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Alberta, Canada

Author: Judy P.
Date of Trip: June 2001

The Calgary Airport is very nice. I’m not sure if it’s still there, but keep an eye out when you land and are taxiing down the runway– there’s an oil rig pumping that has a statue of a bucking bronco and a cowboy riding it as a tribute to the big rodeo there every year. It’s cute. Once you get off the plane, you will stand in line at the custom’s counter. Make sure you have your passport!!!!

I’m an Olympics nut, so I really enjoyed seeing Olympic Park in Calgary. The Olympics were held there in 1988. The fake luge ride inside the building was a lot of fun. So was actually sitting at the start line of the bobsled run. And standing up on the medals podium pretending I just won the Gold was cool! I got goose bumps just seeing the Olympic Torch burning. And the different country’s flags all hanging made for a colorful photo.

My Faves
Alberta, Canada is my favorite place in the world! I’ve been there twice in the summer and once in the winter, though several years ago now. There are SO many sights to see, it’s hard to name any in particular. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (Valley of the Ten Peaks) are spectacular.

Icefields Parkway
All I can say is when you drive the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise or Banff up to Jasper, plan on taking the whole day. There are so many places to stop and take photos! Peyto Lake is gorgeous, as are Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Herbert Lake at sunrise is really pretty. If you get a sunny morning, the water is still and you can get a great shot with the mountains reflecting in the lake. (It’s not too far a drive from the Post Hotel.)

Jasper — Spirit Island on Maligne Lake
For some reason, my heart belongs to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper. We bought our tickets for the Maligne Lake boat ride at the Jasper Park Lodge. Unfortunately, you only get to actually stop at Spirit Island for a quick (10 minutes or so) photo op, and they always warn to look out for a possible porcupine at the bathroom there. They don’t actually let anybody onto the island (which technically is not an island), but you’ll stop at the best place to get a good photo. As I recall, when you get off the boat, you have to go uphill to get to the best spot for photographing. I ran up there as fast as I could to get there first and get a good shot without having to jockey for position. Beware that the sky is bright and the mountains, lake, and island are kind of dark. I’ve had several washed-out photos due to the bright sky overpowering everything. If you’re really into it, a split, neutral-density filter would really help to even out the exposure, I’m sure.

Also, the drive through Maligne (muh-leen’) Canyon is FULL of wildlife. Make sure you leave early to get to your boat ride, because chances are you’ll want to stop many times along the canyon before you get to the lake. Be on the lookout. I got photos of big horn sheep with their noses right up against the car window, mountain goats, black bears, and even a grizzly. Every time you see a car pulled over, get your camera and get ready for action! Although, you should just drive with your camera at the ready at all times.

At one point along some highway somewhere, we spotted a black bear swimming towards us across the river alongside of us. We slowed down to follow it for about 5 minutes (as the river flowed), which was great because there was nobody else on the road. As the bear got out of the water and onto the bank, we pulled over and waited for it to come up the banks and hopefully cross the street in front of us. I was SO looking forward to this photo op! Since it was down at the bottom of the bank, we couldn’t see it for a moment. Just as it came up in front of us, wouldn’t you know, an RV pulled over right in front of us and ruined our view! At that point, the bear ran like the dickens across the street, and all I got was a photo of its wet paw prints going across the street! Ugh!

Jasper Park Lodge is a neat place to look around (very expensive to stay there) and have a drink on the veranda overlooking Lac Beauvert and Mt. Edith Cavell, at sunset (remember it’s later up there – about 10:00 I think.) When the alpenglow lights up on Mt. Edith Cavell, it takes your breath away. Everywhere you look, it’s more and more gorgeous!

My favorite place to stay in Jasper is Alpine Village (nice little cabins, reasonably priced) in Jasper. Oh – and Alpine Village in Jasper is right across the street from the Athabasca River, which is quite large. One of my favorite things to do was go into town (about a 3 minute drive), to Jasper Park Pizza, get a pizza and Coke to go, and take it back and eat it out on the lawn– a little picnic. You’ll probably see crazy rafters riding down the river, and many elk mosey around the grounds there. It’s a great place for a lazy afternoon.

Lake Louise
My favorite place to stay in Lake Louise is the Post Hotel (kind of expensive, but worth it)! The décor is what I would call “fancy rustic.” Beautiful flower arrangements, gorgeous wood walls, attention paid to every detail. The bellmen were wonderful. Very friendly and helpful. As were the front desk clerks. The rooms were very nice, very homey. We had fluffy comforters, a fire place, and a spa bath tub. Wonderful! On the exterior, the windows were lined with flower boxes and the large green lawn sprinkled with pine trees made you want to sit out on the patio in one of the adirondack chairs and just soak in the beauty. The indoor swimming pool is gorgeous. And the restaurant and bar are beautiful, with moose and buffalo heads hanging to give it that outdoorsy lodge feel. Sitting in the piano bar was lovely. Enjoying a hot chocolate on the comfy sofa in front of the fireplace– relaxing to the quiet piano music in the background while looking outside at the beautiful scenery. Too romantic! The meal in the expensive restaurant was excellent. It’s very foo-foo. When they brought out the fancy dessert, we were in awe! It was a piece of art. So pretty, we hated to eat it! The last time I had dinner at the Post, I only wore a nice sweater and jeans. I THINK my boyfriend just wore a decent shirt and jeans– no tie or jacket. But you may want to check with the hotel for a dress code before going.

