The Canadian Rockies Road Trip

Wow! What an incredible two weeks! We just got back from our adventure around British Columbia and Alberta, where we explored the spectacular scenery of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We drove through 5 different National Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke) and countless provincial parks, covering almost 2700-km in only 9-days. With each twist and turn of the highway, our travels through the mountains unveiled new spectacular views for us to admire.

We had planned our trip for early October for two reasons. The first was a wedding – not ours – that we had been invited to in Revelstoke. Since we were going to be driving all that distance we may as well add on an extra couple days to visit Jasper and Banff National Parks before heading to the wedding, right? Seemed like a good idea. The other reason being we figured the changing seasons of fall in the Canadian Rockies would give us some amazing and unique photo opportunities. We had some big plans for the trip.

canadian rockiesIt all started in Vancouver, where we rented a 4×4 – the trusty Jeep Wrangler that would take us to the mountains and back again. We had brought a tent with us and had also planned on setting up a bed in the back of the truck. We had an air mattress and several sleeping bags to make sure that we would be comfortable. We had a few hotel nights planned in advance, and we figured we could save a few bucks by roughing it a few nights in between. It was the perfect fall getaway. Unfortunately, nature had other plans for us.

We spent the first night of our road trip sleeping in the car in Clearwater (just north of Kamloops) at the entrance to Wells Grey Provincial Park. It was raining when we went to sleep, and I remember thinking to myself in the middle of the night – “The rain just stopped! We’re going to have some incredible weather in the morning for taking pictures”.

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Helmcken Falls in Wells Grey Provincial Park. 2018.

Well, we were right about one thing, the rain did stop. What we didn’t realize was it marked the moment when the temperature dropped below freezing and the rain had turned into snow. We woke up to mist, clouds, and a layer of snow everywhere. It appears that winter had arrived early. Or more accurately, we had arrived a week late.

It was beautiful, but not exactly what we had expected (or planned for). We visited Helmken Falls in the morning, which was shrouded in mist and fog which made it look angry and moody at the prospect of winters arrival. As we drove from Wells Grey North-East towards Jasper, we were surrounded by the changing seasons. We arrived at Mount Robson Park, to find the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies completely covered in clouds. By the time we reached the East entrance to the park (on the border of Jasper National Park), we were in a full blizzard.

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This should have been an incredible view of Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. It was hidden by clouds. 2018.

Once we arrived in Jasper, the snow eventually stopped, but the clouds stayed. We only had time for two nights in Jasper, and we tried to explore as much as we could. It was cold, and in the mountains, there was over 30-centimeters of snow, but it was still stunning.

We drove up the Maligne River to visit the Lake only to find it transformed into a winter wonderland. What we assumed were breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains were completely covered in clouds. It was still a nice walk, and even without the mountains, the lake was beautiful – but we knew we were missing out on something great. You could just feel it.

On the way back to Jasper we stopped at Maligne Canyon and enjoyed the viewpoint that overlooks Jasper. The cloud ceiling had risen a little bit and we could finally see a few mountains peeking out around us. Before heading back to the hotel, we took a short drive north-east of town along highway-16 and took in some views of the Athabasca River valley.

While we didn’t see all the mountains in Jasper NP, we did see was a lot of wildlife. On the way back to town, we encountered a herd of Caribou crossing the highway. Earlier in the day, we had seen Big Horn Sheep on the road to Maligne Lake. Most of the wildlife we saw was pretty close to the major roads. Much like all the other tourists, we pulled over with our 4-way blinkers indicating we were going to get out of the car and take pictures. The biggest cause of traffic jams in Jasper is the wildlife. We saw Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Elk and Cariboo during our two and a half days in Jasper.

The town of Jasper was quite lovely – we spent one night in our car and the other at the historic Athabasca Hotel in the center of town. The town is quite small, home to about 5000 year-round residents. We had a great dinner at Jasper Brewing Co and discovered a few different spots for lunch and light snacks in town that we really enjoyed.

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Wildlife was everywhere in Jasper National Park. 2018.

We woke up on the third morning to blue skies in all directions. Wow!! All of the mountains that had been covered in clouds the day before stood triumphantly above everything. It was incredible. This news was even better received by us because today we would be driving the Icefields Parkway, the world-famous Highway 93 that travels from Jasper to Lake Louise.

Most of the trees were covered in snow, and the skies were blue. It was a photographers dream come true. Another perk to traveling during the shoulder season is that there were significantly less other travelers to fight for views with. When we arrived at Athabasca Falls, they had partially frozen over, which led to some amazing pictures. Every twist and turn of highway 93 led us to a new incredible view. We stopped quite often but had to turn down many of the best views just out of lack of time.

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Along the walk towards the Glacier, there were signs which indicated the rapid rate in which the glacier is receding back into the mountains. 2018.

