Day 6: Banff
Using our lodgings, Banff Boundary Lodge (actually in Harvie Heights, not Banff as the name suggests), as a base we explored the local area. It didn’t snow overnight and the weather was quite clear although cold. We decided to go on a small hike up to the Grassi Lake near to Canmore which we had heard it was one of the more popular trails. There was so much snow along the trail it was hard to believe it’s Spring. There are still a few weeks left of the ski season here and you can see why. On the trail itself, the snow was only 6-inches or so deep but to each side it was up to your knees. Needless to say we obeyed the signs and stuck to the trail! The trail weaved it’s way through a forest leading up to the Grassi Lakes, a small collection of pools with the most amazing colours, brown through turquoise to blue, with the melting snow. This was the ‘easy’ trail which was enough for us, the harder trail had been closed due to icy flows. At the end of the trail, before we turned around and headed back Kirsty wanted to make a snowman tribute to her friends, Anita and Christian, who got married the other day. The snow was powdery and quite dry so not easy to work with but we managed a small couple complete with fir cone bouquet. This small hike took us around 2 hours in total, and was about 4km in distance.
We then drove back to our lodge for a lunch of leftovers, the great about having a kitchen when you’re on a budget is not having to eat out and spend money! After some lounging around we drove back into Canmore to do some shopping for dinner and the next days breakfast. We opted for a steak dinner and pancakes, bacon and maple syrup for breakfast. They seemed like appropriate food choices for the climate. We also had to get some maple syrup being in Canada (any excuse). After that we went for a walk on the boardwalk around the town lake before heading back and getting the cook on and some relaxation in front of our (gas) fire.
Day 7: Banff
Today we awoke to it snowing with the forecast for snow and rain all day. We opted for this to be a lazy day with a local valley drive then sorting out our USA trip back at the lodge in front of the fire. The day started with pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, a favourite breakfast and one very apt for where we are right now. We then set out for a drive along the Bow Valley Trail towards a town called Cochrane. This highway is off the main route to Calgary and is good for wildlife spotting apparently. It was a nice drive with the snow falling quite heavily in places. The only wildlife we saw were a herd of mountain goats, the weather not appearing to bother them too much. Cochrane itself is not much to note although we had to tour in the car so maybe didn’t do it justice. On the way back we stopped off for a lunch of sandwiches by the Ghost Lake Reservoir which was iced/snowed over and looked quite eerie as per the name. This is our last night in our lodge so making the most of it. Next stop is Jasper, further North.
Day 8: Banff to Jasper (288km, 4h)
We took the scenic route to Jasper from Banff, along the Bow Valley Parkway then the Icefields Parkway. As we were entering National Parks, we had to purchase a pass for the 3 days we are staying. The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic option, alternative to the Highway 1, and worth the detour. The road is lined with firs most of the way and there are lookouts and points of interest along the way. We stopped off at the Johnson’s Canyon for a look along the way. It was very busy as it’s Easter weekend and icy due to the weather but we walked along most of the way to the lower falls before turning back. To see the water flowing beneath the ice in broken away sections was amazing, and there were sections of frozen waterfalls.
At the end of the Bow Valley Parkway we stopped at Lake Louise. This is a village with a ski resort close by but also a large frozen lake which you can go walking on. We weren’t quite sure where to go but just followed everyone else and found path of packed snow through the middle of the lake and then looped back round along the banks, although the snow was so deep that you couldn’t be sure where you were walking. At one point I lost my whole left leg to the snow, falling in before hoisting myself out. I made sure to walk in the ‘middle’ of the path from then. The mountains surrounding the Lake were spectacular and well worth the stop.
From Lake Lousie we jumped on the Icefields Parkway and made for Jasper. This road was equally if not more impressive in terms of scenery than the Bow Valley Parkway and parallels the Continental Divide, with mountains to either side. The name did it justice as well as in sections you could see the snow sweeping across the road and just white everywhere. At one point the road passes through the Athabasca Glacier, a quite eerie and ghostly point of the road. It was along this road that I caught site of a mountain goat walking a mountain ledge, eating. An amazing site and one I am very pleased to have seen as the bears are letting us down so far on this trip.
Once we got close to Jasper we stopped off at the Athabasca Falls to see the thawing river tumble down the falls, eroded away over time. The water flowing down the river was an incredible turquoise/green colour from the meltwater. In Jasper we found our hotel, the partly named Athabasca Hotel, and unloaded before wandering the town were we ran into a group of Elk having some dinner. They were quite happily munching next to the railway line whilst a train went by.
Day 9: Jasper
There is quite a lot to do right near Jasper so after breakfast (as a side note: if you are up this way is that your car acts as a very good fridge, keeping milk and the like cold for a cheap and easy breakfast) we went for a walk to the nearby Old Fort Point. This is a lookout about 1170m above sea level but only 70m up walking that gives a stunning view of the surrounding area. After walking on another trail by mistake we found the correct trail and started the walk up to the summit. Along the way we found a group of bighorn sheep relaxing on the hillside. True to their name their horns were massive and big sheep too. We also saw some red squirrels but not as impressive as the sheep, they need to work on their horns. The way up was fairly hard going but the route down was much easier, going a different, longer route with not as steep a gradient.
After getting back into Jasper, we had a ‘bench lunch’ of a homemade sandwich then made for Lake Maligne. About an hours drive from Jasper along some scenic roads and through ‘bear country’, it was an inviting afternoons activity. Just as well the drive was nice because the bears weren’t out to play. Beginning to realise I may not see a bear on this trip. Will have to return some day. After the drive we went back to the hotel for a few hours relaxing before heading out for dinner. We have self-catered on the cheap the past few days so this was a bit of a treat for travellers on a budget. We ended up at the De’d Dog for steak night and a cheap pint/vodka and soda. The ice hockey was on the TV with the Montreal Canadiens in the play-offs. Every time they scored a siren and flashing light went off in the bar, something to keep you awake.
