Canadian Rockies Travel Guide: How do you access the most iconic locations in the Canadian Rockies?
Banff & Lake Louise Tourism | Chris Amat
Here at WHERE Canadian Rockies, we love our mountain home. And during the summer months, so do about 4 million other people who flock to the mountains to enjoy the scenery. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in traffic while trying to reach your favourite spot, but fortunately, there are so many ways to access the Canadian Rockies, you won’t have to. Here are the best ways to reach those photogenic destinations throughout the mountains.
Lake Louise has been captivating visitors for longer than recorded history. In 1882, Stoney guide Edwin Hunter brought Tom Wilson to Horâ Juthin Îmne, which means “Lake of the Little Fishes.” Wilson named it Emerald Lake, and it was later officially named Lake Louise. To this day, it remains a popular place for people to visit and take in the stunning colour of the water and reflections of the rugged
The Village of Lake Louise is notoriously awful for parking—spots fill up before sunrise and remain full until well after sundown. This doesn’t mean the charming lake is off-limits for anyone looking to enjoy it. There are easy and affordable ways to get to Lake Louise and spend time with the famous vista. ROAM Transit has regular service to the lake throughout the year. During the summer, they offer a weekend scenic route that includes stops along the Bow Valley Parkway such as Johnston Canyon, Protection Mountain Campground, and Baker Creek Chalets. There is also an express route that stays on the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise.
The Parks Canada Shuttle provides access to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake with one ticket. It departs from the Park and Ride, located at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. This shuttle is a great way to access the village during the summer months. Pre-booking is required. What’s more, it’s a great opportunity to take the Lake Louise Summer Gondola to the mountaintop and explore the alpine meadows.
Stunning Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of the most popular photographs in the Canadian Rockies. The iconic image was on the back of Canadian $20 bills printed between 1969 and 1979, giving it the nickname “Twenty Dollar View.” There are also many hikes that begin at Moraine Lake, making it a popular spot for adventurers.
New this summer: Parks Canada has closed Moraine Lake Access Road to personal vehicles, meaning there will be less congestion and more access to the lake for people through public transit options. Parks Canada Shuttle, ROAM Transit, and commercial buses are permitted from June to mid-October. Book transportation with the Moraine Lake Shuttle for early access to Moraine Lake and get those summer hikes started at sunrise. For a DIY adventure, public transit or a shuttle are the way to go, but for something with an interpretative guide, try the Lake Louise & Moraine Lake Tour from Discover Banff Tours and see both lakes in the same day.
Bow Valley Parkway
This 48 km/30 mi scenic road connects Banff to Lake Louise. It was the original highway through the mountains, but today it is a scenic drive with lowered speed limits, great views, and a few attractions along the way. Vehicle access is restricted at certain times of year, and the road has a seasonal travel restriction from March 1 to June 25, which means the road is closed from 8 pm to 8 am to allow wildlife access to the area without human conflict.
During the months of May, June, and September, the eastern portion of the Bow Valley Parkway has restricted vehicle access to let cyclists to enjoy the road. Biking this route is one of the best ways to appreciate its beauty and take in the sites. Rent bikes or e-bikes in Banff from Ultimate Sports or Bactrax to enjoy this route. New this year, rent e-bikes or take a tour with Bike Banff and enjoy the ride in style! Make sure to carry bear spray and respect any wildlife you might encounter along this route.
Touted as one of the most beautiful drives on the planet, the Icefields Parkway follows the continental divide through a landscape of tall peaks, turquoise lakes, and ancient glaciers. This drive of a lifetime is also a great opportunity to see wildlife grazing by the road. There is so much to see during this mountain trip and you won’t want to miss a thing staring at the road.
For the best value, try a guided tour. These tours often come with combo packages that allow you to make the most of your time along the drive. The Columbia Icefield Discovery Tour with Brewster Sightseeing takes in the best spots along the drive including the Columbia Icefield Skywalk and the Columbia Icefield. Travel between Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper with SunDog Tours and see iconic places like Athabasca Falls, the Weeping Wall, Bow Lake, and Crowfoot Glacier. These tours also include access to the activities at the Columbia Icefield.
The stunningly beautiful Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park was surveyed by Mary Schäffer, who used a map drawn by her friend, Nakoda guide Sampson Beaver. Trekking through largely uncharted mountains following a hand-drawn map is no longer necessary to reach this epic lake, and there are stress-free ways to enjoy a scenic drive and spend time in this beautiful location without actually getting behind the wheel.
The Maligne Valley Sightseeing Tour from SunDog Tours takes the driving out of the equation. This tour includes a stop and short walk at Maligne Canyon, one of the deepest chasms in the Canadian Rockies, and Medicine Lake, a beautiful lake that “disappears” annually through a series of underground caves and tunnels. Finally, spend some time at Maligne Lake, either walking on the Mary Schäffer Trail or taking a Maligne Lake Cruise to see Spirit Island, another of the most photographed vistas in the Canadian Rockies.
Want to photograph these locations for yourself? Here are some tips to take great photos with
- Focus. Your photo won’t be in focus if your lens is dirty! If you’re pulling a cell phone out of a pocket, take a moment to clean the lens before taking a shot. Tap the screen where you want to focus the shot to let the camera know what you’re looking to capture.
- Take a step back. Do the mountains look tiny in your photo, but massive in real life? Try stepping back and zooming in on your subject. This perspective will make the mountains look a lot bigger—almost as impressive as they really are!
- See the light. Where is the light shining? Is the angle harsh? Is your shadow in the photo you’re trying to take? Dawn and dusk make for great lighting, but take a moment to make sure your subject is in the light and there aren’t any unnecessary shadows. You may have to move around a bit to find the perfect spot, but the effort will make your photo pop.