Another highlight arrived mid-afternoon when we visited the Columbia Icefields and were treated to even more snow; it was hard to see where the glacier ended and the previous day’s snowfall began.

Along the walk towards the Glacier, there were signs which indicated the rapid rate in which the glacier is receding back into the mountains. Once you got up close, you could see exactly where the glacier began. It was majestic.

It was incredible how quickly winter had taken back the landscape in the mountains. We really felt like we were in the middle of winter at this point (without the cripplingly cold temperatures). We continued along highway 93 towards Lake Louise where we had planned to spend the night. We crossed the boundary between Banff and Jasper National Parks, the arbitrary line drawn in the wilderness, and kept driving south.

One of the best stops of the day was at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, where we pulled into an empty parking lot and shared a spectacular view with one other traveler from Arizona. You could tell from the parking lot that this was not a place that a lot of tour busses were visiting. We were running out of daylight, and only had time for a few more quick stops; a short hike up to Peyto Lake and a side of the road view of Bow Lake. The day’s light was disappearing.

We have lots of video footage which we will be posting on YouTube eventually, such as this video of us goofing around at the border between Banff and Jasper National Parks. 2018.

We arrived in Lake Louise after dark and found a campsite to spend the night. Many of the campgrounds and higher altitude parks were closed for the winter, so we were limited in some of our options. It was too cold to camp outside, but by now the back of the truck bedroom we had set up was pretty sweet. If it wasn’t for the lack of leg room – next time we will plan for a longer SUV – it was a very comfortable sleeping arrangement despite the frigid temperatures.

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The Icefields Parkway. 2018.

One major disappointment we woke up to was Moraine Lake; we had really wanted to visit this mountain lake, but the road to the lake had been closed for winter a few days before. This was becoming a reoccurring theme of our trip, so we instead decided to spend more time at Lake Louise. We decided to go for a short walk around the lake and would go explore somewhere else along the road to Banff afterward. This was the busiest of all of the places we had visited in the last few days, with everyone crowded around one of the most incredible views of the lake, located only a few steps from the parking lot. It felt like we were at Disneyland or an airport.

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This is about an hour hike from Lake Louise we found this incredible view of the glaciers. 2018.

As we walked further away from the hotel, a pathway along the shore of the lake, the crowds thinned out, so we just kept walking. We got to the end of the lake and the trail continued, we decided to go for a short walk up the hill to see what kind of views we could find.

The path was well worn into the snow, but we hadn’t brought any extra water or food, so we didn’t want to go too far. We kept pushing each other to go “just a little bit further”, and the more progress we made, the fewer people we would find along the trail; we were getting a little worried that everyone else seemed to be much better prepared for this.

“I’m sure there is another amazing view just a little bit further” we kept telling ourselves. After just over an hour of hiking up the snowy path, we were rewarded, as we found the most amazing viewpoint, looking up at glaciers and towering mountains. We decided this was a good place to stop, it looked like the trail went about another hour up the hill towards the valley to the spot known as “6 glaciers”.

We walked back towards Lake Louise, which was glimmering in the sunlight below us, trying not to slip on the icy pathway. It felt a lot shorter on the way down, and we made good time back to the parking lot. We were tired after a long day of unexpected hiking.

We continued south towards Banff, where we met friends for dinner at the Banff Ave Brewing Company and took a well-deserved evening break at the famous Banff Hot Springs before heading towards our hotel in Canmore, where we stayed the night. We fell asleep the instant we hit the beds.

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Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park. 2018.

We woke up early the next morning with the ambitious plan to visit 4 National Parks in one day – and if we included Jasper it would be 5 parks in 3 days. We drove from Canmore to back into  Banff NP and went for an hour-long hike along the shores of Lake Minnewanka and along the edge of Stewart Canyon. We got back on the highway and continued West, leaving Alberta and Banff National Park Behind us as we entered Yoho National Park. New achievement unlocked! Woohoo!

We were back in British Columbia and came out of the Rockies through Kicking Horse Pass on the Trans Canada Highway. The road to Takakkaw Falls was closed for the season, so we skipped another desired attraction, and kept moving, unfazed by the most recent rejection. Our next stop was Emerald Lake, which was a quiet wilderness scene, surrounded by snow-capped mountains reflecting off the water. We ate sandwiches that we pre-prepared in the morning and enjoyed the perfect setting, sitting on a log enjoying the view.

Normally this would be quite a busy place, but we didn’t have to share the view with many other tourists. There were several amazing hikes that we would have loved to do, but we didn’t have time to explore. We added Emerald Lake to our list of places we had to come back to and continued on our journey West.

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Beautiful Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. 2018.

