In 2008 I was working on a large project at work. Endless days, nights and weekends of year long project that at times felt like it had no end. I knew that once it ended we were going to go away. We just had no idea where. For months Jim and I talked about “where do we want to go” but many times I was too tired to think straight after a 16 hour work day. This went on for months…
One night around 2 am I was working from my home computer. At the time, Google’s homepage used to allow you to include various widgets (Daily Puppy, Horoscope, local weather, etc). One of the widgets was a daily travel photo. Most of the time, I would see the daily photo and think “that’s pretty” and move on. However, that night for some reason the photo of that day was of this beautiful lake in the mountains. It was breathtaking. I remember saying to myself this is where we are going. The caption on the photo said “Moraine Lake, Canada”, I had no idea where in Canada this was but I knew that’s where we were heading.
Moriane Lake is located in Banff National Park outside of Calgary in the Canadian Rockies. I had heard that Banff was beautiful and always said I would visit someday. Apparently the universe decided it was time.
After weeks of research we booked our week long trip for the end of August. My work project would be done a week before and I was excited to really get away to place where cell phone service was limited at best.
Our Journey began in Calgary where we picked up our rental car and embarked on the 2+ hour drive northeast into the mountains. We planned to stay the first nights in Lake Louise and the last two nights in another lodge near Castle Junction. See places we’ve stayed – Canadian Rockies for the story of where we actually ended up staying.
Driving along the Trans-Canada highway is breathtaking – beautiful mountains and trees everywhere. The highway is constructed with fences lining the road and wildlife overpasses to keep the animals safe. I’ve never seen this before – go Canada for keeping everyone safe.
We arrived at Paradise Lodge and Bungalows just in time to see the sun setting against the mountains from our balcony. It was indeed paradise and a great way to just be.
Emerald Lake and Boo the Grizzly Bear
On our first full day we decided to head northwest to explore a little bit of British Columbia. Our first stop was Emerald Lake located about 40 minutes northwest of Lake Louise. The drive is picturesque through the mountains and valleys. When you finally arrive at the lake it will leave you breathless. The lake is indeed green. Never in my life have I seen water this color. The lodge is located on the southwest corner of the lake and everything else is just nature. We decided to walk along the path that leads around the lake soaking up the views. Take a look at the photo gallery to see how special this place is.
After leaving Emerald Lake we kept heading west towards Golden, BC to see Boo the Grizzly Bear. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has a 20 acre grizzly bear refuge with Boo being the resident inhabitant. They offer a one hour guided program where you can learn about Boo and bears in the wild. I have to say we are not the type of folks that do guided tours – we prefer to explore things on our own but getting a chance to see a grizzly up close we couldn’t resist. Boo did not disappoint – and came up close to the fenced off walkways. It was amazing site.
Columbia IceField, Peyto and Moraine Lakes
After enjoying a rainy day cuddled up near the fireplace, our fourth day brought sunshine and renewed energy.
We started off heading north to the Columbia IceField about 2 hours from Lake Louise. The icefield has 80 minute guided tours that takes you out in these crazy large busses and allows you to walk around on the glacier. Though it was a very sunny day, once you stepped out on the glacier the all the ice makes the temperature drop at least 20 degrees. We froze out there but it was a great adventure.
Driving back through the mountains we had heard about this lake that was shaped like a wolf so we knew we had to check it out. In order to appreciate the unique shape of the lake you have to see it from above. So we parked and did a short 1 mile hike straight up to the viewing platform. Aside from the sheer beauty of this “wolf shaped lake” what struck me the most was the color of the water. It looked like creamy turquoise – that is the only way to describe it. Apparently this happens when the mountains thaw and the water from the glaciers flow into the lake bringing with it glacier silt or rock flour. The sunlight reflecting the rock flour gives the lake it’s unique color (Learn More). The lake’s color changes depending on the time of year. By chance we were at the right time of the year to view this wonder.
Our day of adventure was not over yet. After leaving Peyto Lake we headed south past Lake Louise up the mountain to Moraine Lake. The lake that inspired our Canadian Rocky journey from a single photo did not disappoint. What’s great about this area is the seclusion. The lake situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks and aside from Moraine Lake Lodge there is nothing else but wilderness. Brightly colored canoes offer up an invitation to explore. I was in awe that I was finally standing in the place that just a few short months before I had been staring a photo in the middle of the night that called to me to visit. We were halfway through our journey but had experience more in a few short days that would satisfy me for years to come.
Lake Louise and Searching For Bears
For our last day in the Lake Louise area we decided to finally check the lake out. The lake is located at the end of a mountain road high above the town. Like Emerald and Moraine lakes there is one hotel/lodge directly on the lake surrounded by untouched nature. The infamous (and enormous) Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits at the base of the lake. Both the lake and the hotel are a sight to see.
We spent some time walking around the lake and hotel and then drove down the mountain across a valley to the Lake Louise Gondola which claimed to offer the best grizzly bear viewing. Though they said there had been bear sighting a few minutes before we got on the gondola, sadly we did not see one.
We did however get a beautiful view of the valley and a perspective of how large the mountains actually are compared to the lake. Look closely at the photo on the right – the small building at the bottom right of the lake is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
After a nice lunch at Lake Louise Ski Resort we decided to partake in our new favorite pastime – bear viewing. Though we didn’t see any when riding the gondola, we saw many bears driving from place to place. It started to become an obsession, not just by us, but from fellow travelers we run into. Standing in line at the coffee shop everyone would be talking about where their latest bear sighting was. In this area, all you had to do was drive a little while and you were sure to see one (both black and grizzly bears). If you are an animal lover like us, it is really an amazing site to see these creatures out the wild.
Emerald Lake (part 2) – Canoeing and Relaxation
Our journey brought us back to Emerald Lake for the final two nights of our trip. See places we’ve stayed – Canadian Rockies for the story. Unlike our first visit to the lake where it was very cloudy with drizzle, when we checked in to the Lodge the sun was shining. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to rent a canoe on the lake for a different view. Have you ever canoed on a milky turquoise lake? It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The water was so calm you just glided around.
After our canoe ride we took a break from driving around and just hung out on the balcony staring at this magnificient lake. Sometimes you just need to sit and be one with nature. With a view like this, we couldn’t help ourselves.
Our last full day we drove northeast to Takakkaw falls. The falls are one of the highest waterfalls in Canada having a freefall of 254 meters (2,734 feet).One note about the drive, there are a couple of crazy switchbacks that have a steep incline. A test of your driving skills for sure.
To get to the falls from the parking lot requires a small hike but well worth the effort. It is a beautiful site that you can get pretty close if you want. We spent some time just hanging out here, taking as much in for our last day as possible. The area surrounding the falls are just a beautiful.
Though it has been a number of years since we went on this journey, putting together this story allowed me to relive the beauty of what we had the chance to experience. I know someday we will go back, but I think future travels to the area will bring us north to Jasper. There is so much to see and take in. Vacation time is precious so we gravitate more to exploring new places. Looking back I have to thank the universe for showing me that single photo in the middle of the night. I had no idea the Rockies could be this magical.