The 230 kilometres of Icefield Parkway curls its way along the spine of the Rockies. Connecting the tiny gem of Lake Louise with its famed chateau and glorious lakes and the ski town and national park of Jasper, the road teems with gushing waterfalls, stunning mountain vistas of craggy peaks and vividly coloured glacial lakes. Every bend seemingly unveils a stunning new view as the road connects Banff and Jasper National Parks along one of the world’s finest alpine drives.
Driving north from Lake Louise, Hector Lake is a worthwhile short stop with a less visited peaceful tree-lined lake with a glorious Rockies backdrop. Driving north Crowfoot Glacier digs its glacial claws into the mountain’s steep ravines. Sadly the glacier highlights the climate change debates, photos from early last century detailing the dramatic retreat of Crowfoot, one claw having evaporated and the other two tenuously gripping the mountain fringe in contrast to curling to the base of the cliff.
Not in decline is the cloudy blue Bow Lake sitting at the base of Crowfoot and the start of Bow River which gushes and runs through Lake Louise, Banff and Canmore into Kananaskis County. A great little area and a historic lodge sits at the top end of the lake where you can walk at the lake’s edge along a pebbly shoreline.
The road climbs towards Bow Summit arriving at a stunning lake. Gracing virtually every Canadian travel brochure, Peyto Lake is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the Parkway’s crown. Named after a famed bigger-than-life character Bill Peyto, a short walk leads to a crowded single viewpoint (note that all the brochures effectively have the same photo!!) revealing an intense viridian green lake. A walk of a couple of kilometres down the slope leads to the lake’s shoreline and views of the glacier feeding the lake and causing its vivid colours (the rock flour or ground dust collected by the glacier is feeds into the lake reflecting light). Signboards describe the colour varying within the season from a deep sapphire blue to green depending on the amount of flow into the lake.
As the road descends, a roadside viewpoint looks along the length of Peyto Lake and its feeding glacier. The road continues down past the imposing Mount Chephren and the grassy and swampy shores of Upper and Lower Waterfowl Lake. A little further on as it has done for centuries, Mistaya River continues to weather its path through the deep darkened narrow strata rock walls of Mistaya Canyon. Numerous potholes and swirling pools are whisked clean by the powerful gushing waters, carving rounded bowls from the soft limestone. Sprays of water glint with rainbows as the river sharply turns and twists its way through the plunging terrain.
The road clambers towards Sunwapta Pass around 2,000 metres above sea level and the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks, where the journey continues in the next article.
Photo Credit: Crowfoot Glacier 1920s by Byron Harmon