Travel Guides

Bear Creek Falls, Glacier National Park (Canada)

There is some confusing information out there regarding Bear Creek Falls in Glacier National Park of Canada. When I was doing research for my recent trip to British Columbia's rocky mountains, I came across websites that suggested that you can't get to the trail head when driving from the north at all. That's not exactly true. You can, but due to construction and high traffic within Glacier NP during my visit, it was difficult to tell where the pull off for the trailhead was. My wife saw it as we drove past (headed south along Trans Canada Highway West from the park entrance), and we simply turned around at the next safe place. There's nothing keeping you from turning left as long as you don't miss it. The sites I visited said there is no left turning lane for the trailhead, but there is no right turning lane either if you're coming from the other direction. The sign is only visible when coming from the south (Trans Canada Highway East). Just be very aware of traffic - I've never seen people drive so unnecessarily fast in all of Canada as they do down the Trans Canada Highway through Glacier NP. 

Bear Creek Falls, Glacier National Park of Canada, British Columbia

Bear Creek Falls, Glacier National Park of Canada, British Columbia

Now that you've found it, simply park in the lot and head down the relatively short and easy downhill trail through damp mossy woods to Connaught Creek. The trailhead is obvious and the trail itself is well-maintained all the way. The main waterfall cannot be missed. It's well worth the 1.7 km round trip hike. Sturdy waterproof footwear is a must for exploring this area, especially in autumn. The waterfall cascades beautifully and powerfully down mossy boulders framed by lush green spruce, firs, and ferns. From about 30-40 feet up, blue waters pool into the large creek below in a few stepped ledges high above the trail. 

Glacier National Park of Canada is a stunning environment and a great option if you're weary of the huge crowds in Banff and Jasper. We only encountered two other couples on our Bear Creek Falls hike, and it's one of the most popular spots in the park. As always, check the conditions on the Parks Canada site before venturing out.

5 Awesome Photo Locations in Banff

5 AWESOME PHOTO LOCATIONS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Banff National Park needs little introduction. It is one of the most popular destinations in North America and is home to some of the most photographed natural scenes in Canada if not on earth. As a travel photographer, there is the constant challenge of dealing with large crowds and attempting to get unique shots of heavily photographed areas. It can be rather exhausting - both the effort and natural beauty. In other words, Banff is one of those iconic places (much like Iceland) that are so naturally stunning that it can be emotionally taxing when taking in all the beautiful landscapes. Crowds or not, it's worth the trip. 

I've visited Banff NP three times now. The most recent trip was with my wife. We also visited a couple of the rocky mountain national parks in British Columbia over a long weekend (Kootenay and Glacier), and saved Banff, Alberta for our last full day. In that one day we experienced three seasons of weather: everything from sunny autumn daylight to rain to dark blizzards. October in Banff was quite a different place from the moderate, sunny days I spent there in mid-summer. Nonetheless, a trip to the rockies is always worth it. Here are some of the top (most popular...well-known, etc) photography locations in Banff National Park and my experiences visiting them. 

LAKE LOUISE

Lake Louise with Snow-capped Mountains, Banff National Park

Lake Louise with Snow-capped Mountains, Banff National Park

Lake Louise is one of the most popular spots in Banff NP. It's easily accessible and surrounded by resorts and lodges. It's a top spot for tour buses and photography workshops. I very much recommend getting there early, especially on holiday weekends. My wife and I first showed up at midday during our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend trip and were surprised to find no parking anywhere near the lake. In fact, there were so many tourists, even the overflow parking 21 kilometers away was almost full and running shuttles to and from Lake Louise! This place is nice, but not worth all that. That's why I say get there early; sunrise on the lake is beautiful, and the trails around Lake Louise will be less trampled earlier in the day. When we showed up again just after sunrise, we managed a parking spot right near the lake. 

