I live in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and believe me, I know how lucky that makes me. For our family, getting a vacation usually means a short drive from our home to stunning places where we meet visitors who have come from around the world.
According to Parks Canada’s “Year in Review”, more than 3 million visitors came to Banff National Park in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Over the summer, we also visit many of our favorite mountain spots. When I was a girl, my father had his “Family Tour of the Rockies” — a treat for all our visitors. We’d pile into our stationwagon, and drive from Calgary (Alberta) through Banff National Park and into Yoho National Park in British Columbia. It was a full day of sightseeing, and with spectacular highlights like Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and Takakaw Falls.
Recently, we decided to do a “shortened” version of this drive, heading to just one or two destinations. So, on a Canadian long weekend in August, we drove to our main destination: the magical Emerald Lake, BC, 104 km (65 miles) away.
Along the TransCanada highway there is plenty to see. The photo above shows one of the 50-meter wide wildlife overpasses constructed at “preferred” wildlife crossing points. These overpasses include earthen berms to reduce noise and lights from traffic on the highway, and are meant to reduce the number of wildlife fatalities along the highway. Sadly, we still loose many bears, cougars, elk and deer along this stretch of highway every year, despite many different measures deployed to keep cars and wildlife apart.
Halfway between Banff and Lake Louise is the iconic Castle Mountain. The mountain got its name in 1858 for its castle-like appearance, but following the post-war era it was renamed for US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Public pressure over many years resulted in its name being changed back to Castle Mountain in 1979. I recall my parents saying that they didn’t object to the name Eisenhower, but they thought this mountain needed the name back because it LOOKED so much like a castle. Today Castle Mountain contains an isolated pinnacle at the end of the range called Eisenhower Tower.
Today we drove past the hamlet of Lake Louise – although Lake Louise is a stunning stop, we were bound for Emerald Lake, further long. It pays to not make too many stops when your children are 10- and 7-years-old.
We arrived at Emerald Lake to find it very busy this long weekend. The Lake lies just outside Field, British Columbia, in scenic Yoho National Park. It is Yoho’s largest lake and was named by a local guide (Tom Wilson) in 1882 when he came upon it by accident. Wilson named the lake for its incredible color, which is a result of glacial sediment suspended in the water.
Mount Stephen and Mount Burgess are two of the mountains that surround Emerald Lake. Mount Burgess is a World Heritage site because of the profusion of unique and rare fossils deposited on the mountain. Today, as we began our walk around the lake, employees of Parks Canada were on site with a table showing some of the fossils from the Burgess Shale deposit – an incredible chance to see these marvels of nature up close.
There is a short loop around the lake that will take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete (without stops). Along the shoreline, you cross an avalanche slope, walk through mountain forests and past gorgeous waterfalls…all the while seeing magnificent views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges.
The wildflowers (fireweed, mountain meadow cinquefoil, fleabane, paintbrushes, and bog orchids) were out in abundance, always treat to see along the trail. And, it always surprises me how it can be one of the busiest weekends of the year, but we saw almost no one on this quiet and easy hike around the lake.
This particular stump along the shore caught my eye, and reminded me of the famous painting by Group of Seven member, Lawren Harris titled “Old Stump, Lake Superior“. Although I have never been to the Ontario forests (on my bucket list), I imagine from the paintings I have seen that there are similarities with our landscape.
After our hike around the lake, we made a stop (as we always do) in Field, BC, a lovely little mountain town (population 300) where there is a swimming hole and playground next to the visitor center. The kids love to take a dip and cool off, and afterwards we made our way into town.
Field was founded in the 1880s to give those constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway a place to live. Today, the train still travels (and stops) in this small but desirable town that is a favorite spot to stay for mountain enthusiasts in both summer and winter. Bed & Breakfast establishments (like this one, below) line the streets.
As the boys were hungry after their swim, we popped into The Siding Cafe for a cold drink and a plate of fries for the road. The Siding is a small but cozy restaurant and general store, which also sells local art and handmade goods.
Even on a busy long weekend, it was a great end to a fantastic day. We have many wonderful memories here, and added a few more this day.
I found myself recalling a trip away my husband and I took last October to Emerald Lake for a few days. On the day we were to leave the lake, we decided to hike up to Hamilton Falls. We met a couple from Missouri, USA, and chatted on the trail. They asked if we were going to Hamilton Lake above. We replied that we couldn’t that day because we had to get back home (an hour away) in time to get our kids from school at 3 pm.
They looked amazed, then envious. “You mean to tell us you could come out here for the day, and still be back to get your children from school??? You are SO lucky to have this on your door step!” We grin and agreed. What else could we say?