If there was one way to end our mighty 19-month trip on a high, a road trip through three national parks in the Canadian Rockies was the way to do it.
We had been planning to hire a car to explore the mountains and lakes of Banff national park for a day or two, but when we were trying to arrange our plans, my aunt suggested we go on a road trip through Banff and Jasper with them in their camper, and I could not have been more excited!
We started off in the Kootenays with an overnight stop in Radium Springs and a sunny day exploring the park.
My favourite part of the road towards Banff: driving through a canyon in Radium Springs! I remembered this from ten years ago, and we saw a wild bighorn sheep just past here on our way out of Radium.
There are lots of walking trails around here as well as the hot springs, and there’s a waterfall just to the left of this bridge!
I also remembered this river, as the blue is so chalky and distinctive!
Our final stop on the brief drive through the Kootenays was Marble Canyon, where you can cross a whole load of bridges to look down into the canyon, culminating in an awesome waterfall that I sat next to while Ash got very worried.
Another thing I remembered from the Kimberley to Banff drive was the forest of dead trees caused by a fire that ended just a few weeks before my first visit. Ten years on, I was surprised to see the dead trees are all still there.
We skipped Banff on the way up as that would be our ending point, and continued on up to the famous Icefields Parkway; something I couldn’t WAIT to see! Just as we hit the highway, though, we stopped for the night at a campsite by the lesser-known Waterfowls Lakes.
Although not as iconic or instantly recognisable as, say, Moraine Lake or Peyto, this place really had a charm to it and I loved the colours in the water. We took a walk to the second lake, which supposedly has a moose viewing point. We couldn’t find the point, nor could we find any moose! :( But it was a pretty walk, all the same.
The campsite is very basic, but ridiculously cheap compared to many of the national park sites (around half the price of the one we stayed at near Jasper!), and with views like that right next to your tent, you can’t really go wrong!
Then, as happens on so many of our trips, the weather took a turn for the worse.
Excluding Australia (which to be fair, was for over a year), we have had the worst luck with weather. Our Halong Bay trip was foggy and raining (in fact, the whole of northern Vietnam was pretty bad weather and still managed to be one of our favourite regions in the world); it rained in Hobbiton; our Milford Sound cruise was a complete wash-out; my sky dive almost got cancelled; Angkor Wat didn’t give us a sunrise (or any sky at all); and our road trip to the north shore of Oahu was the worst consistent rain my friend had seen in her year in Hawaii. We didn’t even see the sun for the first two weeks of our travels.
So it was only natural that just as we arrived in the most beautiful part of the world, the clouds would roll in and completely shroud every looming mountain.
We’ve rarely let the weather ruin our travels (although Milford Sound was a bit much!), but needless to say, we arrived in Jasper with very few photos on my camera from the supposedly incredible Icefields Parkway.
This is Jasper, by the way, and I really liked it. It’s got a very small-town feel – I mean it IS a small town, but compared to Banff, it doesn’t feel touristy even though it was a bank holiday weekend while we were there. It had charm. And mountains.
We spent a couple of days biking around Jasper, and my uncle and I went on a little detour during a hike at Maligne Canyon where we ended up having to, I swear, climb up half the mountain to get to the rest of the path! I discovered I’m not actually as unfit as I thought, while my uncle looked on in despair even though at 73, he’s probably fitter than me.
We met this little fella on our detour, too! I wish I’d managed to snap a picture when he peeked round a tree right in my uncle’s face!!
We did visit Maligne Lake, the famous image of Jasper National Park, but you know what? With all the crap weather, it just didn’t look good. I’m not even going to show you my pictures of it. They look rubbish.
On the way back towards Jasper, however, we did stop at a crazy good viewpoint of a lake we hadn’t even heard of – Medicine Lake. The sky was just starting to clear up, too. Sure, the colour of the water isn’t anything like a lot of Canada’s famous lakes (Maligne Lake wasn’t either, or perhaps that was just the weather) but it was a really striking view IRL.
And with that, it was time to start heading back down to Banff.
The weather was very slowly improving, and I did manage to get (a hell of a lot of) nice pictures this time. You could even see the top of the Columbia icefield!
Even if you couldn’t see the tops of the mountains next to it.
And some of the other glaciers were stunning, too. We stopped to take photos of this one, the Athabasca glacier, but this picture is actually taken through the campervan window, and it came out way better than the photos I took stopped in front of it! It looks magical with the rain and mist, don’t you think?
The rest of the journey, even though the weather hadn’t completely cleared up, was nothing short of breathtaking. The Icefields Parkway is probably the best road in the world, and that’s not a short claim when you look at other contenders. But how can you beat 230km of solid mountains and lakes? Not many places in the world will offer you such an accessible line of unparalleled picturesque beauty.
Not a bad place to stop for a picnic!
And then there’s the lakes. We stopped at a few on the way up, but we left one of my most anticipated ones, Peyto Lake, until last – just as the weather turned for the worse again, of course. Then my uncle missed the turn off and we almost considered not going back if the weather was going to continue the way it was going – but he made the decision for us and turned around, and am I glad he did or what?!?
So it was cloudy, and it rained while we were at the tourist viewpoint, a short walk away from the car park.
But my uncle and I continued along the path and came across a rough offshoot towards higher ground, and off he went (he sees a detour, he takes it! I love his attitude). There are no signposts and no guides when you get to a clearing with seven possible exits. In the end, I reckoned all of them lead to the same place anyway.
That would be this place, with a slightly (slightly…) clearer sky.
The view is UNBELIEVABLE. My photo does not do it justice, although that’s partly down to the fact the weather didn’t give great lighting. But it was literally one of the best views I have EVER seen.
The lake is given its unreal-looking blue colour due to the glacial rock flour that flows into it. I have never seen colours like it.
That night, we camped close to Lake Louise, but when we woke up the weather was worse again, and we decided to hold off on the cremé de la cremé of the Canadian Rockies. Instead, we took a short trip to Johnston Canyon, which was really impressive although not a lot different to the ones we had already seen, before heading into Banff itself to say hello to my cousin and his family.
Banff is easily one of my favourite towns in the world. It’s tourist town, sure, but there’s a damn good reason – mostly hidden in plain sight in the mountains that overshadow it.
It was also the first ever national park in Canada, so there’s definitely logic behind why millions of people flock here each year.
I can’t think of a more perfect place to end our 19-month trip.
And so it came to our final day of our travels, and we just had to get out to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – the absolute icing on the cake when it comes to mountain and lake combos.
I was convinced that the weather would be okay and it would clear up just in time for our final hurrah, but of course it didn’t. In fact, our main line of problems actually arose in parking. Thankfully, someone pulled out of a space right in front of us within five minutes at Moraine Lake – cars were parked pushing on a mile down the road from the car park itself.
It almost didn’t matter that the weather was still pretty bad.
Because Moraine Lake is basically the most picturesque place on the planet without even trying.
We took a walk around the lake to the end while I waited patiently, looking forlornly at the sky every few minutes to see if I could see another inch of mountain yet. When we had first arrived, we could barely see the ones at the end. As we got back towards the car park, it finally started to clear up and I raced across a line of logs and up the precarious rocks to the viewpoint above – before realising there was actually a normal path around the back! Still, it was a really fun climb!
Surprisingly, this was one of the few “detours” my uncle didn’t join me on, although he did go off into the thicket at the end of the lake and my aunt and I were convinced we’d never see him again because he was nowhere near any paths!
We almost didn’t make it to Lake Louise. We had deliberately done Lake Moraine first because that was THE one on my list and they advise that you get there before 10am. By the time we got to Lake Louise, the car park, which is at least five times the size of Moraine’s, was full. We drove around three times to no avail, and decided one last-ditch attempt to try the upper car park. Thankfully we got a space straight away, but even that was full.
Had the weather been more agreeable, we might have done one of the hikes at Moraine Lake. Instead, we did the Lake Agnes hike at Louise, and it was a lot of fun, although I was surprised that there weren’t really any viewpoints over the lake itself on the trail. Some of the views were astonishing though, and I’m glad we did it.
My uncle reminded me of Bilbo Baggins when I took this photo! Going off on one of his adventures.
The hike was pretty easy and took an hour to reach the top, where Agnes Lake lays nestled high up in the mountains, overlooked by the most touristy tea house outside of Asia. I wasn’t actually that taken by the whole thing, but the hike itself is very much worth it!
And that was it. Our final day of travel was over, and sure, the weather wasn’t great, but I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the trip! Special thanks go to my amazing aunt and uncle who made this whole road trip possible!
Canada, you are pretty damn amazing and we will DEFINITELY be back! Unfortunately, home is calling. Or is that just my mum again?
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