Walking and trekking
Canada is a land of legendary beauty, especially in the west, where the Rocky Mountains heave themselves into their most spectacular configurations.
Geographically Canada begins in the west with verdant, forested hills and islands, easing into an arid upland, shooting skywards to the Rockies, dropping suddenly into the desert badlands north and east of Calgary, then getting awfully forested, remote and wet for a thousand miles or so before the cities of Montreal and Toronto appear out of the plains. Canada has some very remote reaches, either of the mountainous kind in the Yukon of the North West, or the wind-stripped bleakness around Hudson Bay the eastern plains. All said, the best walking is in the west.
Vancouver is a hotspot for energetic people and the air is rich in outdoor enthusiasm, so anyone wanting to experience the best of Canada would do well to make either Vancouver or Calgary their base, given both cities’ proximity to the mountains. That said, there are a number of self contained towns within the Rockies themselves with more than enough ameneties to serve as a one-stop shop for the outdoor lover. Best of these is without doubt Banff, which is a bustling town on the Athabasca River. Despite being the primary tourist lure of the Canadian Rockies, Banff has an air of diligent prosperity when it comes to the outdoors, and is full of places to load up on kit, advice and gear before setting off out onto one of the many mountain trails near the town. Banff has many trails immediately adjacent to the town which make interesting diversions, particularly the walks up Tunnel Mountain, the Spray River Loop, the iconic Cascade Mountain and the tougher Cory Pass Loop. These walks give a great flavour for the immediate area around Banff which – being in the heart of the mountains – gives a pretty good flavour of the Canadian Rockies generally. To immerse yourself even more you could head north to the town of Jasper, which is kind of a non-commercialised Banff. Here the surrounding wilderness eats at the town, and it is even easier to wander off the main street onto a river trail that leads into the bush. Near to Jasper is a series of incredible, seriously challenging climbs on big mountains, such as the iconic, snow-striped Mount Edith Cavell (3,363m) which is a climb, and the more achievable Mount Columbia (3,747m), the second highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and a fairly straightforward glacier walk in summer up the east face. (The higest point in Canada is Mount Logan (5,959m) which is a frigid, remote and serious peak on the border with Alaska which is for experienced mountaineers only). Elsewhere in this part of Canada, the legendarily beautiful Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the same lakes which adorn every Canadian Rockies calandar ever produced, lie in wait for explorers, and are surprisingly undeveloped once you break from the main tourist car parks. There are many routes and trails which lead off from these areas and they are well worth exploring, though do read up on what to do it you meet a bear: while not exactly common, grizzlies roam these areas and have been known to attack. The north of Canada – the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and the Nunavet Territory – is wilderness of the most pristine and remote nature. Areas around the major town aside, these are enormous stretches of forest, mountain and lakeland which are for lovers of total wilderness. If it’s non-expedition walking amongst other diversions you are after, these areas are possibly too serious and remote to consider.
Dropping from the rockies into the plains of eastern Alberta, the topography shifts from blue-white mountain terrain to sunburnt orange. These are Canada’s badlands, wind-gnurled deserts of peculiar rock and dramatic canyons. This is the Dinosaur capital of the world, and the canyons around the town of Drumheller make for fascinating walking that doesn’t fit at all with the public perception of Canada, and rather complies with that of Arizona or New Mexico. Horse Thief Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon are remarkable and unique walking areas to appreciate this weird landscape, with Drumheller a fascinating place to spend a couple of days. It’s not unusual to come across fossils as you walk, but don’t be tempted to nick them – the state claims all finds in the area.
Further east lies Saskatchewan, a prarie state with some good trails in beautifully forested, lake-studded scenery. Prime areas to walk in this giant state (all states in Canada dwarf the UK, therefore it is difficult to recommend specifics) are Prince Albert, Cypress Hills, the Canadian Shield and the Qu’Appelle Valley.
The state of Quebec is home to the majestic St Lawrence River, the Saguenay park, Parc des Hautes Gorges and the Grands Jardins, all areas of spellbinding beauty: rankled hills of moderate height, thick forest, virgin rivers and towns such as Jonquiere and Chicoutimi from which to discover these magical areas. Canada is huge, and the beauty limitless: so instead of trying to see it all, base yourself in strategic points such as this and dip in. However little you see, you’ll still feel like you’ve had a taste of the truly huge outdoors.
There’s tons to do in Canada, despite the somewhat sniffy approach Americans seem to have for their northern counterparts. If you’re basing yourself in Banff, one thing you must do is hire a canoe and take it down the Athabasca river; get it right and you can paddle out of town for a few hours up stream into gorgeous wilderness, then kick back and let the current carry you back. Also here are the famous Banff Springs, a geothermal spa complex where you can literally soak away your aches.
They are the reason the town was sited here in the first place, and the grand Banff Springs Hotel (www.fairmont.com/banffsprings) offer day spa admission. You can also raft hereabouts, and there are a number of excellent mountain bike trails.
Whale watching is a must if you are visiting Vancouver (you’ll regret it if you don’t, and some of these companies are so expert at the whale’s movements they’ll offer you your money back if you’re unlucky). There are some great dinosaur exhibits around Drumheller, and the cities of Montreal and Quebec are flavourful slices of Franco-Canadian which make wonderful city breaks if you’ve had your fill of the outdoors.
The Mounties are Canada’s National Police Force: TRUE. But they don’t always dress in red – the red uniform is typically for ceremonial or occasional use. They usually just dress like regular police.
French is Canada’s official language: TRUE – but so is English. The country’s national motto - A Mari Usque Ad Mare (from Sea to Sea) - is in Latin.
Must see and do
- Allow your jaw to drop at Lake Louisehttp://www.banfflakelouise.com/
- Spot an Orca off Vancouverhttp://www.vancouverwhalewatch.com/
- View the totems in Stanley Park, Vancouverhttp://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/parks/parks/stanley/
- Got in touch with your inner dinosaur at the Tyrell Museum, Drumheller.http://www.tyrrellmuseum.com/
- Hired a Canadian Canoe in the Grand Jardins park near Quebec. http://www.sepaq.com/pq/grj/en/
- Walk all, or part, of the 500 mile Bruce Trail from Niagara Falls to Tobermory http://www.brucetrail.org