Keep Exploring

Continue following an awe-inspiring journey
through Western Canada.
By Ignacio Maza

After my Rocky Mountaineer rail adventure, I checked in at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. This is THE place to stay in Jasper National Park, largest of all the parks in the Canadian Rockies and known for its sheer abundance of wildlife, majestic mountain scenery, natural beauty, and wide-open wilderness.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is celebrating its 100th anniversary and looking better than ever. Choose from a guestroom in the main lodge building, a lakeview suite, or a charming signature log cabin. The resort is very spread out and connected by a series of paths. Leave a day to enjoy all the property has to offer, including an outdoor heated pool, walking trails, a spa, and my favorite – the boathouse, the perfect place to launch in your own canoe and explore Lake Beauvert. Don’t be surprised if you see moose and elk in your coming and goings, as wildlife tends to roam around the resort, especially in the evenings.

The lodge is a great ‘base camp’ to explore the region. Start with an easy rafting adventure down the Athabasca River with its rapids and calm stretches, to get an appreciation for the landscape. Hike the Maligne River Canyon, crossing several bridges over rushing streams, with rocky gorges up to 150 feet deep. In winter, the canyon floor freezes up and you can walk through the narrow passages in the rocks to see frozen waterfalls – a sight to behold. The most popular excursion in the area is to hike along the border of Maligne Lake and take a cruise to Spirit Island, a sacred site of the First Nations and one of the most photographed spots in all of Canada. The lake is set in what is known as a ‘box canyon’ surrounded by snowcapped mountain ranges on both sides. The waters of Maligne Lake get their distinct aquamarine color from the rock flour from the glaciers suspended in the water. Finally, a reminder that Jasper is one of the world’s largest ‘dark sky preserves’, unique places in the world with low light pollution and ideal conditions to see the stars. If you have clear skies, visit the Planetarium at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge for the greatest show in town. And yes, you can see the Northern Lights the park, starting in October.

From Jasper, I hired an expert guide who drove me down to Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway, Canada’s most scenic highway. Although the drive is only 150 miles long, it is packed with glaciers, remarkable mountain landscapes and breathtaking natural beauty. Travel at a leisurely pace so you have time to admire Athabasca waterfalls, visit the Columbia Icefield on a giant ‘snow coach’ that drives guests over the ice to the middle of the glacier, and stop for a picnic along the way. There are several lakes enroute, including Bow and Peyto Lake — most beautiful of all. Whatever you do, don’t miss the spectacular Glacier Skywalk, a modern curved bridge made of glass and steel that juts out from the rock and enables you to look down at the Sunwapta Valley, a 900-foot drop – an unforgettable sight.

In the late afternoon, I arrived at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The setting is picture-postcard perfect, as the hotel is set on the shores of the eponymous blue-green lake, surrounded by soaring peaks, with the Victoria Glacier in the distance. I loved going for walks on the path around the lake and hiking with an expert mountain adventure guide to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for fantastic views of Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains. Two dining recommendations on property: dinner at the hotel’s Walliser Stube, the celebrated Swiss-German restaurant, and lunch at the Lakeview Lounge for superb views.

My last stop on the journey was Banff, less than an hour’s drive from Lake Louise and the oldest and most popular resort destination in the Canadian Rockies. The absolute best place to stay in town is the Fairmont Banff Springs, originally built by Canadian Pacific in 1888 as one of their grand railway hotels. This landmark property has the feel of a Scottish castle, with enormous public spaces, oak beamed ceilings, terrazzo floors, soaring ceilings and high stone walls that convey a sense of grandeur the minute you walk through the door. Set on a hill overlooking a bend in the Bow River and surrounded by pine trees, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is proud of its rich heritage and without peer in the region.

In Banff, take the Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, a climb of over two thousand feet in just 8 minutes. At the summit, admire the views in every direction, hike to the old weather station in the neighboring peak, or enjoy a leisurely lunch at the mountain top restaurant. Other options include visiting the Parker Ridge Trail, exploring Lake Minnewanka and its extension at Two Jack Lake, or exploring galleries and shops in town. After a day of adventures, unwind at the Fairmont Banff Springs’ Willow Stream Spa and its waterfall whirlpools, mineral pool, and outdoor jacuzzi.

On my last afternoon in Banff, I walked down to the Bow River’s edge and sat quietly contemplating the falls and rushing waters with a sense of awe and wonder. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling so grateful to have visited Western Alberta and many magical places that I will long remember. I hope your name will be added to the long list of travelers who were blown away by the beauty of The Canadian Rockies, along with mine.

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