Banff National Park (Bow Lake, Peyto Lake & Lake Minnewanka)
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
On our third day in Alberta, we explored more of Banff National Park. There is so much to see. Nature is incredible. Pictures really don't do justice to what it's like seeing it with your very own eyes. One thing we wished though as we drove is for more viewpoints or pullouts along the road, so we can stop and take in the spectacular scenery. Even so, it was a beautiful drive; even the wild animal crossing bridges are beautiful. As the road was widened, these crossings are an ingenious idea to make the road safer for both wild animals and motorists. Wild animals are more likely to use these bridges rather than underpasses.
Alas, we found the first viewpoint, just right by the road. This was the most accessible viewpoint we found in Banff National Park, with a spectacular landscape. The Bow Lake, located on the left side of the Icefields Parkway when going north, is not to be missed. It has a big parking space so stopping is not a problem. Besides, most people don't stay long anyway (just taking a few shots of the scenery and off they go) so there is bound to be an empty spot for anyone at all times. Perhaps not in summer, I would think.
The sky was clear and the day was cool and sunny - we couldn't ask for a better day. The calm, clear blue water of Bow Lake reflecting the mountains clearly has such a stunning effect on the landscape. The blue water of this lake is fed by melt-water from Bow Glacier in the Wapta Ice-field.
Before heading to Peyto Lake, we detoured to Simpson's Num-Ti-Jah Lodge to see the other end of Bow Lake. A good time to take a pit stop as well. This part of the lake is also stunning. In visiting the gift shop, Hermann couldn't resist buying a picture book.
Peyto Lake is not as accessible as Bow Lake. A short hike up to the viewpoint near the Bow Summit is required. This is a popular site so we expected a crowd, but not as crowded as it would be in summer we hoped. Peyto Lake was named in honor of Bill Peyto, a pioneer, mountain guide and the early park warden of Banff National Park, from 1913 to 1936.
Peyto Lake is fed by glacial melt. Typical of any glacial lake, its turquoise color is due to glacial rock flour (ground up as the glacier moves down) mixed in with the water from the Peyto Glacier. This lake reminded us of the glaciers we visited in the South Island of New Zealand. It was just as spectacular and stunning.
It was crowded when we reached the overlook. To get away from the hordes vying for space to take selfies, we followed a dirt trail below the deck/viewpoint. The trail was not a designated trail but it was well worn, with no "keep off" warning sign. It was obviously a well-used trail. Down below, we had the place to ourselves, at least for a few minutes (solitude can be found only when you go hiking up high in the mountains).
After taking a few pictures, we climbed back up and then headed back down the Ice-fields Parkway the way we came toward our next destination. But before that, we drove partway into British Columbia and stopped at a rest area at the top of Kicking Horse Pass - the border between the two provinces. Had to take pictures there of course.
Our next destination was Lake Minnewanka, which is just outside of the town of Banff - a short drive from the Trans-Canada Highway. This lake is a popular recreation spot for fishing, boat cruising, hiking, biking, canoeing or kayaking, and even scuba diving - believe it or not. Around the shores are picnic areas with designated cooking pavilions. Boy! Talk about a multi-use park for everyone, not only in summer but winter as well. This is also one of the best places to watch the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) in winter. Well, at least in this part of the Canadian Rockies.
Lake Minnewanka is also a glacial lake, the second longest lake (13 miles) in the Canadian Rockies. There are several dams that have been built on this lake over the years (for hydroelectric power generation). The most recent one was built in 1941, raising the lake 98 feet, resulting in submerging the resort village of Minnewanka Landing. This alone makes an interesting underwater exploration for scuba divers.
The original shores of Lake Minnewanka were the hunting and camping ground for the indigenous Stoney Nakoda First Nations people for over 10,000 years. They called this lake Minn-waki (Lake of the Spirits) - later named Devil’s Lake by early European settlers. The indigenous people feared as well as respected this lake for its resident spirits.
Time always seems to fly by when you are having fun. For our fourth and last day in Alberta, we drove the back roads of Kananaskis Country. There we found several signs at camp sites as well as picnic areas indicating they were closed due to bear activity.