Outside of the main lobby area, in a separate building, they also have (or had) a bar/restaurant called The Outpost that had the BEST rib eye steak sandwich with onion straws and french fries for a reasonable price! Unfortunately it could get rather loud in there, since there’s a big screenTV usually turned to some sort of sports. There, along with anywhere else, whenever we sat at a bar, the people were so friendly. Everyone is on vacation, and they all want to share their stories. It’s great to socialize and hear so many interesting stories!

Behind the Post is a little outdoor mini mall. It’s a real pretty walk out the back of the hotel, over the bridge over the river, and there you are. It was nice to walk over there to get a snack or some film. And maybe even a T shirt or two. There was also a small bakery/coffee shop that made sandwiches to take with you on hikes, and a small pizza-by-the-slice place (with no ice in the Coke). We also went horseback riding at Lake Louise. It was spectacular. And we paddled a canoe across Lake Louise. That was a little too much like work for me, but it was neat. We had lunch at the Poppy Room at Chateau Lake Louise. It was pretty nice. It overlooks the lake. How bad could it be?! I loved all the Icelandic poppies out in front of the hotel. Every time I see some, I have such fond memories.

Oh — the Banff Springs Hotel is very cool! Very expensive to stay there, but you really should go look around. Lots of good shopping and a neat place to see! Try to take the Tunnel Mountain Road in Banff– it winds up and around the top of a mountain, and you see a spectacular view of the Banff Springs Hotel (looking like a castle) down in the woods. You would think you were in Bavaria. I believe it also gives you the view of the HooDoos, some strange rock formations that are like giant stalagmites (or is it stalagtites?) coming up out of the ground from the mountainside.

The town is so cute. Very “touristy” for sure, but I loved it. And the drive around the Twin Lakes(?) (Johnson and Minnewanka Lakes) was very pretty. I hear that there’s good fishing on Minnewanka at certain times of the year. There are fishing boats available to rent.

I was told by the locals there that it usually rains in June. I hope you don’t have that problem! When I went in July, it was 85 degrees F. Don’t forget they do the temperature in Celcius! And mph is kph, so when you see a Speed Limit sign that says 100, they’re talking about kilometers, which is about 60 miles per hour! If you do 100 Miles per hour, you’ll be asking for time in the klinker!

A lot of places in Alberta don’t serve ice in/with their drinks.

All of the signs are in English and French. That’s kind of neat.

The best thing about Canada is the exchange rate. If you buy something marked at $20 (Canadian), and hand them an American $20 bill, they give you change back! It’s best to use your credit card to get the best exchange rate. (Why places can do different exchange rates, I don’t understand!) Everyone was happy to take American money. If you go to a bank and use an ATM, they will give you Canadian money. It’s so much prettier than American money.

They have a one dollar coin that they call a “Loonie” because it has a Loon (duck) on one side of it. It’s some sort of copper composite. Then there’s the “Twonie” (too-nee) coin. It’s a $2 coin that’s silver around the outside and copper (or something) in the center of the disc. It has a bear on it. I hear that there will be a $5 coin coming in the future.

Other Neat Places of Interest (And first, a couple of warnings for the faint of heart)

Takkakaw Falls
A secret that nobody told me about– if anyone tells you to go see Takkakaw Falls, beware the road to it! It’s a very steep hill, one lane wide, that is a total switchback. You have to drive up the first leg, then there’s no room to turn, so you have to BACK up the second leg! Then drive up the last one. It’s the hairiest thing I’ve ever driven on. I hate to think what happens if there’s another car coming in the opposite direction! And tour busses do it all the time! It was absolutely gorgeous once we got there and I stopped shaking enough to enjoy it!

Athabasca Glacier
Also, while driving on the Icefields Parkway, the tour on Athabasca Glacier is neat, but beware of that ride too. A giant bus with GIANT snow tires takes you down a VERY steep dirt road to get to the glacier. It scared me to death! Most downhill slopes on the freeways are about a 6% grade, and this one was a dirt road, at a 32% grade! You have to brace yourself against the seat in front of you so you won’t fly out of your seat. I just kept telling myself that they do this every day! The bus driver was laughing the whole way. Once up on the glacier, it was spectacular. We got out and got to walk around a bit. But they warn you to be very careful of any crevasses. Apparently, one poor soul fell into one once and rode down the black cave in the almost freezing water flow for I think it was 3 minutes, and was fortunate enough to come out alive at the bottom of the “toe” of the glacier! Can you imagine??? It was also the site where they filmed Superman’s home in the original movie starring Christopher Reeves.

As I mentioned before, a lot of places in Alberta don’t serve ice with their drinks. It was hot when I went to Athabasca Glacier, and the cafeteria across the street doesn’t serve ice. I found that so ironic with the glacier being right across the street!

