Along the Trans-Canada #1 Highway traveling west from Alberta into British Columbia are three mountain national parks and four mountain ranges. The three National Parks provide some of the best scenery and wildest driving in western Canada!
Running from east to west these parks are:
This part of western Canada also provided some of and toughest transportation obstacles in Canadian history. First for the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), deemed “the impossible railway“, by the builders of the American Union Pacific Railway. This a area of mountains, later provided a substantial obstacle for building the Trans-Canada #1 highway.
Unlike the wide valleys in the Banff and Jasper areas of the Rocky Mountains, with their wide, glaciated valleys; this part of British Columbia is the Selkirk Rage, of the Columbia Mountains. The Selkirks are a newer range with steep-walled, narrow canyons and high passes.
Traveling west from Lake Louise, in Banff and leaving the Icefields Parkway and the Province of Alberta, after negotiating the bends, turns and roller coaster of the Kicking Horse Pass travelers enter Yoho National Park. As you enter Yoho, from the west, take the 1.9 km. trek up to stunning Wapta Falls. During the summer, you can cool of near the bottom of the falls, with the spray!
When the railway was built through the pass the grade was very steep, so the Spiral Tunnels (1909), were built reducing the original railway grade of 4.5% (the steepest of any railway in North America) to a much safer 2.2%. The tunnels are physically built into Cathedral Mountain and Mount Ogden. If you’re lucky enough to be there when a long freight train goes through the tunnel, you can see sections of the train on different levels of the track!.
In Yoho a must do side trip is to take the road to the 380 meter Takakkaw Falls. “Takakkaw”, loosely translated from Cree, means something like “it is magnificent”. (Source – image and translation: Wikipedia).
For a better and sometimes wet view take the trail that leads up to the base of the falls. This area is also the trail head for the Yoho Valley and the Twin Falls, where there is the exclusive Twin Falls Chalet and, for the most of us, a backcountry campground. The area also has a large amount of trail loops offering a variety of challenges. Trekkers can also access the area directly from the Trans-Canada Highway (#1), via Burgess Pass, just north of the town of Field, which is served by both train and buses and has ample accommodations, with reservations suggested for peak periods.
The town of Field also is home to the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that provides a provides a glimpse of what life was like on Earth – 505 million years ago! Please remember that collecting fossils anywhere in the national parks is against the law. For more information about the park visit the website of Friends of Yoho National Park.
The next town is Golden, where travelers can go south to Radium (with its famous hot pool) and Kootenay National Park, or stay on the Trans-Canada Highway and into Glacier National Park named for the 400 glaciers within its boundaries and the high, winding Rogers Pass (The CPR’s pass through the Selkirk and Purcell Ranges of the Columbia Mountains). Newer than the Rocky Mountains, the Selkirks are steeper, with far less glaciated valleys. The Rogers Pass (elevation 4,534 feet/1382 m) taking both railway and highway through is protected by snow sheds, that were constructed due to the massive avalanches in the winter.
During the summer, very fit and well equipped cyclists make use of the Rogers Pass, but the weather in the pass can be upredictable, so good raingear is required.
Back country hiking in the area offers some great nature experiences and hikers can also follow old railway routes and see the stone remains of old rail bridges that are some of the oldest man-made structures in western Canada. For information along the way, pay a visit the Friends of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier, Glacier Circle Bookstore in the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre.
The third park Mount Revelstoke National Park, just north of the mountain city of Revelstoke. This park provides the most lush vegetation in the Canadian Rockies, with giant red cedars. The real attraction of Mount Revelstoke National Park, is the Meadows in the Sky Parkway, which allows motorists access to a mountain top and the lushness of mountain meadows. This type of scenery is usually reserved to those willing to hike, backpack, or ride horse on mountain trails.
Travelers who enjoy this environment, may want to take up the latter activities and trek on into the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. The areas around Golden and Revelstoke are also becoming a centre for winter activities with skiing and snowmobiling being very popular.
The towns Field, Golden and Revelstoke offer excellent accommodations ranging from hostels bed and breakfast homes to hotels, with reservations being recommended. For those wishing to camp, there are several excellent National Park campgrounds along the Trans-Canada Highway.
During the summer months sites in campgrounds in in Canada’s National parks are at a premium and it is suggested that campers should use Parks Canada’s online Campground Reservation Service.
For overnight, back country treks, permits are required, from the park office and can be difficult to acquire do to the quota system. Dogs are not allowed in the back country, of the National Parks, nor are open fires. Always check with the park office for trail closures and other regulations prior to departure.
Anglers and and fly fishing enthusiast will really enjoy these three national parks but you need to have National Park fishing permit and motor boats are not allowed. You also have to be aware of catch limits and many anglers practice catch and release, but it’s also great to keep one for the pan.
Travelers into the back country should be trained in map and compass use, proper gear, clothing, food storage/disposal and experience and bear avoidance skills are mandatory!
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