Posted by: kerryl29 | October 14, 2014

The Canadian Rockies, Day 1: Bow Valley Parkway

Late afternoon on Monday, September 22 I boarded a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport destined for Calgary, Alberta.  The flight didn’t arrive until 8 PM local time and after going through customs, a delayed delivery of luggage and picking up a rental car, I didn’t clear the airport until well after 9 PM.  After staying overnight at an airport hotel, I hit the road shortly before sunrise the following morning (Tuesday, Sept. 23) for the 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive to Lake Louise Village.  Thus began my nearly two-week-long adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

Aspens, Fireside Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspens, Fireside Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

I’ve wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies, camera gear in tow, for as long as I can remember.  I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen, but a series of events made it possible this autumn.  I began seriously planning the trip in May–four months in advance of departure.  I timed the visit to coincide with the fall color season–essentially, aspens and golden larch–and I wanted to make the most of my time on site.  Two weeks (parts of 13 days, to be exact) sounds like a lot of time for a photographic location, and in a sense it is, but when you’re in a place as sizable and rich in photographic potential as the Canadian Rockies, it’s remarkable how brief a period it really is.

Bow River Muleshoe from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Muleshoe from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Overlook, Banff National Park, Alberta

It was a mostly cloudy day as I drove west from Calgary toward the town of Banff.  Just as I entered the southern perimeter of Banff National Park, it started to rain–hard.  But as I kept driving, the rain stopped in short order and the skies partially cleared.

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks Black & White, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks Black & White, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Just north of Banff, the southern terminus of the Bow Valley Parkway intersects the Trans-Canada Highway.  The parkway essentially connects Banff and Lake Louise Village on a low speed (60 kmh) two-lane road that provides direct access to numerous scenic locations and trails.  My plan was to scout/shoot along the parkway, as conditions permitted, the rest of the morning and first part of the afternoon.  I couldn’t check in at my motel at Lake Louise Village until at least 3 PM, but I did want to scout Lake Louise, Morraine Lake and a few other locations before dark that day, due to my pre-planned itinerary.  I was to stay in the Lake Louise area through the morning of Friday, Sept. 26, but one of those days had already been earmarked for Lake O’Hara, at nearby Yoho National Park, across the border in British Columbia.  (Much more on Lake O’Hara in a future installment.)  So, there wasn’t a lot of time to experience all the richness of the Lake Louise area; I was determined to do as much as I could along the Bow Valley Parkway.  My main guide was Darwin Wiggett’s e-book, How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies:  Banff National Park.  (I purchased and made heavy use of four of Darwin’s destination e-books and I highly recommend them if you’re planning on photographing in the region.)

Aspen Leaves and Rocks, Fireside Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Leaves and Rocks, Fireside Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

My first stop was less than a mile down the parkway (which runs approximately 30 miles in all)–the Fireside Picnic Area.  I shot along a creek that was just steps from the picnic parking area and then wandered perhaps 1/2 mile down a trail, and photographed a bit in the forest along the path before returning to the parking area and moseyed a few miles down the parkway to the Muleshoe Picnic Area.  I spent more time here–both shooting in the forest alongside the picnic area and then on the seldom used Muleshoe Trail, which begins across the parkway from the picnic area of the same name.

Outlet Stream, Fireside Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Outlet Stream, Fireside Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

The main attraction to the picnic area itself, in my view, is the beautiful aspen forest that surrounds it. and with mostly cloudy skies still the order of the day, I had the perfect soft light with which to photograph it.

Aspen Trunks, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Trunks, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

The Muleshoe Trail runs through an old forest burn area and then up a fairly steep slope.  Eventually, it reaches the foot of an open meadow and runs straight up a very steep, uncluttered slope–and I do mean straight up; there isn’t even the hint of a switchback.  I forced myself up this extremely precarious trail because I could see that there would be some terrific views of the Bow Valley–including the muleshoe of the Bow River–below.  Despite the difficult footing and what felt like a 45-degree slope I kept pushing myself to climb higher, because it promised a better perspective with each step.  Finally, I reached a spot that allowed me to formulate the composition I wanted.  It was difficult just to put my backpack on the ground and keep it from rolling all the way down the slope.  Propping up the tripod–and myself–on the steep slope to produce the shot was even more difficult, but I managed to do it.

