Since migrating to Canada I didn’t get any chance to pack my bags, take my cameras and start getting into wild again. Settling down in a new country, time, money – nothing was in my favour though the “Bug of Travel” was continuously biting me. So, when in the last Christmas I found a week-long leave in my new job place I didn’t want to waste the holiday session this time. Canadian Rockies was calling me since I arrived in Canada, and I wanted to see the Rockies in Winter so I welcome this opportunity. One thing was very sure that we cannot expect the torques lakes of the Rockies in Winter which we see in calendars and greetings cards but at the same time, we were very sure this would be going to a different experience altogether. While I was busy to plan the locations Rima took the ownership of booking tickets and accommodation. We booked Emerald Lake Lodge in British Columbia for our stays in the Rockies and wanted to explore the region being based at Emerald Lake Lodge.
Day 1: 22nd Dec, Arrival at Calgary and then Drive Towards British Columbia
The day started very early in Ottawa because the outbound flight was at 7:15 AM. And the small jet took off us in right time from Ottawa International Airport with a temperature outside -15C. When we reached Calgary, the temperature dropped another few degrees, but it was a clear and bright day. We picked up our rental car and started towards our destination. The GPS bypassed the city of Calgary and soon we hit the Highway 1 aka Trans-Canada Highway. It was quite a long drive to see the first glimpse of the Rockies but when it started we jumped in joy.
The drive was pleasant, and we found the sign of the Emerald Lake Lodge after 2 and half hours of driving. In the last 1 hour of drive, the landscape has been changed completely from plain to the Rockies, surrounded by mountains and plateaus. And in between, we stopped in a Service Station and had some food.
The lodge has outside parking from where the Lodge Shuttles picks up the tourists and transfer to the lodge areas. It was quite convenient to follow those steps and reach the entrance of the lodge. The first site of the resort was mind-blowing; it was a fairy tale set up in midst of the white nature. The lodge is exactly at the shore of the Emerald Lake and a bridge is connecting the lodge over a stream from the main road. Everything was frozen white at that time, but there was one area outside the lodge where I could see some amount of water. The reason could be the geothermal effect of the region, which I used later for one of my photography purposes.
We have been given a beautiful cottage, just on the bank of the lake. But in the winter, there was no point of being on lake shore while everything was frozen and covered in white layers of snows.
The rest of the day and the afternoon were spent in leisure and enjoying the awesome food cooked at the Lodge’s own restaurant. I was waiting for the evening as I had a plan to execute some photographic opportunity around the lake resort.
The waiting game started for the right time. This was not only the light which was decreasing fast but the temperature too. And then, when I realized I finally get the right moment, I took 4 to 5 shots of the cottage with the hue of dusk and with the mountain in the backdrop.
After spending some time, I knew I got which I wanted. And in this effort, while I started to look at some different shots, suddenly I heard a small crack under my right foot and immediately I discovered myself submerged in thigh-deep water – the initial feeling was good because I felt the underneath water of the ice layer was warm, but the problem started as soon as I took my leg out of the water. In a few seconds, I started losing all my sense on my right leg. To avoid frost-byte I didn’t have any other option but left the venue and rushed towards my resort with all my belongings. Tripod was giving then good support of walking when one leg started losing its sense. After reaching at the resort, the first remedy was to keep the leg in warm water. And then stretching the leg in front of the wood fireplace.
Then I looked back, what I have achieved and I was happy to see that I was able to take the image which I planned. The Emerald Lake Lodge with the reflection and the huge mountain in the backdrop.
I was okay after the hot water treatment in half an hour. The day was started very early for all of us. So we didn’t make ourselves late for an early supper and went to bed early. I must mention one thing, the sleep inside the cottage for the next few days remains amazing with the sound of wood burning at the wooden fireplace which we don’t get nowadays from our advance gas burning fireplaces.
Day 2: 23rd Dec, Exploring Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Fairmont Hotel and Moraine Lake
We started our second day with an early morning sunrise view from the Emerald Lake
And before we start our journey for the day, I made a quick visit of my favourite spot of last evening’s small adventure and found that the stream has made a spot of water where the ice was cracked. I strongly believe there was a Geo Thermal area which was making the water pond in -20C.
After having a super heavy breakfast, we were ready to hit the road which was as usual clear and straight. There was no sight of snow, but bone-chilling cold was accompanying us. Though we were traveling towards the most visited places of Banff – “The Fairmont Hotel”, I was almost enjoying a car-free high way driving due to the peak winter season.
I stopped many places which were very usual for my photography adventure and took more than double time than usual to reach Fairmont hotel and Lake Louise. The lake became a solid Ice Bed in that temperature and was opened for winter activities. Due to our winter visit we couldn’t see the magnificent hotel on the bank of a turquoise lake but wondering on the frozen lake bed was fun and it doubled up when we decided for a horse-sled around the lake.
After a fun ride of horse-pulled sled we decided to head back to our resort as the light started fading out and the road towards Moraine Lake was closed. Moraine lake remains unseen in this trip so we decided to have a relaxed evening at the resort. We drove the same scenic road back to the hotel.
Day 3: 24th Dec, Exploring Jasper National Park
On 24th Dec we started towards Jasper national park. Google Map was saying this should be 3 and half hours drive but it was more than 6 hours drive for us because of numerous stops we took. Jasper national park too is part of Canadian Rockies and is known for its pristine blue lakes and mountains. From the landscape perspective there was no difference between Banff and Jasper except what I experienced Jasper is more forested, more remote and less hotel infested places compared to the Banff.
The road through the Rockies was as usual beautiful, but driving was slow due to winter condition of the roads. And we were not in hurry to miss any flight, so we enjoyed a pleasant drive through Jasper national park. A couple of times we saw few Moose and few Elk deers roaming in the valley of the Rockies in search of food. In Winter, scarcity of foods forces the local animals either to go to hibernation or to roam a large area. Deer, Moose, Elk or Mule normally don’t go to hibernation though their activity in winter is limited, we experienced quite a few times few groups of Elks and Moose especially wherever there was a sight of water due to the hot springs.
Banff to Jasper was a long drive and winter condition forced us to drive slow. So it was late when we were rushing towards Maligne Lake but I was stopping whenever there was a small opportunity to make some pictures. Because of winter, the photography opportunity was very less so I was trying to get as much as I could at that time.
We were rushing towards Maligne Lake as daylight was fading and I had a few kilometers to reach the destination but at certain point in the bend of the road, it was so beautiful – a frozen lake, road blended towards the mountain and the last light of the day kissing the mountain range – I couldn’t resist myself to stop and to embrace the harsh cold outside from the warmness of the vehicle. It was so serene and so calm; I realized I didn’t see even a single vehicle, animal, bird, or people on this road minimum for 3 hours.
And it was a secluded feeling that we three were the only living beings on that part of the earth at that time.
When GPS was telling me Maligne lake was almost a bend ahead, and I was rushing to get the last light of the day, a part of the landscape drew my attention while we were crossing a small bridge. I was unaware of this location from my pre-visit study of the location. I stopped my vehicle and overwhelmed by the beautiful scenery in front of me while the last rays of the sun touching the peaks around the Maligne lake, there was an area of water in -20C where the reflection of the peak was stunningly beautiful. I assume same geo-thermal possibility would be the only reason to make some part of the lake not frozen in that well sub-zero temperature. However, leaving science behind, this was the time to enjoy the beauty of nature and frame it through the lenses.
And the Opposite side of the bridge was equally beautiful.
When we reached the parking of the famous lake, the sun was not visible in the sky and the last rays of the day just kissing the top of the mountain. I rushed, and after taking a couple of frames I realized I actually standing on the lake bed to make the last picture of the day.
