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Discover the Rockies: A Unique Local Soundscape

The best travel experiences engage all of our senses, including our sense of hearing. The distinctive soundscape of a location is key for the immersive quality of the best vacations. 

Along with its iconic snow-capped mountains and brilliantly colored glacier-fed lakes, the sounds of the Canadian Rockies are distinct and evocative. One only has to close their eyes for the transportive effects. 

On a recent trip through the Rockies, I discovered that the region’s unique sounds are created by some of its most remarkable things. 

Coyotes barking and howling

Falling asleep the first night, a soft mountain breeze through the open window of my room at the Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa, I hear a dog barking in the distance. Then its high yips were joined by a chorus of short howls, rising and falling in a weird, off-key sing-along. Definitely not your everyday domestic dogs. I later learned that a pack of coyotes like to hang around the railway tracks on the edge of town in Banff

According to Parks Canada, the coyote is a medium-sized grayish brown dog with a slender muzzle, large pointed ears, and a thick bushy tail. It can often be seen along the highways, hunting for small rodents. 

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Elks Bugling

While on a sightseeing tour of Banff that took in the area’s landmarks and historic places, we made a stop at the Banff Hoodoo Viewpoint to look down on the rocky spires. It was a clear, fall day, and other than the distant rush of the Bow River and the rustle of leaves in the breeze, it was fairly quiet. Which made the sudden raucous noise of a nearby elk even more conspicuous. Male elk bugle during mating season (often called the rut) from September through October. Bugling involves growls, barks, glunks, chuckles, and whistles, but to my mind it really sounds like someone doing a very poor job of playing the bagpipes. 

A few days later, while driving into Jasper after a stunning day traveling the world-famous Icefields Parkway  — named one of the most beautiful drives in the world — our tour bus was greeted by a several bull elk feeding at the side of the highway. That night, at the Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre on the edge of town, I left my window open so I could hear the frequent calls. The sound is eerie and ancient, and I will forever associate it with the Rockies. 

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The Burble of Rivers and Waterfalls

Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Nothing soothes me quite like the sound of running water. I'm not alone. The repetitive quality of flowing water has been shown to induce light hypnosis, allowing one to fall into a deep beneficial relaxation

Luckily, along with its dramatic mountains and wildlife, the Canadian Rockies are known for its stunning lakes, rivers and waterfalls. While in Banff and Jasper, I made sure to include hikes and stops to some of the area's gems, including Johnstone Canyon, Athabasca Falls and Maligne Canyon Waterfalls. While I did record a few videos — who can resist the natural beauty of a waterfall — I made sure to put away my phone to focus on the scene before me. A short digital detox made all the more effective with the restorative chords of the flowing water.

The rhythmic thrum of the trains

The draw to the Canadian Rockies comes from its dramatic natural landscapes — the same thing that made the area impassable until the construction of the Trans-Canada Railroad in the late 1800s. Traveling this historic route is still the best way to experience the Rockies, and trains, both passenger and freight are a regular site — and sound — in Banff and Jasper. 

My trip ends with a breathtaking journey on the Rocky Mountaineer's Goldrush to Rainforest Route, from Jasper to Vancouver. Standing out on the observation deck, the rythmic thrum of the wheels passing over the rail joints creates a soothing soundtrack to the iconic scenery passing by. 

About the author: Athena McKenzie is the Content Manager at Fresh Tracks Canada. An experienced lifestyle journalist, she has written about travel, design, arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Elle Canada and... Read more

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