2015 Sept: Garibaldi backpack + Canadian Rockies tour

See Tom Dempsey’s photos from hiking in Canada September 9-21, 2015 in day-by-day order:



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Trip description:

  1. Three gloriously sunny days with no wind made for perfect backpacking to Garibaldi Lake! Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range, British Columbia, Canada. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. The top of Panorama Ridge is 17 miles round trip with 5100 feet gain from Rubble Creek parking lot (or 6 miles/10k RT with 2066 ft/630m gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Backcountry Campground). The vibrant turquoise color of Garibaldi Lake comes from glacial flour suspended in melt water from Sphinx and Sentinel Glaciers. The volcanic pinnacle of Black Tusk (2319 m or 7608 ft) rises above Mimulus Lake, Black Tusk Lake, and Helm Lake, best seen from Panorama Ridge Trail. The Black Tusk is a remnant of an extinct andesitic stratovolcano which formed 1.3-1.1 million years ago: after long glacial erosion, renewed volcanism 170,000 years ago made the lava flow and dome forming the tooth-shaped summit.
    • Global warming/climate change: The Helm Glacier had an area of 4.3 square kilometers in 1928, but declined by 78% to 0.92 square kilometers as of 2009. The Helm Glacier’s melting trend mirrors that of all glaciers in the Pacific Northwest and fits into the pattern of glacier retreat across Canada (measured in the Canadian Glacier Retreat Index). From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (reference: Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of glacier fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand throughout the last century (the 1900s), suggesting a common, global climatic cause.
  2. Clouds and rain stopped us from a 20th anniversary hike to Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park, so we continued on to Jasper NP.
  3. Snow-dusted peaks rose above fall colors at Medicine Lake in beautiful Maligne Valley, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies, Alberta. Medicine Lake is not really a lake but is a natural back up in the Maligne River that suddenly disappears underground. Jasper is the largest national park in the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984.
  4. Viewpoints at Upper and Lower Sunwapta Falls are worth seeing in Jasper National Park – a good rainy-day activity. The falling water originates from the Athabasca Glacier.
  5. Snow magically dusted Mt. Chephren (3307 m or 10,850 ft) which soared majestically above orange and yellow fall colors in Mistaya River Valley along the Icefields Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta.
  6. Snow covered the Waputik Range above beautiful turquoise Peyto Lake (1860 m or 6100 ft), in Banff National Park. Bill Peyto was an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area. Suspended particles of glacial rock flour create its bright turquoise color. Bow Pass (2068 m or 6787 ft) is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, and a side road leads to a crowded nature trail to Peyto Viewpoint (and higher bus road to wheelchair access, a much safer way to walk in icy conditions like we found). The lake is fed by Peyto Creek, which drains water from Caldron Lake and Peyto Glacier (part of the Wapta Icefield). Peyto Lake is the origin of the Mistaya River, which heads northwest. (Early snowfall cancelled our backup plan to backpack the Rockwall in Kootenay NP, which had more than a foot of snow at Floe Lake.)
  7. In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Chester Lake is a delightful hike of 5.2 miles round trip with 1000 ft gain through larch forest. Larches are deciduous conifers (with needles turning yellow-orange and dropping in autumn) in the genus Larix, in the family Pinaceae. Extending the hike to Three Lakes Valley is up to 7.8 miles RT with 1800 ft gain to a lake-dotted limestone barrens. Kananaskis Country is a park system in the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, in Alberta. I grabbed quick photos of a grizzly bear, a cute pica, and a ptarmigan.
  8. Sunrise nicely highlighted Mount Kidd which reflected in Kananaskis River near Mount Kidd Interpretive Trail (at convenient Mount Kidd RV Park). Kananaskis Country equals the majesty of neighboring Banff National Park with less crowding.
  9. Hike along beautiful Galatea Creek to Lillian Lake (7.5 miles round trip with 1614 gain) or on to Galatea Lakes (10 miles RT with 2214 ft gain as we did) in Spray Valley Provincial Park, from H40 south of Kananaskis Village.
  10. Wind whipped water waves created rainbows at Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park joined Glacier National Park in Montana with Waterton. UNESCO honored Waterton-Glacier as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).

See also my related articles (with multiple trips consolidated):

USA Northeast: peak fall colors camping tour: NY, VT, NH, ME, PA, ON, NB

View Tom’s photos from a trip seeking peak fall colors across Northeast USA (New York, New England, Pennsylvania) to the dynamic Bay of Fundy (New Brunswick, Canada), for three weeks in October 2014. At bottom is my recommended camping itinerary for chasing a month of bright autumn leaf colors through scenic Northeast parks.

Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy: 41 favorite images + map from October 2014 trip

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All 272 images + map from October 2014 fall color trip, Northeast USA to Bay of Fundy

Our camping itinerary let us chase and hit the peak of fall colors at each destination from September 29 to October 20. Below is a bigger gallery of my day-by-day images chasing peak fall colors across Northeast USA to scenic Bay of Fundy:

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This photo gallery includes: New York (Niagara Falls/Ontario, Adirondacks, Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP Gorges, and Corning Museum of Glass); Vermont (Mt. Philo SP, Smugglers Notch and Shelburne Museum); New Hampshire (White Mountains, Mount Washington); Maine (Acadia National Park, Pemaquid Lighthouse, DeLorme’s Eartha globe); Pennsylvania (Ohiopyle SP); New Brunswick, CANADA (Bay of Fundy, Hopewell Rocks sunrise, St Martins and Fundy Trail Parkway); and Indiana (Indianapolis Zoo).

Driving MAP for October peak fall colors: Northeast USA – Bay of Fundy –  Indianapolis

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

USA Northeast fall color 22-day trip plan: Starting from Indianapolis on Sept 29, hit peak fall colors via: Adirondacks, White Mountains, Bay of Fundy, Acadia NP, Watkins Glen, Letchworth SP, Ohiopyle SP, returning Oct 20, 2014. www.photoseek.com (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Progression of peak fall color dates for Northeast USA & Bay of Fundy

In Northeast USA, fall colors generally peak first at high interior continental locations, and peak last at low elevation areas near the Atlantic Ocean, suggesting a trip from late September through October as follows (varying year to year):

  1. New York: Adirondack Mountains: September 26-Oct 1 peak colors
    • Colors reach peak first in the Lake Placid / High Peaks area in late September. Most of Adirondack Park is blazing with color by the first week of October.
    • The Lake Placid region has good mountain scenery with alpine lakes and brooks making perfect fall color reflection photos. Drive up ** Whiteface Mountain for easiest high viewpoint (or hike a fire lookout).
    • The latest Adirondacks color peaks along Lake Champlain & Lake George in mid to late October.
  2. Vermont’s central mountains: Mt Mansfield, Smugglers Notch, Green Mountains: October 1-7 peak colors
  3. New Hampshire: White Mountain National Forest and Mt Washington: October 1-8 peak colors (with various color stages from mid-Sept to mid-Oct)
  4. New Brunswick, CANADA: Bay of Fundy: October 5-13 peak colors
  5. Maine: coastal/Acadia National Park: October 8-14 peak colors
  6. Vermont: Lake Winnipesaukee & Squam Lake: October 10-21 peak colors
  7. New York: Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks: Oct 12-25 peak colors
    • Fall colors brighten the forests of New York’s Finger Lakes region in the last three weeks of October.
    • In Letchworth State Park, renowned as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the Genesee River roars northeast through a gorge over three major waterfalls between cliffs as high as 550 feet, surrounded by diverse forests. See rainbows, mist, and picturesque waterfalls up to 107 feet high. Off Interstate 390, 45 minutes south of Rochester.
  8. Pennsylvania: Ohiopyle SP and Fallingwater: Oct. 13-28 peak colors

Recommended fall color itinerary with camping & hiking options

In a 25-foot RV rented from CruiseAmerica (in Noblesville; near my wife’s family in Indianapolis, Indiana), we drove  3847 miles in 22 days (Sept 29-Oct 20) visiting:

Niagara Falls (Ontario) > New York’s Adirondacks > New Hampshire’s White Mountains > New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy > Maine’s Acadia NP > New York’s Watkins Glen and Letchworth SP gorges > Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle SP and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house > then back to Indianapolis

TRAVEL TIPS:
In autumn, always call private campgrounds ahead to check for early season closure. Some Walmarts allow overnight RV parking if you call first. Beware that due to their size, RVs cannot drive through Acadia NP’s four low-clearance bridges, New England’s covered bridges, or Mt Washington’s self-drive Road Tour in the White Mountains – all which pose no problem in a car. To save money on a compact 19-foot RV (not available in Eastern USA but available in the West), rent from CruiseCanada.com in Montreal or Toronto. In price per day, a rental car + gas + motel can be cheaper than CruiseAmerica.com’s 25-foot RV + gas + campgrounds; but we enjoyed the RV’s handy kitchen, bathroom, shower, and comfort for sleeping close to nature in campgrounds. Check websites, look for relocation deals, and enter discount code in reservation form. In October 2014, we noticed various motels with vacancies in the popular White Mountains even on weekends, encouraging us next time to try touring by car. As mountain weather often differs from nearby cities, get a better forecast at: www.mountain-forecast.com

ITINERARY KEY:  ***Impressive/Must see.  **High priority.  *Do it if time allows.
Abbreviations:  CANADA: ON=Ontario; NB=New Brunswick. RT=round trip. SP=State Park.
USANY=New York; VT=Vermont; NH=New Hampshire; ME=Maine; PA=Pennsylvania.