I managed to drop my expensive 6-stop neutral density filter into the rocks on the lakeshore while clumsily fiddling with it while wearing gloves. I was trying to soften the movement of the lake surface because the frigid breeze was causing too many ripples for the image I wanted. Unfortunately, the crash resulted in 3 large unfixable scares in the center of the filter...I carried on without it. It's difficult to piss and moan in such awesome surroundings. 

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Sunset, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake Sunset, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake is the next most popular spot in Banff NP. It's about 14 kilometers away from Lake Louise and also near popular resorts. Again, get there early. Sunset is nice, but the sun doesn't set directly behind the mountains, so don't count on a full sky of dramatic color. The sun also doesn't  rise directly in front of them, so the first rays of light only skim the highest peaks of the mountain range. Personally, I think morning is best primarily because you'll likely only run into a few photographers and a hand-full of tourists. Like Lake Louise, the parking lots can fill up fast during peak weekends. Unlike Lake Louise, Moraine Lake only has the one trail to the summit overlooking the lake, lodge, and mountain range. Be careful when clambering over boulders on the summit; there can be ice where you don't expect it and rock pica call this area home. 

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake in Autumn Blizzard, Banff National Park

Peyto Lake in Autumn Blizzard, Banff National Park

The image above of Peyto Lake wasn't made in January. It was shot in early-October on the same morning as the Lake Louise image at the top of this page. That's how much weather can vary in the mountains. When my wife and I came to the overlook of Peyto Lake a huge snow cloud came rolling in, covering the mountains and leading to a short white-out. The hike to the Peyto Lake view point is easy and takes about 10 minutes. On this snowy October day, however, it took quite a bit longer with more effort as ice had formed all over the trail and deep snow blanketed the forest. In the summer weeks, beautiful alpine wildflowers carpet the small meadows tucked away in the forest along the trail. Whether you're there in winter or summer, as always, arrive early for sunrise and avoid the crowds. 

Peyto Lake in Summer, Banff National Park

Peyto Lake in Summer, Banff National Park

To access Peyto Lake, turn at the sign for Bow Summit on the Icefields Parkway and make the next right into the parking area. It's easy to overlook because there is currently no sign indicating Peyto Lake. 

Mistaya Canyon

Sunrise at Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park

Sunrise at Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park

We couldn't squeeze Mistaya Canyon into our full day in Banff NP, but on the early morning drive back through the area on our departure day, I could tell a great sunrise was brewing. I stopped at the pull-off for Mistaya Canyon - no one was around...a first for this trip. I had little time because we needed to make it back to Edmonton to pick up our dogs before the boarding facility closed early for Thanksgiving. I grabbed my tripod with the full frame camera and 18-35mm lens with my polarizer attached, leaving all else in the car (including the Missus who was cold and sleepy). Seeing the sign for Mistaya Canyon in 300 meters, I sprinted the whole way down the rocky trail. When I arrived at the canyon I was stunned. It is easily one of the most beautiful spots for morning landscape photography in Banff, and I had it all to myself for a few short minutes. 

I bounded from cliff to cliff and rock to rock gathering as many different compositions as I could before the bright pink light above the mountain faded. In only 10 minutes I had about 30 shots! It was the perfect way to end the trip as far as photography goes. It would have been nice to have my 6-stop ND...but we'll not bring that up again. 

MOUNT RUNDLE

Mount Rundle, Town of Banff

Mount Rundle, Town of Banff

The image above of Mount Rundle is a "reference shot." In other words, I'm going to return during better light (probably sunrise as you might have guessed) and shoot from this same viewpoint. This image was made in the late afternoon on the last full day of our Banff trip. We had gone into the town of Banff for lunch (pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes) and to explore the town a bit before our drive back to the B.C. side of the mountains and our tiny Airbnb. The town itself is a pretty typical mountain resort town, full of overdressed tourists, t-shirt stores, and expensive outdoor gear shops. The best thing about it is it's surroundings within the beautiful Canadian Rockies. This view of Mount Rundle is easily accessible from downtown Banff via Vermillion Lakes Road. There are various convenient spots to pull over and see the lakes and mountains along the short road, which eventually dead-ends at a cul-du-sac. The autumn color is particularly strong here. Mount Rundle is one of Banff's many iconic scenes and is a popular spot to photograph in winter when the lake is frozen.

