We traveled by RV all across Canada, primarily avoiding the cities and enjoying the beautiful landscape, people, mountains, rivers, National and Provencial Parks everywhere we went. Entering the province of Alberta from the East we passed through great grassy prairies, yellow rape fields ready to harvest for canola oil, and then the petroleum oil fields with pump jacks going up and down and a large refinery. We stopped in Calgary, which reminds us of Ft. Worth, Texas, for the famous Calgary Stampede, but we were discouraged by the enormous crowds, long lines, and greatly elevated prices, not to speak of expensive seats from which we could not even see the rodeo arena. But that was our only disappointment in this incredible province!
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Our next stop was Banff, world renowned for its wonderful ski slopes and for the fabulously beautiful Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel, in fact a castle overlooking the Bow River valley, backed by the splendid Rocky Mountains…one of the most picturesque places in the world. Banff is a large tourist town, which has grown a lot since we were there a few years ago. There are many gift shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, hotels, bus tours, etc., in short, the best of everything that a resort location can offer.
The little town of Canmore, just west of Banff, we predict to be the next plae to explode with tourism. Now it is a small town with an excellent RV park at the site of an 1870’s outpost of the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police. You can visit the fort and church for a bit of history. For a small town, there is already a lot for the growing tourist trade to enjoy including unique great shops, artist’s galleries,outfitters for all kinds of mountain sports, and a few restaurants, campgrounds, hotels and motels. Canmore is the Southeastern entrance to Icefields Parkway, a 90 mile route to Jasper National Park and one of the most incredible drives we have ever enjoyed.
We drove along the excellent Hwy , loving every inch of the scenery with monumental mountain peaks continuously along both sides of the road. We have driven this highway several years ago on the day it opened in March, but it looks so different in the summer. In March the entire place is a fairyland of snow and ice, but in summer the enormous mountains around us (up to nearly 11,000 feet on both sides of the highway) are either deep green covered with spruce trees or are auspicious, bare, jagged peaks of gray rock above the tree line. And nearly every dip between them has at least a small glacier tucked into its valleys. There were so many glaciers we lost count. We had thought Athabasca Glacier was the only one since it is well publicized, but it is the one nearest the highway . This is the big one, and you must plan to stop for several hours and take the icebus ride out onto the glacier itself, peer deep into its awesome crevaces, and even taste the blue-green water from the ice age. You may have a long wait at the Visitor Center for your ride onto the glacier unless you book your tickets in advance, but you can learn a lot at the beautiful center while you wait. It is sad and frightening to see how much this and the other glaciers have been receding. When will we wake up and each do everything we can to stop as many of our own individual contributions to global warming as possible by becoming conscientious consumers and careful recyclers, before it is too late? We stopped for so many photos along this beautiful drive, but photos never do God’s work justice. We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, where there is a wide parking area and many stop for picnics. However, we wandered and discovered the little known, unmarked Panther Falls at the Northern end of the scenic viewpoint parking area. We thought it was more gorgeous than Bridal Veils, but the Panther Falls rus into a frighteningly deep canyon cut by the water.There are several campgrounds along Icefields Parkway and many hiking trails. We wished for weeks to spend here. If you just drove with blinders on, you could do this highway in about an hour and a half, but allow all day to drive and explore the scenery.This drive is really spectacular!
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
The scenery and natural wonder just got better and better as we drove from Icefields Parkway into Jasper National Park, still in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I think this is my favorite of all Canadian National Parks we visited… unbelievable beauty, cool to cold even in summer, many woodland animals, hikes, and campgrounds. Like other Canadian National Parks this one has a very nice town within it, so you can conveniently shop for all your outback needs. Jasper is a particularly lovely little town with lots of shops featuring local crafts, and nice restaurants, hotel/motels, small stores for all needs. The large Visitor Center is near the train station, which brings many tourists here also. We chose Wobasso Camp 12 miles from the town of Jasper because it is the most wooded and has wide, secluded campsites for RV’s, trailers, and tents. Of course, back packers can get permits at the Visitor Center to go deeper into the woods to camp.
Near our campground is the Edith Clavelle Glacier, where we chose to do our first day of hiking here. It is exciting to go out onto the glacier and see the glacier calving and even trek up to the ice caves. We went farther than most tourists and hiked the very good trail up to the Edith Clavelle Meadows, a steep climb up 1,500 feet to look down on the glacier.
Some of our favorite places within Jasper are Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls, both of which had their paths carved by a glacier moving through thousands of years ago. The deep ravines and ragingly beautiful falls are the marvelous result of the rush of ice-melt carving ever more deeply into the rock. There are handicap accessible areas for vantage viewing at both of these waterfalls, and both have other challenging, steep hikes to the bottom of the ravine.
