If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Instagram and social media lately, it’s that the people of the interwebz freaking LOVE photos of mountains. And lakes. And, more specifically, lakes in close proximity to mountains.
And I definitely get it – there’s something about a snow-dusted line of mountaintops that sets my imagination into overdrive gets my adventurous juices flowing, too.
So, when it came time to try and summarize my recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, the only thing I could think to do was put together a series of my best photos – most of which feature (can you guess?) lakes and mountains.
More specifically, lakes and mountains in Alberta.
You may have never really considered visiting Alberta before. But I guarantee that you’ll add at least one more place to your bucket list by the time you get to the end of this post.
Here we go!
1. Moraine Lake
I first saw a photo of Moraine Lake about 10 years ago. And I remember thinking that someday, somehow, I HAD to see this amazing place for myself. I tried last year when my friend Stephanie and I did a mini road trip through the Canadian Rockies. But, unfortunately we went too early in the season and the road to Moraine Lake was still closed due to avalanche risk.
So, when I figured out I would have a second chance this year – and in September, when no roads should be closed – I put it at the top of my list.
And WOW. It did not disappoint in the slightest.
I didn’t quite make it for sunrise (when the rising sun will occasionally paint the tops of the mountains red), but I did go early enough to beat the crowds and catch some great reflections of the mountains on the lake.
Moraine Lake sits within the Valley of the Ten Peaks within Banff National Park in Alberta. It’s a glacially-fed lake, meaning that it’s always an unusual shade of blue-green. This is common of glacial lakes because of the rock flour (rock pulverized by ancient glaciers) that floats in the water.
From the Rock Pile viewpoint (where you’ll get the “Twenty Dollar View” – the view of lake and peaks that was featured on the Canadian $20 bill), Moraine Lake was a shade of deep turquoise.
But, as the sun rose and began to hit the water, it exploded into the most brilliant shade of neon turquoise. A walk around part of the lakeshore was definitely in order – I never wanted to leave.
2. Lake Louise
Not far from Moraine Lake is Lake Louise – both the village and the lake of the same name. The lake itself is usually a shade of blue-green, and there’s a glacier clinging to a mountain ridge on the far side of the lake.
I attempted to catch sunrise here from the incredible Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever stayed in!), but unfortunately there were no brilliant pinks on that morning to paint the sky (or glacier) pink.
But watching the dimness recede and the clear green water come into focus as the morning light grew was still pretty cool.
You can walk all around Lake Louise (unlike Moraine Lake), rent canoes, or even hike or horseback ride to tea houses set up in the nearby mountains.
It’s a beautiful lake and definitely well worth a visit.
3. Icefields Parkway
Let’s take a break from lakes (just for a second, don’t worry) and talk about another awesome feature of Alberta – the Icefields Parkway. Officially known as Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway is a scenic offshoot from the Trans-Canada Highway that connects Lake Louise and Jasper.
The road isn’t free – a Canadian national parks permit is required to drive the 144 miles – but I think the price is MORE than worth it.
If you love mountains, then this road is for YOU. I was so impressed by the Icefields Parkway. Mountains tower above the road, and if you go in autumn like I did, you’ll see mountainsides blanketed in neon yellow larch and aspen trees.
The highway is named because you can see a lot of glaciers (icefields) from the road – keep an eye out for viewpoints and places to stop.
Many people name this road as one of the most scenic drives in the world, and I’m inclined to agree!
4. Peyto Lake
Okay, back to the lakes! Along the Icefields Parkway, you’ll see a number of lakes, and signs for even more lakes. All of them are beautiful, but I think my favorite was Peyto Lake – a lake in a valley of the Waputik Range that is always a ridiculous shade of blue-green in the summer months.
Just like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, Peyto Lake is fed by glacial runoff, and the suspended rock flour in the water (combined with the sunlight and cloud cover) gives the lake an unreal hue. In fact, when I posted photos of this lake online, people insisted it was Photoshopped! (I promise, it’s not.)
Peyto Lake was named after Bill Peyto, an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area. The area around the lake is thick with forest, which you’ll have to walk through to get to the best viewpoint at Bow Summit.
This year, Banff had an early snow in mid-September, meaning there were patches of snow already on the ground. Be sure to bundle up for this one, as the Bow Summit lookout is up above 6,000 feet.
5. Bow Lake
The last lake I stopped at can be seen from the roadway – another turquoise beauty with mountains and glaciers rising up behind it in the distance. Bow Lake makes another worthy stop, both for the views and the Num Ti Jah Lodge that sits on the shore.
I didn’t stay at the rustic lodge, but I did pop into the gift shop and cafe for a hot drink. On a nice day, this makes a perfect lunch stop – grab some hot soup and a sandwich, and park yourself on a picnic table overlooking Bow Lake.
Bonus: Columbia Icefield
Another stop worth mentioning is the Columbia Icefield, which is located about halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper on the Icefields Parkway.
If you have a lot of time, you can book an excursion out onto one of the large glaciers.
If you don’t have quite so much time, be sure to at least walk to the “toe” of the Athabasca Glacier, which sits right across the street from the Icefields welcome center. According to Parks Canada, the Athabasca Glacier is “the most-visited glacier on the North American continent.”
You can’t walk up ONto the glacier here (seriously, don’t do it – it’s really dangerous!), but you can get pretty close to the face and see some nearby ice caves.
I know this definitely is not an exhaustive list. For example, I haven’t listed places like Maligne Lake or Jasper National Park or Waterton Lakes National Park – mostly because I haven’t been to those places yet! (One day…) But I think this list is definitely a good start, and hopefully has sparked your wanderlust for Alberta.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at the amazing Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is the only hotel that sits directly on Lake Louise. From here, it’s easy to reach all of the spots in this post by car.
However, the Fairmont is a luxury property. If you’re traveling on a budget, I would recommend the Paradise Lodge and Bungalows. It’s located in Lake Louise town, and offers adorable little cabins for a much more affordable price.
WHAT TO BRING
Start out with a guidebook to Canada’s national parks.
Then make sure to pack some layers. Even in the summer months, it can be really chilly up at higher elevations in the mountains. I wore my North Face Agave fleece on my most recent trip.
And, even though it’s not a tangible item, I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.
Which of these spots would YOU most like to see? And what else would you add to the list?