Autumn in the Canadian Rockies

I enjoy the privilege of living close to one of the most magnificent landscapes on earth. My images never seem to do it justice. The Canadian Rockies are a sight to behold. My favourite time of year to visit the mountains is Autumn. Fall foliage begins in September, with larch and aspens turning bright orange and yellow. In many ways, I miss the dramatic explosion of colours in the Appalachians, the mountains I once called home. The range of Fall colour in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was much more varied- from deep red to golden yellows. The Canadian Rockies have only a few tones- mostly variations of yellow broken up by evergreens. The Rocky Mountains themselves are much more dramatic than the ones back east, however.

Just last week I spent time driving and hiking around Banff and Jasper National Parks. Fall weather can vary by the minute; I experienced everything from warm sun to cold, blowing snow. I’m glad I packed many layers. Mostly it just rained, and was very windy at times, meaning I only had a few opportunities to photograph in decent light. I was hoping for more wildlife opportunities as well, but I actually saw less wildlife this trip than any of the previous dozen. I imagine this was because of a sharp increase in Autumn tourism, road construction on the Icefields Parkway (which made getting to some of my secret wildlife spots impossible), and generally crappy weather.

Storm clouds rolling over Mount Rundle at sunrise, Banff National Park

Storm clouds rolling over Mount Rundle at sunrise, Banff National Park

A brief opening in the clouds allows a bit of dramatic light to get through during sunrise, Mount Rundle, Banff National Park

A brief opening in the clouds allows a bit of dramatic light to get through during sunrise, Mount Rundle, Banff National Park

I started the trip by driving from Edmonton to Jasper early in the morning and making my way south along the Icefields Parkway. I only saw one elk that morning- the only one I would see the entire trip. It was at the Jasper town intersection in an area where I couldn’t pull over. It was pouring rain. Rain that would continue until I made it to the town of Banff several hours later.

I checked into my hotel. A cruddy, cheap place on the edge of Banff townsite. The bed was comfortable enough, but I could spend the rest of this post complaining about the condition of the room when I arrived. Let’s just say it was only a step up from camping. You get what you pay for.

Sunrise at Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

Sunrise at Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

It seemed like the entire town of Banff was under construction, and tourism was at it’s peak for the Fall season. Personally, I prefer Canmore for it’s less busy environment, but I didn’t want to be based that far south this time. I would visit Canmore and the surrounding mountains a few times during the trip, however. It’s less touristy than Banff and some of my favourite locations are right near downtown.

Over the next few days, I visited some familiar spots. I returned to Vermillion Lakes to photograph the Autumn foliage around Mount Rundle; enjoyed a pleasant sunrise at Two Jack Lake; and, even found a small waterfall near Banff that I’d never known about before. As I mentioned, the weather was not cooperative. The rest of the time was spent shooting in the rain, wiping water off my camera lens between shots. I used a hotel shower cap to cover my camera- an old photographer trick that never fails. The morning I left for home was actually the only decent morning I had, as luck would have it.

Autumn larches creeping up the mountains, Banff National Park

Autumn larches creeping up the mountains, Banff National Park

Dramatic weather makes dramatic images. I wasn’t confident with my shots when I left the Rockies, but after spending a few days editing them and giving them time to grow on me, I’m actually pleased. I got a few good landscapes I’m proud of. I even discovered a couple locations to go back to.

Autumn is a very short season in the Rockies. One day it’s warm and the landscape is covered in amazing colours; the next it’s freezing and snowy and will stay that way for several months. There’s never enough time. I’m already looking forward to next year!

Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park

Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park

For more on Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies, click the following links:
5 Awesome Photo Locations in Banff
5 Awesome Photo Locations in Jasper
A Winter Weekend in Banff
Exploring Canmore & Kananaskis