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The Canadian Rockies - WOW!
By Linda Lovin
I recently faced a critical travel decision. My husband was approaching a very significant birthday, and at the very same time, we would celebrate 34 years of marriage. Where should we go for a one-week vacation? My husband left the planning to me but reminded me that he hated airports, long flights, and travel in general. My goal was to make the right decision about location/supplier partner/excursions/dates of travel and to WOW!!!! my man in the process. I am thrilled to report that the decision to travel to the Canadian Rockies resulted in the most wonderful travel week of our lives (to date).
"...the expression on my husband's face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe."
In the course of planning trips of all types for my clients, I have dealt with a host of outstanding experts in the travel industry. For this personal and most special occasion, I chose Entrée Destinations as our partner supplier. Their motto of “service and hospitality are in our DNA” are not empty words. Beginning with my first telephone call, they were attentive to my every request and honestly did “sweat the small stuff and obsess over details.” As a Travel Advisor, I felt I shared a kindred spirit with Entrée Destinations.
On September 21 our adventure began. We departed DIA for an easy 2.5-hour flight to Calgary. After breezing through a friendly international arrival terminal, we were met by Min, a long-time resident of Calgary and our greeter from Entrée Destinations. Min ushered us through the Calgary airport, insured that our car rental experience was seamless and was an encyclopedia of knowledge about Calgary and all of the territory we were about to explore. She offered a multitude of travel suggestions – one of which was Gypsy Guide. This is an incredible app that gives practical, historical, and cultural commentary along numerous driving routes not only in Canada but throughout the USA.
Tip: Be sure to pre-load Gypsy Guide in an area with a strong Wi-Fi signal.
And then – it was WOW!!! All the way. The countryside around Calgary is rolling hills of farm and ranch land with jagged mountains thrusting on the horizon. As we drove on the Trans-Canada Highway, we simply became speechless. Please understand that we are twenty-five-year residents of Colorado, have traveled the Rocky Mountain West extensively and we love our home in Evergreen. However, we were totally unprepared for the majesty that was unfolding before us.
Tip: Pre-purchase a Discovery Pass that allows access into all of Canada’s National Parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.
After about two hours of driving through absolute jaw-dropping magnificence, I treasured the moment when the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise first came into view and the expression on my husband’s face was something between disbelief, shock, and pure awe. Located in Alberta’s Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chateau was originally built over 100 years ago as a base for outdoor enthusiasts and alpinists and sits at the base of a glacial moraine that fills Lake Louise. The water is emerald green from Victoria Glacier’s sediments and is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful works of nature on the planet.
Tip: Lake Louise has been “discovered.” Each day, bus after bus stream into the area, all filled with tourists from around the world. By reserving a room at the Fairmont with a lake view, it is possible to enjoy the miracle of sunrise over the lake and glacier within the comfort of your room.
We spent a day soaking up the scenery that lies within an hour’s drive from Lake Louise. Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is a jewel that offers relaxed lodging and dining in a serene setting. Athabasca Falls and the mountains and valleys
of Yoho National Park provide one breath-taking moment after another.
The next day, we took the highly recommended Ice Explorer Glacier Tour departing from the Glacier
Discovery Centre on the Icefields Parkway. It was the coldest and windiest day of the season so, while we did get to take a short ride on the Ice Explorer onto the 10,000-year-old Athabasca Glacier, we didn't get to spend as much time as we would have wanted on the most visited glacier in North America.
After two nights in Lake Louise, we drove the Icefields Parkway for the trip to Jasper. This road has been described as the most beautiful mountain drive in the world. My husband and I have not witnessed all the mountain drives in the world, but it is difficult to imagine scenery more spectacular. Initially, we stopped at every vista for photographs thinking that surely this was the most beautiful view of the day. The gorgeous panoramas just kept appearing with every curve of the road.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is a different experience from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Situated in Alberta’s magnificent Jasper National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, comfortable cabins line the shore of a lake that often reflects the image of surrounding mountains. It is quiet and boasts a world-class golf course.
Our first morning in Jasper, we enjoyed a private walking tour of the area with Alpine Art Ecotours and learned about the history of the indigenous people in the area as well as the fauna of the forest. We thoroughly enjoyed talking with our local guide about everything from history to current Canadian politics.
That afternoon we cruised Maligne Lake with its beautiful azure-colored water. Alpine scenery, frigid glacial water from the three glaciers visible from the lake, and the haunting beauty of Spirit Island, a place of religious significance to Canada’s First Nation people, are part of our memory of that special day.
The next day, we re-traced our steps on the Icefields Parkway and took an exhilarating helicopter flight up, over, and
down into the Canadian Rockies. Rockies Heli Canada also provided a short hike and lunch beside a waterfall as part of the experience. My husband remains in touch with our local guide in hopes of a future fishing trip into the wilderness areas we saw.
Our final days were in Banff and the Fairmont Banff Springs. The world-famous “Castle in the Rockies” has been providing legendary hospitality to guests for over 130 years. Once again, we experienced unbelievable beauty, fabulous food, and people so genuinely nice that we felt like we were in our own hometown. The town of Banff is a quintessential mountain town with a myriad of lodging and excellent dining options.
Our last guided tour was a boat ride on Lake Minnewanka, the second longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies. Stunning snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the brilliant autumn colors of the trees were reflected on the water during our glorious morning outing.
On the closing day of our trip, we awakened to low clouds and snow showers. Reading books by local authors in front of a roaring fireplace provided us with the perfect ending to the perfect celebratory trip. WOW!