Bow River Muleshoe from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Muleshoe from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

When I descended to flatter ground, I found some areas where I could use a telephoto lens to produce some patterned shots of the mixed aspen-coniferous forest in the river valley below.

Aspens and Conifers from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspens and Conifers from the Muleshoe Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta

After returning to the parking area I headed back down the road for the location along the parkway I had been most intrigued by after reading the e-book–Hillsdale Meadows.  This open meadow with stands of golden aspen and mountain peak backdrops with the now-partly cloudy sky accent was postcard perfect and I wandered in with my backpack and tripod and set up shop for awhile.

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Twins, Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Twins, Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

From here, I made the trek to my last planned location along the parkway this afternoon–Castle Mountain.  I wanted to at least scout the location–along the Bow River, with the distinctive mountain peak as a backdrop–and shoot it if conditions allowed.  Unfortunately, the weather was deteriorating a bit and there was no light on the peak at all.  I did shoot, briefly, along a tributary to the Bow River, just downstream from the bridge that abuts the main shooting location for the mountain itself, but it started to rain while I was there, so I just managed a single shot and then trudged back to the car.  It was now pushing 4 PM, so I decided to check in to the motel and, if it stopped raining, do the rest of my scouting.

Bow River Tributary, Banff National Park, Alberta

Bow River Tributary, Banff National Park, Alberta

By the time I got to the motel at Lake Louise Village it had indeed stopped raining, so after checking in I went back to the car and drove straight to Lake Louise itself, about five miles away.  This had been one of the iconic locations I had really wanted to see and, while the lake itself was quite pretty, the atmosphere there isn’t the best.  The place was just inundated with tourists, many of whom were undoubtedly staying at the Chateau Lake Louise, a huge hotel just steps away from the lake itself.  I wandered around a bit and made a few images, a couple of which I’ve included here, but on balance I was disappointed.  It was just too touristy for me, and after less than an hour I headed off to Morraine Lake for a quick scout.  I still needed to make my way over to Yoho National Park to locate the Lake O’Hara parking area, where I’d have to be early the next morning (more on this next time).

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

I did check out Morraine Lake, but didn’t do any shooting.  It was now completely overcast and the point of my visit was to scout the location for a probable morning shoot on either Thursday or Friday (or both).  I immediately saw why the place is so widely acclaimed.  It’s difficult to describe the experience of seeing Morraine Lake for the first time and I’ll let some images in future installments do the talking for me.  Suffice to say that I was seriously impressed.

Boaters on Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Boaters on Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta

I then rushed back to the access road.  It was less than an hour until sunset (or dark–there would be no real sunset on this cloudy day) as I made my way back to the Trans-Canada and drove approximately 10 miles, across the provincial line into British Columbia to the Lake O’Hara parking area–which was easily found.  Having located the following morning’s destination, I quickly headed to the Yoho Valley Road to try to make a couple of quick images along the Kicking Horse River before I lost the light completely.  And so I did, donning my rubber boots and descending to the edge of the raging river, to produce the below shot, which I like best in black and white.  The shutter was clicked just moments before it was so dark that I could no longer see to focus.

Kicking Horse River Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Kicking Horse River Black & White, Yoho National Park, British Columbia

That brought to an end the first day I experienced in the Canadian Rockies.  Day 2 was to be spent at Lake O’Hara back in Yoho National Park.  This was something I had been looking forward to for months.  Now if only the weather would cooperate…

Day 2:  Scenic Nemesis – Lake O’Hara and the Opabin Plateau

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Responses

  1. Especially liked your shot “Hillsdale Meadows” in Banff National Park.

    • Thanks! As I mentioned in the write-up, Hillsdale Meadows is a quintessential “postcard” location in the fall.