Highway-1 continues through the town of Golden and eventually into Glacier National Park. This is where you enter the historic Rogers Pass and wind your way back out the other side. We had set an ambitious goal for the day and we were running out of daylight as we approached Revelstoke. Fortunately, highway 1 briefly swings the borders of Mount Revelstoke National Park, and we were able to complete our goal of driving through four parks in one day. We were exhausted, but wee had found the perfect hotel located next to the Columbia River, and we settled in for a few days.

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The Revelstoke bridge, crossing the Columbia River. 2018.

We had 3 nights booked in Revelstoke, so we were able to slow our pace down a little bit. In the morning we visited the weekly farmers market located in the center of town and spent the afternoon exploring a few areas around Revelstoke, including the Enchanted Forest and some of Revelstoke NP. We really wanted to drive up to the meadows located at the top of the mountain, but the road to the summit was closed – another victim of the early strike of winter. We made it to the viewpoint at the 8-km mark of the road, 1/3 of the way towards the top, enjoyed the views and returned to town for dinner.

The next day was the wedding – the whole reason for the trip in the first place. We went for a drive north of Revelstoke in the morning, to visit the Hydroelectric Dam and Lake Revelstoke, before going back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding.

The setting was absolutely stunning, surrounded by the beautiful backdrop of the mountains during the outdoor ceremony. While it might have been a little cold, especially for the bride and anyone wearing a dress, but the scene was amazing. I’m sure it was worth it – the photos will be spectacular and a beautiful reminder for the Bride and Groom how wonderful their shared day was. We had dinner at the top of the Gondola on Revelstoke Mountain Resort, which had stunning views of Revelstoke and the Columbia River below. After a few hours of dinner and dancing, we called it a night.

The next day was the 6-hour drive back to Vancouver. Instead of taking the fastest route, we decided to make a slight detour,  taking the Okanagan Valley route through Vernon and Kelowna, adding about 40 minutes to our drive. The views of the lakes were amazing, coming in through the north of the Okanagan Valley. We decided to extend our trip by another hour, stopping for a quick lunch and wine tasting at the Quails Gate Estate Winery on the way back to the lower mainland. Wine not?

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Coal Harbour Marina. 2018.

Once back in Vancouver, we had two days to finish off our vacation, which we spent wandering around the city enjoying autumn once again (winter is a long ways from blessing coastal British Columbia with its presence). We had lots of errands to do before moving back to Mexico, but we managed to mix in a bit of pleasure during our day of ‘work’. We watched one last sunset at English Bay before saying goodbye (or more accurately, see you later) to the City of Vancouver.  It was the perfect end to a great 2-week vacation.

We had an incredible trip, covering a lot of ground in a short time. We also took a LOT of really amazing pictures, so we have a lot of really great photo essays for you to look forward to. We have really great stories to tell, and a lot of great pictures and videos to edit; but we wanted to send out a quick preview to get everyone excited.

We hope you enjoyed the first taste, the amuse bouche of our 5-course Rocky Mountain dinner. We have so many great things planned for the next few weeks, so maybe you should subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out! Happy travels everyone!

 

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13 comments

  1. Wooow. What an amazing road trip!

    We did a similar (shorter) trip from Vancouver to Banff, at about the same time as you. We caught that first massive snowstorm at the start of October…Our first day of snow was on the Plain of Six glaciers hike that you did! Did you stop at the teahouse up there to warm up? We also saw a grizzly mum and her babies from there!

    Anyway, I love your photos. I had the same reaction to this area. Each place we visited just made me want to visit more places!!

    p.s. We couldn’t go to Lake Minnewanka due to the snow, so yay that you managed to get there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t go all the way to the “Six Glaciers” spot (i think the teahouse was closed that day). We didn’t plan on doing the hike, we thought it would be too snowy and we didn’t have the gear or else we would have kept going. We had planned on just walking to the end of the lake and back.

      We stopped right before the cliff / part where you walk back down towards the glacial moraine before heading up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oooh that is where we saw the bears!

        Banff is dangerous like that. You can easily find yourself on an accidental hike, because it is just too pretty not to keep going! We did the same thing around Emerald Lake. We didn’t plan to hike the whole way…but the views were so pretty that our legs just kept going!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Might have even been the same day then… we left our bear spray, snacks and water in the car (we were planning to hike later in the day) so we turned around at the viewpoint.

        Later we found out there was a Grizzly about 500-meters from us. I’m certain the bear knew where we were… us on the other hand.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful photos, can’t wait to see more as you work on all your content from this trip! Would love to do a road trip through the Canadian Rockies like this, but perhaps in July instead of October haha Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post with great pictures. The Canadian Rockies are a world-class destination for sure. My wife and I spent out 25th anniversary in Banff back in 2015. The outdoor pursuits are almost endless. We found that for us there were too many exciting things to do and see with our time there. Good reasons though to go back.

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to share with us. Brought back many wonderful memories!

    Liked by 1 person

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