Jasper National Park

How to Stay in the Canadian Rockies on a Budget

Canada's 150th birthday (2017) was a big year for tourism in Canada's national parks. Entry was free of charge that year. Banff and Jasper National Parks are the most visited by far. I remember being in bumper to bumper traffic miles from the Jasper entrance on my first visit. All the sites were packed and campgrounds and parking lots overflowed throughout summer and fall. It was nuts! Free admission led to an increase of over 400,000 visitors. In an average year, a whopping 8.5 million people still visit Canada's 7 Rocky Mountain Parks. That means high demand for accommodation. That also means you have to plan far ahead (even a year or more) in order to get a place to stay in Jasper and Banff during peak summer season.

I've managed to make paying for accommodation in Alberta and British Columbia's mountain parks relatively cheap. I've visited Banff and/or Jasper NP every month for the last 10 months on a tight budget. Here's what I've learned.

Avoid peak season

It's convenient for most people to head to the Canadian Rockies in summer during vacation season and when school is out. It's also the most pleasant time to visit Canada's natural places weather wise. For these reasons, the high season (June, July, and into August) is the most packed. Knowing this, hotels, lodges and Airbnbs all hike their rates to alarmingly high levels. Supply is low and demand is high...it's simple economics really. 

If possible, it's best to visit the Rockies during shoulder seasons like spring and fall. Autumn can still be quite busy as throngs of tourists (and photographers) flock to the mountains for fall foliage, but it's less crowded than the high season. Winter in the mountains is stunningly beautiful. If you love winter outdoor activities, then you'll also enjoy lower hotel rates and having more Airbnbs to choose from. My wife and I once stayed in a very nice modern hotel in downtown Banff for $350 CDN for a weekend getaway....half the summer rate for the same room.

Tourists harassing an elk in Jasper National Park, Summer 2017. I pulled over 30 yards down the road, whipped out my 500mm lens, and had about 30 seconds alone with this elk before about a dozen other cars showed up. At that point I moved on. People should never get this close to wildlife. 

Tourists harassing an elk in Jasper National Park, Summer 2017. I pulled over 30 yards down the road, whipped out my 500mm lens, and had about 30 seconds alone with this elk before about a dozen other cars showed up. At that point I moved on. People should never get this close to wildlife. 

Book weekdays, not weekends

Year-round weekday rates are typically much lower than weekend dates. I once stayed in a great little Airbnb in downtown Jasper mid-week during February for only $58 CDN per night. That same room costs $30 more per night on weekends in winter (double during high season). If you have flexibility with your dates, use it. It can save you hundreds versus choosing "weekend getaways."

book accommodation wayyyy in advance

If you don't have the flexibility to visit the rockies in the low season, you should book your stay as far in advance as possible. The best and most affordable places book up quickest. This is especially true for Airbnbs. They are usually much cheaper than lodges, hotels, or renting RVs (the latter is surprisingly expensive). Many Airbnbs have kitchens, providing guests the ability to save more money by cooking their own meals (eating out in Jasper and Banff is pricy).

Both Airbnbs and hotels begin disappearing as early as a year in advance in the towns of Jasper and Banff. I recommend booking yours at least 6 months in advance in order to take advantage of the more reasonably priced ones. Wait until the spring before, and you'll have to choose accommodation in one of the peripheral mountain towns farther from the parks.

drive more, pay less

Staying in one of the small towns outside of Banff and Jasper isn't necessarily a bad thing. Towns like Golden, BC, Invermere, BC, Hinton, AB, or Canmore, AB have lots of great places to stay as well. Accommodation in these areas is not as expensive as Jasper and Banff and tend to not book up as quickly. They are all located within the beautiful Canadian Rockies, just a bit farther from the National Park entrances. Even though you may drive a little more to get to the sites within the parks, you'll pay a lot less per night to stay. There are awesome things to see and do within these towns as well. If staying on the British Columbia side of the Rockies, you'll have quicker access to lesser known (but no less amazing) Glacier and Kootenay National Parks, as well as Mount Robson Provincial Park. 

