- Trips & Tours
- Trip Planning
- WJ Reviews
- Featured Photos
By Habeeb Salloum
If one yearns for beauty in nature there is no more a scenic spot on earth than the Canadian Rocky Mountains, especially from Jasper to Banff, a route where nature exposes itself in all its glory.
The magnificent contiguous skyscraping mountains with their regal crests seem to protect the natural habitats of the a region. Based on the size and magnitude of the glacial presence in the area, the route has been blessed with splendid waterfalls, thundering rivers, and breath-taking lakes filled with glacial waters.
On our journey of discovery, my daughter Muna and I were travelling with my eldest grandson Laith, Maria his wife and their two inquisitive sons, Bilal at the ripe old age of 5 and his younger brother 4-year old Tamer, we were to uncover these wonders.
For two days we toured the environs of the town of Jasper. The attractions were many. The nearby imposing Maligne Lake, the largest in Jasper National Park, is surrounded by glacier-studded mountain peaks. The lake, which freezes in winter, boasts sparkling deep-blue waters and for beauty, has no equal in the region. Gazing at this postcard of scenic delight my daughter Muna mused, “It’s a scene made by the hand of nature for the camera.”
We stopped by the Maligne Lake Day Lodge & View Restaurant from where there is a fine vista of the lake and its surrounding white-capped mountains – said to be the most famous view in the Canadian Rockies. Bilal and Tamer were more excited about the donuts and chocolate chip cookies that they were about to devour than the boat tour upon which they were soon to embark.
The docks edging the restaurant which is the best eating place on the shores of Maligne Lake, had a series of boats standing by, overflowing with customers. After enjoying lunch, like the 40,000 annual tourists who visit the lake, we joined in a 90-minute scenic boat cruise to Spirit Island. Muna, proud and loving great-aunt of these two precocious boys, urged them to go sit at the front of the boat. In response to Laith and Maria asking why, Muna winked and said, “They will have an experience that they won’t forget”.
Known as the icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island, located on the southern end of the lake, is a small islet that is wrapped in legends and can only be reached by private boats or cruise vessels. The stop allows passengers to walk the island and stop at a viewpoint that offers a spectacular panorama of the lake and mountains.
Our guide seemed to love his job as he entertained us with his historical versions of the area’s history and folklore, and geographical stories about the lake intertwined with anecdotes and jokes. The scenery around us was eye-bulging magnificent and I continued to be entranced with the aura of lake waters caressing the feet of the majestic mountains until we docked on Spirit Island for a short stroll.
Leaving Spirit Island and as we were heading back to shore, the captain of the boat turned to Bilal and Tamer and asked which one of them would like to steer it. Tamer, without hesitation, jumped up volunteering. Just as Muna predicted, sitting at the front was advantageous and Tamer nailed it. He steered for about 10 minutes with the captain by his side. Very happy with his accomplishment, Tamer excitedly told me that this was the best-ever trip he had made because this was the first time in his life that he commanded a boat.
We had come to see why within the Jasper area, there is no competition in the beauty of Maligne Lake’s setting. After our tour, the saying that ‘once you have seen it, Maligne Lake will forever hold a place in your mind’, seemed appropriate.
Still enthralled with our Maligne tour, the next morning we drove to the Jasper Skytram – the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada as well as the only guided aerial ropeway in the Canadian Rockies. Tram cars took us up Whistlers Mountain for a smooth 8- minute ride to a station 2,277 m (7,472 ft) above sea level.
From the top there are views of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes and the Athabasca River – the longest in Alberta. Also at the top visitors can hike along prepared trails in the Alpine region of the mountain to the summit. The Skytram’s path was spectacular, climbing a mountain side covered with a thick green forest.
We then toured the mountain resort town of Jasper nestled in the bosom of the Rockies, a tourist town of 5,000 in winter and 10,000 in summer, before continuing the next day on our Jasper to Banff trip.
Leaving the town of Jasper behind with its well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering mountains, and an idyllic vacation spot, we made our way southward on Highway 93, known as the ‘Icefields Parkway’ and as one of the most scenic routes in the world, to stop at Athabasca Falls, the most powerful of the numerous falls in the Canadian Rockies. A place of wonder, we gazed at and listened to its roaring waters within a setting of white-tipped mountains and tree-filled valleys.