  2. Great series of images that capture so much of what this season is all about. Beautiful work.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. Awesome, just freaking awesome! Of all the places that I’ve been in the US and Canada, I still think that Banff/Jasper is the most beautiful place that I have seen. The majestic mountains towering over the mineral colored waters of the Bow River and the lakes in the valleys are so incredibly beautiful that it takes a person a while to soak it all in before even trying to photograph the views. I’m loving this series already, this first installment has already brought back many memories, and I can’t wait to see what you came up with during the rest of your time there. There aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary for either the place, or your images of it!

    • The majestic mountains towering over the mineral colored waters of the Bow River and the lakes in the valleys are so incredibly beautiful that it takes a person a while to soak it all in before even trying to photograph the views.

      Truer words have never been spoken. It’s been quite a few years, but I’ve spent time in the Rockies in the U.S., both in Colorado and Montana, but I’m not sure that there was a way to really prepare myself for what the Canadian Rockies would offer. Particularly coming from the flatlands and commercial/residential/agricultural sprawl of Illinois and Indiana, there was a definite adjustment period that I had to work through. Partly as a result, I think this first day was my worst, photographically speaking, of the entire trip (though the second rivals it–but that was pretty much entirely a function of the weather).

      In any case, thanks very much for the kind remarks and I hope you’ll find the rest of the installments in what will surely be a very long series of posts (I came home with something like 300 GB of image files) worthwhile.

  4. Your photos are gorgeous. I’ve been to the Banff area twice . . . both with the fall colors. It is a place of extraordinary beauty and one that I want to return to over and over.

    • Thanks very much. I certainly concur with your assessment of the region and its visual appeal. In fact, in a tiny bit of foreshadowing, I’m already trying to see if I can get back there next fall. Beyond the obvious beauty of the area, the especially strong motivation to return will become more understandable after my next installment.

  5. Love these captures and Bow Valley, so many wild creatures there!

    • Thanks!

      By far the largest volume of wildlife I saw was in Jasper, though I had wolf and bear sightings in David Thompson Country as well.

  6. I may have mentioned the tourists at Lake Louise in my pre-trip comments. Very excited to see your photos and read your account of this trip especially since I have been to some of these locations. Not sure of the location of Hillsdale meadows, reminds me of David Thompson country but I will look it up. I have Darwin’s e-books-excellent- and working to get money to go myself once again. I like the photos from the Muleshoe and close-up of the rocks and leaves.

    • Thanks.

      Hillsdale is 7-8 miles (about 12 km) north of the southern terminus (i.e. the Banff end) of the Bow Valley Parkway…it’s on both sides of the road but the part on the eastern side (IMO) is considerably richer in photo opportunities. Yes, it does bare some similarities to the Kootenay Plains area, though Hillsdale isn’t as broad. Most of the last 5-6 days that I was on site was spent in David Thomspon Country so there will be copious images from that area as I move along in the presentation.

  7. Hi Kerry,

    Long time reader, first time poster. 🙂

    I always enjoy your images and writing. These photos of the Canadian Rockies in fall are wonderful! I look forward to the future installments of this trip.

    I’m glad you’re back out in the field again. I’ve been having trouble myself getting motivated in recent months to shoot locally. But this morning before work I forced myself out to shoot an area of coastal dunes near my home. I didn’t create anything I’d be proud to show off, but for the hour I was out, everything else fell away and I was happily immersed in the creative process, in nature, and greatly enjoying myself. It reminded me why I photograph in the first place.

    Best wishes to you.

    • Hi Blake. Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a comment and for the kind words about the blog content; they’re much appreciated.

