BC Highway Itinerary: Revelstoke, BC and Lake Louise, AB via #1
What to See & Do Between Revelstoke, BC and Lake Louise?
This stretch of the Trans-Canada is its most magnificent. You pass several worthwhile attractions in Revelstoke National Park just east of town (including the Meadows to Mountain roadway to the top of the mountain). Then you pass over Rogers Pass, with the highway surrounded by magnificent peaks on all sides of the highway. East of the Columbia River, you drive alongside the Blaebarry marshes, pass through Golden, and then climb the Kicking Horse River valley toward the continental divide. After passing Field’s unusually wide gravel bottomed river beds, you pass the famous Spiral Tunnels, and then just as rapidly drop downhill into Lake Louise.
Here is the itinerary for the 220 km along the #1 between Revelstoke, BC and Lake Louise, AB:
Revelstoke to Rogers Pass
Revelstoke has a very quaint Main Street shopping district, worth getting off the highway for. Just east of town is Mount Revelstoke National Park, with the 26 km Summit Road to the mountain’s top, built by the community during the Great Depression.
Between Revelstoke and Golden is the Selkirk mountain range, famous for its 10 metres of annual snowfall. With the steep mountainsides, avalanches are frequent, though the highway is protected along key avalanche routes by a number of snow sheds (remove sunglasses while inside). In winter, the Canadian military fires 105 mm howitzer shells at the mountain peaks and ridges to trigger small avalanches before the snow accumulates to dangerous levels. Pre-emptive shelling and serious avalanches may close the highway for several hours.
The Rogers Pass section of the Trans-Canada, through Glacier National Park was completed in 1962 and was the location for the official opening of the highway. The Canadian Pacific Railway first built a surface line over the pass in 1885 with 6.5 km of snowsheds. In 1916, the line moved into the 8.5 km Connaught Tunnel, right through Mount Macdonald. A second 14.5 km tunnel built in the 1980s doubled train capacity through the Rogers Pass.
The Columbia Valley (Rocky Mountain Trench)
East of Rogers Pass, the highway drops swiftly into the Rocky Mountain Trench, between the Selkirk and Rocky mountain ranges. The Rocky Mountain trench varies in width from 3 to 20 kilometres, and is the Columbia River’s basin on its northward journey up to the the Mica Dam, from which point it heads southward.
The Trench is caused by a major geological fault, with the Rockies to the east exposing mostly limestone and sediments from the Triassic period, while the Selkirks and Purcell ranges to the west are made up of mostly metamorphic rocks mostly from the Cambrian period.
The area between Donald and Golden was first explored by David Thompson in 1807 on his way to the Pacific. The Columbia River floodplain west of the Trans-Canada Highway is largely marshy, with muskrat lodges, as well as birds like bald eagles, red tailed hawks, osprey, and Canada geese.
During the Spring & Fall “shoulder seasons” of 2021 and 2022 this detour the main route across Canada, to accommodate construction of a wider, faster, and safer route through the Kicking Horse Valley. From the east, this detour is approached mid-way between Banff & Lake Louise, at Castle Junction to take Highway 93 south/west to Radium. From the West, this detour is approached at the main lights for the town of Golden. This detour is 250 km and takes 3 hours.
From Golden, the Trans-Canada climbs up the Kicking Horse River through a “Montane” eco-zone. The lower elevations have sub-alpine forests of Engelman spruce and alpine fir, and the higher elevations feature Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, and trembling aspen. Along waterways you may notice white spruce, black cottonwood, and western white birch. Along the way, drivers will notice extensive rockslide fortifications, including concrete walls, rockbolts into the mountains, and counter-weighted chain link fence. This stretch between Golden and the Kicking Horse Visitor Centre (a distance of about 15 km) of the highway is curvy, slippery in winter, and has significantly reduced speed limits (down to 30km/h in spots.)
The highway climbs up the slope, entering Yoho National Park, and crossing the Kicking Horse River several times.
You’ll pass two Spiral Tunnels just east of the Continental Divide, which reduce the slope of the railway. Trains pass by every half hour, you won’t wait long to observe one part of the train leaving the tunnel the end of it is entering right below (or above) the exiting end. Incidentally, the west side of the Kicking Horse Pass drops 2000 feet (600 meters) more than the east slope to Lake Louise.
Descent into Banff National Park
Down the east slope of the Kicking Horse Pass, the highway drops rapidly to the junction with highway 93, The Icefields Parkway, north to Jasper (definitely worth a 1 or 2 day side trip!). The highway turns right, following the Bow River toward Lake Louse, Banff and eventually Calgary.
Lake Louise has two attractions worth seeing: Skiing Louise with great year-round recreation, and Lake Louise itself. The road climbs about 700 ft (200 metres) from the valley, and opens to a splendid view of the lake, a glacier, and the famed Chateau Lake Louise.
There’s a short hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse (allow yourself just over an hour), or you can take longer hikes up to The Beehives, up to the Plain of Six Glaciers, or to Fairview Mountain overlooking the lake and Chateau.
For those who have extra time (parking and shuttles have made this much trickier in recent years) aa side trip to Morraine Lake about 10 km up a side road is well worthwhile, and in Fall the hike up to Larch Valley ( a half-day round-trip) and even higher up to Sentinel Pass (a long day round-trip hike)