Canada, Part Two: Banff & Jasper National Parks
Trip Dates: July 8th-July 13th, 2017 (part two)
Hopefully you found your way to this post by way of "Canada, Part One: Vancouver, Garibaldi Provincial Park, & Whistler" but, by chance you didn't, I emerged from my hostel in Whistler, British Columbia in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, July 8th, hopped in my rental car, and started the eight-and-a-half hour drive to Alberta, Canada - passing into another timezone - by way one of the most scenic drives in the world: the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99). Since I splurged for Spotify Premium (and an unlimited data plan) this summer, I turned up the jams, rolled down the windows, and breathed in the fresh air. And even if mother nature had other plans such as a lengthy detour and poor air quality (thanks random wildfire), it didn't matter because soon enough I would reach the destination I so anxiously awaited: The Canadian Rockies!
July 8th, 2017, 4:06pm: I passed the "Welcome to Alberta: Wild Rose Country" sign and was completely ecstatic. Jasper National Park was only an hour or two away! Visiting all of the Canadian National Parks was a breeze in 2017 as Canada celebrated their 150th birthday and all of the national parks were free with the 2017 Discovery Pass. While nature awaited, my first stop was Jasper Brewing Company for a bite to eat and a cold brew after a long day of driving. From there, it was time to become one with nature. I passed a caribou on my way to the Miette Hot Springs and after checking out the "springs" turned swimming pool, I set off on the 1.2km "Source of the Springs" hike. The destination was exactly that - the source of the springs and the sulphur smell was overpowering. I thought I would hike the "Sulphur Skyline" Trail but ultimately turned around around 8:57pm due to the swarms of mosquitoes and, well, lack of daylight. I spent the night at the overflow 'camping' lot since I was still a day ahead of schedule.
July 9th, 2017: The "overflow camping" actually worked out quite nicely as I was up with the sunrise, brushed my teeth in the Tim Horton's bathroom, stood in line to get a permit to drive Edith Cavell Road, and was one of the first at Medicine Lake before heading up to Maligne Lake. Looking back, I cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am that I shelled out some bills to take a kayak out onto Maligne Lake. If you're a solo traveler, take advantage of the kayaks at Maligne as the majority of the other lakes only offer canoes (much more difficult to handle if you're by yourself...). It totally didn't matter that the clouds were coming in or that I didn't make it all the way to Spirit Island. Even if it was sprinkling, there was no raining on my parade; I was living the life, I was so happy kayaking on the pristine lake surrounded by greenery and snow-covered mountains. It was incredible!! A deer even greeted me on my walk around the lake after kayaking and before I went to Maligne Canyon. After the canyon, it was time to explore Edith Cavell Road. Since the road was under construction, they were limiting the number of people on the road. And, since there was "aggressive grizzly bear" activity on the longer trail I wanted to do, I opted for the shorter "Path of the Glacier Trail" which lead to the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell glacier. Originally planned for the following day, Athabasca Falls off the Icefields Parkway was the next order of business. I had a reservation for the Glacial Adventure at 10am on the 10th yet wanted to explore some spots along the way so I opted to check a few off while I had some time to spare. I spent an hour or so exploring the powerful, picturesque waterfall known for its force (there is a significantly large quantity of water flowing into the gorge) before heading to Wapiti Campground. And here's where things get interesting: I decided it would be best to take a shower (Canadian National Parks offer free showers!) before heading to my campsite, setting up camp, and making my freeze dried mac and cheese. Well, my my my how things work out. After the shower and on the short drive to the site, I was greeted by an elk in the road. Some may think moving objects might be more of a target than stationary objects. But hopefully we all know by now I am an exception to the norm. The rental car was not harmed by the elk but, rather, the metal fire pit in the middle of my campsite harmed the rental car. My intention was to pull into the campsite and then three-point turn so I would be able to leave bright and early to see everything there is to see on Icefields Parkway while still arriving at my Glacial Adventure by 10am. But, as luck would have it, as I put the car into reverse, I thought perhaps I had simply ran over a rock. I realized I was not so lucky when I heard another terrible, terrible noise. I got out of the car to check out the damage and low and behold, the bumper was only mildly attached to the car. I really did try to remain calm and after I blew my noise I opted to walk back to the check in area of the campground. After all, it was 7:15pm and all I knew was the car was practically inoperable until the bumper
