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Rocky Mountains high
Bighorn sheep taking in the Jasper view. Picture: Jeff Tupper

There are some destinations which superlatives never seem to describe adequately and to which photographs just don't do justice. One such place is Canada's Rocky Mountains, on the border of Alberta and British Columbia.

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Just an hour's drive east of the mountains is Calgary, a vibrant, cosmopolitan young city and a convenient starting place for a self-drive tour.

The international airport is being expanded to cater for growing numbers of tourists and car-hire operators are just a short walk from Arrivals.

Driving on the right-hand side of the road can be a little intimidating but one soon adapts. Pedestrians have right of way when crossing a road.

Canmore, 128km west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway Route 1, is a tourist and resort town on the Bow River. Accommodation is best booked in advance, particularly in the peak seasons. I spend two nights at Ambleside Lodge, a comfortable B&B close to the town centre, and take a one-day drive out to Kananaskis Country. Although it is late April, there is still snow on the ground and many of the lakes and rivers are iced up.

Columbia Icefield from the Parkway Centre. Picture: Jeff Tupper

After a few days, in a condominium in Radium BC, it is time to set off on the next leg of my tour, the Icefields Parkway.

The Parkway, connecting the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper and the national parks of Banff and Jasper, via Route 93, is consistently voted one of the world's best drives. The route traverses some of the Canadian Rocky Mountains' finest scenery, from the spectacular Moraine Lake and Lake Louise at the southern end to the massive peaks and glaciers of the Columbia Icefield. It ends 230km to the north, near the Canadian Rockies' highest peak, the towering Mt Robson, which stands almost 4000m.

And, if that is not enough to satisfy the spellbound traveller, Mother Nature also throws in thundering waterfalls, amazing canyons, mighty rivers and breathtaking mountain passes - not to mention the likelihood of spotting the region's legendary wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou, elk and bighorn sheep.

Being a major highway, the Icefields Parkway closes only during heavy winter snowfall but the weather can change quickly. Visitors to Banff and Jasper national parks require a Park Pass, available at Parks Canada outlets, and there are few facilities between Lake Louise and Jasper so ensure you have plenty of fuel.

The Parks Canada Icefield Centre at the Columbia Icefield, almost midway along the route, has exhibits and information on the region's mountains and retreating glaciers and visitors can take an Ice Explorer ride in special buses on to the glacier itself.

Just over 100km further north at the northern end of the Parkway, Jasper is quieter and more relaxed than the touristy towns of Banff and Lake Louise. It is predominantly a railway town and a stop for long freight trains, passenger services from Vancouver and Edmonton and the Rocky Mountaineer tourist train which offers luxury two or three-day Rocky Mountain rail journeys.

While in Jasper, I take a leisurely drive west along the Yellowhead Highway to catch a rare glimpse of a cloudless Mt Robson - just one more jewel in the Rockies' glittering crown. The following day good weather allows me to do some walking around Jasper where I see some of the local bighorn sheep which obligingly pose for my camera. Like Banff and many other Canadian mountain and valley towns, Jasper has fine golf courses but you need to plan your games well ahead as the courses are popular and the playing season only four months.

All too soon, it is time to drive back down this amazing highway to Banff and onward to Calgary. There are some superlatives that spring to mind when describing Canada's Rocky Mountains, "awesome" and "breathtaking" among them, but don't take my word for it: go and see for yourselves.