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Canada 150: Banff National Park

My Canada 150 series would not be complete without a post about Canada’s oldest national park. But since every single one of my previous posts on Banff consists of a photo of a mountain, I’d thought I’d mix it up this time. (Otherwise you might get the idea that the only thing to see in Banff National Park are mountains.)

There’s wildlife, too!

Of course, say “wildlife” and “Banff” in the same sentence and most people will start listing off which of the Big Five — deer, elk, moose, bear, and wolf — they’ve seen. The big animals do deserve the attention they get, but it is often the little animals, which are far easier to get up close and personal with, that lead to the best photo ops.

Like this Columbian Ground Squirrel.

We Albertans call these gophers. They live in underground burrows and spend much of the year hibernating. As far as rodents go, they’re kinda big — typically about a foot in length.

I took this photo last summer.

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Through My Lens: Cascade Mountain From Johnson Lake

Cascade Mountain

Here’s another mountain. Just because.

This one is called Cascade Mountain. It’s the largest mountain abutting the townsite of Banff. I took this photo from Johnson Lake as well.

Through My Lens: Mount Rundle From Johnson Lake

Mount Rundle Backside

I posted my postcard shot of Mount Rundle last summer. That’s the view most people see of Mount Rundle as they drive past it when travelling along the Trans-Canada Highway.

This view ― not the postcard shot ― was taken from the other side of the mountain. The lake is Johnson Lake.

Through My Lens: Top of Sulphur Mountain

View from Sulphur Mountain

This view is from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. Take a deep breath: those are the Rocky Mountains you’re looking at.

There are two ways to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain: you can hike up or you can ride up. The hike up isn’t a long one (5.5 km), but it is all uphill (elevation gain of 650 m). The Banff Gondola is a lot easier and a lot quicker. It runs year round and takes you from the Banff Upper Hot Springs to the top of the mountain in just eight minutes. (Those hot springs, incidentally, are how Sulphur Mountain got its name.)

Once you’re at the top of Sulphur Mountain, you have a 360-degree view of the Rocky Mountains.

Dizzying, isn’t it?

I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I’m posting only a photo of the view to the east. That’s the town of Banff nestled around the diminutive Tunnel Mountain in the centre of the photo. Behind Tunnel Mountain is Cascade Mountain, and to the far right of the photo is Rundle Mountain.

Through My Lens: Boom Lake

Boom Lake

Wait? How did that happen?

It’s closing in on the end of September and I am way behind on posting about last month’s road trip to Alberta and back. Waaaay behind.

It’s not like I don’t know what to write about. I may even have a photo or two to post as well.

Here’s one. This is Boom Lake in Banff National Park, which is accessible by an easy 5 km hike from Highway 93. That’s not fog ― it’s smoke from last month’s wild fires in Washington state.

Yoho National Park

Here’s the thing I discovered about Banff National Park during my visit last month.

Downstream from Takakkaw Falls

It’s operating at capacity.

I don’t mean it’s super crowded and chock-full of tourists. I mean there is, quite simply, no more room. Every campsite is filled, every hotel room is booked, and the streets of Banff townsite are gridlock by noon, as are the access roads to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

So what solution to the madness does someone who has just driven from Vancouver to Banff suggest to her family?

That they head across the Alberta–BC border to Yoho National Park.

Yoho was created a national park in 1886, just a year after Banff. It’s slightly over 500 square miles, about a fifth of the size of Banff, but it packs just as much awe and wonder ― in fact, its name, Yoho, is a Cree expression of wonder.

Just like in Banff, there is a wide assortment of hiking to do in Yoho, both short day hikes and longer overnight hikes in the back country.

And, just like in Banff, there are photo ops. Gazillions of photo ops.

Here is one. This is Takakkaw Falls. Takakkaw is another Cree expression ― it means “it is magnificent.” (My brother and sisters and I had a lot of fun with the word “takakkaw” back in the last century when we were little kids.)

Takakkaw Falls

Here’s another. This is the Natural Bridge, which straddles the Kicking Horse River. I also remember coming here when I was little, and I remember how fascinated I was by the origin of the name “Kicking Horse River.” James Hector named it that after getting kicked by his pack horse. Hector was a member of the Palliser Expedition, a group of men surveying possible routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway. They reached the Kicking Horse River in 1858.

Natural Bridge

Here’s a look at the Natural Bridge from another angle.

Natural Bridge Top View

And here’s a closer look at the mighty Kicking Horse River. That’s Mount Stephen behind.

Mount Stephen

Just down the road from the Natural Bridge is what’s known as the Meeting of the Waters. It’s the confluence of the Yoho River (at left, in the photo below) and the Kicking Horse River (dead ahead). You only need to stand here for a second or two to be overwhelmed by the power of these two rivers.

Meeting of the Waters

Turn to the right, and you have this view.

Kicking Horse River

So, here’s my tip of the summer: the next time you can’t get close to Lake Louise, get back on the Trans-Canada Highway and drive another twenty minutes west to Yoho National Park. You won’t regret it.

Through My Lens: Wapta Mountain

Wapta Mountain

Another day, another Rocky Mountain. This one is Cathedral Wapta Mountain, which I spent most of last weekend getting mixed up with Castle Mountain.

That torrent of water flowing past in front is the Yoho River.

Through My Lens: Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain

Here is another photo of a beautiful Rocky Mountain that I took last weekend. This one is of Castle Mountain, and I took it from a moving car along the Bow Valley Parkway.

And no, I was not doing the driving.

Through My Lens: Mount Rundle

Mount Rundle

Regular readers of this blog know how beautiful I think Vancouver is and how blessed I feel that I get to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

But there is something about Alberta that always takes my breath away. This photo shows why. I took this shot of Mount Rundle in Banff National Park last weekend.

Through My Lens: Lake Louise

Lake Louise

I would hazard a guess that Lake Louise is the most visited ― and most photographed ― lake in all of Canada. Because it’s so popular, the crowds can be, well, a bit overwhelming.

Crowds or no crowds, this view always takes my breath away.