Days 4 & 5 – Canmore to Edmonton, AB

Route map

Distance = 830 km        Gas = $16.90 ($1.20/L in Banff)  and $32.76 ($1.23/L in Jasper)

CANMORE TO JASPER

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) runs north-south from Jasper down to Banff, through both national parks, and is, according to the guide books, the most scenic drive in the world. I don’t doubt it. There are mountains behind mountains, wildflowers in abundance surrounding glacier-fed alpine  lakes, and so many chances to see wildlife, even on the main road, driving this route might as well be considered a Canadian safari. I didn’t get to see any bears or elk or moose, but I did see a few deer, a big-horned sheep, a few mountain goats and a wolf (carrying a plastic water bottle in its mouth at a highway pull-out).  I’m sure if you spend any amount of time off the highway you’d see any of the above. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the one day I spent in the heart of the Rockies, but even with clouds and some rain, it was well worth the drive.

Friday I left Canmore and headed first thing to Banff (about 20 min away) and spent a few hours exploring the very touristy, very beautiful town, and I even splurged on a $36 ticket to ride the gondola to the peak of Sulphur Mountain.  I can just imagine on a gorgeous day how it would be so great for photos. There is a wooden boardwalk you take to get to the very top, and it’s 360 degree views of the town of Banff and all the mountains surrounding.

From Banff, I drove to Lake Louise, which looks just like it does in the postcards. The water is turquoise and still as glass, and there’s a glacier across the water. I can’t imagine a better setting for photos. Of course, there were loads of tourists – including me – taking advantage of this fact. I also took a walk up a side trail that leads to a lookout, but because it’s a steep climb, there were few people up there. It was nice to take it in away from the crowd, and I was only mildly concerned about meeting a bear on the way back.

So all was going well… and then… After rushing back to my car after it started raining, I somehow managed to turn west onto Highway 1, rather than going north again on the Icefields Parkway. And I somehow managed to not notice I’d been driving 80 km in the wrong direction until I got to Golden, B.C. There was nothing to be done but turn around and head back the way I came, so that tacked on almost another two hours to my drive to Jasper.

Travel tip: It takes only three hours to drive between Banff and Jasper, but to see any of the amazing things along the way, like waterfalls, glaciers, lakes and wildlife, make sure to allow at least one full day (12 hours) for hikes. The fee to enter Banff National Park is $9.80 per day, plus more for camping.

I did manage to make a quick stop to see Athabasca Falls, which was incredible, and ate my dinner sitting next to the Kicking Horse River – where a CN train was winding its way along the other bank, and the smoke from the forest fires lit up the sky an amazing pinkish colour, just to complete the picture.

By the time I arrived in Jasper, it was almost 9 p.m. and I just had time to grab a tea from Tim Hortons (a required stop on any Canadian road trip) before finding a place to park my car on a residential street for the night… and curl up in the back seat. Other than the fact that my knees and hips kept aching and waking me up (sleeping in the fetal position isn’t as nice as I’d expected), it was actually more pleasant sleeping in my car than it was staying at the hostel. There were no rowdy college kids, no lights on till 1 a.m., and I didn’t have to worry about where to keep my stuff safe. Won’t do it again, though, unless I can figure out how to get comfy in the front seat. Which may be impossible in a hatchback.

JASPER TO EDMONTON

This morning I treated myself to a bacon and egg breakfast at a diner just off the main road in Jasper, and I was the only one in there who hadn’t arrived on a motorcycle. I left after gassing up (which I should have waited to do in Hinton, where it was 10 cents cheaper per litre) and made my way towards Edmonton. I didn’t look at a map before I left, and assumed it would take maybe two or so hours to get there from Jasper. It’s more like 4 hours, and that’s going 110 km on a wide, flat, fairly straight two-lane highway. After the Rockies, it was pretty boring. The half hour drive to reach the edge of Jasper National Park offered fantastic views of rivers and mountains again, plus a bonus big-horned sheep I got some photos of at the side of the road with about six other tourists, but then it was just road, evergreens, hay fields and sky for hours. Fortunately, I had good music. And then, finally, after small towns that all looked the same, I saw the sky scrapers of Edmonton in the distance. Now that I’m here, I’m going to enjoy at least one full day in town, hanging out and checking out the Fringe Festival (which is evidently the second biggest in the world, after Edinburgh’s).

NEXT POST: Edmonton

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