Rocky Mountains off the beaten path

Rocky Mountains off the beaten path

July 2022

We literally ignored the city of Calgary. The Rocky Mountains were coming up and we were much more looking forward to that than visiting a city. Just before the Banff National Park border, we found a seemingly quiet roadside spot to spend the night. However, we quickly realized that we were not the only ones from now on, after 9 pm the small parking lot was totally parked up with overnight guests – in the national parks wild camping is prohibited.

We had found out by now that this area consists of four National Parks, not two. Banff and Jasper are well known, but Yoho and Kootenay are less so. We visited Kootenay National Park first and when we crossed the Vermillion Pass we immediately entered the province of British Columbia. Here we were also crossing the Continental Divide, which marks the natural border from where rivers flow into the Pacific on one side and into the Atlantic on the other. 

We had chosen a brisk hike with a visit to the Stanley Glacier. Soon the valley opened up right in front of us with the glacier at the very end. After we passed the tree line, it got steeper and because of all the grit, it was still pretty tough to get to the end of the valley. The mountain panorama and the view of the glacier that you can’t get to anymore were stunning.

A little further on in the National Park, we visited the Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots. The Marble Canyon is one of the most impressive canyons we have ever seen. No wider than max. 2 meters but more than 50 meters deep, the Tokumm Creek has cut its way through here over a distance of a kilometer, leaving a jagged canyon behind. It was extraordinary to see, how the water far below wildly works a way through the canyon.
The Paint Pots were again a lot quieter, but no less interesting. Due to the high iron content in the soil, the ponds here change color from green to brown.

Along the rugged Kootenay River, we slept the night at a National Park campground and were able to put on our hiking boots the next morning after drinking coffee. A short hike started right at the back of the campground. After crossing two bridges, the road slowly ascended until we arrived at Dog Lake. Most of the time we walked singing and whistling, hoping to avoid a bear encounter. We swam in the lake to cool off and had a beautiful view of a pine forest and mighty mountains in the background, while at the same time common loons completed their mating dance.

Common loons have accompanied us throughout our entire journey through Canada; they are an impressive appearance with their size and the insistent calls of the males. The common loon is the national bird of Canada and is depicted on the 1-dollar coin, which is then also called “Loonie”.

Later this day we parked at the Radium Hot Springs to also explore this area on foot. Soon we ran into mountain goats on the hiking trail. Apparently it was too hot for them too because our approach did not bother them and we could watch them quietly. At the deepest point of the hike near Sinclair Canyon, we were again attacked by an army of mosquitoes, but we could still enjoy the tropical-looking river that finds its way through the canyon. We didn’t try the 40 degree warm radioactive water of the hot springs, because it had a bit too much “outdoor pool atmosphere” and it wasn’t exactly cold outside either with over 30 degrees.

At the town of Golden we turned right towards Yoho National Park and just before we left the highway we saw a family of Bighorn sheep grazing on the shoulder. Along the river with the beautiful name Kicking Horse River we parked for the night at another beautiful spot. Dinner, running water, setting sun…life is sometimes very beautiful.

” Yoho”
means “astonishment” or “miracle” in the language of the Cree Indians and we quickly realized how justified this designation is. Our first destination in Yoho National Park was Emerald Lake and we set off early. There are some spots in this area that are so popular that when the parking lot is full, you can’t get in. Emerald Lake is one of those and so we arrived just in time for a spot for our car.

We began our tour around the beautiful lake. A new mountain panorama unfolds from every angle and even the color of the lake itself sometimes changes between blue and turquoise. We extended our route and walked the Emerald Basin Trail as an ‘extra’. At the very end of the trail the ice melted to begin a long journey through Emerald Lake to the Pacific Ocean. We couldn’t resist entering the water here as well. Due to the strong current, we couldn’t find a suitable spot so we first built a dam and our own little pool. This was the coldest water yet! When we returned to the lake, we dived into the water again and found that since the melting at the top of the mountain, it was still near freezing.

On our way back to the highway we had a brief stop at the “Natural bridge”, an impressive natural rock formation that spans the flow of the Kicking Horse River.

For years and years people have been crossing the Rocky Mountains on foot or by car. In the past it was the Indians, who had to come into contact with their European customers because of the trade in animal skins, but later it was mainly tourists who wanted to visit the most beautiful places in the mountains. In the early 19th century, rail tourism boomed in the Rockies and the Canadian Pacific Railroad laid trails to the highlights in the park. So also the train crosses this mountain range since then. The steep mountain slopes in this valley were the most difficult sections to build. To overcome the large difference in height, two large tunnels were dug into the mountain in the form of a loop. This allows the freight trains to gain height and cross Kicking Horse Pass in a shorter time frame. This masterpiece can be viewed from several viewpoints.

We drove further up the Yoho Valley Road and after two very tight hairpin bends we finally got a view of the Takakkaw Falls. With 381 meters the second highest waterfall in Canada. The closer you get to the waterfall, the better you can follow the spectacle. It is then advisable though, to wear a wetsuit.  

From here we’ve also set off on our journey over the Kicking Horse Pass. Banff and Jasper National Park were waiting on the other side, but we’ll tell you more about that in the next blog.

Takakkaw Falls

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