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Early Spring Photography Hotspots for Banff – Johnson Lake

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Five days ago I covered Vermilion Lakes and what a fantastic area it is for an early season landscape and nature photographer visiting Banff National Park because of its’ spectacular reflections and views coupled with early season greenery in the shrubs and trees.  Today, I’ll take a look at another local’s favourite, Johnson Lake, which offers more superb views and landscape opportunities, as well as some great spring wildlife viewing and photography.

The East End of Mt Rundle reflected in Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

My favourite location for scenic photos at Johnson Lake in the spring is an early morning reflection from the trail that runs along the northwest side of the lake (accessed directly from the parking lot at the lake).  This just happens to also take you to the best wildlife viewing location, which is a small lagoon about 250 m from the parking lot on the northwest side.  This lagoon is home to nesting loons and grebes each spring and often has a resident muskrat or two swimming around.  If you go sit by the shore and wait quietly, you often get rewarded with some great photo opps.

Happy shooting!

John

Early Spring Photography Hotspots for Banff – Vermilion Lakes

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Hi everyone!  It’s been a great last few days in Banff, with a nice mix of warm weather and sunny skies with a bit of cloud cover. Today is cloudy, but still has some pretty decent light hitting the mountains in the mornings and evenings.

With spring comes the first itchings to get out and get some non-snowy images in the mountain parks and photographers hitting up the Banff area and Banff National Park in the next few weeks have a few great spots they can check out as the ice and snow melts. One of my personal favourites is the Vermilion Lakes area near the Town of Banff.  There are a host of things you can photograph along here, with nature photography hotspots all over the place, including some stunning mountain views at First, Second, and Third Vermilion Lakes, as well as the area between the Second and Third lake.

Mt Rundle and Sulphur Mountain from Third Vermilion Lake in Banff National Park

Early mornings and late evenings are best, which at this time of year, means being there from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., then again from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The Vermilion Lakes area is one of the first in the Banff area to start greening up, too, so photographers in early May should start seeing some greenery.

Nature photographers can drive along the length of Vermilion Lakes Drive to access any of the photo hotspots.

Happy shooting!

John

Fall Wildlife Photography Preview for Banff National Park

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As fall slowly approaches here in Banff National Park, I thought now would be a great time to take a look ahead at autumn / fall wildlife photography opportunities for Banff and Jasper National Parks and beyond.  I’ll begin with Banff, which offers not only some great fall landscape photography, but some fantastic wildlife photo locations, too.

Suprisingly enough, one of the premier wildlife viewing locations in Banff National Park each fall is around the Banff Springs Golf Course.  The best elk rut in Banff occurs on the hallowed Springs fairways and patient photographers will find lots of great opportunities for photographing big bulls and their harems of cow elk both on and off the course.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk in Banff National Park

Another great area to find big bull elk each September and October is on the Lake Minnewanka Road, where lucky photographers may find not only elk, but also bighorn sheep, coyotes, and mule deer.

Bull Elk Photography in Banff National Park

Bull Elk Photography in Banff National Park

The Bow Valley Parkway is also an excellent place to spend some time in Banff National Park viewing and photographing wildlife.  Banff Travel offers Evening Wildlife Safaris along the Parkway, or you can simply drive along yourself and get lucky with bighorn sheep, coyotes, bears, and even wild wolves.

Wild wolf in Banff National Park

Wild wolf in Banff National Park

But most wildlife photographers in the park are going to focus their attention on the incredible elk rut.  This is by far the best time of year to view and photograph the giant bulls, and again, you’ll want to concentrate your efforts on the Golf Course road at the Banff Springs Hotel, or on the Lake Minnewanka Road.

Let me know if you have any questions before your big trip, and happy shooting!

John

Canadian Rockies RV Camping: Rampart Creek

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Planning an RV camping vacation? It’s hard to beat the Canadian Rockies, a must-visit for anyone who enjoys getting out in their RV. In places like Banff, Jasper and Canmore, we’ve got great scenery, wildlife, rivers and activities.

The sights of the Rockies make every road trip a pleasure.

We’ve also got plenty of great scenic drives, including the famous Icefields Parkway between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, where you can see the Columbia Icefield. Add that to some awesome campgrounds, and you can see for yourself that this is a top RV vacation destination.

One of these great RV campgrounds is Rampart Creek in Banff National Park. Although you should know it only accommodates small RVs.The good news is campsites are all back-in and have lots of shade from the surrounding trees. There are no hookups, but they have well water (hand-pumped), pit toilets, fire rings, recycling bins and food storage containers. For a more full service campground in Banff, check out Tunnel Mountain.

