Banff to Jasper National Park, Wednesday, 12-Jul

Between Banff and Jasper National Park we traveled along the Icefields Parkway, seeing lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. Later, we saw several animals wandering along the side of the road.

We wanted to get an early start for our drive north to Jasper National Park, so we had a quick breakfast, or at least tried to. The kitchen and dining areas were very crowded with two large groups and a smaller one. We once again chatted with the Bellevue man, who was staying one more night.

Checked out and in the car, we went back to the Trans-Canada Highway towards Lake Louise and the beginning of the Icefields Parkway.

Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway is almost 150 miles long. It goes through the middle of Banff and Jasper and has dozens of places you can view, picnic, camp, or hike. We drove the whole distance and made about eight stops.

Lake Louise

The southernmost end of the Icefields Parkway is Lake Louise, probably the most picturesque location in Banff. There were a lot of people already there when we arrived, but we were able to get a good look. There was quite a bit of haze over the lake which made it hard to fully see the mountains around the lake, but we still got a good look.

Since we wanted to do a few shorter hikes during the day, we went up the hill to the Fairview Lookout, which took us up higher than we expected. We were able to look back towards the Chateau Lake Louise.

After going back down the hill, we went into the Chateau, which is another Fairmont hotel. There were several signs indicating sections which were only available to guests, but we still got a good look. We found the café and grabbed a snack.

Bow Lake

A lot of what we did in Banff was next to the Bow River, which is sourced from Bow Lake.

The first stop we made was to look at some of the glaciers above Bow Lake, including Crowfoot Glacier. We weren't sure which one it was, even knowing that it originally looked like a claw with three claws, but now the left toe is gone and the middle one is receding. Below and right next to the highway is Bow Lake.

We ended up making a couple more stops to get a better look at Bow Lake, which is impressive both in size and color.

Peyto Lake

Our next stop was for a short hike to Bow Summit to view Peyto Lake. There was also quite a bit of foot traffic going back and forth to view the brightly-colored lake. It was harder to make out the Peyto Glacier, since it was pretty far receded from the lake itself.

Icefield Centre

As we went through the Sunwapta Pass (about 6,560 feet) we left Banff and entered Jasper National Park. Not far from that was the Icefield Center, across the highway from the Columbia Icefield. We got a good look at several glaciers, including the massive Athabasca Glacier. It's so big that you can go on a tour right onto the glacier (you take a bus next to the glacier, transfer to a special bus that drives you on, then you stop out and walk on the glacier), and we saw buses and people on its surface.

We figured it was time for lunch, so we got our picnic lunch out and ate at the tables. There was a bit of rain earlier on, but we found one that had enough dry spots for us to eat.

Since there was a lookout desk at the Icefield Centre, we entered and took a look. This building is also where you can buy tickets to go onto the Athabasca Glacier. You can also be driven to a glass-floored observation platform over the Sunwapta Valley. We debated whether to try to take the glacier tour on the way back, but ultimately decided that it would be quite a bit of time and it would be hard to nail down timing if we bought tickets in advance.

Sunwapta Falls

The Sunwapta Falls is fed by the Athabasca Glacier, and was very impressive. You could also walk on a bridge to give you a more heads-on view, but it was a bit downriver.

The viewing area has a low fence to make sure you don't slip off the rocks. There were several young trees which had the bark worn down so they felt like smooth poles, but only at a height that would be used by people working their way down the hill.

Athabasca Falls

Our last stop on the Icefields Parkway was the Athbasca Falls, which was even more impressive than the Sunwapta Falls. There were trails so you could go to both sides, as well as see canyons eroded away by the falls but no longer in use (since the river found another, easier path).

What made these falls so interesting wasn't their height, but the fact that you could see so much from so many angles. Even though there were a lot of people, there weren't that many so we could get a good look of everything.

When we were trying to park, we were waved away from the parking lot since the police were investigating an accident there, so everyone was parking on the road. On the way back, the guy was gone, so cars were starting to pull in, but to the part that wasn't taped off.

Jasper

After seeing the falls, our next stop was Jasper town. On the way, we saw signs indicating there were a lot of animal crossings, and all we had to do is look for a bunch of cars pulled over to the side of the road, and at about half of them we saw the animal of interest.

In the ditch on the other side of the road was an elk, but all we saw were the top of the antlers. Later, we saw a big horn sheep hanging out in a construction area. Later, we saw a large group of mountain goats (adults and youth) walking along the side of the road. Of course, people were trying to get nearer for better photos, not a good idea.

Once in town, we went to the information center. We only had to wait a minute or two to speak with someone to ask about hiking, and were given many good options.

Next stop was the inn we were staying at, which is 45–60 minutes to the north. It seems to have about a dozen rooms, and the proprietor was chatty and quite nice. Ends up the business is for sale, but just like the deli, we decided not to invest.

By then it was time for dinner, so we went to a Japanese restaurant and had quite good salmon don and tempura udon. After that, to the grocery store for some breakfast and dessert items, then back to the inn for the night.