 

Map of Banff National Park Area:

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Top 5 Photography Locations in Banff National Park

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Why Edmonton is Awesome

EDMONTON IS AWESOME.

I'm a travel writer and photographer. I also call Edmonton, Alberta my home. I'm proud to. A writer in association with a certain well-known travel guide publisher has ruffled some feathers among Edmontonians of late (including the city mayor) with an article that casts unfair, negative judgment on Canada's most northern provincial capitol. Because said publisher's writing has become increasingly juvenile and under-researched, and their printed guides are more useful as fly swatters, it doesn't surprise me really that the author gave Edmonton little chance to show what a colorful, diverse, and exciting city it really is. 

WHY EDMONTON IS AWESOME:

Full disclosure: when my wife said she was offered a job in Edmonton, Canada, I had never heard of it. I imagined for some reason it was in New Brunswick. Looking at the Canadian map on my office wall, I was surprised to find a major city north of Calgary. We flew up in a few days, and over the course of less than a week during that initial visit, I became excited about the relocation. Edmonton is just the right size for me; it has some world-class restaurants, something interesting and fun is always going on, and it's surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful. 

YEAR-ROUND FESTIVALS

Edmonton is Canada's festival city. There is something going on all the time, all year-round. Edmonton experiences more sunny days on average than any other Canadian city (Calgary included) and though winters are bitterly cold, one doesn't have to stay huddled indoors watching netflix for entertainment. There are over 60 events in the winter lineup this year, including but not limited to: the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, the Winter Wine Festival, New Year's Eve Downtown (featuring fireworks, food trucks, and live music), Luminaria ("a quiet oasis of peace and light"), the Ice on Whyte Festival ("Grab winer by the snowballs!"), and Flying Canoe Volant (a "creative, interactive, and cultural event that celebrates local history and everything that is great about a long winter's night"). Oh, and did I mention nature's own celebration of winter's majesty: THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, which can be seen just outside of town if not within the city itself on clear winter nights? I've even seen the aurora light up the sky in mid-July. Beat that one Toronto.

Canada Day Fireworks Celebration, Alberta Legislature, Edmonton, 2017

Canada Day Fireworks Celebration, Alberta Legislature, Edmonton, 2017

Not hardy enough for Edmonton's winter festivities? Come for summer and fall. There is literally and without any exaggeration something for everyone. This town is way more than hockey and the West Edmonton Mall (but if you love hockey and shopping, what better place to be?). Edmonton celebrates its diversity through dozens (and I mean dozens) of festivals. There are well over 75 different events and festivals happening all over the city, which means that there are several going on simultaneously through the summer and fall seasons. Some of the more popular include: the Alberta Craft Beer Festival, the Edmonton Pride Festival and Parade, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, K-Days, Edmonton International Street Performers Festival, the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, the huge SERVUS Heritage Festival, and the Edmonton Latin Festival

Latin Festival, Downtown Edmonton

Latin Festival, Downtown Edmonton

Chinese Community Float, K-Days Parade, Edmonton 

Chinese Community Float, K-Days Parade, Edmonton 

Street Performer, Street Performers Festival, Edmonton

Street Performer, Street Performers Festival, Edmonton

FOOD

It didn't take me long to find some really great restaurants in Edmonton. I'm hard-pressed to think of any region of the the culinary world that isn't covered here, or any new-fangled trend that isn't represented either (Chinese Crepes?!). The city's ethnically diverse population provides a variety of restaurant choices. Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Italian (both fancy and not so fancy), Korean, Ethiopian, Ukrainian, Czech, French, Chilean, Lebanese, Greek, American BBQ, authentic Chinese, it's all here! A couple of my favorites so far are Japonaise Bistro (a clean, modern sushi place that serves killer bento boxes), Tokiwa (a real all-Japanese ramen joint with a minimalist atmosphere and the best soups you'll get outside of Tokyo - say some reviewers), Bistro Praha (authentic and hardy Czech cuisine), and Meat (a delectable southern-inspired BBQ spot just off trendy Whyte Avenue). I'm actually about to meet my wife in an hour at a very popular Vietnamese restaurant she loves that is always packed.

