Emerald Lake

5 Best Winter Photography Spots in the Canadian Rockies

Spanning the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Canadian Rocky Mountains are a picturesque natural wonderland, filled with turquoise lakes, glaciers, jagged snowy peaks, and trees as far as you can see. This area includes several of Canada’s most stunning National Parks, like famous Banff and Lake Louise, and other beautiful parks such as Yoho, the Icefields Parkway and Jasper. It is stunning year-round, but the winter sparkle and snow-drenched alpine make it especially magical to photograph in winter.

One of my favourite ways to spend a winter day in the Rockies is to go on a photography adventure. The best time for photo-taking is sunrise or sunset to capture the beautiful colors, which can range anywhere from vibrant shades of pink and blue, to soft pastel hues in the winter. There are several spots where you can snowshoe or hike in, but the recommendations below are all drive-in locations, so they are fairly popular and accessible for photography.

Here are the best winter photography spots in the Canadian Rockies:

Vermillion Lakes

Located in Banff National Park, just at the turnoff to the Banff townsite, this is one of the easiest spots to get a winter photo. There is an access road that passes one side of the lake where you can get fantastic views of Mount Rundle behind the lake. Sunset is a great time to take photos here, so the mountain is lit up and it’s possible to get reflections on the liquid parts of the lake. If you are lucky for a calm day, the reflections can also work well here. I chose a sunset photo here, but sunrise can work too.

Emerald Lake

Located in Yoho National Park, there is a turn off of #1 highway that takes you to a popular day-use and resort area, with parking and some amenities. The main Emerald Lake Lodge resort restaurant is a beautiful log cabin perched at the edge of the water, where you can get a classic Canadian winter scene.  There is a snow-dusted mountain range in the background, a tuft of pine trees surrounding the cabin and reflections off the water. This spot is most popularly photographed at dusk with the cabin lights provide a urethral glow in the cool blue sky.

Abraham Lake

Located off the Icefields Parkway, Abraham Lake isn’t difficult to get to but is a bit far-flung and it takes some scouting to find patches of the famous frozen methane bubbles. They seemed to concentrate around the shoreline, but there are also other beautiful ice cracks and huge chunks of polished ice scattered around the lake which make for other interesting photo opportunities. The lake can get blisteringly wind, which contributes to the crystal clear ice, but crampons, serious winter-wear and planning is needed. Both sunrise and sunset photos work here, but the photo above was taken at dawn.

Banff Springs Hotel

Located in the townsite of Banff, is the iconic Banff Springs Hotel. First opened in 1888 as one of the earliest of Canada’s grand railway hotels, it looks like a castle springing up from the wilderness (from some angles). One of the best vantages points to capture a postcard-worthy shot, is from ‘Suprise Corner‘. Just a 5-minute drive from downtown Banff, it’s possible to get a photo of the hotel looking as though it is isolated in the forest.  Dusk is a particularly photographic time, as the hotel lights cast a beautiful evening glow.

Chateau Lake Louise

Located in on the bank of Lake Louise, is another classic Canadian hotel – the Chateau Lake Louise. This is a very popular tourist spot throughout the year, and in the winter hosts a popular ice carving contest, offers skating and snowshoeing, and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. To make a day-trip of it, plan to have tea or a meal in the Chateau, and grab some ice skates. You never know what photo opportunities you will stumble across here.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your photo adventure:

Winter photograph in the Canadian Rockies requires planning and proper gear, so make sure you dress appropriately and have a mountain worthy vehicle. Here are some tips to make your adventure safer and more enjoyable:

Plan Getting There

  • The National Parts can be expensive. The most reasonably priced hotels are in near mountain areas such as; Golden, Field, Rocky Mountain House, or Canmore. Anytime you stay right within the National Park, accommodation will be expensive unless you book in an alpine hostel.
  • Make sure to check sunrise/sunset times and plan to be there early to setup. Always check road conditions before adventuring out and take into account slower than normal driving times.
  • Pre-pack your camera gear and bring a thermos of hot coffee!

Cold-Weather Gear You Need

  • Snow Pants and Jacket
  • Thermal Base Layers
  • Fleece or other warm layers (depending on weather)
  • Winter Boots (-25 or colder preferable)
  • Warm Socks (wool)
  • Gloves (‘touch’ under gloves help too)
  • Toque and Neck Warmer (better than scarf which can blow off)
  • Crampons
  • Headlamp

Camera Gear You Need

  • Camera body – weather sealed is best (I used a Canon 5D mark 3)
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Wide or ultra-wide lens (I used a Canon 16-35mm f4)
  • Shutter release cable
  • Polarizer (cut glare on ice)
  • Extra batteries (you will go through battery faster in cold weather)

Tips

  • Although these spots are all driving accessible, make sure to have a mountain-worthy vehicle with winter tires before venturing into the Canadian wilderness.
  • Be aware that you may not have reliable cell phone service in some spots.
  • You will need to purchase a National Park Day Pass to visit most of the areas listed above.

Have fun! The Canadian Rocky Mountains are a beautiful, magical winter wonderland!

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