Joan Larsen’s Travel: Jewels of Western Canada

Posted on August 14, 2013


The walking is easy in Banff’s Johnston Canyon.

By Joan Larsen


2-para1The black mother bear, strolling along the Bow River Parkway in the Canadian Rockies in early morning, obviously knew she “owned” this beautiful wooded territory.  Unafraid of two adventurers driving her way — whose hearts leaped with joy at the sighting – she slowed, waiting for her darling baby cub to come alongside to show him off.  We pulled off, parked, and I called out to the proud mother:  Your baby is beautiful.  It definitely cemented our bond as she was in no hurry to leave. 

Once is definitely not enough when you visit Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.  And so you will find it no surprise when we easily flew into Calgary early in the season before the tourists took over, rented a car, eager to once again experience the exquisite natural beauty of the Parks.  Imagine – just imagine – seeing snow-capped peaks, stunning turquoise lakes, massive glaciers and thundering waterfalls in a single day!


 I’ll speak for all of us when I say that we need a feeling of serenity, loveliness, a renewal of “calm” — a signal to us that, somewhere in this world, all is as it should be.  More and more I find that we need that reassurance in our ever-changing world.


Prepare to be jealous.  .  . for only a few miles from Banff lies Johnston Canyon with its easy well-paved trail – particularly to the Lower Falls – that actually entices you into wanting to see what lies around the next corner.  For you will see that it is a narrow gorge, with a full crystal-clear stream running its full length and width – a place that the word “gorgeous” easily fits.

But the shady fern grotto-like walls along either side complete this feeling of fairyland.  As you head to the Lower Falls, you pass over sturdy iron catwalks attached beneath overhanging canyon walls, while you watch the turbulent waters of the creek flow beneath your feet.  If a trail can be fun and beautiful at the same time, Johnston Canyon totally fits the bill. 


Too soon – or so it seemed – we come to the bridge that provides us the frontal views of the most attractive lower waterfall, but then a few steps further and you can access a tunnel where its other end yielded a close-to-your-face look at the main plunge. 


8-path-to-upper-fallsMost hikers call it a day then.  I opted to go a little farther.  I always do.  How could you want to miss a single thing in this paradise?  The trail ascended as it left the gorge and then meandered through a well forested area that led us to the majestic Upper Falls on another catwalk, perfect for photography as you will see.

I call this journey through Johnston Canyon a special moment in time. . . and certainly a large highlight of this year’s journey into this other world.


Heading back toward Banff, there is always a more than good chance to have sightings of wolves, grizzlies, gorgeous moose, and bighorn sheep.  Male elk seem to know each time I have returned, actually posing on the heights and showing off their massive horns, knowing full well I find them irresistible. 


In all my travels, I consider the incomparable mountain scenery of the jagged crest of the Canadian Rockies the crown jewels of western Canada.  Hidden wonders provide the latest glorious surprises that we find on each return visit, and when we return home we carry with us the wonderful memories of an untouched natural world that would be hard to match.



Pursue some path, however narrow or crooked,

in which you can walk with love and reverence.

Henry David Thoreau


JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”