Twelve days in the Canadian Rockies is the perfect reset button. We spent twelve days at the end of June and beginning of July exploring Banff, Jasper and the Icefields parkway in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. The nature wonders are boundless, endless and soberly beautiful. The crystal clear rivers and the turquoise lakes alongside the rugged mountain peaks allow you to lose the world outside. We could be surrounded by people one minute and walk a little down a dirt path and find ourselves utterly alone in another world surrounded only by the forest and the animals within.
We flew from NC to to Calgary with a layover in Toronto. Arriving late at night and starting our vacation the next morning. We had to fly with all our camping equipment and needed some supplies when we arrived. We spent the first morning renting equipment from the University of Calgary’s outdoor recreation center, which rents all kinds of equipment to the general public. Then we all geared up on fuel and bear spray at the Mountain Equipment Co-op and headed out of town into the mountains by the afternoon.
We arrived and checked into our first campground, Two Jack Lake campground right outside of town in Banff National Park. The whole area we traveled in was a mix of reservable and first-come first-serve campgrounds. It is a very busy place and when I looked several months in advance many of the reservable campgrounds were already full. I was able to book a few nights ahead of time and leave some of the days open for flexibility which worked out for us for the most part. We went during the 150 year Canada Day celebration, so our National parks pass was free and we were there for all the festivities which also meant we were there during a very crowded part of the year. I imagine winter and shoulder seasons to be very different.
When we arrived into Two Jack the ranger warned us there was currently a bear in the campground and thus began my 11 days of fear. I have always been scared of bears since I was young and although my love of mountains superseded that fear to plan this trip it wasn’t without doubt. We were constantly reminded to be bear safe everywhere you look in the area there are signs and warnings and it is taken very seriously. During our 11 or so days in the area we saw three bears.
After getting settled at the bear’s campground we went into Banff for our first hike. I wanted to get a good view of the whole area without paying the high fee for the Banff gondola so we trekked up the steep Sulfur mountain hike for the top of the gondola station for our free ride back down after 7pm. The views from the top were absolutely worth the cardio workout up and we enjoyed a glass of wine while taking in the view with the numerous other tourist at the gondola station.
We spent the morning making breakfast and doing yoga by Two Jack lake right outside our campground before heading off for a long hike. We arrived at Sunshine Meadows too early in the summer season to catch the gondola or shuttle up the mountain, it didn’t open until July 1. So we opted for the 11 mile hike up Healy pass. The beautiful hike started at the gondola station and climbed slowly towards Healy pass. A lot of overnight hikes to Egypt lake or Mt. Assiniboine park start from that area as well. There was a mix of some snowfields and wildflowers that created a magical atmosphere. The view speaks for itself.
After a long hike we drove back into town and soaked in the Banff Upper Hot Springs to shower and soothe our sore bones from the long hike.
We had a slow morning with breakfast in Banff and then made our way out of town on the Bow Valley Parkway. The Bow Valley parkway is the slower option for making our way towards Jasper but had beautiful views and lots of places to pull over and view from the side of the road. We entered briefly into Yoho National park and walked the short walk to Takakkaw Falls and stayed to make lunch at the picnic tables. From there we drove to Emerald lake in Yoho and saw a breathtaking scene of a gorgeous lake a few steps from the parking lot. We traveled along the parkway and back to the main road towards the Icefields Parkway, spending the night at a first-come first-serve campground, Mosquito Creek.
After a pancake breakfast at our campsite we headed along the Icefields Parkway. The road is said to be one of the beautiful drives in the world and I have to say I can easily understand why. The easy access to high alpine views and being surrounded by mountains, lakes, glaciers, wildlife and rivers makes it such a desirable location. I am not going to pretend like it wasn’t very busy with tour buses and tourists but it was easy enough to avoid the large crowds, simply walk just beyond and you have most the trails to yourself and plenty of space to enjoy the scenery away from the crowds.
We spent the day stopping along the parkway and taking a lovely hike at Peyton Lake up to Bow summit to get away from the crowds at the viewpoint of the lake that many stop at. We made lunch in the parking lot of the Icefields centre and took in the view of the glacier over noodles. We ended the day with a short hike to lower Sunwatpe Falls and camped for the night at Honeymoon Lake.
Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, Banff and more to be continued….