From Snow to Sun: Jasper, Icefields, and Banff
Nothing could have prepared for what lie ahead as we were cruising along highway BC 16 from Prince George towards Mt Robson, Jasper, and Icefields Parkway. In the moment, however, our minds were elsewhere. Our goal was to beat the rain that was projected to cover the whole area for several days. I was attempting to remain positive but my mind continued to weigh me down with negative thoughts. Was I going to see everything I wanted through the rain and cloud? Would we be stuck in the van all day bouncing off the walls? My heart was conflicted and I wondered if we should skip the whole area and come back a different year for fear of major disappointment. But, let me tell you, what was in store for us was so much better than I anticipated, even if we did have to suffer through a little rain (and other seasons!) along the way.
Mt Robson Provincial Park
After our two hour journey to Mt Robson Provincial Park (just west of Jasper) we were surprised at the welcoming view that stretched out in front of us. A massive mountain loomed overhead and stunned us all. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center and learned that Mt Robson is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. No wonder we were in awe. With the day slowly closing in on us (except for the fact that it doesn’t get dark until 11:30 pm where we were) we decided to camp across the road at the Meadows Campground. The next morning we had hopes of hiking to Kinney Lake (turquoise blue - my favorite kind of lake) but the drizzle had already set in on the surrounding area. The gas station was out of diesel so Chip and the boys went on the hunt for another station while I went for a refreshing run. When they picked me up 45 minutes later I had an afro and soaking clothes thanks to the humid rain but I will confess that I needed exercise (plus a mood boost) that morning.
Snow Much Snow (in June!?) - Miette Hot Springs, Jasper
By the time we reached the mountain town of Jasper it was down pouring and much too cold for these fair weathered humans. We warmed our bodies in a local cafe and treated ourselves to a lunch indoors. Afterwards, I was grateful to discover the one place in the area that would make a lovely accompaniment to the rain - Miette Hot Springs. We headed east from town, detouring quickly to snag a campsite at Pocahontas Campground, then weaved and winded our way up the steep road en route to the hot springs. Halfway through the thirty minute drive, the rain faded from drops to white, fluffy snowflakes. We were quite literally ecstatic. Snow in mid-June?! You might never hear me say this again but we were actually enjoying this turn of weather.
While there were only two hot pools to soak in and plenty of people to share the experience with at Miette, we would definitely recommend going! It is situated at a dead end road, high in the mountains (eh um, views!), and the prices are CHEAP! Like so cheap we thought maybe the website hadn’t been updated in years. It’s pretty common for the ‘paid for’ hot springs in the states to be overpriced but Miette Hot Springs, you know how to win me over! Icing on the cake for us, besides the free hot showers afterwards, was a bear spotting. Between the parking lot and hot springs building were two bears foraging for food. We enjoyed watching them (from the comfy seats of Loaf, of course). There’s nothing like nature’s TV right from the window of your van.
Maligne Canyon & Athabasca Falls - Jasper Nat’l Park
Alright, we were back to lower elevation and had slept to the soothing sounds of rain on Loaf’s roof all night long. With the rain, we had exhausted all indoor Loaf activities the night before but were pleasantly surprised to see it had dissipated by mid-morning the next day. Hallelujah! I didn’t have to play, teach, read, or try to entertain my kids and spouse in a small space today! We quickly packed up, the boys jumped into their carseats, and we breezed out of Pocahontas Campground in search of some sights. We made it to the Maligne Canyon parking lot and ran into another family. One thing lead to another and we were chatting it up while all the kids puddle jumped. The father, who was our age, shared that his dad had just passed away unexpectedly the previous month and because of this they were taking advantage of every moment together outdoors. That hit me like a ton of bricks, and was another good reminder to Chip and I to continue balancing this time we have with family and work.
After pulling off muddy boots and other articles of clothing, we parted ways from this sweet family, then followed the paved trails that led us around Maligne Canyon. The viewpoints were all unique and beautiful, some showing us deep and dark crevices, the water cutting its way through the rocks. While others led us past gushing, roaring water that instantly made me grab the hands of the boys so they didn’t get too close. I had not put Maligne Canyon on my must-see list but the short, 15-minute trail is definitely worth the time.
Then, following the advice from the family we had met, we made a stop at Athabasca Falls. Surprisingly I don’t have any actual photos of the waterfall but was more drawn to the interpretive trail that meandered along the canyon. I guess it was a canyon sort of day…
Linking Jasper National Park and Banff National Park has got to be one of the most incredible journeys on earth – the Icefields Parkway, a 142-ish mile highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields and ancient-old glaciers, dramatic rock spires, cascading waterfalls, emerald lakes and vast sweeping valleys. If by now you’re not whispering under your breath ‘I MUST GO THERE’, then something is seriously wrong with you. Just kidding, but honestly this section of road is out of this world! Before retreating to our campsite for the evening, we managed to squeeze in a hike to see the Athabasca Glacier, had a mini snowball fight, and built a snowman named ‘Cotton’.
