Last week I shared the first blog post in my “here’s why you should go to Canada” series. I told you all about starting our trip in Vancouver Island, and today I’m going to continue our journey and share my favourite bit of the whole trip with you: our road trip to the Rockies.
I will do my very best to write actual words but it will be difficult. This part of our trip left me speechless, and really all I want to do is share 457 photos with you (not an exaggeration, that’s the actual number I took in four days) because it was the most stunning place I’ve ever been in my life.
When we left our cabin in the woods in Jordan River, we drove to Swartz Bay and got the ferry to Tsawwassen. Our destination was Banff, a 10 hour drive away, so we broke up the journey by stopping overnight in Salmon Arm.
I’ll be honest, there’s not a lot to see in Salmon Arm. There’s a big lake – Shuswap Lake – and that’s about it, so we mainly took photos of the lovely boardwalk then ate pizza in our motel room and hoped no one committed a murder next door. (It’s the first time I’ve stayed in a motel and, as we entered the car park, I realised my only experience of motels was watching American films – usually ones that featured a hooker and a murderer.)
We left the motel (safe from hookers and murderers) after a breakfast of waffles and whipped cream – which was starting to become something of a routine – and drove to Banff along the Trans-Canada highway. Four and a half hours (and many stunning views) later, we arrived in the mountains just in time for lunch. It really should come as no surprise to regular readers that this trip was punctuated by food stop after food stop and, don’t worry, you’ll find some recommendations at the end of this post.
I think the best think about a cross-country road trip somewhere like Canada is that the scenery changes all the time, and it kind of sneaks up on you. We got so excited by the first snow-covered mountain we saw but it just kept getting better and better until, before we knew it, we were surrounded by them. I’m sure there are many stunning ways to see Canada but when you have a chronic pain condition, car is the most wonderful option. I drove, he drove, I drove, he drove, I slept, he drove, I ate, he drove… it was quite perfect. (Oh, and we sang along to the Hamilton soundtrack for most of it.)
We arrived in Banff and checked in our B&B – the Blue Mountain Lodge. The bed wasn’t the comfiest and the breakfast was a little too healthy for the Canadian lifestyle I’d recently become accustomed to, but the staff were lovely and it was in the most perfect location. Right in the centre of town, with the mountains all around us. Just writing about it gives me butterflies in my stomach.
Everyone tells you if you’re going to the Rockies then you should visit Banff, and I guess that the only criticism (and I’m reaching here) is that the town is very much built around the tourist industry. But, really, I couldn’t care less. It’s stunning and the tourist attractions are mountains and lakes, as opposed to bright pink key-rings with BANFF written in diamantes. (Yeah, New York, I’m looking at you.)
We spent the next four days experiencing Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, the Banff hot springs, the gondola, and walking the trail at the Johnston Canyon waterfalls. You should do all of these – immediately.
We went in April when the lakes were still part frozen. Some said this was a poor choice (they call it the shoulder season) as the lakes aren’t frozen enough to skate on but are too frozen to kayak on. I was worried we’d planned badly until we were arrived; there were few tourists, none of the ski schools were running, and it felt like we had the mountains to ourselves.
After two days out on the lakes and a walk through Johnston Canyon (I did the short trail, obviously, then sat on a bench overlooking the frozen waterfall and read my book whilst waiting for R to come back from the longer one), I was pretty knackered. To rest and recuperate we went to the Banff hot springs on day three; it’s effectively just a standard outdoor pool, but it’s 39°C and there are mountains around you so I’ll take that over my local pool any day.
After the hot springs, we got in the gondola and went up to the top of the mountains. The view was spectacular.
On the day we left Banff I thought I might cry. I could have stayed forever. We promised ourselves that, one day, we’ll go back to experience it in the height of summer, and then again in the height of winter, and then again for forever to set up a guest house. Yes, you may come and stay.
We drove from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway – one of Canada’s most rewarding routes. It’s isolated, with few gas stations and places to eat, and the quality of the road varies along the route. There had been three days of snow before we left and the sign at the beginning of the route warned that visibility was poor. Just as we set off, R told me a story about a couple who were travelling along a road in the US when they followed their sat-nav down a dead-end track and ran out of petrol; the guy left to walk to the nearest town whilst his girlfriend stayed at the vehicle. He didn’t come back. Eight weeks later she was found in her car, barely alive, and his body was found six months later. He had fallen and broken his leg as he’d taken a shortcut to the town, and died waiting for help.
Shortly after telling me this story, R asked me what our tactic was if we ran out of petrol. Delightful. I sent a quick text to one of my best friends telling her our location and estimated time of arrival – just to be sure.
I won’t bombard you with more pictures of the road; you get the idea. The drive claimed to be seven hours due to the poor roads and poor visibility, but I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about because these three snaps are a pretty accurate representation of our view, and so we completed the drive in just under four hours. We also met some mountain goats along the way.
When we arrived in Jasper, we had 24 hours before leaving by train for Toronto. Want to know what we did with those 24 hours? We went to see more mountains and lakes, obviously.
We weren’t expecting much out of Jasper, but I actually really liked it. It’s small, but it has good cafes and restaurants which is really all I’m looking for in a town.
And that, my friends, is the end of that. This feels like it’s been a long one and I’ve only just realised, I’ve not really mentioned my health! I guess it’s easy to sit in a car, looking at beautiful views and only getting out to wander around frozen lakes, take photos and scream “WHY DON’T WE LIVE HERE?” The perfect spoonie holiday. Maybe this is proof that mountains are the best medicine. Or, at the very least, they’re my best medicine.
Travel tips for Salmon Arm, Banff and Jasper:
- The Salmon Arm motel where we didn’t get murdered was actually pretty good
- Best place to eat in Banff is the Park Distillery – they make their own vodka and do good burgers
- Best place to eat in Jasper is the Brewing Company – they make their own beer and do good burgers (do you see a theme?)
- Check out the Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise for a cuppa to warm up, or a fancy afternoon tea in the restaurant
- The main places to visit are: Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Johnston Canyon, Banff Hot Springs, Banff Gondola, Lake Patricia and Pyramid Lake. Enjoy!