This weeks guest blog is by Jen Wilson, Travel Photographer. Jen tells us all about her road trip through The Rockies in Canada.
Road trips are infectious, you catch the bug and go back for more. It's a trip, not a holiday; an involved experience. The nomadic way of life can be both enjoyable and exciting; everyday something different and new. Kind of like Pioneers......until you see the coach party! Canada had been on the ' list ' for some time and finally the opportunity arose. Weeks of careful planning took place around an extensive wish list and my very own "Travel Guru" meticulously put the pieces together to enable the desired itinerary.
So, we made it to Seattle. Closer than Heathrow or Edinburgh, but still the wrong country never mind city. We rolled the dice once more on the game of chance that is ' standby roulette ' and were spared the four plus hour bus journey by squeezing onto the short 35-minute flight up to Vancouver. High fives and sighs of relief all round. Generally, I don't really enjoy cities for more than a few days at a time, but they are something of a necessary evil in facilitating trips like this. Vancouver felt different; it's extensive coastline and mountainous north certainly contributing to this. Having spent the entirety of the previous day travelling, it was good to pick up some bikes from the hire company and set off to play tourists in the glorious sunshine. The trip around Stanley park, a particular highlight of mine, provided views across the waterfront area back towards the Vancouver skyline, with a seemingly endless supply of sea planes arriving and departing from Coal Harbour. Continuing around the sea wall your view transitions to mountains, rainforest and beaches.
Day two in Vancouver took us north over the Lions Gate Bridge to the Capilano Suspension Bridge park and Grouse Mountain. The Capilano suspension bridge was built in 1889, is 450 feet long and stands 230 feet above the Capilano river. Go on, put your trust in 1800's construction and give it a go! We did. We survived. A journey on the Skyride Gondola to the top station on Grouse Mountain is a spectacular one. From what is referred to as the 'Peak of Vancouver,' the views back down the mountainside are impressive; with the city below you and the Pacific stretching out to the west. The perfect way to cap the short but sweet stay in the city.
Having been made acquainted with our rented SUV, it was time to get on the road. Jasper our intended destination, but it is a long way from Vancouver. Not relishing a 9-hour trip in one go, we broke the journey with a visit and night-stop at Canada's second largest ski resort Sun Peaks. Although the snow had melted, Sun Peaks was still bustling with activity. Snow sports give way to a mountain biking Mecca, with numerous downhill tracks and cross country trails. Golfing at altitude can also be enjoyed if that is your thing. Arriving at Sun Peaks was our first experience of the effects of the terrible wild fires raging in British Columbia. Fortunately, we saw no fire however, the resulting smoke was particularly bad that evening. The following morning, thanks to a change in wind direction, the smoke had cleared and we were presented with blue skies and sunshine to start the final leg up to Jasper.
During stage two, the scenery became more rugged and rural. The mountains higher and all round more dramatic than before. Bordering the Jasper National Park boundary is the magnificent Mount Robson, King of the Rockies, standing at 3954 meters. The tallest peak just disappearing into the cloud base during our visit. Then to Jasper, a compact and unassuming mountain Town, home for a couple of nights. From Jasper, it was a short drive to explore Maligne Canyon, one of the deepest in the region. The walk along this limestone gorge provides spectacular views of waterfalls and rock pools.
Having safely negotiated the canyon trail it was onwards to Maligne Lake, somewhere I was particularly looking forward to. Given that our time was short, we took advantage of the boat trip out to Spirit Island. I have been fortunate enough to travel to - and visit - some naturally stunning locations, but standing on the banks of the lake looking across to Spirit Island with the Queen Elizabeth Mountain range as a spectacular backdrop, coupled with the vivid glacier fed colour of the water, was one of those moments where you pinch yourself to check that it's real. A box Canyon full of delights and insufficient superlatives to adequately describe this awesome natural beauty. As an interesting side note, this view was an original Kodak moment! When the company first introduced colour film, an image of Spirit Island was displayed in their advertisement in New York; influencing through images has been occurring for years.
