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British Columbia / Canada

Road trip in British Columbia part 2: Banff & Jasper

Now we continue our road trip in British Columbia - here comes part 2, through Jasper and Banff national parks!

Do you want to read another part of the trip? You can find the rest of the parts here:

Part 1: Vancouver -> Valmount

Part 3: Banff -> Vancouver


Day 8-10:  Jasper National Park

(Valemount -> Jasper : 12 miles)

After a good night's sleep in Valemount, it is now time to drive into the absolute highlight of the trip. It's safe to say that we had high hopes for the coming days in the national parks. The sun would shine, bears would fervently catch salmon in the rivers, the glaciers would sparkle and the waterfalls would roar. Not to mention we would have the whole park to ourselves. It didn't turn out exactly as we had imagined, but in many ways sooooo much better.

Jasper National Park was created over 100 years ago and is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. The park consists of an area as large as Skåne, filled with wilderness and wonderful views. In fact, this is one of the few areas where you can encounter some of North America's rarest animals – wolf, grizzly bear, cougar, reindeer and mountain goat. Although the national park has not yet become so well known here in Sweden, the park has an impressive 2 million visitors per year.

Jasper town is a well equipped small village, with everything you need for hiking, sleeping and good food. Check into one of the motels and do day trips in the park, there are very few trails that require an overnight stay.

One of the most popular excursions from Jasper is Maligne Lake, which is about an hour's drive from Jasper. The road to Maligne Lake is scenic Yellowhead highway, where the Athabasca River spreads out on one side of the road along bare mountain sides. Turn off onto Maligne Lake road and take a little extra look around the meadows you pass! We were lucky enough to encounter several wapiti deer and a fox on the way to the lake, so our trip to the lake took considerably longer than an hour. But what stately animals!

Once you arrive in Maligne Lake, you won't be alone. This is the second largest glacial lake in the world and popular not only for its beauty but also for all the activities. The vast majority of tourists rent canoes or take a boat trip out on the lake, but there are also very nice hiking trails along the shores of the lake. We were unlucky with the weather this day, so the color of the lake did not show its most beautiful color, but we had a lovely walk in the fresh air.

Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake

On the way back to Jasper there are several photo stops. The one at Medicine Lake – the lake that is not actually a lake. Connected underground to Maligne Canyon, the "lake" forms every summer when the runoff can't let any more water through. So in the summer Medicine Lake is a lake, but in the fall the lake is gone.

Medicine lake
Medicine lake

Before exiting the Yellowhead highway, stop at Maligne Canyon and hike the 4,4 kilometer gorge trail over bridges, waterfalls and limestone cliffs. Here you understand where all the water from Medicine Lake goes.

Around Jasper there are several nice lakes with good picnic spots - Edith Lake, Patricia Lake, Lake Annette and Pyramid Lake are just some of them. Many of them have well-signed hiking trails directly from downtown Jasper, so just fill up the thermos and start walking. The best time of day to have a picnic by the lakes is at breakfast, to avoid all the hordes of people who arrive later in the day. We actually managed to get a jetty and a mirror-like lake all to ourselves. Around Patricia Lake we found by chance a very beautiful birch forest and also a Wapiti deer family with two kids.

For those who like heights and want to see everything from above, there is Jasper Sky frame just outside the village. This cable car takes you up to an altitude of over 2000 meters, with a view of the entire valley around Jasper.


Day 11: Icefields Parkway

Jasper -> Banff: 30 miles

Now comes the day we've been waiting for: The legendary Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff. Almost 30 miles on fine roads between two continental plates on the Great Divide, surrounded by rocky mountains, over a hundred glaciers, vast plains, alpine lakes and thick forests. Go early early in the morning and bring a packed lunch, because there is almost no service after the road and you never know when you will find the perfect lunch spot.

The first stop comes already 3 miles from Jasper – powerful Athabasca Falls. This is neither the tallest nor the largest waterfall in the area, but there is a lot of water flowing here! Over the years, the river has burrowed into the limestone and formed numerous ravines. Hike one of the trails down into the gorge and expect to spend about 1 hour here before driving on.

Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls Gorge
Athabasca Canyon

Next stop, Sunwapta Falls, is just 5 miles from Jasper. However, the 5 miles take quite a long time if you not only stop for the beautiful views, but also at Kerkeslin Goat Lick. Here we met a herd of mountain goats that slowly grazed in the road clearing and licked salt. The summer heat causes the goats to shed their thick white fur, so the adult animals looked a bit worn. But the kittens were all the cuter!

Arrived at a short stop at Sunwapta Falls. The upper waterfall is an easy 600 meter walk from the car park, but if you want you can also take a short hike to the lower waterfall.

Sunwapta falls
Sunwapta falls

Stay a while and enjoy the surroundings at Tangle Falls. Everywhere a new angle appears on a new snow-capped mountain, a wild waterfall or an icy blue lake. Fortunately, there are plenty of parking spaces along the road and there are few cars that drive fast.

The next stop is Glacier Skywalk, which is suitably scary if you're traveling with children. On a viewing platform above a precipice of 300 meters, you can stand on a glass floor and look out over the magnificent landscape. Nothing for the afraid of heights!

