A Roll Back in Time on the Icefields Parkway

My whole trip through Alberta thus far has been a reflective introspective on my life, and where it has taken me.  Sometimes, when I’m on the road I feel like I’m barely moving forward in life, I feel like I’m running on a treadmill towards success rather that a trail that’s steady and sure.  I often wonder if I’ve actually progressed at all.   Being back in Alberta has been good for me.  It reminds me how far I’ve come in just five years.  Though it seems like a lifetime ago now, five years ago I was spending my summer driving a tour bus up and down this park highway I find myself on again today.

Icefields Parkway, Canada

As I turn off the Trans-Canada Highway on to the famous Icefield’s parkway it starts pouring rain.  I bend a couple corners and past-Brendan kicks in.  I used to love these rainy days guiding on the parkway.  Though my passengers would much rather actually see the mountains and hear about the glaciation process, I’ve always like telling the stories of old explorers and outfitters like Bill Peyto, David Thompson and Mary Schafer.  The rain forced me to entertain, and the stories from the past would always sweep me.

Icefields Parkway, Canada, Num-ti-jah lodge

When I left to travel the world five-something years ago, I had dreams of being that same type of explorer.  I wanted to do things no one had done before, see places unseen to most, and maybe have people tell stories of me someday.  The last time I was home, I realized I was selling myself short on my dreams.  Caged by financial issues, work commitments, and, most largely, fear I hadn’t cross the seas in a kayak, nor had I hiked through the Himalayas, or cycle across a city let alone a country.

Icefields Parkway, Canada, bow lake

Bow Lake

Today, the person I am is so different even to just a couple years ago. In the past year, I travelled to Haiti, I stowed away on a train in Mauritania, crossed West Africa with public transport, and then topped it all off by driving a scooter down from Mali to South Africa.  I feel so much more fulfilled in my goals than just a year ago.  I feel like I can take on the world.

The tour guide in me starts to talk to himself again as the Icefields parkway begins to lighten, and the clouds lift.  I pull up alongside the road at beautiful Bow Lake and shoot images in the perfect morning light.  I’ve driven down this road nearly a hundred times I’m sure, but I’ve never seen it this stunning.

Icefields Parkway, Canada, Bow Lake

Ironic that this post is about reflecting, and all the mountains are reflecting? Hey? Hey?!

I see a couple taking photos of one and other, and offer to take one of the two of them.  They smile, and then tell me how it’s been a dream of theirs to drive this highway ever since it was listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s most scenic drives.  I smile, and remember how I always mentioned that fact in my commentary.

The road climbs in altitude towards Peyto Lake and I accidentally drive up to the bus parking area out of habit.  I used to hate it when cars drove up here, now I’m one of the lost fools.  I’ve never been to the car park before.   I park and hike up the hill to the view point and pull the trigger three or four times before heading back down.  Peyto Lake is one of the bluest of the many blue lakes on this parkway, it’s also one of the most photographed.

Peyto Lake, Icefields Parkway, Canada

My journey continues past more lakes, glaciers, and impressive mountain peaks. I pass a roadside marking the highway intersection and the name of my hometown.  Though this road is the same as it was five years ago, it all feel completely different, it all seems fresh, yet familiar.

The Colombia Icefields slide down from their high altitude base, and look more impressive than usual thanks to a sprinkling of early fall snow.  Dots of people in colourful jackets are spotted along the ice, giant buses with massive ice-ready tires crawl along the glacier.  I can still recite all of the guides commentary from the ice, all of their corny dad jokes too.  I laugh to myself when I think about them.

Waterfowl Lake, Icefields Parkway, Canada

Waterfowl Lake

The Icefields Parkway continues to pull me through along, now through Jasper National Park.  I pass beautiful glaciers, skim under heavy clouds, trail along rivers deep in glacial sentiment.  On a cliff edge, big horn sheep proudly display their balancing act before stubbornly cross the road.

Tangle Creek, Icefields Parkway, Canada

Tangle Creek Falls

Again, it starts to rain.

The town of Jasper appears, and though my day ends, I’m sure this town will continue forcing me to reflect.  In so many ways, this area defined me as a person, and as a traveller.  In so many ways, it’s a reminder of the fact that though I might be trudging the slow muddy trail towards success, I have come a long way.  I’m reminded of how much hard work I’ve put in to get this far, and how much more I’ll need to put in to keep going.  It’s exactly the reminder I needed today.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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5 Comments

  1. Peyto Lake is even more awesome down at the lakeshore … you get you see where all the water for that gem come from and no tourists to get in your way! 😛

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  2. The photos are so beautiful that it almost seems unreal. Very well captured!

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  3. I always enjoy your stories. The Bow Lake image is terrific. I like that fact that you included tourists in your Peyto Lake photo, it is good to see others roaming and viewing like you. I am curious though, now that James has mentioned the “awesome” view down at the lakeshore…..something I would like to venture out one day to see. — Super article, keep them coming. 🙂

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  4. Wow! Awesome pics you got there! We haven’t been to Canada but we are hell sure going to put that on our bucket list! Thanks for the lovely photos. Hope we can have the same insights when we get there to Alberta.

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    • You definitely need to Hannah. Amazing place! Alberta and BC in particular!

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