Rocky Mountains. Craggy peaks. Lakes and rivers and waterfalls. Scenic Highways. Glaciers. Bears!
This was the 4th time we made the journey from the Pacific Northwest to the Canadian Rockies and this time we went east through Glacier National Park and north to Banff & Jasper. Words fail me as I try to describe the beauty we beheld as each new day opened up vistas more spectacular than the day before. I hope I don’t weary you with my pictures but what else can I do?
Glacier National Park.
You’ve heard of it. This gorgeous wilderness park with glacier carved valleys in the northwest corner of Montana. Famous for mountain vistas, pristine lakes, Going-to-the-Sun road, and … let’s not forget … grizzly bears!
We entered the park on the west side, expecting to travel the famous road east.. Alas, we were cautioned by the rangers that our camper might be a bit too big for this white knuckle drive on the road carved into the mountains. (I have to admit I was relieved as we would have been on the outside narrow lane, and I on the passenger side, would be looking over the cliffs where no guard rails exist.) Thus we made our away around to the east side of the park to St. Mary Lake which is where our lodging was for the night at Rising Sun Motor Inn. We were not disappointed.
St. Mary Lake
The next day we decided to drive the easier side of the famous Going-to-the-Sun road up to Logan Pass. We had clear skies at the start but the pass was cold and rainy and socked in with clouds.
By the way, those who prefer to enjoy the scenery while leaving the driving to someone else can take the charming 1930’s red buses known as “jammers” (for the sound the old standard transmissions made as drivers “jammed” the gears) across the scenic road.
Bob talked with one of the drivers who said he loves his job! Wouldn’t you?
No trip to Glacier is really complete without seeing a grizzly bear and we were lucky to see one on this trip. Shortly after entering Many Glacier we came across a ‘bear jam’ and joined those who pulled over to watch this big boy eating ripe berries. The hump on his back confirmed he was a grizzly.
On an earlier trip to Glacier when we were still tent camping, (in the last century) we pulled into (and out of in a hurry) a campground at Many Glacier when we saw a sign that read something like ‘Fatal maulings have occurred at this Campground.’ Um, really? Needless to say we spent that night at historic Many Glacier Hotel.
Of course many people do safely hike in Glacier but it is best to do so in groups and led by a ranger if possible, and wearing bear bells to alert the bears of your presence (I prefer to sing loudly) and carrying bear spray which I suppose you would spray into the face of a grizzly if you were attacked. (!!) We did it ourselves on an earlier trip. Hiked, that is. This time we were content to watch the big boy from the side of the road, while secure inside our truck.
Onward to Banff
Glacier was amazing. Banff took it up to the next level. We headed north into Alberta, visiting the city of Calgary where the prairies meet the Rockies and the mountains seem to appear out of nowhere.
Once we arrived in Banff we found all the best sights to be within easy reach. Our first stop was to Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the birthplace of Canada’s national parks. There we enjoyed seeing the underground hot springs and walking the path outside among the bubbling thermal waters.
Five minutes from the townsite we visited the lovely Vermilion Lakes. I honestly didn’t expect much of something so close to town and easy to access. But I was wrong! These lovely lakes reflected the best and most tranquil views of Mt Rundle and nearby peaks.
And this is the only place in the park we saw elk.
We camped the next 2 nights at the Tunnel Mountain Village Campground across from Mt. Rundle overlooking the beautiful Bow Valley. We went for a short walk and stopped at the overlook where a friendly young man offered to take our picture. After we continued on our way we heard the hysterical laughing (I don’t know how else to describe it) of the girlfriend who just received a marriage proposal from the nice young man. We assume that meant yes. Nice setting for such things, I guess.
After two days, we took the scenic Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise Village where we would spend our third night inside the park. The Bow River is below:
The first major stop on the Bow Parkway was Johnston Canyon, perhaps the most popular and overcrowded hike in Banff. It was early in the morning so we were able to find parking easily and make our way along the catwalk to the lower falls where a fellow hiker offered to take our picture.
Later on the parkway, we came across this mama bear (black bear though brown in color) and her 2 cubs. The pint sized cubs moved around too much to get a picture of them. That put the bear count at this point at 4! Already a record!
Next was Lake Louise where I felt I had walked into a glorious oil painting. What can I say about this gem that hasn’t already been said? (Well, now that you ask, I can say to go very early in the day or later in the evening or you will not get anywhere near this popular lake! I’m talking major traffic jam! We got there after 6 pm on a Sunday evening and avoided the crowds.)
Same with the equally beautiful Moraine Lake which once graced the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill.
We spent the night at the Lake Louise Campground in our hard sided camper (yes, it had to be hard sided.) Tent campers had to stay in the other campground with the electric fence. Yes, really! (Any guesses why??)
When we checked in, the ranger let us know that a grizzly bear had been spotted in the campground that day and if we saw him we should keep our distance and not stress him. (We not stress him??? Oh, yes ma’am. Don’t worry, we will not stress the bear for we will be hiding in our camper!)
Onward to Jasper
We survived the night with nary a grizzly sighting and the next day we headed to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. Okay, so this is another world class, amazing drive and I can’t possibly show you the hundreds of pictures I was compelled to take! But I will show you the beautiful Peyto Lake as seen from the overlook. Pretty, huh?
Onward we went to the Columbia Icefields, one of the largest accumulations of ice south of the Arctic Circle, where numerous glaciers can be seen from the road. We stopped at the Visitor Center and … wrong! Absolutely jammed with the tour bus crowd! No matter. We just wanted to see the glaciers which wasn’t hard to do since we were surrounded by them!
Later that night we stopped for the evening at a lodge near Sunwapta Falls, another beauty. I was crazy with taking pictures by then but what could I do? Isn’t that what a road trip and a new camera are for? So I give you this one of Sunwapta Falls.
And this one the next day: the equally spectacular Athabasca Falls.
After arriving in Jasper townsite and finishing up lunch, we headed to Maligne Canyon.
On the canyon road we set a new record for bear sightings. So here’s #5, Mr. Black Bear and the closest yet. Poor boy. Just wanted to eat his berries in peace, without all those gawkers!
We continued on to Maligne Lake, passing Medicine Lake on the way (this lake comes and goes, due to holes in the bottom!)
Finally here’s a look at Maligne Lake, our last major destination in the Canadian Rockies. The last time we were here (yes, in the last century) we took a boat tour, but not this time…
From Jasper we would head back west for home. And it was okay because by now we were done. I don’t think we could have stopped and looked at another mountain, glacier, river, waterfall, or turquoise colored lake! (Though I’m pretty sure we would stop for another bear. And we did in fact stop to look at beautiful Mt. Robson in British Columbia the next day!) I guess you could say we were travel weary and ready for home! But we took with us all the grandeur and splendor and beauty we could absorb! We highly recommend you do the same!
~ Susanne, from the comfort of home!