Southbound on the Icefields Parkway

Finally, the time had come, we were on the last day of our first Canadian adventure. We’d seen some truly remarkable places and were already hoping to return, but there was one more stretch of road to cover. We don’t usually take out-and-back routes on our trips, but when you get to see one of the most beautiful roads in the world, why not see it again from the other direction!

Unfortunately, we had to make it all the way to Calgary to catch our flight the next morning, so not all of our stops would last as long as we’d have liked. On our way North there was a wonderful little waterfall that we had only briefly stopped at before and now that its was earlier in the day, it was worth another stop. Tangle Creek Falls is another gem of the Icefields Parkway and it’s hard to miss too.

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The parkway runs right in front of it and there are plenty of parking spots, so don’t let any excuse keep you from at least slowing down and taking a look. Busses do have a tendency to stop here with fairly large groups, but none of them stayed long while we were there.

The Icefields Parkway is easily one of the most amazing roads I’ve ever driven, and if all my reading has told me anything, there are many people who hold it in regard as one of the most beautiful roads in the world. There are many places to stop and enjoy the beautiful views. This day gave us better weather than the day before and it was wonderful at virtually every turn. Our return down the Icefields Parkway allowed us second chances at several stops and we took in as many as we could.

The previous day’s trip to the Peyto Lake Overlook, while fun, didn’t yield the sites that we had hoped for. So, of course we just had to go try again and while much of the snow had melted, it was still pretty cool and there was still enough snow for our little one to enjoy.

The hike up to the overlook, while paved, is far from flat. It is a relatively short walk, but if you really want the best unobstructed and least crowded viewpoints, you’ll need to head a bit further up the trail. You won’t be disappointed if you only go so far as the paved overlook, but if you have the time and the skies are clear, you won’t regret taking the extra time to make your way further up the mountain.

There is even a trail that goes back to the glacier that feeds the lake, though it is not maintained all the way and it is anything but a short hike. I’d imagine that’s done to discourage casual travelers from getting lost in what is essentially backcountry.

Every trip we take to the mountains just increases my desire to spend more time there. So many mountains to see and only one lifetime to see them. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pick up the pace of our exploration as our daughter gets older and our schedules become more our own and less dictated by others.

By the time we’d reached Peyto Lake, it was already 12:30. After an hour there and having nearly three hours driving left to reach our hotel, we were back on the road, our last chance to see Alberta’s beauty before heading home. We were moving along pretty smoothly with really no plan at this point but to possibly get dinner and reach our hotel before dark, which would’ve been a first for this trip. But, the mountains were calling and when you live hundreds of miles from the nearest mountains, you answer the call as often as you’re able. Our earlier persistence had only increased our appetite for achieving our goal. So, as we passed the off ramp to Lake Louise and naturally, with the waining crowds, we were optimistic of our chances for just one more run to Moraine Lake. The one place that we had hoped to be the crowning jewel of our trip, had eluded us at virtually every turn and the brief visits we’d been able to make while wonderful in their own right, hadn’t given up what I was looking for.

So we made our trip up the valley and caught the earliest U-turn we could reasonably make so that we could attempt the right turn out to Moraine Lake. Skeptical at watching how the traffic direction was going ahead of us, we were quite relieved to be the last car through before the road was closed again. With cool, yet pleasant weather, we worked our way up toward the lake with a sleepy little girl in the back seat. It was because of that fact, that we agreed to take our trip up to the top of the rock pile in turns.

My wonderful wife, knowing how much I’d been looking forward to a chance at getting to capture my own take on Moraine Lake, let me go first. I was fortunate enough to see a pika on my way up and would again on the way down, just not in time or with a lens fixed that would let me photograph them. They live in the rocks on either side of the trail and can be heard well, and seen if you’re quick and have a keen eye. I think I just got lucky. The hike was drier than it was last time and the skies, while far from cloud free, were at least not obscuring the valley. I could’ve just sat up there all day, as it appeared one gentleman I’d spoke with was doing. But, I could not keep all the good light for myself, so I returned to the car and reassured my wife that it was worth the walk, not that there was any doubt.

This was another good opportunity to try some exposure bracketing. After importing my photos while in the car and doing some preliminary HDR merging, I was glad that I had.

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We concluded our trip to Banff in the place where we’d hoped to start it, happy with our experience and a yearning to return before we’d even left. From this point forward, nothing on the return home could really compare to the journey we’d taken to get there. Even our daughter, on our final flight, the girl who was so excited to get on every plane and look out the window, pulled the shade on her window as we were taking off, content to watch cartoons instead. She knew, as we all did, that as we went home, the excitement of this adventure was drawing to a close.

I learned so much on this trip, about Canada, photography, international air travel with a toddler, and even finding my own inner peace. And while I wish I could say there was a profound paradigm shift in my life upon our return home, the changes for me were more subtle. I feel like I smile more, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and I think, just maybe, that a match was struck and a fuse lit, on something that will elevate my ambitions and my passions to a new level. At the very least, it provided me a story to share and photos to remind me of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.


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