Spotting wildlife in the Canadian Rockies

A highlight for any trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains is the opportunity to spot wildlife.

Bear

It is possible to see elk, deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bears, moose, coyote, wolves, cougars and lynx.

As well as this there are many birds and smaller creatures, such as squirrels, chipmunks, pika, and hoary marmots.

The best time to see wildlife is first thing in the morning (around dawn) or late in the afternoon as this is feeding time for many animals.

Remember that you are visitor to these amazing creatures’ home, so be respectful and keep your distance. I seriously saw someone get out of their car to take a closer look at a bear – it’s not that cuddly teddy bear from your childhood!

Below are some of my photos from a week long road trip from Calgary to Jasper through Banff and Jasper National Parks back in July.

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Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake in Banff National Park.

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The lake, which is approximately 5 km (3 miles) from Banff township is 21 km (13 miles) long and 142 metres (466 feet) deep.

It is the longest lake in the Canadian Rockies region. The lake’s main fed is from Cascade Mountain via the Cascade River. There is also fed from Mount Inglismaldie, Mount Girouard and Mount Peechee.

The Stony Nakoda people called the lake Mini-Waka (Water of Spirits) after the spirits that reside in the lake. The early European settlers named it Devil’s Lake.

The area is popular for picnicking, hiking, mountain biking, scuba diving, and boating. It is the only lake in the Banff National Park that allows use of motorized boats.

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Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is a tributary of the Bow River in Banff National Park.

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The canyon has been formed by erosion over thousands of years. The Johnston Creek, which empties into the Bow River, has cut through limestone rock creating the canyon.

Catwalks are attached to the limestone walls allowing visitors to follow the Johnston Creek through the canyon.

It is 1.1 km (1/2 mile) one way the the Lower Falls and 2.2 km (1 1/2 miles) one way to the Upper Falls. Allow 2 to 2/12 hours for a return trip to both the Lower and Upper Falls.

For a longer hike continue on 3 kms from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots, a series of green coloured mineral pools.

At the lower falls you can cross a bridge and climb through a tunnel to see the waterfall up close. Expect to feel the spray from the waterfall and during busy periods you may have to wait to enter.

 

At the base of the trail is the Johnston Canyon Resort. There is a restaurant, gift shop and ice cream stand. The resort offers cabin and cottage accommodation.

Johnston Canyon is 25 km from Banff and 33 km from Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway.

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Cascade Gardens Banff

Cascade Gardens is a small public landscaped garden located in downtown Banff in Alberta, Canada.

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The garden is a series of terraced gardens built into the hillside. It includes many colourful flower beds, rock gardens, trees, shrubs, winding pathways, stone steps, and water features.

The gardens are located behind the Parks Canada Administration building. This historic stone building was built in 1935.

The Brett Sanatorium and Hotel stood on this site from the 1880s until it burnt down in 1930. Parks Canada took over the 12 acre land and architect Walter Beckett designed the administration building and surrounding gardens.

The gardens are free to visit as is the Parks Canada building.

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Bow Falls Trail

Bow Falls Trail is a walk in Banff, Canada that follows the south shore of the Bow River to Bow Falls.

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It is a 1.2 km walk from the Bow River Bridge to the Bow Falls. The is a segment of the Bow River Trail.

There are separate trails for pedestrians and cyclists. Bicycles are not permitted on the clifftop part of the track. The clifftop part of the track is closed during the winter.

The Bow Falls is adjacent to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The waterfall itself is rather wide and shallow.

It is a nice walk from Banff township along the riverbank to the falls.

If you don’t want to walk the trail there is a parking lot off Bow Falls Drive.

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Tunnel Mountain

Tunnel Mountain is a mountain in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

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It is a popular walk to climb up to the summit of Tunnel Mountain, which provides amazing views over Banff and the Bow and Spray River valleys.

If you begin at Tunnel Mountain Drive it is a 3.6 km (2.2 mile) trip up and down. There is limited parking near the track entrance so you may have to find a park along the road and walk up. Note: Tunnel Mountain is closed to vehicles during winter.

If you start at the Banff township (end of Banff Ave Rd) it is approximately a 4.3 km (2.7 mile) return trip.

The track is well maintained and although it is a steep climb at some points generally it is a gentle climb up. Bikes are not permitted on the trail.

So where is the tunnel? In 1882 there was a suggestion of putting a railway tunnel through the mountain for the Canadian Pacific Railway. This idea was quickly rejected due to the cost and the time involved. But the name Tunnel Mountain stuck.

Local resident Anne Ness reportedly climbed the mountain more than 8,000 times during a 40 year period. Sometimes Ness even climbed the mountain twice in one day.

So follow Ness’ example and give it a go!

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Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola is a scenic tourist cablecar that travels to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in Alberta, Canada.

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It is approximately an eight minute ride by cablecar to the summit. Each gondola can fit four adults. It is also possible to hike a 5.5 km trail to the summit. During the winter months it is free to take the gondola back down.

Sulphur Mountain, which is named after a hot spring on its lower slopes has an elevation of 2281 metres (7486 ft) above sea level.

The upper terminal has two restaurants, gift shop and interactive displays in the Above Banff interpretive centre. Also check out the short film ‘Above Banff’ in the theatre.

There are also multiple viewing decks, including a 360 degree roof observation deck.

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Outside as well as views over the Bow Valley there is a boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak and the site of the Cosmic Ray Station.

Sanson’s Peak, the highest point on Sulphur Mountain is named after Norman Bethune Sanson who from the early 1900s to the mid 1930s recorded data at the meteorological observatory station, which is still standing today. Sanson climbed the mountain more than 1000 times to collect weather data.

The Cosmic Ray Station was built in 1956 and was in use until 1978. The structure was dismantled in 1981.

During the summer season it may pay to book online as there can be a wait to enter. It is also advisable to bring a jacket as even in summer the winds up there can be brisk.

Banff Gondola is located at 100 Mountain Road, Banff.

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Fairmont Banff Springs

Fairmont Banff Springs is a luxurious hotel in Banff, Canada.

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The Fairmont Banff Springs, which was designed by architect Bruce Price opened in 1888 as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. The hotel which is now a National Historic Site of Canada was originally a five storey wooden building with 250 rooms. Rooms started at $3.50 a night.

As Banff and the Canadian Rockies became an increasingly popular tourist destination it was decided to update the hotel in stages.

The 11 storey centre tower, which was designed by Walter Painter, was constructed between 1911 and 1914.

In 1926, a fire burnt down the north wing of the original hotel. A new north and south wing were rebuilt and completed in May 1928.

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The hotel is built in the style of a Scottish baronial castle. The limestone blocks on the exterior came from Mount Rundle.

Today the hotel has 764 guest rooms, a spa and health club, fitness and aquatic centre, art gallery, boutique shops, restaurants, bars, and a golf course

The hotel is located 405 Spray Avenue, just above the Bow Falls.

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