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Autumn Call to the Canadian Rockies
Explore the Gems of Waterton, Kananaskis, Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper

A comforting glow from the birch fire is reflected in my Jasper Park Lodge cabin window. Framed beyond the window is an emerald green lake, faceted by a blaze of autumnal trees. A large seven-point Rocky Mountain bull elk tends his harem on the sprawling lawn beyond my window. I'll have to be extra careful as I walk to the lodge for dinner this evening -- a necessary wariness while adventuring in the Canadian Rockies during the autumn rut. How often and in how many locales can one experience such wilderness, yet be pampered at the same time?

The Canadian Rockies span Alberta and British Columbia, with the majority of terrain in the former. The region extends northward from Waterton Lakes National Park to Kananaskis, Banff, and Jasper, forming one of world's largest protected areas, recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area offers some of the earth's finest scenery, adventure, food and lodging with pristine settings and plenty of elbow room--especially in autumn when the summer crowds have left and the robust ski season is many snowfalls away. A gilded landscape of emblazoned trees, untouched evergreen forests, azure glacier lakes, and rugged snow-capped mountains add an extra visual dimension to this zone.

Elk are common
at Jasper Park Lodge.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Waterton Lakes National Park

You know you're in Canada when the natives end their sentences with an "eh". "Welcome to the Prince of Wales Hotel, eh," the congenial receptionist says. Prince of Wales Hotel is possibly the most photographed hotel in the world. The princely structure occupies a promontory overlooking royal Waterton Lake. Mountain peaks disappear in cloud-filled heavens. Wildlife, especially birds, abound here.

Take a cruise on Waterton Lake across the U.S. border to Goat Haunt, Montana in Glacier National Park. Waterton is the Canadian Rockies deepest lake, offering enthralling views of towering vertical cliffs, waterfalls, and snow-clad peaks. Disembark and take the Crypt Lake hike where you'll experience spectacular waterfalls and a passage through a mountain tunnel. Canoeing is a must here, as is true throughout the Canadian Rockies. Cameron Lake Boat Rentals will set you up and send you on your way to the best wildlife watching and fishing. Another good lodging option here is charming, award-winning Crandell Mountain Lodge.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Park


An enchanting autumnal drive runs northward from Waterton up Highways 6, 22, and 40 to Kananaskis Country. One passes through a rich agrarian country of wheat, old barns, picturesque farms, and ranches. Looking westward, the imposing Rockies command the sky. The east belongs to the Great Plains. Traffic is sparse. Rocky Mountain goats and bighorn sheep can be seen from the road as one approaches the mountains

The views are spectacular along the trails
leading from the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis.

Kananaskis Village is a place where cares drop away like autumn leaves. There are no neon signs or gas stations here (although the bellhops have gas rations for those in dire need). A true mountain paradise, it has everything one would want from a year-round resort, including six restaurants that cater to all tastes, from exquisite Canadian cuisine to deli sandwiches. The little things I liked about the Delta Lodge of Kananaskis included the fresh scones with strawberries. Open-mindedness was evident here in a display of both the Teachings of Buddha and the Bible. Crystal wine glasses added an extra plus to the elegant touch. An indoor-outdoor pool and spa made for loosened muscles after morning hikes along the spacious grounds with their unparalleled views.

Outdoor activities included kayaking, canoeing, rafting the Kananaskis River, golf, horseback riding, and hiking. When winter prevails, skiing is but minutes away at Nakiska, home of the 1988 Winter Olympic downhill ski events. A golden eagle watching festival takes place at Kananaskis Lodge each weekend in March and October.

Lake Louise & Banff

Chateau Lake Louise public relations director Janet Eger probably best said it in a letter to me: "Larry, welcome to the "Diamond in the Wilderness," our heritage property perched on the shores of incomparable Lake Louise. Chateau Lake Louise has a long history of serving the needs of the adventure set." Recent awards for the hotel include Travel and Leisure’s rating as "Best Value, Top 10 Hotels Less than $200 a Night." They certainly appealed to my hedonistic proclivities with the placement of chocolate-dipped fresh strawberries on my evening pillow.

Though I could have spent my entire stay gazing from my Chateau window -- the mountain and lake surreal and painterly -- I slipped out for hiking and explorations. A gentle 2-mile shoreline hike led to the end of Lake Louise. A more rigorous hike led to the teahouses at Plain of Six Glaciers and Lake Agnes. I rented a canoe in front of the Chateau and become "one" with the lake. I also enjoyed the drive to Moraine Lake, 7.5 miles away. Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks are depicted on the old Canadian $20 bill. One of the best views lies on a hike from Moraine Lake Rock Pile. The Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola was another "must" for providing incredible views.

The nearby town of Banff provides a rich menu of eateries, lodging, museums and shops. Beautifully stratified mountains rise steeply from the edge of town. Banff also offers world-class hot springs and spas such as Upper Hot Springs, Radium Hot Springs, and the Spa at the Banff Springs Hotel.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise
crt: www.banfflakelouise.com

Surrounding Banff National Park offers some of the finest wildlife viewing in the world. It is home to 300 varieties of birds and 50 mammal species, including bear, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. And during the winter, Banff and Lake Louise are renown for winter sports, including a long ski season (November to May), consistent snowfalls, and a good price value for U.S. residents.

The Drive to Jasper Park

The 140-mile drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is one of the world’s most spectacular. The mountain peaks, glaciers, emerald green lakes and wildlife will exhaust one's vocabulary of superlatives. En route, stop at the Icefields Parkway and for $25 Canadian, take a ride on a Brewster Snowcoach onto the icy slopes of Athabasca Glacier.

During my September drive, I took time to fly-fish the Sunwapta River, and to view the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Then I rode Jasper Tramway, Canada's longest and highest, offering a stunning view of the Canadian Rockies highest peak, Mount Robson.

Adirondack chairs with a view at Jasper Park Lodge

Jasper Park Lodge

Occupying 900 acres of pristine land on the shores of Lac Beauvert, Jasper Park Lodge is an all-season resort of cedar chalets and heritage log cabins connected by picturesque paths. Seven restaurants, sports bar with billiard lounge, fitness center, year-round swimming pool, tennis courts, canoe and kayak rentals, and an 18-hole award winning golf course await. The lodge’s attention to detail is evident in numerous touches for their guests, including kindling and logs in the hearth.

It was not hard to get into the spirit of Jasper Park Lodge: a morning walk around the lake; a canoe ride to catch the best views of the jasper-colored nearby Rockies; a day trip to the photographer’s paradise of Maligne Lake, the largest in the Canadian Rockies; a lodge pool swim in blue evening light with mist rising in the mountains; and dining at the four diamond restaurant, Edith Cavell. My first culinary experience with caribou was here -- a pate of Artic caribou with herb pastry crust. Divine! This I followed with Alberta field and forest mushroom chowder. The main course was pepper-seaweed fillet of Dawson City Artic char with Yukon gold potato hay. After that, I died and went to dessert heaven where maple sugar-crusted creme brulee was served.


Lac Beauvert
Lac Beauvert view

Lake & Dock
Guests enjoy dock near lodge

Call of the Wild

Perhaps the biggest draw for my certain return to the Canadian Rockies is its pure sense of wilderness. The rustic lodges and environs appeal to one’s earthly senses. Wildlife is abundant in the untamed landscape, and its presence is felt even as one enjoys the pampering and luxury of the grand lodges. One day at Jasper Park Lodge I encountered a massive bull elk camped on the 10th hole green. Needless to say all the golfers skipped that hole, giving it an obvious right of way and deference as it symbolized the majesty of the Canadian Rockies.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Larry Turner
Article and photos

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