Back on the highway, a short distance away, the boys cried out “Look, there’s animals!” Laith stopped our van and we all got out, gazing at herds of black and white mountain goats, munching on greenery by the side of the road. The boys stood in awe as they realized that part of the herd included families with mother, father and children. Bilal took me tight by the hand and breathlessly said, “See! There’s a father, mother, and two babies, just like me and Tamer”. Maria quickly responded, “Yes, and the children eat all their food without their mother running after them”. No comment, of course, from the two toddlers to their mom’s remark.
We were still discussing our encounter with the goats when a flock of Canada geese suddenly appeared wobbling along the highway. Both boys piped up, “Oh look! Canada geese! They’re so funny-looking. You know, they go south in the winter. Do they need passports because they’re Canadian?” Muna looked at the boys with pride as they already seemed to know the rules of travelling.
Continuing on the Icefields Parkway, in the midst of a forested-landscape and following the Athabasca River, surrounded by towering mountains, we made our way southward. We stopped at more than half a dozen natural attractions including lakes, streams, gurgling waterfalls, and glacial-peaked mountains. The landscape was so overwhelming that no man could have invented a better setting. Maria said it all when she commented that it really is hard to rationalize something so perfect, so real and so spectacular, that it could be made by nature. She felt so tiny within this majestic environment.
One of the most important stops that we made was the Columbia Icefields, formed by six glaciers – the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle. Edged by 11 of the 22 highest mountain peaks in the Rockies and covering an area of 325 sq km (126 sq mi) and averaging 3,000 m (9,840 ft) in height, the six glaciers form a true ‘Continental Divide’ – their waters pouring, via the Athabasca and South Saskatchewan Rivers, into three different oceans: north to the Arctic; east to the Atlantic; and west to Pacific.
Driving further on, we, along with crowds of tourists, stopped at a number of roadside viewing points to photograph the sky scraping mountains, tumbling waterfalls, lakes, streams, and other astounding natural vistas. It was a world of magical colours and topographical mind-boggling scenes, mesmerizing in its beauty.
The frigid icefields were a source of great conversation as we left them headed for Banff. The kids were tired but still excited about their adventures in search of new animals. We checked into the beautiful Banff Aspen Lodge with its spacious rooms and friendly staff. A great welcome to Banff.
To cap our journey, the next morning, we made a trip to Lake Louise. Overwhelming and captivating at first glance, Lake Louise, the crown jewel of Banff National Park, is one of Canada’s top mountain resorts. Nestled deep within Banff National Park, the lake is surrounded by some of the most splendid scenery in the world. The sheer beauty of its 150 m (500 ft) thick glistening glacier, overshadowing its crystal-clear lake, edged by forests of fir and spruce, creates a breathtaking and mystique mystical aura. The most famous glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies, to many, it is considered to be the most beautiful spot in the western hemisphere. Located high in the Rocky Mountains and easily accessible, Lake Louise has often been described by travellers as ‘Canada’s top idyllic retreat’, projecting one of the world’s most beguiling scenes.
We basked in its beauty and magnetic appeal then left for Moraine Lake, another glacial lake. Hearing us discuss our plans, Bilal piped up, “You know what’s boring? Seeing another lake! Tamer and I want to see animals. We’ve had enough of the water”. While Muna laughed hysterically in the background, Bilal continued in his attempts to convince us that returning to our hotel in Banff would be the best option – not another lake. With his brother as his ally, both explained that hotel pools are a far better choice for enjoying water than visiting glacial lakes. Listening to them, I thought to myself, “The saying ‘Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!’” is alive and well.
IF YOU GO:
Top Place to Stay in Jasper:
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – the hotel, spreading along the curve of Lac Beauvert, a short distance from town, incorporates a golf course and combines the ultimate in luxury with tranquillity and natural beauty. A village unto itself, it consists of lavish log cabins and cedar chalets.
Two Good Places to Stay Banff:
Fairmont Banff Springs – Inside, the hotel incorporates an amazing collection of chambers and the Bowling and Entertainment Centre and Willow Stream Spa. Besides the 764 guest rooms and suites, it offers 17 shops and 9 restaurants and lounges – a number of which diffuse old-world splendour. It is a vibrant town unto itself.
Banff Aspen Lodge – A delightful lodge with a friendly staff, it offers spacious rooms and free WiFi and a breakfast buffet. Only a few minutes’ walk from shopping, dining, and entertainment venues.