Banff and Jasper are often
sold as a pair, but they aren't actually that similar. Banff
National Park has wildlife fences next to the road for every
highway as far as I can see - Jasper has very little fencing (and
way more animal deaths). Banff is thick with tourists,
Jasper less so. Banff attractions have all sorts of parking
problems - Jasper you can still just "drop in". I was happy
we did Banff first because it made Jasper really shine by
Every once in a while you can see a Magpie
in Vancouver, but for the most part we have crows. Once you
get to the interior, the magpies take over. They are smart
and social and usually aren't that keen on people unless they have
figured out that people = food. We pulled over into a rest
stop (bathroom break) and this Magpie was clearly a resident of
the rest stop - he didn't go far and spent most of the time
watching people. I was happy I could get close because it is
a beautiful bird.
The drive up the Icefield Parkway is of
course amazing. This is the less developed end of Banff
National Park (there aren't a lot of places to buy a coke) and we
had no problem finding a spot in the parking lots. We sat in
the parking lot taking in the view of Bow Lake.
The drive north was amazing - any stretch of the highway is more
amazing but we didn't have a plan to take good photos.
After we got the truck unpacked and camp
set up, we drove into town to see what the options are. The
kids found a Bubble Tea place that would do well in
Vancouver. Very few towns can boast such a good cafe.
Over the next few days we had a few more dinners in Jasper - there
aren't a lot of choices, but generally the restaurants are quite
Sixth Bridge, Flower Walk
Alpine flowers get all the glory - literally
fields of flowers interrupted only by glaciers and a flawless blue
sky. In the real world, there aren't that many species that
bloom in the alpine and sub alpine and after a while you start
hoping to find something "exotic". We asked at the Jasper
info center where I could find a trail with valley bottom flowers
and they suggested a trail near sixth bridge.
I don't know that much about flowers, but I do have a soft spot
for wild Orchids. Considering how cold this part of the
world gets in the winter, I was surprised to find out there was
more than one species in bloom.
In Banff and Jasper you need to be prepared to see a bear
anywhere, but I wasn't expecting this guy. I was back at the
truck about to put the camera in vehicle when the bear walked
around the garbage bin I parked in front of and continued across
the parking lot. I think we surprised each other - the bear
tried to act casual, but he (or she) was certainly checking in as
he walked away. I was really happy to see a Grizzly in the
wild and happier still that the truck was close by.
We read online a few weeks later (August 8th) that a hiker shot a
black bear (not this bear) at the other end of this trail.
This a national park - the hiker was charged with several counts.
While driving back to the camp site, I
spotted this Elk near the side of the road. Elk are pretty
common around Jasper, but one with antlers this large isn't.
It was worth the time to pull over and take out the camera.
Mount Edith Cavell
I don't know how I have never visited this
place before. The road up is paved (but closed when covered
in snow) and the parking lot was surprisingly empty. You are
clearly in the alpine when you arrive here - you can feel the thin
air. We wanted to go for a walk in the meadow. The
trail started out paved!
We got up to the where the trail forks for the meadow and were
disappointed to find the trail closed. Spring was cold and
wet and the trail was still very wet. With the trail so wet,
lots of hiking boots would lead to erosion and trail widening so
Parks Canada wisely kept the trail closed. We decided to
walk to the glacier viewpoint.
At the viewpoint you have a choice.
There are signs saying not to go down to the lake, but there is a
well traveled trail with people coming and going. We talked
about risk and then headed down.
The risk is avalanches - snow regularly
falls of the glaciers and could easily kill you. The calm
pond at the bottom can dramatically (as in faster than you can
run) exceed it's banks if the glaciers above drop into it.
While there were lots of people near the lake, there were more
going to the snow fields under the glaciers themselves. That
was too risky for us.
Miette Hot Springs
We visited Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont
Hot Springs so I thought it would be fun to add Miette Hot Springs
to the list. Our camp site had showers, but there is
something about a hot spring out in the wilderness that can't be
beat. There were warm pools, hot pools and cool pools.
Yes, there were crowds, but finding a nice place to sit wasn't too
Claira spotted a butterfly on the pool side cement. We very
carefully lifted it off the ground and it could actually fly just
fine. Perhaps 30 seconds later it was back at the same spot,
probably sucking up salts. It was fun to get so close to see
the scales on the wings.
After a good rest, we got back in the truck to go back to the camp
site. As is Jasper National Park, we saw a bunch of cars
parked at the side of the road and people way too close to the
wildlife. I swear some people were trying to pet the sheep.
This appeared to be a female group -
Mom's, babies and some juveniles. There demonstrated
their amazing ability to climb rock walls, but really they just
wanted to go the river edge and eat.
The young sheep are entertaining to watch.
Another morning drive, Pyramid lake is on the "To do" list for many
bus tours and I had never been there so I wanted to drive up an
check it out. When I got there (maybe 7am), I saw a family run
into their SUV and race off. I figured they were doing some
sort of race or time limited scavenger hunt. When I walked
down the trail to the lake, I realized what their hurry was - the
mosquitoes here were terrible!
I wasn't going to get up early enough in the morning to
really see "first light" so the pictures are a bit flat, but I can
see how with good timing (and a lot of bug spray) this would be an
amazing place to see the Northern Lights or a sunrise.
