Hiking in the Northern Rockies


Medicine Lake 2


Medicine Lake 2

The Rocky Mountains are one of my favourite places for hiking. There are many great trails available in Jasper National Park for short to long hikes, with spectacular scenery. There are beautiful strolls around  lakes reflecting the mountains in their smooth surface, walks along the sides of waterfalls and canyons, and challenging hikes up to alpine areas. This weekend I explored the outdoors in the high country of the Rockies again.

This is a picture of the mountains reflected on Medicine Lake. The lake is about 6 km (4 miles) long. The shoreline is rugged, so it is fun to jump from boulder to boulder at the edge of the lake. This water is deeper in the spring and early summer, but is reduced to meandering rivulets in the fall. It received its name because the water from the lake seems to disappear with  no visible outlet. The water goes into underground passageways, and reappears above ground at Maligne Canyon.

Maligne Canyon 2
Maligne Canyon 2

This falls, recessed between the narrow walls, is part of  Maligne Canyon. For perspective, the falling water itself is taller than a tree. It is fascinating to stare into the dark chasms, between the high walls. There is an easy trail along the canyon with many views of the steep walls, different waterfalls and stunning formations. The gorge is very narrow, but up to 50 m (160 feet) deep at its highest point. The rushing water carves fantastic shapes into the sides and creates splashing waterfalls as it drops in elevation. The sides of the crevasse are cushioned in various mosses. There are a few bridges that cross the precipice to give you fantastic views into the inky depths. You can follow the trail along for quite a ways, but the most dramatic scenery is at the beginning. I like to walk along until the path comes out even with the water downstream. The path connects with other trails even farther downstream. It is a very scenic hike that gets quieter as you get further from the dramatic canyon.

jagged mountain range near Medicine Lake
jagged mountain range near Medicine Lake

This mountain range is next to Medicine Lake. It emphasizes that the Rocky Mountains are relatively young mountains, still mostly jagged, tall and pointy, not as eroded and rounded as older mountain ranges. This is an area where I frequently see scampering bighorn sheep, which are perfectly adapted to the terrain. Steep slopes give them the advantage when avoiding predators.

Maligne Lake 2
Maligne Lake 2

Maligne Lake is at the head of the Maligne River, above Medicine Lake. There are fantastic views in any direction, since it is completely surrounded by snow topped mountains. There are some great half day hikes here. This time we just walked by the lake and explored the shore. One of my favourite hikes from the lake is up Opal Hills, which takes about 4 or 5 hours. It is a steady uphill walk, that switchbacks up the mountain, and will get your heart racing. The elevation gain from top to bottom is approximately 300 m (1000 feet). The views across the lake are marvelous from the higher vantages of the trail. You arrive up in a meadow between the hills, and can explore the area. It is frequented by bears and caribou as well.

On the other side of the lake, you can hike up Bald Hills. This is another half day hike, with a superb view from the top of the lake and surrounding mountains. The change in elevation from the bottom to the top is around 490 m (1600 feet). As is usual with these steep hikes, about 2/3 of the time is spent walking uphill, and 1/3 down. The walk itself takes around 4 hours, but it is fun to explore the area when you get to the top, or put your feet up on a rock and enjoy the view. On a warm summer day, when you come back down again with overheated hiking boots, it feels good to soak your feet briefly in the icy cold waters of Maligne Lake, which is only a few degrees warmer than a melted glacier.

camp robber
camp robber

This bird’s common name is camp robber. They are related to the clever jays, ravens and crows. These birds are fun to watch, since they have an abundance of personality. They are friendly, and will get quite close to people. If you have food out, you need to guard it carefully from them. They are very opportunistic. My fellow hiker was not trying to feed the bird, but had just got a snack out of the car, when the bird came swooping in, attempting to scavenge a sausage roll. The human won out in this round of Survivor. The birds stay year round in the park and are very smart. They actually remember where they have stored most of their food supply, which they fasten to trees with saliva, or stash in crevices.

Despite the fact that these are chummy birds that will practically sit on your hand, I didn’t get a good closeup. I’m blaming the fact that I didn’t pay the food toll, for their refusal to let me get a good face shot.

mountains goats, mom young 2
big horn sheep, mom and young one 2

Here is a common animal in Jasper, the big horn sheep. Watching these animals scamper over the rocks makes it look very easy. The young ones seem especially energetic. These are a mom and her young one, so they don’t have the elaborate spiral horns of the mature male. You are practically assured of seeing big horn sheep on a trip to Jasper.

There are around 1200 kilometres (750 miles) of trails in Jasper National Park, so it is easy to explore a variety of scenery when you visit. Some of them are back country trips, while others are day hikes. The wildlife is abundant, so you never know who might be watching you. Here is another post I wrote about camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

If you click on any small gallery photo it will enlarge to a full sized picture.

