ROCKY MOUNTAIN NOTES AND TRIVIA
Welcome to the Canadian Rocky Mountains! This is one of the most spectacular regions in Canada. A region of high mountains; bright blue, emerald, and turquoise lakes; glaciers galore; thundering waterfalls and wildlife. There is so much to see and do in “the Rockies”. Hopefully the information below will help you to appreciate your trip even more.
The first thing that international visitors need to take in to account when visiting Western Canada is just how big this area is. British Columbia is 944,735 sq kms / 364,764 sq mi! That means that you could fit the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Austria, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Portugal in to BC with enough room left over for another Belgium!
In Canada the Rocky Mountain National Parks include:
- Banff National Park
- Jasper National Park
- Kootenay National Park
- Waterton Lakes National Park
- Yoho National Park
The parks make up over 20,000 square kilometres / 7,722 square miles.
In addition British Columbia has the following Provincial Parks in the Rockies:
- Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
- Mt. Robson Provincial Park
- Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park
- Stone Mountain Provincial Park
The largest sub-Arctic ice field in North America is The Columbia Icefield and covers 325 sq km / 125 sq mi in Banff and Jasper National Parks.
The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks plus Mt. Robson, Mt. Assiniboine, and Hamber Provincial Parks.
The Rocky Mountains (The Rockies) are a mountain range that extends more than 4,830 km (3,000 miles) from northwestern British Columbia in Canada to New Mexico in the southwestern USA. The Canadian Rockies run from northern British Columbia along the Alberta / BC border to the Canada / US border. The total length of the Canadian Rockies is 1,350 km / 839 miles.
The Rockies were formed from 80 million to 55 million years ago when Pacific plates started to slide under the North American plate forming a ridge of mountains along western North America.
Millions of years of erosion and glacial activity have left behind a dramatic and beautiful landscape. The highest point in the Rockies is Mount Elbert in Colorado at 4,400m (14,440 ft). The highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies is Mt. Robson in British Columbia approx. 1 hour west of Jasper. Mt. Robson is 3,954 m (12,972 ft) high.
The Rockies range from 110 km (70 miles) to 480 km (300 miles) wide. Near Lake Louise you will find the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide runs through the Rockies and divides British Columbia and Alberta and also Banff National Park and Yoho National Park. Snow melt and rain on the west side of the Divide flows to the Pacific while snow melt and rain on the east side flows, eventually, to the Atlantic. There are areas where the snow melt also flows north to the Arctic Ocean.
The Rockies are home to a number of animals including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, elk, big horn sheep, deer, moose, and mountain goats. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings while touring through the mountains! See our “Animals of the Rockies” page for more information on this.
Some of the indigenous peoples include the Apache, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow Nation, Flathead, Shoshone, Sioux, & Ute. European exploration began in 1540 with the Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in the southern Rockies. Sir Alexander MacKenzie was the first European to cross the Rockies in 1793. The Lewis & Clark Expedition (1804 – 1806) was the first scientific exploration of the Rockies.
The fur trade, followed by mining, provided the early economic activity in the Rockies however tourism is now the major economic force. Both the US and Canada have set aside huge areas as National Parks or otherwise protected areas.
Glacial Lakes get their awesome colour due to silt (rock flour) that is created when rocks underneath the surface of the ice are ground up from the movement of the glacier. The rock flour is very light and stays suspended in the lake water for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the lakes their spectacular turquoise blue or green colour. Deep spectrum colours like red are absorbed and light spectrum colours like blue and green are reflected.
YOHO NATIONAL PARK
Yoho is the closest Rocky Mountain park to the cabins. (Glacier National Park is also close but it’s in the Selkirks just west of us).
Yoho is the Cree word for awe.
The park covers 1,313 sq km (507 sq miles)
The Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park is considered one of the most significant fossil areas in the world.
There are over 400 km / 249 mi of hiking trails in Yoho!
Ø The trail head is about 35 minutes east of the cabins. The hike from the parking lot is 4.6 km / 2.9 mi with minimal elevation gain.
Ø The falls are 30m / 98 ft high and are the largest falls on the Kicking Horse River.
Ø This is the closest of the “main attraction lakes” to the cabins. It takes just under an hour in good weather with no construction and average traffic.
