Western Canada and USA PART I: The Rocky Mountains

Growing up in Alberta, I had the opportunity to take frequent trips to the Rockies since it was only a few hours drive away to Jasper. My dad always loved driving to the mountains (my mom would read a book in the car to avoid her vertigo) so it was a trip we would make at least once every summer.

After moving to Ontario, one of the things I missed most was being such a short drive away from snow capped peaks, rushing waterfalls, and roads blocked by big horned sheep. Of course, this was an experience I wanted to share with Randolph.

After bringing up the idea of a West coast road trip through the Rockies for our first big trip together, Randolph wondered why I had this need to go back to Alberta to see mountains. “We have mountains in Ontario.” I laughed at him. He would soon learn why I call Blue Mountain a hill.

The last week of August 2016, we packed up our bags, and made our first stop in my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. Since flights within Canada are not super cheap (usually at least $500/person Toronto to Edmonton round trip), we kept our eye out for seat sales for a while before booking. If you are looking to fly within Canada, Flair Airlines has started to fly out of Toronto Pearson and is usually a better deal than bigger carriers. Their seat sales are really cheap, but you have to be a little bit more flexible with your travel dates. They are also a no frills carrier, so expect to pay extra for carry-on bags, checked baggage, and seat selections among other things. For this trip, we used up some Air Miles that we had saved up for our flight on the way there. We flew with Flair Airlines to the Hamilton Airport on the way home. We ended up paying just over $400 for both of our flights combined after paying taxes on our Air Miles flight as well as the one-way home.

My parents were more than happy to put us up for a couple of nights, so it was free accommodation while we stayed in Edmonton to gather everything we would need for our road trip. We also saved on a rental car by borrowing a car from my dad. If you are looking to stay somewhere in Edmonton and don’t have someone to crash with, I would recommend finding an Airbnb either near Jasper Avenue downtown or in the Strathcona district. Both areas are full of great restaurants and it’s not too far from a great stroll through the River Valley parks.

Since my dad hasn’t thrown out any of my stuff since I moved out, he still had the tent that I won in a contest when I was about 12 years old. This would be our main means of accommodation during our trip since campsites are a lot less expensive than hotels or even Airbnb’s.

We were able to stay a few of our nights in the national parks’ campsites, and in some small privately owned campgrounds once we were outside the parks. Parks Canada has online reservations for most of their campgrounds but others are first come-first served. If you are going during peak season in the summer, especially during long weekends, it is a good idea to make reservations as far in advance as possible to ensure you have a spot. We booked our campsites ahead of time for our stays in Jasper and Banff as well as for our stay in Mount Robson provincial park in BC.

As you drive into any of the national parks, you can pay for admission at the gate. If you want to by-pass the line ups like we did, there is a lane for Discovery Pass holders. Purchase your park pass ahead of time and display it on your rear-view mirror to avoid wasting precious time in line. The Discovery Pass gets you admission for a full year to any Parks Canada locations. If you plan on visiting multiple parks, it is definitely worth it. If you plan on visiting only one of the parks, they also sell single location passes online for most locations.

Jasper National Park

Our trip began with the drive from Edmonton to Jasper and it did not disappoint.

I was driving as we approached the Rockies and kept stealing glances at Randolph to see his reaction. We happened to have the GoPro running when he admitted to me that Blue Mountain is in fact a hill compared to the Rockies. Don’t believe him when he says I tried to kill us, though. 😉

Since we were on vacation, we figured we should do something relaxing on top of all the hiking and driving we had planned. What a better way to wind down than in a hot spring with a beautiful mountain view.

Just off of Highway 16 before we hit Jasper, we turned off onto Miette Road. This took us on a narrow, winding highway along the side of a mountain with a long way to look down. It was approximately a 15-km drive to the hot springs and definitely worth the short detour off the main highway.