  • DAY 1 of 22:  Sept 29:
    • Rent an RV or car. CruiseAmerica.com has afternoon pick-up 1-4pm in Noblesville, Indiana or various other locations in Northeast USA. Gas expenses for a 25-foot RV add up quickly to around $50/day on this 3847-mile itinerary in 2014.
    • OHIO: Toledo: * Maumee Bay SP Campground (5 hrs from Noblesville RV). Many sites available.
  • Sept 30: 
    • ONTARIO: ** Niagara Falls views are better from the CANADA side. (4.8 hrs from Toledo/Maumee Bay SP via Detroit to Niagara Falls, ONTARIO)
    • ONTARIO: ** KOA Campground, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
      • or NY: * Golden Hill SP Campground (60 min); or * NY: Lakeside Beach SP Campground (75 min)
  • Oct 1:  
    • NY: * Chimney Bluffs State Park, Syracuse. (1.6 hrs from Lakeside SP; 2.3 hrs Niagara Falls)
    • NY: ADK: *** Fish Creek Pond Campground, near Saranac Lake.
    • NY: Adirondacks: hike *** Mount Jo Trail (ADK Loj) 2.6 mi RT, 710 feet gain (55 min from Fish Creek Pond)
  • Oct 2: VT: Burlington: ** Mt Philo SP Campground (reserve ahead). ($20 Essex ferry, short ride; or drive around 90 mi in 2.3 hrs from Mt Jo via Crown Pt/Lake Champlain Bridge)
    • VT: Burlington / Lake Champlain: ** Shelburne Museum. (20 min from Philo SP; 1.8 hrs from Mt Jo.)
  • Oct 3 camp: VT: Stowe: ** Smugglers Notch SP Campground (1 hr from Shelburne).
    • VT: ** Stowe Pinnacle Trail, Green Mountains (hike 2.8 miles, allow 3 hrs).
  • Oct 4: NH: White Mountains: H302 ** Beechhill Campground & Cabins, east of Littleton. (No reservation needed Oct 2014.)
    • NH: Lincoln: H112 / *** Kancamagus Hwy. White MountainsVisitor Center.
    • NH: H112: *** Sabbaday Falls, Kancamagus Hwy.
    • NH: H112: ** hike UNH Loop Trail (4.8 miles circuit, 1600 feet gain) on Hedgehog Mountain, Sandwich Range Wilderness, White Mountain National Forest.
    • * Scenic driving route: NH H302 to H112: Bear Notch /Albany Rd midway to Bartlett.
  • Oct 5-6: NH: White Mountains: H112 ** Covered Bridge Campground USFS. (Note: RVs must drive around Albany Covered Bridge’s height restriction via Conway and Passaconaway Road.)
    • NH: White Mountains: walk to ** Diana’s Baths with hiking extension to ** Moat Mountain hike, North Conway (hike 1-10 mi/2800 ft).
    • NH: White Mountains: * Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, H16
    • NH: White Mountains: * Mt Washington Road Tour, H16 (RESERVE AHEAD).
  • Oct 7: ME: Newport: * Christies Campground or Walmart. (3.7 hrs from Covered Bridge Campground via H16/Pinkham Notch)
    • or NH: White Mountains: Timberland Campground on US2 NW.
  • Oct 8: NB: * Fundy Trail Parkway is a pleasant side trip adding 1.4 hours. See * Fuller Falls.
    • NB: Fundy NP * Headquarters Camp + * Dickson Falls. (4.8 hrs from Christies Camp, ME; or 6.2 hours if adding Fundy Trail Parkway)
    • NB: * Cape Enrage Lighthouse & Barn Marsh Island Beach: see on the way to Hopewell. (30 min from Fundy NP Headquarters; 46 min to Hopewell)
    • NB: *** Hopewell Rocks Park, Bay of Fundy. (5.7 hrs from Acadia NP; 8 hrs from North Conway)
  • Oct 9 camp option: NB: ST Martins: Sea Side Tent & Trailer Park (CALL AHEAD: CLOSED early in fall 2014), adjacent to Fundy Trail Parkway.
  • Oct 9-10-11: ME: Acadia NP: *** Blackwoods Campground (MUST RESERVE AHEAD)
    • ME: Acadia NP: ** Cadillac Summit (but several low bridges restrict RV access)
    • ME: Acadia NP: *** Acadia Mountain Trail with loop option via Mt. Sauveur (2.5-4.5 mi RT/700-1300 ft gain)
    • ME: *** Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound serves delicious lobsters boiled in fresh seawater over a wood fire, plus other seafood. 1237 Bar Harbor Rd.
    • ME: *** Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. (8 hrs south of Acadia NP; 7 hrs from Hopewell Rocks)
    • ME: Brunswick: ** Hermit Island Campground option. (50 minutes side trip)
  • Oct 12: 
    • ME: Freeport: ** Recompence Shore Campground (at Wolfe’s Neck Farm nonprofit oceanfront)
      • or Bradbury Mountain SP Campground.
    • ME: Freeport: ** LL Bean Outlet Store, Freeport Village Station. (2 hrs from Pemaquid)
    • ME: Freeport (Yarmouth): * DeLorme map store: see Eartha, world’s largest globe. (10 min from LL Bean)
    • NH: Center Harbor: * Keepsake Quilting (for fabric lovers), Lake Winnipesaukee. (Drive 2 hours from Freeport)
    • NH: Holderness: *** West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail to overlook Squam Lake (hike 2-5 miles RT)
      • or ** Mt Major SP hike, Lake Winnipesaukee, Alton Bay (hike 3.4 mi RT, 1159 feet gain). (Drive 36 min from Center Harbor; 1.8 hrs from Freeport.)
    • MA: Lowell: * New England Quilt Museum
  • Oct 13: VT: Bennington: * Greenwood Lodge Campsites
    • VT: Bennington: Silk Road Covered Bridge + Paper Mill CB + Burt Henry Covered Bridge.
    • NY: Ithaca: Buttermilk Falls * Upper hike (Camp option).
  • Oct 14-15:
    • NY: *** Watkins Glen State Park: walk the spellbinding Gorge Trail 2-4 miles RT. (Drive 36 min from Buttermilk SP; 4.4 hours from Greenwood Lodge; 7.2 hrs from Alton Bay)
    • NY: * KOA Campground Watkins Glen/Corning
    • NY: *** Corning Museum of Glass.
  • Oct 16NY: ** Letchworth State Park Campground: wander the ***Gorge Trail #1 including Inspiration Point, Middle and Upper Genesee Falls (1-4 miles or drive and park). The huge campground has lots of space in October.
  • Oct 17-18 camp: PA: * Ohiopyle SP, Kentuck Camp. Reserve ahead on weekends. (Drive 5.8 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 18 or 19 tour: PA: *** Fallingwater house tour, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright – MUST RESERVE AHEAD, especially weekends. (5.5 hrs from Letchworth SP via Erie or Punxsutawney or State College)
  • Oct 19: OHIO: east of Columbus: KOA-Buckeye Lake Campground (on I-70, 3.5 hours from Ohiopyle).
  • DAY 22 of 22: Oct 20: Indianapolis, Indiana: return RV before 11:00am to Noblesville’s CruiseAmerica RV.

New England and Northeast USA guidebooks

Search for the latest New England guidebooks on Amazon.com (buying at this link supports my site).

Historical tip: As a Westerner traveling “back East” I learned that New York is NOT part of New England. New York and its Harbor were originally settled by the Dutch, who named it New Amsterdam in the colony of New Netherland. The British renamed the New Netherland colony to New York in 1664 (in honor of the then Duke of York, later James II of England) after English forces seized control of the Dutch colony.

CANADA: Vancouver, BC

The City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes a pleasant winter getaway from Seattle (or vice versa). Allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. [Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.] A trip to Vancouver can be efficiently combined with a visit to Whistler Village for summer hiking or winter skiing. Below I share Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:

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Downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour

Staying in a downtown condo or hotel makes for convenient walking exploration of Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver Harbour, Stanley Park, and Vancouver Aquarium. We liked using the web site AirBnB.com to locate private condo lodging along Coal Harbor.

Stanley Park and Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park is a great place for walking, skating, or bicycling. Vancouver Aquarium is excellent, including live shows of Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales.

Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory (4600 Cambie St.) is a domed lush paradise where you can experience the colors and scents of the tropics year-round, within Queen Elizabeth Park, atop the City of Vancouver’s highest point. From Little Mountain (501 feet), see panoramic views over the city crowned by the mountains of the North Shore. A former rock quarry has been converted into beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with flower gardens, public art, grassy knolls. In Bloedel Conservatory, more than 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within a temperature-controlled environment. A donation from Prentice Bloedel built the domed structure, which was dedicated in 1969 “to a better appreciation and understanding of the world of plants,” and is jointly operated by Vancouver Park Board and VanDusen Botanical Garden Association.

The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is a good astronomy museum worth visiting in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See science exhibits and shows in the GroundStation Canada Theatre, Cosmic Courtyard, and cool Planetarium Star Theatre. The building was designed in the 1960s by architect Gerald Hamilton to house what was then called The Centennial Museum. The Space Centre shares the building with the Museum of Vancouver. Outside, the Crab fountain sculpture was made in 1968 by George Norris. In First Nation legend, the crab is the guardian of the harbour and it was also the zodiac sign at the time of the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

Admire waterfalls in Lynn Canyon from the Suspension Bridge continue on a pleasant walking loop of several kilometers through wild rainforest. Lynn Canyon is a municipal park established in 1912 at 3663 Park Road, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7J 3G3, Canada. Phone 604-990-3755.

CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi, Joffre Lakes

Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is not only one of the most scenic ski areas in North America, but also hosts great summer hiking and mountain biking. Whistler has become a thriving center for year-round outdoor sports in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada. Hiking at Whistler is well worth the 10 hours round trip drive from Seattle, if you stay for a minimum of 3 nights — but allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. (Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.) Stay in a condominium or campground and hike the scenic trails featured below. The official visitors’ web site www.whistlerblackcomb.com helpfully books lodging and provides hiking, mountain biking, and skiing maps. Nearby Garibaldi Lake is one of my favorite wilderness trips (day hike or backpack).

