hosts skiers during the winter months. A very pleasant night was spent here. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel that had a gourmet restaurant that was a surprise. Both Norma and I enjoyed a wonderful meal before going to bed.

The next morning we got an early start bound for Jasper National Park. Many tours do not include Jasper because it is not close to Lake Louise and Banff. However, it should not be missed. Some six hours of driving later we pulled into the Fairmont Jasper Lodge. The lodge is spread over many acres near a beautiful lake with some 400 rooms. We opted for one of the rooms located in the actual lodge building. The lodge faces the lake and guests can rent canoes to paddle around if they wish. You can enjoy a fine swimming pool, tennis, a horseback ride or just relax at the lakeside and drink in the amazing scenery. Inside are two restaurants, a shopping mall and just about everything you might want in a mountain lodge. The Fairmont Hotels are known the world over for their luxury and service.

One of the sightseeing tours we took here was a cruise on spectacular Lake Maligne. This is one of the more scenic lakes in the world, believe me — bordered by jagged, high, rugged and snow-capped mountains. It must be seen to believe. Several films have been made here and you may recognize the area from movies. The boat trip alone was more than an hour-and-a-half and is one of the high points of our Rockies travel. We also took time to wonder about the 5,000-population town of Jasper and found it to be very clean and primarily catering to tourists.

We enjoyed our two-night stay at the Jasper Lodge before moving on to Lake Louise. The drive here was via the Bow River Parkway, which runs through the Bow Valley. The water in the lakes and rivers was the highest it had been in 40 years because of heavy snowfall the past winter and a large amount of rain in the spring. This added up to fast-moving waters in the rivers and high water in the lakes.

While traveling the Bow River Parkway we came to the Columbia Icefields about half way to Lake Louise. These fields are actually a long series of glaciers spread over many miles. If you choose, you can take a Brewster Ice Explorer tour that travels right on the glacier.

We decided not to stop but to continue on the road to Lake Louise. The scenery from Jasper going south makes it one of the most beautiful drives I have yet taken. At almost every turn we would oh and ah because of the rugged, snow- and glacier-covered mountains descending steeply to the valleys. These mountains are as rugged as the Grand Tetons, except larger and more plentiful. Also along the road we saw several black bear right at the roadside as well as large elk and goats.

Lake Louise is located behind the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel. If you are not a guest at the hotel there is a public parking lot next door where you may park and walk the path that winds it’s way in front of the hotel for a good view of Lake Louise. You will find quite a few nice hotels and motels at the village, but only the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel offers views of the lake from your room at the hotel. Our room offered a perfect view of this most amazing and beautiful lake buried in the Rockies. You must have seen photographs at some time in your life of this emerald lake bordered by tall, rugged, snow-capped and glacier-rimmed mountains. To see it in person is even more amazing. Norma and I joked that the view of Lake Louise from the shore side looked so perfect that it must be a Disney set.

We stayed two nights here enjoying the scenic drives around the area and a tram ride to the top of one of the mountains to view the entire area from 8,000 feet altitude. The hotel offers 10 restaurants and an assortment of public rooms. For lunch one day we sat at a large window facing the lake view with a harpist playing enjoyable music while we ate.

From our hotel room window we could admire the lake setting and I frequently took photos of the different coloring and cloud formations as they changed. It really looked like a movie set. You should see it for yourself someday.

Now, it was time to head to Banff. The drive is not very far and again with very fine roads. We found the town of Banff looking somewhat like a ski town in Europe. The downtown area offers many nice shops and restaurants and on one end is located the Fairmont Banff Hotel. This is the largest building in town and rises some 10 floors. The Canadian Pacific Railroad began the construction in 1882. It has been remodeled several times since. We thought it resembled an old palace. It was easy to get lost in, even after staying two days. Again, the scenery is some of the best mountain landscape I have yet seen in my travels of the world.

As in the other national parks we drove the area to get a good look at the lakes, mountains, wildlife and villages and towns.

The Canadian Rockies live up to their reputation as some of the most beautiful scenery in North America and the world. Don’t miss it!

After a week of driving through the mountains we headed south and east and into the prairies to Calgary, Alberta. We discovered that on this Friday it was the beginning of the Calgary Stampede. This is one of the best rodeos in North America, as you probably know. I did not realize that the Stampede lasted a total of 10 days. We took in the first day. It was much like a large state fair, with rides for the children, stock viewing and a large stadium that sat over 20,000 fans.

We were lucky to get tickets for the opening ceremonies on this Friday afternoon. The opening included a large marching band, politicians and celebrities being introduced, as well as at least 80 Royal Canadian Mounted Police doing all sorts of formations on their horses.

Following the ceremonies, the actual rodeo began first with bronc riding followed by calf roping. At least 80 percent of the cowboys were from the United States and were the best I have ever seen anywhere.

Even at our hotel there was a lot of Stampede activity in the restaurant and bar with most wearing western gear.

The next afternoon we boarded our Delta Airlines flight returning home.

What a wonderful vacation! I hope you can visit Alaska and the Canadian Rockies in your lifetime.

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