In celebration for Canada’s 150th birthday, Parks Canada is offering free admission to all Canada parks for the year of 2017.
I was having a conversation with my friend and mentioned that I have never been to the Rockies and expressed an interest in checking out the Banff and Jasper area one day. She immediately exclaimed that she’s been meaning to go back – we locked eyes and knew instantly that this was going to happen.
I usually plan my travels over a long weekend in order to maximize my precious vacation days. I really pushed for Victoria Day long weekend because:
A) I’m (deathly) allergic to mosquito bites
B) May is generally too early for mosquito season
C) Did I mention how much I hate mosquitos?
You get the idea…
Conveniently enough we ended up going over Victoria Day. Here I was thinking everything will be great, it’ll be late May, the weather will nice by then, no mosquitos, there’ll be less tourists. Little did I realize that the Banff and Jasper area is much more north and hence more cold – I mean, any meteorological experience I had up until this point was largely based on the weather patterns of a suburb outside of Toronto. I then came to the realization that the beloved turquoise coloured waters of Lake Louise that I was looking forward to might still be frozen. My friend tried to reassure me that the lake will be thawed by the time we’re there, she even scrolled back to May 2016 on Instagram for proof. As a result, this sparked our constant monitoring of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Instagram page for the latest weather updates and thawing progress. Most people follow sports, I follow the progress of lakes thawing.
So here was the game plan:
Calgary > Lake Louise > Banff > Jasper > Edmonton
We flew into Calgary and got a rental car to drive into Lake Louise. I was told by several people that the drive to Banff and Jasper is very scenic and they were right. I was in awe with the beauty of the mountains and it was hard trying not to get distracted while driving (not that I got distracted…). Despite it being a gloomy and cloudy day, I think this really set a mood and gave the landscape some character (or it might have been Coldplay circa early 2000s blasting in the background).
We finally arrived at the much anticipated Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I was prepared to be disappointed with a frozen lake but honestly, Lake Louise takes your breath away regardless. Even as we walked along the Lakeshore Trail, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. I’m a bit obsessed with reflection shots so I was extremely thrilled to see a patch of the lake thawing close to the shore. I ran on the rocks like a goat to get as close to the water as possible and waited to capture the stillness in the water.
While creeping on Instagram During my research, I wanted to hike up to Bow’s Summit because it offered spectacular views overlooking Peyto Lake. Because we were traveling during the shoulder season transition from winter to spring, I familiarized myself with the Banff Trail Reports for the latest updates on trail conditions and warnings. I was disheartened when I saw an “Avalanche Level 2” warning stated for the trail conditions. My first thought was “What’s an Avalanche Warning Level 2? You mean to tell me there’s a Level 1? Wait, is 2 worse than 1?!”.
Despite the avalanche warnings, we decided to go to Bow’s Summit because it was only 30 minutes away from Lake Louise. It had snowed overnight which powdered the trees with a nice layer of snow. Because the scenery looked so gorgeous combined with the lack of cars, we couldn’t help but pull off to the shoulder and stop for a mini photoshoot.
It was still early in the season so Bow’s Summit trail was still covered in compacted snow. There was so much snow that it brought you halfway up to the height of the trees. I felt like I had walked through an antique wardrobe only to stumble into a winter wonderland that is Narnia. It was crazy how silent it was because I could hear little pockets of snow sliding off the branches. Thankfully we followed the remaining visible footprints that eventually led us to the lookout point.
The lookout point took my breathe away (or maybe it was the hike that left me breathless?). The white layer of snow that sat on top of the frozen Peyto Lake starkly contrasted the army of evergreen trees surrounding it, neatly outlining the head of a wolf. This was perfectly complemented with a cascade of endless mountains in the background.
We had experienced winter in the morning and by the time we reached Johnston Canyon, it was spring. We finally got a taste of the turquoise waters as it flowed through the lower and upper canyons. I still remember my first impression when I reached Johnston Waterfall. Because you need to turn a corner, the first thing I saw was a dinky little stream of water (think leaky faucet) so I thought to myself, seriously? Is that it? But then I walked further in, and there was most definitely a waterfall. So remember guys, always follow the path until the very end before forming an opinion.
