MORE THAN MOUNTAINS: WESTERN CANADA’S UNIQUE LANDSCAPES
© 2017 ROCKY MOUNTAINEER SPONSORED CONTENT
Western Canada has a secret to share: there’s more than just mountains out here. While the Rocky Mountains figure prominently in British Columbia and Alberta’s most iconic scenery, there are many unique landscapes to discover in the west. Did you know that B.C. is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world? Travelling through Western Canada will take you through a constantly changing topography, from verdant rainforest to desert-like terrain. So what’s the best way to see the most interesting spots? Why not see them all onboard iconic luxury train Rocky Mountaineer! With over 65 journeys along four scenic routes, you’re bound to pass by jaw-dropping sights. Here are some of the most unique landscapes you’ll find along the way.
British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon (like the Fraser River) was named for 19th century fur trader and explorer Simon Fraser, and was home to the short-lived Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Often called the Grand Canyon of the north, the Fraser Canyon was formed millions of years ago, separating the Coast and Cascade Mountain ranges, and is best viewed on the Rocky Mountaineer’s Journey through the Clouds and First Passage to the West routes. The Fraser River travels through the canyon, carrying sediment from the mountains downstream to the Strait of Georgia, making the water appear muddy. At the appropriately named Hell’s Gate, where the canyon’s walls reach 1,000 metres, twice as much water as Niagara Falls rushes between its narrow rocky passage. As you travel along, you’ll also see desert-like terrain and plateaus that strike quite a contrast to nearby mountains.
One of the most unique landscapes in Western Canada features eerie rock formations called Hoodoos. These tall spires resemble stone totem poles and are found frequently in desert areas, often developing from volcanic rocks or softer sedimentary rock that has been covered over by harder rock. The sedimentary rock then erodes over time, leaving what’s left of the harder rock. There are hoodoos all over the world, in the U.S., Turkey, France, Serbia and Taiwan, but did you know that they exist in Western Canada, too? In Kamloops, B.C., ancient volcanos gave birth to hoodoos made of rocks that are hundreds of millions of years old. You’ll get a great view on Rocky Mountaineer’s First Passage to the West route, or, if you’re taking a rail and car journey through Banff, by checking out a viewpoint off of Tunnel Mountain Road.
Columbia Icefield and the Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Icefield is the biggest icefield in the Canadian Rockies. Once part of the thick ice that covered all the Rocky Mountains, the snow that falls here builds up over time and becomes a glacier. The Athabasca Glacier, located within the Icefield area, is one of North America’s most accessible glaciers. It covers around 6 square kilometres and is between 90-300 metres thick. If you’re taking a journey to Banff or Jasper, you can add an Icefield tour onboard an all-terrain vehicle that takes you directly onto the Athabasca Glacier, as well as sample glacier water and walk along the cliff-side Glacier Skywalk.
In 1882, when a Canadian Pacific Railway employee stumbled upon this beautiful body of water that the Stoney First Nations referred to as the “lake of little fishes,” he was so taken aback by its colour that he called it Emerald Lake. Renamed Lake Louise in honor of Queen Victoria’s daughter, its emerald colour is caused by glacier water and rock flour, and has made Lake Louise one of the most photographed landscapes in Western Canada. It is also a part of Banff National Park, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other blue-green lakes in the area include Peyto Lake off the Icefields Parkway, Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, and Cavell Pond in Jasper National Park. These lakes thaw around the start of June, due to the later arrival of mountain spring, but are still beautiful in all seasons. Next time you visit Western Canada, be sure to take it all in!