June 14, 2016
By Afton Aikens with notes from Where writers
In the Canadian Rockies we take our cues from the mountains—we go big. We also get creative. Our tour operators offer activities that allow everyone to explore our wild alpine playground. We’ll get you to the summit; you choose whether you want to ride, fly or climb.
Horse Trips to the Backcountry
Horses provided essential transportation for Indigenous peoples, European settlers and early Banff and Jasper tourists. Visitors can still sightsee by saddle and horse-drawn carriage. Today’s horseback rides provide a link to our western heritage.
Take a trail ride for an hour or a day, or join a multi-day pack trip through remote mountain terrain with tent camp stays. At the end of each day satisfy your appetite with hearty campfire-kissed cuisine. New this year are Banff Trail Riders’ custom fishing trips to alpine lakes teeming with trout.
“The cool thing about fishing pack trips is the solitude at the lakes and rivers—there’s nobody else there. The opportunity to explore that area is pretty unique,” says Banff Trail Riders’ owner Jonathan Welsh.
For added comfort, book a horseback vacation with backcountry lodge accommodation. Brewster Mountain Pack Train rides to the Ghost River area near Canmore explore Black Rock, Yamnuska and Orient Peak mountains; log cabins await at Brewster Company Ranch by Meadow Creek.
In Banff, Sundance and Halfway Lodge host Banff Trail Riders’ guests along the peak-studded wilderness route to 2,440-m Allenby Pass.
Tonquin Valley Adventures operates horse trips to its lodge by Amethyst Lake backdropped by the rugged Rampart Mountains.
Cruise Pristine Lakes
Lakes Minnewanka and Maligne are not only beautiful—they both have a storied past and hidden gems.
During the Banff Lake Cruise across 27-km (17-mi) Lake Minnewanka (the mountain parks’ largest) you’ll be entertained by the captain/guide’s commentary on geology and history. The lake got its name from the Stoney First Nation word Minn-waki, meaning “lake of the water spirits.” Aboriginal peoples inhabited the shores 10,000 years ago, and in 1888 the resort village of Minnewanka Landing was established. But nowadays only scuba divers access the village, as it flooded when a dam was built in 1941.
Watch for bighorn sheep, elk and bears during the voyage to Devil’s Gap at the easternmost edge of the Canadian Rockies. “I feel humbled by nature there,” says boat captain Christine Davidson. “This gap created by forces that defy comprehension was a doorway to the Prairies for animals and ancient peoples.”
The 22-km (14-mi) scenic Maligne Lake Cruise in Jasper has been a tourist mainstay ever since pioneer ‘Curly’ Phillips launched his hand-built tour boat ‘Leah’ in 1928. Experience the excursion Reader’s Digest calls “the best cruise in Canada.”
Gaze at ice-studded peaks as you listen to historical commentary. American Quaker Mary Schäffer was the first white woman to visit the lake then known to the Stoney people as Chaba Imne (Beaver Lake).
The highlight of the cruise is photogenic Spirit Island. In 1949, Parks Canada’s Mabel Williams wrote, “one does not wonder that among the Indians it was regarded as a sort of sacred spot.”
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