Located on the British Columbia side of the Rockies, Glacier National Park of Canada boasts some pretty awesome sites and hikes for those keen on avoiding crowds. (Photo: Bear Creek Falls, Glacier National Park, BC)

Located on the British Columbia side of the Rockies, Glacier National Park of Canada boasts some pretty awesome sites and hikes for those keen on avoiding crowds. (Photo: Bear Creek Falls, Glacier National Park, BC)

Camping - the most budget friendly option

The most affordable way to spend time in the Canadian Rockies by far is to pitch a tent. There are loads of front country campsites, some primitive, and some with basic amenities like showers and electricity (most also have fire pits and picnic tables). Backcountry camping is also an option for more adventurous travelers. Backcountry camping is around $10 CDN a night, while more convenient front country campsites cost between $22 and $32 CDN per night. Note that some campgrounds are first come, first serve, while some may be booked in advance (the earlier, the better).

Sites with sewer and electrical hookups for RVs cost more, but unless you own a camper van or RV, I wouldn't recommend visiting the Rockies this way. Renting an RV in Canada can cost $400-600 per night excluding gas, insurance, and park fees - not exactly budget friendly. You could stay in a hotel in town or lodge within the park boundaries for that price. 

the elephant in the room: car camping (aka sleeping in your vehicle)

There are no official rules or regulations against overnighting in your passenger vehicle (car, SUV, mini-van) within the national parks. I feel, however, that it's only a matter of time before parks officials figure out a way to regulate this practice. At the time of this writing, there is no mention of "car camping" on the Parks Canada site. Doing so is fairly common practice, especially with those traveling through the park alone. Sometimes the campgrounds are simply booked up entirely, and you may have no choice. It is obviously preferred that people pay and use campsites even if not tent camping. Those with camper vans and small RVs must still register for a campsite. 

Discretion should be used. If overnighting in your vehicle (and assuming you have paid your admission fees for the duration or purchased a discovery pass), you must not park in areas which overnight parking is prohibited or in day use only areas. Do not build fires or pitch tents in areas outside of designated campsites. If overnighting in your vehicle, you should not let your "footprint" grow beyond the parking spot. Photographers typically don't sleep for very long, so the practice of overnighting in their car is common. In the summer months, daylight is so long, and nighttime so short that overnighting is really only a 3 to 4 hour nap, and not technically camping. There are no rules against napping in your car during the day, so why would it matter at night? There is a lot of grey area surrounding this topic...just use your head, pay your fees, and respect the park rules, wildlife, and other visitors.

5 Awesome Photo Locations in Jasper

5 Awesome Photo Locations in Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is a amazing place filled with inspiring landscapes and abundant wildlife. I dreamed about visiting the area since childhood; it is a privilege to live so close. This short list is in no way comprehensive - the information here barely scratches the surface. There is so much left to explore beyond any guide or blog post. You should use this article as a jumping-off-point for planning your shot list for your Jasper adventure. For the sake of simplicity and convenience, I've selected a few easy-to-find and iconic photo spots that I often visit. Don't be afraid to leave the beaten path; some of Jasper's hidden gems can take days by trail or canoe to reach. 

Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies is a great place to visit year-round. Spring and Fall are best for wildlife sightings, Summer is great for wildflowers (but is to be avoided if you don't like crowds), and Winter is very peaceful and provides opportunities to wander the parks trails (in snowshoes or crampons) in relative solitude. As long as you book in advance, the options for overnight stay are as simple and cheap as camping or as extravagant as luxury lodges or five-star hotels. In between are hostels, rental cabins, and Airbnb's. Be sure to book early- finding accommodation in the Canadian Rockies can be nearly impossible on a whim.

Those are subjects for another time, however. Let's get down to the reason you're here, fellow traveling photographer. Below are 5 awesome photo locations in Jasper National Park.

1. Talbot Lake

Talbot Lake sunrise in Autumn, Jasper National Park

Talbot Lake sunrise in Autumn, Jasper National Park

Talbot Lake is located along Alberta Highway 16 (aka the Yellowhead Highway) not far from the park entrance. It's nestled between two high mountain ranges. Because I come from Edmonton, this is usually the first and last location for my trips to Jasper. Weather permitting, Talbot Lake is an excellent place for sunrise and sunset photography as well as wildlife sightings. I've photographed elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and eagles all in this easy-to-access area. 