Next up was that iconic drive, the Icefields Parkway. A road that really does have it all. The 232KM stretch of road connects Jasper with the Town of Lake Louise in Banff National Park and follows the continental divide. The parkway meanders its way through valleys between the towering mountains and past waterfalls, lakes and ancient Icefields - this explains why the journey took us all day! Progress is very, very slow when your surroundings are so awe inspiring. For the first time on the trip, the weather was a bit damp departing Jasper with low cloud hanging in the valleys. In retrospect, the changeable weather during our journey made for some added drama to an already impressive spectacle.
During our drive towards Lake Louise, we stopped to walk out to both the Athabasca and Sunwapta waterfalls, scrambled up the trail to view the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield and walked what is - I'm sure - the well-trodden path up to Bow summit to look down upon the splendour that is Peyto Lake. I mentioned this road had it all didn't I, the perfect showcase of Rocky Mountain grandeur. Where the Icefields Parkway ends near Lake Louise, the Trans Canada Highway takes over. We continued to just outside the Banff National Park Boundary, to the Town of Canmore; base camp for the next week.
Formerly a mining Town, Canmore clearly benefits greatly from its proximity to Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. However, since becoming the location for cross country skiing events during the Calgary Olympics, Canmore is considered a destination with trails a plenty for both winter and summer pursuits and no shortage of stunning mountain vistas.
I was glad that we had spent our first day here exploring our immediate surroundings, as the forest fire smoke arrived on day two and we were not to see the tops of the Three Sisters mountain range until the end of our stay. From Canmore, the day trip opportunities are varied and plentiful. That said most trips involved lakes, rivers, canyons or boats, and on really good days, all of the above! Largely because I couldn't contain myself any longer, as soon as was possible, we headed back along the Trans Canada Highway beyond Banff to visit both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I had read about them, seen countless pictures, but neither did these locations justice. Even through wildfire smoke and haze they were spectacular. Views you could never get tired of.
Moraine Lake is accessed up a twisting mountain road, anticipation grew with each turn. Approaching the Lake for the first time was overwhelming, what pictures cannot portray accurately is scale and how this location just envelopes you. In my impatience to get to the good stuff, we didn't change into our trail running shoes. Fast forward and we find ourselves scrambling up the rock pile at the edge of the Lake in flip flops to gain a better vantage point. Fortunately, the vistas up there were incredible; we were not going to be making the descent quickly, partly due to inappropriate footwear but mostly because we didn't want to leave!
Having prised ourselves from Moraine Lake we retraced our steps and set off towards Lake Louise, unquestionably the most popular in the area. The benefit of visiting later in the day is that the larger crowds have dispersed and your overall experience is considerably enhanced. On what was an unexpectedly balmy early September evening, after an ill-advised flip flop adventure or two, we sat overlooking a majestic Lake Louise enjoying dinner; expectations for the day suitably exceeded and views that will live with you for a lifetime.
Next on the agenda was Johnston Canyon. Accessed via the Bow Valley Parkway, the route takes you initially through forest then onto walkways secured to the edge of the Canyon leading to the lower and upper Falls. Another dramatic example of the power of water over time. That afternoon we drove back into British Columbia to Yoho National Park to visit the mighty Takakkaw Falls. From a height of 302 metres gravity does its work and the water roars its way down the cliff face; powerful and a force to be reckoned with. The resulting spray felt from some distance away along the trail. After warming up from the icy spray from the falls, we continued to Emerald Lake. This is one of those gorgeous locations you don't even have to work for. Rounding the corner from the car park the vivid waters of the vast lake open before you, flanked by mountains and forest. The evening was so still, the lake was mirror-like and was showing why it is the jewel in the Yoho National Park Crown.
Our final hurrah before packing our bags was a rafting trip down the Kananaskis River. A fabulously fun afternoon splashing our way down the river described as ‘refreshing,’ which is a euphemism for Glacier fed and therefore freezing. The matching smiles from ear to ear at the end of the trip evidence enough that a good time was had by all. With a degree of sadness that our Rocky Mountain adventure had drawn to a close, we departed Canmore and drove east to Calgary to catch our flight home. Upon depositing our hire car, we had amassed 2290 KM (1,431 miles) and memories that will live with us forever. We had high expectations for our trip and on every occasion, they were surpassed. We are fortunate enough to live in a beautiful little Country - so much so it recently beat Canada to number one in the Rough Guide’s listings - but Canada, you blew my mind. We’ll be back!
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