I have always dreamed of visiting the Canadian Rockies because 1) a trip to the fresh air of Canadian wilderness is always a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, 2) beautiful snow-capped mountains, glaciers, alpine lakes, 3) WILDLIFE! So in June, Henry and I took our dog, Clover, and made our way up for a week long trip.
As we were cruising down the highway, I happen to look out my passenger side window and see a bear crossing the river. I did a double-take as I was so in shock about the lucky coincidence. We immediately backtrack to stop on the side of the road and admire from a distance. So amazed that for the next two hour, Henry and I kept reminding each other to keep our eyes out for another bear. We don’t see a second one, but that’s how bears work some times.
Anyways, here are my top 5 favorites from the trip through Jasper & Banff:
Bow Valley Parkway / Wildlife
Before starting the trip, I had heard that one of the best ways to safely view wildlife is just driving through the Bow Valley Parkway. So, on our second-to-last day, bummed that we hadn’t seen a gray wolf all trip, we set out intending to drive through the parkway. This parkway is a (48 km / 30 mile) beautiful stretch of road lined by trees – home to deer, bighorn sheep, bear, marmot, moose, elk, wolves, and more. After 2 hours of driving from one end to the other, while stopping to learn about the area through the various information panels and lookouts, all we could tick off our wildlife bucket list were marmots – cute little squirrels that pop up from little holes like prairie dogs.
And a close-up to see his cute little face…
We decided to drive back around the other direction for attempt #2. This time, it only took about an hour since we didn’t stop much. Note that the speed limit for this parkway varies between 50-60km/h out of respect for wildlife that live in the area, so please do not speed!
Just as we were hitting the end of the parkway, the car in front of us abruptly stopped (well, as abrupt as a car traveling 50 km/h can stop…). Confused and slightly annoyed, we started to drive around the car when I look out into the fields and see a lone gray wolf about 50 feet away! Bucket list ticked! We stop our car as well and park on the side of the road. As Henry starts snapping photos, I open the sunroof of our car and stick half my body out to watch in awe. It must have been about a minute before the wolf made its way back into the trees, but it’s a minute I will remember for a long time.
Side note: was very glad we had a sunroof – I didn’t realize how much I would use it to just view scenery and potential wildlife right from the relative safety of inside a motor vehicle. If you’re renting a car and have this option, I’d highly recommend it if it’s only a minimal price difference.
The Bow Valley Parkway is indeed a great place to view wildlife. While not guaranteed, or course (you cannot schedule wildlife!), you can set yourself up for higher success by targeting portions of the day when animals are known to be active. This includes times around dawn / dusk and late afternoon.
One of the great posts I stumbled upon prior to my trip was through the blog, Banff and Beyond. This article provides a fantastic summary of where to view wildlife no matter where you happen to be in the Canadian Rockies.
Old Fort Point
A simple loop hike that takes you to the highest viewpoint in Jasper, giving you panoramic views of the area, including the Athabasca River. While on the shorter side (4.0km / 2.5 miles), it is quite steep with nearly a perpetual incline the whole way through.
This made my list of favorites because of the simplicity or complexity, depending on what you’re looking for. Hikers looking for a short hike can just complete the loop and go to town for a bite to eat. Those looking for a longer hike can use Old Fort Point as a starting point for a variety of other trails including the Maligne River trail or a route of The Valley of Five Lakes.
Viewing clockwise: Mt. Edith Cavell (always snow-streaked) to the south, The Whistlers (mountain with the tramway terminal near the top). To the southwest, the valley of the Miette River leading west toward Yellowhead Pass and B.C., the town of Jasper across the Athabasca River, the reddish quartzite of the Victoria Cross Range. To the northwest beyond the town (the peak with a microwave relay station on top is Pyramid Mountain), Lac Beauvert and Jasper Park Lodge. To the north (other lakes visible northward: Annette and Edith), the gray limestone of the Colin Range to the northeast rounded Signal Mountain and the cliffs of Mt. Tekarra to the east. To the southeast, Mt. Hardisty (sloping layers) and Mt. Kerkeslin (layers bowed gently down).
Lake Moraine / Valley of the Ten Peaks
When you arrive at Lake Moraine, the first thing that catches your eye will be a giant pile of rocks calling to be climbed. Climb it! This isn’t really a path as you will realize that whatever rock seems like a reasonable and logical next step is the one you will take. I loved the fact that everyone could choose a unique path up.
The rock pile will lead you to higher elevation from which to view the lake and peaks. It truly is a magnificent view and definitely my favorite spot of the entire trip. When we got to the top, we lucked out because it was a beautiful, warm day with relatively blue skies, turquoise waters, and a clear view of the peaks. I just plopped down on a rock at the top and stared out at the beauty and vastness before my eyes.
When you’re there, enjoy it while you can because for us, 45 minutes later, the clouds had swept in to cover all but three peaks, the wind had grown strong and chilly, and it started to snow! What a drastic change, but grateful that we were able to experience the lake and valley in two different weather conditions.
After 10 minutes of snowfall and realizing it wasn’t going to change back to sunny, we scampered down the rocks as we were not appropriate dressed (it was so warm when we left the car!), so be prepared if you intend to stay for a certain length of time. Some people had brought sandwiches and had a small picnic at the top, which I thought was so cute!
But before we leave- a selfie!
Lake Louise / Fairmont Hotel / Overlook
Lake Louise was probably where we spent the most amount of time. Partly because of its beauty, but mostly because of our dog. We brought Clover along for our trip and purchased a bag of freeze-dried raw Primal nuggets for her. Unfortunately, right when we left Vancouver, she had decided she wasn’t going to eat any of it!