was taken care of... A series of events ensued including a group of teenage boys asking me "are you okay" to which I replied "yes" and they proceeded to say "I thought it might have hurt when you fell from heaven." I literally cannot make this stuff up! When AAA arrived about an hour later and asked where I wanted the car towed to, I gave the name of the shop the young man at the campground check in station told me... When the AAA guy asked where my tent was, I told him I was going to go where the car went. Here's the deal: I would either let the car be towed and I would be stranded at the campground for an unknown amount of time and miss my 10am Glacial Adventure tour the following day OR my tow truck driver (AAA guy), Duane, would save my rental car and my life. Duane and I went to Block Towing Company in Jasper, Alberta. He unlocked the gate and had me pull the car in. The next thing I knew, he had unlocked the shop, turned on the lights, and came back out with some tools! 9:00pm and Duane was repairing the bumper! Naturally when I told him I hadn't seen any bears yet, he insisted we needed to take the car for a test drive to ensure the bumper was secure. Unfortunately, the bears must have gone out for dinner as they weren't at their homes... Fortunately, I wasn't kidnapped, I survived, and I was back at the campsite with a functioning rental car at 10:36pm. Thank you sweet baby Jesus for AAA... and Canadian A. Granted, I never did have my mac and cheese. The saying "it's always an adventure when we go with dad" had officially been passed down to me... And, the bumper was ultimately repaired using zip ties...
July 10th, 2017: 7:30am I feasted my eyes on Sunwapta Falls, another gloriously beautiful and powerful waterfall. In fact, there are two waterfalls at Sunwapta, an upper and a lower and they're both incredible. It's no wonder Icefields Parkway is said to be the most scenic journey in the world. Its beauty really is second to none as it stretches 144 miles through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. The road allows access to such a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers, and broad sweeping valleys. And, believe it or not, I actually made it for the 10am Glacial Adventure with time to enjoy a sandwich and some coffee. I'd say the Glacial Adventure was the highlight of my day but... I was in the Canadian Rockies were every moment of every day is a highlight because everywhere I looked was spectacular! So you might be wondering... What is the Glacial Adventure? Let me say one of the three television shows I guiltily watch is the Bachelor and Bachelorette series. On Sean Lowe's season of the Bachelor, he and Catherine (his now wife) had a one-on-one date doing this very thing... and since my tainted view of 'love' is based on the unrealistic-ness of the Bachelor, I knew I just had to do it. I know, I wish I were kidding too. Long story not short, the Glacial Adventure tour allows you to travel on a massive "Ice Explorer" in order to walk on, feel, and drink from the Athabasca Glacier. The Ice Explorer is the all-terrain vehicle that takes you directly on to a 10,000 year-old sheet of ice. I hadn't stood on a glacier since the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska and I had never filled a water bottle with glacial water so it was really a neat experience. After the glacial adventure the tour continued on to the glass-bottomed Glacier Skywalk, 918 feet above
