Beautiful Alberta (June 13 – 20, 2018)

We left Okotoks, AB shortly after noon on Wednesday, the 13th, and drove 106 miles to Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court campground in Banff, AB where we had reservations for four nights. The drive took us through Calgary before turning west to Banff. We arrived around 2:30 pm and had to wait in a long line of RVs waiting to check into the campground. Our site (#217) was a good-sized semi-circular pull-through site. Phil had booked the reservation months earlier, the minute they starting accepting reservations, and couldn’t remember whether or not we had 50 amp service. Unfortunately, we discovered that the campground only has 30 amp service which required us to manage which devices we could run at the same time.

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The weather forecast was rather disappointing, with cool and rainy weather predicted for the entire stay. Phil grilled hamburgers for dinner and had to clean and put away the grill immediately afterward due to concerns about bears and coyotes scavenging in the campground.

On Thursday we ventured out to explore downtown Banff. The weather was in the 40s and was raining steadily but we were determined not to let that spoil our visit. We were not the only ones with that idea and had to drive around a while until we were able to find a parking spot along the Bow River. We visited the Banff Visitor Center and then strolled through many of the shops on Banff Avenue.

We returned to our campsite and Phil had to disconnect our water hookups in anticipation of overnight temperatures near freezing. We celebrated Phil’s birthday with his traditional blueberry pie.

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After dinner we went for a short hike near our campground. Although we got sprinkled on lightly a few times, the rain held off until we were back home. The clouds that had blocked our view of the mountains all afternoon were mostly gone during our hike. We encountered an elk very close to our trail and then a large herd of elk near our campground.

The weather forecast for Friday called for rain most of the day. Despite this, we decided to drive to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, about 35 miles north of Banff. On a normal day, parking at these spots is very limited and most visitors must park at an overflow parking area and take a shuttle. In fact, when we first arrived at the turnoff for Moraine Lake, the parking lot was filled and vehicles were being turned away. However, we drove on to find a turnaround spot and, as we returned, we were allowed to enter the road to the lake. Although the parking lot was quite full, we were pleased to find a spot that was both wide enough and long enough to handle our truck.

We walked along the lake and, despite getting some light sprinkles on us, managed to stay fairly dry. The scenery was beautiful. We were tempted to rent a canoe but the possibility of being on the lake in a rainstorm caused us to pass on that idea.

We next went to the Lake Louise Visitors Center and had some lunch at one of the cafes. Then we headed to Lake Louise where, once again, parking was limited but we managed to find a spot. We strolled past the famous Chateau Lake Louise and along the bank of the lake. Like Moraine Lake, the reflections from the mountains on the lake were truly magnificent.  We encountered a large group of people gathered along the trail and learned that there was a mama grizzly and two cubs a short distance away.  Jan took advantage of the opportunity to use her telephoto camera lens to get some great pictures before the grizzlies scampered away.

We managed to make it back to our truck before the rain started and the rain continued for much of our drive back to Banff. We were really blessed with much nicer weather than forecast for our sightseeing. We were very glad that we had ignored the forecast and had visited the lakes.

On Saturday we went exploring a couple of the nearby lakes. First we stopped at Lake Two Jack and then continued on to Lake Minnewanka.

We then intended to drive up Tunnel Mountain Road to Surprise Corner where we could get an overview of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. We didn’t have an address; we just knew that there was a small parking area across the road from the overlook. When we came to a parking area and saw some people crossing the road, we assumed we were at Surprise Corner. It turned out we were actually at the bottom of Tunnel Mountain Trail, a moderately steep one-mile climb to the summit of Tunnel Mountain. There were very many switchbacks along the trail and the altitude gave us quite a challenge. Regardless, we made it to the summit and enjoyed the view. The hike back down was a lot easier. After getting back in the truck, we continued down the road until we came to the real Surprise Corner. After viewing the hotel from the overlook, we started down the trail to the Bow River Falls but, after our hike up the Tunnel Mountain Trail, we didn’t have the energy to walk all the way down to the falls and back.

On Sunday we packed up and headed 180 miles north to Whistlers Campground in Jasper, Alberta where we stayed for three nights. We stopped at a pull-off to view Castle Mountain.

After passing Lake Louise, we turned north on the Icefields Parkway, reputed to be one of the most beautiful highways in the country. We pulled over a number of times to enjoy the scenery. However, we were challenged with having to make split-second decisions before we passed the turnoffs as to whether the pull-offs were large enough to handle our truck and fifth wheel. When we reached the Columbia Icefield Chalet, the major attraction on the Parkway, the bus parking lot was full and the car parking lot didn’t appear to have spaces large enough for us to park. We turned down a road labeled Toe of the Glacier and immediately knew we might have trouble getting back out. Fortunately we found a pull-off along the road that was wide enough and flat enough for us to park. We walked a few hundred yards down the road to the trailhead for a 1-kilometer climb up to the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. Due to the melting of the glacier, it was unsafe to actually walk on it but we got close enough to feel the cold. When we returned to the parking lot, we analyzed various paths that we could use to get turned around. Although it was a tight fit, we did manage to get our rig turned around and returned to the Icefield Parkway. After that experience, we didn’t attempt to pull off at any more attractions, except to get pictures of some mountain goats grazing on the hillsides. Since many of these attractions are within 20 miles of Jasper, we decided to return in a couple of days when we don’t have the fifth wheel behind us.

We arrived at Whistlers Campground in the Jasper National Park at about 3:30. The temperature was around 70 degrees and we had bright sun, a huge difference from the weather we left behind in Banff. We got out our rug and folding chairs and enjoyed sitting outside for the rest of the afternoon.

IMG_0171On Monday afternoon we took care of domestic duties, including laundry grocery shopping and refueling the truck. The laundromat was quite interesting. It was in the basement of a convenience store and was combined with a stationery store. Jasper is a small town and parking is limited. We ended up parking 1 ½ city blocks away and lugging our laundry to and from the laundromat. It was a sunny and warm day, with temperatures in the low 80s.

Monday evening we went for a stroll along the Miette River. The Miette is a small river that runs into the Athabasca River. It is reputed to be one of the five best flying fishing rivers in Canada. The river is fed by melting glaciers and snowcap and the current was extremely fast.

On Tuesday morning we headed out early to see some of the Icefields Parkway attractions we had passed on Sunday. We hiked a 3-mile trail through the Valley of Five Lakes. Each of the five lakes were beautiful and very clear. At one stop we watched a duck dive about three feet under water and we could see it as clearly as if it had been at the surface.

After the hike we drove about 10 miles south to Athabasca Falls. The water pouring through the falls was milky-white as it was runoff from the melting glaciers and contained silt from the erosion caused by the glaciers.

On Wednesday we drove 250 miles through the northern Alberta wilderness to Grande Prairie, AB where we spent the night at the Grande Prairie Rotary Campground. The drive was one of our toughest yet. The road was very hilly and extremely rough. We drove through numerous construction zones. Part of the drive included a detour over hard-pack dirt that had large potholes. When we stopped for the night, we discovered that the carousel had fallen out of our microwave and shattered, cracking part of our cooktop. Fortunately the cooktop still works and we hope to find a replacement carousel for the microwave at either an appliance store or Amazon.

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