A Scorching Summer in the Canadian Rockies

08/14/2017 12:22 am ET
Lake Louise at Dawn. Long exposure.
alexis coram
Lake Louise at Dawn. Long exposure.

It's a hot one.

Summers in Canada's Rocky Mountain National Parks are always buzzing, and this year especially so.

Moraine Lake on a Summer morning. The perfect place to be.
alexis coram
Moraine Lake on a Summer morning. The perfect place to be.

To celebrate 150 years of 'Canada', Parks Canada gave away National Park passes to anyone who wanted one. Well, duh, everyone wanted one. It's FREE and it’s Canada. I had already purchased my pass in September 2016 on my last Rocky visit, so I was already set, but thousands of others flocked at the chance to visit some of the world's most beautiful and iconic locations.

Colours to make you gasp along the Icefields Parkway.
alexis coram
Colours to make you gasp along the Icefields Parkway.

I spent the month of July in Canada, which included 3 weeks exploring Yoho, Jasper, and Banff National Parks. Unfortunately, I had to skip Kootenay due to the Forest fire raging there at the time of my visit.

The treat of wildlife surprises in Jasper National Park. The Mountain Goat.
alexis coram
The treat of wildlife surprises in Jasper National Park. The Mountain Goat.

What can I say about the magic of the Canadian Rockies? Towing mountains, vibrant blue Glacial lakes, thundering waterfalls, raging rivers, wildlife surprises; a place where I’m sure the most commonly spoken and thought word is simply "wow". The scenery feels closer to dream than reality. You can't help but stop to imagine & be awed by the unfathomable natural forces that carved the landscape before you. I do this often, losing myself in the view, absorbing every crease of a mountain, every bubble of water in a river, ever glimmering rock in the perfectly reflective lake. It's exquisite.

Lake Louise as the sun rises. Such a majestic sight.
alexis coram
Lake Louise as the sun rises. Such a majestic sight.
The infamous view from the top of the rockpile at Moraine Lake. Outstandingly beautiful.
alexis coram
The infamous view from the top of the rockpile at Moraine Lake. Outstandingly beautiful.

Yes, it's busy. Packed, in fact. There are people everywhere, lines everywhere, roads closed or backed up significantly at peak hours because they can't absorb the crowds at hot spots like Moraine Lake and Bow Summit. Despite this, it’s still worth it. I’ll share some of my tips to help you get the most out of your time in the Canadian Rockies this Summer, along with my favourite photos from a trip I’ll remember forever.

Water falling from every direction - that’s how it feels at Athabasca Falls. Visiting after a rain storm is even better!
alexis coram
Water falling from every direction - that’s how it feels at Athabasca Falls. Visiting after a rain storm is even better!

My goal for trips like these is simple - visit all the hot spots while maximizing efficiency (I don't do well with lines) and enjoyment (i.e. no lines).

To accomplish this, I front load my day. This means that a typical day starts between 4:30 - 6am, depending on where i'm staying and where I need to go (vs the general 9 - 11am start of the tourist masses). This gets me to the hotspots before sunrise and gets me back out of there before the crowds hit.

Sunrise at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. Can you believe there wasn’t a single other person around when I took this pho
alexis coram
Sunrise at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. Can you believe there wasn’t a single other person around when I took this photo? I still can’t believe it. Get out early.

Exceptions have been made for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake where, still arriving before sunrise, I have parked my RV in a prime spot and have gone back and forth between the RV and the lakes throughout the day, sometimes napping in between, making breakfast, hot coffee, etc. The perks of renting or owning an RV at these types of locations is flexibility and avoidance of stinky/crowded public loos and overly priced, mediocre coffee.

Sunrise at Moraine Lake. Yes, I know the canoes are backwards but I still like it :)
alexis coram
Sunrise at Moraine Lake. Yes, I know the canoes are backwards but I still like it :)

