Canadian Rockies: Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Kananaskis, Waterton, Glacier, Vancouver & more…
After a month of fieldwork in eastern Canada, I took a flight the west, visiting The Canadian Rockies, a little bit of the U.S. and Vancouver. This story is back from 2010, but it was a great experience I want to share. I’ll focus on where I’ve been and what animals I’ve seen. Hopefully, I can inspire some people to go and visit this magnificent place. I was there from the beginning of August until September 15th 2010.
I will start with a couple of tips:
- Book trips/campsites in advance (definitely for multi-day hiking trips during the busy season).
- Rent a car, it’s the easiest way to explore the area.
- If you stay for more than 7 days, get a year pass for the Canadian National Parks.
- Take it easy and enjoy the scenery, the animals will come.
The descriptions and tips are organised per park, also check out the park descriptions for some additional information & tips.
Yoho National Park
Yoho NP has beautiful sceneries with waterfalls. We were lucky to see a porcupine close to the parking spots. We did a couple of hikes, one to the Burgess pass. This place is known for their fossils. We could see a couple just lying next to the paths. The area is full of cameras to protect these precious fossils. On this trail, we spotted some mountain goats.
To Mount Assiniboine
We were going to do a multi-day hike towards Mount Assiniboine, a very famous mountain. Apparently, it looks like the Matterhorn (a mountain in the Alps, Europe). We started at Mount Shark parking lot. We made our way to McBridge’s Camp. The first part was more in the forest, but this camp is close to an open area where the mountains appear nicely right in front of you. The next day we looped around and made it to Mt. Assiniboine Lodge. Although we didn’t have a lot of clear weather, it’s a great place looking over a lake and the Mount Assiniboine.
But the next day was THE day. We made our way back over the Wonder Pass Trail. We took a break at the Wonder pass, enjoying the beautiful scenery. Obviously, whenever we took a break, I was scanning the landscape for wildlife. It was without success at first, but suddenly I saw something moving in the distance. I couldn’t really figure out what it was, but it was big! I kept looking at it and made my dad and brother look at it as well. We all could see a large creature with a tail moving across the landscape. It couldn’t be anything else, it must be a Mountain lion, Cougar, Puma, however you want to call it, but it was on my list now.
Happily, we moved on, along the Marvel Lake, it looked wonderful, although I might have been still euphorically about a previous experience.
Canmore – Highway 40
Along highway 40 there are tons of wildlife watching opportunities. In the first part, we saw a Moose and some Black bears. Where this highway 40 is crossing with the Smith-Dorrien Road, we spotted both Mule deer and White-tailed deer, Bighorn sheep, and a Coyote. We also spotted one of our few Black bears along this highway. South to this crossing, highway 40 was a hotspot for Grizzly bears. Some were just sitting next to the road, others we spotted on the slope of the valleys
Banff National Park
The City of Banff is a very nice place. They have a nice visitors centre and a museum. Here, we booked all our backpacking trips. Both the Trans-Canada Highway and the Bow Valley Parkway are good roads to spot wildlife. The later is a bit more open and less crowded, so that’s my preferred one. Wildlife can be everywhere, so keep your eyes open. Although often the first sign is a lot of cars slowing down or stopping along the road, that’s a sign to look out for wildlife.
Lake Louise is one of the highlights from Banff National Park. It’s a spectacular view, although very crowded with busses of tourists coming and going. We made our way slowly upwards towards Jasper National Park. The Icefields Parkway is the road leading towards Jasper.
The Columbia Icefields are the first highlight. It’s a very nice scenery with views on the glacier. A bit higher along the Highway we made a stop for a hiking trip. We have seen a campsite with the name Brussels, so that’s what we booked. It was a great walk, we first intended to make it a loop. But this loop involved a tricky crossing along a mountain pass. At the time we arrived, it was very cloudy and foggy, even with some rain. We decided to turn back. During this trip, we saw a Hoary marmot and a Harlequin duck.
We continued our way, visiting the Athabasca falls, a mineral lick nearby with Bighorn sheep, and finally ended in Jasper. A nice town with some hiking possibilities from the town itself. We saw Elks grazing around the town.
Our trip continued to the east, direction Hinton. We first had to check out the Maligne road, where we spotted an Elk with huge antlers.
After the Maligne road, we continued east to Hinton, to leave the national parks for a bit and take a different route south. Along the Yellowhead Highway towards Hinton, there is another mineral lick where we spotted Bighorn sheep on the road and some Mountain goats on the slopes.