The down-sides to this location are that it's often very windy and semi trucks are constantly buzzing up and down the highway. Even if you take one of the trails that lead up the sandy banks of Talbot Lake for an amazing view, you still have to listen to loud traffic. It really messes up the mood. I avoid stopping along the side of Highway 16 even if I see wildlife I'd like to photograph. Because of the trucks, it's easy to put yourself and the wildlife at risk by pulling over. I've seen bighorn sheep narrowly escape being plowed over while being pressured by both the speeding trucks and tourists vehicles. Instead of taking the risk along the roadsides, I look for wildlife in the hills off the road after pulling into the lot at Talbot Lake. 

2. Pyramid Mountain

Pyramid Mountain sunrise at Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park

Pyramid Mountain sunrise at Patricia Lake, Jasper National Park

Pyramid Mountain is one of those iconic mountains that photographers flock to year-round. The more popular spots to photograph from are Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake - that's where you can capture the reflection of the mountain in the water. To access these areas, simply drive a few kilometers from the town of Jasper along winding Pyramid Lake Road. There are parking lots for the lakes....easy, peasy. Sunrise provides the best light in these locations (in my opinion). It is also far less crowded in the summer first thing in the morning. 

3. Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Athabasca Falls is located just off the famous Icefields Parkway (93). A short paved trail takes visitors straight to the main waterfall with great views into the canyon. Mount Kerkeslin towers over the falls.

Both sunset and sunrise can be shot here. Finding a composition that doesn't include Parks Canada signage, railings, or fencing, is a bit of a challenge. Don't be tempted to jump the barriers- a slip into the canyon below the falls is certain death. The shot above was made one spring evening on a weekday from the safety of the designated viewing area. I was lucky that there was only one other photographer to share the scene with. A few weekends before I captured this image, on my first trip to Jasper, there wasn't even enough room at this spot to set up a tripod due to the crowds.

4. Goats & Glaciers

_DSC1986-2.jpg

"Goats and Glaciers" is the name of a pull-off along the Icefields Parkway. It provides visitors a panoramic a view of several iconic mountain peaks with the teal-blue Athabasca River flowing below. There are a few glaciers tucked into the creases of some of these mountains, and as the name implies, mountain goats can be seen in this area. The goats come down from the high slopes to eat juniper berries and nibble at nearby salt licks. 

I've made some of my favorite images of the Canadian Rockies near this overlook. Mount Christie and Brussels Peak (center of the image above) tower over the glacial river and are kissed by the glow of pink light during sunrise and sunset. 

Mountain Goat overlooking the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Mountain Goat overlooking the Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

Be respectful of the wildlife. Never approach the goats directly or put pressure on them as they often have kids, and male goats can be aggressive. I prefer to let wildlife come close to me- rather than pursuing them. Serious wildlife photographers know that patience and respect yield the best wildlife images. Running up to a goat with a cell-phone will, at best, get you blurry images of a goat running off or, at worst, a couple sharp horns in the ass.

5. Sunwapta Falls

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park

Sunwapta Falls is one of the most photographed locations in Jasper. There is actually a lodge and restaurant at the entrance. For this reason, serious photographers need to show up as early as possible and preferably during the shoulder seasons. The trails around Sunwapta Falls are worth exploring for the peaceful forest that lines them. The waterfall is breathtaking. A milky blue river winds around a small island and then plummets into a deep canyon.

Much like Athabasca Falls, this can be a dangerous place for photographers looking for unique compositions. The cliffs above the canyon are spongy, and the rock ledges brittle. I always give at least 8 feet of solid ground between me and the edge. There is, as usual, the added annoyance of having to work your frame around black chain link fencing that is meant to keep visitors from falling into the water and being swept away. This makes getting a wide view of the scene without that man-made object impossible. Most of my images of Sunwapta Falls are made around the 50mm focal length in order to eliminate the fencing and tourists that line up against it. 