I thought we’d wait a day or two so if she was just being picky, she’d end up eating it out of hunger. However, 2 days passed and still not a bite. We got worried and started looking for pet stores in the Jasper area (there were none). The locals suggested driving out of the park to Hinton, AB, Canada. Maybe we should’ve done that, but at the moment, we had done so much driving the previous days that we didn’t want to drive an extra 2 hrs, so we set all our hopes on Banff having a pet store. No luck! If you’re traveling with a pet, make sure you bring food that you know he / she loves! On our second day at Banff, we resolved that in the late afternoon, we would go to a restaurant and ask the cook to boil some plain chicken as a meal. Fortunately, on our stop at the Fairmont by Lake Louise, we found some grilled chicken from the cafe / deli inside the hotel and Clover delightfully scarfed it down. We must have puzzled the deli staff by ordering 5 trays of chicken!
The Fairmont hotel was great beyond its cafe having chicken, though. Situated a short walk from Lake Louise, I’d imagine the rooms get an amazing view and guests would be able to visit the lake during less crowded times (we visited the lake 3 different times and every time it was packed with jam-packed with tourists – check out a live cam of the lake here). At the time we were visiting (which is peak season) rooms were going for $1,000+ per night, which was just a little over our budget…
Besides just taking our sweet time to admire the view of Lake Louise with Victoria Glacier situated between snow-capped mountains, we also went canoeing. At first, I was hesitant because of the price (CAD 75 for half hour, and CAD 85 for one hour), but it would be one of our only paid excursions on the trip that Clover would be allowed to join, so we decided to just do it (for reference, which we didn’t know at the time, you can also rent canoes for a cheaper price at Lake Moraine). But boy was being on the lake beautiful. The water was so calm so paddling with a breeze.
Even if you’ve never gone canoeing, before, you will probably be fine. They give you a whistle to blow on if you’re in danger, and someone from the company will paddle out and save you. Henry and I loved it. Except, Clover hated it (was trembling the entire time) so we turned back after 20 minutes, but not before getting a selfie (sorry Clover)!
While in the Lake Louise area, we also started up the Fairview Lookout Trail to get a dazzling view of the hotel and lake together. It is about a 2km hike. There are a number of other trails in the area to choose from, depending on what you want to see including the popular Shoreline Trail, which circles and lake with minimal elevation.
Just Driving Around & Hanging Out!
Our route from Los Angles, CA > Portland, OR > Vancouver, BC > Jasper National Park > Banff National Park, and back, led us to drive over 2,200 miles over the course of 8 days.
We actually ended up with a Hertz rental car that only had 5 miles on it at the beginning of the trip so we basically got to drive a new car around- that was pretty sweet!
The views while driving were just stunning. There was beauty everywhere you looked: whether it was the densest cluster of evergreens I’ve seen in a while, to majestic mountains towering over us, impressive glaciers, dramatic clouds, or just the beauty of a desolate highway as far as the eye can see.
Of course one of the best parts about traveling around the Canadian Rockies is just taking the time to relax and enjoy the environment. We brought our hammock to Canada!
Those 5 were my favorites in the Jasper & Banff area. However, because I also visited Vancouver, here is a +1 because it is definitely a can’t-miss experience.
Grouse Mountain Bear Sanctuary
As we were planning this trip, I knew we were going to go all-out in terms of bear safety prep since Clover was going to be with us. This would mean nearly zero chance of having a wild bear sighting encounter. From my prior blog post on Vancouver, I had highlighted the Grouse Mountain bear sanctuary so I knew to pre-register for this program called Breakfast with the Bears. The folks at Grouse will bring you up to the sanctuary before it opens to the general public for you to watch them feed the bears.
Afterwards, they serve you a bear-palate inspired breakfast buffet of berries, nuts, salmon, trout, and other more common breakfast foods. It’s a great experience because the bears are being fed so they are in very close proximity to you (great photo ops too!). Past feeding time, I could not find them anymore because I guess they were wondering around their enclosure.
While the two bears I saw, Grinder and Coola, will not be able to be released back into the wild because of the age in which they had to interact with humans, the organization provides sanctuary on its land to a number of other black bears that never experience human interaction. Because of this lack of exposure to humans, they will eventually be released back into the wild to live out their lives.
It’s so sad that when wild bears and wolves get too comfortable with humans, they are killed so please don’t feed wildlife and please make sure to properly dispose of trash in bear proof trash cans. They say “a fed bear is a dead bear” for a reason. Once a bear correlates humans with food, it will most likely be attracted to humans instead of running away, and the bear will be shot and killed. Don’t be an irresponsible park visitor or a horrible human being. Keep bears safe!
Parting tip: when hiking in the Canadian Rockies, make some noise as you’re moving about (talking, bear bells, clanging pots) to alert bears that you’re passing by. Bears (and other potentially dangerous animals) spooked or surprised by you may be more inclined to attack for self-defense. I’d also buy bear spray as an emergency precaution but note that you have to wait until the bear is literally 2-3 seconds away from you before spraying or it will be ineffective. I can’t even imagine how scared I would be and if I would even remember to use it if a bear started attacking our group, but I carried it anyways. We didn’t end up using it, but we thought of it like insurance. $50 upfront for a 7-second can of pepper spray that could save your life. Like earthquake emergency supply bag (LA mindset haha), you most likely won’t use it, but it’s there in case The Big One finally happens.
Amazing time on the trip. I highly recommend everyone visit at least once in their life to experience the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. Do you have a favorite that I missed?
Happy Exploring! ♥