Tips to Maximize Fun & Minimize Pain

  1. Wake up early - mornings are the most peaceful and calmest times of day. Especially perfect if you want to see a great reflection at one of the mountain lakes.
  2. Avoid peak times (11am - 3pm) - some roads close and shift to shuttle service only (park and ride), or you can end up waiting in long lines for a really long time. Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Bow Summit (view to Peyto Lake) are generally the busiest spots and getting there early will be absolutely worth it.
  3. Drive the Icefields Parkway in both directions. This is, undoubtedly, one of the most scenic drives in the World. You won't be disappointed unless you don't drive it. The view is completely different in each direction, so doing both is an absolute must in my opinion.
  4. Walk the lakeshore paths at Lake Louise, Moraine lake, and Emerald Lake - they are glorious and very easy (especially early morning with fewer people).
  5. Make reservations well in advance for prime camping and hotels. If camping and you don't have reservations, arrive at first come first served campgrounds early morning (before 11, but 10 is better) to secure a spot.
  6. Spend at least one night near Icefield Center between Jasper and Banff, directly across from Athabasca Glacier. The views are fantastic. There is limited lodging at the Icefield Center but plenty of camping with first come first served RV and tent camping adjacent to the Icefield Center. As an RV'er, my favourite nights have been the two I spent at Icefield Center on my way up and down the Icefields Parkway. The views just cannot be rivaled anywhere else.
  7. Dip your feet in the icy cold water of at least one Glacial Lake - go further if you dare.
  8. Be prepared with supplies. The areas around Yoho and Lake Louise have minimal services. There are limited options for groceries (especially in Yoho) and everything is extortionately priced. Stock a cooler before you go with the essentials, including drinking water. The water in Yoho is often not drinkable unless it's been boiled for 2 minutes, so take plenty with you. It's surprisingly hard to find bottled water to buy in reasonable quantities - I had to drive to Lake Louise from Yoho and paid 3x the usual price for a gallon of water.
  9. Abide by the rules of the Park. Have fun but I beg you to ensure that the park is there for others to enjoy in years to come. If a sign asks you to keep off to protect the natural habitat or allow for regrowth, your feet do not belong there. I watched so many people blatantly ignore these signs and it’s very disappointing.
  10. Stop and smell the roses (ok, wildflowers). Sit on a rock, stare, put your camera and phone down for a minute. Take a deep breath of fresh mountain air, imagine, dream, be inspired. You’ll only experience this moment once.
Fog rolling through the Valley along the Icefields Parkway. This is Mushroom Peak.
alexis coram
Fog rolling through the Valley along the Icefields Parkway. This is Mushroom Peak.
Athabasca Falls - the gift that keeps on giving.
alexis coram
Athabasca Falls - the gift that keeps on giving.
Beautiful morning light pouring into the Valley below the ‘Big Hill’ on the Icefields Parkway.
alexis coram
Beautiful morning light pouring into the Valley below the ‘Big Hill’ on the Icefields Parkway.
Smoke rolls in to cover Mount Athabasca.
alexis coram
Smoke rolls in to cover Mount Athabasca.
A stormy morning at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.
alexis coram
A stormy morning at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.
As the day draws to a close, the light pours onto the face of Snow Dome. Viewable from Icefield Center.
alexis coram
As the day draws to a close, the light pours onto the face of Snow Dome. Viewable from Icefield Center.
Sunwapta Falls gushing into the canyon below. Spectacular.
alexis coram
Sunwapta Falls gushing into the canyon below. Spectacular.
After the storm at Athabasca Falls. Power.
alexis coram
After the storm at Athabasca Falls. Power.
Mama and kid look down to the river before climbing down the rocks for a drink. Jasper National Park.
alexis coram
Mama and kid look down to the river before climbing down the rocks for a drink. Jasper National Park.
Athabasca Falls at 6am. Entirely peaceful, no one else around. Magnificent.
alexis coram
Athabasca Falls at 6am. Entirely peaceful, no one else around. Magnificent.
Enjoying a morning of solitude at Emerald Lake, one of my favourite spots in the Rockies.
alexis coram
Enjoying a morning of solitude at Emerald Lake, one of my favourite spots in the Rockies.
Blue Hour at Lake Louise. It’s also quiet late in the Summer evenings, so if you’re not a morning person and still want to mi
alexis coram
Blue Hour at Lake Louise. It’s also quiet late in the Summer evenings, so if you’re not a morning person and still want to miss the crowds, try arriving at sunset and staying until dark.
A double rainbow over Cathedral Peak during a big storm in Yoho National Park.  Photo taken from my campsite at Monarch.
alexis coram
A double rainbow over Cathedral Peak during a big storm in Yoho National Park. Photo taken from my campsite at Monarch.
Moraine Lake Canoes, taken lakeside.
alexis coram
Moraine Lake Canoes, taken lakeside.
The infamous red canoes on Lake Louise.
alexis coram
The infamous red canoes on Lake Louise.
Magical sun rays beaming at Emerald Lake as the day wakes.
alexis coram
Magical sun rays beaming at Emerald Lake as the day wakes.
Loons on Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park.
alexis coram
Loons on Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park.
Morning light at Lake Louise
alexis coram
Morning light at Lake Louise
Mountain Goats drinking from the Athabasca River.
alexis coram
Mountain Goats drinking from the Athabasca River.

To follow more of my journey and to see photos in real time, follow me on Instagram @alexiscoram and @thiscamperlife

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS