Mountain Man’s Top 3 Scenic Drives of the Rockies
There is no doubting that the Canadian Rockies are best experienced by foot. There is nothing like breathing in some of the freshest air in the world while making your way through some breath-taking hikes (excuse the atrociuos pun!) However, Canada is so wide and the areas around Banff so diverse that even in the restrictions of a car, you can still experience some wonderful scenery. There are three that really stand out for me:
Tunnel Mountain Drive
On the east side of Banff, Tunnel Mountain Drive is a beautiful 9km drive. There are so many lookouts on the drive that are irresistible that you will find by the end of the day, you feel like you have just done a hike!
The journey starts at the intersection of Banff Avenue and Buffalo Street and once you pull away from civility, the drive becomes a dream, especially for a man of the mountains. The first viewpoint shows off Bow Falls and Banff Springs Hotel. Soon you get the pleasure of Mount Rundle, the Bow Valley and the Hoodoo’s – fingerlike, eroded rock formations. There are signs around Banff that can direct you straight to the hoodoos.
Vermilion Lakes Drive
This is the drive to take if you want to see some native wildlife. Everything from beaver, muskrat, bighorn sheep, Canada geese, bald eagles and osprey call this area home. Some of the best photos I have ever taken around Banff have come during this drive.
The best time to visit is around dawn or early evening and especially in spring. Vermilion Lake itself is a marshy section of the Bow River, which may not be the prettiest to look at but is where many of the native animals choose to hang out. It’s like their mall. In April and May especially, you can see some of the migrating birds returning including tundra swans, cinnamon teal, whistling swans (they whistle) grebes and mergansers. Mountain Man recommends taking the binoculars and a camera.
Mount Norquay Drive
Although Mount Norquay managed to get into my exclusive list of top three scenic drives, it is best reserved for a nice clear day. There is a simply superb view of the town of Banff and its surrounds from the viewpoint near the top of the long and winding road. If there is fog about though, the view is mostly of fog.
Along this drive, you are likely to see mule deer and bighorn sheep. Although there are several great lookouts, the best in Mountain Mans opinion is from the meadow area at the end of the road. There are also two day-hiking trails to Stoney Squaw Summit and Cascade Amphitheatre that start at the top end of the road if you fancy leaving the car behind and getting into the real wilderness!