Ø Enclosed by the mountains of the President Range, as well as Mt. Burgess and Wapta Mountain. There is an easy 5.2 km / 3.2 mi trail around the lake. Great for summer hiking and winter cross country skiing.
Ø Mt. Burgess (2,599m / 8.527 ft) forms the backdrop on one side of the lake and is known as the $10 mountain as it was featured on the old $10 bill.
Ø It is the largest lake in Yoho National Park.
Ø It is not nearly as crowded as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake.
Ø The lake is accessible year round however it is normally frozen from November until June.
Ø The first European to see the lake was Tom Wilson in 1882. He gave the lake its’ name because of the colour of the water.
Ø The total height is actually 302 m / 991 ft however the “free-fall” section is 254m / 833 ft. However you look at it, it is one of Canada’s highest waterfalls.
Ø The road in to the falls is seasonal generally opening in mid to late June so best to check with the Park if planning to visit.
Ø Due to some sharp and steep switchbacks on the road in, trailers must be left at the parking lot opposite Monarch Campground.
Ø The name is a loose translation from the Cree meaning “it is magnificent”.
Ø The falls are fed by the Daly Glacier.
Ø The parking lot at the falls are the trailhead for a number of great hikes including Laughing Falls and Twin Falls.
Ø Named after Cyrus West Field an American industrialist who visited in 1884.
Ø At the turn of the twentieth century scientists, miners, artists, climbers and rail workers all used Field as a base.
Ø But the weather isn’t so great...on average in winter the area gets 20% more snow than Banff and in summer it gets rain 1 in 3 days!
Ø It’s a good place to spot Elk though – especially in spring, fall and winter!
Kicking Horse River
Ø In 1858 James Hector, a member of the Palliser Expedition, was kicked by his packhorse while crossing the river hence the name.
Ø When building the Canadian Pacific Railway, they followed the route of this river.
Ø The river joins the Columbia River in Golden, BC
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
In 1883 railway workers discovered a hot (sulphur) spring near the Bow River which runs through the current site of the Village of Banff. They thought they would get rich developing it into a tourist destination. However a dispute arose over the ownership of the hot spring resulting in the federal government creating a national reserve in 1885. This eventually became Banff National Park – Canada’s first national park.
The park covers an area of 6,641 square kilometres / 2,564 square miles
The park contains 25 mountains of 3,000 m / 9,842 ft or more in height
Banff is world famous for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. It is home to Lake Louise ski area, Sunshine ski area and Mt. Norquay ski area which is directly above the Village of Banff.
Banff National Park is a hiking paradise with 1,600km / 994 mi of trails!
Ø You will notice a number of bridges over the Trans Canada Highway. In addition to the bridges there are a number of underpasses for animals - 22 in total.
Ø Parks Canada conducted a study in 1983 to look in to road / animal safety and collisions. Every time there was an accident between car and animal a red flag was placed at the road side. The researchers used these markers to find the spots where the most animals crossed the highway. This is how they determined where to put the bridges and underpasses.
Ø The first bridge was constructed in 1984.
Ø The grass top helps make it natural for animals.
Ø Parks Canada also erected roadside fences to further protect wildlife and keep it off the highways. The fences funnel wildlife to the bridges and underpasses.
Ø Parks Canada spread soft powder on the ground to check for tracks to determine which animals would use the bridges first. Guess which animals used the bridges first? Deer and elk. Then Bears and finally Wolves. The wolves were the most cautious as they waited and watched the others first.
Some of the best known, and most visited, attractions in Banff National Park are:
Ø It is about a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from the cabins.
Ø It’s one of the top 10 most visited places in all of North America (with the smallest parking lot of any of the top 10 most visited place all of North America!!) If you are visiting from the cabins, be sure to get an EARLY start if you want to get parking. Either that or visit it in late afternoon when most of the crowds have left.
Ø Named after Queen Victorias’ 4th daughter – Princess Caroline Louise Alberta - who married Canada’s Governor General of the time.
Ø The lake is fed by the Victoria Glacier which towers above and behind the lake.
Ø The lake is 2 km / 1.2 mi long and 70m / 230 ft deep.
Ø There is a lakeside trail that travels to the head of the lake and continues to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
Ø There is another trail that travels up to Lake Agnes perched high above Lake Louise.
