We arrived at the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies in the province of Alberta, Jasper National Park. But we had to work for it.
It takes over nine hours to drive from Vancouver to Jasper so we split the drive into two days. After a bit of a late start out of Vancouver, we realized it was going to be a very hot day. Island Girl doesn’t like long uninterrupted climbs, and she really didn’t like long uninterrupted climbs in over 90-degree weather. And we’d filled our fresh water tank in anticipation of a week of dry camping, so she was carrying an extra 800 pounds!
We ultimately unhooked the car but Hector had to put Island Girl in first gear and drive 15 miles per hour on some of the steepest climbs. That made our first day a very long day, but we made it past the halfway mark. We rewarded ourselves by camping at Thompson River Provincial Park by a river, a cool oasis after a hot day.
The adjacent town of Valemount had a lovely visitor center with very helpful ladies and some great displays of the local flora and fauna.
So we woke up refreshed the next day for the final leg of our trip. Which turned out to be a lot easier than the first leg. We even took time to walk an interpretive trail to Rearguard Falls, the upper limit of the 800-mile migration of salmon from the Pacific Ocean. Only a few Chinook, the largest and strongest, make it this far. But they hadn’t arrived yet.
Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountain range in Canada. We stopped at the visitor center and had a look around at the dramatic scenery and had a picnic lunch. This was our last stop this year in fantastic British Columbia.
While at the visitor center, we spotted a giant expedition style truck/RV from the Netherlands with lots of maps of their tours of many parts of the world all over it. Absolutely incredible. We’ll definitely check out their website.
The long and tough trip made for one of our happiest arrivals, finally reaching Jasper National Park, one of the world’s largest protected mountain ecosystems, and at 4,200 square miles as large as the state of Connecticut. We made it!
Our campground in the national park, Whistlers Campground, has the distinction of being the largest campground in the Canadian Rockies – probably why we were able to get space. The campground has over 700 sites in four sections and 67 loops.
Our campsite was in the dry camping section, had good spacing and trees and felt very private. We were even able to put up our large picnic shelter.
I was quite impressed by the way this campground separates loops in a way that never feels like you are amongst hundreds of campsites. On several occasions we saw elk cows grazing amongst the trees.
Besides various campgrounds, the little town of Jasper has a beautiful river (the Athabasca) running through it, lodges, adorable cabins and a very active railroad. And a couple of blocks with shops and restaurants, including Tim Hortons, our dependable source of WiFi.
While stopped at a railroad crossing on one quick jaunt to the grocery store, Hector saw an elk cow with a baby and a young elk male by the side of the road. The cow crossed the train tracks before the train arrived, leaving the others behind.
Then the train stopped, and the little one was able to hop between the train cars over to momma, leaving the young male alone. The train was stopped awhile so Hector took a detour, but he later saw the happily reunited family happily walking around in town.
We took several sunset and sunrise drives not only to watch the sun set and rise, but also looking for wildlife. But there were pretty thick clouds most of those times, with beautiful evening and morning light but no spectacular explosion of colors.
And there were more beautiful mountains and glaciers to explore.
On yet another cloudy day, we drove down the Icefields Parkway, the road that connects Jasper and Banff National Parks. The total length of the road is 138 miles and at around its midpoint is the Columbia Icefield, one of the largest masses of glacial ice outside the Arctic Circle.
The icefield feeds several large glaciers, including the Athabasca Glacier, visible from the road. Water flows from this area to the headwaters of three rivers and down to three different oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Arctic.
It’s a spectacular drive, with views of some of the highest and most spectacular mountains in the Canadian Rockies. And lots of glaciers. This is a drive worth taking more than once, which we planned to do.
July and August are the peak travel months for visitors here, so we were prepared for some large crowds on the roads and the shorter hikes. But it’s a beautiful time of year, with (generally) good weather, wildflowers and most trails clear of snow.
Path of the Glacier Trail was our first hike. This trail goes toward the great north face of Mt. Edith Cavell, the highest mountain in the vicinity of Jasper (11,022 feet). The mountain is named after a World War I British nurse who stayed in Belgium to treat wounded soldiers after Brussels fell to the Germans and was later executed for helping prisoners of war escape.
There’s a parking lot at the base of the mountain and two hikes from there. We took Angel on the shorter hike to an overlook of Angel Glacier, with two wing-like extensions. Angel has a glacier! And it’s beautiful.
Another glacier, Cavell Glacier, creates a lovely little pond, Cavell pond, with small fallen icebergs floating in it. Truly a heavenly place 🙂 The first section of this trail was pretty crowded, and Angel got a lot of attention.
Then another sunrise drive, and another cloudy morning. When we returned to the coach, it began to rain. The raindrops hitting the motorhome lulled us into a deep sleep, a wonderful way to recuperate from sunrise outings.
Our return to the Icefields Parkway included a hike to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, one of the glaciers formed by the runoff of the Columbia Icefield. One hundred years ago the glacier covered the highway that we drove out on.
The Jasper Sky Tram climbs 3,280 feet up The Whistlers Mountain, leading to The Whistlers Trail to the Summit.
It is the longest and highest guided tramway in Canada, but takes only seven minutes to reach an altitude of 7,472 feet. Interestingly, that is above tree line at this latitude. In Colorado tree line is at about 12,000 feet.
Angel was getting lots of attention again. This time from the very international crowd on the mountain. A star is born! There will be photos of Angel circulating in Mexico, Japan, China and other countries.
After reaching the summit, taking in more 360-degree views, and resting a bit we headed down.
The night before the full moon, we drove out to see the moonrise as we usually do. It was very cloudy, and, because of the high mountains, the moon was taking her time rising. As the sun went down and it got cloudier, we headed back to our campground.
Our next post features the beautiful glacial lakes and rivers of the park. Stay tuned.