Photo gallery of Whistler Resort, Garibaldi Provincial Park, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park


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The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler Village Gondola with Solar Coaster Express on Blackcomb Mountain for sightseeing or skiing variety. Buy a season pass if using lifts more than 2 days. Built in 2008, Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometers or 1.88 miles) and highest point above the ground (436 meters or 1430 feet).

I recommend the following hikes near Whistler:

  • On Whistler Mountain, hike the High Note Trail to views of turquoise Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park and onward to Harmony Lake, back to Whistler Village Gondola at Roundhouse Lodge (6 miles or 10k, with 2200 feet descent and 1000 feet ascent). Start the walk with a ride to the top of Whistler Peak Express Chairlift, which is a short walk downhill from Roundhouse Lodge.
  • Hike the Overlord Trail on Blackcomb Mountain (2440 meters) for flowers and good views in the Spearhead Range across Fitzsimmons Valley. Starting from the top of Solar Coaster Express Chairlift on Blackcomb Mountain, walk round trip for 1 to 6 miles (2k to 10k), with up to 1700 feet of ascent, ending with a chairlift back down to Whistler Village.
  • Driving 25k south of Whistler, backpack 1 or 2 nights to turquoise Garibaldi Lake, hiking to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. Panorama Ridge is 6 miles (10k) RT with 2066 ft (630m) gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Campground (or 17 miles RT with 5100 ft gain from Rubble Creek parking lot).
  • Drive an hour on the main highway northeast from Whistler to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC. A rough, rocky, steep hike of 10 kilometers round trip ascends (400 meters up) by a rushing stream to three beautiful turquoise lakes. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes are colored by glacial silt which reflects green and blue sunlight. The road onwards to Lilloet is very scenic.
Global warming/climate change:

As of 2005, Overlord Glacier had retreated 880 meters from its terminus of year 1929. From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (Koch et al. 2008, web.unbc.ca). The record of 1900s glacier fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand, suggesting a common, global climatic cause. Read more about global warming/climate change.

See related articles

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com. Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

CANADA: Bowron Lake Provincial Park story

“Pardon Me, I’ll Run to my Ambulance Now…”

A true story from Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. September 18-28, 1993.

Adventure travel sometimes takes an unexpected turn. While backpacking in Canada, I heard tales of a wonderful 73-mile canoe trip where you paddle a rectangular circuit of wilderness lakes and portage by rolling your canoe on wheels. Rugged mountains soar a vertical mile above you, mysterious mists hug the waters, and ravaging bears take your gear unless it is hung in caches reached by ladder. After dreaming about the trip for two years, I borrowed a canoe and joined some friends at Bowron Lake Provincial Park, near Quesnel, British Columbia. Little did I know that we would encounter an animal more fearsome than any bear. On the first day of the trip we witnessed a marriage proposal, a case of hypothermia, and a trip member running to catch his own ambulance!


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An Unexpected Phone Call

I planned to spend seven days canoeing the Bowron circuit with Mark and Kim, a married couple whom I knew through work. Kim’s friend Laura from the East Coast decided to join us. We chose to go in late September, when the summer crowds diminish and the leaves of the aspen trees glow gold.

A week before the trip, my phone rang. On the line was Dale, a stranger to me, calling from Oregon. (I’ve changed the name of Dale for this story, but all other details are true.) Laura was going to visit Dale for three days on her way to meet us in British Columbia. With enthusiasm, he asked if he could join our canoe trip, which would be a great break from his stressful high-tech job.

I chatted in a friendly manner, then questioned Dale closely about his outdoor experience. The Bowron canoe circuit requires paddling and camping in remote wilderness areas, a few days away from help. Dale said he was an experienced river rafter, triathlon athlete, and mountaineer. He had led climbs of several high mountains. Although he sounded a little manic and excitable, I felt that he might add positive energy to our group.

When he asked if Laura was my “blind date,” I said no, and he seemed relieved. Laura had never been his girlfriend, but he seemed interested in renewing a friendship with her. We spoke at length. Because I had initiated the trip, I had some power over who would go. Finally, I agreed that he could join us on our dream trip.

“This Guy Is Crazy!”

Mark, Kim, and I drove two cars from Seattle to the airport in Quesnel, British Columbia, which was just an hour’s drive from Bowron Lake. Dale and Laura arrived by plane. As she entered the baggage claim area, Laura was a little tired but in good spirits. Laura went in the car with Mark and Kim. Dale rode in my car. His eyes showed exhaustion, yet he pushed himself to stay awake. Last week on the phone he had spoken energetically, but now his voice was flat and devoid of emotion. I felt tense in this presence.

“Do you own a car?” I asked.

“No, but there’s a car in my driveway at home,” he said in an odd monotone, with a straight face. In the same mechanical monotone he asked, “Are you going to plant seeds?”

His question seemed out-of-context, and I was speechless. After a moment of thinking, I replied, “Oh, do you mean like when you toss an apple core into the wilderness, and it turns into an apple tree?”

Yes, that was what he meant. Something disturbs me about his flat, robot-like voice, I thought.

Despite his apparent exhaustion, Dale spoke with logic and intelligence. With more energy, he asked me if I wanted to climb a high mountain with him at some point during the trip. I said yes. He described his leadership experience, then questioned my abilities as trip leader. I said that I led informally by consensus and honored the opinions of those with the most experience.

“Would you be willing to risk your life to save someone else’s life?” Dale pressed.

I replied, “In an actual emergency, I probably would react by instinct without thinking. I would only risk my life if I had a reasonable chance of bringing myself back alive.”

My headlights pierced the pitch black night. I followed Mark and Kim’s red taillights as we drove the winding gravel road to Bowron Lake. Suddenly, the road forked ambiguously. Mark and Kim stopped their car and stepped out with Laura. Dale and I joined them.

“This guy is crazy!” I blurted, half-jokingly, towards Dale. Dale’s robot-like behavior was giving me the creeps. Dale didn’t react. To break the ice, we joked about being lost in the wilderness with Dale as an ax murderer. Dale cracked a small smile. Only Laura knew Dale, but she offered no unusual insights about the past three days she had spent with him in Oregon. Until this week, she hadn’t seen Dale in four years.

We chose the correct road and drove to our lakefront lodge to get some sleep. All five of us shared one cabin.

Wow, I thought, Dale has seriously disassociated himself from his feelings. I did not trust his ability to cooperate with the group. I lost several hours of sleep worrying about how I would handle seven days in the wilderness with Dale. Finally, I decided that stress and lack of sleep explained Dale’s unusual behavior. He would probably awake with the normal personality that I knew from our telephone conversation.

A Marriage Proposal

As I undressed to take my shower in the morning, I heard a knock at the bathroom door. I wrapped a towel around my waist and opened the door. Dale addressed me on his knees.

“May I please have Laura’s hand in marriage?” Dale asked seriously.

I laughed and said, “Sure, but you’ll need to ask Laura.”

Maybe Dale normally spoke in this style of deadpan humor. Only Laura knew Dale’s personality. I trusted her to tell us if Dale was unfit for canoeing 70 miles in the wilderness.

Mark told me later that Dale had rustled loudly through several packs in the wee hours of the morning as others slept. Dale had apparently eaten an apple and then planted its seeds outdoors in the frosty ground. Mark found this behavior rather strange, because apple seeds would never germinate in this cold climate. I agreed. But then I silently forgave Dale, because for him, planting seeds in the wilderness might be symbolic, like placing flowers on a grave.

Rays of sun pierced the morning fog and illuminated the golden aspen trees, which reflected in the expanse of beautiful Bowron Lake.

As we ordered breakfast at the lodge, Dale asked the waitress, “Do you need any help in the kitchen?” The waitress looked at him quizzically. She silently shook her head and returned to the kitchen.

With mingled fear and excitement, our group discussed the coming trip. When Dale asked if anyone knew water life-saving skills, I said yes. I said that if anyone fell into the water of these lakes, within five minutes they would lose most of their strength. This happened to me in a limb-numbing practice swim from a raft in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. The Glen Canyon Dam releases the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon at 46 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very cold. The lakes of Bowron Lake Provincial Park are even colder. Not surprisingly, hypothermia poses the greatest danger on the Bowron circuit. We agreed to keep within voice distance at all times during the trip.

We repacked gear for the canoe trip. “Is that your pack?” I asked Dale, pointing to his pack. “That’s not my pack. That’s a pack” he corrected.

This smart-aleck behavior could get out of hand, I thought. I felt oddly fearful.

“Your Friend Is Naked”

The lodge’s van carried our boats and gear to the trail head. Sun filtered through the aspen trees and warmed the air pleasantly.

We strapped our canoes onto rented carts for wheeling a mile to the first lake of the Bowron circuit. However, Dale seemed confused. He kept trying to wheel his single-man canoe to the lake visible below instead of up the trail. We had to redirect him twice. Once he found the right trail, Dale ran far ahead, contrary to our agreement to stay within shouting distance.

We arrived at the crystal-clear, inviting lake outlet, which twisted through a reedy marsh surrounded by pine trees. The sun forced steam from the still surface of the outlet channel. But we saw no trace of Dale or his canoe. I confided to Mark, “This is really getting out of hand.” Despite the beautiful surroundings, my mood soured from distrust of Dale’s behavior.

A canoe approached around a small bend. A concerned woman in the canoe said, “Just around the corner, your friend is naked and neck-deep in water. His wet clothes are in the boat. He says he’s meditating, but he acts a little strangely. What should we do?”.

“We’ll be right there,” said Mark, as we hastened to detach the wheeled carts from our canoes.

A few minutes later, the woman returned by canoe and said, “Your friend has stopped shivering and no longer replies. We’re getting very concerned for him.” By then, Mark and Kim were paddling madly around the corner.