Sunwapta Valley. Initially it was scary to walk on the skywalk as it was literally made of glass but eventually I made my way around it and took in the views. The next stop along Icefields Parkway was Bow Lake and then onto Peyto Lake. Peyto was one of my favorites, despite the gray skies. It was at Peyto that I saw the glacial blue water for the very first time. In fact, it was sprinkling and I still didn't want to seek shelter, I just wanted to soak in the sights. From Peyto Lake I made the drive to Yoho National Park and took in the beauty of the "Natural Bridge." It was raining but if $1,200 worth of rental car damage can't get me down, neither can some rain! Natural Bridge is a really impressive natural rock formation that spans the flow of the Kicking Horse River. The rock formation was sculpted by the erosive forces of rushing water over what had once been a waterfall. It's incredible how the force of water can literally carve out the landscape. Another point of interest in Yoho National Park that is worth the drive is Emerald Lake... Yes, even in the rain! The peaceful lake is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by lush, green forests. Emerald also offers canoe opportunities but there weren't many people canoeing in the rain. I'd love to return here and do some hiking at the foothills of the mountains. Surprise, surprise, another lake was next on the agenda - this time it was Moraine Lake complete with the most amazing color water, a vivid shade of turquoise that allegedly changes in intensity through the summer as the glaciers melt. Moraine was also surrounded by mountains and rock piles. The view was jaw-dropping and really left a lasting impression; the brilliant blue-green color of the water in contrast with the snow covered mountains was one of my favorite views throughout my entire trip. Around 6pm I had officially reached the mother-ship of outdoors: Banff! I walked around downtown a little bit to check out some of the shops but ultimately needed nourishment and it was a treat yo'self kind of night as I dined at Block Kitchen & Bar in downtown Banff. I don't know what was better, my Lavender Mule cocktail, the Spicy Albacore Tuna Tartare (cucumber, pickled beets, crostinis), or the Smoked Bison Flatbread (pesto, onion compote, arugula, goat cheese)... I wanted to sample the entire menu! Stuffed like a turkey, I retired to Two Jack Main Campground fairly early and caught plenty of zzz's.
July 11th, 2017: One of the millions of reasons why I don't mind traveling solo is because I can wake up at 5:30am, come across a family of mountain goats, be the only person at Lake Minnewanka, get breakfast at Tim Horton's and drive an hour to Boundary Ranch in the Kananaski Mountains for a 2-hour horseback ridge ride adventure starting at 9:30am... Despite the overcast weather, horseback riding was a great time. My horse, Tuffy, and I got along swimmingly and the group overall was quiet yet fun! After the ride I took a peak at the list of things I still wanted to do and knew there was no sitting still. It was back to Banff/Lake Louise to do some
hiking. The Plain of Six Glaciers trail was a must do for me including a visit to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. After marveling in the beauty of Lake Louise (probably for a little bit too long), I started the 9+ mile hike along the lake shore and through the pine forest to stunning mountain scenery up to the deep valley still covered in snow! The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House was everything I thought it would be and more. I refueled with some nachos, chili, and chocolate cake. I mean, have YOU ever gotten to a half way point on a hike and had a feast of epic proportions? I didn't think so. And I have to say, the employees at the tea house are the real MVPs. Built in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, there is still no road access or electricity so supplies are either flown in by helicopter at the beginning of the season, pack-horsed, or carried in by staff on their backs! The staff hike the same trail as I did but stay on site for 5 days at a time. Everything is made
fresh at the tea house each day by hand using propane stoves! In an another aggressive move, I studied the map and knew I could get to the Lake Agnes Tea House - the oldest tea house in Canada! Although the tea house had just closed, the kind employees offered me some cold lemonade and my chipmunk friend and I savored each and every drop while relaxing and enjoying the tranquility of Lake Agnes. If you think my hiking for the day stopped there, you must not have read the first four paragraphs. Sleep is for airplanes and whenever you aren't on "vacation." On the left hand side of the road, a mere 28-minute drive going towards Banff is the Johnston Canyon Hiking Area and I was determined to find the "hidden cave" at Johnston Canyon. Since it was about 7:15pm, I was one of only a handful of people on the trails but don't tell my mom that. With some serious research under my belt, I found the hidden cave and it was glorious! People from above asked how I got down and I tried to point to the trail but... it's hidden. I would have loved their company as taking a picture of yourself while capturing the cave frame is near impossible although comical.
