Top: Lake Louise, Left: Johnston Canyon, Right: Sunwapta Falls
Canada and America share many things:
Of course, even the best laid plans can be thrown off. In short, we dealt with cancelled and delayed flights, road closures and changing reservations, but eventually, late Thursday night (about 1am) we pulled in to our campground in Jasper in an SUV. While we mostly just traveled on Thursday, we did pull out at a relatively unpopulated lake in between Banff and Jasper to snag an awesome photo as the light was fading!
We had to change and improvise some plans but we had an amazing trip! Here are some tips and hiking guides we put together after spending a week in the Canadian Rockies!
Day 1: Calgary & Jasper National Park
So this was more of a half day for us. We flew into Calgary around 2 PM, had to get through the city to pick up a rental car and our camping equipment, buy groceries, THEN drive for 5 hours to our campground. We had planned on being in the city the night before, but that is just the way it goes sometimes. We still managed to snag a few awesome photos at two random pullouts on our way up though!
On the first real morning, I surprised Lynn with a guided hike onto the Athabasca Glacier. Quick story! Lynn had tried to surprise me for our anniversary in New Zealand with a helicopter ride and hike on the Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand. That trip got cancelled due to low clouds and rain (after we got seated in the helicopter and were geared up too! UGH!), so I decided to return the favor and surprise her here in Canada. I was going to book a helicopter ride too, but I felt like this was more us. We toured with IceWalk and it was absolutely worth it. They provide crampons, gloves, hats, winter coats (if you need them). The whole hike takes about 3 hours from the parking lot and they offer a morning hike (10 AM) and an afternoon hike (1 PM).
Or you can spend the same amount of money (possibly more depending on the company) and take a bus, not getting to actually walk on the glacier, but see it, I guess? Don't do that, take the hike.
We trekked back to Jasper to warm up and grab some coffee before hiking up Maligne Canyon. There are 3 different ways to approach Maligne Canyon depending on how much time you have and how much effort you want to put into the hike!
There are 6 bridges that cross the river that created Maligne Canyon. The photos above are from the 3rd and 4th bridges. You can park at either the 1st, 5th, or 6th bridge. The 1st bridge is next to the teahouse and in total from the 1st bridge to the 4th bridge is about 20 minutes walking downhill. More down stairs than downhill. If you are looking for more of a challenge you can park at the 6th bridge, walk about 30~ minutes to the 5th bridge on relatively flat trails, then another 20-30 minutes from the 5th bridge, uphill to the 4th bridge. Alternatively, if you are running short on time, park at the 5th bridge and hike up to the 4th bridge (or 1st!) and back. You really do get some incredible views on the hike up the trail, so we highly recommend it!
After raining the night before, we made our way through the overcast mountain side up to Maligne Lake. We had originally planned to rent a canoe and row our way out to Spirit Island. The guide that I looked up was a bit off with its distances. It said you could make it to the island in about an hour and half. When I talked to the boat house crew, they informed me that it would take 8 hours round trip for even the most ambitious rower. Additionally, there was a thunderstorm moving in. We hiked around the lake for a little while (still great views!) and decided to head back into town to get some coffee and get a permit for Angel Glacier, as this summer the construction led to requiring permits to enter that road.
Our allotted time to go up to the glacier was not until 4:00pm so we spent the rest of the afternoon chasing waterfalls at Athabasca Falls. There is a narrow staircase at the back of the falls that will take you down to the small lake the waterfall feeds into. The turbulent water here was a milky white/blue color that was absolutely mesmerizing.
Angel Glacier is a short uphill hike from the parking lot area, perhaps 20-30 minutes if not less. There is a second path from the trail to go out towards another glacial lake and meadow but the route was closed due to a particularly aggressive grizzly bear.
We just had to stop across the freeway and hike down to this river as the sun was setting for some self-portraits. With no one else in sight, we ran across the fields and down the hill to enjoy a moment just for us. We had written letters for each other and spent a rare private moment away from the crowds, reading love letters and taking self-portraits.
Day 4 was a working day for us! We started the early morning with a beautiful engagement session at Peyto and Bow Lake. The local couple we shot were extremely creative and made a beautiful bouquet from artificial flowers they bought at Michaels. Normally we avoid artificial flowers, since they are usually painfully obviously fake. These flowers, however, were brilliant and really made the vibe of the shoot feel intimate and special.
Yoho National Park + Emerald Lake
Yoho is just a short drive outside of Banff, and as we had to shoot later that evening in Moraine, we decided to drive towards Emerald Lake and make a few stops along the way. The first pull out was of the Natural Bridge. We have seen tourists do some ill-advised things in our travels, but very few have been as blundering as the tourists climbing over the guard rails to take selfies over the natural bridge with rushing water underneath them. There are points on the hike that you can get close to the water without being in danger, but the sheer amount of people who decided to walk all over the landmark was staggering.
Emerald Lake was an absolute madhouse. We arrived in the afternoon and the outskirts of the lake were packed full with people picnicking, BBQing, and overall just enjoying themselves. Combine that with the people who were staying at the lodge and the restaurant patrons, and it was a little too crowded for our taste. We took a short hike around the lake and snapped a few pictures before returning back to Moraine for the proposal shoot.
We captured a proposal here at the beautiful rockpile trail! Climb down the rocks for the best views right at the edge of the lake. Lynn and I waited at the edge of the parking lot, made eye contact with the groom-to-be and began following them from a safe distance. It wasn't hard to do as the lake was extremely crowded and we were just another couple of people who were making their way up the hill. We got into position and were lucky that not too many people got in the way of the first shots. Once the crowds realized what was happening they scattered quickly and we got some amazing shots as the sun was setting!
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of hikers, strollers, tour groups and casual families hiking to the upper falls of Johnston Canyon is a small not obvious path that leads down to the river bed. About .2 kilometers (3 minutes walking) before the upper falls viewing platform is a small path on the right side of the trial. It is right before a fenced are with a small viewing platform and you should be able to see the top of the rock I am standing in front of above. When you make it down the cliffside, you are rewarded with a mini waterfall, cave and a stunning river bend around the natural rock formation.
Left: Lower Falls, Right: Upper Falls
The last stop on our trip to Banff was to the famous Lake Louise for some sunrise canoeing. The clouds were not working in our favor and by the time the sun finally rose past the tree line, the light was pretty harsh. We managed to snag a few photos and then finally made our way back to the boathouse. We drove back into Calgary, returned our rental car and flew back home to California.
Our trip of course was not complete without the most amazing wildlife! Our animal count was:
Wild Goats: 15
Bighorn Sheep: 4