Miss our adventures in Banff? Check out Part 1 of our Canadian Rockies Road Trip!
El and I have taken some pretty epic road trips in our eight years of marriage: from our WWII Road Trip to cruising along Ireland's western coast to our 16-day odyssey through the Balkans where we almost died in a Macedonian forest, we've driven through some pretty jaw-droppingly beautiful places. But when we took the Icefields Parkway through the Rockies Mountains last month, we learned that one of the world's most beautiful routes is in our own backyard of North America.
The Icefields Parkway is the two-lane highway that connects Lake Louise (part of Banff National Park) in southern Alberta to Jasper National Park three and a half hours north. It got its name from the dozens of massive glaciers that grip the surrounding mountains like icy fingers. The road is dotted with alpine lakes and is considered one of the world's most beautiful, evidenced by the dozens of cars parked on the side of the road so people could take pictures. Armed with a map that listed all the km markers and sights along the way, courtesy of the Banff Information Center, we hit the road to soak up as much scenery before our next camping adventure.
Before hitting the Icefields Parkway to Jasper, we figured we had to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the former having increased in popularity due to Instagram. Lake Louise was definitely beautiful, but the amount of clouds and people with selfie sticks around kind of soiled the experience for us. We actually preferred the nearby Moraine Lake which had rocks you could climb to truly take in the view of its electric blue waters. We learned from some of the plaques set up throughout Banff that green lakes like Lake Louise have more rock flour in them and the light reflects that yellow and makes the water appear a bright green. The more you know.
We didn't actually start north for Jasper right away, and instead went west on Canada Highway 1 just past the British Columbia border to the famous Emerald Lake of Yoho National Park. We did this because:
- Emerald Lake is supposedly one of the most beautiful in the Rockies
- We wanted to check another national park off our list
- I wanted the opportunity to pester Elliot with my incessant singing of "Yoho yoho a hiker's life for me!"
On the way, we passed the quaint railroad town of Field and several construction crews working to clear boulders from a recent avalanche from blocking off one of the lanes. As we entered Yoho, we passed several signs alerting us that we were in avalanche country, so looks like they weren't kidding around. The parking lot for Emerald Lake was jam-packed, a testament to just how beautiful this lake is. We didn't spend a lot of time there, but it was just enough to appreciate how the bright turquoise lake was made all the brighter by the changing leaves around it. We didn't have any service on our phones, but we couldn't have cared less. The scenery around us, complete with a few people gliding the water in colorful canoes, was more than enough entertainment. Being completely in nature, without even the option of phone service, is honestly when I feel the most relaxed. It was the same way in Kenya when we were on safari; I just felt so completely stress and worry-free. This trip was a great reminder that occasionally I need to chill the f out.
After Yoho, we went back east and hopped on the Icefields Parkway north to Jasper. The weather on the drive ranged from sunny to a light rain, but fortunately for us the rain usually stopped when we got out of the car. We, along with a couple dozen campers that shared the road with us, had to stop a few times on our way because some chain-smoking construction crews were re-tarring the road to get ready for winter. Although we'd be stopped for as long as ten minutes at a time, I didn't mind b/c I'd never seen the actual tarring process before and was almost hypnotized by it all.
The drive north ended up taking us over 5.5 hours, drawn out not by the road construction but rather from stopping every ten minutes to take pictures of all the incredible sights around us. Every time we got out of the car, we were greeted by the smell of pine and the sound of tourists clicking selfies. We were glad that we took the time to make the stops we did on our drive TO Jasper, because due to a strong snowstorm there was practically no visibility when we left a few days later. Although it slowed down traffic, and forced us into 4-wheel drive, the snow showed us a different kind of mountain beauty, and we were grateful to get the different perspective that it gave us.
The stars of the first part of the Icefields Parkway drive were definitely the numerous lakes, the most well-known being Peyto Lake (pronounced PEE-TOH). Even though there's a little bit of climbing involved to see it, the mist coming off of the bright blue water made for a stunning, if not a little spooky, view. We ended up stopping at four more lakes after Peyto, each with its own incredible views. We had lunch sitting on the rocks of one lake that was tucked away from the main road. We waited out the small group of tourists having a photoshoot for a good ten minutes and were rewarded by having the peace of the lake all to ourselves. It was pretty incredible.
In addition to our numerous lake stops, we spent some time walking around the dry canyon and enjoying the rushing waterfalls at Athabasca Falls. The waterfalls themselves were beautiful, but I actually enjoyed the river more because it was just so peaceful. What's crazy about the river is that there's only one type of fish that lives in the water at the top of the river, but 14 different types at the bottom of the falls, and science has no clue why. I clearly don't have any hypotheses to add, so let's just go with the most logical explanation of ALIENS.
The second half of the Parkway's drive is all about dat ice. Seriously, there are so many glaciers in the mountains that it looks like an ice tidal wave crashed over the Rockies. The Icefields Centre, right by the Rockie's largest ice field- the Columbia Icefield, was super packed with tour buses and nerds who found the glaciers just as fascinating as we did. Although it would have been cool to get out and walk along the glacier, the sheer amount of people scared us away from it. After another hour and a half of me yelling, "Holy shit, this is so beautiful!" 10,00 more times, we finally made it to the frontier town of Jasper and got ready to get part two of our camping adventure started...
Up next: September snowstorms, 30km hikes, and wiping out in a mud puddle
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