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icefields parkway

Experience the Out of this World

Sep. 13, 2016
By Naomi Witherick

Enormous vehicles roved in the distance, large notched tires gripping the icy ground. White clouds hung low in the air, veiling the giant grey mountains behind them. Their misty edges touched the horizon, blurring the line between the sky and the frozen white ground.

This could have been another planet. But I was right here in the Canadian Rockies on the Glacier Adventure and Skywalk tour at the Athabasca Glacier.

Columbia Icefields, things to do in the Canadian Rockies

Walking on the icy surface of the Athabasca Glacier.

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4 Top Alpine Club Backcountry Huts

Dec. 14, 2015
By Afton Aikens

If you want to step outside the comfort zone of a hotel but aren’t keen on winter camping, an Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) backcountry hut may be an ideal choice—and a great base for skiing or snowshoeing. The huts vary from century-old log cabins in meadows to bunker-looking dwellings above treeline.

“The Alpine Club has put a lot of resources into them, so they’re well kept,” says the ACC’s Keith Haberl. “The great thing about (staying at a hut) is you don’t have to carry a tent or a stove, and the sleeping pads are there; just bring a sleeping bag and food,” he adds. “Huts open the door to a lot more terrain for a lot more people.”

Hut accommodation is dormitory-style; sleeping quarters, common areas and kitchens are shared with other guests. Huts can be booked up to 30 days in advance (or six months in advance for ACC members—and anyone can become a member). “There’s a high likelihood of meeting like-minded people who have some recreational objective that’s similar,” Haberl says.

Popular huts in winter include:

Photo by Tanya Koob

Photo by Tanya Koob

  • Elk Lakes Cabin, Elk Lakes Park, BC: This is the ACC’s closest hut to Calgary, accessed from
    Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis. The trailhead is 62 km south of Hwy 1 on Hwy 40, and it’s
    a 9-km (three to four hours) cross-country ski to the hut; the trail is track set in Peter Lougheed
    Park. Elk Lakes Cabin is a family favourite, with ski touring ranging from easy to advanced.

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Stellar View for Future Glacier Discovery Walk

Artists rendition of future Glacier Walk courtesy Brewster

Stop at the lookout where Brewster Canada is building its dramatic walkway just north of the Columbia Icefield. Here the Icefields Parkway rises to a mountain pass that bighorn sheep call home. Contemplate the architectural and engineering significance of the 400 m structure with glass-floor section as you admire Sunwapta Canyon, Mt Kitchener, Tangle Falls and Stutfield Glacier at three viewpoints minutes apart. Return next summer to experience the completed interpretive walk. By James Kallenbach

Winter Wildlife

Ptarmigans by Peter A. Dettling & TerraMagica.ca

Peter Dettling, owner of Canmore’s Terra Magica gallery and author/photographer of The Will of the Land, shares favourite locations to see animals in winter:

Icefields Parkway Ptarmigan Most birds leave in winter, but some adaptable species remain. At the south end viewpoint of Bow Lake (20 min north of Lake Louise, Map 1), a raven pair always greets tourists. Farther north, white tailed ptarmigan frequent the meadows below Bow Summit, but their white winter plumage make them hard to spot. Listen for hooting owls before sunrise or after sunset on Hwy 11 just east of the Parkway, particularly in February and March.

Bow Valley Parkway Moose Aptly named Moose Meadows east of the Town of Banff along Hwy 1A (Map 1) has habitat perfect for these large mammals. But resident elk (or wapiti) offer more reliable sightings. Large elk bulls (or stags) often reside east of Johnston Canyon, especially in early winter. Also watch for elk in the meadows just north of town on either side of Hwy 1.

Vermilion Lakes American Dippers Check hot spring heated waters (Map 3, 3B) where tiny dippers on rocks rapidly bend at the knee and bob their heads up and down in search of food. Try to spot wolf or cougar tracks on the road or frozen portions of the lakes.

Please don’t feed animals or get too close. Harsh winters can make them weak and stressful flight from tourists can reduce their ability to survive.—JN

Where the Wild Things are in Winter

Elk in Winter; image courtesy Jasper Tourism

We often see elk along the Icefields Pkwy just south of Jasper and bighorn sheep along Hwy 16 just east of town. At other roadside venues we’ve spotted coyotes, moose and mountain goats, and on rare occasions cougars, wolves and woodland caribou. Joe Urie of SunDog Tours suggests that the best way to get a glimpse of Jasper wildlife is in the company of an experienced guide. “Many Jasper guides have their own wildlife ‘hot spots’, secret places they keep closely guarded. Guides provide insights on the animals and ecosystems, making sightings more than just a photo opportunity,” he says.—Alison Baird

5 Best Places to Spot Wildlife

Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside

Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside

Canmore author John Marriott has photographed animals since he was six years old—find his Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies: A Glimpse on the Wildside at local bookstores. His top picks for wildlife viewing are:

1 Lake Minnewanka Loop: Bighorn sheep (especially at the Lake) and elk

2 Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Castle Mountain: Deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep and elk

3 Bow Valley Parkway between Castle Mountain and Lake Louise: Black and grizzly bears

4 Vermilion Lakes: Bald eagles, waterfowl, elk and coyotes. Try sightseeing by canoe

5 Icefields Parkway between Weeping Wall and Columbia Icefield: Mountain goats and bighorn sheep

Lakeside Lunch

CascadePonds

Cascade Ponds credit Andrew Hempstead

Heather Dempsey of Parks Canada suggests these scenic lakeside picnic sites:

  • Picnic at the west end of Lake Minnewanka and gaze at panoramas of the Canadian Rockies’ longest lake.
  • Southeast is Two Jack Lake and secluded Johnson Lake. Walk short trails and swim in shallow waters (on hot days).
  • Watch for deer, elk and pileated woodpeckers in tree cavities at Muleshoe Lake (5 min via the Bow Valley Pkwy W of Banff townsite).
  • Visit Bow Lake (Icefields Pkwy) for breath-taking Crowfoot Glacier and Waputik Range views.

Editor’s Note: Canmore’s Quarry Lake offers a sandy beach, swimming, trails and Ha Ling Peak view.—RM