Day 10: Jasper to Kamloops (443km, 5h30m)
Kamloops is our next stop on the way to Whistler. After checking out of the Athabasca Hotel we drove to the old fort point car park for another trail walk, this time walking around Lake Beaufort. This was a decent 2-hour morning walk and perfect before our 5-hour drive.
After our walk we stopped for a pre-journey coffee and cake back in Jasper. On the way back into town we had to wait about 15 minutes as a cross country cargo train passed over a level crossing. It felt like it would never end! There’s a nice place in Jasper we had our eyes on called the Bears Paw Bakery with good-looking cakes. They had massive sticky cinnamon buns, I had to get one. Almost did for lunch!
The road to Kamloops from Jasper is another scenic drive winding through through forests and provincial parks. We took the highway 16 west then highway 5 south. As well as the usual mountain viewpoints on route we also stopped off at a waterfall (Rearguard Falls) which was fast flowing even though the water levels are still fairly low. This waterfall marks the furthest point inland that breeding salmon will swim to. Incredible if you think how far this is from the Pacific Ocean. The chinook, the strongest of the salmon breeds make it this far a helpful sign told us. The highlight of the drive was spotting a wolf stalking some prey besides the highway, about 100m away, in the snow next to a frozen river leading into Moose Lake. We had our eyes peeled for moose given all the warning signs but saw none. The only wildlife we saw on this leg was the wolf. It was black and all alone stalking something under the snow which appeared to be about a foot deep. It stalked then pounced but came up empty before deciding to lie down in the snow. An amazing sight.
We stayed at a motel in Kamloops, a town of many motels. It’s a convenient stopping off point from the national parks and the west coast. We’re here for one night before moving onto Whistler.
Day 11: Kamloops to Whistler (299km, 4h15m)
After out one night in the city of motels, Kamloops, we woke to the dreariest day yet. Clouds and relentless rain, albeit not that heavy. We had a plan to go to the BC Wildlife Park, a chance to see bears that have eluded us thus far on our trip. We thought if they won’t come to us and then we will go to them. We drove to the park anyway, in the rain, and was told by the ticket lady that Canadian wildlife isn’t that put off by some rain, true enough! So we went in (2 of only about 5 in the park!), and glad we did. First off, there were the Grizzly Bears and it was feeding time! This wildlife park was set up to care for injured or orphaned wildlife, that would otherwise not make it in the wild. The Grizzly Bears were two orphaned cubs reared in captivity and cannot now be released as they have no survival skills. They were ridiculously cute, playing with each other, hunting their food and standing up on two legs. The park had native Canadian wildlife, including wolves, moose, lynx, cougars, eagles, owls, sheep, goats, coyote and bison (I am sure there were more but can’t remember). There was also a Black Bear which was put off by the rain and refused to come out. Fair enough, after about an hour and a half we called it a day and went back to the dry confines of our car.
The drive to Whistler was a nice one, taking Highway 1 out of Kamloops before winding North on Highway 97 then South on Highway 99. The countryside was a lot greener than we had driven through previously and the rivers a brown colour, not the amazing greens and blues of in the mountains. On the way Kirsty spied an Osprey nest with two Ospreys atop a power cable pole beside Lillooet Lake. Further on we spotted a Marmot besides Cayoosh Creek appearing to have made it’s home in a cement roadside barrier.
The drive up to Whistler was up and down, to be expected in the mountains, and also through so fairly heavy snow (heavy for us anyway). The scenery was different again as the trees changed to a golden colour. Our accommodation in Whistler was a Yurt in the Riverside RV Park. You could call it posh camping. We made ourselves at home then drive into Whistler Village for some dinner. Whistler Village is a fairly sterile, over-priced place but we did find a bar that everyone else seemed to be at. The reason being that every dish on the menu is $4.95! So, we managed dinner for $20, a bargain. We then tried to find some drinks for the evening in our Yurt but could not find a bottle-shop/off license that sold cold drinks. Ironic on a mountain-side. Given enough time we could buy some and just leave the, outside to chill as the ambient temperature is about that of a fridge. Not enough time though so we canned the idea and headed back to our Yurt for the night.
Day 12: Whistler to Vancouver (126km, 2h)
The skylight in the Yurt woke us up on the last day of our road trip. I could see snow falling so checked outside to see how heavy it had fallen in the night. There was only a couple of inches in the floor and the roads were clear so there were no concerns about not having the winter tyres on. After breakfast and checking out we went for a walk in search of the ‘Lost Lake’. Aptly named it turns out as we could not find the said lake. Instead we walked to a park with baseball diamonds, clearly not the Lost Lake. Luckily though it was close enough to our car that we could stroll back and still leave when we wanted to and still have time for a leisurely lunch before getting back to Vancouver in the afternoon.
We headed to Squamish down on Route 99 for lunch (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh in the native language, try and pronounce that) where I had researched a pub brewery called Howe Sound Brewery. I had the pleasure of a six-pack in Banff so I knew they knew how to brew. They also know how to cook. We shared a dish to poutine, a local delicacy consisting of fried chips smothered in gravy and cheese curds. It was quite delicious. We both opted for a burger main, myself a standard beef burger and Kirsty a pulled-pork sandwich. Both, again, delicious. I then picked up a couple of award winning beers for Doug back in Vancouver.
Then we made our way down a winding Highway 99 towards Vancouver. This was another scenic drive, this time on the coast, going beside Howe Sound then approaching Vancouver from the North, going over the Lions Bridge before we got to downtown where we navigated our way back to Kitsilano, where the adventure began.
TOTAL DISTANCE DRIVEN = 3,456km