A Winter Photography Tour in the Canadian Rockies

I have seen the Canadian Rockies in the late Spring/early Summer and I have seen them in the Fall... The only logical thing to do was to make a visit in the Winter.

For my third visit to the Canadian Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia, I joined up with Sarah Lyndsay and Nick Fitzhardinge on their winter photography tour. Sarah of Salmon Arm is highly energetic and Nick, who lives in Canmore, is a certified mountaineer guide with a massive vault of knowledge of the area. I cannot recommend either highly enough if you were looking to go on a tour in that area of Canada! I had a bit of reservation about signing up to take a trip up north in the Winter as I live in the Mid-Atlantic area of the US east coast where Winter's can be fairly mild. Luck would have it, the weather in my week up there was fairly mild as well and I never faced the extreme frigid weather. Read on through for brief recaps of each day, background info on some of my favorite images, and for more give my own Instagram page a look @nickpalastro!

Day One

Day one started out with an early morning hike up the East End of Rundle (EEOR) which provides fantastic views of Whitemans Pond, Ha Ling Peak, and the town of Canmore with the sun rising behind the mountain range (Mount Grassi Lawrence) behind Ha Ling Peak. This was the first time I had done a hike like this in the Winter and it was fairly tough! For every step I took, it was a quarter to half step backwards in the snow but the views from the overlook were sensational. The sunlight illuminated some haze in the sky casting an orange glow behind Ha Ling Peak and into Canmore.


The hike down seemed a lot easier than the hike up as I spent part of it purposely sliding down on my rear end. We continued down along Spray Lakes Reservoir which had a particular scene from the movie, The Revenant, that I wanted to mimic or recreate and I am fairly happy about how it turned out!


The snow was pretty deep and with some spots of open water, I didn't want to venture too far out onto the lake as there weren't any signs anyone else had been out there. Better safe than cold, wet, and sorry. After the stopping along Spray Lakes, we continued down along the road stopping at a couple roadside pull-offs to soak up the absolutely tremendous views of the snow covered Rocky Mountains of Canada. A short stop at the Kananaskis Lakes, we made our way back up to Canmore to conclude the day.

Day Two

Day two started out with a sunrise along Policemen Creek to shoot the iconic Three Sisters in Canmore. The next stop was at Lake Minnewanka up in Banff. This was the first time I had ever stepped out out onto a completely frozen over lake and it was pretty interesting! I wasn't sure if I could trust that what I was walking over was truly solid underfoot, but it was! The ice cracks created fascinating lines and shapes that worked very well for photography. A piece of advice, make sure you have ice cleats for your feet AND your tripod... Ice is, in fact, very slippery!


Post Minnewanka, we made a quick stop at the Castle Mountain junction to capture some of those juicy reflections of Castle Mountain in that midday Winter light.


The day was finished off at Lake Louise to checkout the incredible ice sculptures of the Ice Magic Festival. It was a true Winter Wonderland as it was snowing and the lit sculptures seemed to almost glow in the cool blue hour light as the sun set in the late afternoon... Images for that evening are still being worked on so check me out on the gram (@nickpalastro) for when I get around to them, hint hint!

Day 3

On this morning we started the day at the classic Banff location of Vermilion Lakes to shoot Mount Rundle being backlit by the coming dawn. We were treated to a jewel of a morning as bright and vibrant sunrise colors seemed to burn and burn for quite some time. I was able to fire off this pano shot at 70mm with each shot being 30 seconds that stitched nice and smoothly.

After grabbing breakfast and warming back up a bit, we packed our gear up to make our way up the Icefields Parkway. We stopped at the Saskatchewan River Crossing to take some telephoto shots of the distant mountains. I was able to capture this image below where this relatively small spire was silhouetted behind the light rays shining through the atmospheric sky, hitting and illuminating the peaks and slopes in front of it. They seemed to glow! It was a spectacular scene of quickly fleeting light that I was glad to have captured.

From there, we headed east along the David Thompson Highway for the wintertime famous, Abraham Lake. The lake sees fairly consistently high winds which blows the snow off of its solid ice surface revealing unbelievably surreal cracks and the famed methane ice bubbles. These bubbles form from the decomposing vegetation along the floor of the lake and in the Winter, become frozen in time. Abstract compositions were everywhere to be found and it was a truly awesome experience. I was also extremely pleased how this composition came out below! I found some bubbles I liked, took my shots for focus stacking the foreground, and then set my camera timer to walk out and frame myself below the last light of the day hitting the summit of Mount Michener.