One of my Pet Peeves is websites trying to install an overblown
sense of urgency. The Athabasca Glacier Tours are like that, trying
to warn you to book days in advance or "be disappointed". A
family of four at full price is quite an outlay of cash so we
decided to try and get there first discounted ticket, after 3:30
pm. No problem booking that the day before. Our plan was
to leave the campsite at a reasonable time - stop a few times for
short walks and then hit our 3:30 time at the Glacier center.
Once we got going, the kids informed us we had to be in camp for the
7pm interpretive show. Our first stop out of camp (22 minutes
down the highway) was Athabasca Falls.
This waterfall has been
slowly eroding it's way though the rock here for probably thousands
of years. It's probably the second most "Must Visit" stop on
the icefields parkway after the Athabasca Glacier. I
have visited at least two other times. The trails are paved
and wide but it's still worth a stop to see the waterfall and the
old courses of the river.
There is a wide bridge to the other side of the river and a
different viewpoint. Depending on the wind - one viewpoint or
the other is the wet one.
There are some trails down that show earlier courses of the
river. The erosion is fantastic.
24 km down the highway from Athabasca falls is Sunwapta Falls.
I've never stopped here before so given our schedule, I decided to
stop in and check it out. Also powerful falls, but you don't
get nearly as close. What is interesting though is that this
parking lot is a gateway into all sorts of back country
As we drove south on the Icefields
Parksway I saw a dramatic waterfall where the water fell
and was blown away before it ever reached the
ground. We pulled in and found a climber with his
converted van. Apparently this waterfall (Called
Curtain Call) freezes over in the winter and makes an
excellent climbing structure. It can be climbed in
the summer as well but the waterfall can make that quite
This is one of those trips I remember from
my childhood - when I was a kid we rode the buggies up onto the
ice. I remember the blue and the small piles of dirt on the
ice. The kids had no idea what I signed them up for, but
they were excited when they saw where we were going.
We had our hiking boots on so the ice wasn't
too slippery, but you still had to watch your footings. The
kids were surprised at how cold it was on a giant ice cube.
The Glacier is
amazingly photogenic, but we didn't have a ton of time to really dig
into the subject and we were roped into a small parking lot so no
one was lost into a crevasse.
We tried to use every minute we had, but the
bus has a schedule so we were off back down the mountain. The
guide did have some interesting stories. There is a triangle
of spruce trees high on the mountain side. Apparently there
are 800 year old trees growing in that grove - they are severely
dwarfed by have only two months a year for a growing season.
The Icefields Parkway has added a new "Skywalk" that isn't optional
- if you go to the glacier, you are going to the skywalk. I'm
not a big fan of forced bundling, but what can you
do. It's the first time the kids have been to one
of these cantilevered glass deck walking things.
The kids reminded us
they wanted to see the program back at the campground so we got on
the next bus back and even skipped the gift shop. I did notice
a new tour - "Icewalks". Assuming my physical fitness is up to
the challenge, I think this is how I want to explore the glacier
next time I come through here.
Horse Back Riding at Jasper Riding Stables
Back in the early planning phase of this
trip, I asked Claira what she wanted to do on the trip. It
didn't take her long to find a horseback riding place. We
called and Saturday morning we booked a time. These are
tourist oriented stables - everything is provided, they don't even
recommend boots. They matched us up to horses and we were
We booked a one hour ride which included a nice view of the
Athabasca River. Our guide was quite nice, talking about
living in Jasper and some local history. There was a
surprise coming though - I asked if we could stop and take a
family photo together on our horses and the answer was no because
they didn't know if people could get there horses moving once they
stopped. Compared to last year at Big Bar ranch where we
were pretty independent (but still guided), this was a
shock. Jasper Stables caters to tourists at all levels so
they can't assume that people actually know how to ride a horse.
After the lookout, the trail went back into the forest so we could
start on our way back the stables. I saw some hikers on the
trails - I have to imagine there is a better place to hike in
Jasper Area than here.
We got back to base and Claira had a smile ear to ear.
Maligne Canyon makes most "what to do in
Jasper" lists. The kids didn't really want to go out for
"yet another canyon", but I thought it was pretty spectacular.
Again for next time - apparently you can walk up the bottom of this
canyon in the winter - the ice gets solid enough that it's somewhat
safe. Again - maybe another trip.
Life in Camp
We stayed four nights in camp and almost
every day we saw elk walk though or around the camp site.
On the way up to Jasper we stopped in the
parking lot near Bow Lake. I noticed there was a parking lot
closer to the lodge (which is closed this year for renovations) so
on the way down we stopped here to have lunch. There was
quite a nice lake front walk so we took a brief walk to stretch
They highlight at a few places that valley bottom is actually in
short supply and it's often the most productive place for
wildlife. Just walking around the grounds near the lodge,
there was all sorts of discoveries.
While the lodge was closed to guests,
there gift shop and restaurant was open. I believe the lodge
is being renovated, but they did have signs out talking about the
Barn Swallows are at risk in the park (the short summers are hard)
but an important form of pest control. The Lodge tries to
keep the nests up as much as possible as the birds do better if
they can reuse old nests. Nice.
After lunch, we continued driving South out of the park to Yoho
National Park and our next destination - Golden.