Day 10: Two Parks Separated by Magnificence

Today was the day we were moving on to Banff National Park, and because it’s a 4-hour drive and there is a lot to do between Jasper and Banff we set the alarm for 6:15am so we’d get a jump start on things.  6:15 came, we got up and ready and then went outside and… it was very dark out.  You’d think with two people and almost 100 combined years of life experience between us at least one of us would have thought to check what time sunrise was.

Fill 'er up!

Fill ‘er up!

We waited out daybreak and then got moving.  The temperature outside was again -1C and as we drove through Jasper we had to wait for an elk to turn into the gas station.  Apparently he needed to fuel up for the day.

The majority of our drive today was to be on Hwy 93 south, aka the Icefields Parkway.  It is renowned for being a beautiful drive, and did not disappoint (especially as the sun was just waking up the mountains as we started), with mountains flanking both sides of us most of the way.  The following stops were all made starting from Jasper and working all the way south to Banff.

Serene Horseshoe Lake

Serene Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake:  we did what was supposed to be a quick 1.5km hike here, but the trail markings were a bit dubious in spots and we kept getting off track.  Nonetheless, the lake is super picturesque with crystal clear turquoise water.  No one else was there, not even a bear.  We think.

Athabasca Falls:  this was a popular spot with many.  In fact, it almost felt like there were as many people there as we’d seen in total since we entered Jasper.  We have been very fortunate to have avoided what we hear are nightmarish crowds, which is good because that’s not HowieRoll.  The falls themselves were thundering loud with warnings everywhere not to fall in.  That’s just sage advice.

Goats and Glaciers Viewpoint:  what a winning combination, right?  We didn’t, however, see any goats and it was tough to tell if we were looking at glaciers or just some snowy bits.  Very scenic, nonetheless.

No goats, possibly some glaciers, but pure mountain beauty

No goats, possibly some glaciers, but pure mountain beauty

Stutfield Glacier Viewpoint:  we were finally able to get to the bottom of this glacier business, as it would appear they are the white, snow-looking thick bits in-between the mountain crevices.  Umm-hmm.  Turns out we had seen some glaciers at Goats and Glaciers.  But still no goats.  We know what those look like.

Tangle Falls:  this was a quick stop, as the falls are right next to the roadway.  They are much less ominous than Athabasca falls, more like the kind you could take a (very cold) shower under rather than the kind that will slice you in half.

Icefield Centre:  this place was a zoo of activity, with hordes of people lined up to pay $85/person to drive on a snow bus out a little ways onto the Columbia Icefield to touch ice.  There seems to be a large contingent of people on the travel forums who think this is just silliness, and we tend to agree.  Sure, it’s one of the largest accumulations of ice south of the Arctic Circle, but at the end of the day it’s still ice.  Just a whole lot of it.  We could have hiked out to the “toe” of the glacier (for free), but we’ve both touched enough snow and ice to last a lifetime and decided to give it a pass.

At this point, the drive became even more spectacular (hard to believe, I know), as the mountains seemed to get higher (or maybe just closer) and more snow-filled.  Or glacier-y.

Rushing water before it cuts out Mistaya Canyon (canyons themselves are hard to photograph)

Rushing water before it cuts out Mistaya Canyon (canyons themselves are hard to photograph)

Mistaya Canyon:  this is a short 0.5km merry hike downhill to the canyon, and a 0.5km uphill trudge to get back to the car.  The trudging was well worth it, however.  Mistaya is a slot canyon that has been formed by rushing waters cutting through rocks for centuries, maybe even millennia (seems I should have read the info placards more carefully).  The water is still cutting so the canyon is doing nothing but getting a little deeper by the day.  The sound of the water smashing the rocks as it hit each serpentine turn through the canyon was both frightening and sublime – you definitely didn’t want to fall in this one.

Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint:  as advertised, there was a single waterfowl out there on the emerald green waters.

Peyto Lake - the water really is that color. I swear.

Peyto Lake – the water really is that color. I swear.

