Canada – The Canadian Rockies
The jagged spine of the North America Continental Divide that runs from the Mexican border to northeastern British Columbia is at its most spectacular in the Canadian Rockies. The tiled layers of rock that make up these awesome summits are the products of a dramatic overlap of tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust.
Curiously, it was the curative powers of the hot springs of Sulphur Mountain, not the majesty of the mountains of Banff as Canada’s first national park in 1885
In the ensuing century, 8,000 square miles (20,700 km2) have been protected in four national parks (Bannf, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay), whose contiguous boundaries straddle the mountains separating Alberta from British Columbia.
The Canadian Rockies form a large, complex ecosystem that is home to a vast array of plants and animals. Marsht lowlands favored by moose, elk, and beavers lie barely 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above sea level, while glacier-clad summits top out at 12,000 feet (3,700 m). Moose and elk forage in the aspen stands in the valleys close to the Banff and Jasper townsites, while more reclusive wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, and mountain goats favor the grassy, flowering meadows and rocky cliffs of the subalpine and alpine zones.
While the fragile ecosystems in these parks have been protected from the ravages of logging, mining, and fossilfuel explotation that are so evident elsewhere in the Rockies, they are threatened by growing numbers of poeple coming to visit or live in the area. Golf courses, ski-area developments, hiking and biking trails, huts and campgrounds, highway upgrades, and expanding communities within the parks’ boundaries are taking a major toll.
BACK COUNTRY WILDERNESS
Luckily for the ecotourists, fewer than 5% of visitors ever venture off the beaten track, leaving the vast backcountry wilderness untouched. The trail heads of hundreds of miles of hiking routes can be reached from highways crisscrossing the parks. Intrepid hikers can take the Great Divide Trail that runs from Palliser Pass at the south end of Banff National Park all the way to Mount Robson, over 300 miles (480 km) distant. By mid-November, the blazing wildflower meadows and tutquoise lakes enjoed by hikers in the brief alpine summer are buried in snow, becoming a ski-touring paradise.
If your time is limited, it’s well worth going to Lake Louise, Emerald Lake, Maligne Canyon, and the Columbia Icefields. These world-famous beauty spots live up to their billing. To beat the crowds, time your visit near sunrise or sunset and explore some of the trails that lead into the back country. Here, in the dense conifier forests and alpine meadows, the true spirit of this inspiring and ever-changing landscape reveals itself.