Lakes & Rivers of the Canadian Rockies
What do Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake and Maligne Lake all have in common? They're all world-famous lakes in the Canadian Rockies, they're all fed by mighty glaciers, and they all haven't changed much in more than 100 years. They're also part of a drainage system at the roof of the continent, as water from this region flows in three directions to the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake both drain into the Bow River, one of the top trout fishing rivers in North America. The 587 kilometre (365 mile) long river starts high in the Rockies at the Bow Glacier, part of the Wapta Icefield on the Continental Divide in northern Banff National Park.
It flows southward through the park to Banff and Canmore, and then onward to Calgary and its confluence with the South Saskatchewan River. The name "Bow" refers to the reeds that grew along its banks and which were used by First Nations peoples to make bows. The Peigan name for the river is "Makhabn", meaning "river where bow reeds grow".
Named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, Lake Louise is one of the most photographed places In Banff National Park. The Stoney Nakota Indians call it “lake of the little fishes.” The glacial-fed lake is famous for the emerald colour of its water, created by the rock flour carried into the lake by melt-water from the glaciers on the mountain range above it.
Nearby Moraine Lake, named for a glacial moraine that blocks water to create the body of water, shares a similarly spectacular blue appearance. The view from the rockpile trail at the end of the lake is one of the most famous in the country. The panorama, into the Valley of the Ten Peaks, was featured on the reverse side of the 1969 through 1979 issues of Canada's $20 bill.
Peyto Lake, named for early trail guide and trapper Bill Peyto, is a favourite stop on the Icefields Parkway for its spectacular view from Bow Summit. The lake's bright turquoise colour is created by rock particles ground up by the glacier and suspended in the water.
Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park also boasts one of the most photographed locations in the country - the view out over Spirit Island to the surrounding peaks. Boat tours run to Spirit Island from spring through autumn. The 22.5 kilometre (14 mile) long lake takes its name from the French word for wicked.
The Athabasca River starts at the Columbia Icefield and flows through Jasper National Park, throwing itself over the 24 metre (80 foot) high Athabasca Falls along the way. In recognition of its natural heritage and importance to the fur trade in the construction of railways and roads opening up the Canadian West, the Athabasca has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.
The Kicking Horse River also plunges down three waterfalls and through a series of canyons in Yoho National Park on its way to the Columbia River at Golden. The river gets its name from an incident in 1858, when James Hector, a member of the Palliser Expedition, was kicked by his pack course while exploring the river.
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America, with an average flow of 256,000 cubic feet per second. When the river passes Golden in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench, it is just getting started. By the time it enters the Pacific Ocean on the Washington/Oregon border 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) from its Rocky Mountain source, it has drained an area the size of France. With 14 hydroelectric dams along its length, the Columbia provides more hydroelectric power than any other river on the continent.