Thanks to craggy peaks, pristine lakes, and more, the Canadian Rockies is one of the most iconic photography locations in the world. Yoho, Jasper, and Banff National Parks feature Canada’s finest mountain ranges, making these places a bucket list destination for many photographers.
Even after visiting all of these places, the Canadian Rockies remain on my bucket list, and I continue to add new hikes and vistas that I want to experience and photograph to my own list. (Just recently, my friend Bill McIntosh suggested backpacking to Mount Assiniboine, which is arguably one of the most beautiful peaks in all of the world!) As such, this list is far from comprehensive. It’s simply a fun list of the most photogenic mountains, lakes, etc., that I’ve managed to photograph in the Canadian Rockies…so far.
It’s been a couple of years since I visited the Canadian Rockies, but after our recent trip to Alaska and British Columbia, I found myself itching to revisit Canada, and the easiest way to do that was via my photo archives. One thing led to another, and I had spent a couple hours editing photos. I figured I might as well make a blog post out of that late night Photoshop session, so here it is…
Our first stop in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise set a high bar. It also typified many of the experiences we’d have in the Canadian Rockies: driving right up to scenery so perfect and exquisite that it looked like a gem tucked away thousands of miles from humanity. Yet, it was bordered by a parking lot and a luxury hotel.
Lake Louise is known for its turquoise, glacier-fed lake surrounded by towering peaks, and it offers a variety of walking trails around the perimeter that provide ample opportunities for different photography vantages. Don’t be surprised if you walk away from Lake Louise with a memory card filled with unique perspectives.
This was an attractive option for sunrise while we stayed in downtown Banff because, unlike other alternatives, it didn’t require a two-plus hour drive. At first, it would seem that laziness paid off, as we had a beautiful and serene scene that was shaping up into something special.
Then, a bus showed up, dropping off a large photography workshop, which not only stomped all over our serenity, but on the dock where we were standing, causing it–and our tripods–to wobble. Apparently, the workshop had not yet covered the ‘little’ detail that tripods are ineffective if they move. It was a gorgeous scene, but only a couple of my photos aren’t out of focus.
This iconic little plot of land populated by just a handful of trees and surrounded by mountains was high on my list of things to photograph in the Canadian Rockies. Unfortunately, Spirit Island is not easily accessible. It requires taking a day-cruise to visit, or multi-day kayaking trip and overnight camping.
The latter was out of the question, but it was a gorgeous sunrise when we visited Maligne Lake, so we decided to make a game-time decision to head out to Spirit Island. Unfortunately, the ring of mountains around Spirit Island pulled all the clouds and dreariness towards them (or something like that–I don’t pretend to be a meteorologist) and we had a totally overcast sky. Even in subpar conditions, it was stunning.
We made a couple of visits to Emerald Lake, which is another spot that can be reached quickly from the main road. Here, I ultimately found that the lodge and road leading to it enhanced the scene, punctuating the beautiful scenery with a distinctive manmade element.
I’m all for unspoiled nature, but we were really spoiled with how much of that exists in the Canadian Rockies. It seems like every 20 minutes you can pull off the road for a quick shot of a stunning mountain reflected in a pristine lake. These are shots you’d be willing to hike hours for some places, and there just right there in the Canadian Rockies. As a photographer, it’s like having the cheat codes.
This ended up being my favorite experience in the Canadian Rockies, which I wrote about extensively in my Yoho National Park Trip Report – Part 2. If it wasn’t so terrifying, I might also call it the most photogenic location.
Actually, even setting aside the fear and cold of the hike to get to our sunrise vantage, I wouldn’t say Odaray Grandview was the most photogenic. Since the mountains were so distant, it’s essentially a one and done location, whereas the next spot offered a ton more payoff…
Yoho National Park’s Lake O’Hara is considered the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies, which is incredibly high praise considering that Canadian Rockies are awash in jewels. While I can’t say definitively weather this Lake O’Hara actually is the crown jewel of the Canadian Rockies, it was for me.
Specifically, the hike along West Opabin Trail to Opabin Prospect and Plateau with beautiful lakes and valleys along the way was one of my most memorable hikes ever. We didn’t allot nearly enough time for this hike, but that might be for the best because with unlimited time, I probably would’ve stopped every 10 feet for another photo. You can read and see more in my Yoho National Park Trip Report – Part 1.
Thanks to being a quick diversion from Icefield Parkway, we stopped at Peyto Lake a few times. First, chasing the sunset, and then chasing a beautiful snowy scene. I wrote about the second experience in my Peyto Lake Snow Chase post.
Like so many popular locations in the Canadian Rockies, getting to the Peyto Lake overlook requires little effort and time. It’s a 20-minute walk from the parking area, which is located between Lake Louise and Jasper National Park.
Two Jack Lake
This is another high-profile location in Banff National Park, offering perfectly-framed reflections of Mount Rundle. The waterfront is easily accessible, and wandering around the lake provides myriad different compositions and foreground possibilities.
We reached Two Jack Lake just after the morning golden hour, as we had been slowed down along Minnewanka Loop Road by several elk that were just sitting in a field. Of course, we had to stop and marvel at their majesty…and take photos, of course!
Well known as the departure point for Spirit Island boat cruises, I think Maligne Lake is deserving of its own spot on this list, as the boathouse with mountains behind it is a striking scene.
We had an exceptional slow burn sunrise here, with colors gradually shifting from a deep blue at dawn before exploding into a rainbow of color followed by some golden clouds and fans of morning sun rays. What surprised me was the range of composition options available along the shoreline that opened up.
The Canadian Rockies have no shortage of beautiful drives, and Icefield Parkway is the crème de la crème. While I mentioned previously that some of the ‘reflected mountain’ shots were so accessible that it felt like having the cheat codes, Icefield Parkway made that even easier, as it was beautiful view after beautiful view from the car.
I took several photos through the windshield out of our moving vehicle that are better than the very best photos I’ve captured after spending entire weekends in other National Parks. This should really underscore how visiting the Canadian Rockies is like shooting fish in a barrel for photography!
If you’re planning a visit to the Canadian Rockies, I recommend picking up a copy of The Canadian Rockies. It’s by a photographer, so there are a ton of inspirational photos in addition to the normal tips (you’ll also find trail maps and other sound advice).
Have you visited the Canadian Rockies? What were your favorite photography spots? Any memorable hikes or roadside vistas you particularly enjoyed? Any thoughts or photo locations of your own to add? Does visiting Canada interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!