Map of Jasper National Park Area:

The map above includes the locations listed in this article. Again, feel free to explore other locations like Medicine Lake and Maligne Canyon among others. Thanks for reading, best of light, and safe travels!

Top Tips for Wildlife Photography

TOP TIPS FOR WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY: 

I love city travel, but wildlife has always been the most appealing subject for me. I grew up in rural nowheresville surrounded by forests and rivers, observing wildlife, fishing, hunting, learning how to live off the land. I returned to that way of life in my late 20s when I settled deep in the Appalachian Mountains where my closest neighbors were the shy and furry kind. Now in a city of a million people, it's more important than ever that I make trips into the natural world to spend time among North America's critters; it's about keeping my sanity really. Luckily, I can be in the stunning Canadian Rockies in 3 hours and it's only 30 minutes to the nearest National Park (Elk Island). I get the best of both worlds here in Edmonton: convenient city living and access to the great outdoors with relative ease. 

As a kid I developed a keen interest in the natural world. I watched Marty Stouffer's (now controversial) PBS program Wild America and Bob Ross paint epic, almost surreal, mountain scenes. I dreamed of visiting the west and seeing iconic wildlife. In my short time here in Alberta, I've managed to check many of those iconic species and places off the list (though I'll never be completely satisfied enough to move on entirely - revisiting familiar subjects is important). Over my short years I've learned some valuable information- some tips and tricks if you will- regarding how to photograph wildlife in an effective and ethical way. It's less about equipment than you might imagine and much more about patience and respect. You can only produce great images of subjects you're passionate about and respect. Here are my top tips for photographing wildlife:

Bull Elk eating willows, Jasper National Park, Canada

Bull Elk eating willows, Jasper National Park, Canada

DO YOUR RESEARCH:

If you're going to Yellowstone, or the Galapagos, or your backyard, or wherever, make sure you've taken time to learn about the wildlife you may encounter. Knowing the biology (behavior, environment, natural diet, mating habits, etc.) of a species is essential in knowing when and where to find them and how best to get close without disrupting their behavior. 

PLAN YOUR SHOTS:

It's impossible to have complete control during a wildlife shoot. Wild animals are unpredictable, and if you're lucky enough (through preparation) to encounter the animal you want to photograph in the right light and environment, you never know how much time you're going to have with it. Make a list, at least a mental one, of the type of shots you want. Pre-visualize the type of background you want. Think about whether you'd like to go for tight head shots, or environmental portraits, or both. If it's a big event in the animal's biology, like mating season, for example, think about how you're going to tell that story and what types of shots you need to do it. Making a shot list will allow you to know what you want to accomplish, so you can more effectively use the limited time you have to capture the images you want. Try to get a variety of shots. Think wide, medium, and tight crops.

USE THE RIGHT GEAR:

Notice this tip isn't called "use the most expensive gear." You don't need a brand new $10,000 500mm f4 lens to photograph wildlife effectively. Let me repeat that: YOU DO NOT NEED A 500MM F4 LENS TO SHOOT WILDLIFEIf you've got the budget and plan on entering the extremely competitive and low paying profession of the Pro Wildlife Photographer, then by all means, get the $10,000 lens. I'm not going to. There are much cheaper alternatives to big fixed focal length lenses these days that won't break the bank or your back. About 90% of the wildlife shots I've captured have been with the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR II, with or without the TC 17E II teleconverter, usually on a APS-C/DX camera.

I find that any lens with a focal length of 200-300mm is fine for most situations, especially with large mammals. I like to be able to zoom. Yes, zoom lenses are not going to be as sharp or as fast focusing as the 500mm F4 VR II or Canon equivalent... but it's only by a hair and has never been noticeable to me, and my wildlife photos are selling (sharpness largely depends on your technique). I'd recommend a 70-300mm zoom for the tight budget, or a 100-400mm/200-500mm for those that can spend a little more. The benefit of a zoom lens over a fixed is obvious. If you're in a situation where the subject comes in unexpectedly close, you'll be able to adjust your focal length instead of moving your body and spooking the animal. 