      Re your statement: “I’ve been having trouble myself getting motivated in recent months to shoot locally.” I’ve been there–more than once. I’ve often, rather flippantly, attributed this to the available stimulus (or lack thereof); the areas around Chicago and Indianapolis are not among the planet’s landscape photography garden spots. 🙂 And yet…as spectacular as some of the more remote places I’ve had the opportunity to visit have been, some of my most pleasant moments with the camera have been spent locally–in the woods, on the banks of streams, etc., reacquainting myself, as you elegantly put it, with the reason that I partake in photography to begin with.

      Again, thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment. Don’t be a stranger.

  8. I’ve been so looking forward to seeing you post about this trip. Have to agree with you about Lake Louise and the tourist atmosphere. I came away with much the same impression way back some 40 years ago. I can only imagine it being worse now. Still, you managed to capture some of that impossible beauty and incredible atmosphere. Eagerly awaiting the rest.

    • Thanks, Gunta.

      Lake Louise was overflowing with tourists, the overwhelming majority of whom are from Europe and Asia. Actually, this phenomenon was repeated all through the entire region. (I expected this to some degree, based on my most recent experiences in the Desert Southwest in the United States, but it was that times at least two in the Canadian Rockies. There were many places where I was quite literally surprised to hear anyone speaking English–Lake Louise was, in fact, one of those places.)

      Given that many–by no means all–of these folks come on group tour packages, they were coming and going by the busloads in all of the most heavily touristy places in the region (e.g. Lake Louise, Morraine Lake, Athabasca Falls, Bow Summit, etc.). Most seemed to be having a pretty good time, but I couldn’t help but think to myself how miserable *I* would be if I was limited to seeing this region in that manner. Oh well.

      • On the plus side, keeping the tourists contained to certain established sites could be a good thing for those of us who are free to move about… 😉

        • Yes, there are some apparent benefits. 🙂

  9. Beautiful captures.

  10. Truly gorgeous shots, Kerry – you certainly got a great photo of Lake Louise in spite of the tourists. Still, my favorite shot is the gold aspen leaves on the etched rocks – beautiful simplicity.

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. The shot with the aspen leaves on the rock at the Fireside Picnic Area–I saw that while peering down from the bridge that crossed the creek (shown in one of the other images), and had to go telephoto to get it. I played around with different focal lengths as I tried to determine exactly what should be included in the frame and what should be excluded and eventually arrived at the image you see accompanying this post.

      • Your care reveals itself in the subtle beauty of this photo, Kerry. Just beautiful, really.

        • Thanks, Lynn, very much. I really like that shot myself, even though it obviously isn’t spectacular. In fact, it’s the lack of a “wow” factor that is a big part of the personal appeal. It’s quite gratifying to know that this resonates with at least one other person.

  11. […] was some ambient light when I reached Moraine Lake itself, and because of the time I took to scout the location on Day 1 , I immediately headed to a spot along the lake shore, rather than climbing up to the rock pile, as […]

  12. […] as part of this post, you’ve seen plenty of them in the earlier installments of the series (Day 1; Day 2; Day 3; Day 4) and you’ll surely see many, many more if you continue to follow along […]

  13. […] I experienced in the Canadian Rockies as any scenic genre it was my pleasure to witness, be it the Hillsdale Meadows, the Opabin Plateau, the Bow River Outlet Trail, the Palisades Picnic Area or the unnamed meadow […]

  14. Brilliant images, especially like the one of the first. “Morning Meadow, Icefields Parkway, Jasper National Park, Alberta,” tree in the foreground are beautiful.

    • Thanks very much!

  15. the colors are realy beautifoul

  16. […] a taste of the subject matter, to accompany this post.  As was the case when I returned from my time in the Canadian Rockies last fall, it’s going to take quite some time for me to work through all of this material.  […]

  17. […] to scout the southern half of the Bow Valley Parkway, a location that I’d visited on my first day in the area the previous year.  I took a quick swing past several of my favorite spots from last year’s trip–the […]

  18. […] I spent a bit of time on the parkway during the first day of this year’s trip, and on the first day of last year’s trip, so I had a good idea of what to […]


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