Canada's West's Nat Ural Highs; Banish Misconceptions That Canada's West Isn't Easy to Explore. Super-Slick Transport Options Will Help to Put the Region's More Remote Attractions in the Palm of Your Hand

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

Canada's West's Nat Ural Highs; Banish Misconceptions That Canada's West Isn't Easy to Explore. Super-Slick Transport Options Will Help to Put the Region's More Remote Attractions in the Palm of Your Hand


Under Western Canada's clear, open skies there's a kaleidoscope of natural experiences on offer. These are lands of dazzling glaciers, soaring mountains, roaring rapids, fruit-filled winelands, cowboy heritage and wildlife that roams free - from grizzly bears to orca whales.

Such bounty sounds overwhelming, yet many of these can be seen in just one trip. How? By an enviable network of transport links that includes everything from floatplanes to motorhomes, helicopters, railroads and self-drive.

While many travellers can't resist seeing the Okanagan winelands, the prairies, the Pacific Coast and the mountains by rail, there is much to be said for getting behind the wheel yourself. Wide, open roads make driving easy and those who hire a car or motorhome can truly experience the furthest corners of this breathtaking region.

Alberta and British Columbia's national parks - vast, open museums of both heritage and natural beauty - rank high on the list for would-be explorers. Some 80 miles west of Calgary, Banff National Park is the world's third largest, covering more than 2,500 square miles. Fringed by other protected areas including Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, it is made accessible by one of the world's most stunning routes, Highway 93.

Also known as the Icefields Parkway, this super-scenic road stretches 142 miles from Lake Louise through the Rocky Mountains to Jasper. Alongside mirror lakes, snow-dusted mountains and soaring pine trees, you'll find a unique attraction, the Athabasca Glacier, the most famous glacier in North America. You can get up close to this frozen, weather-sculptured hulk by taking the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure tour on one of the massive Brewster Ice Explorers. Specially designed for glacial travel, these take you on a remarkable excursion on to the glacier's surface.

At the opposite end of the temperature scale are Canada West's hot springs, pockets of boiling sulphuric water that are heated deep below the earth and bubble up to the surface. In Jasper, Alberta, the waters at Miette Hot Springs really push the mercury. This natural heat source is used to heat water in pools set in the fresh mountain environment to 40C. In British Columbia, find similar aquatic drama at Hot Springs Cove in Maquinna Provincial Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island; at nearby Ahousat Hot Springs, the waters are cool enough to bathe in.

If you prefer your water big and blue, Vancouver Island is perfectly placed to explore the mighty Pacific. Ferries weave among the islands, offering glimpses of a coastline of sandy beaches, sheltered coves and wind-lashed inlets.

For a more informed look at the marine life that inhabits these waters, take a dedicated tour to areas where porpoises, sealions and otters swim alongside orcas, grey, minke and humpback whales.

Spotting sites include Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve and, in Northern British Columbia, Prince Rupert.

For a better understanding of how these remarkable lands have moulded Canada's West's cultural identity over 10,000 years, visit one of the many Aboriginal or First Nation sites, where you can kayak the waters first paddled by Metis fur trappers, spend the night in a teepee and see the wildlife with which these people shared their existence. In Alberta, still home to 44 First Nations, head to the popular site of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This is a UNESCO-stamped area, where the Rockies meet the great plains near Fort Macleod.

The site museum explains the unique hunting practice of buffalo jumps, where animals were chased to their death over a cliff (the name refers to one Blackfoot who was unlucky enough to get in the way). …

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