Following the Continental Divide along North America’s backbone, the 233 km (145 mile) Icefields Parkway is one of Canada’s most striking drives. The road links Jasper and Lake Louise in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, cutting through a valley of steep-sided, glacier-clad mountains, rivers that rush through water-smoothed canyons, waterfall-strewn pine forests and emerald lakes.
This is a journey you don’t want to do in a hurry normally but as we needed to get to Alaska asap, we decided to stop for photos on the return journey. Such a pity we couldn’t stay in this area for longer as it is simply stunning; there are waterfalls to hike to, turquoise lakes to stroll around and elevated viewpoints but long walks in motorcycle gear aren’t the most comfortable.
As you drive the parkway’s length, you pass through all three life zones of the Canadian Rockies, from the meadow valley floor, or montane zone, near Jasper, to the thick spruce and fir forests of the subalpine zone and the treeless tundra of the alpine zone.
This constantly changing landscape makes for some excellent hiking opportunities. And, with such a mix of habitats, wildlife is plentiful, from black bears at the side of the road to elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats in wilder corners.
From here, you can soak up views over commanding mountain peaks, including Mount Edith Cavell, Alberta’s most prominent peak, rising above a forest-covered valley. Interpretation panels tell you about the Athabasca Pass’s role as a 19th-century fur-trade route, which has earned its status as a National Historic Site.
Bow Lake & Bow Summit where we had to spend a couple of hours to wallow in its beauty.
Simpson’s History; Isn’t “Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah” a great name?
The lodge is named after Englishman Jimmy Simpson, who left England for Canada in 1896 and became one of Canada’s greatest mountain men. He guided people through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which were back then little-explored.
In 1898 he camped at Bow Lake and vowed to one day “build a shack here”. 25 years later he did it! He built the first log cabin on the site, and he called his operation Num-Ti-Jah, which stands for the small animal pine marten. A few years later he opened the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, back then with six guest rooms. Ten years later he expanded to 16 rooms – and that’s how it still is today.
Apparently Jimmy was a witty and wild character and fun to be around. He became a real living legend and his reputation attracted many tourists. I’m sure it would’ve been nice hanging around the campfire with him! He died in 1972, but his spirit definitely lives on. The cool thing about staying here is that the lodge hasn’t changed much since it was completed in 1950.
That’s all for now friends – see you down the road and, those on bikes – ride safe – for those not on bikes – watch out for them, please.