July 12th, 2017: Party of One/Team No Sleep was up and at it for another action packed day... "while in Banff..." right?! I got up at the crack of dawn with the intention of checking out Grassi Lakes on my way to another destination but... I was literally the only one in the parking lot and the large yellow warning sign declaring "Multiple grizzly bear and black bear sightings on and near trails" was a bit of a deterrent for me. I decided to hold off on this hike and was subsequently pretty early for my White Water Rafting appointment... Team No Sleep got some sleep in the parking lot after all. White Water Rafting with Canadian Rockies Rafting was my first rafting experience and I completely fell in love - it was an adrenaline rush going through 2nd, 3rd, 4th class rapids! I participated in the Bow River Horseshoe Canyon Rafting Excursion which not only included the rafting through spectacular scenery and huge waves but we also got to jump off a cliff!! The Bow River Horseshoe Canyon is actually where scenes from The Revenant movie were filmed! Yet another highlight on the highlight reel that was a Hollywood blockbuster trip. Believe it or not, the rest of the day was spent "relaxing." I explored the breathtaking Fairmont Banff Springs and realized I will never be able to afford to stay there but still marveled in the beauty of it all - including the intricate details and history. I headed back into the village for another treat yo'self lunch/dinner at Park Distillery Restaurant and Bar. Apparently the poutine I read about on Yelp was a seasonal dish so I opted for an open-faced tuna tartare sandwich and meddled berry cocktail. Again, I wanted to sample everything on the menu! I pulled out the JetBoil to make some hot apple cider while watching the sunset at Two Jack Lake. The hues of blue and purple in the sunset and the reflection of the mountains in the lake were absolutely majestic and forever ingrained in my head!
July 13th, 2017: At long last, my last day in our northerly neighbor - Canada. Let's not kid ourselves, my flight was not until 7:40pm; I basically had an entire day to explore, explore, explore! I ate my first Canadian mountain for breakfast making it to the summit of Table Mountain by 7:45am! After Table Mountain I enjoyed a delicious breakfast of Stuffed French Toast at Juniper Bistro!! The table I was seated at had the most gorgeous view out of a picture window. Beautiful and picture perfect in every way. After I stuffed myself like my stuffed french toast, I returned to Grassi Lake... The trail from the previous day that had "multiple grizzly bear and black bear sightings..." yes, that one because at
10:30am, there were plenty of people to ward off any grizzlies! Don't worry Dad, I brought my bear bell & bear spray just in case. The research was right, Grassi Lakes should be on your list. The trail winds past a waterfall where it eventually leads you to two majestic turquoise lakes and there are panoramic views of Canmore that surround you with every step of the hike. There are two routes to get up to the lakes - the hard route and the easy route. I opted for the hard route on the way up and the easy route on the way down, making a loop. I enjoyed seeing the waterfall on the way up rather than the way down. I spotted a ton of climbers at Grassi Lakes as well and I'm pretty certain a sizable chunk of rock fell off the wall at some point - yikes! The entire hike only took about two hours or so. I walked around downtown Canmore and explored the Farmer's Market before packing the trunk of my rental car back into my suitcase while in a parking lot. I do not recommend doing that. Despite my flight not departing until 7:40, I opted to head to the airport pretty early to clear up the damage situation. Low and behold, it did not take nearly as long as I had imagined but the airport security gave me a real run for my money between pouring out liquids, searching my bear canister, and nearly taking my tent poles... In the end, I got some poutine after all, read some magazines, and did my favorite airport activity: people watched!
Even though we could say this was a trip of a lifetime, I so desperately want to do it over and over again. From backpacking at Garibaldi Lake to kayaking on Maligne Lake to walking on a glacier to the beauty and serenity of Peyto Lake, Emerald Lake, and Moraine Lakes to horseback riding to hikes to tea houses to Lake Louise to white water rafting and to everything in between including treat yo'self meals and damaged rental cars, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Canada, you amaze me!