GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 9: GLACIER SKYWALK AND LOWER BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Do you remember when I said, “(Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later!  Stay tuned…)?” That followed my comment about the gloomy and cold (36 F) weather at Columbia Icefields.  The weather changed dramatically, and we had our prettiest and warmest day yet.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Scenes from the bus window along Columbia Icefields Parkway

Our travels took us back on Columbia Icefields Parkway for a scenic drive that parallels the Continental Divide and runs through the heart of both Jasper and Banff National Parks

We first stopped at Sunwapta Falls for an up-close look.  The thunderous sound of the rushing water was mesmerizing; I could have taken a glorious nap there with the falls as sleep-inducing white noise!

Next stop was back at the Columbia Icefields base station to catch our shuttle bus to Glacier Skywalk.  If there was any day to do it, this was the day.  The sun was shining bright, there were beautiful white clouds in the sky, and my jacket came off to enjoy the comfortable 75-degree temperature. 

Athabasca Glacier
That’s me in between Karen and Edie on Glacier Skywalk

I was amazed by the construction of this award-winning architectural marvel; however, I was too distracted by the fantastic views to get too caught up reading the information displays.  Just look at what you can see out in the distance—and, 1,000 feet below my foot!

Our guide, Scott (R) along with some of our group

For lunch, we had a relaxing riverside picnic while we enjoyed lovely scenery.

Our next stop was a hiking trail looking down at glacier-fed Peyto Lake.  The views were magnificent!

Shot out the side window on our way to Banff

Meanwhile, the drive between each stop along Columbia Icefields Parkway was stunning—so much prettier than two days prior!  Unfortunately, bugs on the bus windshield ruined what would have been some nice shots, but here they are anyway:

Before heading into the town of Banff, we were able to get a fabulous view of the town from above—a perfect backdrop for our group photo.

Our group, along with Scott and our driver, David (R)
On our way down the mountain, we saw WILDLIFE(!)

Our spectacular day concluded at the Rim Rock Resort where we stayed for our final two nights.  Set amidst pine forests on the side of a mountain, the setting provided scenic views of the surrounding mountains. 

Dinner was in small groups at the hotel’s Primrose restaurant where Bruce and I both ordered salmon to end our streak.  What a lovely way to end one of the best days of our tour!

Next up:  More of Banff National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 7: LAKE LOUISE & COLUMBIA ICEFIELD

One of the things Bruce and I enjoyed on the small group tour we did to Slovenia and Croatia with Vantage Travel, and this tour with Odysseys Unlimited, is the flexibility to go off on our own at each destination.  We were given a deadline to be back at the bus, but how we spent our time was an individual choice.  Our guide would give us all the information we needed and wanted on the bus ride to each location.  For those who wanted to stay with the guide, that option was available as well. 

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Four different morning views at Lake Louise Village before we headed to the lake

At Lake Louise, we opted to walk the recommended lakeside path; however, some members of our group hiked on alternate trails or visited the hotel.  It was a beautiful, calm morning, so the reflections in the emerald green water were breathtaking throughout our walk! 

Beautiful flower baskets and plantings graced the front of the hotel above the lake.

We were thankful the blue skies stayed with us for our drive along Columbia Icefields Parkway to our next destination:  Athabasca Glacier.  The parkway was one of the prettiest I had seen, and I ended up snapping quite a few pictures out the bus window along the way:

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the glacier, it was a bit cloudy, windy, and a chilly 36 degrees at that high elevation.  It was not a good day for photography, because the white ice of the glacier blended in with the white clouds for a very flat appearance.  (Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later!  Stay tuned…)

Dome Glacier, near Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier and the ice field where we were headed next. Since 1844 when the glacier reached its maximum, the edge of the glacier has retreated about one mile. That retreat continues today as warmer local temperatures continue to melt each summer than is replaced by winter snow accumulation.

The Columbia Icefield, in Banff National Park, is a UNESCO site.  At an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, this 125-square mile tract of snow and ice is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains.  It also marks a triple Continental Divide point—meaning waters originating from the 23 feet average annual snowfall ultimately flow into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. 

An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle transported our group to Athabasca Glacier—the most visited glacier in North America.  Equipped to drive right onto the glacier itself, the vehicle has 5-1/2-feet-tall tires especially designed for glacier travel.  Each one of these super-sized tires costs $6,000!  The vehicles were originally purchased for $500,000 each; however, when they were due for refurbishing, $750,000 was spent on each vehicle, for a total investment of 1.25 million for each Ice Explorer.

Walking on the glacier was slippery and cold, but it was an awesome sight!

