Paddling in the Canadian Rockies
Posted January 3, 2019 in Experiences
Molly McCandless hits the water at Pyramid Lake
My friend Stefanie and I were really excited to discover that there’s a different way to explore Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies––by canoe. We couldn’t wait! Our local guide Mike, decked out in his rubber boots and outdoor gear, picked us up at our townsite hotel in the afternoon and drove us 20 minutes north towards Pyramid Lake.
On the way, Mike gave us a great guided tour of the area, telling us all about what it’s like to live in a little mountain community like Jasper. He showed us the small neighbourhood where he lives and told us about his children and the school they go to.
But it wasn’t long before the townsite faded from view and we arrived at the lake. The vast shoreline here completely opened up before us, the picture-perfect reflections of the surrounding trees and mountains perfectly mirrored in the glassy water.
I was more than ready to start portaging our canoe from the van to the water. But we were pleasantly surprised to find that a beautifully-made cedar boat was already waiting for us at the side of the lake. It was at least four metres long, with handcrafted wicker seats and matching cedar paddles.
Mike helped us suit up in our life jackets and gave each of us careful, one-on-one lessons about how to correctly move our paddles. It’s always best to keep your arm at a 90-degree angle, we learned, ensuring that you have a wide enough stroke.
Before I knew it, the three of us had pushed off and we were out on the calm waters of the lake. Stefanie was at the front of the canoe, with myself in the middle and Mike at the back. It was a good thing he was at the back to steer us in the right direction!
During our three-hour tour, Mike made sure we were comfortable with wool blankets for our legs (we were visiting the Rockies at the end of summer and the air was a little crisp). And as we paddled further out, the panorama expanded like the canvas of a massive painting. We felt smaller and smaller as we inched towards Pyramid Mountain, the sunlight catching each ridge of its massive peaks.
Mike made sure to maneuver the canoe so that we always had the best views to gaze at. The area’s huge, craggy mountains dominated the scenery, and we were able to shoot some amazing photos from the water. Thanks to Mike, we were also able to snap some cool images of us with Mount Pyramid as our backdrop.
"I was mesmerized by the clear reflections of the mountains on the surface of the water and the tiny swirling whirlpools"
We also learned about the wildlife that calls this area home and regularly visits the lake, especially during the summer and fall seasons. Mike told us about the family of loons that lives here, and how one year they had a chick that seemed very reluctant to start flying. During one of his canoe tours, Mike had the privilege of seeing this little bird take its first flight from the surface of the lake.
Following the shoreline for most of the tour increased our chances of spotting the area’s other wildlife. We saw different species of birds and a few jumping fish. We were also making an effort to be very quiet, so we didn’t scare the animals away. But at one point, the silence was interrupted by a high-pitched screech. Stefanie and I thought it must be a bird but Mike told us it was actually the scream of a red squirrel.
The shore-hugging route also meant we were largely sheltered from the wind. Out on the water, there was an amazing feeling of tranquility and isolation. It was just us, the boat and nature, with only the sounds of our paddles swishing through the water. And we were the only people on the lake that day, which made it feel even more special.
As for the scenery, I just couldn’t get enough of it. I was mesmerized by the clear reflections of the mountains on the surface of the water and the tiny swirling whirlpools created each time we took our paddles out of the lake.
Halfway through our tour, Mike steered us towards Bikini Beach. It was time for a short break. A small, sandy area at the far end of the lake, it had a small log and a wooden rake propped against a tree. Mike told us that bikini-wearing locals and visitors come here to swim and the rake is for people to leave the beach in good shape.
He also surprised us here with a beautiful spread of raspberries, local pastries and hot chocolate. We had no idea that this amazing spread would appear, so it was a really lovely (and delicious) surprise. It was also very welcome, we had worked up quite an appetite from all that paddling!
The hot chocolate warmed us while we sat on blankets on the beach and looked in awe at Pyramid Mountain. I was shocked by how far we had paddled in such a short amount of time. Before long, though, it was time to hop back in the boat and head back to our original launching spot.
Weaving back through the water, it wasn’t long before we were on dry land again. But before we left the Pyramid Lake shoreline, Mike offered to take some pictures of us with the canoe and our paddles. He covered every angle, giving us some amazing photos of our adventure to take back home with us.
The perfect host, Mike also walked to the van and drove it up to us so we didn’t have to walk across the street! Heading back along the mountain-framed roads to our hotel, I felt a little sad about turning my back on the day’s serene wilderness. But I knew I’d never forget this amazing experience, and I’d love to head out on the lake again one day.