Bow Summit/Peyto Lake:  the Icefields Parkway summited at 2,067m (6,781 ft), and at the top is where you can park and walk another 10 minutes straight uphill to Peyto Lake.  Whoa, this lake is incredible.  It’s glacier fed, the water was the color of antifreeze and the mountains in the background reflected upon it like glass.  Of all the lakes we’ve seen thus far it was one of our favorites.

Bow Lake Viewpoint:  this was a quick obligatory stop.  It’s a big lake and there are mountains all around.  Done.

Lake Louise Visitor Center (for Banff Nat’l Park):  we stopped here for some maps, area information, and ask where there might be moose or elk hot spots?  It was with great dismay that the Visitor Center man indicated they have no such wildlife in this park.  Wait, what?  That’s ridiculous.  Really?  Could it be?  What?  The Visitor Center lady next to him confirmed that moose and elk are not really seen here.  Well, that was a bit of bad news.  We need to turn around and get back to Jasper immediately so we can pick up the elk from the gas station this morning, pop him into the backseat and bring him down to Banff.  These people don’t know what they’re missing.

Magpie on the move

Magpie on the move – watch your wallet

Lake Louise:  the weather had turned a bit overcast but we were right there and we simply couldn’t not see it.  In fact, it was the genesis of the entire trip.  The whole enchilada.  At the time we concocted the idea of a road trip to the Canadian Rockies all we really knew about them were Banff and Lake Louise.  Weeeeelllllll, Lake Louise has been one of our least favorite stops so far.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We arrived to the shores by the famous Fairmont Hotel and surveyed the crowds, and I mean crowds, of people.  The lake was nice but to get a better view we decided to hike up to the Fairview Lookout.  This was a feat equivalent to walking up a 33 story building.  The up just kept going and going and going and I distinctly remember thinking “the view had better be worth it, the view had better be worth it.”  There was quite a bit of swearing like a longshoreman, too.  We reached the top and, frankly, neither one of us could say it was worth it.  The viewpoint gave you a birds-eye view of the Fairmont Hotel, which isn’t particularly interesting architecturally, and it just seemed like one big Fairmont advertisement.  The nice thing was that not many had made the trek up so we were able to take some photos and catch our breath at the top in a more peaceful setting.  On the way down I was all smiles, back to being the lady I am.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly nice lake, it’s just that we both think there are others out there that are, well, nicer.

Behold: Moraine Lake

Behold: Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake:  nearby Lake Louise is Moraine Lake and this lake, this one, is the money shot.  Literally.  From the top of the Rock Pile Trail (another 8-story climb, by the way) is the exact view as seen on the old Canadian $20 bill.  It was absolutely spectacular and blew the pants off Lake Louise.  In fact, it was so magical that snow started falling as we were up there.  And it was so magical that we even agreed we’d go back and hike up the 8 stories again if the weather was sunny and we were in the area.  Now that’s magical.

At this point we were pooped, the snow had turned to rain, and we wanted to get to our condo rental in the town of Canmore (VRBO Listing #811568).  By the time we got there we’d been at it over 10 hours, but what an incredible 10 hours it had been.  The condo itself was a welcome change to hotel rooms and it was nice to move in and settle down in one spot for the next 3 nights.  We made ourselves right at home.

Leave a comment


  1. Peter S

     /  October 6, 2016

    Wow. Nice VRBO digs. If you would consider adopting a 55 year old married male, I’m available. (PS I have my own truck, if that helps).

    Love the detailed trip reports.

    Cheers, Peter

    • howieroll

       /  October 7, 2016

      We say the more the merrier! And we may need you and your truck if we keep overpacking on these road trips.

      The condo has been fantastic and has really felt like a temporary home (albeit with a much nicer kitchen than ours). We found a lot more condos for rent in Canmore as opposed to Banff itself, and it seemed to be a bit of a value play, too. It suits us well on many levels.

      If I may, in which part of Canada do you reside? Are you getting snow today?

      Thanks for reading!


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