Why go to the Canadian Rockies in 2017?
About a year ago a message popped up on my Twitter feed. It said all the national parks in Canada will be free in 2017 to mark its 150th anniversary. I immediately started planning my travels to the maple leaf country. First order of business is to order the Park permit pass (which is free of cost) in order to obtain access to the parks. As you can imagine Canadian National Park issued a record number of passes this year due to high demand. You can order your pass from the Canadian Parks Web Site.
When I plan my travels I always try to avoid the peak touristy season. If you are planning to go there my recommendation is to go either in late spring or in early to mid autumn. So I planned to go in early June and spend 5 days across 4 major national parks – Jasper, Yoho, Glacier and Banff. This would cut across the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. I found out later that Glacier Park was still covered with snow so it seemed inaccessible. The good news is that I can spend more time exploring Banff.
As a digital nomad you have the benefit of working and traveling from anywhere in the world. However you are also constrained by when/where you can travel. I didn’t want to work when I am hiking the Rockies. So I decided to cut myself off completely free from work. I truly wanted to connect with the nature. This is my first real vacation in 7 months.
I rented a mid-size car from Edmonton for less than $80 a week. It was about a 4-hour drive from Edmonton city center to the entrance of Jasper Park. Booked the stays in the wilderness hostels operated by Hostelling International (in hindsight camping would have been a better option). The drive from Edmonton to Jasper is flat and uninteresting. However when you cross into Jasper Park territory the scenery changes dramatically.
Now I’ve done a few amazing scenic drives (like the Pacific Coast Highway along the California coast, Hue to Hoi An in Vietnam, Lisbon to Algarve) in my life. With exhilarating vistas of forest, Craig, Glacier, Ice Fields and Wildlife everywhere your eyes can see the drive from Jasper to Banff has to be one of the most beautiful drive in the world. It is in the top 5 of my list.
Here is a rough 5-day itinerary.
Day 1 – 2
Jasper National Park
1. Lake Maligne – The first stop was Lake Maligne. By the time I arrived it was late in the day and the kayak rental place was closed. But there was enough time to do a 2 hour hike around the lake.
2. Athabasca Falls – The water that you see in the fall originate from the Mt. Athabasca Glacier. My first sighting of the Grizzly bear.
3. Columbia Ice Field – Hiked to see remnants of the once magnanimous Glacier that used to occupy the car parking lot where I parked my car but now it has receded far from this area. (Ironic I was here the same week when Trump announced pulling out of the Paris agreement Very sad!)
4. Bow Summit – You hike up almost 1000 meters to the top of the summit to see the most beautiful lake you will ever witness in your life – Peyto Lake.
5. Bow lake is the longest lake that goes from Jasper to Banff
6. Wilcox Pass – If you want to experience an amazing hiking opportunity go to the top of the Wilcox pass and sit in the infamous red chair you will see in most Travel guides. As an added bonus you can witness many Mountain goats hanging around enjoying the sun.
Yoho National Park
1. Wapta Falls – Initially took the wrong road while looking for the trail head but ended up finding a beautiful vantage point from where one can see the Wapta Falls from far. Also bumped into a large black Grizzly bear. (Getting lost is the best way to experience interesting things)
2. Once I found the right trail head, the real hike to Wapta Falls took about 2 hours
3. Natural bridge – If you want to witness how history is being made go see the Natural bridge. The forceful water from the melting Glacier is slowly carving (what once used to be) a rock bridge into a canyon.
4. Lake Emerald – My favorite lakes in all of the National Parks for its serenity and vista. Managed to complete a loop around the lake in 3 hours.
Day 4 – 5
Banff National Park
Banff is the most touristy and advertised national parks in Canada mainly due to the attraction of Lake Louise.
1. Lake Louise – The most overrated and touristy of all the places. Beautiful view but over crowded for my taste.
2. Lake Morraine – Underdeveloped, rocky and still covered in ice. But when you climb to the top of the hill you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the lake with the backdrop of surrounding high mountains.
3. Johnston Canyon – Hiked about 1.5 km and saw the fast flowing river carving a deep canyon. Also saw a grizzly bear here.
4. Sulphur Mountain – Avoid the easy Gondola ride instead take the steep hike to the top of the mountain. The climb is about 2 hours to the top and it was simply the best workout you will ever get. Once there you will go to several scenic spots. There is a cosmic ray telescope
5. Banff Minnewanka Lake – Another underrated lake but a must see if you go to Banff.
You will notice most of the lakes in the National Parks are blue. This is due to the constant grinding of glacier with rocks. The rubble left behind (also called “Rock Flour”) in the water scatters the blue-green rays of light, giving the lake its special blue color.
There are a couple of other hikes that I am skipping over. But the highway from Jasper to Banff has a ton of sightseeing/hiking opportunities. You can experience them at your own pace depending on your time and your fitness level. If you are into nature, wildlife, camping and hiking you must visit the National Parks in Canada this year.