The Rockies have long been a photographer’s dream, but the Great White North is now firmly a top of mind destination globally following Canada’s 150th anniversary. Beyond being an easy road trip from Calgary (you can reach all these spots in three hours or less!), it’s a truly four-seasons destination. If you didn’t get to visit this year, put it on your list for 2018 and be sure to pack your camera.
Here’s where and how to get the best Instagram photos in Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Glacier, and beyond – and a few hotel suggestions for those not ready to brave the tent life.
1. Sunwapta Falls
A pair of twin waterfalls above the Sunwapta River in Jasper National Park, Sunwapta Falls is an easy stop along the Icefields Parkway. The Athabasca Glacier feeds the rushing waters so late spring and early summer is when the spray is at its most powerful after the snowmelt.
A quick stop along the highway, you only really need 15-30 minutes to take in the breathtaking scenery. There’s a bridge for easy viewing a few steps from the parking lot, but if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can scramble down the hill on the opposite side of the viewing platform to get shockingly close to the fray.
Where to Stay: Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
2. Athabasca Falls
It’s not the highest waterfall in the world or the widest, but Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park is the most powerful in the Canadian Rockies.
Another quick stop to stretch your legs, the path to the observation area is less than 1one kilometre from the parking lot. If you’d prefer to spend a few hours exploring, there are plenty of hiking trails nearby.
Where to Stay: Best Canadian Motor Inn
3. Athabasca Glacier
Straddling the perimeters of Alberta and British Columbia, the Athabasca Glacier stretches more than 25 kilometres across the Continental Divide.
There are many ways to take in the majestic giant from hiking the glacier to all-terrain vehicular tours, but the coolest (pun intended) view by far is from the glass-bottom Glacier Skywalk, a cliff edge walkway that extends over the entire Sunwapta Valley. It’s a front row seat to Banff’s finest views.
Where to Stay: HI Rampart Creek
4. Maligne Lake
At 22 kilometres long, Maligne Lake is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world. In fact, you might have seen pictures of it and not even known it. The best photo spots are from the water, but you don’t necessarily have to get wet.
Take an afternoon boat cruise to the remote and famed Spirit Island, which is only accessible by boat or a four-hour paddle each way. Time your visit to golden hour and watch the sunset across the dazzling water.
Where to Stay: Sawridge Inn Jasper
5. Mistaya Canyon
A quick stop in Banff National Park, Mistaya Canyon is a short 800-metre trail through a forest that opens up to a cavernous landscape looking like it’s straight out of another planet.
You can hop between boulders to take in different views of the rushing water, but be careful with what you have in your pockets. While I was at the Canyon, the iPhone of a fellow visitor met a tragic death off the cliff, which would definitely ruin a vacation.
Where to Stay: Moose and Suites
6. Peyto Lake
One of the highlights of Banff National Park, the colour of Peyto Lake is a postcard-perfect blue. The best view is from up above. The trail from the parking lot will take you to Bow Summit Lookout, a short 15-minute walk with a bit of elevation gain (so pack some water!).
The platform can be crowded with tourists, but if you look to your right, there is a worn footpath that provides an even better lookout with far fewer people in the background.
Where to Stay: Num Ti Jah Lodge
7. Emerald Lake
Yoho National Park is lesser known than some of Canada’s other national treasures, but it shouldn’t be because the icy glacial landscape is no less striking (and much less crowded). The crown jewel of the 61-lake system is Emerald Lake, where you can canoe, hike or simply take in the shockingly turquoise waters.
If you want some fresh air, there’s a long trail that wraps all the way around the lake. You don’t have to do the whole loop, but if you head up towards the overwater cabins, there are beautiful and colourful wildflowers waiting to frame your shot.
Where to Stay: Emerald Lake Lodge
8. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
If you can’t afford to live like royalty for the night, at least stop in for a drink (alcohol or otherwise, they have a lovely juice bar), brunch, or their famed high tea service. It’ll give you a chance to snap a photo from the dreamy oversized windows overlooking the glassy water, which are reserved for esteemed patrons only.
9. Moraine Lake
Lesser known than neighbouring Lake Louise but no less beautiful, Moraine Lake is another glacially fed slice of heaven in Banff National Park. The best view comes from climbing the steep and aptly named Rock Pile Trail, which offers panoramic views of the whole fairy tale scene. If you want to take the shortcut, it’s a quick scramble up some loose rocks, but the official route is only 350 metres and not nearly as dicey.
The shot from the top is known as the “Twenty Dollar View,” once featured on the back of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill. Be sure to walk around the lake to the canoe rentals, which are also one of the most photographed areas. Parking can be a nightmare with lots often full by 10 a.m. so you should plan on arriving super early (get those sunrise shots in!) or take the seasonal shuttle from town. It’s also important to note that the road to Moraine Lake is closed during the winter due to heavy snowfall and high avalanche risk.
Where to Stay: Moraine Lake Lodge
10. Johnston Canyon Cave
Jokingly referred to as “the cave that ruins friendships,” the Johnston Canyon Cave is the ultimate mecca for Instagrammers. Finding the secret off-trail wonder has become somewhat of a treasure hunt for intrepid hikers and photographers. Articles around the web offer vague instructions to follow the worn footpath in between the Upper and Lower Falls in Banff National Park, but as it turns out, there are tons of misleading dead-ends due to hopeful seekers following the wrong route.
Even if I wanted to provide explicit instructions, the trails are ever-changing due to foot traffic and weather conditions so you’ll just have to test your tracking skills. You could spend upwards of a few hours combing the 16-kilometre area, depending on how lucky or instinctual you are, but I promise the adventure is worth it. Finding the hidden cave is a badge of honour that will definitely provide some credibility to your feed.
Where to Stay: Rimrock Resort Hotel
Photos are by the author unless otherwise noted. Feature photo via Unsplash.