Ø The townsite was originally known as Laggan Station and was founded in 1890.
Ø The lake usually melts by late May
Ø The village is the highest permanent settlement in Canada
Ø The Stoney First Nations called it “lake of the little fishes”
Ø It was briefly known as Emerald Lake (1882 – 1884) before being renamed Lake Louise.
Ø Named after the wife of Canada’s first prime minister.
Ø It was once the water source for the Chateau.
Ø It is 387m above the lake, so total elevation of 2118m / 6,949 ft above sea level.
Ø And there is a tea house up there! It was built to encourage use of the trails.
Ø It is about 1 ½ hours from the cabins.
Ø As with Lake Louise, plan to either get there early or try in late afternoon. The parking lot is considerably smaller than at Lake Louise so parking becomes a nightmare during the summer months.
Ø The lake is only accessible around 4 months of the year as the road is closed from when the first snow falls until the road is clear of snow and ice in the late spring.
Ø The road to Moraine Lake branches off from the road that connects the Village of Lake Louise to Lake Louise.
Ø Named in 1899 by William Wilcox of the US who wrongly thought it was formed by a glacial moraine. However the huge rock pile that dams the lake actually fell from a nearby peak.
Ø Surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Ø The lake is approx. 1.5k / .9m long and 30m / 98m deep.
Ø In the past the lake was featured on the back of the Canadian $20 bill.
Ø Approx. 2 hours from the cabins.
Ø This lake, as well as The Cascade Ponds, Two Jack Lake and Johnston Lake, are on a loop just east of the town site.
Ø Translated as ‘Lake of the Water Spirit’ or ‘Devil Lake’ as legend has it that a creature half fish and half human lives in the lake.
Ø The lake is 24km / 15 mi long and 142m / 466 ft deep which makes it the longest and deepest in the mountain parks.
Ø The lake is man made and part of the Lake Minnewanka loop road crosses over the earthen dam.
Ø The lake near the dam is popular for scuba divers as there are still the remains of an earlier settlement beneath the water. Most of the town was moved before the dam was built but some buildings remain.
There is evidence of early human habitation dating back 11,000 years in the area around the Vermillion Lakes and Lake Minnewanka.
European explorers started to come through in the 1700s with notable expeditions led by David Thompson, Sir George Simpson, and James Hector.
The discovery of natural hot springs by three railway workers in 1883 marked the beginning of the tourism and national park history in the Canadian Rockies. In 1885 the Canadian government set aside 26 sq km / 10 sq mi around the hot springs as Canada’s first National Park. With the railway passing right by, the area was quickly opened up to tourists from all over the world. The original hot springs can still be seen at the Cave and Basin in the town of Banff. In 1887 the park was renamed Rocky Mountains Park and expanded to 673 sq km / 260 sq mi.
Banff was originally called Siding 29 along the Canadian Pacific Railroad however in 1886 it was given the name Banff after Banffshire in Scotland, the birthplace of 2 CPR Directors.
Banff National Park now covers an area of 6,641 sq km / 2,564 sq mi.
The Town of Banff became a self-governing municipality separate from the national park in 1990.
The town is a tourist hot spot with 8,000 residents and 8 million annual visitors!
Winter is cold and summer hot! Winter temps often hit -20 with wind chill of -30 and record low of -52.8 in 1950.
The town is surrounded by mountains. Mt. Rundle at 2,949m / 9,675 ft; Cascade Mountain at 2,998m / 9.836 ft (the backdrop of Banff Avenue); Mt. Norquay at 2,522m / 8.274 ft and Sulphur Mountain at 2,281m / 7,484 ft (home of Banff gondola and the Upper Hot Springs pool).
The ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
Ø Construction began in 1931 during the great depression as there was an abundance of cheap labour.
Ø It took 9 years to complete.
Ø Now 500,000 visitors a year travel this route.
Ø The Parkway is closed to large trucks.
Ø The average elevation is 2069m / 6,788 ft and it passes within sight of 25 glaciers.
Ø The Parkway opened in 1940 and connects lake Louise and Jasper.
Ø The Parkway is 230 km / 143 mi long.
Ø The Columbia Icefield, which follows the Parkway, is 325 sq km / 126 sq mi. It contains over 30 glaciers and is up to 350 m / 1,148 ft thick!