Because this slice of Icefields deserves a couple days to explore, we decided to camp right in the middle of it all at Wilcox Creek Campground (there are a lot - see this for a complete list). Wilcox sits high in elevation and we arrived just after the snowstorm from the previous day so we practically had the place to ourselves. Here, the sun made an appearance giving us a brief taste of what was to come the next day.
Here Comes The Sun (Do, Do, Do, DO)
I remember waking up in Loaf the following morning with sunlight peering through the curtains. I closed and reopened my eyes. Is that the sun? Or a mirage? We hadn’t seen or felt the warmth of the sun in days. We all were pumped but I might have been a little over-the-top-excited and made everyone wake up early. We rolled out of our campsite by 7:30 am. I basically only allowed Chip to put on a fresh pair of underwear and fill up our water tank, then we were off. In my defense, the weather here was so unpredictable that who knew how long we had until the next storm so I was prepared to take advantage of every single second of the sun.
We drove back the way we came from to see Athabasca Glacier again, this time lit up, glowing, and with blue skies behind it (even more impressive than the day before!). Then turned back around, heading south towards Banff, for another awe inspiring drive alongside the most incredible mountain scenery. Prepare yourself for many shades of blue…
Peyto Lake AKA Undoubtedly The Most Beautiful Lake Ever
One of my most cherished locations of the trip, one I don’t think my eyes will EVER forget, is our visit to Peyto Lake, a glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park. Way back when, when we moved to Colorado we were introduced to emerald colored lakes and after seeing my first one, I was mildly obsessed. Since that moment, we based most hikes or backpacking trips around which turquoise lake we wanted to see (there are quite a few in Colorado!). At some point, I must have taken one look at someone’s Peyto Lake photo and put it on my bucket list to visit one day. Well today was my day, and I was actually jumping up and down, beaming from ear to ear with excitement. I was so antsy to get a move on, Chip let me start the hike without him. True story.
After a short climb from the parking lot we were rewarded with the view I dreamed of witnessing first hand…And believe it or not, it was even better than I could have imagined! A mountain lion could not tear me from this view. A couple quick tidbits of info about this place…If you check out the photo below, you’ll see on the left hand side significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake giving it that insanely beautiful (incredibly fake looking!) turquoise color. But trust me, people, these photos are NOT altered. On the right side of the photo you’ll see the lake is shaped like the head of a wolf. It was tough to leave, but I reluctantly made the hike back down to the parking lot and immediately started bawling. Something had come over me and Chip asked what was wrong. Tears were streaming down my cheeks but my smile gave it away. I was simply overjoyed beyond words. What can I say, sometimes sheer beauty wins me over. Hard.
Our final destination that we were eager to see the second go round was Lake Louise, just north of Banff. I’ll never forget the first time, which was back in May of 2012, while we were traveling around Canada with our New Zealand friends. We had done a huge loop around southwestern Canada and were ending at Banff/Canmore. To say I was thrilled to want to see Lake Louise was an understatement. We parked, then sprinted along the walkway for a few minutes until finally Lake Louise stood before us. My demeanor changed from happy to confused in a split second. To my dismay, the lake was completely FROZEN! What? I was in shock. It never dawned on any of us that the lake could still be frozen in mid-May but yes, after researching it, Lake Louise is almost always frozen through May. We still giggle about it to this day. Below is the “spring” version of Lake Louise and below that is the “summertime” version. Both beautiful in their own way, of course.
You Know We’ll Be Back (AGAIN), Canada
We came alive again during this section of Canada, not to say we weren’t “alive” prior but there are times of van travel where one might become complacent. There are the down moments, times when you don’t feel like finding yet another campsite to sleep at. Or perhaps you’re sick of running out of clean underwear so to the laundromat you go. But then a place like Jasper, Icefields, and Banff comes along and smacks you in the face with raw scenery and you feel alive. Back in the game again. It’s a wonderfully refreshing feeling and I love feeling that travel adrenaline. It fuels me through the loads of laundry and dish duty clean ups. I’m always waiting for it, but never sure when it might turn up.
So we leave Canada just like that - overwhelmed with the sights we saw, families and people we encountered, our hearts burning for more moments of sheer excitement, and one final opportunity to blow through another pair of clean underwear. And that conveniently leads me to our final minutes before crossing the Canadian/US border (into Idaho)…