Snow drifts sweep across the road. Elk and deer dart in front of the headlights. We’d stop if there were any towns nearby yet we must push on to Jasper before the storm takes a firmer hold. The Icefields Parkway is living up to it’s name.
In as many months we are on the second of Canada’s most iconic and picturesque drives. Having driven the Cabot trail only a few weeks prior we now navigate the Icefields Parkway stretching 210km from Jasper in the north to Banff in the south passing Lake Louise along the way as well as many other lakes, rivers, streams, mountains and glaciers. It’s late October and winter is rapidly approaching so we are aiming to get this drive in before winter closes in.
We leave Jasper with our first stop being Athabasca falls. A tonne of water is going through a narrow chasm. It’s cold and water must be freezing! The bridge going over the falls gives an eerie view to the depths below. Second stop we visit Sunwapta falls. Feels colder still. Most trails and sites that are normally set up for tourists are closed for the season. We see the familiar ‘Ferme’ (closed) sign again and again.
We stop at the Columbia glacier which is one of the most popular attractions along the parkway. Normally you can get a caterpillar like tractor ride on to the glacier. Of course this was Ferme for the winter so we walked up instead. We spent about 20 minutes poking around on the glacier itself trying not to fall into a crevasse before making our way back to the car.
Onwards to Peyto Lake which is often used in travel brochures for it’s blue green water. Caused from the glacial water. We had cooked up some soup into a thermos that morning so cracked it open for a spot of lunch by the lake. Perfect on this crisp cold day. The soup having been picked up in Edmonton so all our supplies coming into action!
We arrive at our final point for the day being Lake Louise. It is getting dark so we don’t spend long before retiring to the Lake Louise HI Alpine Centre. Which is a fancy name for a hostel.
The next morning we treat ourselves to breakfast in the decent cafe attached to the hostel. And look out the window surprised to snow had fallen overnight! Snow in Canada may seem commonplace but after 4 months in Canada it was the first snow we’d seen!
Heading back to to Lake Louise we take a stroll along the length of the lake. Wary for bears who are getting their last bites to eat before hibernation. We do not want to be on the menu! We continue on intently coughing as we go to alert would be bears we were approaching. We come to the end where a small waterfall was half frozen and trickling into the lake. Looking back to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at the other end of the lake it looks more impressive than it does up close. And, it turns out that last night the Rolling Stones were staying buying guests drinks in the bar!
With hopes of mixing it with the rich and famous dashed, we return to our hostel and have a Kraft dinner of mac and cheese. We see out the evening reading books by the fireplace which would be cosy if the fireplace contained a fire. Besides that the Hostel is a decent one and would recommend it!
Awake to a second morning of fresh snowfall. We continue on to Banff via the Bow valley parkway. A more remote road. A shortcut if you will. As we get going the snow starts again covering the road in a blanket of white. Questioning our decision to take the back road as the snow sloshes under the tyres.
We arrive in Banff by lunchtime safe and well and check in to the Blue Mountain Lodge BnB. We step it up from hostel living for a while. Mostly as the hostel is actually more expensive and a fair hike out of town.
We head straight to the Banff hot springs for a soak in 40 degree water. It is actually cooled prior to arriving in the baths with the real temp being 47 degrees! Slightly broiled we take a break sitting on the rim of the pool letting the freezing air cool us down. Then it snows. Sitting in a 40 degree pool with snow falling all around amongst the mountains is one of the more amazing experiences we’d had.
Next morning we sleep in and enjoy the second B of our BnB. Take a drive up Mt Norquay then head out the lewd sounding Lake Minniwanka and Two Jack Lake. Returning via Tunnel mountain road to Banff. I take a run up Tunnel Mountain in the afternoon keeping a watch out for bears as usual. Upon return we once again head to the hot springs for a soak. We decide we like hot springs and will look for them at every opportunity.
Dinner at a pub down town called Earles. I ate way too much. But it didn’t prevent us getting dessert. We were jealous that we didn’t get to partake in our BnB’s afternoon offer of freshly baked cookies. Perhaps we may make cookie hour tomorrow.
Next day a bit of a routine. Sleep in. Hike up Tunnel mountain, this time with Allison. No bear’s. We are actually secretly wishing to see a bear now. Make cookie hour. Head up to hot springs, this time in darkness as snow falls again. Back to Banff town to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. Banff a nice town it is just getting into gear for ski season.
Calgary to Jasper
Next morning it’s off to Calgary. Always a worry when you have a fair distance to travel in the day and you begin heading in the opposite direction from where you should be heading. So 132km to Calgary only to fill up the car and turn around and head back. Not much doing in Calgary of a Sunday morning. We see the site of the Calgary stampede drive past where the Olympics was held in 1988. So we’ve now been to two Olympic cities of Canada!
We head back to Icefields Parkway via an alternate route commonly known as a shortcut. A shortcut is often the longest way between two points. 300km later we are back on the Icefields Parkway with a ways to go before reaching Jasper. At dusk the wind picks up and a snow storm commences. As we continue driving in the dark with snow in the headlights we narrowly miss many an elk or deer strolling across the road. Not a car for miles we question if we should be out here at all.
Finally we see signs for Jasper and turn off once again for the hostel. After 600km of driving we are beat but glad to be indoors as the storm picks up.
Next day we take a final drive out to Maligne Lake. We return to town and notice all the Halloween decorations about town. We drop off the hire car, grab a pizza and jump on the 3:30pm train bound for Vancouver. We escape the ghouls of Jasper but we are scared of what awaits us in Vancouver as it’s time to earn a dollar again.
About The Author
Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.