This is the most spectacularly beautiful drive in North America.
Exaggeration? Nope. This drive is the definitive encyclopaedia of WOWs. Sure, there are other drives that are very impressive, but for sheer spectacle, the Icefields Highway is the place for which the word awesome was born.
It’s jaw-dropping. Jagged mountains jut dramatically before you, providing high theatrical contrast between themselves and the cobalt blue skies. The rivers that wind on both sides of the highway create sound and movement that add to the majesty of the experience.
You could do this drive from Banff to Jasper in three hours if you were in a hurry. But why waste it? Instead, count on at least six hours for the trip, allowing time to stop and gape in wonder. It’s like a blissful drive inside the picture postcard of your dreams.
One option is to take the two-day Rocky Mountaineer journey from Vancouver to Banff, spend a night in Banff, then pick up a rental car in this always-active town. The grand dame of accommodation there is the Banff Springs Hotel. Its image is almost as iconic as that of the Sydney Opera House.
Framed against the snowy peaks and surrounded by its ubiquitous spruce trees, it’s one of the great historical hotels of the continent.
Even if you don’t stay here, a visit is mandatory. For pricing, visit www.fairmont.com/banffsprings. Splurge a little and love it. Or try the lower end accommodation at The Spruce Grove Inn (www.telusplanet.net/public/banffv1/ sgi.htmr).
While in Banff, make time for a walk around town, rent a bike, or hike the nearby trails. A special treat is to zip up the mountainside on the Banff Gondola for a staggering view of the valley below.
A superb restaurant here is The Pines, whose chef Mario Thom has developed the perfect alchemist secret of combining exotic food such as caribou, wild boar, and reindeer with surprising sauces. Interested in nightlife? Here it’s only for owls and other nocturnal critters.
Best time to visit is during the off-season, from early May to mid-June, or in October. This way you can avoid sharing the highway with mobile homes that are the size of Idaho. But whatever the season, take some lunch with you from Banff, because food stops are rare on the road.
Forty minutes north of Banff, snuggled in the Banff National Park, sits world-renowned Lake Louise. This surprisingly small body of water is surrounded by towering mountains. Glaciers grinding against rocks produce what is called glacier rock flour, creating the unique opaqueness of its water. It’s worth taking a walk around the grounds of the Chateau Lake Louise, another grand dame, graceful and proud of its early 20th century history.
Back on the road, and it’s time to continue north past the staggering Columbia Icefield, then turn off the highway and take the short road to the base of the Athabaska Glacier. You can rent ice cleats and climb the gentle slope or do a more relaxing snowmobile tour. Either way, you’re guaranteed to enjoy an endless visual feast.
Finally you’ll reach Jasper, the usual turning around place for the Banff-Jasper loop. It’s worth riding the Jasper Skytram, and be sure to visit the wonderfully rustic and luxurious Jasper Park Lodge, another 1920s icon. If you can have lunch or dinner there, do it. The restaurant boasts an adventurous menu and their wine list would put a smile on any aficionado’s face (visit www.jasperparklodge.com).
After lunch, it’s time to take a deep breath, have a last look around, and head back to Banff, arriving in time to witness a pale orange sunset working its magic on the wonders that surround you. For more queer Canada travel information visit www.gaycanadaguide.com for more.
The Gay Canada Guide is a Gay Travel Guides publication. Malcolm Harding and Dominic O’Grady are the Gay Travel Guides co-publishers. For more g&l travel stories visit www.gaytravelguides.info.