About Rampart Creek Campground

Rampart Creek is a basic Banff National Park campground, with 50 sites. You’ll find it close to the Columbia Icefields (28 km away) along the Icefields Highway, making it a great stopping point for exploring this amazing part of the Canadian Rockies. It is 147 km from the town of Banff and 88 km from the town of Lake Louise.

Reservations cannot be made for this campsite. Like the majority of campsites in Banff National Park it is first-come, first served. Check out time is at 11 a.m., and is the best time to arrive to secure your site. Check here for reservable campsites.

Some of the sites have the privilege to overlook the North Saskatchewan River and the valley. The site is open from June 25-September 6, 2010 (weather dependent).

The campground consists of 4 loops including a walk-in tent section with dry toilets, water stations, sheltered camp kitchens with wood burning cook stoves, garbage containers and recycling bins. Remember: this is bear country, so all food items must be stored properly. Read all advisories when you arrive, as they may have information about dangerous wildlife and/or inform you if you need to boil the water.

Campground Services

  • Recycling bins
  • Food storage
  • Disabled access
  • Fees
  • $15.70 for the site and an additional $8.80 for use of the fire pit. Note: Parks Canada reserves the right to change the fees without notice.
  • Dry toilets
  • Well water (hand pump)
  • Kitchen shelters with wood cook stove
  • Fire pits and firewood (available when you get the fire permit)
  • Smoke-free loop

Banff Activities

Visit the Columbia Icefields, go hiking and try ice climbing in nearby famous spots in the winter.

Rampart Creek Campground

  • Icefields Highway
  • Banff National Park
  • Banff, AB T1L 1K2
  • (403) 762-1550

For general information contact:

  • Banff National Park
  • Box 900
  • Banff, AB
  • Canada, T1L 1K2
  • Phone: (403) 762-1550

To see all other national park campsites in Canada, visit Parks Canada.

Other RV sites in Banff National Park

Contact:(403) 762-1550

RV Camping in the Canadian Rockies: Tunnel Mountain

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What could beat the Canadian Rockies as a place to go RV camping? Nothing, I’m betting. It’s got some of the world’s most famous scenic drives, including the Lake Louise to Jasper drive that takes you through the Columbia Icefields along the way.

Come visit one of the world's greatest RV camping spots here in Banff.

It’s also got terrific camping in some of the world’s most beautiful national parks, including Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and great towns, such as Canmore, Banff and Jasper. Here you’ll be able to enjoy great Rockies vacation activities such as rafting, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and horseback riding.

One great place to set up camp in Banff is the Tunnel Mountain campground.

The Tunnel Mountain campground is in Banff National Park, just outside of Banff townsite.

This is Banff’s largest RV camping area, with 320 sites. Staying here, you’ll get great views of the valley, the Hoodoos and the Banff Springs Golf Course. It is located on Tunnel Mountain, just 2.4 km from the town of Banff. Which means you’re in easy walking distance from town. This can be nice if you don’t feel like pulling up stakes with the RV and coming in, or could use some time on your feet after some long drives.

The Tunnel Mountain campground has good services itself, including food, laundry and even a waterslide are nearby! It is also the only campground in the national park that has full RV hookups available (15 and 30-amp electrical hookups, water and sewer). So it’s sort of the RV’ers mecca for camping. The sites can accommodate large RVs, up to 50-feet long, and are pull-through (not just back-in).

Some of the sites are reservable, while others remain open for visitors on a first-come, first served basis. The campground is open from early May to early October (reservable May 14- October 3).

Visit Parks Canada Campground Reservation Service or call toll-free to 1.877.737.3783 (1.877.RESERVE) to reserve your spot at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff National Park. Please note that reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance.

You may also want to visit Parks Canada for descriptions of all campsites (reservable and non-reservable) on national park grounds.

Additional Services

  • flush toilets
  • each site has a picnic table
  • disabled accessible
  • interpretive programs
  • fee: $38.20 (subject to change)
  • hot showers
  • pets allowed

Other RV Campgrounds in Banff National Park:

  • fire pits and picnic tables at each site
  • kitchen shelters located on grounds
  • pets allowed
  • fee: $32.30 (subject to change)
  • Tunnel Mountain Village II
  • 188 sites
  • open year-round (reservable May 14- October 3)
  • some sites available by reservation, others first-come, first served
  • 15 and 30-amp electric hookups at each site, (no water or sewer hookups)
  • can accommodate vehicles up to 50 feet long
  • flush toilets
  • hot showers

For more information about camping in Banff National Park:

  • Banff National Park
  • Box 900
  • Banff, AB
  • Canada, T1L 1K2
  • Phone: (403) 762-1550

