The Rocky Mountains
VIP Adventure takes you to the magnificent Canadian Rocky Mountains for the purest alpine experiences; an opportunity not to be missed!
Formed millions of years ago, the vast chain of rugged mountains ranges some 1 400 km in length, 150 km in depth, and peaks at almost 4 000 meters above sea level. Certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rockies, as they are also known, contain four spectacular national parks of exceptional beauty; an experience that will overload the senses.
We start in Calgary, a cosmopolitan city of 1.3 million people located in the foothills of the Rockies. Calgary symbolizes Canada's western pioneering spirit and is rodeo country; a stylized cowboy hat is even at the center of the city's flag.
Anyone visiting Calgary in July won't want to miss the extravaganza that is the Calgary Stampede, one of the world's largest rodeo festivals. Its parades, concerts, chuckwagon races, and thrilling riding competitions (horses, bulls, and steers) attract visitors from around the world.
You can also immerse yourself in the western culture with visits to Heritage Park Historical Village and the Glenbow Art & History Museum. In whichever part of the city you explore, make sure to dine on a world-renowned Alberta steak or a bison burger.
It's time to hit the road and our vehicle of choice to discover this incredible region is the Can-Am Spyder; it allows us to breathe in the fresh mountain air and stay connected with nature and the communities along the way.
It may seem counterintuitive, but there is an excellent reason why we're traveling in the complete opposite direction of the Rockies. We must visit the Badlands, located about 140 km to the east of Calgary! In leaving the city, we ride past cattle ranches and large fertile fields. Then, as we approach the town of Drumheller, the terrain gives way to one of exposed rugged rock, this is where we encounter our first hoodoos.
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These dramatic columns of twisted sandstone can reach up to seven meters high and are a geologic characteristic of the Badlands. We ride through deep winding gullies, vast canyons, barren slopes of rock, clay, and coal, all stark features caused by the erosive effect of water released by glaciers.
The Real Jurassic Park
Concentrated around Drumheller, the Badlands run alongside the Red Deer River for at least 300 km and cover about 90 600 square km. But, who are we kidding, we also came here for another natural wonder. Dinosaurs!
Yes, Dinosaurs! This one region has probably the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils in the world. Sixty-six million years ago over 35 species of the great beasts roamed this area. They have left a fantastic record of their prehistoric passing in the fossilized remains that makes Dinosaur Provincial Park famous. Often, wind, rain, and snowmelt erode the topsoil and reveal even more fossils. In the park, you can also go prospecting with one of the fossil discovery tours, maybe even discover a new species yourself.
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Drumheller has embraced its heritage with dinosaur sculptures scattered throughout the town and welcomes you to visit The Royal Tyrrell Museum, a world-class dinosaur museum, ranked as one of the premier exhibitions in the world. This institution has an astonishing 130 000 specimens, including one of the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex and captures the history of the Late Cretaceous period.
Heading up the Mountains
We now swing back to the west and ride into the heart of the Rockies. As we approach them, the mountains fill the horizon and dwarf everything around them. Soon you ride into sharply pointed mountain passes that have been gouged out over thousands of years by glaciers, you see treacherous fast flowing rivers, crystal clear lakes, and sheer cliff drops. Your head feels like it's on a swivel as the views all around you are so awe-inspiring, you don't know where to look first.
The Rockies are teeming with wildlife. On this adventure, it should be no surprise to encounter lots of the natural inhabitants of these mountains. The ecosystem here contains all types of animals, from large animals like grizzly bears, caribou, moose, mountain goats, to smaller ones like wolfs, beavers, and porcupines. It's almost a sport to try and spot animals as you ride along the road or try and guess, or even hope, which animal will make an appearance around the next bend.
Jasper's Raw Natural Beauty
Awestruck at the views, you are riding through Jasper National Park passing sheets of thick ice, frigid waterfalls, and shimmering glaciers. At over 11 000 square km, Jasper is the largest park in Canada and an outdoor activity fantasyland. This park is unmatched in its extraordinary raw natural beauty. We stop off at the alpine town of Jasper, the commercial center of the park, here we can organize a day hike and picnic to view animals, maybe do some mountain biking or paddling.
On a clear day take a Sky Tram aerial lift that travels up to an elevation of 2 000 meters for a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. At night, if it's cloudless, go outside and look up. The millions upon millions of stars in the night sky shining down on you will leave you speechless.
We leave Jasper and head toward Banff National Park. To get there, we travel along Icefields Parkway and soak up some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. As the roadway's name implies, glaciers cover this region; we can even see the famous Columbia Icefields as we drive by. Here is where we stop and join an organized tour of the Athabasca Glacier. It's one of the largest non-polar icefields in the world.
Ice Explorers, specialized all-terrain vehicles with wide and heavily treaded tires will take you to places on the glacier that are not accessible by foot. You have here an extraordinary opportunity to actually walk on a glacier and even take a gulp or two of naturally chilled and pure glacial water.
Take Lots of Pictures
To get your adrenaline pumping, you should try and make it to the Glacier Skywalk. Your heart will skip a few beats as you take your first few tentative steps onto the clear glass-floor that protrudes 35 meters over the cliff-edge with the canyon's sharp rocks some 290 meters below! If you brave walking onto the glass floor then you're in for a fantastic view, the center of the walkway is the perfect place for a selfie, and with the mountains and glaciers as a backdrop you appear, as if by magic, suspended in the air.
Nature Walk Around Lake Louise
Time to get back on the road, we are in Banff National Park. The park is Canada's oldest, and, without exaggeration, one of the country's greatest natural treasures. We head toward the village of Banff, but again, we have no choice but to hit the pause button. We bump into the postcard-perfect Lake Louise, the Rocky Mountain's most famous lake. There's a reason for the notoriety of this glacial-fed lake; it exhibits an intense luminescent turquoise color that cannot be described in words and has to be seen to be believed. The picture is even more perfect, as the lake lies comfortably nestled among soaring snow-capped mountains with the iconic hotel Chateau Lake Louise, the only building around, sitting on its eastern shore.
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The hotel is a great place to take a break from the road and go on a long nature walk. After the hike, one of the hotel’s seven themed restaurants will undoubtedly give you a fantastic dining experience, serving everything from authentic European alpine cuisine to quick and straightforward deli sandwiches.
As we continue to ride, we often take a break to take pictures of the extraordinary scenery. As we approach the resort town of Banff, we slow down and pause again, this time to marvel at the picture-perfect village snug within the sweeping alpine landscapes and the peaks of Mount Cascade and Mount Rundle dominating the skyline. In entering the town, we find a variety of boutiques, restaurants, and shops on its main strip.
You can learn more about the town's history by touring the museum at the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Amusingly, Banff pays homage to the area's wildlife by naming all its streets after animals and, not surprisingly, we see some four-footed visitors casually travel through the town.
Many Hot Springs to Choose From
In the town we can plan a day trip by canoe and after that treat ourselves to one of the naturally heated hot springs that flow from the earth and collected in pools; it's believed these baths have healing and rejuvenating powers. Though Banff has hot springs in town, a few hours ride away is the much more impressive Radium hot springs. If you ride a bit further again, in Ainsworth, the hot springs there collect within a network of naturally occurring caves, for a bath experience that is rivaled by no others.
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To finish off the trip, you could take a 10-hour hike and rock-climbing expedition up to Banff's old high altitude weather station on Sulphur Mountain or take the more comfortable 8-minute gondola ride. The 360-degree view at the top are beyond description.
The Rockies is a once in a lifetime experience!