The Miette Hotsprings are open from May until October and are super affordable to visit. It’s only about $9 to spend the whole day in the hot pools and if you don’t come prepared, you can rent a swimsuit and a towel for only $2 each. We went on a day that it was raining and the cool water on our faces was refreshing while otherwise submerged in the hot mineral pool.

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On the drive back towards Jasper, we experienced our first wildlife encounter. On the side of the windy road, we came across a black bear cub wandering through the trees. We stopped just long enough to snap a couple of pictures before the mama bear could appear.

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The wildlife sightings on our first day didn’t stop with the bear cub. It isn’t unusual for there to be several cars stopped on the side of the road to take photos of animals as you drive through Jasper National Park. This time, everyone was stopped for some rutting elk. The bull of the herd was definitely more interested in the females than the herd of cars that he ran between. It was amazing to see these huge animals up close and it wouldn’t be the last time we got to see them on this trip.

We stayed at the Wapiti Campground in Jasper for the first night of our road trip. Although it was only the end of August, it was a little cold in our summer-grade tent at night. Don’t always trust the weather man when you’re in the mountains as conditions can change quite quickly. This is especially true in the evenings as the sun sets more quickly behind the peaks. It’s a good idea to prepare for every type of weather, including snow, even in the summer. Layering is essential to deal with the fluctuating conditions, especially if you have a tendency to always be cold like me.

Wapiti is the Shawnee word for elk. We realized why the camp was named Wapiti when we attempted to leave in the morning. There was another herd of elk right in our campground. They left us blocked in for about 15 minutes while a few of them wandered near the exit. We definitely picked the right time of year to see a lot of these animals.

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There are several great hikes in and around Jasper but my favourite is definitely Maligne Canyon. There are several starting points to the trails that are all just a short drive from town. If hiking isn’t really your thing, or you only have a short amount of time, there’s a small loop for the Maligne Lookout where you can still see the beauty of the canyon without worrying about what kind of shoes you’re wearing.

If you’ve packed your hiking boots, or at least a decent pair of walking shoes, the Maligne Canyon Trail will bring you deeper into the canyon and close to some beautiful waterfalls. If you’re adventurous and can handle some hills, starting at the sixth bridge and working your way towards the first bridge gives you an amazing build-up to the canyon and is the recommended route from Hike Jasper. For a less intense hike, start at the fifth bridge, or you can go straight to the first bridge which takes you right into the canyon. Whichever route you take, it is something you do not want to miss.

Icefields Parkway

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Before heading back onto the highway towards British Columbia, we took a slight detour to go south along the Icefields Parkway to Athabasca Falls. It was a little chilly when we got there, so we were grateful for the short walk from the parking lot to the falls. Since it was already raining, we were prepared to be sprayed by the falls with our rain jackets on. Although it isn’t the biggest waterfall we encountered on our trip, it was definitely the most powerful.

Since we were already on the Icefield Parkway, we decided to go further south towards the Columbia Icefields. This wasn’t a stop that we had officially planned on making, so we didn’t book ahead for the Glacier Adventure tour. Unfortunately, the tours were all filled up for the day so we didn’t get a chance to walk out on the glacier. If you don’t want to miss this tour, I highly recommend booking at least a couple days in advance. Booking ahead will also save you about $10 on tickets per person. If you don’t want to spent $90 to be taken out to the glacier, you can also get an amazing view from the Glacier Skywalk which is about $30 each. And if you want a free view of the glacier, pop in to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre. On your way there, you can make friends with some of the animal sculptures.

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It was only about 12ºC, so we opted to grab a coffee to warm up. The discovery centre at the foot of Mount Athabasca boasts some amazing views and a giant patio overlooking the glacier. Inside, there is a restaurant and a cafe, as well as a mini museum where you can learn about glaciers and how they are being affected by climate change. With hot drinks in hand, we popped out to the patio to look on enviously at the Ice Explorers out on the glacier. We didn’t stay outside long since it was foggy and we were cold. Just long enough to snap a few photos. This is something we will definitely be coming back to see at some point (hopefully before all the glaciers melt).

