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Banff and Jasper National Parks are absolutely incredible, and we decided we needed to take a road trip to see them. So the first week of August 2013, Tracy and I went to Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada for vacation. The basic plan was to drive all the way there from Salt Lake and then drive around the parks and do some day hiking and backpacking. The drive up was uneventful, other than the 40 minute wait to cross the border and the hour+ drive through rush hour in Calgary. We spent the first night in Banff, and the mountains were just beautiful. The next day we drove north into Banff. Again, the mountains were incredible. Lake Louise was a mad house…about the most crowded I’ve ever seen a park. So, needless to say, we didn’t stay there long. We ended up driving on into Jasper and hiking at Wilcox Pass across from Athabasca Glacier. The hike was nice but it was also pretty crowded, and it rained on us pretty hard on the hike. We had planned to take the glacier tour at Athabasca but when we got there it looked a little silly to pay for the drive up, so we skipped that. We then drove to Jasper for the night.
The next day we drove out to Maligne Lake and explored around before the tour buses got there. We then drove out to the end of the Snaring Road east of Jasper and did some hiking. This was really nice because we finally got away from the crowds and just enjoyed being out in the mountains. We then drove back into town, got our permit for the next day’s backpack, and then headed out to the Wabasso Campground where we spent the night.
The next day we headed out to Maligne Lake to start our backpack on the Skyline Trail. The first several miles of the trail were pretty unspectacular. The trail stayed in the forest as it gradually climbed up to Little Shovel Pass, and the trail was really muddy, slowing us down as we picked our way through the mud. On the plus side, the climb up to the Pass was very gradual and not at all steep. Once up to the Pass, the trail became really pretty. Above tree-line the views were great. The interesting thing about the views, though, were that it looked a lot like Colorado. While the valley where the road ran was crazy pretty and unique, once behind the mountains overlooking the valleys, the mountains looked a lot like the Rockies in Colorado. But they were still really pretty. We found our campsite at the Snowbowl campsite. The campsites at the designated campground were not very good at all, but we were the first ones there, so we got the most secluded one. There were 7 or 8 sites, and they were pretty much on top of each other. Additionally, there was a pit toilet at the campground, but people had still taken dumps near the sites and just left toilet paper on the ground. Yeah, unpleasant and makes me angry. But the night went uneventfully with no bear sightings or any problems.
The next day, we made the hike back out early in the morning, hoping to see some wildlife, but we didn’t see anything. The rangers had told us there was a grizzly sighting at Little Shovel Pass just two days earlier, but we didn’t see anything. We made our way into Jasper and then took a horse ride just outside of town. This was the first time we had ever ridden horses, so that was interesting. We learned that it would take some acclimating to get used to riding horses for too long, but it was fun doing it for the first time. After that, we took a drive down to Mt Robson Park where we were supposed to backpack for two nights the next day. It rained the whole way down there, though, and when we got there the mountains seemed far less spectacular than they were in Banff and Jasper. Since we had just hiked so much in the trees, and this hike was mostly in the trees, and it was raining so much, we began to think about skipping this hike. We were staying that night in Jasper, anyway, though, so we headed back to Jasper for the night.
We got up the next morning and decided we didn’t really feel like backpacking the two nights in Mt Robson, so we skipped that hike. Instead, we went hiking at Wabasso Lake, which was nice because it wasn’t crowded and it was a good hike. From there, we headed to Yoho where we tried to camp, but we couldn’t find an open campground. So we headed into Golden and got a room.
The next day we drove down to Radium Hot Springs. We explored around forest service roads outside the parks, and I really enjoyed that. We went to Mitern Lake and just sat on the side of the lake reading for awhile. This was really nice because there was no one out there, and it was just nice and relaxing. From there, we headed on to Radium Hot Springs, where we got a room, and then drove up into Kootenay and back into Banff. While it was a long drive, I wanted to see the area around Banff again since we had only been there the first day. It was pretty. We also saw our first and only grizzly near the Kootenay/Banff border, so that was cool.
The next day we started back to the U.S., but not before stopping by Fernie, which we both really liked. The town was surrounded by great mountains, and just an hour or so from the border. It took about an hour to get back into the country after dealing with the unhappy border guard. From there, we drove into White Fish and drove up and over the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We hadn’t been on this entire road since our first time in the Rockies about 16 years earlier, and we kept thinking in Banff and Jasper that Glacier was every bit as pretty. I’m glad we made this drive, though, because it shattered our memory of Glacier and made us realize that Banff and Jasper are prettier. Glacier is pretty, of course, but not as spectacular as Banff and Jasper. We then spent the night in Kallispell.
The next day we got up and made a long, slow drive back home. This part of Montana is absolutely beautiful, and I would love to live in this area. I found myself looking longingly up into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and thinking I’d like to figure out a way to packraft in those mountains. I need to get a packraft. The drive home was long but uneventful.
This was a great trip. The parks were MUCH more crowded than I expected, but the mountains and lakes were beautiful. We didn’t see as much wildlife as I expected. We went earlier in the summer than I wanted because of work responsibilities, so it might be less crowded and have more wildlife in early September, when I wanted to go. I really liked exploring outside the parks, because it reminded me that the mountains outside the parks are often more enjoyable. That having been said, the mountains outside the parks certainly weren’t as amazing, they were just more relaxing. I would also really like to drive the Trans Canada Highway someday…that looks fun on the map. This was a great trip and definitely enjoyable.