Ailsa Jones ♦ Queen’s University, Canada
If like me you were drawn to Canada through the stereotypical images of mountains, scenic lakes, and the exotic wildlife your best bet to see all three is going West. Having spent a substantial amount of my exchange in Eastern Canada, it made sense to make my way Westwards following the end of the semester to see whether Instagram had been doing it justice.
In terms of where most of the iconic photos are taken, the vast majority are from either Banff or Jasper, both of which are situated in the province of Alberta. Banff and Jasper are stunning areas where you’re guaranteed to come across spectacular scenery and unfamiliar wildlife. Their respective national parks, alongside the Rocky Mountains are beautiful locations so it makes sense that they have become globally recognisable.
In both there’s a lot to see and do – some which cost and some that don’t. For the most part just taking in the surroundings is satisfying enough, but having visited both, here’s a few highlights that I particularly enjoyed seeing and doing.
In Jasper, one of the most unique experiences on offer is the Icefield Parkway Adventure. You get to drive in an Ice Explorer to the Athabasca Icefield in the heart of the Icefields Parkway, and then walk across the glacier. Not only are you walking on an ancient glacier, but you’re also given a unique perspective of the mountains normally only achievable by scaling the surrounding peaks. However, considering the glacier has been receding about five meters a year, the experience might be one with a limited lifespan, so definitely take advantage of it whilst it’s still there.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for some free activities, Maligne Lake and the Athabasca Falls are also worth visiting. At both you can do some hiking and get some amazing photos at the same time.
In Banff, and in the West as a whole, one of the most iconic attractions is Lake Louise. Once you’re there you can easily see it’s worth the hype as pictures barely do it justice. Although the time of year I went was slightly to early as some of the lake remained partially frozen, it didn’t take away from its incredible views. Depending on what time of year you visit you can utilise the lake in different ways: in the Summer you can canoe on the lake and in the Winter, you can ice-skate across it! If you’re happy to just walk around it, you can do this at no cost which is ideal.
Another must-see is the Banff gondola. It’s definitely tourist central but you can see why. To get the best view of the surrounding mountain ranges its essential that you get a bird’s eye view and the trail of wooden steps is the best way to do this. A nice bonus is that the trail is littered with chipmunks who have almost no fear of humans and are more than happy to pose for photos. Once you reach the highest point you really can appreciate the vastness of all the ranges and get some pretty sick photos.
Being at any of these attractions in either Banff or Jasper inevitably means that you’ll encounter some of the wildlife that Canada is famous for. Whilst out West, I was fortunate enough to see coyotes, elk, black bears and even a grizzly bear. Don’t be surprised though if you see any of these even in more built-up areas as it’s a fairly common occurrence. Most locals will advise you to buy bear spray just in case!
Considering the numerous possibilities out West it makes it an ideal destination for almost any traveller. As iconic as Canada’s cities are, there’s no way that you can truly appreciate the nation’s diverse beauty other than by travelling to Canada’s more rural areas. Although my photos only show a fraction of the West’s extraordinary scenery, hopefully they’ll inspire you to go and see it for yourself.