Canada’s gems: Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise

By Jerry Vaughn, Travel Talk

  • Tuesday, March 4, 2008 1:42pm
  • Life

By Jerry Vaughn, Travel Talk

One of the prettiest driving trips have taken us to what I believe are some of Canada’s true gems: Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise.

While those were the highlights, traveling through Yoho National Park and on to Jasper provided glimpses of some of the most beautiful scenery in North America. There are a number of ways to do this journey, but driving is a perfect way to meander along and take it all in.

If you elect to drive from Seattle, it’s a little over 1,000 miles round-trip. If you own or rent an RV, it’s a great way to relax and enjoy this journey. You can also do the journey by rail on the Rocky Mountaineer Railroad from Vancouver, which is a good way to enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving.

Tourism in Alberta is centered on its famous Rocky Mountain region, which flanks it on its western border with British Columbia and offers a host of alpine attractions. The northern area is a sparsely inhabited wilderness of forests, lakes and rivers. To the east borders Saskatchewan, where the atmosphere takes on a “wild west” feel in the Badlands and prairies.

Visitors to Alberta can be sure that nature is never far away. Albertans love the outdoors, and urban environments are interspersed with plenty of lush river parks and greenbelts. The capital, Edmonton, has more parkland per capita than any other North American city.

An important aspect of Alberta’s heritage is its aboriginal culture. Home to 43 First Nations, this heritage has been preserved in 14 reserves and educational attractions, ranging from the world’s largest teepee to native interpretive trails and handmade crafts.

The natural beauty of Alberta is world-renowned, so it is no surprise to discover that the province boasts five of Canada’s 13 World Heritage Sites: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, Banff-Jasper National Parks, Wood Buffalo National Park and Dinosaur Provincial Park. Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s largest national park and the second largest in the world.

Calgary is situated 200 miles north of the U.S. border on the banks of the Bow River below the Rocky Mountains. Calgary is the territory’s commercial and cultural center. National parks flourish on its doorstep and act as a magnet for hikers, fishermen and lovers of the great outdoors.

Calgary is situated on the Trans-Canada Highway and is the gateway to the Canadian Rockies resorts. The downtown area of Calgary not only serves as a shopping, entertainment, cultural and recreation center for locals, but it is also a tourist center for more than 4 million visitors a year.

The city is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede, a world-class cowboy carnival and rodeo that draws more than a million people every year to watch the action and be entertained by its accompanying huge parade and festivities. For more than 10,000 years, the site on which Calgary sits today was home to the Blackfoot Indians; the first European settlers did not arrive until 1860. Col. James Macleod established the small trading post, Fort Calgary, named after Calgary Bay on his native Isle of Mull in Scotland. The Pacific Railway reached the town in 1883, but it was not until the discovery of oil in Turner Valley, 22 miles southwest of the city, that the population started to explode.

Traveling westward, the town of Banff is situated inside the spectacular and unspoiled Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park and most popular tourist attraction, about an hour and a half’s drive west of Calgary. The surrounding national park offers 2,564 square miles of unparalleled mountain scenery in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, including glaciers, ice fields, jagged peaks, crystal clear lakes and raging rivers. Attractions in the town itself include the Banff Park Museum, on Buffalo Street, which is the oldest natural history museum in western Canada and features a fantastic assortment of wildlife specimens, minerals and other artifacts.

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, in Cave Avenue, tells the story of the discovery of the hot springs that led to the establishment of Canada’s first national reserve in 1885. Visitors can also take a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain to enjoy the spectacular views from the observation deck at the top, or soak in hot mineral waters at the Upper Hot Springs in Mountain Avenue. Winter is low season in Banff National Park, but skiers and snowboarders who brave the low temperatures are delighted with what they find.

Lake Louise is one of the prettiest and most tranquil places in the summer. It is Canada’s largest ski area in the winter and covers the slopes of four mountain faces that surround the village of Lake Louise, in the heart of the magnificent Banff National Park, right on the Trans-Canada Highway 35 miles west of Banff itself. The quaint village provides every amenity required by visitors, and a wide choice of cozy accommodation and dining options.

Put all this together with the spectacular scenery and pristine terrain, and it is not surprising that Lake Louise has been dubbed the “diamond in the wilderness.”

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations, Federal Way. Contact: jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.

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