I like to balance hiking activities with relaxation or pampering which was when the topic of hot springs came up. Unfortunately, a majority of the hot springs advertised are essentially an above group pool filled with what is claimed to be natural hot spring water. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and discovered Lussier Hot Springs, a natural hot spring in neighbouring British Columbia.
It didn’t take much convincing for us to decide on a day trip, mostly due to the shear amount of driving time required – it’s approximately a 2.5 to 3 hour drive one way from Banff to Lussier Hot Springs. It turned out to be one of my favourite drives because not only did it offer a mountainous view, it slowly transitioned from a winter landscape to summer. As you get closer to B.C, the snow slowly thawed into streams and gathered strength turning into lakes.
Remember when I said that I keep spreadsheets for all my travels? My friend had the great idea of laying out the itinerary in a schedule. So when I go to plan the schedule, I like to factor in typical travel times between locations to ensure that we have enough time for the activities. I figured it would be a good idea make some pit stops on route to Jasper to avoid any backtracking. As I went to map out the route on Google Maps, for some reason it said that it would take 5.5 hours alone to drive from Banff to Jasper. This really confused me because it was a 288 KM distance – assuming that I’m traveling 100 KM/hour (lol, let’s face it, who “really” drives the speed limit?), then it should only take less than 3 hours to get there. I even texted my friend to make sure my phone wasn’t broken but she got similar results too. But I always say to myself, “always trust Google Maps” because the times I didn’t, I definitely paid for it by being stuck in traffic for over 2 hours. I have now revised this saying to always trust Google Maps except on Highway 93.
We eventually found out that there is no cellphone reception on Highway 93 that takes you to Jasper and it is sometimes closed due to avalanche risk. At least that helped explain the outrageous estimated time. We also found out that your offline playlist in Spotify sometimes needs to be reloaded when you travel to a different place. At least Coldplay and Rihanna kept us company for a few hours…
In just a few steps, you will find yourself standing on a bridge overlooking Sunwapta Falls from a distance. I wanted to get a closer shot of the falls and immediately noticed a photographer with a tripod set up in the forested area to right of the falls. I decided to follow suit since I figured this guy probably scoped out a nice view and my instincts were right. In fact he was taking shots of his girlfriend standing on the other side of the falls. I watched as his girlfriend courageously hopped over the cautioned fence to get closer towards the middle of the falls. I casually mentioned to the photographer that he was like an #instaboyfriend who has to take photos of his girlfriend. It turns out that he is very passionate about photography – I helped him hold a few filters and I also got a mini photography lesson on the side.
Next stop was Athabasca Falls and similar to Sunwapta Falls, a few steps and you were right on at the falls. Again, based on my
creeping on instagram research, I knew there was a nice shot of the gorge behind the falls so I walked around aimlessly trying to scope out the perfect location. We ended up on a highway/bridge that overlooked the gorge so I got my friend to stand there while I walked down the side of the cliff to get into view. More than once do I think to myself, I’m crazy based on the things I do to get the shot. But usually afterwards I will say to myself that I regret nothing. In my defence, the times that I took extra steps to get the perfect shot, those are the ones that end up being my most memorable and favourite pictures.
We initially had our hearts set on canoeing in Lake Louise but for obvious reasons, were unable to. So when we learned from our host that Pyramid Lake was fully thawed, we immediately jumped at the opportunity. Oh man, I do not know how Ryan Gosling makes rowing a boat look so effortless in The Notebook but I was struggling. At some point I was over the whole boating thing and how “cute” it looks. At least it doubled as a morning workout to which I later undid it by eating ice cream.
While we were in Jasper, we experienced unusually warm summer weather. It’s funny because I was initially on the fence about going to the Valley of the Five Lakes. Up until a week before our departure, it was still frozen but because of the warm weather, it quickly thawed into the gorgeous blue waters it’s known for.
Jasper ended up being the quieter part of our trip as we found ourselves sleeping in, napping in the afternoons, doing face masks and binge watching shows on Netflix. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and remind yourself to take it easy once in a while. Some people work hard and play hard, I like to think I work hard and nap hard.
It was refreshing exploring Canada for a change and it did not fall short of any expectations. As Canada’s weather has proven again and again, it can be unpredictable. Case and point, we experienced all four seasons over the span of 6 days. Surprisingly, the winter portion of the trip was my favourite part. For a majority of my travels, I normally leave the country so it was great to checking out Canada’s very own “backyard” for a change.