Emerald Lake is also very picturesque. It’s in the opposite direction from Jasper, but it’s gorgeous. There’s a nice lodge there, very expensive, and not that great when I went there, but it has since been refurbished and from what I’ve seen on their website, it looks pretty nice now. Perhaps a meal there?

I have heard that Lake O’Hara is gorgeous, but I’ve never been. The only way to get there is on a bus ride that you have to reserve in advance, and as I recall, was not too cheap. There’s supposed to be spectacular scenery and hiking trails.

And there’s also a spot called Spiral Tunnels(?) I think it was along the way south from Lake Louise to Emerald Lake? It’s a steep mountain where the trains had to pass through, so they carved out a spiral tunnel actually inside of the mountain. As the train goes into it, you can watch it come out at one end, while it’s still going in at the other end. It’s kind of neat to see. There’s a nice viewing deck built onto the side of a mountain from which to watch it all happen. While we were waiting for a train, we watched a black bear that was rummaging around below the deck for entertainment. Unfortunately, much to our chagrin, my boyfriend dropped my purple umbrella down there while we were watching the bear! I felt so bad for littering the pristine landscape, but we weren’t about to climb down and retrieve it! So if you see it still there, you can tell everyone who the idiot was! We got there pretty early to wait for a train, not knowing their schedule. We waited and waited. Eventually, two tourbus loads of people came out onto the viewing platform, and the train came. I guess the tours know the schedule! You may want to ask the front desk clerk at your hotel.

Waterton Lakes — South of Calgary
Waterton Lakes is gorgeous. If you have time, leave a few days early, and drive south from Calgary to Waterton Lakes. I THINK it was about a four hour drive? Along the way we stopped at an Italian restaurant next to a Carl’s Jr. and when we came out we noticed a grainery or cylo painted bright orange with a yellow roof. It made for one of my favorite photos. We stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was very cool. It’s old, grand, and kind of expensive. It stands on a bluff overlooking the lakes and just looks so majestic. I’m pretty sure it was 3 stories and had no elevator. They offer drive tours of the area in their neat old limos.

We saw many buffalo on the road just before we got there. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t drive for a while because one huge one was standing in the middle of the road. We got some great shots of him!

While we were there, we drove to Cameron Lake which was a pretty drive. We also drove through Red Rock Canyon, which, surprise, is full of red rocks. More pretty scenery. There were lots of mountain goats in the visitor’s parking lot, licking the salt from the bottoms of cars. Again, more great photo ops. Then one evening we drove into that canyon at dusk, and happened to see a full grown mountain lion (or cougar), about 20 feet from our car. He stopped and growled and hissed at us for about 5 minutes. It was incredible! Unfortunately, it was the worst photo I took, due to the diminishing light and my hands shaking! In all the excitement, I didn’t think to use the flash (before the days of automatic flash!). We kept the car running in case we needed to make a quick getaway, but we just sat there. It finally ran off into the woods. That was one of the biggest thrills of my life! When we left the area, we happened to see a park ranger, and we told her about it and she said that we were very lucky — very few people ever see them. To this day, I still have my blurry photo of the cougar hanging on my wall of favorites!

On the road from Calgary to Waterton (I think about 2/3 of the way down) is a place called “Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.” Lovely name, eh? It’s a large cliff where the Indians used to lead the herds of buffalo off and let them drop to their deaths. Clever, but sick. Anyway, there’s a museum there that was kind of interesting, but I don’t think I’d bother to go again. If you’re into Indian lore, I guess it might be worth a stop. I have to say that standing near the edge of that cliff did conjure up some interesting insight as to the life style they must have led. wow.

General Tips
Before I went to Alberta the first time, I purchased the Fodor’s Guide to the Canadian Rockies. I love that book! I decided everything that I wanted to do from reading it. It gives prices, tips, descriptions, drive times, maps, and talks about almost every hotel/motel/lodge and restaurant, and activities. I also went to book stores and looked at big picture books of the Canadian Rockies. It’s great to actually see what you want to see!

It also mentioned driving on Highway 1A from Banff to Lake Louise. It’s more scenic than Hwy 1. It was beautiful. It runs pretty much parallel to Hwy 1. We felt compelled to get out of the car and just put up our arms and shout. It was like we were the only ones there. We stood next to a rail road track and watched as a Canadian Pacific train flew by. The engineer waved to us and made us feel like little kids. Just a different experience from living in the city as we do.

Every one I came across in Canada was very friendly. Even at the more expensive shee-shee places, like the Post and Chateau Lake Louise. I even tried on some VERY expensive jewelry at Chateau Lake Louise, and they were very nice about it. Even when I cringed at the prices! I have heard others complain about the Canadians, but I thought they were wonderful. Besides, almost everyone working around there is only there for the summer, from all parts of the world. They’re all excited to be there, and are so helpful and eager to share their knowledge with you.

All I can say is you’re lucky to have digital cameras these days. I didn’t on my last trip. Or my first one for that matter. The first time I went there was for 10 days, and I took 26 rolls of film! I can’t wait to go back with my digital and just go crazy! Oh — you guys are gonna have the BEST time!

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