Bow Lake in Banff National Park is surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness areas, forest reserves and provincial parks.
Bow Lake in Banff National Park is surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness areas, forest reserves and provincial parks.
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Reflect on this: Bow Lake in Banff National Park is surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness areas, forest reserves and provincial parks.
Reflect on this: Bow Lake in Banff National Park is surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness areas, forest reserves and provincial parks. (Travel Alberta)

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By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007

About 100 rivers begin in the Canadian Rockies. Clear, icy flows from melting glaciers trickle down the mountains, creating headwaters to rivers that feed into three oceans: the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic.

The thousands of lakes here take on every color in the blue-green spectrum. The unique shades are created as sunlight hits the water and reflects off suspended particles of rock that has been ground into dust by the movement of glaciers.

The color of any particular body of water is determined by the different sizes and mineral contents of those "rock flour" particles. The shades are so unusual that on my return from a trip to the Canadian Rockies last summer, I consulted paint charts for help in naming them. Some of the best matches: jargon jade, calypso, rapture blue, emerald, Aegean.

Summer days are long, with up to 17 hours of sunshine, yet temperatures tend to hover in the 70s.

Not convinced yet that the place is worth the long trip?

Consider the waterfalls that thunder into deep green pools and explode against protruding rocks. Tiny sprays of water droplets collide with beams of sunlight, creating constant flickers of rainbows.

Or the snowcapped mountains that in a certain light are mirrored in still lakes, making it appear as if earth, water and sky have become one.

Hollywood discovered the Canadian Rockies before the moving pictures had sound. Many times, these mountains have been stand-ins for the Swiss Alps. In fact, much of what Americans imagine as the wild American West has been taken from TV and movies, and many of those pictures floating around our minds are actually images of the Canadian Rockies.

The question is not whether to put this area on your travel wish list, but which part of the vast territory to tackle.

Four contiguous national parks -- Banff, Yoho, Jasper and Kootenay, all UNESCO World Heritage sites -- lie within the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, and are surrounded by millions of acres of wilderness areas, forest reserves and provincial parks.

After much deliberation, I chose Banff National Park. After flying to Calgary, 80 miles southeast, I was able to hit many of the park's highlights in less than a week, plus a piece of Kananaskis Country (a rural area west of Calgary) and a tiny slice of Jasper National Park.

While I can't yet say which is the best piece of the Canadian Rockies, I can say that it's hard to imagine the scenery and activities could get any better than what I experienced. Further, I can recommend stops that should not -- must not -- be missed within the little portion of the huge swath of natural wonder where I spent my summer vacation.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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