CANADIAN ROCKIES

This "off the beaten path" page lists places that require some effort to reach.  Either they can be accessed only on foot or else they need special transportation arrangements.

Lake O'Hara

This is a gorgeous and secluded area, a magnificent place for hiking.  It is located in Yoho National Park, between the hamlet of Field, British Columbia, and the village of Lake Louise, Alberta.  What keeps it so quiet is the fact that access to it is restricted.  The only ways to reach it are to make reservations on the Lake O'Hara bus, to hike in during the summer, or to cross-country ski in during the winter.

If you stay at Lake O'Hara overnight, your accommodation options are the expensive Lake O'Hara Lodge, two Alpine Club of Canada huts, or a tent campground.  In addition to that, a few spots on the Lake O'Hara bus are set aside for day trippers.  

Lake O'Hara Lodge provides full board accommodation.  That is, the rate includes three meals a day.  The food is excellent.  As a convenience to the majority of guests who hike, the Lodge offers the option of sandwich lunches.  There is a huge fireplace in the central lodge building's main room.  Upstairs there is a library, in case you want to borrow a book with which to curl up next to the fire.  The bedrooms in the lodge are very small, and there are shared bathrooms.  There also are lakeshore cabins with en suite bathrooms.  The Lodge does not sell liquor, but you may bring your own.  Hint : If you want to chill your wine before dinner, park the bottle in the lake.  While the food is top notch and the property is clean, you are spending a great deal of money on such rustic accommodations.  What you are paying for, of course, are the tranquility and the logistics of running a lodge in an isolated location.

Notwithstanding the fact that Lake O'Hara Lodge is so expensive, it gets booked up very far in advance.  There is a saying to the effect that you have to inherit a reservation at Lake O'Hara Lodge.  While that is a slight exaggeration, it is not too far off the mark.  It is common for people to make reservations a year in advance.  

If you want to camp at Lake O'Hara, be prepared to be self-sufficient for the duration of your stay.  There are no grocery stores in the area.

If you manage to secure a reservation at Lake O'Hara Lodge, your reservation on the bus will be included in the service.  If you want to camp at Lake O'Hara or visit the area as a day user, however, you need to reserve a spot on the Lake O'Hara bus.  

To reserve space on the bus, you must phone the Lake O'Hara Reservations Line at (250) 343-6433 up to three months ahead of the date on which you want to ride the bus.  Check the Reservation Line's operating hours.  Note that the Reservations Line operates on North American Mountain Time.  Have your Visa, MasterCard or American Express card handy when you dial the number. 

If you miss the three-month deadline for reserving a spot on the bus, you may be able to get one of the six seats that are set aside for 24-hour bookings.  You should call (250) 343-6433 right at 8.00 a.m. on the day before you want to catch the bus.   All six seats usually are taken within 10 minutes of the office's opening.

A return fare on the Lake O'Hara bus is C$14.85 per adult and C$7.40 per youth (6 - 16).  Children up to the age of 5 ride the bus for free.  In addition to the above fee structure, each person, including a child, is charged a C$11.85 non-refundable reservation fee.

Check out the Lake O'Hara section of Yoho National Park's website to read descriptions of hiking trails around Lake O'Hara area, the rules for camping at Lake O'Hara, and other information about this special area.

Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale is located near the hamlet of Field, British Columbia, in Yoho National Park.  What now is a rock formation used to be a shallow equatorial sea 505 million years ago, during the Cambrian period.  Because the fossils in the Burgess Shale are extraordinarily well preserved, the formation has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

You can get a greater appreciation of the Burgess Shale if you visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, which is about 1½ hours' drive northeast of Calgary and just over 4 hours' drive east of Field, BC.  Although the Tyrrell Museum's main claim to fame is its fabulous collection of dinosaur skeletons, it has some other interesting displays.  One of them is a model of the ocean that subsequently dried up and left behind the sedimentary rocks that now make up the Burgess Shale.  In the Tyrrell Museum's model, the sea creatures are enlarged to many times their actual size, to make it easier for you to visualize them. 