We finished the day off grabbing dinner in Nordegg at the lodge. It is a place where the hospitality is tremendous and is a personal favorite of mine. The day was concluded driving back west for some astro-photography and stargazing. The conditions were absolutely ideal as the sky was crystal clear. Normally, I get pretty up for astro but on this night, I found myself doing more gazing at the clear sky than maybe photography. I won't admit that it was the loud noises the ice was making that scared me off the ice in the pitch black.

Day 4

Our last full day together on the tour started off on the chillier side. This may have been the coldest morning of my time up in Canada. It was a mostly overcast morning and the group set up at the popular spot, Morant's Curve. This is a roadside spot made famous as it provides a picturesque view of the valley as the Canadian Pacific train line winds its way around the curve. I set my shot up to capture a long exposure as it was still dark enough the train's lights had an effect on the surrounding landscape, illuminating the path it took with warmth surrounding the cold environment. I also really liked how the long exposure captured a ghostly effect of the train.

As the sun rose, a small break in the clouds illuminated the southeastern face of Mount Temple (my personal favorite mountain as I am a Temple University grad) with warm morning light. The face was surrounded by atmospheric conditions of cloud, wind, and snow that really softened the morning glow.

We moved on, checked out of our lodge, and before heading to our final destination of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park across the Continental Divide in British Columbia, we had spent a couple hours of shenanigans falling around snow packs at Herbert Lake.

Emerald Lake is a stunning location dominated by Mount Burgess that towers over the Cilantro Cafe and Emerald Lake Lodge. The lodge itself is a outstanding. Numerous cabins dot the peninsula, each with a real wood fireplace to keep warm! For my photograph, I wandered around the lake to shoot the lodge with Burgess towering overhead. I waited for quite some time hoping light would splash through the overcast sky and the patience paid off. Warm pinks and oranges lit the cloud deck and the peak of the mountain just before the light disappeared. The remainder of the evening and following morning were overcast with light snow showers.

Day 5

This was our final morning together. Me personally, I didn't do much shooting. I spent my last couple hours wandering around, soaking in the scenery. We met up, grabbed breakfast, loaded our cars, and said our goodbyes. There were people from the US, Peru, Canada, and Australia and it was time for us all to head home. I however, had a couple days left that were going to be spent in Calgary.

Day 6

Scotsman Hill is a great location for photography in Calgary. It gives panoramic views of the skyline and in the mornings and evenings can provide fantastic colors and reflections, like this sunrise below.

This sunrise went nuclear! The sun was actually rising behind me as you can see in the reflection on the high-rises with the yellows and oranges but out to the west, the sky exploded with pinks and purples. It was a fantastic start to a day spent exploring the city including going up the Calgary Tower where there is a 360 degree observation deck with a glass floor segment. I always enjoy grabbing food from the local shops and the two favorites I found were Red's Diner and Blue Star Diner. My last evening was spent catching a Flames game at the Saddledome, pictured above! I am a big hockey fan, so this was a lot of fun. Sadly, the game all but concluded my Winter experience up in the Canadian Rockies.

Conclusion

While I was nervous to the idea of going up into the Canadian Rockies in the Winter, I was absolutely blown away on how beautiful the cold Winter landscapes are. Mentioned before, I am from and live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the east coast, near Washington DC. We have not had much of a Winter the past few years with very little snow. It is a couple hours drive out to Shenandoah National Park and even there, there hasn't been much going on. It was a wonderful experience to see the colors and textures that the cold season brought to the mountains where I had been a couple times before. I definitely feel like this is something you should seek out as a vacation for yourself. Flights are cheaper in the Winter, lodges are cheaper in the Winter, and there are less of the massive group tours going on that crowd the popular areas in the warmer months. Nick and Sarah will be putting on future workshops in the Winter as well so if you were looking to do a tour, get in touch with them to share your interest.

The rest of group on the tour: Farhat, Mashrur, Benito, Gail (who has stunning macro shots), Pablo, Ashley, and Cristina.

Thank you for reading this far! If you have any questions about any of my images or wanted to give me a follow, you may reach out to me on my own Instagram, @nickpalastro.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!