Bow Valley Scenic Parkway
Two roads link Banff to Lake Louise. The TransCanada Highway is the quicker route, more popular with through traffic. The other is the more scenic 51-kilometer (32-mile) Bow Valley Parkway, which branches off the TransCanada Highway five kilometers (3.1 miles) west of Banff. Between March and late June, the southern end of the parkway (as far north as Johnston Canyon) is closed daily 6 p.m.–9 a.m. for the protection of wildlife.
As you enter the parkway, you pass the quiet, creek-side Fireside picnic area, where an interpretive display describes how the Bow Valley was formed. Muleshoe wetland consists of oxbow lakes that were formed when the Bow River changed its course and abandoned its meanders for a more direct path.
Johnston Creek drops over a series of spectacular waterfalls within Johnston Canyon. The canyon is not nearly as deep as Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park—30 meters (100 feet) at its deepest, compared to 50 meters (165 feet) at Maligne—but the catwalk that leads to the lower falls has been built through the depths of the canyon rather than along its lip, making it seem just as spectacular.
The lower falls are one kilometer (0.6 mile) from the highway, while the equally spectacular upper falls are another 1.6 kilometers (one mile) upstream. Beyond this point are the Ink Pots, mineral springs whose sediments reflect sunlight, producing a brilliant aqua color. While in the canyon, look for nesting great gray owls and black swifts.
At the west end of Moose Meadows, a small plaque marks the site of Silver City. At its peak this boomtown had a population of 2,000, making it bigger than Calgary at the time. During its heady days, five mines were operating, extracting not silver but ore rich in copper and lead.
Continuing toward Lake Louise from Moose Meadows, the aptly named Castle Mountain comes into view. One of the park’s most recognizable peaks, the mountain consists of very old rock (approximately 500 million years old) sitting atop much younger rock (a mere 200 million years old). This unusual situation occurred as the mountains were forced upward by pressure below the earth’s surface, thrusting the older rock up and over the younger rock in places.
The road skirts the base of the mountain, passes Castle Mountain Village (which has gas, food, and accommodations), and climbs a small hill to Storm Mountain Viewpoint, which provides more stunning views and a picnic area.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition