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Each incline and every corner reveals a new gem: a granite peak towering over the trees or an open meadow that will be teeming with wildflowers come summer.
The Bow Valley Parkway, all 48 kilometres of quiet, serene landscape, harkens back to a simpler time when man coexisted with nature, or at least didn’t blow past it at high speed. The Parkway is practically enveloped by the forest that inches right up to the edge of the road, affording many opportunities to see wildlife.
The Parkway runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway, from just west of Banff to the Lake Louise Ski Resort access road. But it is a world away from that traffic corridor filled with the cars, semis and Rvs heading north to Jasper or west to B.C. It has a speed limit of only 60 km/h. And this year, between May 1 and June 25 and Sept. 1 and Sept. 25, vehicle access will be restricted along 17 km of the eastern portion between the Fireside day-use area and Johnston Canyon.
Parks Canada had limited the Parkway in a three-year pilot program to allow more cyclists to enjoy the area. Now it’s added more weeks before and after the two summer months and these will be trialled for the next three years.
Intrepid travellers have been making their way along the route since the early 1900s as it was the original road between Banff and Lake Louise. Backcountry explorers, artists and tourists would flock to the region for its beauty. While the hardy would break camp, well-heeled travellers would stay in one of the motor bungalow camps created by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a way to encourage tourists to travel between its luxury hotels in the mountain parks.
Today, three properties carry on that tradition of heritage camps, albeit on a much grander scale. The Parkway Cabin Collection includes the nearly century-old Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows, Castle Mountain Chalets and Baker Creek Mountain Resort.
Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows began life as a small log tea house built as a rest stop for horse tallyhoes en route from Banff to Lake Louise. The original cabins were built in 1927 with more added in 1949-53. Overlooking the start of the popular canyon walk to the popular falls, there are now 48 cabins of eight different styles, from cozy cabins for two (The Red Cabin) to the romantic Carriage House and a more spacious family cottage for six. The resort, which also includes a Market Cafe, Blackswift Bistro and a snack shack, is open from mid-May to mid-October.
A little further up the road heading west are Castle Mountain Chalets at the junction of the Bow Valley Parkway and Hwy 93. This collection of cabins and lodge suites sits under the gaze of the imposing Castle Mountain, a landmark in Banff National Park. The spacious cabins are well-appointed with large beams, skylights, gorgeous stone fireplaces, full kitchens and separate bedrooms with French doors. The massive jacuzzi tubs would be a hit for families of small children. The general store is well-equipped with anything you’d need for dinner, breakfast, a cookout or a cocktail. There’s even an older-style gas pump outside. You may be lulled to sleep in the comfortable beds by the haunting sound of a train echoing through the woods as the tracks are located between the Parkway and Hwy 1.
The final cabin accommodation in the Parkway Collection is Baker Creek Mountain Resort, mere minutes from the access road to Lake Louise Ski Resort. Here, both large and smaller alpine-style chalets ring the property beside a creek of the same name. The chalets are cozy with wood stoves, bedroom lofts, full or partial kitchens and luxurious linens. There are several outdoor barbeques and Instagram-worthy firepit areas along the creek sporting red Adirondack chairs. Unfortunately, the esteemed restaurant burned down in 2021 but will be rebuilt. In the meantime, the cafe has breakfast foods, wine and other sundry. They also have snowshoes, fat bikes and ice crampons for guests to use as well as a sauna, steam room and gym.
There are many day hikes and day-use areas as well as three campgrounds along the Parkway and some interesting pull-offs with nature and history information. One of the most stirring is also very timely. An internment marker and memorial on the side of the road between Castle Mountain and Baker Creek is dedicated to the 8,579 immigrants who were rounded up and held in camps across Canada during the First World War. These were newcomers from Germany, Hungary, Turkey, and with the vast majority from Ukraine who came here to work on roads, mines and railways but when the war broke out and fear took over, were deemed enemy aliens. Many families and members of those ethnic communities still drive out to lay wreaths at the plaque and statue.
For details on the Parkway, closures and sightseeing, go to https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/les10-top10/promenade-de-la-vallee-de-la-bow-bow-valley-parkway
For info on the Collection properties, go to https://www.johnstoncanyon.com, https://www.castlemountain.com, https://bakercreek.com