By this time, Dale may have been in the icy cold water for 25 minutes. As Mark and Kim approached him, Dale instinctively reached out of the water and grabbed their canoe, almost capsizing them. His bluish body clung to their canoe as they paddled to shore. They helped the tall, now-shivering Dale to shore, and Kim wrapped him with a silver space blanket. Laura (clothed) joined Dale in a sleeping bag to help warm him. I heated some hot water on a stove to help revive him.

Mark and I privately shared anger at Dale’s irresponsible behavior. Kim ran back to the ranger station and ordered an ambulance, as suggested by Mark.

Reborn in Wilderness Waters

After an hour, we were able to revive Dale from the depths of hypothermia. He finally stopped shivering. Eventually he crawled out of the sleeping bag shared with Laura. “Here, Dale, put on another coat,” said Kim.

He shook his head, then said in a childlike voice, “I don’t need clothing. All I need is a compass and a wife.” Dale’s simplicity struck a chord in me: I was also single, and looking for a sense of direction as symbolized by the compass. From the book Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen, I remembered two fundamental questions that a man must ask himself: first, where am I going, and second, who will go with me? Dale lifted and fondled the compass that hung from a string around his neck, and said softly, “A man drowned here today. I’m reborn.”

“No, Dale, no one drowned here today,” I said. Although still suffering from hypothermia and shock, he had now returned to his robot-like personality. He followed our instructions and allowed us to paddle him back to the start.

We felt fortunate that Dale had not chosen to pull this stunt in the middle of the trip, days away from help. As a confident swimmer and triathlete, perhaps he didn’t really believe my saying that in these lakes, hypothermia can hit you after only five minutes of immersion.

Dale’s eyes darted furtively. Suddenly he sprinted down the trail. I shouted, “Wait Dale, we’ll first need your life jacket back.” My voice stopped him in his tracks, and he obediently returned the life jacket. To prevent him from retreating further into himself, I engaged him to help put his one-man canoe on wheels for return to the lodge.

Dale jogged with Laura a mile to the waiting ambulance. How strange, I thought, here is a man running to catch his own ambulance! Later we learned that Dale spent three days in the hospital under observation. His parents flew across the continent especially to care for him. After his recovery, he thanked us for saving his life. He left thank-you letters on our cars parked at Bowron Lake and phoned us after the trip. In his letter, he confessed difficulty in pulling himself out of the cold water and thick mud. “I’m surprised how fast hypothermia sets in and how much shock it put me in after my body was warmed back up,” he said. “I am very disappointed that I shook you guys up and hope you will forgive my foolishness.”

Power Rangers

Laura’s return flight restricted us to finish the Bowron circuit by a certain date. Unfortunately, Dale’s flirtation with hypothermia cost us a day. Our group, minus Dale, athletically paddled the loop for six days, instead of the seven days originally planned. For greater enjoyment, I recommend taking eight or more days. Luckily, a tailwind pushed us most of the trip.

Canoeing the Bowron loop turned out to be safer than I had expected. We shared our wilderness experience with about six other canoes per day. Rangers in powerboats patrolled each lake about once a day. A ranger had taken less than half a day to travel 30 miles around the lake system on foot and by powerboat to help us with Dale. However, by then we had already sent Dale away in the ambulance. I thanked the ranger for his valiant efforts. “I’ve seen a number of disassociated people like Dale come to this park in the past,” he said.

Walking on Water

We paddled fifteen long miles across “L”-shaped Isaac Lake. I paddled the “J”-stroke thousands of times to propel the canoe straight. Once or twice a day we reshuffled gear and mounted the canoes onto handy bicycle-wheeled carts for overland portaging. We wheeled the canoes for only 5 miles of the 73-mile circuit. As darkness fell each evening, we had just enough time to set up tents and cook a tasty dinner before admiring the starry sky. As a nightly ritual, we climbed high ladders to pile our food in bear-proof caches provided in the designated campgrounds.

We shot the whitewater chute of Isaac River, and successfully negotiated the snags of Cariboo River. Fresh snow dusted the Needle Point Ridge a mile above Lanezi Lake. A small glacier clung to a mountain in the distance. In the middle of shallow Sandy Lake, we appeared to walk on water as we pulled our canoes to deeper channels. On the West side of the 70-mile loop, Spectacle Lakes reflected spectacular rows of golden aspen trees. Gradually the mountains receded into the distance, the warm sun shone, and lakes became calm as mirrors. A few days after our harrowing start, I began to relax. On the last day, in the final stretch back to the lodge, rain fell gently as we paddled across Bowron Lake.

For campfire entertainment during the trip, I enjoyed quoting from Dale: “Are you going to plant seeds? . . . A man drowned here today. . . . I’m reborn. . . . All I need is a compass and a wife.” I must credit Dale for enlivening my vacation memories. Perhaps he got all that he wanted out of his trip: a compass strung around his neck for a sense of direction, and a warm woman in his sleeping bag to help revive him. Along with Dale, I felt reborn in the wonderful wilderness waters of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

Copyright 1993 by Tom Dempsey.

See also my related articles (with multiple trips consolidated):

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.

Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

CANADA: Bicycle Jasper to Banff on Icefields Parkway

In one of our most memorable trips, we bicycled from Jasper to Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, camping with support vehicles (September 9-14, 2003). Complete planning details are shared below.

See Mount Athabasca (left, 3491 meters or 11,453 feet) from Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This is part of the big Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Our four riders ages 45 to 66 were supported by Mom and Dad (in their 70s) driving two Volkswagon Eurovan Campers as sag wagons. Spreading the 187-mile bike tour over 5 days plus a rest day let us appreciate the great scenery with moderate effort. Our first day of biking finished in style with a relaxing soak in Miette Hot Springs, a favorite swimming pool with mountain views. In comparison, Banff Hot Springs has a great view but is more crowded and disappointingly lukewarm.

Self-organizing the bicycle tour saved money and allowed flexibility to ride on rain-free days. Rainy forecast for the first 2 days in Banff motivated a rainy car shuttle drive north to sunnier Jasper. We rode bikes two days, rested on a rainy day, then rode three more days, averaging 38 miles per riding day. Rain showers dampened half of one riding day.

Total elevation gain over 5 days from Jasper to Banff was 6800 feet, with 5600 feet downhill. The order of two trip legs were switched, bypassing snow falling at Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) in favor of no precipitation at Bow Pass (Leg 4). This leg swap let us ride glorious Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) on a beautiful sunny day speeding 2200 feet downhill over 43 miles (plus 1300 feet up). Good training made the hardest day (Leg 2) seem normal, climbing 2400 feet over 35 miles.

Columbia Icefield Visitor Center, Jasper National Park, Alberta, CANADA.

Dress warmly in moisture-wicking layers with waterproof breathable rain jacket. Use rain-proof booties, or cheap plastic bags between socks and shoes, in case of wind chill or rainy days. Cell phones may have no coverage in the middle 100 miles of the ride. Use walkie-talkies (with at least 5+ mile range) for communication between spread-out cyclists and support vehicles. The radios improved morale and prevented logistics problems, such as when a car key was misplaced, then replaced, with the help of radio communication.

Photo gallery of Jasper, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains


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Planning details for bicycling from Jasper to Banff

We bicycled 187 miles from Jasper to Banff, from campsite to campsite, September 9-14, 2003.

Five bicycling days/legs from Jasper to Banff (north to south)

  • Leg 1: 32 miles (1300 feet up, 300 down)
    • From: Whistlers Campground (hot showers, Dump Station, open through 10/13/03, 3500 feet elev) (2 miles from town of Jasper).
    • To: Honeymoon Lake Campground (no showers; open until 10/13/03; 4300 feet elev).
  • Leg 2: 35 miles (2400 feet up, 200 down) Sunwapta Pass (6676 ft elev)
    • To: Columbia Icefield Campground (or adjacent Wilcox Creek Campground, DS, no showers; open through 9/22/03; 6600 feet elevation).
    • We added a rest/rain day after the first two days of riding.
  • Leg 3: 43 miles (1600 feet up, 2200 feet down)
    • To: Waterfowl Lakes Campground (no showers, open through 9/28/03). My favorite day, a speedy descent on a sunny day through gorgeous river and mountain scenery.
  • Leg 4: 39 miles (1100 feet up, 2000 feet down)
    • Bow Pass, 6785 feet, is the highest elevation on the Icefields Parkway. The steepest ascent on Bow Pass climbs 800 feet in 3.5 miles, not too bad. A side trip to Peyto Lake viewpoint is highly recommended.
    • To: Lake Louise Campground (5100 ft, hot showers, DS) Carol’s favorite day, a moderate climb followed by a fun, long 2000-foot descent to Lake Louise.
  • Leg 5: 38 miles (400 feet up, 900 feet down)
    • To: Banff: Tunnel Mountain Village I Campground (4700 feet elev, open year around)
    • We completed our bicycle ride just in time (September 14, 2003), because snow fell that night and days after!

Bicyclists commonly ride the Icefields Parkway in either direction. The southward road climbs 6800 feet total, with 5600 feet downhill. Although the net uphill is 1200 feet, you avoid climbing the long, narrow-shouldered, steep hill northwards up to Sunwapta Pass.

If you reverse the above five-day route, pedaling from Banff to Jasper makes nice moderate rides between the same campgrounds and climbs less, with only 5600 feet total gain and 6800 feet total down. Optionally shorten the trip to four days by combining Legs 1 and 2 into one day of 67 miles climbing 500 feet and descending an exhilarating 3700 feet.

Campgrounds

Break up the long drive from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies with an overnight stay near Salmon Arm or Revelstoke, BC:

  • www.cedarsrvpark.com: Campground with hot tub and pool, 1-877-836-3988, Sicamous, BC is 400 miles from Seattle.