Japanese Ramen, Tokiwa, Edmonton

Japanese Ramen, Tokiwa, Edmonton

Pulled Pork, Garlic Fries, and Fresh Lemonade, MEAT, Edmonton

Pulled Pork, Garlic Fries, and Fresh Lemonade, MEAT, Edmonton

On a budget? There are food trucks everywhere on seemingly every corner of downtown, especially near the attractive Legislative Grounds. The diversity of food truck options is no less overwhelming than the amount of brick-and-mortar restaurants. Whether you want Indian street food, burgers, poutine, tacos, or just an old-fashioned Canadian "Beaver Tale", YEG's got you covered. 

If you're traveling to Edmonton and you're smart like me, you'll get a very reasonably priced Airbnb with a kitchen in downtown or in Old Strathcona. That way you'll be able to take advantage of the vast array of seasonal goodies at Edmonton's two largest year-round farmers markets. The market downtown is located on 104th street during summer and fall and moves into city hall for winter months. Summer is obviously the best time to take advantage of local fruits, vegetables, and sustainably sourced meats, but there's still lots of product available in winter. The Strathcona market is indoors year-round, and is conveniently located near the trendy shops and restaurants of Whyte Avenue. 

AMAZING NATURAL SURROUNDINGS

The aspect of the Edmonton area that carried the most weight for me in our decision to move here was the natural beauty both in, and surrounding, Edmonton. An unbroken chain of park-land ten times the length of New York's Central Park runs along the North Saskatchewan River dividing Edmonton in half. Popular activities on it's trails include hiking, running, cycling, snowshoeing, skiing, picnicking, kayaking, paddle boarding, and even golfing (if you're into that...). The river valley park system is only 3 blocks from my apartment and provides a welcome connection to the natural world when the city hustle and bustle starts grinding on my nerves. It has a feel much like the large parks of European cities- very calm and quiet. 

My wife on the Boardwalk to the River Valley Park System, Edmonton

My wife on the Boardwalk to the River Valley Park System, Edmonton

Just east outside the city limits by about 35 minutes is the nearest national park, Elk Island. Elk Island is home to large herds of free-ranging bison and elk. The park is peppered with beautiful lakes and hosts abundant waterfowl. There are miles upon miles of hiking trails and huge lakes for canoeing. Elk Island National Park is also a great place to view the northern lights.

Northern Lights Over Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park

Northern Lights Over Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park

Just down the road from Elk Island National Park lies the historic Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village with real Ukrainian reenactors. The scene is set in the late 1800's and provides a glimpse into an interesting part of Canada's history. The village itself is located in the peaceful natural prairie among tall grass, birch groves, and native wildlife. 

Young Farmer with Chickens, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, Alberta

Young Farmer with Chickens, Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, Alberta

Just over three hours west of Edmonton via the Yellow Head Highway (16) lie the majestic Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park. I've been fortunate enough to visit the rockies several times this summer and I don't think I'll ever tire of them. I've been able to photograph more wildlife (between Jasper and Elk Island) in the short time I've been in Edmonton than I did in 10 full years living in the Appalachian woods. Simply put, the natural surroundings of Edmonton, Alberta are a photographer's paradise. 

Athabasca River with Mount Christie and Brussels Peak on the Horizon, Jasper National Park (for more images of the Canadian Rockies,  click here .)

Athabasca River with Mount Christie and Brussels Peak on the Horizon, Jasper National Park (for more images of the Canadian Rockies, click here.)

