Canada 1 – Alberta’s spectacular Banff and Jasper National Parks.

7th July – Leaving the US from Idaho and entering British Columbia in Canada today but no need we discover, to stop at the border on the American side to be stamped out of their country, as on the Canadian side they stamp and remove the form that was attached to our passports when we entered the USA and hand it back to the customs there.

After our welcome into the USA from Mexico we are very surprised at the unfriendly one that we receive at the Canadian border.  We are the only people here as we enter an immaculate office and so attract the attention of the three unsmiling officers behind the desk.  We answer a few questions.  No, we are not trying to become residents or live here illegally and we are not carrying firearms but yes we have some fruit, only apples but these are confiscated and thrown into a bin.  The guy who finally stamps our passport then throws them back towards us across the desk and maybe there is the faintest hint of a smile as he says, “Enjoy Canada.” But we have got our 6 months stay and so we ignore all the surliness.

We pull in at the Hay-U-RV Park just outside of Yahk for our first night of camping.  Situated by a river with banks full of wild flowers, there are only 4 other vehicles here and a brand new restroom with hot showers…..a real find at only $15 a night!  The only downside later, are the crowds of mosquitoes that descend at dusk, clinging to our mosquito netting and desperately trying to get inside.

8th – 13th July –  We have our first views of the majestic Rocky Mountains, snow still on some of their peaks and enter Kootenay National Park.  Here we meet Mike, Colleen and their little girl Sophie, making their way slowly to Prince Rupert, where a ferry will take them to a new life in Alaska for 3 years.  Great to chat with you all and we wish you the very best in your new home and to Mike in his new job.

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With mountains soaring above the pine forests, the spectacular views continue as we head up into Banff National Park in Alberta, established in 1885 and Canada’s first national park.  Situated in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, we are to discover majestic mountain scenery, glaciers and picture-postcard glacial-fed lakes, all part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site.  Banff is Canada’s highest town at 1,384m and from here we drive along the Bow Valley Parkway to Moraine Lake, situated in the Valley of Ten Peaks.  It’s a breathtaking view of turquoise waters amongst deep green pine forests and snowcapped mountains.

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There are a few trails to explore around this beautiful lake but because of bear activity at this time of year, hiking must be in groups of 4 or more people.  It was fortunate therefore  to meet up with Max and Julie also wanting to make a foursome and to be able to take the 2hr trail to Consolation Lakes situated amongst high alpine meadows.  Thanks for your company, it was a great hike!

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Continuing through the park our route now takes us along the Icefields Parkway, a road that winds through the heart of the park offering more spectacular scenery around every corner……..the still waters of Herbert Lake, Helen Lake, Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier where once, three ‘toes’ of ice clung to the mountainside.  The lower toe has since melted and the middle toe is slowly disappearing.

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This drive also takes us through some of the Rockies’ highest passes such as Bow Summit at 2,069m. Nearby, a short walk takes us to an amazing panorama……the Peyto Lake viewpoint.  The Peyto Glacier once filled this valley and slowly gouged out its U-shape and the bowl of the lake……..such an incredible and humbling wilderness!

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This famous Icefields Parkway connects Banff National Park to Jasper, the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, a wild and mountainous region that includes the enormous Columbia Icefield which feeds several large glaciers, including the Columbia, Saskatchewan and Athabasca.

A low mist hangs between the mountains as we make our way to the icefield over the Saskatchewan River Crossing, stopping to admire the view at Parker Ridge, a windswept land of rock, snow and treeless tundra due to its high elevation and its nearness to the Columbia Icefield.

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Over the Sunwapta Pass which marks the end of Banff National Park and the beginning of Jasper.

Located off the Icefields Parkway and straddling the borders of both Alberta and British Columbia, the Columbia Icefield is the largest reservoir of glacial snow and ice in the Rockies and surrounded by some of its highest mountains.  Six major glaciers flow from it, the Athabasca being the most accessible and it is possible to follow a trail that takes you to its edge…….an unforgettable sight amongst surrounding, snow clad mountains, including Mount Columbia, Alberta’s highest mountain at 3750m.

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It is also possible to walk out on the Athabasca Glacier on guided walking tours, or by taking one of the Brewster Ice Explorers, a massive vehicle specially designed for glacial travel. It is just possible to see walkers and these vehicles that resemble matchbox toys, in the photo below.

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Meltwater from the icefield drains to 3 oceans – the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic via 3 great river systems, the Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Athabasca…….an incredible journey!  Not only do these rivers provide fresh drinking water for millions of people but they are also crucial to agriculture and in supporting numerous different ecosystems…….one of the reasons that their source is protected in a national park.

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Slowly creeping down the valley like a great frozen river, the Athabasca however, has actually been receding for over a century due to climate change.  If this continues at the current rate, it is thought that over another 100 years, there will be very little left of this glacier…….an alarming thought!  Markers on the trail to the edge of the Athabasca, show its slow retreat.

Leaving the icefield and heading further north in the park, the Athabasca Falls shower us with cooling spray as the water thunders over a limestone ridge, creating strange potholes as it continues its journey through a deep canyon.

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There are numerous campsites in the park, mostly on a first come first served basis, some with flush toilets, hot water and showers but all in wilderness settings.  We have had warnings from park rangers of a large forest fire close to the highway which is proving difficult to control. Thick smoke is is hanging in the air on our last day here, blotting out the sun and sprinkling our Land Rover with ash.  Helicopters are flying overhead to help with the fire and parts of the road are going to be closed until mid-morning.  This hazy weather is not making for clear views or good photography, so we decide not to drive the 50km to Maligne Lake but just to visit  Maligne Canyon, a limestone gorge said to be carved out of the rock by water that flowed under a glacier, disappearing through an underground cave system and reappearing through springs along the walls of the canyon.

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Both Banff and Jasper have been quite spectacular, no wonder millions of people visit each year to take in their amazing views and hike the many backcountry trails.  A place where elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears and caribou must have made their own pathways, long before humans arrived in the Rockies!

We leave on Highway 16 heading west toward Prince George and British Columbia travelling through Robson Provincial Park.  We hope to get a view of Mount Robson, British Columbia’s highest peak at 3,954m but it’s not clear, although we can see it still has plenty of snow.  This looks another lovely park but we have made the decision to head for Vancouver where we know there is a L R dealer. We need oil, air and fuel filters and an oil change and  Bill also has a feeling that we are due for a new cambelt to be fitted.


















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