Campsites are mostly first come first served in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Checkout time is 11:00am. Check latest info at:

Reservations are accepted for the following campgrounds at http://www.pccamping.ca/, or phone 1-877-737-3783:

  • Jasper NP: Whistlers, Wapiti, and Pocahontas (near Miette Hot Springs)
  • Banff NP: Lake Louise Tent Campground and separate Trailer Campground, and Banff Tunnel Mountain #1 and #2.
  • Robson Meadows Campground, Mt Robson Provincial Park

Each morning, our support vehicles drove ahead to secure our next campsite without reservations and had no problem getting a site between 9:00am and noon in September 2003.

Hot Showers

  • Banff NP: Banff Tunnel Mountain Village (plus Banff Upper Hot Springs nearby), Two Jack Lakeside, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise.
  • Jasper NP: The Whistlers Campground (closes mid October), Wapiti Campground (closes in early September), and Miette Hot Springs (day use).
  • The campgrounds from Waterfowl Lakes through Honeymoon Lake have no hot showers. Alternatives: sponge baths, or drive to showers or hot springs.

RV Dump Stations (DS): In Banff NP: Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, & Waterfowl Lakes campgrounds. In Jasper NP: Wilcox Creek, Whistlers, Wapiti Campground.

Food: buy groceries in Banff, Castle Junction, Lake Louise (more expensive), Saskatchewan Crossing (small grocery & restaurant), or Jasper. Our bikers carried their snacks, water and lunch each day. Restaurants are available at Vermilion Crossing and Sunwapta Falls.

A glacier bus dwarfs a bicyle at Columbia Icefield Visitor Center in Jasper National Park, CANADA.

Easy hikes and good side trips to supplement a bicycle trip:

  • Jasper National Park:
    • Miette Hot Springs: Soak in the hottest springs in the Rockies, a clean swimming pool with a good view of Ashlar Ridge. Drive 1 hour from Jasper. 8:30 am – 10:30 pm summer hours.
    • The Whistlers Tramway whisks you up to high views of the Victoria Cross and Colin Ranges rising across the broad Athabaska River Valley.
    • Lower Maligne Canyon: Walk above a scenic slot canyon and gorge.
    • Mount Edith Cavell: Hike 2-5 miles to see spectacular Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond.
    • Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls: Easy stroll.
    • Columbia Icefield Visitors Centre: SnoCoach ride ~$30 on Columbia Icefield.
      • Wilcox Pass: 5 miles round trip, 1082 feet gain (7,790 feet max elevation). Start at Wilcox Creek Campround, 1.2 miles east of Icefield Centre.
      • Parker’s Ridge (7200ft elev; marked trailhead in Banff NP, 5 miles south of Icefield Centre): Walk 3 miles round trip, 910 ft gain, great view of Saskatchewan Glacier.
      • Nigel Pass hike.
  • Banff National Park:
    • Lake Louise area
      • Join the crowds at Fairmont Chateau admiring Lake Louise, Mount Victoria, and Mount Temple.
      • Moraine Lake is a hilly side trip on a narrow road with high traffic. Park early to avoid crowds and filled lot. Cross the outlet stream and ascend the little hill trail for a stunning view across the turquoise lake reflecting the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
    • Johnston Canyon: Start early in the morning (or off season) to get ahead of busloads of hikers on this deservedly popular trail. Easily walk 1 to 7 miles, 300-800 feet gain, through an attractive gorge with waterfalls. Only walk further to the Ink Pots if you want more exercise.
    • Herbert Lake and Bow Lake reflect peaks spectacularly on a windless day.
    • Peyto Lake overlook: Walk a short distance to see a spectacular turquoise lake and Bow Pass.

Read the longer article: CANADA: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains parks, which covers hiking in more detail.

See also CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

A bicyclist zooms down Icefields Parkway south of Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Recommended Jasper/Banff books and maps

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com.

2011: 2010: 2010: 2012:2010: 2010: 2011:

CANADA: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains parks

Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains park photo galleries

The Canadian Rockies rival any mountains in the world for breathtaking beauty. Use this article to plan for great hikes and sights as follows:

  • Canadian Rockies
    • National Parks: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Robson, and Waterton Lakes
    • Provincial Parks: Mount Assiniboine (in British Columbia); Peter Lougheed and other parks in Kananaskis Country (in Alberta)
  • Columbia Mountains
    • National Parks: Revelstoke and Glacier (in BC)
    • BC Provincial Parks: Bugaboo and Bowron Lake
    • The Rocky Mountain Trench geologically splits off the Columbia Mountains to the west of the Rockies, in BC, Canada.

CANADA: mountain park favorite photos (Rockies, Columbia Mountains, plus Coast Range)


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Enjoy these wonderful Canadian parks by camper, bicycle, feet, and canoe.

Mountain hiking+climbing weather forecasts for the Canadian Rockies, listed by peak and range:

www.mountain-forecast.com/mountain_ranges/canadian-rockies/subranges

Rockies: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks: photo gallery


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Rockies: Recommended hikes and tips for Banff National Park, Alberta

  • Banff town and nearby
    • Hike over Cory Pass on the Mount Edith loop trail (best walked clockwise, 8 miles) with impressive views of the spire of Mount Louis. The trail is sometimes rough and steep, but scenically rewarding. Beware of steep snow patches and don’t hike in inclement weather. We hiked snow-free on August 29, 2009.
    • Drive Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), a slower scenic route which parallels main Highway 1 between Lake Louise and Banff.
      • Johnston Canyon hike: Start early in the morning (or off season) to get ahead of busloads of hikers on this deservedly popular trail. Easily walk 1 to 7 miles, 300-800 feet gain, through an attractive gorge with waterfalls. Only walk further to the Ink Pots if you want more exercise.
    • Backpack to scenic Egypt Lake (with optional hut) starting from Sunshine Village (via bus) and/or its parking lot.
  • Lake Louise town
    • Beehive loop hike: Start early in the morning, and expect crowds of walkers on this very scenic hike from Lake Louise to Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, looping back via the Beehive and Lake Agnes Teahouse. Atop the Big Beehive, admire turquoise Lake Louise and Fairmont Chateau where you started far below.
    • Saddleback-Mt Fairview: hike steeply through larch forest 4.6-6.4 miles RT / 1970-3310 feet gain.
    • Moraine Lake, in Valley of the Ten Peaks
      • Whether or not you walk to the pleasant Consolation Lakes, don’t miss the short side trail up a little hill for the stunning overview of beautiful blue-green Moraine Lake, just across the outlet stream!
      • Sentinel Pass (7750 feet elev) is one of our favorite hikes in the world. Hike 7 miles round trip, 720 meters up (2370 feet). Larch trees turn beautifully yellow in mid September. Park your vehicle early in the morning (before 9:00am in summer) at popular Moraine Lake before the lot fills. (Our friends don’t recommend the extra car shuttle effort of walking further from Sentinel Pass down Paradise Valley to a separate trailhead, 10.4 miles, 2370 up, 2900 down.) Alternative branch:
        • Wenkchemna Pass & Eiffel Lakes: hike 11.7 miles RT, 2362 feet gain for golden larches in mid September.
      • Moraine Lake Road closes around Oct 13 or earlier due to snow.
  • Icefields Parkway, from Lake Louise over Sunwapta Pass to Jasper
    • See classic Rocky Mountains reflected in Herbert Lake. Bow Lake reflects Crowfoot Mountain. Great viewpoints overlook blue-green Peyto Lake and Bow Pass.
    • Sunwapta Passarea
      • Mount Athabasca and other peaks rise impressively above the road.
      • Parker’s Ridge: Hike 4.8k round trip to overlook impressive Saskatchewan Glacier.
  • Hot Showers in Banff NP: Lake Louise Campground, Johnston Canyon Campground, Banff Tunnel Mountain Village Campgrounds 1 and 2 (plus Banff Upper Hot Springs nearby), and Two Jack Lakeside Campground.
  • Food: Get groceries in Banff and Jasper. Food is more expensive at Saskatchewan Crossing (small grocery & restaurant), Castle Junction, and Lake Louise. Restaurants are at Vermilion Crossing in Banff and Sunwapta Falls in Jasper.
  • RV dump stations: Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, and Waterfowl Lakes campgrounds.
  • Camping logistics advice: Bicycle Jasper to Banff, Icefields Parkway

Rockies: Hikes and sights in Jasper National Park, Alberta

  • Jasper town
    • The Whistlers Tramway and hike: to save your knees, hike up 4000 feet and take the Tramway down (or Tramway round trip). See distant views of Victoria Cross Range, Colin Range, and Mount Edith Cavell.
  • Lower Maligne Canyon: hike above a scenic slot canyon and gorge.
  • Maligne Lake: Bald Hills hike 8 miles RT / 2000 ft gain for views of Maligne Lake. Cross Maligne River to park on west side of Maligne Lake. Or from the same lot, hike:
    • Little Shovel Pass day hike 12.5 mi RT / 1600 ft. Or backpack 2-4 days the whole Skyline Trail.
  • Miette Hot Springs:
    • Soak in the hottest springs in the Rockies, with a good view of Ashlar Ridge (drive 1 hour from Jasper). On the turn up Miette Road is Pocahontas Campground (reservations accepted) which will save you from driving an hour back to Jasper.
    • Sulphur Skyline: hike 5.5 mi RT/2300 ft (for better, higher views than from nearby Utopia Pass).
  • Mount Edith Cavell: Hike 2-5 miles to see spectacular Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond.
  • Athabasca Falls: Athabasca River plunges impressively at this roadside overlook and short walk.
  • Sunwapta Falls: scenic roadside overlook, or walk further to worthwhile Lower Sunwapta Falls.
  • Columbia Icefield Visitors Centre
    • Admire the Athabasca Glacier. Ride the SnoCoach on Columbia Icefield.
    • Wilcox Pass: Hike 5 miles round trip, 1082 feet gain (7,790 feet max elevation). Start at Wilcox Creek Campground, 1.2 miles east of Icefields Centre.
    • Parker’s Ridge, in Banff NP (7200ft elev): Walk 3 miles round trip, with 910 feet gain, for a great view of Saskatchewan Glacier. Park at marked trailhead, 5 miles south of Icefields Centre.
    • Nigel Pass hike.
  • Hot showers in Jasper NP: The Whistlers Campground (closes in mid October), Wapiti Campground (closes in early September), and Miette Hot Springs (day use).
  • RV Dump Stations: Whistlers Campground, Wilcox Creek Campground.