EMBRACE THE NORTH

Edmonton has loads of character - more so than many other North American cities I've been to of similar size. It doesn't usually strike people as a hip and trendy place, like say Toronto or Montreal, but maybe that's partially because it doesn't "insist upon itself." It might not be the most striking city architecturally (though I find the hodge podge mosaic of architectural styles visually interesting), but it's got all the essentials like shopping, world class museums and art galleries, innovative chefs, and live music venues both large and small. It's a blue-collar town with hardworking locals and immigrants trying to build comfortable lives. There's some money here for sure, because of the oil industry and other growing sectors of the economy, but Edmonton is not glamourous. It's real. What you see is essentially what you get, but as every good travel writer should know, it sometimes takes a little digging to find out what is truly special and worth writing about a place. This is the north, it's not for everybody, but it works for me.

Exploring the Icefields Parkway, Part II, Jasper & Banff National Park

EXPLORING THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY, PART II, JASPER & BANFF NATIONAL PARK

I drove into the Canadian Rockies last week in hopes of photographing a particular species: Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep. I grew up watching Marty Stauffer's Wild America, and big horns were sort of the trademark animal of the series, celebrated in various episodes. I always dreamed of visiting the rocky mountains and seeing large rams butt heads on high mountain meadows - or at least standing proudly on a cliff overlooking snow-capped peaks. Alas, no rams on the way into Jasper National Park, just a few ewes high up on craggy ledges. I stopped for a few shots and moved on, later exiting onto the Icefields Parkway on one of the hottest and haziest days of the summer. 

It must have been too hot for wildlife that day. I expected to see more elk, as I had photographed them each time I'd driven down the Icefields Parkway before, but no elk, no bears, not even a raven for miles. I stopped at the "Goat Overlook" (the sign reads "Goats and Glaciers", but I didn't see any goats or glaciers...) and walked the short trail to the edge of the cliff overlooking the Athabasca River with Mount Christie and Brussels Peak on the horizon. I saw the potential for an image there, so I decided that would be my sunset location. I was hoping for goats; the sign implies that they hang out there after all, but nothing was stirring but a few Canada Geese at the edge of the river. 

Mount Christie and Brussels Peak from the Banks of the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Mount Christie and Brussels Peak from the Banks of the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Happy Little Trees

As the sun got lower, I set up for a some exposures at "Goats and Glaciers." I framed the river and mountains and decided that wasn't enough, so I then added two wiggly spruce trees to the left of the frame (thinking, "let's put a happy little tree right over here and give him a little friend"), which added a much needed foreground element. The sunset didn't quite create the dramatic sky I was hoping for. After taking those shots, I drove down to the next overlook by the river bank, stepped out into the river on some stones and framed a simple shot of a few whispy pink clouds over the mountains with the cool glacial river flowing by. All campsites nearby were full, so I went back to "Goats and Glaciers" and set up camp in the back of my Jeep. I didn't sleep much. The park was so busy with folks trying to get campsites at nearby Honeymoon Lake, it was like sleeping next to a highway. Not quite the peaceful night I was hoping for after a day trekking around the mountains in the heat. 

Athabasca River and Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park

Athabasca River and Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park

Sunset over Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Sunset over Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Saskatchewan River Crossing & Peyto Lake

I awoke literally one minute before my alarm went off at 4:29 AM. My research suggested that it would take me 1 hour to drive to Peyto Lake in Banff National Park from my "campsite." I hit the road 1 1/2 hours before sunrise time, excited by the prospect of visiting Banff for the first time and capturing sunrise at iconic Peyto Lake. Things didn't quite go according to plan... When I arrived at the mid-point of my journey, Saskatchewan Crossing, sunrise was already in peak color. It was a great one, much better than last evening's sunset. I realized I wasn't going to make it to Peyto Lake, so I pulled over at the bridge and took a few shots just before the light faded away. It wasn't what I had planned, but it was a great location and all the elements came together in a few photographs I'm proud of. It would take another 45 minutes to arrive at Peyto Lake, plus the 10 minute hike into the woods to get to the best location. 