Jasper Lodge is luxuriously rustic in a camp like setting on the beautiful lake. It is an excellent family vacation spot with cabin rentals as well, but you must reserve far in advance. Dining here is also a fine experience, with beautiful views, superb food, and equally steep prices!
We purchased our $10 tickets at the Visitor Center and really enjoyed a night at the National Park Ranger play: Faces of Fire, an excellent enactment which appeals to young and old alike and gives a good explanation of why controlled burns are being used in National Parks and forests to rejuvenate forets, which are being destroyed by Japanese beetles all over North America.
Don’t miss the spectacular views of Medicine Lake on the drive to the gorgeous green Malign Lake and the boat tour to see Island, which is the only way to get to this incredibly beautiful place. This water tour takes about two hours and is well worth the price. Canoes are also available for rent, but this lake is so cold that serious hypothermia (which could be fatal quickly) sets in within ten minutes if you tip over!
In our few days there at Jasper National Park we saw bears, elk, beaver. deer, eagles, and many unfamiliar birds. We wish we could spend weeks or the rest of our lives there!
Lake Louise was our next point of departure, where you could also spend wonderful days and nights at the beautiful Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau, one of the grand dame hotels of the early days of the Twentieth Century when wealthy people of the world traveled by train to view the newly discovered beauty of the Great West. The chateau’s windows frame what is purported to be one of the most beautiful lakes on earth and one of the most photographed. The dining room and bar windows capture the most perfect view of the lake with Victoria Glacier rising behind it and the mountains forming a bowl to hold Louise’s water. The food is excellent, worth it even if you have to wait for over an hour in line. If you don’t need (or want to pay the steep price for) a full meal, you can have lighter fare at the bar for a more modest price and still enjoy the perfect view. (Avoid tour bus eating times!)
The property is exquisite with a fine golf course which elk and moose claim in evening. Lake Louise is wonderful for canoeing in summer, and we have hiked across its ice cover in winter. You can also take sleigh rides or ice skate on it. You can take a steep hike up to a teahouse and relax enjoying the delicious food and good rest (but check to be sure it is open when you go.) Downhill Skiing in winter is wonderful in this area with three different ski area mountains between here and Banff. Gondola rides in summer offer great photo-ops too.
About twelve kilometers up from Lake Louise is another beautiful glacier-melt, crystal green lake backed by mountains and a glacier, also one of the most photographed and scenic places in Canada. A lovely rustic lodge is here for a quiet, romantic retreat in a beautiful setting.
HEADS SMASHED IN BUFFALO JUMP
South of Calgary is one of the most important First Nations historical explanatory museums in Canada. A place where BlackFoot Indians camped to kill buffalo is now set up as a living museum to learn all about the ways of the early tribes who were hunter/gatherers here. There is an RV park and also tipis to rent for a real camp-out. Beautiful, rolling, prairie grasses,horse farms, buffalo and cattle herds are here today. Be aware if you are in an RV, the road is rough and only gravel past the Jump.
One of the outposts of the early Royal NorthWest Mounted Police, Fort McCloud has preserved the 1800’s fort and has daily demonstrations. We were fortunate enough to see the famous Mounted Police Musical Ride performance there. Seeing the mounted riders in their bright red uniforms is impressive, and the show is beautifully choreographed to the tune of Surrey With the Fringe On Top. Amolite, the national stone of Canada which is a natural iridescent blue-green stone with flecks of orange and yellow, was declared a precious stone in the 1980’s. The Ammolite Factory is here, so Fort McCloud is a good place to shop for the stones.
WATERTON NATIONAL PARK
This is the Canadian side of Glacier National Park in Montana in the United States. It is a small border town on the river with interesting shops, restaurants, and small motels. Within walking distance of the town center, Townsite Campground with full hookups, is one of the favorite campsites within Waterton National Park for RV’s and fifth wheels, but you must reserve your spot early. From here there are bicycle paths and several good hikes up the mountain. We chose to stay at the more remote Crandell Lake Campground, where we were in the midst of nature with no hook-ups. We saw bears on our hikes and even a cougar. There are many scenic pathways for all levels of trekers.
Near town Prince of Wales Hotel is a gorgeous property surrounded by mountains. It sits high on a hill overlooking the beautiful and extremely windy Waterton Lake, where you can take a boat tour across the lake into the United States side, but of course, you must return the way you came because this is purported to be the only unguarded border in the world.
While traveling in Canada keep your receipts to get a refund of some of the taxes (VAT) at the border. We returned to the United States through Glacier National Park. We should have asked before you bought groceries in Canada the day before our return what items we could take across the border . We had to give up all the poultry, beef, eggs, and many fruits because of possible diseases. These regulations vary from month to month and apply whether you are entering the U.S. or Canada.