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The Subtle, Roaring Magic of the Canadian Rockies

Posted on Friday, January 5th, 2024

Story by: Molly Waldstein | Travel Writer


If you’re aching to escape the rat race—even just for a week—then VBT’s Canada: Banff National Park & the Canadian Rockies Guided Tour is just the vacation you need.

The Subtle, Roaring Magic of the Canadian Rockies

Sometimes, we all need peace of mind. Even if you love the rush and whir of city life, the throngs of people shoving each other out of the way for a spot on the subway, the long lines of traffic waiting to exit the highway, malls full of parked cars—even then, you might occasionally need a break from it all. If you’re someone that treasures cityscape adventures, it’s possible a cycling vacation through the pristine wilderness of the Canadian Rockies isn’t for you. But if, like many of us, you’re aching to escape the rat race—even just for a week—then VBT’s Canada: Banff National Park & the Canadian Rockies Guided Tour is just the vacation you need.

The landscape of Alberta is anything but subtle. The first thing you notice are the high, rocky peaks that tower over the land. They form strange and lyrical shapes—the wrinkled, pale limestone spine of Mount Rundle, seen from a certain angle, calls to mind the dorsal fins of a prehistoric sea monster, writhing and tilting its way beneath a spruce-green ocean of choppy waves. The turrets of Castle Mountain scrape the cerulean sky above the turquoise Bow River—maintaining a vigilant watch over the landscape from their immense, stone ramparts. Lake Louise, a pristine aqua-hued lagoon, roars into vision in a cacophony of color—a gift bestowed by sediment of the Victoria Glacier, now sadly mounting a slow, icy retreat up its eponymous mountain. Along these slopes, the bellows of grizzly bears can still be heard (and VBT provides a bear safety briefing, and has bear spray on hand.) As VBT trip leader Dori Ross puts it: “On every VBT vacation I’ve ever led in the Canadian Rockies, travelers are immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape—the mountains and lakes just take over. It’s really amazing when you consider this untouched wilderness is just an hour outside of Calgary—a city of approximately 1.6 million people.” It’s OK to let yourself be a bit thunderstruck—everyone else is, too.

Get Ready To Meet Your Best Self

Moving beyond the roar, the subtlety of Alberta’s magic spell is the transformation that unfolds within. As you soar along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway and that first breath of clean, pine-scented air breezes across your skin, you find yourself overcome by spontaneous joy. It’s as if all the Walmarts in the world have suddenly released you from their clutches, as if every telemarketer in the universe has simultaneously lost your number—as if everything, everywhere is really, truly, serendipitously just going to be OK. As you spin past untouched forests of Edelman spruce, subalpine fir, and trembling aspen, you won’t find any place to stop for a Big Gulp, or even a coffee. But, if you relax and let the landscape work its way under your skin, what you’ll find is simply, subtly yourself—your happiest self, your freest self. Here, you find more than the beauty of nature around you—you find the beauty and depth of nature within. That’s right—the Canadian Rockies will show you your best self.

There’s a spiritual element to the Canadian Rockies that can’t be denied. Even the most cynical traveler can scarcely resist catching their breath as they glimpse the resplendent turquoise shores of Lake Louise—or feel the awe-inspiring gravitas of Lake Minnewanka. Here, the First Nations have been honoring the spirit of the land for countless generations. “Starting in 2024, our VBT adventure will include a medicine walk with a local First Nation’s leader,” says VBT Trip Designer Kat Bacevicius. “The walk includes an introduction to local plants and their many uses in First Nations culture—as well as a traditional ceremony to help travelers understand the incredible spiritual importance of the region.” During this walk, travelers discover a wealth of native plants and their many uses—to both people and wildlife in the region.

Bridges in the Wild

When it comes to natural resources, Canadians are largely a pragmatic bunch. With over 15% of Alberta’s 255,2541 square miles officially designated as protected wilderness, the nation of Canada has made significant investments in wilderness conservation—and it shows. In Banff and Yoho National Parks alone, the province of Alberta has established over 55 miles of wildlife crossings to protect animals traversing the Trans-Canada Highway. These protected wildlife crossings usually consist of bridges that span the highway and are planted with grass and trees—making a natural corridor for wildlife to safely pass through. Tunnels are also built below the highway for those wilderness denizens who prefer it—and, impressively, miles upon miles of sturdy fencing have been erected to ensure animals use the corridor and don’t accidentally stumble into the road.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a not-for-profit organization which helps build wildlife bridges throughout this vast territory—reducing wildlife highway fatalities and helping endangered species transition between protected areas to promote access to food supplies and diverse habitats. Y2Y is also a strong advocate for indigenous-led conservation efforts—a movement that gained strength in 2022 with a Canadian national budget of $800 million ear-marked for indigenous conservation initiatives. VBT is a proud supporter of Y2Y and their conservation initiatives in the Canadian Rockies— we make a contribution to Y2Y for every guest traveling to VBT’s  Canada: Banff National Park & the Canadian Rockies Guided Tour. You can learn more about VBT’s commitment to sustainable travel here.

Since their inception 40-odd years ago, wildlife bridges have reduced instances of wildlife fatalities on the highway by 80%. For the deer and elk population, that percentage is increased to a whopping 96% percent reduction in animal fatalities. “Here in Canada, our human population is fairly small compared to our land mass,” observes Dori. “For Canadians, the wilderness is part of our national identity. I love helping new people learn to appreciate it on a bike.” As you pedal through pristine mountain forests and wetlands, there are many opportunities to spot local wildlife—including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, fox, and of course, bear. “Bears are always moving because they need to stuff their bellies before they sleep for the winter,” observes VBT Trip Leader Eric Kirouac. “It’s not uncommon to spot a bear scooping up big mouthfuls of dandelions on a hillside. I always tell guests—just keep your distance. The bear will ignore you and soon move on.” These incredible wildlife sightings add to the beauty and magic of a Canadian Rockies adventure.

You Might Come Home a Little Lighter

If you’re looking to lose a little existential weight, nothing beats a week in the Canadian Rockies. As you relax to the serene hum of bike tires against pavement, you may start to feel the heaviness of modern life sliding gently off your shoulders. In its place, you’ll find the scent of pine forests and wild juniper, visions of bright orange wildflowers dancing against a sea of lush green grass, and turquoise lakes framed by the steadfast majesty of the mountains’ stoney edifice. How long that feeling will last after you leave Alberta is anybody’s guess—but one thing is certain. The more you allow your cares to slip away and dissolve among the high peaks of the Canadian Rockies, the longer you can keep that feeling in your heart when you leave.

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