The Great Canadian Road Trip
The Great Canadian Road Trip – Alberta
I don’t know if you remember, but back in March my best friend and I went on an epic spur of the moment road trip through the Southwest United States. Well, since I last updated you, I moved back to my hometown (Spokane, WA) to live with her. Two weeks before Memorial Day, we were bored and talking about what we were going to do for the holiday weekend. Katy threw out the idea to go on that road trip to Canada that we had been planning in early spring, so I immediately started my research.
I knew that we had to stop at Lake Louise in Banff National Park because that had been the inspiration for the original road trip. Have you guys seen this lake? It’s nuts. Some of the bluest water I have ever seen in my life, and I have hiked to my fair share of glacial lakes in the Cascades. I spent two or three hours researching where I wanted to go and came up with an ambitious itinerary. Mind you, all the people I travel with are angels because they blindly commit to my crazy plans without question. Love them. Anyways, I found out that all the campgrounds we wanted to stay in were booked solid for Memorial Day weekend, so I decided that we were going to avoid the crowds and go the weekend before instead.
On the morning of our departure, we woke up at 4:30AM, packed the car, mounted the GoPro on the dash, and took off towards Lake Louise. The drive to Banff from Spokane was about 10 hours, but once you cross the border into Alberta, it is incredibly beautiful. You are surrounded by mountains on both sides of the highway too huge to comprehend. We stopped to take photos a couple of times along the way because we just couldn’t keep our eyes on the road. Once we entered the park, there were tall chain link fences on either side of the road to keep the animals safe. They even had natural bridges over the highway every few miles for the animals to cross from one side of the park to the other.
Once we got to Lake Louise, I immediately felt overwhelmed. There were swarms of tourists everywhere and it was just too crowded for me. We pushed our way through the swarms of bodies and were able to take a few photos before I had to get outta there. I hadn’t told Katy about the hike that I had planned at Lake Louise until we were already in the car on our way to Canada. She was a champ though and toughed out the 3.4 miles to reach the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. I really need to get back into cardio. Most people who are familiar with Lake Louise know about the Lake Agnes Tea House, however because of my desire to see things not often seen by the average tourist, I wanted to hit up the lesser known tea house in the area. Resulting in me heaving my tired, winded body up to 7000 feet. The tea house was really cool. It was built by a Swiss guide who was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railroad back in the 1920’s. If you make it to the top, you can get some soup and tea; cash preferred but they do take credit cards (no debit).
After we finished our hike, we made our way to our first campground, Johnston Canyon Campground. We were exhausted, hungry and we smelled terrible so showers, food, and shelter were our top three priorities. We tried to build a fire, key word – tried. It was somewhat successful I guess, but it was pitiful so we put it out after about 10 minutes and went to bed. The campground was adequate. Clean, HEATED bathrooms, and nice flat tent sites. No complaints here.
In the morning we headed down the road to Johnston Canyon which is a large limestone canyon formed by erosion over thousands of years caused by the flowing waters of Johnston Creek. There is a “hike” that goes through the canyon along a well established walkway. There are three main attractions in the canyon: upper and lower Johnston falls and the ink pots. We got to see both the falls, but it was raining so we opted to head back to the car before we reached the ink pots. The “hike” is more of a walk and is super easy, even if you are as out of shape as I am.
Hiding from the rain, we decided to head to the town of Banff in search of a beer. We ended up at the cutest restaurant called Park Distillery. We ordered fondu, a steak sandwich and couple of the largest beers they had. After a few more beers and some shopping, we headed out to our next campground, the Lake Louise Campground.
Now this campground was magical. The bow river runs around the sites, and the views of the surrounding mountains were superb. The tent sites were large, and again heated, clean bathrooms. We agreed that this was by far our favorite campground we had been to…maybe ever.
On day 3, we headed out early bound for Jasper National Park. Jasper is a lot lesser known than Banff and I almost don’t want to write about it because I don’t want it to get overrun with tourists. The drive between the two parks along the Icefield Parkway is the single most beautiful drive I have ever been on. Just do it. Don’t think twice.
Our first stop was at Malign Lake, and it was overcast and kind of dreary so the lake didn’t really live up the hype for me. However it was fine because it was also our jumping off point for our backcountry night. After spending a few hours googling best backpacking trails in Jasper, I found the Skyline Trail. This was supposed to be one of the most beautiful trails in the park, and even though we wouldn’t have time to finish it, we headed out. I had booked in advance one camping site at the Little Shovel Campground. It was the second stop, at about 5 miles. I had anticipated arriving at Little Shovel, dropping our packs, and continuing on to Snowbowl, the third campground on the trail before heading back to camp. However, the trial was a lot more difficult (and muddy) that we had anticipated, so we didn’t make it further than Little Shovel. Unfortunately, that meant that we missed out on most of the views. I definitely want to get back there someday and finish the trail. We didn’t see much wildlife, other than a buck that wandered into our campsite in the early morning. However, bear bags are required, so don’t forget to bring one with you if you plan an overnight.
That night, it rained. HARD. After that we decided to skip our last night in our soaked tent and headed back home. On the way back, we stopped at two really cool waterfalls. Unfortunately for y’all, they are going to stay my little secret to make sure that they stay void of tourists taking pictures with iPads, for now.
Spokane to Lake Louise: 358 miles (6.5 hours)
Lake Louise to Johnston Canyon Campground: 22 miles (28 minutes)
Johnston Canyon Campground to Johnston Canyon: o.3 miles (2 minutes)
Johnston Canyon to Banff: 15 miles (22 minutes)
Banff to Lake Louise Campground: 36 miles (45 minutes)
Lake Louise Campground to Malign Lake: 175 miles (4 hours)
Malign Lake to Spokane: 530 miles (10.5 hours)
Total: 1136.3 miles and 22.75 hours of drive time