Our cycling trip across the Icefield Parkway from Jasper to Banff
At this time I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Last summer I was planning a small kayaking trip of 400 km from the province of Alberta to Saskatchewan but I had to cancel it for safety reasons. Due to heavy rains, the water level of the North Saskatchewan River was just too high.
One day my nephew phoned me and told me that his parents had given him the green light to do some type of adventure trip. They were allowing him to come with me on holiday.
Since the water level was so high, I had to switch my plans. I have always wanted to bike one of the most scenic routes in Canada, the Icefield Parkway between Jasper and Banff. I thought this would be a good occasion to initiate an 11 year old to the unmistakable joys of adventure traveling.
Day one: Jasper to Jonas Creek 77km
Right away at the beginning of the trip we experienced small trials such as rain and flat tires. We stopped on the bridge crossing the Athabasca River near Jasper to fix the tire while we stared at people white water rafting. When the rain picked up we hid in a bathroom at the campground
We stopped at the beautiful Athabasca falls (31 km from Jasper) since Nathan had never seen them before. There were hundreds of tourists there admiring the wonder spilling out of the mountains.
We could not wait to reach the campground, our resting place for the night. My speedometer was already at 77 km which was the distance of the Jonas Creek campground from Jasper. We should have been there already. We later passed an area where we could see a huge boulder slide. We did many more kilometers and at every corner we expected to see our resting place but nothing. We were very tired since this was our first day after all. We experienced “are we there yet syndrome?” For the first time, Nathan was showing signs of frustration. We saw some buildings and we felt our spirits come to life again just to realize that this was the Sunwapta Warden Station. Luckily, a few more painful kilometers passed and we finally saw the campground with almost no warning.
I had bought some fish in Jasper that was frozen but now it was unthawed. We also had some noodle soup. Nathan went around looking for 2 cold cokes. I gave him the money and he came back later with the precious find. Somebody in a RV just gave it to him. We savored it slowly to make it last. He became my official “beggar”.
We had a great evening by the fire and we enjoyed reading our books. We also went for a little walk across the highway so we could see the snow capped mountains. Overall, we had a great day with some frustrating parts. The next day, I was hoping for an easier day.
Day 2 Jonas Creek to Waterfowl Campground: 96 km
We had many grandiose viewpoints on the way to the Athabasca Glacier. We reached the valley with the famous glacier in sight but the wind was also at the rendezvous. Wind, hills and biking do not make a happy marriage. I was not on a mood to fight it so I walked a bit more. In the back of my mind I was not dreaming about the glacier but about a potential great meal at the Columbia Icefield Center (103 km from Jasper).
At the center we filled up our bottles and we fought our way through the hundreds of tourists finally finding what we were looking for: food!
Hundreds of tourists, mainly from Japan, were filling up their plates. I had three plates and Nathan had four. My nephew was going for another round when I told him he should stop. I was worried that he will have serious cramps or that he would puke along the way.
We reached the Sunwapta Pass at 2035 meters or 6,675 feet. From there it was all-downhill for a long time. We reached speeds of 60 km in a hour. We tried many times to beat that speed but that was not easy to beat it, we had fun trying though. We also said goodbye to the Jasper National Park to enter Banff.
Coming from the other direction we saw a couple pulling a small trailer going at a snail’s pace up the hill. I felt sorry for them. When we reached the bottom of the valley, there was a beautiful river disappearing into a narrow canyon. We were privileged to see it. In a car we probably would have missed it.
We left and crossed a bridge and decided to take some pictures. Just out of curiosity we crossed to the other side to see what was there. This was one of the most memorable moments. Hidden behind was one of the most spectacular falls that I have ever seen. If I am not mistaken they are called the Panther Falls.
We made our way to a campground called the Waterfowl Lakes Campground. One our way there we passed the Weeping Wall on the Cirrus Mountain. Hundreds of little falls running down the dark limestone. Breath-taking.
For while we were also cycling parallel to the mighty and scenic North Saskatchewan River , enjoying every moment of it.
The last kilometers to the camp were painful. Some roads that we thought were downhill were actually going uphill. We were barely moving and the wind was not helping.
We finally reached the Waterfowl Lake viewpoint. We had an extraordinary view of the Waterfowl Lake. We found a spot close to the lake. Val and Marsh were there. Val had her usual loving statement “Nathan I can not believe you made it this far.” Nathan was all smiles, deservingly so.
Day 3: Waterfowl Campground to the Cascade Moutain Youth Hostel
Later on we reached the Bow Summit at an elevation of 6,787 feet (the highest elevation in the Icefields Parkway). It is also the second highest pass where car can drive through.
Amazingly, it did not feel that bad. The climb was gradual up to the summit (or maybe we were just in better shape!).
We were happy to see the historical Num-Ti-Jah Lodge by the Bow Lake. Everywhere you looked it was postcard beauty. We were going to treat ourselves to an excellent buffet dinner in one of the most beautiful lodge in the Rockies. Life could not be this good.
We passed many creeks such as, Helen creek, Mosquito creek and Noseeum Creek. We did not feel the least bothered by the voracious insects.
We reached the town of Lake Louise where we visited the bakery and bought some steak. We wanted to stay in the Lake Louise hostel but there was no room for 2 people.
I wanted to show Nathan one of the most photographed lakes in the world. Lake Louise, a steep 3 kilometer climb at the end of the day did not appeal to me. It would have to wait for next time God willing.
We got out of town and looked for Highway 1A that runs parallel to the Trans Canada Highway. The road is quite scenic and less busy than its sister road but it is also longer. I suppose it is worth the price.
The 1A Highway, also known as the Bow Valley Parkway, is like a tunnel of green, sprinkled with daisies everywhere. There was a Peruvian guy who had biked already thousands of kilometers around North America. Nathan had a great time asking him about his adventures. The guy was going 25 to 30 km an hour faster than we were used to but we coasted proudly side by side for a long time. After awhile I just wanted to go at my own rhythm and I told Nathan to let his new biking companion go. It made for great entertaining stories while it lasted.
We finally arrived at the hostel. The lady seemed worried when she saw me. Could it have been the smell or my scary, tired state? She kept repeating the rules over and over. I was not a novice at hostels I assured her. I told her, I would do my best to pick up after ourselves.
I did not have the strength to barbecue my steak outside, as I was too tired to make a fire. I enjoyed the company of world travelers while we were cooking.
Nathan was talking with a girl his own age. She was boasting of her worldwide travels and later on they played games.
Hostels have their pluses and minuses. During the night a late partier turn the lights on. We could also hear every bowel movement in the bathroom since the toilets are located in the men dorm.
It was raining heavily before we reached the Trans Canada Highway. Cars and trucks were splashing everywhere. We didn’t care; it was a shower of triumph. Later on we celebrated our successful trip at Tony Romas. My small hero Nathan was still hungry after a dose of ribs. I ordered another plate. Who can blame him, he worked so hard to get to Banff. Ahhh, not really, he was barely tired. Glasses met, cheers for a great trip. Coke met wine…we could not have been happier.
Later on we put the bikes in the Brewster bus (it was free for the bikes) and we rode to Jasper to get my van. It was an easier trip but not near as rewarding.
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