We got this question many times from the strangers who spoke to us on the road. “But if you’re heading to Argentina, why are you on the way north?” The answer was Icefields Parkway in Jasper and Banff National Parks. Our dreamy destination of blue lakes, impressive peaks and wildlife proximity. So how was it?
Our journey to Jasper was complicated by Tom’s cracked wheel rim. It was so bad we had to hitch a ride from Red Pass to help us with the last 60k. Brad helped us immediately even before we started hitching properly. He took us to Jasper and also drove us to the true “Jasperness” (highway 16 east, the bit we would miss when taking Icefields Parkway). It was amazing. We saw a black bear and huge elk just a meter off the road. Over the two days in Jasper we stayed in Whistlers Campground. And its walk in sites we can only recommend.
Icefields Parkway Day 1
We left Jasper mid afternoon as Tim Horton’s wifi is as bad as its coffee and it took ages to upload a blog post. The head wind was slowing and torturing us massively on the road but we were fighting as the views were worth it. On the way we saw lot of cars lined up at the side of the road. This means the only thing : there’s something on the side of the road. The routine was to stop ahead, change the lens to telephoto and then approach carefully. This time it was 3 black bear cubs up on the tree with their mum nowhere to be seen. So we took quick pic and headed away. Evening was beautiful with the sun slowly setting down. It was about 9pm when we were stopped by Will who offered us sharing a spot in completely full Honeymoon Lake campground with him :).
Icefields Parkway Day 2
The plan was to sleep in late and spend the day in the tent in the campground as the forecast was rain all day. We woke up at 9.30 am and saw the sunshine stubbornly finding its way through our tent fly. Stupid forecast! We made a record in tent packing, said goodbye to Will and hurried on the road. Highlight of the day was meeting Petra and Peter van Glabbeek with their two kids who have been on the big cycling trip since last December. We pitched the tent quite early, made a campfire, did some bicycle maintenance. In the evening, we noticed the air becoming thicker and perhaps smokier…?
Icefields Parkway Day 3
Alarm was set for 5.30 as there was big Sunwapta pass ahead of us and Columbia Icefields. We were right last night, it was smoke. Coming from all the wildfires in British Columbia, from the places where she just arrived from. Mountains were covered in a veil and we could see only silhouettes. It was quite depressing, especially when Park ranger at Icefields Centre told us it’s unlikely to go away as there’s no rain or wind expected. The Athabasca glacier was just a dimmed illusion. By the end of the day we got used to what we’re seeing and even liked it in evening sun. We were riding till late and camped close to Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Icefields Parkway Day 4
We woke up to realisation that the smoke didn’t go anywhere. It was sitting in the valley and according to the park rangers wasn’t planning to go anywhere. So we accepted that and kept on rolling. We were on the way uphill to Bow Pass when we got struck by thunderstorm with hailstones. Suddenly I saw a white van passing by from opposite direction and the driver looking at us. I had this feeling I knew them. The van passed us again and stopped at the road side. My feeling was right! Laura and Reza and their little Peruvian Pacha were waving at us. We planned this meeting but because of lack of reception on Icefields Parkway we lost hope. How glad we were :).
When we said goodbye, another huge rain came and left us completely wet – we’re eternally thankful for this rain! It cleared the skies and let us to see the surroundings. Amazed by the beauties of Peyto Lake and Bow Lake, we zoomed downhill to Lake Louise. As not everything is rainbows and unicorns, we met a real jerk at Lake Louise campground who turned us away as we didn’t have reservation (because it’s 150th birthday of Canada this year, you can get to the national parks for free and all the campgrounds are booked ages in advance). He also enjoyed reminding us, how many grizzlies they’ve got in area. We were saved by two German cyclists who found us in the town and shared their site with us.
From Lake Louise to Banff
We started the day with a 16k ride to Morraine Lake. Very grateful we did that as Lake Louise is nowhere near in beauty and vibes with the herds of tourists who just arrive by car/RV/bus, take a photo and continue further. Then around 4:30pm we set off on Bow Valley Parkway to Banff and swished these 66k like a wind. In the evening we met with Laura and Reza again at Tunnel Mountain Village Campground and enjoyed evening together getting tips about South America over beer and pizza they brought us. There’s not a lot to say about Banff, apart from they’ve got nice coffee at couple of places and it’s a good place to stock up before going to the wilderness :).
So overall, we probably enjoyed Jasper a little bit more over Banff, mostly due to the number of people around. To be honest, we may prefer black bears to the Chinese with selfie sticks. But we met many great people and one not so great, in summary we nailed it!
And as a bonus… Kootenay National Park
Not so famous, quite small (only 105k from Castle Junction to Radium Hot Springs) but the views were very satisfying. The only not satisfying one is the last one showing you fresh wildfire over the mountains :(. Stay strong, British Columbia!