Alberta is a Province of great contrasts. To the east, great open plains and the largest oil reserves in the world, to the west the rugged Rockies where tourism and timber rule. Although the Hudson's Bay Company  laid claim to the area as early as 1670, it was not until 1754 that fur trader Anthony Henday became the first European to explore it. In 1867 Britain established the Dominion of Canada, and soon after the government of Canada acquired the North West Territories, including present day Alberta, from the Hudson's Bay Company.  Settlers arrived and in 1905 Alberta became a province of Canada named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.


Banff town from Tunnel Mountain Drive

Banff is a town created by the railway. Tunnel Mountain overlooks the town and it is a symbol of the way the railway first opened up this area as it was named by surveyors for the railway who planned to take the transcontinental railway through it in a tunnel. Further surveys found a better route, so the tunnel was never built, but the name stuck. The name of the town also comes from the railway, Banffshire in Scotland being the birthplace of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Banff became  the centre of Canada’s first National Park an it remains a popular tourist destination with a population of 7,500 people.

Spirit Island & Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park

This is probably the most famous view of the Canadian Rockies.  Maligne Lake (pronounced “Ma-leen Lake”) is a 22 kilometre (14 mile) long and  92 metre (300 foot) deep glacier-fed lake. The fantastic shapes of the mountains around  it are surpassed only by the Andes at Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia. Although the area is maybe rather too popular with tourists, the boat trip to Spirit Island (which is actually a small peninsula) is an essential part of any visit.

Banff Springs Hotel from by Bow Falls

From its earliest days the Canadian Pacific Railway recognised the importance of developing tourism in order to build up railway traffic.  The General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, William Van Horne,  realised  that hot springs near the station of Banff could be developed as an attraction if there was somewhere for tourists to stay. In 1886 he commissioned commissioned architect Bruce Price of New York to design a hotel overlooking the scenic Bow Valley. The Banff Springs Hotel opened in 1888, but construction was not completed until 1928. This huge building has retained its original grandeur and still operates as a hotel.

Canadian Rockies from near Seebe

Like Colorado in the USA, Alberta is relatively flat to the east then as you drive west the landscape abruptly becomes mountainous. We flew in to Calgary and drove west initially through fairly featureless countryside with huge fields. It was great to see the Rocky Mountains suddenly looming ahead of us, as in this picture. From a relatively uninteresting landscape suddenly you come across some of the most famous scenery in the Canadian Rockies - Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper are all found on the western side of Alberta.

Spirit Island & Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
Canadian Rockies from near Seebe, Alberta, Canada
 Bow River & Sawback Range west of Banff, Alberta, Canada

Bow River & Sawback Range west of Banff

Leaving Banff the road north through the National Park follows the Bow River up to the Bow Pass. The best known views in this area are off the road at places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake so there is a danger when hurrying to the next planned photo stop of overlooking the many knockout views like this in the main valley.

Payto Lake &  Mistaya Valley

A famous view in Banff National Park. The northern part of the park and southern part of the adjacent Jasper national Park is glacier country. Although no ice is visible in the picture, the Waputik Range behind the camera hides a large icefield. Taken from a viewpoint by the road down from the 2,070 metre (6,800 foot)  high Bow Pass, the intense  blue of Payto Lake’s glacial water  stands out against the green conifers and the bare mountains. 

 Payto Lake &  Mistaya Valley, Alberta, Canada
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 Banff Springs Hotel from by Bow Falls, Alberta, Canada
 Banff town from Tunnel Mountain Drive, Alberta, Canada

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- The mountain scenery
- The abundant wildlife
- The flat eastern side of the province is rather boring compared to the west.
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