I know India is more exotic, and Italy more delicious, Brazil is probably more fun, but the Canadian Rockies will make you feel connected to the natural world in a way that is difficult to articulate. It’s like dropping into a lake-laden, pre-human, mountainous (craft-beer-forward) utopia.
There isn’t a place on earth that has shattered my capacity for absorbing beauty more profoundly. I’m quite sure the phrase ‘breathtaking’ was coined on the shores of Lake Louise.
The thing is, you could just sit back and marvel at the landscapes of the Rockies, observe the heart-arresting splendor of it all from afar, and feel as if you’ve done the place justice. And to be honest, it is so immediately beautiful, you probably have to a point. But after spending weeks winding up trails, camping lakeside, losing sandals in sly mud pools, roaming among fields of elk and wildflowers and sipping tea atop rugged peaks, I can assure you the best way to experience the Rockies is to get down and dirty with it. Get off the bus, out of the car, out of your comfort zone, into your hiking boots and into the wild.
Lake Louise is the perfect example. It’s gorgeous, yes; you could walk the 50 metres from the car park and gasp at its iridescent, mountain-shrouded beauty and feel very much fulfilled. But ascending to the 100-year-old Lake Agnes Teahouse behind Louise (which still serves tea and treats from ingredients hiked up by staff daily), and on again to the top of the ‘Big Beehive’ to look down onto the famed lake from on high, is really something else. Beyond the glowing aqua spectacle of the lake itself, looking upon the untouched expanse of wilds surrounding it is so heartening, especially given its astounding popularity. It’s a steep scramble to the top, but worth every calf-burning step. You’ll feel a special connection to the lake by the time you descend back to its tourist-heavy shores, one that goes beyond its physical majesty.
Mt Robson is similar. It sits just on the precipice of British Columbia and Alberta and marks the beginning of the Rockies. It’s the tallest mountain in the range, and on a clear day, truly a beauty to behold. You can drive right on up and admire its snowy peaks from below. But the Berg Lake trail, which creeps through the mountain’s shadows, offers a whole new perspective. It winds from one pristine lake to another, via waterfalls and forests up to the beautiful glacier-fed Berg Lake. As you hike, Mt Robson’s peak magically appears between trees, through distant valleys; it peers from behind lesser summits. It’s a multi-day and rather challenging trek to the very top, but you can get a taste for the trail by walking an easy 5 kilometres to the first stop, Lake Kinney. The blue-green mirror-like lake is framed by mountains, towering pines, and when I was there, a rainbow surely made by a rare breed of Canadian unicorn.
Not even bleeding, blistered feet (from not wearing in my hiking boots adequately, for clarity) could detract from the astounding buzz I felt after just a few hours walking through those big, old trees. Golden pine-filtered light, tumbling rivers, daisies, squirrels, chipmunks… it even smelt like heaven. I know people talk about ‘exercise highs’ and ‘nature highs’ – I love hiking but I can assure you I’m not one of those people. Honestly, I usually just feel tired after hiking, maybe a bit smug at best. But this was something else. There was a palpable surge of energy running through me. My face felt flush with mountain euphoria. My cheeks are still tingling, weeks later.
This isn’t just another place to tick off a bucket list, to trundle through in a tourist coach later in life. This is a place you need to drown yourself in. One of those rare places that reminds you how precious and fragile this planet is. It feels touched by the divine, too perfect, like someone or something had a hand in its design.
I haven’t even mentioned Moraine or Peyto yet, some of the most beautiful lakes in the region, nor have I started on the enchanting mountain towns of Banff and Jasper. But there’s too much beauty and not enough words. So I will just say this: don’t wait, don’t leave it for later, just get there, swim, hike, bike, camp, pick a few wildflowers, eat some maple syrup, get a bit dirty and experience the heart-shifting majesty of what is surely one of the world’s most beautiful places for yourself.
What are you waiting for? Embrace the great outdoors on an Intrepid small group adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
All images by Eliza Gower.