Ø Athabasca Glacier is a tongue of this icefield and it is accessible by foot.
There are MANY attractions along the Icefields Parkway, some of the most famous are:
Ø The lake is easily seen from the highway with several scenic pullouts.
Ø The lake is 1,920 m / 6,299 ft above sea level.
Ø The lake is fed by the melt water of Bow Glacier.
Ø Recommended hike that starts at the main parking lot – Bow Falls Trail.
Ø The viewpoint is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway at 2.3km above sea level.
Ø The lake itself is 1,860 m / 6,100 ft above sea level.
Ø The lake is fed by the Peyto Glacier.
Ø Both were named after Bill Peyto who emigrated from England in 1886. He became one of the most celebrated trail guides in the early days of Banff National Park. Whenever life got too busy he would come here to ‘his’ lake and as such it was named in his honor.
Ø While many trails continue past the canyon, the trail to the canyon is only 0.5 km / 0.3 mi long.
Ø It is accessed by a small parking area on the west side of the Parkway.
North of The Crossing you enter Jasper National Park.
The Athabasca Glacier
Ø This is where the Visitor Centre is located.
Ø You can drive down towards the glacier and park at the lower parking lot. From there you can walk to the toe of the glacier. As you drive down keep your eyes open for the small markers with dates on them. These indicate the furthest extent of the glacier in that year.
Ø It is receding at the rate of approx. 5 m / 16 ft per year.
Ø In the last 125 years it has receded 1.5km / .93 mi and lost more than half of it’s volume.
Ø It is the most visited glacier in North America.
Ø The glacier is approx. 6 km / 3.7 mi long and is up to 300m / 980 ft thick.
Ø The falls are 24 m / 80 feet high and 16 m / 60 feet wide.
Ø It is one of the most powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies.
Ø They are located about 30 km / 18.6 mi south of Jasper.
In 1813 the North West Company built a supply depot which became known as Jasper House after popular fur trading post operator Jasper Hawes. However in 1884 Jasper House was abandoned as the fur trade dwindled.
Ø In 1907 the Canadian Government established Jasper Forest Park.
Ø In 1911 the Grand Trunk Railway reached the town of Fitzhugh Station (now the town of Jasper). In 1930 Jasper National Park was officially created.
Ø The park now covers 11,228 sq km (6,976 sq miles).
Ø 40% of Jasper National Park is above the treeline.
Ø Record high temp almost +37 degrees and record low of almost -47!
Popular in summer for hiking and biking (1200km of trail) & winter for skiing.
Ø There are 3,000 local inhabitants but 3 million annual visitors!
Heading west from the cabins:
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Ø There is evidence of human use dating back over 10,000 years.
Ø In the early 1800s, French, English and Spanish trappers came in search of beavers.
Ø In 1806 the Lewis and Clark Expedition came within 50 miles of the area that is now the park
Ø The railroad over Marias Pass was completed in 1891. This allowed more people to enter the area.
Major Rogers was hired in 1881 by the Canadian Pacific Rail Company to find the pass for a travel route. He was promised the pass would be named after him and paid $5000 (a huge amount of money at the time). He did find the pass over the course of a year and two separate excursions. However he decided not to bank the cheque and instead framed it and hung it on his wall!
The rail pass was completed in 1884.
The CPR was completed in 1885 but had to shut for winter because of avalanches. In response 31 snow sheds were built to protect the rail lines.
MOUNT REVELSTOKE NATIONAL PARK
Ø This park is 260 sq km / 100 sq mi large
Ø It is in the Columbia Mountain range, not the Rockies.
Ø In 1908 the City of Revelstoke made a trail to the summit of the mountain and later expanded the trail network to some of the alpine lakes.
Ø The park was established in 1914 as a result of the locals lobby8ing the government to protect the beautiful wild flowers growing on the mountainsides and to enhance it’s potential for recreational use.
Ø The Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway was built between 1911 and 1927.
Town of Revelstoke
Ø The population of 9,000.
Ø It was first used as a settlement by early fur traders in the 1800’s.
Ø Named after Lord Revelstoke of London, England. He was the head of the banking firm that saved the Canadian Pacific Rail company from bankruptcy.