After a couple of nights in Calgary to get over the jetlag, we hired a car and headed west towards the Rocky Mountains. The view once we left Calgary was spectacular – Calgary faded away behind us, but in front the mountains rose out of the prairies, cloud bubbling over them like rapids over rocks.
Once we got into the Rockies we took a slight diversion off Highway 1 – the TransCanada Highway – onto Highway 1A, also known as the Bow Valley Parkway. The Bow Valley Parkway runs from just after Banff, alongside the Trans Canada as far as Lake Louise, taking a more scenic route with a higher chance of seeing wildlife than on the main highway. There are also several places to stop along the route.
The first place we stopped at was Johnston Canyon. There is a resort with cabins at the bottom of the canyon, and a restaurant, as well as a car park for visitors who are hiking the canyon. The car park was full and so we did what many, many other people were doing and parked alongside the highway, and then walked back to the entrance.
Johnston Canyon was formed by Johnston Creek, and within the canyon are lower and upper falls, with the upper falls being 1.7 miles away, and taking about 45 minutes to walk to. From there you can continue almost 1.9 miles (3km) to the Inkpots – seven coldwater springs which rise beside a meadow. We didn’t make it this far as we wanted to stop at other places on the way so we only went as far as the Upper Falls, however having seen a picture of the Inkpots when I got back to England I wish we had carried on!
The walk through the canyon is an easy one, along wide paths and metal catwalks. There were a lot of people when we visited – it’s certainly a popular spot so aim for low season or either ends of the day.
In terms of wildlife, the most exciting thing we saw was a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, although there were signs warning of wolves in the area which had become bold around humans and were stealing from picnics!
We ate at the restaurant at the bottom of the canyon before we left, which was very pleasant and surprisingly quiet given the popularity of the trail. It was perhaps slightly expensive, but that was to be expected given its location and the lack of other eateries in the area.
Carrying on up the Bow Valley Parkway we stopped at Emerald Lake in the Yoho National Park. When we arrived the weather had deteriorated somewhat and we looked around and took some photos in the mizzley rain. We decided to hire a canoe anyway, and luckily the rain stopped and we even had a bit of sunshine! We paddled to the other end of the lake, where it was very peaceful with a shallow creek running across a beach into the lake.
We left Highway 1A at Castle Junction and continued on the main Highway 1 to Canyon Hot Springs where we swam in the hot springs and stayed in a cabin overnight. From there we went to Sicamous where we hired a houseboat and spent four days on the Shuswap Lake, which I will write about in my next blog.
Highway 1A was beautiful, but naturally much slower than the main highway. To drive on Highway 1A, or to stop anywhere in the National Parks, you need to buy a parks pass from Parks Canada. There is a kiosk for these at the entrance to Banff NP, or they are sold in lots of places within the parks. At the entrance to the Bow Valley Parkway, Parks Canada were stopping every car to check for a pass.