Bruce kept his mask on to keep his nose warm!
The view out the back window as we made our way back to the base station

Following our buffet lunch back at the base station, we stopped for a hike at Athabasca Falls and River after passing by this waterfall:

Finally, we headed north to another UNESCO site, Jasper National Park, our home for two nights in the town of Jasper.  We had a nice view from our room at the Whistler’s Inn!

Flowers outside of the local grocery store

The town is small, so I took a quick look around before Bruce and I met up with the group for dinner.  Opting for the salmon (again!), our streak continued!

Next up:  Maligne Canyon, Lake, and River in Jasper National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 6: AN UNPLANNED SURPRISE VISIT TO MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK

This was our longest travel day, a journey taking us from the U.S. back into Canada to visit Banff National Park.  I’m not a fan of long bus rides, but the scenery was stunning.  Entering Canada required stopping at their border patrol station to have our passports processed.  Although Canada had dropped its mandatory Covid testing for everybody entering their country, a random testing policy was implemented, resulting in one of every 8 travelers being required to take a self-administered Covid test and send it via FedEx to the processing center.

Before crossing the border, we stopped for a restroom break at a duty-free store with this banner greeting us at the door:

At the station, three members of our group were selected; however, it was a Saturday.  They had 72 hours to self-administer and FedEx the tests back, so our guide figured he would hold off sending them in until we got to Jasper, on Monday.  Since the backlog for processing tests had reached 4-7 days, (and it had taken almost a week for others in our group to get their results back after entering Calgary at the beginning of the tour), I shook my head as I did the math.  It was August 27th, and our trip was scheduled to conclude on September 1.  The tests weren’t going to be turned in until August 29, and they would take one business day to arrive at their destination.  The guys would be home in the U.S.A. before receiving their test results!  What the…?  If they had tested positive, they would have already spread Covid to a bunch of people!  What’s the point?  We all had a good laugh about that, but what a waste of resources!

Onward we traveled along Canada’s western edge of the Canadian Rockies, entering Banff National Park.  Along the way, we noticed that all of the road signs in the park were in English and French, a federal law. 

The original itinerary stated that we would check into our hotel late in the afternoon, and then go for a walk at Lake Louise; however, our guide, Scott, and driver, David, had another idea in mind.  Since we were going to see Lake Louise the following morning anyway, how about trying our luck at getting into the parking lot at Moraine Lake before continuing on to the hotel?  Scott explained that the car parking lot would already be full, but since we were in a bus, we would possibly have a shot at getting into the bus parking lot.  Besides, Lake Louise, originally named the “Emerald Lake” was green, and seeing Moraine Lake would give us an opportunity to see an azure blue lake.  Were we game?  We voted unanimously in favor.

The day had been gloomy, and when we arrived, we couldn’t even see the ten mountain peaks surrounding the lake, due to the cloud cover.  We made it into the lot, though, so at least we could see some bright blue water.  Good enough for me; blue is my favorite color!

To get the best view of the lake, Scott suggested climbing the 79 feet up the “Rock Pile,” a popular hiking trail leading to one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada.  I bolted up ahead of everybody in the group, so I would have the most time to spend up at the top.  I anticipated the clouds hiding all ten peaks in the distance, but seeing the lake was better than nothing.  Surely, it would be beautiful and photogenic, regardless.

Just as we made it the top, the sun broke through for a spectacular view!  A few of the ten peaks appeared just in time for our arrival, and the brilliant blue water of the glacially fed lake shined.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Until I saw the lake with my own eyes, I thought the pictures I had seen of the lake were Photoshop-ped to-the-max.  No way could that water be such a bright shade of blue!  I was wrong; it really is that blue! 

Rock flour is what causes Moraine Lake’s water to be so blue, and Lake Louise to be that pretty shade of emerald green.  Also known as “glacial flour,” it consists of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock caused by glacial erosion.  The super-fine consistency becomes suspended in the melted snow and ice, causing the water run-off to appear cloudy.

We were all in awe and snapped a bunch of pictures, along with the other tourists.  This was definitely the highlight place for a photo with Bruce; I always make sure to get one from each trip. 

Log jams are caused by winter avalanches that sweep trees off the slopes onto the lake ice. When the ice melts, the trees drift over the stream outlet.

The nine-mile bus ride to Lake Louise Village, was buzzing with chatter about what we had just seen.  We all agreed the climb up the Rock Pile was well worth it!

Back down at 5,200 feet, we arrived at the village of Lake Louise, Canada’s highest community.  After checking into our room at Lake Louise Inn, I braved the cold air and biting wind for a look around the village and a walk along the river, while Bruce rested.  Beautiful!

The glacier in the upper left mountain is pictured below.
These beautiful stained glass windows were in the attractive visitor center in Lake Louise Village.

Next up:  Lake Louise & Columbia Icefield