|by Gregory Speck
For those who have visited our own Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier National Parks, the Canadian national parks in Alberta, of Banff and Jasper, offer even more spectacular peaks and glaciers, with a string of palatial hotels keeping the journey over the mountains and through the woods comfortably posh.
Like the American conquest of the West, in Canada the railroads made it all possible, and the magnificent vistas at the Continental Divide, with their pristine lakes and abundant wildlife, appealed to Cornelius Van Horne. As president of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1887, he engaged the US architect Bruce Pine to design and erect an alpine hotel, which burned in 1914. The present Banff Springs Hotel was rebuilt in 1926 as a Scottish baronial castle by US architect Walter Painter. It is a truly grande dame among formidable dowagers.
|Banff Springs Hotel and immediate area within Banff National Park ...|
|Those fabled springs now find happy visitors like Harrison Ford at the thermal baths up the mountain, which are on the way to the gondola. There you are lifted high above for breathtaking views of the vast wilderness all of which embraces the charming museums of taxidermy and native culture in the quaint town below. Adventurers might go on lake cruises and even into four more neighboring national parks — Kootenay, Yoho, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke — just across the scenic border into British Columbia, where the inquisitive/explorer will find soothing Radium Springs, otherworldly Meadow in the Sky, and nature walks through towering groves of giant cedars, giant hemlocks, and enormous skunk cabbage.
Marilyn Monroe still lives at the Banff Springs Hotel, having filmed "River of No Return" there in the '50s with Robert Mitchum, and her sprained ankle is preserved in the photographic archives of the atmospheric and sumptuous fortress.
|It is John Barrymore who reigns supreme at the glamorous Chateau Lake Louise, just up the awesome Bow Valley. There is an intimate photo of the doomed legend which shows him lying with his handsome double on the '30s set of "Eternal Love." They are relaxing near the canoes in front of the imposingly picturesque villa, its earlier incarnation having burned back in 1924.
Lake Louise rivals Switzerland as an idyllic paradise, so with all the modern amenities amid breathtaking views there is little motivation to move, though a wondrous ski lift gondola above the valley is very close, and the almost incredible Athabasca glacier, upon which you may walk, but might fall down, is also well worth the effort if you proceed north along the Columbia Icefields Parkway.
|Chateau Lake Louise and immediate area including Athabasca Glacier farther north in Banff National Park ...|
|Farther north in Jasper a rustic tent city was established in the 19th century, then in 1922 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway opened a lodge with bungalows and cabins, which all burned down in 1952. The present rustic compound overlooking Lake Bauvert is also run by Fairmont, a world class operator. When you slumber in your spacious suite the bull elks will bugle from the nearby golf course. For years that was what brought Bing Crosby to the elegant Jasper Park Lodge, which is warmly enhanced by yet another thermal spring bath house not far away in Miette.
Across the tranquil lake bighorn sheep graze by the highway, while mountain goats are likely to be seen only at the superb zoos of Edmonton and Calgary, both elegant skyscraper cities with top art and nature museums, historic homes and gardens, and a distinguished architectural heritage. Surprisingly, the herds of bison hold court at Elk Island National Park.
|Jasper Park Lodge and immediate area within Jasper National Park ...|
|In Waterton Lakes National Park farther south, a moose cow and her calf danced across the road in front of me while the bull whinnied from the glade, just up the road from the charming 1925 Prince of Wales Hotel. In the town of Golden, BC you can even get up close with friendly wolves in a breeding preserve. If you have already been everywhere, this odyssey will be a great new pleasure, whether you like luxurious spas, gourmet cuisine, powdery slopes, bear hikes, inspirational mountain vistas, or just driving among some of the most majestic peaks on the North American continent.|
|Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park ...|
|THE FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS
405 Spray Avenue
|THE FAIRMONT CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE
111 Lake Louise Drive
Lake Louise, Alberta