Rockies: Yoho National Park, British Columbia

  • Camp at Kicking Horse Campground or adjacent Monarch Campground, in Yoho National Park, BC.
  • Emerald Lake
    • Walk around beautiful Emerald Lake at lake level 5.2km. Or hike the breathtaking Emerald Triangle 20 km (12 miles, with 3200 feet gain) round trip over Burgess Pass and Yoho Pass in a day as we did!
      • To visit a fascinating chapter in the history of life, reserve a tour of the geologically important Burgess Shale, a restricted area near Burgess Pass.
    • If you stay at Emerald Lake Lodge, you can rent a canoe on the turquoise waters.
  • Yoho Valley:
    • Takakkaw Falls to Yoho Lake makes a great half-day circuit of 6.3 miles (10.1km).
    • Iceline Trail is a classic day hike or backpack.
  • The town of Field in Yoho NP is 3.5 hours drive from Jasper townsite.
  • Lake O’Hara (6600 ft elevation) is a gorgeous area with many classic hikes from the campground (or lodge), with limited access.
    • No cars or cycling are allowed on the bus road to Lake O’Hara, but walking the road is allowed, and then taking the bus ride back down at 4:30 or 6:30pm is free with no reservations required. In 2001, we enjoyed walking Cataract Brook trail (closed as of 2012?) to Lake O’Hara in 8 miles (1350 feet gain), but now you must walk the road or take the bus.
    • Unfortunately, you must now make bus and tent campground reservations 3 months in advance by phone only (250.343.6433), usually sold out within the first hour. (As of 2012-13, you can no longer walk into the office for reservations the day before busing.)
    • BUS OPTION: Open June 14, 2013 to September 30, 2013 (dates vary by year). Taking the bus to Lake O’Hara starts several gorgeous day hikes of any length. The bus allows one large or two small pieces of baggage per person. Tent sites have tent pads, well water, cooking shelter, pit toilets.
    • Hike Odaray Highline Trail to Odaray Grandview Prospect.
    • Walk around Lake O’Hara.

Rockies: Kootenary National Park, British Columbia

The Rockwall’s east-facing cliffs form the backbone of the Vermilion Range, which stretches nearly 40 kilometers (24 miles), hikeable via athletic loops or traverses. The Rockwall soars 1000 meters (3300 feet) over Floe Lake, an excellent backpacking destination, 10.7 km one way.

Rockies: Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia


Add any of the above images to your Cart for purchase using my Portfolio site. Above photos include Lake Magog, Sunburst Lake, Cerulean Lake, Nub Peak trail, and a Columbian Ground Squirrel. Hike from Banff National Park to Rock Isle Lake via Sunshine Meadows.

Assiniboine Lodge and Naiset Huts

A helicopter can optionally carry you and/or your backpack to Assiniboine Lodge in the remote wilderness at Lake Magog with great views of Mount Assiniboine (11,871 feet, the “Matterhorn of Canada”). Comfortable private rooms in the Lodge are pricey. A cheaper option is to book your group into the dormitory-style Naiset Huts and use their Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter for comfortable indoor communal cooking (gas cookers provided) and socializing. Or carry a tent and camping gear about 25 minutes further to Lake Magog Campground.

Mount Assiniboine backpacking trip
  • Trailhead: Spray Lakes-Mount Shark Day Use Parking, on gravel road 1 hour (41.3 km) west of Canmore, Alberta (or 1.5 hours drive from Banff, or 3 hours drive from Calgary).
    • For many more hikes nearby, see Kananaskis Country further below.
  • Day 1: hike 7.5 miles, 400 feet up, 300 feet down to Bryant Creek Shelter (6000′).
  • Day 2: hike 6.7 miles, 1100′ up through Assiniboine Pass (7000′) and then to Naiset Cabins at Lake Magog (7100′), below towering Mount Assiniboine.
  • Days 3 and 4: Layover days, for hiking around this beautiful area.
  • Day 5: hike 7.9 miles, 750′ up, 1850′ down, through Wonder Pass (7850′) past huge Marvel Lake to Bryant Creek Shelter (6000′).
  • Day 6: hike 7.5 miles, 300′ up, 400′ down retracing Day 1, back to trailhead.
  • Or use the helicopter: Send your backpack ahead by helicopter and hike the 14.2 miles in one day. We enjoyed this service going out!

The optional Citadel Pass route to Mount Assiniboine starts at Sunshine Village (7200’), reached via bus in in Banff NP. Hike 8.7 miles to Porcupine Campground, then 9.5 miles to Assiniboine Lodge Naiset Huts (at 7100′ elevation). The hardest part is a steep descent from Citadel Pass (7740’) to Porcupine Campground (6000’).

Rockies: Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia


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Camping near Mount Robson trailhead
  • Getting there: Mount Robson Provincial Park Visitor Centre is 1 hour drive from Jasper town, or 200 miles (4.5 hours drive) from Field in Yoho NP.
  • Robson Meadows Campground: hot showers; 93 sites first-come first-served, 32 sites reservable 2 days to 3 months prior at at www.pccamping.ca or 1.877.737.3783 from 7am-7pm.
  • Robson River Campground: hot showers, 19 sites first-come first-served.
  • Lucerne Campground is located on Yellowhead Lake in British Columbia, 10 km west of Alberta boundary, 32 sites first-come first-served, no showers.
  • Robson Shadows Campground: 5 km west of Mount Robson PP Visitor Centre, panoramic view of Mount Robson, 25 natural campsites on Fraser River, hot showers, group site, phone 250-566-9190, reservations 1.888.566.4821.
Berg Lake, Mt Robson backpacking

In 2008, Carol and I fondly revisited Berg Lake, our first international backpacking destination together (1995), plus other parks, with a group of friends. Backpacking to Berg Lake is 22 kilometers (13 miles) one way. All campsites have bear poles, pit toilets, washbasins and grey-water pits. Reserve backcountry sites at 1-877-737-3783, change at 1-800-689-9025, 7am-7pm.

  • Day 1: Hike 6.5 miles, 870 feet up to Whitehorn Campground (3700 feet elev).
  • Day 2: Hike 5.6 miles, 1700 feet up to Berg Lake Campground (5400 feet elev).
  • Day 3: Allow time for the eye-popping dayhike to spectacular Snowbird Pass, one of our world favorites.
  • Day 4: Hike out 13 miles in one day, mostly downhill.
    • Or on Day 4, hike 7.9 miles, 2100 down, to Kinney Lake campground (3300 feet elev). Then on Day 5, hike from Kinney Lake campground to trailhead 4.1 miles, 470 feet down.

Rockies: Kananaskis Country, Alberta: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park & more


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The many parks of Kananaskis Country rival the splendor of neighboring national parks but without the crowds. Kananaskis Country is an improvement district (rural municipal administration) in the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies west of Calgary, in Alberta.

Detailed hiking book with maps: Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide – 4th Edition: Volume 1: Kananaskis Valley, Kananaskis Lakes, Elk Lakes, The Smith-Dorrien (2010).

Recommended hikes in Kananaskis Country:
  • From H40 in Kananaskis Country:
  • From Kananaskis Lakes Trail road in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park:
    • Mari Lake Trail: stroll from Elkwood Campground.
    • Indefatigable Trail: hike 3.4-5.7 mi RT/1500-2550 feet gain for one of the best views in this exceptional area. Start from North Interlakes parking lot at the end of Kananaskis Lakes Trail road. See hikes #76+76A in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010). 
    • Frozen Lake in Elks Lakes Provincial Park, BC: hike 8.3 mi RT/1620 ft gain steeply to gorgeous deep blue lake under Mt Fox, from the trailhead on Kananaskis Lakes Trail road within Peter Lougheed PP. See #58+58A in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).
    • Three Isle Lake:  hike 13.9 miles RT/1600 ft gain, a long day, optionally biking 5 miles RT from Kananaskis Lakes Trail road. See #71 in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).
  • From H742 / “Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail” gravel road in Kananaskis Country:
    • Chester Lake + Three Lakes Valley: hike 5.2-7.8 miles RT with 1000-1800 ft gain in a delightful ramble through larch forest to lake-dotted limestone barrens. See #92+92B in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).
    • Mt Shark Road:
      • Birdwood Lakes + Birdwood Pass + Tryst Lake: has breathtaking views and superb alpine zone. Adding side trip #84 Tryst Lake (with nice larches) totals 10.4-11.2 mi RT/2483-2653 ft gain; else hike 1630-1800 ft  in 8.8-9.6 miles RT (or 7.8-8.6 miles via wet shortcut from H742). See #85+84 in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).
        • Shorter: Tryst Lake alone is 4 mi RT/853 feet gain (#84).
      • Nearby 1km north: Tent Ridge loop hike (6.1 mi/2700 ft gain) is one of the most enjoyable ridge walks (with some easy non-exposed scrambling). See #83 in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).
      • Hike and/or helicopter-pack to Mt Assiniboine and Lake Magog (detailed further above).
    • Buller Pass in Spray Valley PP: hike 8.9 miles RT/2200 ft gain (plus Ribbon Lake adds 2.3 mi RT plus 700 ft down & up) from H742. See #77 in Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guide (2010).

