Leaving Canmore, where we had our base for few nights, for Jasper (our next stop), we found ourselves going through the heart of Banff National Park. I still didn’t know at that time BNP was going to be our secret memory factory.
Banff National Park – Established in 1885, after three railway workers discovered a cave containing hot springs, BNP became a worldwide known park. After several changes in boundaries since its creation, the park has now 6,641 km2 of valleys, mountains, rivers, forests, glaciers and endless trills. Consisting of 2 major towns, Banff and Lake Louise, BNP has millions of visitors during the summer and winter looking for various activities. With about 1,600 km of trails, Banff seems to be the largest network of trails, which makes the park so famous. Located approximately 100 km west of Calgary, BNP is stretching 240 km along the Eastern slope of the Continental Divide (also known as Great Divide). The Continental Divide is the line following the height of land that separates areas drained by rivers that flow to opposite sides of the North American continent(in Canada, the water flowing in rivers eventually reaches the sea in either the Arctic, Atlantic, or Pacific Oceans). The divide in Canada is not necessarily obvious and starts from a point somewhere in the Columbia Icefield, from which the three axes of the Continental Divide diverge.
Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) is the alternative route between Lake Louise and Banff, and it goes parallel with Bow River. Along this scenic 51 km route there are several viewpoints, picnic areas, campgrounds, and hiking trails. Johnson Canyon that goes along Johnson Creek is very famous for its spectacular charm, including the Lower Falls, where the creek falls abruptly. The trail up to the Lower Falls is about 1 km and goes along the canyon on a wide and easy path that turns into steel catwalks for some distance.
Sturdy and with solid handrails, these catwalks carried us at different levels of the canyon, so we could enjoy it from different angles along the route. It was really nice to see the heights of the canyon, from the bottom or from the top, deeply carved by the rapids of the creek, or by the Mother Nature over time.If you would like a little spray of water in the face, you can go closer to the falls through a little tunnel in the limestone bedrock. We didn’t have a chance to get to the Upper Falls, I understand they are even more spectacular.Nature at home, we witnessed new wonders of the life. No matter how hard the life can be, there is always a way up to the light.The shining and translucent blue waters of Bow Lake is one of the main points of interest along the Icefield Parkway. Named after the reeds that grew along the Bow River (and that were used by the local First Nations people to make bows), this magnificent lake was created when the Bow Glacier has melted away and retreated, leaving space for this peaceful oasis.
Another significant viewpoint along the pathway, and my favourite one, is the stunning Peyto Lake. A short paved uphill trail (about 1 km) from the parking lot leads to one of the most scenic viewpoints in the whole area. Far below, Peyto Lake is spreading lazily its grace, in its exquisite coloured tones. You can stay mesmerized for hours staring at this breathtaking view. Named after Bill Peyto, an early trapper and trail guide in Banff area, the lake is renowned for its brilliant turquoise colour during the summer time, and which is given by the reflection of the suspended glacial rock debris (flour or silt) that is carried from Peyto Glacier.
Very interesting the panel where you can look at the Peyto Glacier today through a hole, while watching a picture of the glacier since 1885 and observe how much receding in all these years.Along the highway, heading up north, you can’t really notice when Jasper National Park begins, but the best reference you are within the JNP boundaries is when you reach Athabasca Glacier