Icefields, Parks and Canada in the Rearview
Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventures and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and not a little bit jealous. This chapter covers August 13th August 15th, days 45 – 47 of their adventure.
Northwest Canada is just as magnificent on the return trip as it was going up. Wild. Remote. Stunning. It’s also big. Very big. But even with all this beauty, the road conditions motivate you to put as much highway behind you as possible. On an average day, traveling 480 miles would be nothing terribly special. When it takes over 11 hours, that implies a special kind of motivation. We are traveling through amazing countryside, yes, but we will be more than happy to put the gravel roads and wretched driving conditions behind us. We can feel the border of the lower 48 calling us, but there is still a ton of miles to go before we are sleeping under those renowned beautiful, spacious skies again.
Friday we crossed into Alberta, officially putting the worst of the driving conditions behind us. Turning southeast, we made the easy decision to take the Icefields Parkway again. Without a doubt this was the most ooh and ahh-worthy stretch of road on our adventure route. Not only do you cross the regal Canadian Rockies, you get to see not one but TWO wild and beautiful national parks in the process: Banff and Jasper. There is a fee for all this scenery, though. You trade $20 for 200 miles of pristine beauty. An easy exchange.
Less than an hour into our trip across the Icefields, rain clouds rolled in and ruined our view. An ordinary vacationer on a tight schedule would just have to miss the vistas … but flexibility is one of the optimum privileges of the RV lifestyle. We simply decided to call it a day and looked for a place to hold up until the clouds parted. Luckily, there are several gorgeous campgrounds along the Parkway. We chose to set up camp at Jonas Creek and settled in for a refreshing, peaceful night’s sleep.
Jonas Creek is only one of 1,700 beautiful Parkway Pit Stops along the Icefields in Jasper National Park. These pretty little places are scattered from one side of the park to the other. So, no matter when you decide to stop, you are sure to savor your evening around the campfire.
If you decide to stop at this park or the opposite end of the Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park offers 13 cultivated campgrounds every bit as cozy, rustic and beautiful. All of these parks are operated by Parks Canada and most are available on a first come, first serve basis. Those that accept reservations can be reached 24 hours a day at www.pccamping.ca or 1.877.737.3783 between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time.
The next morning the weather was just what the tour guides and the Chamber of Commerce ordered. It began with sunshine and crystal blue Canadian skies that stayed with us all day. With a morning this beautiful, we just could not, in good conscience, watch it all through a windshield. We decided to explore a little more of Jonas Creek before hitting the road.
The first thing we learned during our exploration is that “creek” in Canada means something quite different than it does down in the States, the lower 48 anyway. As we hiked along the trail, that babbling brook grew into a full-fledged river. Quick current gradually became rapids spilling over calendaresque waterfalls into deep gorges. Some “creek.” Between the rushing water of the Jonas and the Rocky Mountain backdrop, this little hike was quite the invigorating walk in the park. We hopped back in the truck refreshed and ready to hit the road.
The Icefields Parkway continued to be breathtaking with every passing mile; and, with scenery like this, those miles pass even faster. Sooner than we expected, we were back on the Big City highways of Calgary home of Stampedes, Flames and the 1988 Winter Olympics. In this part of Canada, even the cities share in the Rocky Mountain mystique.
With the memory of 11-hour marathon days along the rough roads of the Yukon, we promised ourselves shorter days on the road; but the smooth sailing along the highways of southern Canada kept us cruising longer than we planned.
We crossed back into good ol’ U.S. of A. at Sweetgrass, Montana at 9:00 p.m. An hour later we were camped, surrounded by purple mountains and dreaming sweet dreams of fruited plains and Mom’s sweet apple pie. Crossing the border had felt like the beginning of a new adventure the journey home!