Local comforts in the wilderness:

  • Good base camps with hot showers in Kananaskis Country:
    • huge Mt Kidd RV Park on H40 just northwest of Spray Valley PP, just 30 minutes north of Lower Kananaskis Lake and 45 minutes east of Banff.
    • reservable Elkwood & Boulton Creek Campgrounds in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. (If these are full, try the unserviced Canyon & Interlakes Campgrounds which are first-come first served.)
  • Sunny Talus Lodge (external link) is a catered premium escape to wildly spectacular hikes (guided or self) in remote wilderness, around $1500 per person for 4 nights private room & meals (in 2015), with electric generator and hot showers via bucket. The price includes a spectacular helicopter flight from Canmore or Mt Shark Road! Up to 12 guests can choose 3, 4, or 7 nights. Talus Lodge is in a dry area receiving only 25 inches of precipitation/year, far in the backcountry between Mt Assiniboine and Upper Kananaskis Lake.

Rockies: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta


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Recommended hikes in Waterton Lakes NP:
  • Hikes near Waterton Park Campground:
    • Bears Hump: hike 1.8 miles RT/738 feet gain for a classic view of Waterton Lake, starting at the National Park Visitor Center trailhead, early for better photo light and avoidance of crowds.
    • Bertha Lake: hike 8.6 miles RT/1542 feet gain starting from Townsite Campground. A good rainy day hike would be to Lower Bertha Falls (3 miles RT/574 ft gain).
  • Hikes along Akamina Parkway:
    • Akamina Ridge: loop 12-14 miles RT/2918 feet gain steeply from Forum Lake to Wall Lake over Akamina Ridge in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, BC. Or else hike out and back to Wall Lake and Bennett Pass with optional side trip to Forum Lake.
    • Carthew Traverse: ascend 2460 ft to Carthew Summit (7910 ft), descend 3670 ft to Waterton Townsite, 12.4 miles one way via public or private shuttle. We loved this colorful hike in 2002.
    • Rowe Lakes: hike 7.5+ miles RT/1881 ft gain, optionally extending via a very steep scramble to Lineham Ridge 10.1 mi RT/3182 ft (or onwards to Lineham Lakes 12.3 mi/4500 ft RT, where you might better loop out on Lineham Creek Trail with car shuttle to save 1148 ft). Scramble up Avion Ridge to see golden larch trees starting in late September.
  • Hikes along Red Rock Parkway:
    • Red Rock Canyon: stroll along a remarkably colorful stream. This is also the trailhead for the following hikes:
    • Goat Lake: 8 miles RT/1739 ft gain, or 10 miles to views from Avion Ridge. Or loop further along the same trail:
      • Twin Lakes loop: day hike 15.5 miles in a loop/2133 feet gain.
      • Or backpack: starting at scenic Red Rock Canyon, do 4-day basecamp at Twin Lakes (6450 ft elevation) climbing 1540 ft in 7 miles (or camp 1 night at Goat Lake), hiking out via Blakiston Creek & Falls. On layover days, hike high along Waterton Park’s western boundary to do any of the following: 1) Sage Pass short hike, 2) loop north on route along Avion Ridge to Goat Lake back via Bauermann Creek, and/or 3) go south to Lone Lake or South Kootenay Pass.

Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana, USA comprise Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which is honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. See related articles:

Columbia Mountains, Purcell Range: The Bugaboos, British Columbia


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Bugaboo Provincial Park lies in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains south of Golden, British Columbia. Most tourists are distracted by nearby Canadian Rockies parks along fast paved highways and skip gravel logging roads, thereby leaving the stunning “Bugaboos” as a quiet retreat for hikers, climbers, and helicopter guests of luxury CMH Bugaboo Lodge. Hike in late September to see the glow of golden fall colors of tamarack larch, whose deciduous needles turn from green to bright yellow-orange. Stay in expensive accommodation at CMH Bugaboo Lodge and CMH Bobby Burns Lodge just outside the park, or camp free at 4 primitive sites in Bugaboo Septet Recreation Area. The following view hikes are best on a sunny day:

  • Hike 10 km/6 miles round trip with 730 meters/2400 feet gain to Conrad Kain Hut for breathtaking views of nearby Bugaboo Glacier, soaring granite spires, larch trees, and sedimentary Rocky Mountains eastwards across the Columbia River Valley. This trail makes a fantastic day hike or awesome overnight hike with convenient shelter in Kain Hut (which for a fee provides propane stoves and space for people with a sleeping bag) or nearby campground. A few ladders and hand cables assisting this steep trail may bother those with fear of heights.
  • Hike panoramic Cobalt Ridge, 8 miles round trip with 914 meters/3100 feet gain on a steep but well-defined trail. Two-thirds of the way up, Walter Cobb Lake (or Walter Lake) adds just 1km round trip for lunch in a forest of larch trees that will be golden in late September or early October! Don’t miss the view from the highest point of the Cobalt Ridge. Optionally continuing onward to Cobalt Lake adds 2.5 miles round trip and 150 meters/500 feet gain. Start walking from Bugaboo Septet Recreation Site campground or CMH Bugaboo Lodge or park at the marked Cobalt Lake trail head.
  • For a more distant panorama, hike up Chalice Creek and Ridge, 16 km/10 miles round trip with 730 meters/2400 ft gain, measured starting from Bugaboo Septet Recreation Site campground, near the bridge across Bugaboo Creek, near CMH Bugaboo Lodge.
  • For a close side view of glaciers and peaks, hike to Silver Basin, 12 km/7 miles round trip with 450 m/1500 ft gain. Go past CMH Lodge, make the next right, and park at the first switchback to avoid the short, rough 4WD road to the trail head above.
  • Directions to the above hikes in the Bugaboos:
    • From Brisco (about 44 kms north of Invermere on Hwy 95) or Spillimacheen, follow signs to Bugaboo Provincial Park and CMH Lodge on a gravel logging road. After driving 47 kms (1.5 hours), turn right on a rougher road to reach Cobalt Lake trail head and spectacular Kain Hut trail head, or continue straight (left) along Bugaboo Forest Service Road. Before you reach the gate of luxury CMH Bugaboo Lodge, a left turn crosses Bugaboo Creek bridge: then a left reaches Bugaboo Septet Recreation Site (4 primitive campsites in a free, user-maintained campground reachable by 2WD vehicles) or straight up takes 4WD vehicles and hikers to Chalice Creek trail head. Curiously, every parked vehicle is barricaded with chicken wire fencing! Apparently, local porcupines have developed a taste for wiring and anti-freeze fluid.
  • Hiking guidebook: Mountain Footsteps: Hikes in the East Kootenay of Southwestern British Columbia–Third Edition, UPDATED 2011

Geology of the Bugaboos and Purcell Mountain Range

The ancient Purcell Mountains (a subrange of the Columbia Mountains) formed from sediments around 1.5 billion years ago, a time on earth when only algae grew. Not until the age of the dinosaurs did the much younger Rockies appear east of the Rocky Mountain Trench. Near the end of the Rocky Mountains creation, masses of molten rock pierced the old metamorphic rocks of the Purcells and cooled into hard crystalline granodiorite batholiths of the Bugaboos, 135 to 70 million years ago. Glaciers and water chiseled away weak overlying rock and revealed spectacular granite spires of the Bugaboos. Mining peaked in nearby Bugaboo Falls around 1906 — miners described a deadend mineral lead as a “bugaboo,” the park’s namesake. (Some USA maps label the “Percell Mountains” where their southern limit protrudes into the states of Idaho and Montana.)

Columbia Mountains, Purcell Range: Lake of the Hanging Glacier, British Columbia

South of the Bugaboos and west of Kootenay NP, hike to spectacular Lake of the Hanging Glacier (see Google maps) 11 miles/2400 ft RT. Drive to the trailhead from Radium Hot Springs, 1.5 hours one-way mostly on gravel road (click for an external PDF guide to this hike).

Columbia Mountains: Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia


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Columbia Mountains: Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia


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See my article “Pardon Me, I’ll Run to my Ambulance Now.” This true story from Bowron Lake Provincial Park recounts my group’s adventurous 73-mile canoe trip paddling a rectangular circuit of wilderness lakes, where we portaged by rolling canoes on wheels.

See related articles

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Amazon.com. Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

The following Canadian Rocky Mountains parks comprise a spectacular World Heritage Area listed by UNESCO in 1984:

  • Banff National Park
  • Jasper National Park
  • Kootenay National Park
  • Yoho National Park
  • Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
  • Mount Robson Provincial Park
  • Hamber Provincial Park (not pictured in this article)

USA: MONTANA: Glacier + Waterton NP

Recommended hikes and campgrounds in Waterton-Glacier National Parks.

Glacier National Park is a hiking paradise, one of our favorite world natural areas. Since 1932, Canada and USA have shared Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which UNESCO honored as a World Heritage Site (1995) containing two Biosphere Reserves (1976).


