It isn’t easy to get to the Thousand Island area of the Canadian lakes, but happily we were invited by old friends to see their fabulous lake home there, and then enjoy their expertise as tour guides in Montreal and Quebec City. It was a delightful experience with good companions, and we were grateful for the opportunity to see these special places. We found Quebec particularly charming with its riverfront setting, an Old Town on two different elevations connected by a funicular, good cafes and shopping areas, gardens, funky districts with lampshade street lights, wall murals, and shiny tin roofs on old houses. It wasn’t quite fall yet, but chilly rain told us that change was coming, and the city lifestyle would be different soon.
Travel is a privileged experience in every way. While I’m always grateful for the opportunity to step away from what is my “normal” life, travel has also been known to unleash bouts of envy in me when glimpsing the lives of others. Our Canadian Rockies adventure introduced me to a new and unexpected side effect: niceness.
When planning our trip, I somehow missed that we’d be visiting during the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. It meant, among other things, that our entry into national and provincial parks was free, a nice surprise. And throughout our nearly three-week drive, we kept saying wow, this is nice. Nice places to eat, nice things to see, nice people everywhere. There are even highway overpasses just for wildlife, so they can cross in safety. Nice. And in Banff we saw a window sign which suggested to us that maybe it’s always like that in Canada.
This overall sense of pleasantness led me to ponder the effect of ready access to natural beauty. I do not live in a beautiful place, and wondered how much being surrounded by such grandeur contributes to personal contentment on a daily basis. I think the answer is quite a lot. Canada seems to know this, and takes pride in protecting its wonders for the pleasure of its people and visitors.
I admit it’s easy to fall in love on a gorgeous day, in perfect circumstances. It was summertime, high visitor season, and local economies dependent on good service to tourists offered their best. There was no language barrier. Maybe I was over reacting, but I think it understandable that I spent our entire trip being both envious and grateful. We’ll be visiting Canada again. Nice.
Remember the red Adirondack chairs I loved when we saw them lakeside in Waterton? They showed up again beside the blue water of Two Jack Lake, near Banff. And the vivid shades of blue and turquoise found in Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka and Emerald Lake all rival Lake Louise, our first sight of the iridescence of powdered limestone and glacier sediment that colors the waters. No matter where we went in the Canadian Rockies, the rivers, waterfalls and lakes were beyond stunning; they were literally awesome.
Our few days in Jasper National Park may have been the most fun. It was the furthest north we traveled in the Canadian Rockies, with long daylight hours to fill, in all weather conditions. When a day begins with coffee on a sunny deck you never want to leave, moves on to wet misty woods with gigantic waterfalls that crash through deep gorges, and ends climbing a mountain in a snowstorm, it’s a satisfying experience.
The Path of the Glacier Trail at Mount Edith Cavell seemed daunting (you may be able to see a climber on the path, a tiny red dot in the middle right side of the first mountain photo), and the snow and wind didn’t encourage us much. But it was worth reaching the viewing deck to see the Angel Glacier up close.
The drive from Banff National Park to the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park can be done in less than four hours, but not if you intend to appreciate the drama available along the way. First up is a glimpse of the Columbia Icefield, the largest in North America. The Athabasca Glacier, one of eight on the Icefield, is visible from the road, as are tiny ant-like dots on it that are actually gigantic snow busses taking people out to walk on the glacier. The size and scale of this glacier is hard to grasp without benefit of the familiar perspective of cars, which you may be able to see in the first photo.
We had to stop often along the route north to marvel at the colors and varieties of landscapes presented by Mother Nature, but it didn’t matter how late we arrived at our hotel and dinner location; it was light nearly to midnight.
Even on an overcast day, it’s hard to describe Lake Louise as anything but breathtaking. Located within Banff National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the turquoise lake dramatically offsets Victoria Glacier, and no matter how many photos you have seen of it, there’s nothing like walking the path or sitting awhile to let it soak in. (I am not the one doing the yoga pose, but I understood her need of it.) The fabulous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel overlooks the lake, but for me it couldn’t compete with this natural beauty.
Our animal friends continued to contribute to our enjoyment along the way.
Kananaskis County lies in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and is home to an extensive provincial park system that includes venues used in the Winter Olympics and a G8 Summit. Our explorations were enhanced when Tim and Corky joined us for the week, and after their alarmingly too close bear encounter (3 adults and 2 cubs) during a walk in the woods near our hotel, we proceeded with caution and Tim’s bear spray.
The area is replete with gorgeous vistas, valleys, lakes, wildlife, and the pleasant town of Canmore. Bighorn sheep love to lick the salt on the highway, which provided initial amusement but ultimate annoyance with the frequency of our meeting. Our challenge was to make forward progress while avoiding sheep leaping over guard rails and moose deciding whether or not to cross the road in front of us. It was a highly entertaining few days.
It was a pleasure to drive through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Blood Indian Reserve, from the eastern Montana side of Glacier National Park to the Canadian side in Waterton Lakes National Park. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and it is a richly diverse ecological wonder. Watertown is also home to the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel (dating from the early 1920s) which sits on a wildly windy precipice overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.
It was wildflower season in the park, which added to already dramatic scenery, and we loved the red Adirondack chairs beckoning us to rest. The Canadian National Park Service places these chairs in gorgeous locations all over the country as a call to sit and appreciate…what an idea! When we finally reached sensory overload, we found refuge by taking afternoon tea in the lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel. Very close to Heaven.