Saskatchewan River Crossing at Sunrise, Banff National Park

Saskatchewan River Crossing at Sunrise, Banff National Park

There was no color left in the sky when I arrived at Peyto Lake. I wasn't that disappointed; this was one of the best vistas I've ever seen anywhere! Other than one artist sitting on the wooden deck painting the scene, I had the place to myself. It was early enough no one else was out. I took a few shots. The sky had some puffy white clouds rolling across the blue sky, but the mountains were dark as the sun had not yet emerged from behind one of the eastern mountains. I went back to the car for breakfast and waited until the the sun's rays began to light the peaks of the mountains to the west. I grabbed my gear and ran out through the woods to the overlook to find a couple dozen people crowding the edge (and a drone buzzing overhead sounding like a pissed-off honey bee). I wedged my way through and shot several images from different locations all along the sandy bank high above the emerald colored lake. Golden light hit the mountains and clouds rolled quickly across the sky. I shot away, then opted to go for a time-lapse video. I would've liked to have been there for the colorful sunrise earlier, but I'm not disappointed in the images I did get. It's a magical place. I won't stay away long. 

Peyto Lake Time-lapse, Banff National Park, Canada

Return to Goats & Glaciers

I made two stops on my way back north along the Icefields Parkway at Rampart Creek and Tangle Falls. I had Rampart Creek all to myself. It was a peaceful location. I made several long exposures of water rushing over colorful stones with a glorious mountain in the background using a 6 stop neutral density filter. I sat at the edge watching a golden mantled ground squirrel gather seeds for about a half hour. 

Tangle Falls was a different experience all together. It's a famous waterfall that cascades dramatically down a few cliffside steps around 100-150 feet in all. I arrived to find several others climbing around the falls. I took two long exposures with the 6 stop ND to try and blur the people out of the scene with no luck. The sun came out and dappled the scene in harsh flat light. I decided to save Tangle Falls for another time. 

Rampart Creek, Banff National Park

Rampart Creek, Banff National Park

I arrived at "Goats and Glaciers" around mid-day to find a family of Mountain Goats grazing by the road. They lumbered off into the woods toward the overlook where I had been the evening before as a few tourists approached them for selfies (this drives me insane - please do not approach wildlife). I parked and went into the woods behind them indirectly and from a generous distance with nothing but my Nikon D7100 and 70-200 f2.8 lens. I followed their fresh tracks in the sand until I reached the steep banks of the Athabasca. I looked over the cliff and scanned the river's edge, but saw no goats. They had a hiding spot. A few minutes of scanning, and a goat popped up, then another. I took a few shots. They saw me and went back into hiding. I knew they would have to come back up sooner or later. I sat in the woods in between some juniper bushes for only a few moments when they emerged. If I remember correctly, there were six total. One billy, a few nannies, and two kids, all fluffy and white. I did the "looking for my wallet" routine so they didn't think I was out to get them. When they relaxed, they came closer, and I fired off several shots as they meandered through the bush only feet away from me at a slow pace, eventually disappearing into the woods. Though I saw no big horn rams this trip, I'm happy to have a had a few peaceful moments with this family of mountain goats! 

Go. Do. See.

I'm lucky to live near so much amazing nature and wildlife here in western Canada. I'm getting to spend time with animals I'd dreamed of seeing my whole life. Every time I go out into the rockies, it's harder to leave. I encourage all to visit the amazing natural places in North America, just do so with respect. Don't approach wildlife directly, give them plenty of space. Take time to observe and learn things instead of snapping a quick cell phone pic and moving on. The wonders of the natural world are delicate and fleeting, so are we, enjoy it while it lasts. 

To read Part I of Exploring the Icefields Parkway, click here! To find out what's in my camera bag, click here!