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Waterton-Glacier campground tips (as of 2007)

  • Hot Showers are available at:   Rising Sun Campground Store;  Apgar West Entrance KOA;  St. Mary Lake KOA;  adjacent to Many Glacier Campground at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn; Rising Sun Inn (6 miles west of St. Mary Visitor’s Center, and 5 miles west of St Mary Campground); Waterton Park townsite campground; and others outside the park.
  • Per site limits are 2 vehicles, 8 people, & 2 tents (where space is available) in Glacier NP.
  • After Labor Day, all Glacier NP campgrounds are “first come first served” (non-reservable) campgrounds — arriving between 10am-1:30pm very likely gets a site. Check out time is 12:00 noon (re-register by 11:30 am).
  • Camping along Going-to-the-Sun Road:
    • Rising Sun Campground on Lake McDonald is open thru Sept 17, 2007. Adjacent to the campground is a camp store, a casual restaurant, and token operated showers (1 shower stall for men, 1 for women). Flush toilets; dump station. $20. In August 2007, it usually filled up after 6:00pm.
    • Saint Mary campground, $23. Flush toilets; dump station, open 5/25 – 9/23/07; first come first served after Sept 3 (sites are reservable June 1 through September 3).
    • Campgrounds near Lake McDonald / West Glacier:
      • Apgar Campground (rarely fills up)
      • Fish Creek campground is closed after Sept 4, 2007. Reservable in summer, but usually doesn’t fill up.
      • Sprague Creek Campground) is open thru Sept 17. $20. Flush toilets.
      • Avalanche Campground is closed after Sept 4.
  • Many Glacier Campground open thru Sept 23, then primitive (waterless) thru Sept 29. $20. Flush toilets; dump station.  Filled up most days from 2 to 7:00pm in August 2007. Public showers & laundry are located behind Swiftcurrent Motor Inn’s Registration building. 3 shower stalls for men, 4 for women.
  • Two Medicine Lake Campground:  generally shaded by trees, some privacy. Open thru Sept 23. $20. No showers.
  • Glacier NP campgrounds, current filling status & details:  home.nps.gov/applications/glac/cgstatus/cgstatus.cfm
  • Plus numerous RV parks outside the National Park, with full facilities, such as the towns of West Glacier, East Glacier, & St Mary:
    • Polson / Flathead Lake KOA (800) 562-2130
    • West Glacier KOA (800) 562-3313
    • St. Mary / East Glacier KOA  (800) 562-1504

Glacier NP animals and insects: photo gallery


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Waterton-Glacier weather

If Logan Pass is closed, driving around the south end of Glacier NP on Highway 2 takes only an extra 30 minutes, by way of East Glacier, to West Glacier.

Global warming melts Glacier National Park

Glaciers carved spectacular U-shaped valleys and pyramidal peaks here as recently as the Last Glacial Maximum (the last “Ice Age” 25,000 to 13,000 years ago). Of the 150 glaciers existing in the mid 1800s, only 25 active glaciers remain in Glacier National Park as of 2010, and all may disappear as soon as 2020, say climate scientists. See for yourself, such as the nearly-gone Siyeh Glacier at Cracker Lake.  Read more about global warming and climate change.

Glacier NP stone patterns and natural abstracts: photo gallery


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Glacier NP backpacking

Check weather and reserve backcountry campsites at 8:00am, one day in advance, at the following offices: St. Mary Visitor Center, Two Medicine Ranger Station, Many Glacier RS, Polebridge RS, or Apgar Visiter Center. Be flexible and come prepared for alternative plans, as popular campsites may be hard to get. Backpacking permit fees are $5 per person per night (as of 2007). Advance reservation fee ($30) is waived if reserved less than 24 hours in advance.

Glacier NP flowers and plants: photo gallery


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Waterton-Glacier hikes

Check trail status at: www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/trailstatusreports.htm
Rainy day activities include waterfall hikes, games, or a good book.
Tom’s PRIORITY KEY below rates hikes with asterisks:   ***Best.   **Excellent.   *Good if you have extra time.

West Glacier area hikes

  • ** Avalanche Lake hike: park early before the lot fills.
  • ** Bowman Lake, Numa Ridge Lookout (11.4 mi round trip, 2935 ft). See jade colored Bowman Lake and Valley from above.  Drive 21 miles from Apgar to Polebridge, via Camas Road, to the “Outside North Fork Road” of which 11 miles are bumpy gravel. (Don’t take the “Inside Road”, which is very slow & bumpy, almost 4wd). From Polebridge, drive 6 miles gravel road to the trailhead at Bowman Lake Campground.
Glacier NP: Lake McDonald, Avalanche Lake and Gorge: photo gallery


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Glacier NP: Bowman Lake and Flathead River North Fork: photo gallery


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Two Medicine Lake area hikes

  • ** Upper Two Medicine Lake (9.4 miles round trip, 370 feet gain)
  • * Cobalt Lake (11.4 miles round trip, 1400 feet gain) good viewpoints, attractive Rockwell Falls, colorful rocks, beautiful lake, beaver ponds, meadows. With extra energy, hike Two Medicine Pass (4.4 miles round trip, 830 feet, from Cobalt Lake) for “commanding view” of neighboring Paradise Park and Park Creek drainage.
  • Short hikes:
    • Running Eagle Falls (0.6 miles round trip)
    • Paradise Point (1.2 miles round trip) scenic peninsula that juts into Two Medicine Lake
    • Aster Falls (2.4 miles round trip)
Glacier NP: Two Medicine hikes: photo gallery


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Going-to-the-Sun Road area hikes

  • *** Siyeh Pass (10.3 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 2390 up, 3300 down) (or 9.4 mi round trip without shuttle, 2390 feet gain). High alpine scenery.  Open 8/9/07.   Or even better to hike the following:
  • ***  Piegan Pass (13 miles traverse one way with shuttle, 1720 feet up) via Grinnell Lake & Josephine Lake to Swiftcurrent Lake trailhead. Same trailhead as Siyeh Pass, at Siyeh Bend.
  • * Otokomi Lake (10 mi round trip, 1900 ft) Deep red rocks, green forest, colorful scenery. Start at Rising Sun Campground.  Open 8/9/07.
  • ** Gunsight Lake (12.6 miles round trip; 1700 feet gain): popular day hike. Start at Jackson Glacier turnout, 4.9 miles east of Logan Pass. “Views of glaciers and mountains fill the horizon.”
  • *** Hidden Lake (6 mi round trip, or shorter if you don’t descend to lake, 1200 ft). We hiked this in 2002 — one of our favorite hikes in the world — well worth hiking again, this time in blue sky weather. “The parking lot at Logan Pass usually fills between the hours of 10:00am to 2:00pm, though this can vary during peak weekends.” Logan Pass (6,646 feet) is 32 miles from the west entrance and 18 miles from the east entrance.
  • *** Swiftcurrent Pass (15.2 miles one way, backpacked in two days, 1400 feet gain, car shuttle) via Garden Wall (which can also be hiked 11.8 mi, 800 ft, one way with shuttle; plus 1200-ft, 2-mile side trip to spectacular Grinnel Lake overlook) “If you just have one day in the park, hike this”. Swiftcurrent Pass can also be day hiked 1 to 15 miles round trip, from zero or 3500 feet gain. Hiking up 2300 feet gains you a sufficiently good view.
Glacier NP: Logan Pass hikes: Hidden Lake and Garden Wall: photo gallery


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Glacier NP: Saint Mary hikes: Baring Creek, Piegan Pass, Siyeh Pass: photo gallery


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Many Glacier Campground area

  • *** Iceberg Lake (9.4 miles RT, 1220 ft) (see also Ptarmigan Tunnel) Ice bergs in milky blue lake below 3000-foot cliffs. TRAIL OPEN – 8/8/07.  4.8 miles roun trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 4.6 miles RT to Iceberg Lake.
  • ** Ptarmigan Tunnel (11.2 miles RT, 2315 ft) (see also Iceberg Lake) Fun tunnel, spectacular scenery. 4.8 miles round trip to junction above Ptarmigan Falls, plus 5.2 miles round trip to Tunnel.
  • *** Cracker Lake (11.2 mi RT, 1140 ft) Most eye-catching turquoise lake in park; 3000-foot cliffs; nice waterfalls. TRAIL OPEN from Cracker Flats to Cracker Lake 8/2/07.
  • *** Grinnel Glacier (7.6 miles with boat rt, 11 miles without, 1700 ft) Gets close to the glacier, plus outstanding scenery. Open 7/13/07. Or hike Grinnel Lake, best via Piegan Pass traverse (above).
Glacier NP: Many Glacier hikes: photo gallery


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Waterton Lakes NP, CANADA (bring USA passport)

  • ** Carthew Traverse (12 miles one way, 2300 ft, car shuttle) We loved this so much in 2002, we may hike it again. High alpine lakes, meadows, waterfalls. (Stays within Canada; no boat required.)
  • * Bertha Lake (8.6 mi rt, 1542 ft) “Beautiful subalpine lake”. Falls.
  • * Goat Lake (8 mi, 984 ft rt) “Pretty area”. This trail starts at the exceptionally colorful Red Rock Canyon (which has a nice short nature trail, seen in 2002).
  • Goat Haunt(2-12 miles round trip, 1000 ft gain). Requires boat ride on Waterton Lakefrom Canada into USA (& back). Bring USA passports. In 2002, this boat ride was not very scenic in the opinion of Carol and I — * you probably need to hike or backpack into the mountains for better views. (Must get backcountry permit in Glacier NP, not Waterton.) The commercial boat (403) 859-2362 down Waterton Lake (Canada) to Goat Haunt, USA, may be cancelled, but other boats may run. Must leave Waterton dock by 4pm sailing to enable check in to US customs at Goat Haunt between 9am-5:30pm. At Goat Haunt you can do any or all of the following:
    • Day hikes from Goat Haunt: several “excellent hikes” 2-12 miles, and/or
    • camp overnight at open-sided shelters at the Goat Haunt boat dock, without having to carry a pack, or
    • backpack from Goat Haunt: Lake Francis 12.4 miles round trip, 1000 ft, plus optional 8 mile rt day extension to Brown Pass where “views are tremendous”
Canadian Rockies: Waterton Lakes: photo gallery


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USA: MONTANA & CANADA: Abstract Nature Patterns, Waterton-Glacier Parks

Spectacular peaks may distract from the wonders at your feet — ancient rock layers form fantastic, colorful patterns in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, and Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada. These two parks comprise Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, honored by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

View stone patterns and natural abstracts of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park


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See related travel tips article: USA: MONTANA: Glacier National Park and Waterton, CANADA

Recommended Montana guidebooks from Amazon.com:

Search for latest “Montana travel books” at Amazon.com.

2003: 2011: 2012: 2011: 2010: