It happened! I made it to Canada in 2021. After being discriminated against due to my Americanness in 2020, I was finally able to make a trip up to our northern neighbors. A Canadian Rockies road trip had been on my to-do list before our global pandemic, and I’d been itching to find a way up. Fortunately, a Seattle wedding put me as close as I’d be for the next nine months and just happened to line up with fall colors in the Rockies. Plus, thanks to inexpensive rental car prices, I was able to shoot up to Banff inexpensively.
I’ll have more detailed hiking information down the road but here’s a quick rundown of the trip and photos to take you along for the ride!
Weeklong Canadian Rockies Road trip
Monday – Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass + Bow Lake
I arrived at the HI – Lake Louise hostel just before 2 am local time. The drive from Seattle took about 10 hours in addition to stops for food. It was far too long to do in one day other than I was on a mission. Then, with only three hours of sleep, I woke up for a sunrise hike in Larch Valley above Moraine Lake. After enjoying a chilly sunrise shooting reflections, I hiked to Sentinel Pass, sitting at over 8,600 feet. It was a beautiful experience and I ended up being out there for seven hours.
That evening, I wanted something a bit quieter. I headed up the Icefields Parkway about 25 minutes to Bow Lake in hopes sunset would pop. It didn’t, though it was still a lovely evening staring at beautiful mountains.
Tuesday: Moraine Lake + Rockbound Lake
I dragged myself out of bed before sunrise (which was at 7:50 am… my type of sunrise) and drove to Moraine Lake. The parking lot fills up fast which was one of the reasons to get there early. I’d been before but only captured it on my iPhone. This time, full DSLR in hand, I was excited to get some stunning pictures. While the lake wasn’t calm enough to get the famed reflection shot, it was still a nice morning watching the mountain peaks above light up.
At the time many leave for work, I was driving back to the hostel to warm up and eat breakfast. The rest of the day flew by as I edited and got work done. That evening, our original hike fell through due to a road closure so we went to plan B. The hike, to Rockbound Lake, turned out to be a great one – though the larches were pretty dismal. The first lake, which we would later rise above, had a backdrop of a black and ore wall. It was pretty cool. However, sunset stole the show as the peaks on the horizon lit up and blew minds.
Wednesday: Snow Day + Emerald Lake
The forecast all day was snow though it didn’t materialize until midday. Still, I slept in after being about four days behind on good sleep. While I hate doing nothing while on a trip, it was nice to have a slow morning with coffee and breakfast at the Lake Louise hostel. I was able to catch up on some editing, shot a little video around the hostel, and sat by the fire. Due to my computer’s clock being an hour behind, I almost missed sunset at Emerald Lake. Luckily, I noticed and set out for what turned out to be a fun and beautiful evening. Just three full days in, my Canadian Rockies Road trip was going extraordinarily well!
Thursday: Vermillion Lakes + Drove around Kananaskis Country + Lake Louise
On Thursday, I woke up before 6 am and headed towards the city of Banff and Vermillion Lakes. Though it was 25-degrees out, the sky was clear – not exactly a great thing when you’re looking for sunset colors. Once at the lakes, I enjoyed a thrilling morning. Puffy clouds slowly rolled in and then, to the west, a dark cloud emerged. Maybe 30 minutes later, I was consumed in a snowstorm with some of the largest snowflakes I’ve ever experienced. It was incredible!
After meeting up with the fellas, warming up, and getting breakfast, the gang drove into Kananaskis Country. I’d never been into this region of Alberta. It is a wildly beautiful section of mountains that seemingly rise out of nowhere. Just driving around and soaking it all up filled me with so much content and joy.
Some may say that was enough exploring for the day. But I disagree! I headed to Lake Louise and again was snowed on en route. At Lake Louise, fresh snow covered the trees and peaks. It was pristine. I didn’t stay long as it was getting cold. In need of dinner, I headed down the hill and back to the hostel. With a belly full and sunset on its way, I again set out – this time to Herbert Lake. It didn’t materialize but the views were still gorgeous. Plus, it was only about 8 minutes away, so I figured why not see a new lake.
Friday: Mount Smutwood
With a killer hike coming that evening, I slept in. It was wonderful. I also decided to check out of the Lake Louise Hostel and stay at the Banff Hostel. This would save me about 45 minutes of drive time after our sunset hike. Looking back, it was 100% the right decision.
The gang met up again in Banff, and we headed to the Mount Smutwood Trailhead. Normally, this would be about a 75-minute drive. Frustratingly, though, a road closure forced us to take the long route which added another hour. The hike would be the final one of my Canadian Rockies road trip and one I’d never heard of before this trip.
Heading up Smutwood is a tale of two hikes. The first half is a gentle stroll through the forest and a meadow. The second half of the six-mile trek consists of 3,000 vertical feet including some on a ridgeline. This portion was incredibly taxing and amazingly beautiful. Talk about having your breath taken away on multiple fronts.
At the top, we watched the sunset from one of the higher points in the Canadian Rockies. Yet, as you can imagine in the first week of October, it got really cold. So cold in fact that my fingers stopped working as they were supposed to and I was worried they were going to break – no joke. With headlamps at their brightest, we hiked back in the dark through grizzly country, making a ruckus in hopes we’d scare away anything with four claws and dozens of sharp teeth.
Saturday – Peyto Lake + Kootenay National Park + Radium Hotsprings
I didn’t get into the hostel until midnight and after showering and dealing with a snoring co-mate, I think only slept about three hours. By 5:30 am, I was up, making food, before driving back into Banff National Park. The original goal was Peyto Lake for its re-opening day. However, a killer sunrise made me stop early at Bow Lake and take in the stellar colors to the east.
Once sunrise wore off, I finished the drive to Peyto Lake and hiked the quarter-mile to the brand new overlook. I’d seen photos online but seeing it in person was phenomenal. The lake in the foreground and mountains surrounding it make it one of the best and easiest to access views in the area.
From there, the trip was more or less over. I still had over 10 hours of driving ahead of me to Seattle but the big portions were over. I did get to drive through Kootenay National Park and pulled over far more times than the average driver.
As I drove through it, all I could think about was how I can’t wait to explore this area on my next Canadian Rockies Road trip.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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