47 thoughts on “Hiking in the Northern Rockies”

  1. The big horned sheep look so sweet and benign – when my husband was working at Lake Louise, one of the staff offered several of them a drive into town. They were rammed/broadsided by a big male – car was completely totalled – fortunately they were fine (sadly the ram didn’t fair as well). I’m enjoying seeing your photographs – I’ve got my summer memories and have seen winter shots – nothing this time of year. It is unbelievably beautiful and seems even more rugged with the autumn light.

  2. Now there are some familiar sights!! I was in the area Oct.5-7 (stayed at Pocohontas Cabins) and then we spent some time in Banff as well. It was wonderful but COLD. We drove through a snowstorm on our way through the Icefield Parkway. Hopefully the next time we go back I’ll be able to do more hiking (it’s an easy drive to Jasper from where we live).

  3. Barbarapc, collisions with the large mammals usually result in needed body work for the animal and vehicle. During the male rutting time they can be very aggressive towards other objects, such as cars. I’ve seen the male elk attack parked cars during the rut, and do quite a bit of damage. Once those hormones and instincts are revved up, it’s hard to turn them off. I’ve watched 2 elk battling with their antlers, and afterwords the loser worked off frustration on a nearby shrub, flattening it.
    The park is especially rugged looking in the late fall, without the softening of plants and leaves. The shadows are also more pronounced with the sun lower in the sky.

  4. Amy, I smiled when I saw your post on your trip too. We have a very similar shot of Medicine Lake. Incredibly, this weekend was warmer than when I visited 2 weeks ago. You didn’t really need a hat or mitts most of the time, and the temperature at night didn’t go below freezing at the low to mid elevations, although there was snow around. There is lots of snow at the higher elevations though. It’s one of my favourite times to visit the mountains.
    I hope your knee is well enough for hiking on your next visit.

  5. The scenery is beautiful, and so dramatic. Obviously the bird has got wise to people with cameras and requires payment for a good shot.It’s always fascinating to see any bird or animal that is a natural survivor.

  6. Easygardener, I couldn’t bring myself to get out an empty granola bar wrapper to lure him in for a shot. When I didn’t have the camera out, they were following and keeping us company.

  7. I have got to get there!! Except it would need to be in summer for me. These pictures are beautiful! I love to hike. We’ll go to Colorado in the summer and camp up in the mountains and take day hikes. Oh…the mountains give me such peace! Thanks so much for sharing all your experiences and these unbelievable pictures!

  8. I am in awe of your fantastic photos. Jasper is beautiful and you have made me want to pack up and leave tomorrow for a visit! The shots of the bird really does look like he is shunning you! Thank you for a wonderful tour! gail

  9. Linda, I find the mountains very peaceful too. It is hard to leave them to return home, and feels confining back in the city. Summer is a good time to visit too. You can certainly see more of the wildflowers then, and the water levels in the rivers, waterfalls and gorges are higher, so they make a more spectacular splash.

  10. Gail, I feel like packing up and going back for a trip as well.
    The camp robbers must be the most people-friendly birds there are, so I don’t know why I couldn’t get lots of closeups. They know exactly when you have food. Sometimes they follow you, flitting from tree to tree as you walk along the paths, very intent on everything you do.

  11. It must have been difficult to get on with your hikes with such magnificent shots beckoning your lens at every turn. I haven’t been to Jasper for over 20years. Its time I went again your photos are such strong invitations.

  12. Hi Shade, what a different world from our hills of TN, the edges are so sharp, with the mountains, the water, the wildlife with horns that ram cars! So beautiful.


  13. Shauna, It’s fortunate that I’m close enough to drive out for weekend visits to Jasper. Sometimes it is fun to dawdle along, turning over rocks, looking at animals, or staring into the distance at the mountain skyline.

  14. Frances, the land is very rugged, thrusting up with sharp edges. Right now in late fall, with less greenery covering it, the harder outlines are more even more visible.
    It is quite interesting to watch the bull elk battle with their antlers in September and early October (from a safe distance). It is a winner take all contest, with the most successful elk building up an impressive harem. The losers seem to have a great deal of pent up frustration, and displace it on to nearby objects. Perhaps others are just practicing on shrubs and vehicles (and the occasional tourist that gets too close).

  15. Marnie, thanks. The Medicine Lake area, in the first photo, is in between mountain ranges, so the view is spectacular in any direction. It is always interesting to watch the big horn sheep. The groups of moms and their offspring are lively, and sometimes I see a group of young males together.

  16. I love the high country. Most of our trekking has been in the high Sierras, But we did take a great trip to the Grand Tetons.
    I have enjoyed looking at your spectacular images. It is terrific that one can click on the smaller images an enlarge them. The view at malign lookout is wonderful to see the details when enlarged. if we take a trip to the rockies, your posts will be invaluable in helping us know where to go. better than any guidebook!
    Best regards,

  17. Philip, I added in a line about the photos enlarging. I wish the gallery photos enlarged directly to the large size, but you have to click to enlarge them to medium, and then click again to get the full sized picture.
    There are many great day trails. My favourite half day hike is Sulphur Summit, which is at the end of the Miette Hot Springs Road. It is a steady uphill with switchbacks, but the view at the top looking into the valleys below, is fantastic. The trail is about 10 km (6 miles) long and the elevation gain is 700 m (2 300 feet).
    My other favourite is Parker Ridge, which is off the Icefields Parkway down south of the Columbia Icefields. It is about 5 km long with a 275 m (900 feet) elevation gain. It takes about 3 or so hours round trip. At the top you look off to a glacier, and down into a valley.

