Warning – this is a long one!
I have been waiting for this part of the trip! Working at Holland America and Princess, I have always known about the Canadian Rockies and have had it on my bucket list for a long time. I have seen many a photo and written/edited many itineraries, but now I actually have a personal experience to attach to these places I have always seen in a brochure. Mike has been through this area, but back in the 90’s and it was a quick trip, so he was also looking forward to exploring the region in depth.
First stop, Jasper
We arrived to Jasper National Park in a pouring rainstorm. There are no commercial RV Parks in the national parks, only campgrounds, so we checked in at Whistlers Campground. We were excited that we weren’t as packed in as some of the RV parks and it had a more ‘wildernessy’ feel. But, what comes with that is no power, no water, no sewer and no wi-fi. We were boondocking! It was a nice change for us to really be disconnected (except for the occasional wi-fi connection at restaurants in town). We played a lot of Backgammon in the evenings!
The next day, we were ready to explore! Headed into town and the Jasper Visitor Center to get our maps, literature, etc. Made a quick stop at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to check out the property and see what golf would cost. Too expensive, but what a great, serene setting for this hotel. Decided on a hike up to Maligne Canyon which is a steep, narrow canyon, with a flowing river rushing through. We ended up on a side trail and my imagination was running wild. Everywhere, there were warnings about bears and I was convinced we were going to run into Smokey. We had our Bear Spray at the ready, but nothing to worry about. We left and decided to explore a bit by car. The scenery was just amazing. Craggy mountains capped with glaciers, rushing rivers and crystal clear blue lakes around every corner. We stopped at Pyramid Lake for a short walk and just enjoyed the killer views. Headed back into Jasper and the Jasper Brewery for dinner and a couple of ice cold beers (and free wi-fi). A great day!
The next morning we decided to drive toward Banff along the Icefields Parkway. We would be heading this way the next day, but we are not able to stop at many of the sights when we are in the MoHo and towing the car. So, we would be backtracking a bit, but we are much more flexible when we have the Acura only while the MoHo is back at the campground. We stopped at Athabasca Falls, which was pretty impressive. I would not want to be caught on the topside of the river with that thing in front of me. POWERFUL! We continued down the Parkway to Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefields. This is one of those sites I have read about so many times, but until you see it, it just doesn’t even compute. It is the world’s most accessible glacier. This is where you can pay to ride on those Ice-Coaches with the huge wheels that drive right onto the glacier. We decided against that and instead hiked the trail and like everyone else, walked under the rope and onto the front of the glacier. Me being the worry-wart didn’t want to do it, but Mike really did, so off we went. He said, “What happened to the girl that jumped out of an airplane years ago?” I am more cautious in my older age, but that comment got my attention! They say the ice is thicker than the Eiffel Tower is tall, so I decided we were probably safe. Once we were on the glacier it was amazing how cold it got. The glacier itself was HUGE. There were signs showing how much it has receded every 10 years. Mike was here back in the 90’s, so we took a picture at the 1992 sign and it must have been at least 100 yards from where the glacier is now. This was a very cool stop.
We headed back toward Jasper and decided on one last stop. There was a mountain that I had been intrigued by from the moment we arrived – Mount Edith Cavell. It appears to have horizontal stripes across it from the snow/glacier. So, we decided to go get a closer look. We took a 12km, very windy, steep drive up to the trailhead. We then walked the trail up to a viewpoint, which showcased the mountain, angel glacier and an amazing glacier-fed lake surrounded by thick glacier walls. So worth the trip – a hidden gem! Apparently last year a large portion of the glacier broke off into the lake and caused an immediate flash flood due to the lake overflowing into the valley to another lake below and caused it to raise 6 feet. Fortunately it happened at night and no one was there as it washed out most of the parking lot and much of the trail system. The power of nature! We retired to the MoHo exhausted from our full day.
Travel Day – Icefields Parkway
Not much to do this morning to get ready to leave, since we were boondocking. Not the usual chores that we are used to. We did stop at the “sani-dump” in the park to take care of our tanks and fill up with water for the days to come. Nice that they offer this service. This drive was one of the prettiest I have ever been on. It connects Jasper to Lake Louise (Jasper National Park to Banff National Park). One amazing landscape and view after another! If it weren’t for this, today could have been classified as the ultimate cluster. Turns out that we needed to get fuel. We mistakenly passed the only gas station on the Parkway, so we took the next exit as we thought there would be a pullout or turnaround no problem. About 15 minutes down the road we realized this was not the case. We had to pull over and unhook the car since we are not able to maneuver/backup/u-turn with the car in tow. All of this logistics stuff with the vehicles makes me extremely anxious. We successfully unhooked, I got in the Acura, Mike in the MoHo and we turned around and made it back to the gas station where we proceeded to pay $6.50/gallon for diesel. Needless to say we only put in the bare minimum. Have we said how expensive Canada is?! Found a place to hook back up and we were on the road again. Along the way we decided to stop at Peyto Lake. This is another place I had read about and wanted to visit. Most of these larger sites have had ample parking for large rigs, so we thought no problem. We drove up to where buses park as we thought that would be best, but instead got stuck again. Had to ask a large bus to move for us so we could get through. Again, this all makes me extremely anxious. The guy did it reluctantly and we hightailed it out of there without being able to stop and sightsee. At this point. I think both of us were ready to get to Banff.