If you want to visit the Burgess Shale itself, you will need to make a reservation for a guided hike that is conducted by the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation or Parks Canada. Because of the formation's protected status, members of the public are not permitted to hike to the area unescorted.  The hike is demanding, and you need to be in good physical shape to complete it.  Also, the window of opportunity is narrow.  Hikes are offered only from the beginning of July to the middle of September.   It is quite typical for people to book a hike four or five months in advance.  

Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's book Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History is an excellent introduction to the creatures of the Burgess Shale for non-scientists.

Sunshine Meadows

This area is a magnificent place to see wildflowers in July and the golden colour of the larch trees in the second half of September. 

Since the gondolas and ski lifts of the Sunshine ski resort do not operate during the summer and fall, you need to book a spot on a shuttle bus that plies the restricted access road that gets you to the starting point for the hikes in this area.  The Sunshine parking lot is 16 km (10 miles) from Banff townsite. 

Because of the limited access that is available to this area, it is much quieter than the Larch Valley hiking trail that departs from Moraine Lake and that is so popular in the fall.  If you want to hike the Sunshine Meadows area in order to catch the colour of the larch trees in the fall, call the shuttle bus company and ask if the trees have turned yet.  The prime viewing period usually is the second half of September, but there needs to have been a good frost before the larch trees will change colour.           

Lussier Hot Springs

These are completely natural, non-commercial hot springs.  They are located in White Swan Provincial Park, to the east of Canal Flats.  You access White Swan Provincial Park from Hwy 93 that runs from Radium Hot Springs down through Invermere and Cranbrook on the west side of the Canadian Rockies, in what is known as the Kootenay-Rockies Region. 

Bow Valley Provincial Park

This often-overlooked provincial park is in the foothills on the way to Banff from Calgary by the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy) at its junction with the Highway 1X, which bisects the park. Take Exit 114 to get there from the Trans-Canada. It can be very enjoyable for  children, because it has many interesting short walks, as well as a large playground. The park is popular with Calgarians, and can be busy on warm summer afternoons, but often you will have your part of the park to yourself. The Many Springs Trail is a 1.6 km (1 mi) walking loop with signs (English only) describing the plants and animals which can be seen here. It has some small hills and circles a marshy area. On this trail at various times of the year, visitors can see lovely yellow ladyslipper orchids, hummingbirds, Mountain Chickadees, and Mule Deer.  The central attraction is a tiny "boil spring" which has a small deck built near it for better viewing; many visitors enjoy watching the water "boil" up from below as it makes changing patterns in the water. Middle Lake also is surrounded by a slightly longer, hillier walking loop, or you can park in the small viewing area above the lake and have a picnic at one of the many picnic tables. In late spring, the field near the picnic area is filled with spectacular red Western Wood Lilies. The Flowing Water Trail is another short loop walk which begins in the large campground on the east side of Hwy 1X, but quickly leaves it to follow the edge of the Kananaskis River. The big attraction at the far end of the loop is a large beaver pond, which attracts a wide variety of birdlife. If you want to see beavers and/or muskrat, visit close to sunrise or sunset (beavers are mostly nocturnal) or just wait very patiently. (Beavers are twice as large as muskrat, and their tails do not show above the water when swimming.)

A Note on Dodging the Tourist Hordes

There are a few places in the Rockies which can get truly crowded with tourists. It would, however, be a pity to miss the scenic beauty of Lake Louise or Johnston's Canyon just because you want to avoid the "touristy" spots. Your best strategy for dodging the hordes is to hit these places first thing in the morning (by 10 a.m. at the latest). (If you travelled west to get to the Rockies, you may even want to keep your watch set to a slightly more easterly time zone, so that you are getting up, eating, and sleeping an hour or two before everyone else. And it will ease any jet lag as well.) An early morning arrival not only means that you are there before the majority of other visitors, but you will have better wildlife viewing opportunities, and may also have better lighting for photography.

More suggestions 

There are additional suggestions at Inside Banff : Off the beaten path