Suspended nearly 1,700 meters above sea level in Alberta’s Banff National Park, the Waterfowl Lakes are surrounded by dramatic mountains shrouded in sweet-smelling pines. For most of the park’s 3.6 million annual visitors, Waterfowl Lake is an easily accessed pit stop along the famous Icefields Parkway. But not for us.
In search of pristine waters
Kieran and I had arrived at the Waterfowl Lakes after asking ourselves, where is the most unlikely place to take a pair of 30-pound, origami-inspired folding kayaks? Our answer: towed behind bicycles on a 2,500-kilometer tour from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies and back, in search of pristine mountain water. Never mind that neither of us were experienced cycle tourists; the furthest I’d ever pedaled before was 20 kilometers along a seawall.
Visiting the Waterfowl Lakes in Alberta
Located 57 kilometers north of Lake Louise on Hwy 93, the Waterfowl Lakes are fed by glacial meltwaters from the Mistaya River. Lower Waterfowl Lake is located on the west side of the Icefields Parkway and plays host to the popular Waterfowl Lakes Campground. Upper Waterfowl Lake is the more scenic of the pair, with beautiful turquoise waters created by rock flour from the Peyto glacier. It can be reached by a short portage from the south end of the campground.
In addition to paddling, the area surrounding Waterfowl Lakes offers excellent hiking and stunning views of nearby Mount Chephren and Howes Peak. The Waterfowl Lakes are also an excellent dark-sky site, ranking as a 1 on the Bortle scale for their lack of light pollution and ease of celestial viewing.
Biking closer day by day
Each day of our trip had a similar goal. Traverse river valleys, historic gold rush trails, a sprawling desert, abandoned train routes, and some of the country’s highest road-accessible alpine passes. Then, find a lake before sunset, unpack the folding boats from Oru Kayak and enjoy an evening paddle.
In six weeks, we crossed five mountain ranges in blazing summer heat. Endured hours of punishing climbs, dragging 120 pounds of kayaks and camping gear up 11-percent grades. Braved white-knuckle descents as our onerous loads taxed the bikes’ brakes, causing shuddering and violent swinging of the cargo trailer when we tried to slow down.
We survived close calls with careless semi trucks, awoke to find our campsite had been robbed, and wondered on a few occasions if the journey was worth continuing.
Of course it was.
Alberta’s Waterfowl Lakes are a worthy destination
Every day brought dramatic new views and every evening recharged our souls in a wild setting.
The challenges of the journey faded to insignificance in the timeless lens of the Waterfowl Lakes. Heading into the sun’s last golden rays, we paddled through mirror smooth waters shimmering bright topaz. As the sun dipped behind the rocky peaks engulfing the valley, not another soul was in sight, only a sky full of stars.