Shooting from the highway in the Canadian rockies: Part 2

This is part two of shooting from the highway in Jasper and Banff National Parks. Part 1 is here.

As I wrote about in part 1, it’s ridiculously easy to visit these two national parks on your own, without hiring an expensive guide and come away with grand vistas like you’ve only dreamed about. And the ridiculous part? Most of these places are only a few meters away from the highway.

Today’s stop is Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park. The directions from the Parks Canada website are as follows, and it’s easy to get there. You just follow the road.

Traveling east on Highway 16, turn right across the Moberly Bridge 5 km east of Jasper and follow the signs. The paved road up the Maligne Valley ends at Maligne Lake, 45 km south. You can continue on to Maligne Lake, which I’ll write about in the future. Medicine Lake is at the half way mark here, approximately 20 kms on a paved, two-lane road.

There are three major parking spots by Medicine. The first is at the north end of the lake. From here you can get out of your vehicle, stretch your legs and take in one of the most beautiful spots in western Canada. Remnants of the old road take you down to the lake. It looks like a trail but it is actually where the old “highway” used to be, snaking around cottonwoods, poplars and willows.

The water level fluctuates greatly during the summer. With no visible outlet, the lake drains through the porous limestone and emerges many kilometers down the valley before entering Maligne Canyon. Another great stop on this road. If you look at the banks of the lake you can actually see the high level marks over the years. During the winter when the flow from the Maligne River drops, the lake disappears leaving only a creek flowing in the empty basin.

A huge boulder field lines the north shore. Boulders as large as houses dot the landscape. At times they are submerged and others exposed. They make for an interesting foreground with which to frame your photos.

Winter, spring, summer and fall all provide unique looks for the lake with fall probably being my favorite. The peak for fall colors here varies by a couple of weeks. By the second and third week of September the leaves are at their most brilliant and are ready to fall. If it’s a windy autumn the fall leaves are on the trees only briefly. It can get really windy here.

Autumn also means less tourists. Speaking of tourists, the next stop by the lake is near a big bend on the north east corner of the lake, only a couple of hundred meters from the first. Here is where all the tourist buses stop and it is also here that you get the “classic” Medicine Lake shot.

The highway runs the length of Medicine and it is the south side of the lake that seems to get the least attention photographically.

Here at the south end of the lake you can see the Maligne River at it’s low level in late September. On occasion I’ve seen caribou and grizzly bear walking the dry lake flats and on the highway leading up to Maligne Lake, wolves using the paved road as their personal highway during the winter when the snow is deep. This valley does seem to catch more snow than most in Jasper and often when there is no snow near the town of Jasper can be waist deep in it walking around Medicine.

Get out and stretch your legs anywhere around the lake, any time of the year. You’ll have a blast. I always do.

Happy shooting,



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~ by Dan Jurak on April 2, 2011.

6 Responses to “Shooting from the highway in the Canadian rockies: Part 2”

  1. they are all magical

  2. After seeing your photos, I’d like to visit some day.

  3. Love that last shot Dan! Medicine lake is my favourite lake. Has been since the first time I saw it. Now 10 years ago. It was foggy but boy did it stick on fiber paper in the darkroom back then.

  4. this pictures are amazing. i especially love the last one where it feels like the very top of the mountain ridge is on fire.

  5. I fell in love with Medicine Lake the first time I saw it. There’s something magical there!

  6. Hi there Dan, I have been pretty busy and havnt been checking in as often as I would like. Lots of reading to catch up on. I just wanted to say how much I liked the photoblog link on your site. I will be checking out some of the great looking blogs as soon as I get time. Wishing you good light, Viv.

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