The high way to Jasper

Sightseeing on the Icefields Parkway was the biggest reason why I had chosen to join an organised tour through to the Rockies. I didn’t just want to cruise along the road, but do hikes, takes photos and see the waterfalls. I wasn’t the only one who thought this way. Massive Brewster buses were going up and down the highway moving loads of tourists every day. The busy season hadn’t even fully started yet, but the most popular spots were very crowded. Luckily our Moose tour went to some less crowded places as well.

We started driving from Lake Louise and in no time we were on the Icefields Parkway. It was a stunning day, with lots of sun and almost no clouds. It was like the landscape was opening up for us. Mighty mountains rose up left and right, making us feel incredibly small. Behind every corner was a new amazing view and there were no other words but ‘wow’ leaving our mouths. Soon we passed the Crowfoot glacier, named because it looked like a crow’s foot. Unfortunately the glaciers are melting here too and we could only imagine the crowfoot.

We had a mind-blowing stop at Bow lake. There was barely any wind and the water of the lake was so still that the reflections of the mountains were breath-taking. The steep walls of the mountain were still covered with bits of snow that seemed to slide into the lake. There was a short walk along the lakefront and we just took it all in and enjoyed the serenity. At Mistaya canyon we could walk a little bit more. An easy path went to the canyon, where you could climb over the rocks or continue walking uphill to several viewpoints. It’s a beautiful place for a picknick with the wild water of the river next to you, the forest and the snowy mountains as a backdrop.

The scenic highway also offers a lot of viewpoints, with simple walks that have some information signs. We stared out over a massive valley that had the North Saskatchewan river meandering through it. The river comes from the Saskatchewan glacier and flows all the way to Winnipeg. Of course we were also excited to see some wildlife. Although we did not see any bears on these two days, we were lucky enough to see mountain goats like little white dots spread out over a cliff. We also saw some bighorn sheep. They were standing super close to the highway, making it nice and easy for us to take some photos.

The biggest attraction is the Columbia icefields center. We made it our lunch stop and just sat outside on the hot stones of the terrace. Inside was a madhouse. There was a crowded café and a busy ticket office where they sell tours going onto the Athabasca glacier and for the skywalk. Our guide said it was not worth it. They just drop you off in the middle of the glacier to take some picture. After hiking on Franz Joseph this seemed a bit tame. The Skywalk is a bunch of false advertising, since it doesn’t even give you a view of the glacier! It is in a nice spot, but I can see beautiful views all along the highway without paying for it.

There is a walk to the base of the Athabasca glacier though. It is too unstable and dangerous to walk on, but you get a good idea of its size. Even though it was a warm day, the wind here was ridiculously strong. After walking uphill to get to the viewpoint, we all cooled down fast and quickly finished the loop back to the bus. There was another glacier nearby that we could only see from a distance, but its structure  was much more spectacular than this one.

Determined to see a bear we made our way down a side road after Athabasca falls. The chance of seeing wildlife was bigger on this smaller road. I was staring out the window, so focused, all the trees seemed to pass by, making me feel very sleepy. We didn’t see any bears and suddenly we were in Jasper. That’s where we visited the Maligne canyon. We got dropped off on one end and picked up at the other, making it an easy walk that went mostly downhill. It wasn’t as impressive as some of the other canyons I had seen, but still well worth the visit.

After some shopping in Jasper we headed back onto the Icefields Parkway to the Athabasca Falls Wilderness hostel. Our guide had warned us about the strange caretaker of the hostel. When we walked in he was telling us about the rules etcetera. Suddenly he got upset we were all wearing our shoes still. Maybe you should have told us to take them off before you invited us in. One of the guys was standing in the door opening and mid sentence the caretaker looked at him. “Can you sit down? You are making me nervous.” Later in the evening he suddenly said “Well, look at you.” in a strange tone as I was leaving the building. Apart from the strange guy I had a great time at the hostel though. There was a massive hut that we all stayed in. In another hut was a big living and kitchen area. The toilets were outhouses. There was a nice walk to a viewpoint to watch the sunset and at night there was a campfire. I love this kind of place.

The next day we had the same drive back to Banff again. We still had plenty to see and we started with the nearby Athabasca falls. Today seemed waterfall day, because the next time we stopped we did part of the Stanley falls hike. This hike takes you along the old highway, which nature is slowly taking back now. Then you get into the forest walking up and down along a river. We did see a waterfall although this wasn’t nearly at the end of the trail, so probably not Stanley falls. We chose a nice spot to relax and I washed my face with the freezing cold river water. That woke me up alright. Our lunch spot was at a waterfall as well. Tangle falls made its way down over many rocks. We climbed up a little bit and sat on rocks with our picnic. Just when we had finished it started raining. Today the weather was a bit unpredictable, going from rain to sunshine in a matter of minutes.

We still had one place on our to do list. Our guide made it sound like just another hike to a viewpoint and we had no idea what to expect. The upper parking lot was still closed because of snow, so that meant we had to walk along the road for a bit before we hit the hiking trail. We crossed some muddy and some snowy bits and gained elevation fast. Then we saw a glimpse of what was to come. Are you kidding me? This was one of the most amazing lakes I have ever seen! Our hike ended on some rocks from which we had the most amazing view over Peyto lake. Peyto lake is incredibly blue. Most of my photos don’t even do it justice. It was simply mesmerizing.

Still recovering from the unexpected beauty we had just seen we climbed back onto the bus. No more stops this time. We just went all the way to Banff. Here we had a nice dinner together and even though it was Wednesday we decided to do a pub quiz and go to one of the local pubs afterwards. It wasn’t busy at all, but we made our own party. It was a great way to say goodbye to the group. I was hopping off in Banff so I could explore a bit more of the area. Some of the other continued onto Vancouver straight away. My tour wasn’t over yet, but it felt like closing a chapter. I’d had so much fun with with these people, I was going to miss them.

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