11 Must-See Sights to Watch for on Your Western Canada and Canadian Rockies Holiday
May 23, 2019
In Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping views and wildlife sightings that rank among the best in the world. Imagine going on a luxury daytime safari by train, peering out from oversized or domed windows and rolling slowly past reflective blue lakes, desert-like landscapes, sweeping rainforests and snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see.
Then — if you’re traveling in spring and autumn when wildlife spotting is at its peak — add in the chance to spot elk, bighorn sheep, bears, eagles, osprey and more as a bonus. For a true perspective of Western Canada’s bountiful beauty located within British Columbia and iconic Alberta destinations like Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, you simply have to take in the sights in person. Until then, enjoy these glimpses of all that nature has in store for you.
1. Castle Mountain
Tall, dark and strikingly handsome, Castle Mountain rises nearly 10,000 feet like something out of a dream. Located in Banff National Park, about halfway between the iconic Canadian Rockies towns of Banff and Lake Louise, the monster of a mountain does indeed resemble a castle. Its rugged peaks and the landscape that surround it are a favorite subject of photographers and local artists alike.
2. Bighorn Sheep
While traveling by train, you may look up and discover a half-dozen bighorn sheep on the side of a ledge close to Kamloops, British Columbia, or perched partway up a cliff in the Rockies. Bighorn sheep are the provincial mammals of Alberta and were once the most admired animals among certain Native American tribes. With huge, curling horns that weigh as much as 30 pounds, these attention-grabbing creatures live in herds and give birth to their little lambs in late spring.
3. Pyramid Falls
Glacier-fed water tumbles 300 feet from a hanging valley into the Thompson River near Valemount, B.C. It’s spectacular to see, but since you can’t reach it by car and it’s a difficult hike in, few people will ever get up close.
Train passengers, however, are among the chosen ones. The train track runs right past the falls, allowing guests an intimate view of the cascade. If you’re on the outdoor viewing platform of our GoldLeaf Service coach, you’ll get so close you can hear the rush and the roar and maybe even feel the mist on your face! It’s no less stunning if you’re viewing it from our SilverLeaf Service coaches, either.
4. Black and Grizzly Bears
When your train rounds a corner and you suddenly spot something hairy scampering into the woods, you may have just seen a bear. Both grizzly bears and black bears live in British Columbia and in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and they can be hard to tell apart — especially from a distance (which is where you want to be if you see one). In Alberta, the grizzly bear is designated as threatened; in B.C., it is considered at risk. The best times to view bears are in the spring as they come out of hibernation to search for food, or in the fall as they’re fattening up. On our journeys, you may spy a bear or two salmon fishing, taking a stroll along a stream or foraging by the tracks. Count yourself lucky if you do!
5. Mount Robson
The most prominent mountain in the Rocky Mountain range, Mount Robson is also the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. Also known as “The Great White Fright”, it soars nearly 13,000 feet into a vast sky. Robson Glacier covers the northeast side of the mountain, feeding a glacial lake at the mountain’s foot. Clear weather will give you the most perfect picture of the imposing beast, but you’re more likely to see it topped with a crown of clouds.
If you’ve never seen a moose in real life, you may be surprised when you do. Moose live around lakes and streams and on the rocky, wooded hillsides of Canada’s western mountain ranges, but they’re not as easily spotted as the elk.
A male moose can average about 1,000 pounds and stand taller at the shoulder than the largest saddle horse. Its rack can span five feet. In short: Moose are massive. Their size, combined with their distinctive shape - skinny legs and bell of flesh hanging from its throat - makes for a thrilling, and classically Canadian, sighting.
7. Moraine Lake
Glacier-fed Moraine Lake is located a short drive from Lake Louise within Banff National Park. When it crests in mid- to late June, it becomes a distinctive and delightful milky shade of turquoise blue — caused by the refraction of light off fine particles of bedrock loosened by glacial movement in the water. The iconic image of Moraine Lake has been immortalized on Canadian twenty-dollar bills, and many, many Instagram accounts.
Some warn that Western Canada can be a dangerous place for the “elkaholic.” These splendid creatures are plentiful in number and engaging in spirit. Only slightly smaller than moose, the largest of the red deer species squeals, barks, chirps, mews and bugles! It’s quite common to spot a gang — the U.S. Geological Survey term for a group of elk — grazing, swimming or enjoying the sight and sound of a passing train. You may even spot them from the train, or hanging about close to Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise.
However you choose to travel, the Canadian Rockies are awaiting your visit.
9. Fraser Canyon and Hell's Gate
Carved into the mountain by the mighty Fraser River millions of years ago, Fraser Canyon typically refers to an area north of Yale, B.C. that passes through the Coast Mountains. In the late 1850s, during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, more than 10,000 prospectors flooded the area looking for a windfall. What they also found in the south was a daunting body of water. With a flow double that of Niagara Falls trying to pass through cliff walls less than 112 feet wide, Hell’s Gate may have dazzled and challenged those early explorers as much as looking for a pile of gold nuggets.
10. Bald Eagles
To spot a bald eagle is an extraordinary event. Chosen in 1782 as a symbol of the United States due to its strength and good looks, this awe-inspiring bird lives along Canada’s Pacific Coast and in its boreal forests.
If you yourself have an eagle eye, you may see it keeping watch from a perch high in a tree, floating through the air on its expansive wings or swooping down to pluck a trout right out of a stream.
Rising several stories from the ground, the oddly shaped rock formations may give you a shudder. That’s normal! According to some Native American traditions, the hoodoos are petrified giants that come alive at night to protect the land. Also called fairy chimneys, hoodoos are sandstone structures that appear in a number of places across Western Canada — you’ll see some from the train near Kamloops and from a hiking trail in Banff. When you spot them, they will elicit the same sense of wonder in you when you see them, as when you first read their cute name.
Discover the best way to explore the Canadian Rockies and Western Canada’s coastline and culture in just one vacation.