Jasper and the Icefields Parkway

Our short time in Banff had come to an end and the next stage of our adventure was about to begin! The Icefields Parkway begins just North of Lake Louise and there are a couple things you need to keep in mind if you plan to take this route. First, services are extremely limited, there are only a couple places along the road between Lake Louise and Jasper Town where you can get food or fuel. This section is over 200km (124miles) and even though it is well travelled and well maintained, you’ll get zero cell service for about 90% of the trip. It’s one of the best things about the parkway!

Much like the day before, the clouds were quite low. Which sadly meant that the views, while still remarkable, were somewhat limited and didn’t yield the best photo opportunities. This didn’t stop us from seeing some beautiful places or having a good time. Our first stop was just onto the parkway at Herbert Lake, it’s a pretty nice day use area if you wanted to stop for a picnic. It was fairly cool in the morning and we had a long way to go, so we went down to the lake for a few minutes to let our little one play with some rocks and throw a few in the lake. She was so excited and we were already wondering how we were going to get her to let us leave. Thankfully, the promise of more rocks, more lakes and maybe some puddles convinced her to get back in the car.

The Icefields Parkway is a lot like the Blue Ridge Parkway, in that it is really meant for the enjoyment of the travelers on it. There is no commercial traffic allowed and there are pull-outs all over the place. You do still need a Parks Pass to drive the road, but I assure you, even if you’re there in a year where there are fees, it is absolutely worth it! We made a number of stops along the way and it it just remarkable! I do wish we’d been able to see what was hiding behind all of the clouds though. Just means we’ll have to go back! It’s not quite as winding, on average, as the Blue Ridge Parkway, but many points along the Icefields Parkway are higher than even the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One must do stop is the Peyto Lake overlook, or at least that’s what we’d read about. The weather was a challenge for this spot as well as it was now snowing… The snow itself wasn’t a bother, but trying to see the lake was a no-go. So we walked around for a bit and let our little one enjoy building a snow man in early September. Where we live, cold is a guarantee in winter, but snow is hit or miss. Our route would be bringing us back through the next day, so we were hopeful that things would improve, so we were back on the road in hopes of clearer skies further North.

We made a few more stops before we found ourselves at Mistaya Canyon. The trail itself isn’t that far and the reward is well worth it. Even in the clouds as we were, the rapids going down into the canyon were wonderful! And provided the first good opportunity since we arrived for me to try out a new filter I’d bought.

I’ve long admired long exposure shots. If you like the pun there, thanks for catching it. A few years ago I’d gotten an inexpensive set of filters, ND, graduated ND and some colored filters, in no small part because they were inexpensive and it’d be a good learning tool. Unfortunately, that also meant that the quality wasn’t great and had some unfortunate effects on the color of the images. So when I acquired my new camera, I also wanted to get a better filter to take the next step in this technique. Now, as a landscape centric photographer, of course I picked up a good circular polarizer too, which unfortunately got little use on this trip, but also a Hoya variable ND filter to take another step toward my own long exposures, perhaps even some worth printing. Variable ND filters are good for saving space and giving you fair flexibility, but after my experience, I do want to begin acquiring some specific ND filters to improve the results of future efforts. Again, the skies weren’t great, but it was a fun experience none the less and I think I might even print one or two. Admittedly, they aren’t great, but we all have to start somewhere and I feel that I learned a great deal from the experience.

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I was fortunate enough to have a few more opportunities before the trip was over, but we’ll get to those later. Once we made the short hike down and enjoyed the rapids for awhile, we continued our northward journey. While we’d have liked to spend more time at the Columbia Icefield, we had a sleepy little one in the back seat, so our excursions were fairly limited for the next couple hours. But we were able to see some of the glaciers from the road and the pull outs along the way. We even managed to see some wildlife! My wife spotted a bald eagle flying around near the road, so we stopped to see what he was up to. Thanks to the 100-400mm lens I was able to rent for the trip, I was able to at least get a shot close enough that you could tell what type of bird it was, though it also made me wish I’d been able to get the 150-600mm that I originally rented (and is still on my Amazon wish list.)

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From this point it was on to a stop at Athabasca Falls for a few minutes, while our little one continued her nap. We continued on into the town of Jasper for a bite to eat before making a dash out to Maligne Lake, hopefully before sunset. You can’t get to Maligne Lake without passing Medicine Lake and it’s quite an interesting lake, both visually and geologically since the lake is constantly draining and not always being replenished at the same rate. As we continued out this long winding road, we had our second wildlife encounter of the day… moose! Paying us no mind at all as they ate by the side of the road. The area itself wasn’t great for photographs since there was hardly a clear view to be had, but sometimes if you snap enough, you just might get one worth looking at again. Overall, it was an awesome experience to be able to watch them. Except for the one time a car sped past us, probably wondering why on Earth we were stopped, even the little one only noticed us once, or perhaps cared that we were there. This was probably the only time on our trip I was glad our rental had a sunroof, as I found myself standing through it on a couple occasions trying to get a better angle. They eventually crossed the road and it was getting darker by the minute, so we continued on to the lake. The lake really is a stunning place and I wish the clouds had been a little more cooperative. So, yet again, we’ll just have to go back! Once we’d had our fill of the waining light, and our daughter was soaked yet again from playing in puddles, it was off to our hotel for the night in Hinton.

We have a tendency to run out our days well past sunset and this was no different as Hinton isn’t inside the park boundary and Maligne Lake isn’t exactly near the boundary either, so we were in for another hour or more on the road after dark. This is typically uneventful since there’s little to stop and look at, but this time we caught just the last little bit of light as we were coming past Medicine Lake and I just couldn’t help but stop when I saw it.

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It wasn’t until after we left and were on the other side of the lake that I realized just how lucky we were to get this view. The cars headlights along the road that runs around the lake are so clearly visible from anywhere else along it that it would’ve certainly ruined this shot, particularly given that these were 1/5  to 2.5 second exposures. Having never been here before, I’d never have imagined planning this shot, but if I ever get to go back, I am hopeful to try and improve upon it. It was a very exciting day and  unfortunately the next day was the last day of our trip before heading home, but it too would not disappoint!

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