Photo Tour of the Canadian Rockies


On photo tour near Canmore Alberta' Fog lifting revealing mountain.
Fog Lifting

Photo Tour of the Canadian Rockies – a brief trip report of our adventures

This is far from a complete review of the photo opportunities in the Canadian Rockies. Just some highlights from my recent trip this fall. Summer is the high tourist season and to my mind, not the best for photography and reasonable cost for lodging.

I visited the Canadian Rockies 13 – 26 Sep 2015. Early in the trip, I stayed in the town of Canmore which is bisected by the Trans-Canadian highway and located 50 miles west of the City of Calgary. It is within a 15 to 20 minute drive to Banff National Park and is located in the Bow Valley near the park’s Southeast boundary. It served as a good base of operation to explore Banff NP and the surrounding area. It was a peaceful town with reasonable hotel rates and not as crowed and filled with tourists as the town of Banff. A variety of good restaurants are found on Main St including an Argentine Grill. Impressive mountains are nearby for early morning photography that could be done from right outside your hotel. Local hiking trails offered access to other scenic views of the mountain range along the Bow River.

A friend and I visited Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks on this trip. Banff NP, with more than 25 peaks over 9800 ft was my favorite with regard to scenery. I loved its snow-capped mountains and beautiful lakes such as the elongated, turquoise colored Peyto Lake. Like many lakes and rivers, its color is attributable to an influx of the fine particles of glacial flour. Near Lake Minnewanka, my friend spotted our first black bear. Unfortunately, like the one we saw later in Jasper, it stayed just inside the protection of the forest making photographing it impossible. Lake Louise was impressive but the crowds and heavily overcast sky made the experience less enjoyable. In one photo, I featured a person sitting alone by the lake implying he was enjoying the solitude of the wilderness. If you were there and looked behind him at the crowds of people, you might doubt he found the location is as peaceful as the image suggests. I preferred nearby Lake Moraine where a path leads you to a high overview of the lake and large boulders could be used as the foreground of your photos.

On photo tour near Canmore. horse in field with Aspen.
Horse with aspen in fall

One day we took the 48 km long Bow Valley Parkway which paralleled the Trans Canada Highway leading from of the town of Banff. We took photos of the golden aspen along the way and Steller’s jays in a garden at an inn just before the Parkway ended. We also checked out Mount Norquay where a small group of bighorn sheep grazed and where we could photograph the Vermillion Lakes below with fall color. (Also shot the lakes from below. Beautiful reflections). We stayed at the Lake Louise Inn and then Saskatchewan Crossing on our way to Jasper to give us more time to explore the areas. (Note: The Crossing hotel (the only hotel in this area) closes early Oct. The Icefield Parkway heading to Jasper is not maintained once winter comes. Significant snows can begin as early as the beginning of October and sometimes before that date. Snow is possible in any month. The road from Edmonton through Jasper is maintained and open year-round since it is a major route for trucks moving cross country. Flying into Edmonton may be a better choice for visits to Jasper in October.

Columbian Ground Squirrel found during photo tourr of the Canadian Rockies.
Ground Squirrel staring at me hoping for food.

In Kootenay NP, the Marble Canyon was a worthwhile stop with water running through a deep crevice. But the best part was the friendly squirrels who played hide-and-seek beneath the cars in the parking lot. In Yoho NP, we checked out the tall Takakkaw Falls reached from the main highway by a road that climbs to the falls parking lot with extreme switchbacks. The flow of the falls was slow and photos uninteresting, so we retreated to a bridge down-stream of the falls for some interesting slow motion photography. (There is always an alternative photo opportunity if you look hard enough.)

Jasper offered the best opportunities for wildlife photography with salt licks that attracted goats and bighorn sheep and open areas where elk grazed. The mountains were not as snow covered as those in Banff but were still beautiful. They were spaced farther apart than those along the Tans Canada Highway and Icefields Parkway allowing light to strike meadows and lakes earlier and later in the day. Therefore, the geography made it easier to spot wildlife while in good light. (Note: Due to the northern location of the parks, the sun was never directly overhead even at noon. Therefore the light was softer and at a lower angle to better accent the topography and illuminate the wildlife.) In September, it was rutting season for the elk with the males gathering their females and bugling. (Love the sound). In terms of small animals, some Columbian ground squirrels, red squirrels, and chipmunks were still above ground busily eating and gathering food for the winter.

It rained and often poured constantly for two days mid-way through the trip. This was a good time for a little scouting and working on images but not for photography. The situation was a bit disappointing until we woke on the morning of the third day and saw that the rain had stopped and fresh snow covered the surrounding mountain peaks. What was perceived as a negative event initially, offered us great opportunities to photograph locally and as we moved north. Even the waterfalls benefited from the fresh supply of water and were more photogenic. The change in color of the aspen leaves from green to gold even seemed accelerated.  (The leaf color seemed to peak during the 2nd half our trip, particularly on the southern part of our journey back to Calgary to catch our flight home.)

NOTE: In late Sep and early Oct, crowds thin out, animals are more visible, and snow coats the mountain peaks. However, the chance of bad weather increases, possibly hindering travel.

Pink clouds over mountain discovered early in our photo tour of the Canadian Rockies,
Sunrise near Canmore Alberta Canada