Hinton & Highway 40
A bit before you reach Hinton, there is the Highway 40 (again). This is the road we took down south. It still has a great scenery, but the road is not as good as in the National Parks. This area is characterised by mining areas. It sounds bad (and partly is), but a lot of the mining area they are ‘replanting’, and are now green meadows, where a lot of wildlife can be seen grazing. We ‘ve spotted a lot of Elk and Bighorn sheep.
But we started this journey on Highway 40 with an incredible sighting once again. We were driving just for about 20 min in, and I spotted something on my left, just inside the forest edge. I was pretty sure it was a Mountain lion, but it passed very fast as we were driving. I shouted ‘turn around, I think there was a mountain lion!’ Finally, my dad found an appropriate place to turn around. Full of adrenaline I was looking in the forest edge, hoping to see it again. Although my hopes weren’t that high, as they can easily disappear in the vegetation. But it didn’t, it was still there, watching us. It was just on the opposite side of the road, about 1-2m in the forest edge. I had the chance to take my binoculars and make eye contact. I couldn’t believe it. It must have been a long sighting, as I even tried to make a picture (but only managed to make a blurry picture…). Soon the Mountain lion decided it was time to go. It slowly moved further into the forest, turning its back towards us. It stopped one last time and looked back at us, and continued it walk. It seems like it couldn’t care less what we were doing and what we were thinking. The adrenaline took over and we jumped out of the car, armed with a camera and a hiking stick. But as soon as we got to the forest edge, we looked at each other and figured out this was the worst idea ever, so we returned to our car to continue our trip.
Ironically, I returned in 2013 to the same area to join a research project about Grizzlies. Read more about this trip here. I was devastated. When I got back to this mythical place, at least for me, I could only see clear-cuts at the spot I this Mountain lion 3 years earlier. Although I know these creatures have a huge territory and it wouldn’t affect it too much, it was a weird feeling.
Kootenay National Park
Coming down from the Highway 40 from Hinton, we visited Banff again on our way to Kootenay National Park. By now it was getting by the end of August, beginning of September. We got our first snow in Kootenay National Park. This was a really nice valley to drive through. On our hikes there we saw a couple of more Grizzly bears.
To Waterton Lakes
After passing Radium Hot Springs, we drove south in the direction of Waterton Lakes National Park. We took Highway 93/95, but we got some local info there was a free hot spring. We took on the challenge. It was situated on the road a bit after Canal Flats towards Elkford and Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park. It was after this Provincial Park, close to the crossing with a road going north to Elk Lakes Provincial Park. It was nicely indicated. The hot spring was just a part of the river. There were three baths, very very hot, hot, and nice. Although you have to deal with the sulfur smell (the smell of rotten eggs). We continued our way down to Waterton. On one of these roads, we spotted a Wolf crossing the road.
Waterton Lakes National Park
It’s a long way, and you cross a bit of less scenic landscapes, but reaching Waterton Lakes National Park is truly amazing. You come from the plains and the mountains are appearing in the distance. Along the highway, there is a sign for a Bison Paddock. It’s a drive-thru kind of fenced park with a couple of bison. Definitely worth a visit.
Furthermore, there is a Grizzly viewpoint, where we didn’t see Grizzlies, but it had an amazing view of the mountains and the valley. Waterton Lakes National Park is very nice and has a great scenery, maybe even better than Banff and Jasper.
Taken the Red Rock Parkway, we saw a young Grizzly with ‘blond’ line on its back. When the evening felt, we spotted a herd of Elks. I was scanning for wildlife and watching this herd once in a while. The herd were above a steep slope leading towards the river. Suddenly one of the Elk dropped down, I could hear the sound of falling rocks and the noise of an Elk in panic. It was a real struggle, you could see some panic in the other members of the herd as well. After a lot of trial and error, the Elk finally was able to get back on the slope and join the rest of the herd. I like this kind of unusual sightings where you get a bit more into the life of the animals itself.
Glacier National Park & U.S.
As we were close to the U.S. border, we could resist… so it happened, we visited Glacier National Park and saw a couple more Grizzly bears. We’ve been mostly driving through and enjoying the landscape. We made our way to the Northern Cascades and passed Washington to finally make it back to, Canada.
Vancouver is a very nice city, visiting Stanley Park is definitely a must. To finish my trip, I did a whale safari. I was lucky to see the Killer whales or Orcas. Too bad I can’t remember the company I did the trip with.
To make this journey even more epic, I saw the Northern Lights from the plane. It must have been a weird look seeing a guy with his sweater put around his head and the window the make it darker, but it worked.