Friday, May 8, 2015

A 'bucket list' drive: Bow Valley Parkway

In an earlier post I shared a link to an article listing five great Canadian roads you need to drive one day. One of those drives was the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park. Here's a quote from that article on that sums it up better than I can...

"Winding between Banff and Lake Louise inside Banff National Park, the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) is a remnant of a different time in Canadian motoring. The Parkway was built to be an enjoyable route to the glamorous Chateau Lake Louise hotel some 85 years ago. Today, it serves as a scenic alternative to the bustling TransCanada. The road actually splits the eastbound and westbound lanes at several different points for no apparent reason other than to send drivers along different curving paths. These “one lane” sections are delightfully twisty and fun." (Link to full article above)

My wife Sharon and I were on a mini vacation in the Banff/Canmore area and decided to drive the Parkway on a rather cool and damp afternoon. We took highway 1 west from Banff, past the eastern access to the Parkway to the western end at Lake Louise.

Approaching the eastern access to the Bow Valley Parkway.

Westbound on the Trans-Canada Highway Weather starts to close in near Castle Mountain.

Bow Valley Parkway entry sign

Me and the Festiva at the west entrance to the Bow Valley Parkway.

There are a number of spots along the way with exhibits of one sort or another. We chose to stop at Johnston Canyon and save the rest for a day trip of their own. Johnston Canyon is a short distance east of the mid point of the Parkway. It's a popular tourist stop during the summer with the parking lot overflowing and large crowds up and down the trail. Being off-season, mid-week and with iffy weather we found a parking spot very close to the beginning of the trail and very few people around. 

Some straight bits...
Some curvy bits...

The Parkway has a split personality....

Two lanes rejoin.

Johnston Canyon is a beautiful spot. If you plan to go on a weekend and especially during high season we would recommend that you either get there early, before 10:00am, or later in the day, say after 4:00pm. That way you should miss the bulk of the tour busses that have this as part of their itinerary.

One of many catwalks on the way up the canyon

Upper falls in Johnston Canyon, May 7, 2015

On the way down.

A beautiful afternoon for a stroll in the mountains....

A little bit east of Johnston Canyon you will find a gate! From this point to the eastern portal the Parkway is only open from 08:00 until 20:00. There is a major wildlife corridor in the area so the closure, along with the low 60kph speed limit, was implemented to reduce animal/car collisions.

Grazing elk spotted in a meadow just east of Johnston Canyon.

The weather co-operated while we did the hike to the upper falls in the canyon, with a little bit of sunshine and very little precipitation. Once we left the parking lot we ran into quite a bit of rain so didn't get a lot of photos. This trip down the Parkway reinforces my opinion that you don't have to go fast to thoroughly enjoy a drive.

Tree in the way? No problem, we'll just split the lanes around it!

So there you have it. One drive off the bucket list. We'll be trying to fit in a couple of close drives listed in the linked article over the summer.  For our Alberta and British Columbia readers please be sure to let us know what your favorite drive is. I'm hoping to put together a list of reasonably local drives, perhaps something that could be done as a day trip.

Thanks to Sharon for taking the photos. 


  1. We got do drive this section last summer and it was great. We, however, saw zero wildlife. We saw evidence of bears (e.g. claw marks on trees), but that was it. Johnston Canyon, however, looks amazing. I did not get to do that. Since we need to return to do the Icefields Parkway at some time, I'll put this on my to-do list!

    1. When you do return be sure to let us know! Perhaps we can join you on the Icefields Parkway.