  18. Great, great pictures of these unspoilt nature! Some pictures remind me of lakes (but little ones!) we have in the Alpes (including the canyons). I have to show your photos to my son who is an enthousiastic hiker (and doesn’t mind the cold temperatures when sleeping in a tent!)…We have now some bighorn sheeps as new neigbours :-) !!

  19. Barbara, I hope the bighorn sheep don’t see your garden as a banquet, but it would be great to have the wildlife views.
    I especially like the way the rushing water carves such interesting features into the rocks as it tumbles down the mountains. There is ice climbing in the winter at some of the waterfalls in the canyons.
    Maligne Lake has a small sandy beach, but since the water is only a little warmer than ice, I haven’t seen any sunbathers there.
    I would love to see the Alps some day.

  20. Your pictures are wonderful and it must be hard to pick which ones to post. The grander and the vastness of the mountains just amazes one. As a child visiting I think I was amazed to see snow in the mountains in June.The water in the Valley of the 5 lakes is a gorgeous green.Wonderful shots of the Big Horned Sheep. We have rock formations and hills here in my area but they do not overwhelm you like the gray stones of the Rockies.

  21. Lona, on the highest peaks you can throw a snowball in just about any month. The lakes in the Valley of the 5 Lakes are practically touching, but they have different colours. It was hard to pick which shots to include, since there are many different formations that look intriguing.

  22. Shady Gardener, that would be a fun job to have. I wouldn’t mind living there, and being able to hike everyday. However, you have to have a high fence to protect your garden from the elk.

  23. Gorgeous photos! When I was a child my family used to take camping trips through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. I loved the woods and all the river gorges (usually referred to as a “notch” in these parts) — beautiful places, but not quite so spectacular as the Rockies.

    Now that my brother lives in Colorado, maybe I’ll get to see a little of this in person sometime too.

  24. Ohh, so beautiful scenary! It’s amazing what the nature all over our world look like. I would definitly like to see this myself. :)

    Great captured! Have a nice November! Karin

  25. Firefly, I love the river gorges in the mountains, with the fascinating rock shapes, the fast moving water, and the splashing sounds. It is a strong contrast to where I live, on the flat parkland region.

    Crafty Gardener, did you drive up the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper on your way? It is one of my favourite drives, past some glorious scenery. However, all of the roads through the mountains are wonderful.

    Sunita, it is a great place for hiking, because there is such a large area that is protected and designated as National Parks. It is wonderful to see the mountains and woods for kilometres, barely touched by humans. Do you get to the mountains very often?

    Karin A, I fixed your comment for you. I like to see the shots of the natural areas from other places too. I live on the Parkland, at the edge of the prairie, but the mountains are close enough for me to get there on the weekend. It is well worth a visit.

  26. Katarina, thank you. There is quite a variety of scenery in Jasper, from peaceful woods and flowing rivers, to stunning mountain peaks. I find hiking there to be both relaxing and stimulating.

  27. Hi No. Shade,
    WOW. I read the message you left me and decided to stop by…it’s so beautiful! I’ve never scene anything like this. Certainly not here in VA! You are an excellent photographer, as well. Thank you for your visit! Jan

  28. Jan, thanks for visiting, and for your kind words. Going up to the mountains is like a fast forward into winter. We’ve had a few snow flakes here, but nothing really accumulating on the ground. In the mountains it looks so pretty when all the peaks get a white frosting.

  29. It’s been decades since I’ve been to Jasper National Park–I remember thinking it was one of the most beautiful places on earth I’d ever been, and your photographs are bringing all that back.

  30. What a great place – what a great series of photographs!!! I could stay a long time and lose myself in the mirror of the lake!!!
    Wish you a good time Wurzerl

  31. Wurzerl, Medicine Lake is a very contemplative spot. Surrounded by mountain ranges that reflect in the water, there is beauty around, above and below. There were a few ducks on the water, but otherwise it is very still and quiet.

  32. Hi there – haven’t seen a post from you for awhile, but I imagine your garden is covered in snow by now :)

    Just wanted to tell you that I’m having a Christmas giveaway on my blog this week and am accepting entries until Dec. 3. I would love it if you popped over and participated – it should be a lot of fun :)

    Amy (formerly of High and Dry, recently changed the blog name to Blossom)

  33. Meems, thanks. You do get a sense of the land when you are hiking through it. Although you do appreciate the beauty when driving through, much of the peacefulness, the sounds and the details are missing.

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