Tangle Falls

Now you are getting closer Columbia Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the world outside the Arctic Circle. Already in the distance you begin to see the extent of the glaciers, with the sun playing in swirling snow on top of the mountains. However, what is visible from the road is only a small part of the large Columbia Icefield, the rest of the glaciers are hidden behind the mountains. A total of six glaciers are located here, stretching 25 km across the continental divide. But climate change is making the glaciers smaller and smaller every summer – closest to the Columbia Icefield center, the glacier retreats 10 meters per year.

At Columbia Icefields there is the possibility of going up on the glacier with an "Ice Explorer" - a kind of lunar craft that, with its large tires and low center of gravity, can drive on very steep slopes on the moraine. If you have time you should definitely do this, it's like a slow roller coaster that takes you up to a safe part of the glacier where the ice is over a thousand years old. Hiking up the glacier yourself is not allowed, but you can hire a guide to lead you over the dangerous crevasses.

Once up on the glacier, the meltwater flows at your feet and if there are times when flip-flops aren't appropriate (god forbid!), this is on the glacier. Stay within the secured area, feel the glacial snow (which feels more like crushed ice) and be dazzled by the bright sunlight.

Expect to need to pre-book the glacier tour with Ice Explorer in advance during the summer months, there is heavy pressure on tickets. It is possible to buy a combo ticket with Glacier Skywalk, in which case it is recommended that you plan a stay of 3 hours in order to catch both Columbia Icefields and Glacier Skywalk.

If at this point you think the views couldn't get any more beautiful, you're wrong. As we drive into Banff, the road becomes even more hilly and dramatic and the lakes that appear on the side of the road are so blue that it almost hurts the eyes. There is something special about the coniferous forest in Canada, it feels like all the treetops are the same height and like nature is a little too perfect. It almost feels a little artificial.

Pass the hairpin turns of Big Hill and Big Bend and stop for a sweeping view of the valley.

At Saskatchewan River Crossing meets water from three rivers, all on the first floor from the car. Watch out for animals (as usual), we encountered another bear here in the hooks.

Big Hill & Big Bend

Next stop is one of Banff's most famous postcard views: Peyto Lake. To get to the viewpoint you walk to Bow Summit, a relatively steep and popular little hike of about one kilometer. Once at the top, however, you are rewarded with a view that feels taken from a course in Photoshop - do places like this really exist? Elbow your way through all the tourists so you can see both the glacier, the lake and the mountains. Stop the time and enjoy.

Peyto Lake

We begin to approach the accommodation for the night Lake Louise, so we drive the last few miles without stopping. We have walked several miles today and it feels in our bodies that we have driven closer to 30 miles.


Day 12-15:  Banff National Park

Now it's time to hang around Banff for a few days, quite nice after many miles on the roads this past week. In the winter is Banff and Lake Louise two great ski resorts with lifts to high altitudes, in the summer the resorts offer hikes both on the peaks and down in the valley.

One of the most famous lakes in all of Canada is Moraine lake, so have an early breakfast at the motel and go here before the busloads arrive at ten o'clock. Almost always mirror-like, with sharp mountains and ice-blue water, this is a view to remember for a lifetime. Many rent kayaks and canoes and head out on the lake, a wonderful way to avoid crowds. It's a special feeling paddling in water without shade, where you don't have the slightest sense of how deep the lake is - the water is just turquoise.

Moraine lake

The next lake is Lake Louise. Beautiful – but very commercialized. Much of this is due to the fact that a large Fairmont hotel is located right on the lake, so the amount of tourists is significant. Lake Louise didn't end up being our favorite lake, but it's definitely worth a visit.

Lake Louise

However, one of the most famous hiking trails starts from Lake Louise –  The tea house trail. It winds from the lake's edge up the mountain for 4 kilometers to a cabin serving tea and freshly baked bread by beautiful Lake Agnes. Expect it to take 1,5 hours one way, as the path is quite steep.

In addition to all the hiking trails, you can go mountain biking, SUP paddling, rafting, climbing, driving a quad bike, swimming in hot springs, ziplining between the trees and climbing mountains by helicopter. With more. Many take the opportunity to ride, as there are few places that offer such fantastic scenery where you can ride in a cowboy hat. Banff is simply the perfect adventure town with both shopping and dining. You are in a civilized wilderness surrounded by beautiful views and service. Can it get any better than this?

Make sure to have a few great days here in Banff, before we start the journey home to Vancouver again. Half the journey has now passed, imagine how quickly time flies when you're having fun...

Read more here! The journey is not over yet!

Part 1: Vancouver -> Valemount

Part 3: Banff -> Vancouver

Do you want to read more about Canada?
About the blogger

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

2 Comments

  • Jessica
    25 February, 2019 at 17: 09

    Just read your post about your road trip in Jasper and Banff. Looks fantastic! My partner and I will spend 5 days in Banff in July 2019 and I am so excited! What time of year were you there? How did you handle the bear presence, e.g. bear spray? Do you have any tips for hotels in Banff/Canmore?

    Reply
    • Eve on rucksack.see
      28 February, 2019 at 8: 39

      So glad you are going to Banff!! Is an amazing place!
      We were in Banff at the end of June and the weather was quite changeable – one day cold and rainy and the next day sunny and warm. We did not handle the bear presence in any special way, other than being aware and attentive. The bears don't like noise, and on most hiking trails there is a constant flow of people. If you are going on a longer hiking trip with an overnight stay, the probability is greater that you will meet a bear. Check with a local expert before you go out, they usually know everything from where there have been attacks to what you need to take with you.

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