Western Splendour: A Photographic Tour of the Canadian West
Celebrating the natural beauty of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
The Western Provinces of Canada, Captured on Camera
Summer and fall are both perfect times to explore and photograph the western provinces of Canada, as the diversity of the landscape offers something exciting for everyone to enjoy. I wait in anticipation every year as the waterfalls begin to roar from the melting snowpack in the mountains, and the greens of spring and summer reveal themselves in the grasses and trees.
Summer heat waves frequently lead to thunderstorms and skies that come alive with amazing clouds, lightning and rainbows, while the cool air of autumn transforms the trees into pillars of breathtaking colour.
A decade ago when I purchased my first camera on a whim, I had no idea that my initial curiosity about photography would take me on a new career path as a landscape photographer. It is with gratitude that I am now able to share my view of nature with images of our beautiful country. Many other photographers I have met on my travels often share this common passion for capturing nature with a camera as a form of creative expression.
Saskatchewan will always hold a special place in my heart, as it is my home province and displays a wide range of photo opportunities. From the badlands in the south to the boreal forest of the north, it is incredibly diverse in its topography.
Many people are surprised to learn that the two largest sand dunes in Canada are both located in Saskatchewan. While the Athabasca Sand Dunes in the far north are accessible only by plane, the Great Sandhills southeast of Leader, Saskatchewan, are easy to find and explore. The fine white sands rival those of any beach in the Caribbean, while the minimal light pollution of the area offers the perfect opportunity to stargaze and try your hand at night photography.
Summer camping at one of the thousands of lakes in the province’s north will often reward you with colourful sunsets on the beaches, or with the wonder of the aurora borealis as shimmering lights dance in the night sky for a show you will never forget.
The badlands of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta were carved by receding glaciers from the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago and reveal a mysterious glimpse into the past. Castle Butte in south-central Saskatchewan is a 70-metre-tall, free-standing outcrop of sandstone and clay that was used as a landmark by Indigenous Peoples. It also attracted notorious figures such as Sam Kelly and the Sundance Kid as they evaded authorities as outlaws of the west.
Dinosaur Provincial Park in southeast Alberta is another valley of badlands and is aptly named, as it is one of the richest hotbeds of dinosaur fossils in the world. Specimens discovered in the area are on display in museums around the globe.
Moving west, the Canadian Rockies are the ultimate playground to enjoy exploring with a camera. You could spend a lifetime hiking the trails of Kananaskis Country, Banff National Park and Jasper National Park and never see them all. But a surprising number of iconic locations are directly accessible by car without the need to travel deep into backcountry.
Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is perhaps one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, with its electric-blue waters and mighty backdrop of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The view from the natural moraine or rock pile at the north end of the lake was featured twice on the $20 bill, in 1970 and again by the end of that decade.
The Icefields Parkway, stretching about 230 kilometres between Lake Louise and Jasper, is considered one of the most breathtaking drives on the planet. Alpine lakes, rivers, valleys and soaring mountain peaks greet you at every curve, offering endless photo opportunities.
With its amazing symmetry, Sunwapta Falls—located near the highway southeast of the town of Jasper—is not to be missed. Glacial waters flow around a small island of trees perched in the middle of the river before plunging 18 metres over rocky cliffs and into a pool below. An early morning visit may reward you with mist and fog flowing through the valley, adding some beautiful atmosphere to your images. (Find out more unforgettable things to do in Jasper.)
Crossing the Continental Divide in British Columbia, Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park is one of the highest waterfalls in Canada, with a total drop of 373 metres from the Daly Glacier above. Prepare to get wet from the spray of these powerful falls whose name means “wonderful and magnificent” in the Cree language.
If you enjoy photographing trees and the vibrant colours of autumn, travelling to Vancouver Island in mid-to-late October will never disappoint. Be sure to visit Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew to experience an old-growth forest with gigantic cedar and fir trees aged from 500 to 1,000 years old. Wooden stairs and boardwalks help you navigate through the most impressive specimens while keeping them protected on your self-guided tour.
The temperate climate throughout the city of Victoria and surrounding area provides the perfect conditions for many species of deciduous trees to thrive, allowing them to display the stunning fall colours that are a delight to photograph. Numerous public parks feature forest-like settings, with a large variety of tree species such as big-leaf maples and colourful willows. And be sure not to miss the many famous public gardens that feature a spectacular array of vibrant flora that will not disappoint. A number of these gardens feature stately old Japanese maple trees, a favourite of mine to capture during the height of fall colour. Their twisting, mossy branches and vivid red-and-orange leaves are a sight to behold and beg to have their picture taken.
From the badlands and northern lakes of Saskatchewan to the mountains and forests of Alberta and British Columbia, be sure to add the western provinces of Canada to your list of places to explore on a future summer or autumn holiday. Their beauty and diversity are sure to inspire you to fill your scrapbook with memories to last a lifetime.
Inspired by the beauty of the western provinces of Canada? Check out 10 more places in Canada every Canadian should visit.