Icefield Parkway & Jasper National Park

 

One of the beauties of traveling north in the summer is the amount of daylight. It is something to be cherished in the summer, and we are taking full advantage of it. When it doesn’t get dark until well after 10 pm, it provides more time for adventure, exploring, late night dinners, and exhausted mornings!

This sluggish morning, we are eager to get on the Icefield Parkway, culminating with a one night stay in the town of Jasper. Widely considered one of the best drives in the world, this incredibly scenic drive links Banff National Park to Jasper National Park.

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It is a photogs dream as we cruise our way through windy roads, surrounded by mountains filled with glaciers, and hopefully a few bears we would like to capture photos of along the way.

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After cruising past Bow Lake, our first stop was to Peyto Lake. Another iconic stop in the Canadian Rockies, which means crowds. Easy tip: wander! Crowds tend to huddle on the boardwalks, likely getting dropped off by charter bus, snap some pictures and get on their way.

For us, we are moving at our own speed, are not on a time crunch, and are quick to find the first path away from the crowds. Peyto Lake is no different. Just to the left of the boardwalk, a short trail leads down to a picture-perfect area, free of people.

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Back in the car, and a few kilometers up the road brings us to our next stop, Mistaya Canyon. This lesser-traveled beautiful canyon is formed by the Mistaya River. Its distinct curvy walls, along with the powerful flow of the glacier water, make the 1 km walk from the car to the canyon well worth the stop!

Random stops are endless on the Icefield Parkway. Whether it is to capture the glaciers atop the mountains, or the waterfalls coming down the mountainside as the winter snow continues to melt, even in July! This was a cute trading post along the way.

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Knowing tomorrow we will do the drive-in reverse, we saved a few other main stops in order to get to Jasper, in time to enjoy the Jasper Park Lodge! Someone was enjoying her own bed! ( Arely has been sleeping on a air mattress in our room the past week).

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Jasper Park Lodge is a pristine resort set on the banks of Lac Beauvert, an emerald green lake that plays host to Canada’s #1 ‘Golf Resort Course’. In the heart of Jasper National Park, this area is surrounded by an abundance of nature and wildlife.

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They have a resort dog names Stanley. He has his own bed and house in the lobby. He was unfortunately on vacation this week.

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The property is beautiful and they had smores every night on the lake. Of course we didn’t miss the opportunity!

As we were enjoying the evening, we overheard one of the resort workers talking about a nearby drive to see wildlife. Well, that was music to our ears, as we were still on a mission to see bear and moose!

We jumped at the opportunity to drive to Maligne Lake, a curvy, wooded road that led us to more beautiful scenery. Our first encounter, a male elk, with amazing antlers!

While it wasn’t a moose or a bear, it was an amazing encounter, and made us eager to find more. And then, finally, the near impossible sighting (at least for us), a moose! I’m not sure it is like this for everyone, but moose have eluded us on our travels before. A few years back, we spent an entire day in Maine, just devoted to spotting a moose, and… no luck. So, tonight was finally our lucky night!

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One checkmark left, either a black or grizzly bear (preferably grizzly). The rest of our drive out to Maligne Lake, we spotted a few deer, some ducks, and a picture perfect sunset over Maligne Lake.

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A long, dark drive back to the Jasper Park Lodge, and with not many food options this late, we decided on room service and quick to bed. These days are long, and complete darkness doesn’t begin until well after 11 pm.

Side note, in 2011, Jasper National Park was designated a ‘Dark Sky Preserve’ by the Royal Astronomical Society in Canada, due to its limited light pollution. Don’t Google it, because after we did, we were beaming with optimism for a glimpse of what we saw online. Sadly, we had an overcast night, and with only a one night stay in Jasper, we were out of luck. Next time…

Our last full day in Canada, begins with a relaxing morning at the lodge. An inviting place to relax, stroll along the lakeside path, and breath in the freshest air earth has to offer.

 

We begin our long, picture perfect drive back to Canmore on the Icefield Parkway with a stop at Sunwapta Falls. These quick stops are an extremely exciting way to break up an otherwise long drive. In hindsight, we wish this drive, along with the stops, would go on forever. Each stop, unique in its own right, kept us eager for more.

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Leaving the falls parking lot….. finally!!!

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And then a bit down the road, our eagle eye driver, spots another one!!!

As we curved our way through the glacier filled mountains, we were eager to stop at the Athabasca Glacier. Visiting a glacier of this magnitude, is a tough reminder of how fast glaciers are melting. This is one of the most accessible in Canada, and is currently melting at a rate of 5 meters per year. Our last visit, we were able to walk up and touch it, and now there is a wicked stream of glacier water flowing, creating a river that separates the viewing area from the glacier. In the past 125 years, this glacier has receded over 1.5 km, and lost more than half its volume.

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So our last ‘big’ stop on the Icefield Parkway, was to hike down to Panther Falls. This may be our hidden gem of this notorious road. Across the valley, 99% of the people driving will enjoy a beautiful view of Bridal Veil Falls. Little do they know, just to the right of this parking lot, is a bit of a treacherous hike, down to one of the most powerful waterfalls along the Icefield Parkway. As you approach the falls, wet, slippery rock creates steep, adverse conditions, and makes approaching the falls sketchy. We slid our way down the muddy, rocky mess, close enough to quickly snap a couple of pictures, realizing it was unsafe to go any further (just ask Arely’s sneakers). When the conditions are right, you can scale your way along the rock, to sneak behind this waterfall. Today was not that day. We got close, but the treacherous conditions made for a wet, muddy hike, with cold mist soaking us as we climbed messily, and at times nerve racking, back up to safety.

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Our journey back into Banff, brought our adventurous holiday back full circle. Back to the Elk and Oarsman, the place we have our first meal this week, to enjoy one last plate of poutine, our favorite dish of the week.

 

An early rise off to the Calgary airport, left us once again thinking about our next adventure…

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