The last ‘incident’ was both good and bad. We approached what seemed like a traffic jam on the Parkway. This can mean only two things – construction or wildlife. A black bear was near the roadside munching on some foliage. People lose all sensibility (we also saw this over and over in Yellowstone). Cars parked in the middle of the road and people standing less than 10 yards from this animal taking photos. I thought Mike was going to come undone. He honked our big MoHo bullhorn hoping these idiots would move their cars to the shoulder, but no one seemed to care. We were stuck and could not get by and traffic stacked up behind us. This actually worked out ok as we were able to get some good pics and being up so high, we had a great view. Finally we moved on, but at this point, we were ready to get the rig parked and be done with the drive. We pulled into Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff (we had power here, but no water or sewer) to a killer thunder/lightning show and headed into town for dinner. Granted it was a Saturday night, but town was a complete circus. So crowded, but really fun. This place is the ultimate little tourist town with a fun ave (Banff Avenue) with tons of shops and restaurants. We continued with our Brewery theme and settled into the Banff Brewery for a bite. The Sounders were playing Toronto on the big screen so it was a treat since we had been without TV for awhile.
Banff and Lake Louise
We had a much needed leisurely morning and decided today would be a good day for golf. Something completely relaxing in a beautiful setting. Golf at the Banff Springs resort was way too expensive so we drove west toward Calgary and the town of Canmore. We golfed at Stewart Creek and got paired up with a single, Shawn, a local kid. This always makes me nervous to play with someone I don’t know, but he was so easygoing and it really made for a great round. This area, which is very close to Calgary, was really hit hard by the big flood in June. Much of the golf course was washed out, but all but one hole was completely repaired. We had heard about this flood, but seeing the devastation first-hand was pretty eye-opening. We got off the course around 8 and headed back to the MoHo to watch the PGA tourney that we had recorded earlier. We both fell asleep early.
Woke up the next morning and finished watching the golf tourney. Drove to Lake Louise. Wow, there were a lot of people there! We walked down the hill and there it was. That picture I have had in my head: Chateau Lake Louise, the piercing blue colored lake with the mountain/glacier framed in the background. It was spectacular. We did a hike up to the Teahouse, 3.5km straight up, but well worth it. Once on top, there was a little restaurant serving coffee, tea and snacks. Very cool. A huge rainstorm started up, so we thought we better make our way down. It was a pretty strenuous hike for us. On our way down, we chatted about how glad we were to be doing this trip now vs. 20 years from now…20 years from now we wouldn’t be able to do this hike. This is a pretty regular conversation for us and confirmation on why it makes so much sense that we are doing this trip now! We drove back to Banff and decided to go to the Banff Springs Hotel for dinner/drinks. This hotel is the one we have all seen photos of – it looks like a castle in the trees. It was a splurge for us, but the atmosphere and setting just couldn’t be beat. We sat out on their patio and took it all in! Today was a banner day!
The next day, we headed back toward Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. This is the other recognized lake in all the pictures. It is a vibrant turquoise blue whereas Lake Louise is more of a milky, ice blue. Mike thinks Moraine is more impressive than Louise. We got rained on again, but it cleared pretty quickly and we were then treated to blue skies and sunshine. We were both a bit sore from our hike the day before, so decided to just do the easy trail along the lakeshore, 3 km roundtrip. There are some other hikes in the area, but due to bear activity, they require hiking in groups of 4 or more. We could have hooked up with some others, but this seemed like a good excuse for us to pass on these hikes! We headed back to the Banff area and up to Lake Minnewanka to explore some more, but most of the area and trails were closed due to bear activity. We decided to go back to the campground and enjoy our site and the sunshine. Mike made a delicious Caprese Salad and we opened a bottle (or two) of Rose from the Okanagan and sat outside in the sun until the mosquitos drove us inside. We both took showers in the campground facilities since we need to be mindful of our water usage. Another great day.
On our last day, we had a really relaxing one. Did some MoHo chores in the morning, then into town for lunch, strolling the ave and Starbucks for free wi-fi. Back to the campsite for a nice long walk, watched the Mariners and a light dinner. We have been in Canada for 2 weeks now. I absolutely loved this part of trip. It was the perfect mix of relaxation and seeing all of the sights I have dreamed of seeing. I also felt like we were pretty active which is always nice – 10,000+ steps every day! I would highly recommend this area for a visit – it really isn’t that far from Seattle and so worth it. The scenery really does rival Alaska. The only bummer is that we did not see much wildlife – only the one bear. Looking forward to getting back in the US! Thanks for reading.
Wildlife Update – We saw a gray wolf and a deer on the way south through Kootenay National Park. : )
More pics from Jasper/Icefields Parkway, click HERE
More pics from Banff/Lake Louise, click HERE
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