We feature some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community through our Instagram Spotlight series. This week, Alice Thieu (@alicethieu) shows us her favorite spots around the Canadian Rockies and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Icefields Parkway, which links Jasper and Lake Louise, is generally considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. There are over 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes along the road, making it an incredibly photogenic route. Though it’s technically a drive that can be completed in just over three hours, it’s difficult not to stop at every scenic turn of the road — I could have easily spent a full day on the relatively short drive. One of the best moments from my parkway road trip was when I pulled over and stood in the middle road for that “epic road shot” while my friends kept an eye out for oncoming cars.
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is only a four-hour drive from Edmonton, and it has some of the darkest skies in the world — ideal for stargazing. On any given day, you can also spot wildlife like elk and moose around the park or along the highway. In fact, my group spotted a huge herd of bighorn sheep just as we were entering the park. Talk about a unique welcoming committee!
From stargazing on clear nights and roasting marshmallows around a campfire, to skiing on the slopes of nearby Marmot Basin and ice-walking on frozen rivers, there was an abundance of outdoor activities in Jasper. But one of my most memorable experiences was exploring the frozen waterfalls in Maligne Canyon. At 160-feet deep, this canyon is the deepest in the park. It was quite surreal to walk on the frozen river at the bottom of the canyon — something I’ll never forget.
Banff National Park
Banff is Canada’s oldest national park, and is easily accessible from Calgary. I’ve had the good fortune to visit Banff twice — once in the spring and once during the winter.
Springtime in Banff is “shoulder season” — an interesting time to visit. It’s too late in the year for heavy snowfall for winter sports enthusiasts, but too early for the lakes to thaw and allow for water sports season to begin. Additionally, the weather is often unpredictable at this time — it can be snowing one day and sunny the next. In fact, it was snowing quite heavily when I spent my first day in Banff. I had booked a trip up the gondola and was worried about the visibility. Thankfully, as I got farther up, it stopped snowing, and I got to witness a moody winter scene as fog and clouds hugged the mountain peaks.
And a little less than an hour away from the town of Banff is beautiful Lake Louise, which is surrounded by towering and picturesque mountains. Though known for its summertime turquoise color, the lake becomes a large ice-skating rink during the winter, and from snowshoeing to cross-country skiing, there’s plenty to do at Lake Louise. It will also forever be the place where I was finally able to check off dog-sledding from my bucket list. There’s really something magical about having a pack of energetic huskies pull your sled while it is lightly snowing.
Whether it’s the old Victorian houses (think “Full House”), the cable cars chugging up and down steep hills, or the gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge, there are numerous, well-known images that pop up when you picture San Francisco. And I’ve certainly captured all of them at one point or another, often alongside crowds of travelers.
One of my favorite spots is the Palace of Fine Arts. Popular with both tourists and locals, this building is often used as a backdrop for wedding and portrait photo shoots. I like to visit during sunset — on a clear day, the setting sun casts a beautiful glow through the grounds’ arches. There are benches around the fountain located across from the Palace that are perfect for lounging on while the sun goes down.
The Golden Gate Bridge is also a common subject in my photos, as it’s one of the main attractions in San Francisco and the most iconic symbol of the city. But my favorite place to view the bridge is not actually anywhere near it. I like to drive and hike up to the numerous viewpoints on the Marin Headlands, a national recreation area across from the city. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise as San Francisco comes to life. And when the staple SF fog is present, the Headlands are one of the best vantage points above the hazy marine layer.
Less than an hour from San Francisco is Mount Tamalpais State Park. Open from sunrise to sunset, the park can be reached via a narrow, winding road up that leads all the way to the highest peak of Mount Tamalpais (often shortened as Mount Tam). Needless to say, it’s a memorable drive, especially in the dark or when accompanied by thick fog.
My favorite time to visit Mount Tam is during the summer months, which is when the fog (nicknamed Karl) typically blankets the entire city of San Francisco.
There’s something magical about driving up a mountain road covered in mist, only to see sunshine when you reach the top. On a clear day, Mount Tam offers a panoramic view of the Bay Area, but on a foggy day, you feel as though you’re floating above the clouds.