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Mount Robson Provincial Park

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Back on the road, we aimed back Northwest towards British Columbia. Just beyond the AB-BC border lies Mount Robson Provincial Park where we set up camp for the night. Mount Robson is the second highest peak in British Columbia. Just off the main highway, you get an amazing view and plenty of photo ops. The visitor’s centre sits right in the valley below the mountain and has all of the info you might need on any of your travels within the Rockies.

We didn’t budget ourselves a lot of time near Mount Robson so we skipped some of the trails around the area to get back on the road. If you like backcountry hiking, you might want to spend some more time in this area and hit up the Berg Lake Trail. It is a beautiful trail with options for beginner and advanced hikers alike. We opted to leave Mount Robson quite early in the morning to get to our next destination, Hope.

Hope

Just before reaching Hope, we noticed a sign for a turn-off to something called the Othello Tunnels. Neither of us had heard of it, but it piqued our interest so we decided to make the stop. We are so glad we took the turn-off because it was one of the coolest trails we walked on our trip.

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The Othello Tunnels run through where the old Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) used to take its route through the mountains. The original railway finished construction around 1915 and it was amazing to see the feats of engineering they were able to come up with at that time. Since the KVR stopped running in the 1960s, the track line has been turned into a trail that takes you directly into the dark tunnels and across bridges that overlook deep canyons. It is a beautiful mix of nature and architecture. If you decide to take the trails yourself, I recommend taking a flashlight or at least having the flashlight available on your smart phone. The tunnels are quite long with no artificial lighting, so there are some sections that you can’t see where you’re stepping and can only see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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After trekking through the tunnels, we made our way to our campsite. We set up tent at the Coquihalla Campground which was a great campsite. It was inexpensive and in a great location right on the Coquihalla River. It feels almost like camping in the woods even though you are almost in the middle of town. We wandered around the river on the campsite for a bit before we decided to head down to the Hope Slide.

If ever you need a reminder of the power of nature and the destruction it can bring, Hope Slide is the place to visit. It is the site of the second largest landslide in Canada which occurred in 1965 and the side of the mountain is still bare from where the rock fell down onto the highway. It is a humbling but beautiful site to visit. Since we were the only ones around, it was peaceful to just sit on the rocks for a while and soak up the view.

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We were desperate for some good caffeine other than our usual Tim Hortons stop in the morning, so we decided to stop by a local cafe. The Blue Moose Coffee House was the perfect spot to have a quick breakfast. Their coffee was awesome with the bonus of being made with fair-trade beans. Their baked goods smell delicious as you walk inside and I can attest to their scones tasting great. I would definitely recommend them for a caffeine fix if you’re ever driving through the town.

Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park

Between Hope and Chilliwack, we stopped at another one of my favourite spots for one more quick hike, Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park. The hike is only about half an hour return and brings you through a peaceful wooded area towards the falls. The trail stops just before the falls, but adventurous types tend to hop the fence to get a closer look. If you do get a closer look, be sure to wear good shoes for this hike as it can be a little slippery in the muddy spots and the hill gets a bit steep.

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As we headed back onto the highway, we looked forward to the city adventures we had planned coming up. However, we weren’t looking forward to city traffic. We entered a traffic jam on the highway before we even got close to our next destination. It’s a good thing we had a good sing-along playlist because it would be a little while until we made it to Vancouver…

To be continued…


Posted by Sydney

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5 thoughts on “Western Canada and USA PART I: The Rocky Mountains

  1. I think your blog is off to a great start! Especially loved the details and tips you offered about where to visit. Some of them definitely piqued my interest!
    I also wanted to mention that I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Award here: https://friedpixels.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/the-liebster-award/
    I just want to encourage and motivate you to keep writing because you’re off to a great start! I look forward to reading more about your journey!

    Like

  2. This was a really nice account of your journey around the rocky mountains. You have a really nice writing style and I am sure you will bring this up to be an amazing blog. I have followed your blog to read more.

    Like

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