Landscape Photography – Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

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With the advent of spring in Banff National Park comes a plethora of nature photography opportunities:  bears are wandering the valley bottoms, prairie crocuses are shining brightly on the mountain slopes, and fresh leaves are poking out all over.  But spring also heralds a time for landscape photographers to get serious in Banff as the snow and ice finally disappear from the mountain valleys and lakes.  Banff National Park is one of the world’s premier landscape photography destinations, and for good reason.  It boasts many of Canada’s finest and most well-known photography locations: Mt Rundle and Vermilion Lakes, Castle Mountain, Lake Louise, and the crown jewel of Canadian landscape photography, Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Landscape Photography - Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Last week, Herbert Lake and Waterfowl Lakes on the Icefields Parkway became ice free — at least a week earlier than normal.  So that means that we are probably on pace for an ice-free Moraine Lake a little earlier than normal this year, maybe even by the end of May if we’re lucky.

Moraine Lake - Best Photography in Banff

Moraine Lake - Best Photography in Banff

The scene at Moraine Lake is a classic and it can be photographed from a variety of angles.  The best time of year to capture sunrise there with some light on the lake water is in June, before the angle of the sun changes enough for the mountains directly west of the lake to block most of the early morning light from hitting the lake itself.  Sunrise is still great after that first good month, but the alpenglow will only light up the peaks in the background.

Sunrise at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Sunrise at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

By July and August, the best reflective light is actually at about 11 a.m. in the morning, when the sun finally crests the towering peaks to the west and shines down on the lake.  That’s when you’ll get the classic shots of the emerald blue water framed by the sunlit Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Summer Landscape Photography in Banff National Park

Summer Landscape Photography in Banff National Park

Note that morning is the best time of day to photograph Moraine Lake.  By late afternoon and evening, the mountains behind the lake are in shadow and do not provide the same dramatic backdrop as they do in the morning.

Good luck out there, and happy shooting!

John

Banff National Park turns 125

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Come help us celebrate Banff National Park‘s 125th anniversary this summer in the Canadian Rockies.

It all got started 125 years ago when a few railway workers stumbled onto some hot pools that eventually led to the creation of not only Banff National Park but the Canadian National Parks system.

Banff turns 125! Come celebrate with us.

Here’s a couple things you can do to discover just what it was that made this the epicenter of Canada’s park system, and one of the highlights of any Rockies vacation.

Soak up Banff history

Go right to the root of what caused Banff to become a National Park, the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Kick back, relax and take in the scenery and springs that have inspired people to come here since aboriginal times.

The Icefields Parkway

Take a scenic Canadian Rockies drive down the Icefields Parkway, one of the most renowned drives in the world.  Along the way, you can do some sightseeing, get some great vacation photos, go hiking and see Rockies wildlife. The route between Lake Louise near the town of Banff to the town of Jasper is 230 km/142 mi. A definite must-see is the Columbia Icefield, one of the largest icefields south of the arctic circle.

Sound of Banff Music

Check out the Banff Centre for anything from small jazz shows, to big country and rock concerts, and line dancing lessons. A great way to spend a night out on your Canadian Rockies vacation.

Eat it up

Banff has lots of great restaurants. Everything from ethnic food, to pizza joints, fine dining to pub food. No belly should growl in this fine grubbing town, at least not for too long after you’ve gotten off of the trail.

Hike Banff

This may seem like one of the most obvious Banff activities to engage in, but hey, we don’t want you to miss the opportunity to hike Banff. One great trail near the town of Banff is Tunnel Mountain. It’s a trail that you can take slow if you want to conserve some energy, or hike fast if you want to burn some. The hike is a 3 mi/4.3 km round trip. Make it to the top and you’ll get great views of the town and park.

Banff National Park: Sulphur Mountain

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If there’s an epicenter, a place where the history of Banff National Park springs from that would have to be Sulphur Mountain.

Banff from above.

Sulphur Mountain gets its name from two of its most main attractions: the Cave and Basin toward the bottom of the mountain, and the Banff Upper Hot Springs further up. Hot springs, of course, are a welcome sight in the cold Canadian Rockies, and both of these places are well worth visiting.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs, one of nine commercially developed hot springs in the area, are seasonal springs, with water flow peaking in the spring and at their lowest in winter. In fact, since the early 2000s, spring’s flow has stopped completely in the winter, prompting Banff officials to keep the springs alive with municipal water. The water’s natural source comes from either Sulphur Mountain or nearby Mount Rundle, and it flows through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault, geothermally heated to approximately 38 degrees Celsius.

The Cave and Basin Hot Springs was first explored in the mid-1800s, but they became a primary tourist destination toward the turn of the century when a pair of railroad workers climbed down a felled tree into the cave and realized what an opportunity they were looking at. Today, interpetive hikes and replicas of that time remain … along with the springs themselves, of course.