Atlantic Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Canada

Atlantic Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Canada

As far as camera bodies go, any crop sensor (APS-C or DX) camera is great, like Canon's 7D or 80D series, or Nikon's D7000 series, or Fuji's X series, etc. The crop factor means you get "closer" to the subject without needing a longer lens. My 70-200mm is a 105-300mm on my D7100. Add the 1.7x teleconverter for extra reach, and I get a very compact 178.5-510mm set up. The downside is that crop sensor cameras are not quite as clean at high ISOs as full frame cameras, but that's the trade off. 

I'd recommend, as always, using a tripod when using long lenses, they are tiresome to hold for prolonged periods and when the light level's low, you'll wish you had it. Proper handling, a fast shutter speed (often requiring a high ISO), and solid support all aid in creating sharp wildlife photos. 

GIVE THE ANIMAL SPACE (NEVER DIRECTLY APPROACH WILDLIFE):

Your best chance at getting the shots you want from any wildlife situation is getting as close as possible. Depending on the species and their exposure to humans, you may be able to do this quite easily. Never directly approach a wild animal, however. Give them adequate space. You endanger yourself and wildlife when you put unnecessary stress on your subject and you are not going to get any good images.

How to Get Close to Wildlife:

The safest way to get close to wildlife is to approach indirectly, slowly, quietly, paying as little attention to the animal as possible until you're in position and have indicated that you're not a threat. Patience is key during this process - don't rush in. I have two methods I use often for getting close to wildlife when the animal is fully aware of my presence. One is the "lost wallet routine", the other I call "act like a goat." These are both pretty similar methods. Essentially, I act like I've lost my wallet and I'm looking for it on the ground, never directly looking at or making eye contact with the subject. When I'm acting "like a goat", I simply pretend I'm grazing or browsing on leaves, mimicking the subject's own activities. Seems silly doesn't it? Well, it works!

Mountain Goat on a Hillside Meadow, Jasper National Park, Canada

Mountain Goat on a Hillside Meadow, Jasper National Park, Canada

Once the elk, ram, or mountain goat has resumed it's activities, determining that I just may be a strange-looking new member of their group, I get as close as I can slowly and seemingly without intention. If the subject lifts its head abruptly, or starts to move away, I'm too close. I then sit, and resume acting "like a goat" until trust is again restored. I never touch, pet, or feed a wild animal. I never get between mothers and their young, and I always make sure the animal has a clear exit if it chooses to walk away from me.

Bighorn Ram, Jasper National Park, Canada

Bighorn Ram, Jasper National Park, Canada

The above are proven methods I use over and over with ungulates mainly. I make sure to give a wider birth to bull elk and other large antlered or horned creatures during the rut to avoid a dangerous situation. I do not use the methods above on predators like bears. Instead, I give them loads more space (about 50 yards if they exhibit non-threatening behavior) with a river, vehicle, or some other barrier between us. Photographing bears from a car is ideal, as bears in National Parks are usually not afraid or threatened by cars. 

SHOW RESPECT:

We've all seen the dumb tourists that disrespect wildlife by rushing up to animals with their cell phones for selfies and blurry over-processed Instagram shots. To be blunt, I hate these people - they are the scum of the tourism industry. I may very well have an instance where I beat someone senseless with my tripod before long. People seem to have little sense, especially when it comes to baby animals. Not everything in nature is a cute and fuzzy cartoon; dumb people have been gored and maimed by little friendly mountain goats. You know who really loses? The wildlife. If a less than intelligent human (or group of humans...) pushes an animal too far for a snap shot with their iPhone, and the spooked critter protects itself even with a bluff charge, that animal will be put down by parks officials. If someone leaves food garbage at their campsite, or worse, feeds wildlife deliberately, the bear, or wolf that comes back for more, now associating humans with food handouts, will be put down - potentially after someone else is hurt or killed. Not fair is it? Nope. Show respect to the environment and those who inhabit it. No picture is worth endangering the subject or yourself. 

Cinnamon Black Bear Eating Dandelions, Jasper National Park, Canada

Cinnamon Black Bear Eating Dandelions, Jasper National Park, Canada

For more of my wildlife images, visit www.jonreaves.com. For the full list of my photography gear, click here

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!