After taking these shots there was nothing much to do. These lakes are very popular destinations of summer. All the lakes in the Rockies are full of activities like Kayaking, boating in the emerald waters but in winter handful of crazy guys like me and skiers were the only tourists in this frigid temperature.
It was again almost a 5 plus hours drive back to Banff which to be driven now in pitch dark. When I started my car, there was no one around us, a few tourists who were there earlier, now vanished. The driving was as usual through mountain roads, but this time with headlights on and the visibility was only with few feet. The sky was clear, we could see the milky ways but never dared to capture the night sky in that temperature. There was no chance to stop anywhere, so a straight forward road was driven with utmost care due to winter situation and with very less visibility. And when we reached our cottage our clock was touching 11. We picked up some dry foods from a gas station outside of the Banff town because at that time resort’s restaurant was closed.
Day 4: 25th Dec, Banff, and Vermillion Lake and X-Mas celebration at the resort
On the day of X-Mas it was very special at the resort. Everyone was in a festive mood. We had a lazy start and decided to see other areas of the national park. As soon as we touched the national highway 1 from the connecting road from the resort we noticed a group of Elk grazing down in the valley. When we stopped our car to see their activities, suddenly the group started moving towards the highway and in a few minutes started crossing the road one by one creating a traffic block for sometimes. Nobody mind though to be blocked but patiently wait till the last one crossed the road and vanished inside the alpine forests.
There was no destination to travel or visit on this particular day, rather we used the time in exploring areas in Banff National Park wherever we wished on that moment. The scenery around us was stunning everywhere. We started towards Vermilion Lakes while sun already started moving towards the west and after an hour drive, we entered to the Banff town. The car needed fuel and we needed a small break. When we started we could see the light on the Rockies started being soft.
Banff town to Vermilion Lake was mere 3 Km drive and honestly speaking in that frozen kingdom I hardly could understand the lake. It was all white so instead of finding the lake bed, my interest was to find out a good viewpoint for the sunset.
In one point, which was being confirmed by google map that we were at Vermilion lake, we observed the beautiful light on the mountain.
My eyes were searching for a point where I can make some sunset photo but the dreading cold hindering to explore the area. To find a location I already took a turn from the GPS mentioned road and we were on the country road and there I found some area of interest. There were places where all the water plants dried and frozen inside the knee-deep ice and snow. It was a white desert feeling for me and for my lenses.
This was the final evening at the Rockies of our first visit, and the night started arriving while we started driving down from the Gondola center towards our resort. We know we will go back to the city life and daily work again from tomorrow, but this was an awesome experience of X-mas vacation which Banff and Jasper have offered us.
Few more images were taken on this trip:
Some Useful Travel Information for the readers
Where to Go
The Canadian Rockies has few renowned National Parks like Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park and many more. The best idea to decide one place to anchor and explore the rest of the area as per the days’ availability. This is a vast mountainous landscape but well connected by the roads.
How to Reach
Banff National park could be the gateway of entering the Canadian Rockies. Calgary International Airport is the closest airport in the park and is just one and a half hour drive to enter the national park area. The other option is Edmonton International Airport which is a little more than three and a half hours drive. However, the driving distance depends on the location of the accommodation. Many rental agencies like Hertz, Avis, Budget are available at both of the airports, but making a prior booking is always advisable.
Where to Stay
There are lots of hotels, resorts, gateways available in these national parks. It completely depends on personal choice. Like for me, I neither stay in Banff nor in Jasper, but I drove to Emerald Lake Lodge which is in Yoho National Park in British Columbia.
Some of the Best Places to Visit
Banff Town, Banff Spring Hotel, Lake Louise, Chateau Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Bow Lake, Helen Lake, Catherine Lake, Emerald Lake, Vermilion Lake, Maligne Lake, Icefields Parkway
Best Time To Visit
Summer is beautiful here with turquoise blue lakes and tranquil weather. But would be quite crowded as these all are very popular destinations. Autumn and winter have their own beauty. Winter is very harsh but a complete frozen landscape provides a different feel and no tourist except serious skier and winter lover.