Sulphur Mountain is about more than just its hot springs, though, no matter how refreshing they might be. One of its attractions, of course, is the fact that it is a mountain, which means it’s there to be climbed.

Today, the Banff Gondola running along the eastern slope can carry you up to the summit. At the ridge, you’ll find two fine restaurants, a gift shop, and numerous lookout points from which you can see the Bow Valley to the west and east. Follow a boardwalk that begins on the north side and you can walk up to Sanson’s Peak, which has an elevation of 2,256 meters (7,402 feet).

For hikers and purists, the true summit of Sulphur Mountain can be reached on a scrambler’s trail on the south side of the mountain. It’s not a hugely difficult climb, and you can get a bit higher than you’ll see at Sanson’s Peak. Sulphur Mountain tops out at 2,451 meters (8,041 feet).

By the way, the meteorological research station remains intact. You can visit the site. It has been preserved as completely as possible.

In 1957, a new laboratory was built on the peak to study cosmic rays. That observatory was operational until 1978, but the building was removed in 1981. Now, a plaque marks the site where it stood.

So the next time you’re in the Canadian Rockies, come warm yourself at the hot springs of Sulphur Mountain, either before or after you climb to a rather spectacular view. Even in a place as special as the Rockies, this is one summit that stands out from the rest.

Best Hotels of the Canadian Rockies

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Lake Louise Inn

Banff National Park, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

It is a pleasure to write an article about a hotel that finally appeals to everyone. Though it is nice to casually read a review of 5 star hotels, it is also comparable to looking at pictures of models in magazines. It is never going to happen unless you are extremely rich. The need has always been there for a hotel that offers great facilities but room rates that are affordable for anyone looking to take a break in the Canadian Rockies’ jewel of Lake Louise.

Affordable rooms with great views in the Lake Louise Inn.

Affordable rooms with great views in the Lake Louise Inn.

The Lake Louise Inn is refreshing. It is completely unassuming, unpretentious and really does appeal to everyone. Most hotels in Lake Louise can boast a view to die for (the Fairmont Chateaux in particular with its stunning lake view) and the Lake Louise Inn is no exception. Front Office Manager Steve Mossman filled me in on what makes the Lake Louise Inn different. “We have 14 different types of rooms that suit everybody’s budget – everything from beautiful two bedroom suites to lofts that can fit 8 to economy rooms for people looking for a cheap weekend.”

Though the hotel seems relatively small, it has a lot of slightly hidden charms. Aside from the Timberwolf Restaurant’s array of Italian food, there is also the option of eating in Legends restaurant or enjoying a drink in the Explorer Lounge. The peak season is in July and August according to Steve: “It is always busy around the summer and in the winter especially around the World Cup race when there are only 2 hotels open. We have all sorts of specials during the year. Valentines is always big and the ski and stay package is a constant favourite.”

Whether you are working off a tight budget with your family or traveling the Canadian Rockies on business, you should take a look at the Lake Louise Inn. Pool, small gym, hot tubs, steam room and a beautifully quaint tea house are just a few of the things that make this hotel so attractive. Though it may not help you with those models in the magazine, at least you will know what it is like to have the best service at prices that won’t stop the kids from heading to University… where they will put pictures of models on their wall. It’s a viscous cycle of a world!

Driving to Banff from Calgary

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Getting to Banff from Calgary

Banff National Park, Alberta

By John McKiernan
Staff Writer

As far as confusing drives go, the trip from Calgary airport to Banff must take the biscuit. After what may have been a long flight, the last thing you want to do is stress on new roads. If all goes well and you don’t end up circling suburban Calgary for 6 days, the drive should take no longer than 90 minutes. Considering Calgary is the gateway city to the many wonders of the Canadian Rockies especially Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise, one would have thought that it would be better signposted. Don’t worry loyal reader, here are some solid directions courtesy of Google Maps to make sure you make it to the safety of your Rockies’ hotel in one piece.

The skyline of confusing Calgary.

The skyline of confusing Calgary.

1.Head southeast on Airport Rd NE

0.6 km

2.Turn right to stay on Airport Rd NE

0.4 km

3.Turn left at Air Services Pl NE

15 m

4.Slight left at Barlow Trail NE

0.4 km

5.Slight left to stay on Barlow Trail NE

0.2 km

6.Turn left at 96 Ave NE

2.6 km

7.Slight left to merge onto Hwy 2 S

7.9 km

8.Take exit 258 to merge onto 16 Ave NE W/HWY-1 W

3.3 km

9.Slight right at HWY-1 W

120 km

10.Take the exit toward Banff

0.5 km

11.Turn left at Banff Ave

4.2 km