“Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.” – Emma Chase
That is EXACTLY what our eighteen hour road trip to the Icefields Parkway and back was! With a sudden change of plans, there was no specific destination anymore, there was just the wild stuff along the way. (Originally, we wanted to go on the SkyTram and hike up to the summit of Whistler’s Mountain, then as we were heading out, check out Medicine Lake, and MAYBE Maligne Canyon.)
It was 6:00 AM on a Friday morning, Josh and I were running later than I had hoped to be out of the city by. We packed my Jeep up with the essentials for the day and headed out to Jasper on a spontaneous day trip. We didn’t really have much in mind as to plans, as I had just started feeling better from nearly two months of dealing with a nasty bug bite on my leg (and the awful side effects of the medication which I am still on) so I wasn’t sure how much exploring I was going to be able to do. It was already late enough that (thankfully) our preferred coffee place was opened. (perks of leaving anytime after 5:30 AM I guess) we grabbed some coffee and breakfast, turned on our mega road trip playlist and headed west into the dark sky.
The moon was stunningly massive that morning, as I saw it bashfully peek through the clouds, setting as the sun rose. The pure magic of seeing the golden sun through my rear view mirror, the silver moon in front of me, the sky a beautiful shade of lilac, driving down an empty road dotted with patches of fog to the mountains was pure bliss. However, the closer we came to the mountains, the windier it got. My hands gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter as my Jeep shook and tried veering off in either direction. Closer to Jasper, I stopped at a roadside turn-out to take in the view and nearly got blown away. (From both the view and the wind) At that moment, I decided that there was NO WAY that I wanted to go up on the SkyTram today, we’d probably get blown off the mountain or get painfully blasted with mountain dust. Not to mention how scary the tram would be swaying in the wind. No thank you!
Slightly bummed about not going up on the mountain, we drove to what would have been our destination on the way home, Medicine Lake. We took in a quick hike down the shoreline before decided to make our way to explore Maligne Lake.
Driving to Maligne Lake took longer than it probably should have as we got stuck behind a wildlife jam as there was a family of four mule deer along the road. I’m not complaining about people stopped on the side of the road to take photos as I will be the first person to do that, but please stop on THE RIGHT SIDE of the road. Not the middle, not the other side… and stay in your vehicle to take photos. It isn’t a petting zoo, you cannot walk up to a wild animal. Once you have your photos, and have watched for a bit – move on when safe to do so. The scene that unfolded here was a chaotic mess. We were about the third or fourth vehicle back, and there were a few vehicles that came up behind us after we stopped. Someone behind us went to pass and there was an oncoming car which ended up having to partially drive in the ditch to avoid a collision. So now there are three cars wide on a narrow two-way road. The deer are trying to cross the road, people are piling out of the tourist bus behind us. There are people and cars everywhere, the deer are going crazy – they get separated, don’t know what to do, and are absolutely stressed out. Finally the deer made their way into the forest and weren’t visible anymore so everyone got back into their vehicles and drove off.
We walked down the shoreline of Maligne Lake, as thick snow-filled clouds started to creep its way close to the boat launch. Took in the view, took a few photos and made our way back the vehicle. Lunch was calling.
As I was looking at the various signs in the parking lot and noticed that there are quite a few hiking trails that lead out of here. Good to know, and I will be looking into these later for sure!
On the drive back to Jasper, we needed to decide what our day was going to consist of. We still had no plans. I calculated the time it would take to drive down the Icefields Parkway (forgetting that I am probably going to be stopping every five minutes or so), to check out Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, fuel up, then head to Calgary’s ring road to get on the QE2 and back up home to Edmonton. It was going to be a long day, and a later arrival back home then anticipated, but the mountains were getting moody and absolutely gorgeous. I could not resist taking in this view. I will never forget the moment when I came around a corner, seeing the fog covered mountain top with the lyrics playing on the speakers “So here I am alive at last, And I’ll savor every moment of this” (“Taste of Ink” by The Used) The moment could not have been any more perfect. My eyes swelled with tears, just as they did hours before as the Rockies became in sight. (I get emotional over seeing mountains I guess)
We then started driving down the Icefields Parkway, I must have stopped at every other roadside pull off to take in the scenery, to breath the fresh mountain air, to watch the clouds roll in, to cry tears of joy, to dance in the pouring rain, to catch snowflakes on my tongue, to (safely) run into the middle of the road to take a photograph, and you can’t drive past waterfalls without stopping. It’s like an unwritten rule of life or something. So we stopped at Athabasca, Sunwapta, and Tangle Falls.
The further south we headed, the wetter it was getting. Rain that turned into sleet, sleet that turned into snow… It was definitely a shock to the system as it was a gorgeous autumn day when we left home. We ended up in near white-out conditions around the Columbia Icefields as the snow was coming down HARD! We pulled off the road at the trail head for Parker’s Ridge when we got out of the majority of the snowfall to take a breather. I got exploring a little bit and realized that there was a trail here, researched it and added it onto my list. (It’s amazing at that how much you’ve researched an area, that you can still find new things each time you dig deeper or just go out and explore!)
The rest of the drive wasn’t too bad, but by the time we got into the Village of Lake Louise it was already getting quite dark. We decided to skip out on Lake Louise and Moraine Lake this time around. We filled up with gas, grabbed some snacks and headed toward the dark sky once again. Just like that morning, once the moon started to appear in the horizon it was massive, creating a perfect silhouette of a row of spruce trees on top of the hill ahead. This was actually the first time that I’ve driven the longest in the dark (I had previously avoided it as much as I could) but to be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. The steady stream of oncoming traffic and headlights in my rearview mirror the whole way wasn’t all that pleasant though. (There was only one point on that drive where I noticed that there were no lights behind me and it literally only lasted five seconds. But damn, those five seconds were great!)
This was a wild road trip full of wonderful memories! Sure, it was an early morning and a late night, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat! Which will DEFINITELY be happening in the summer when we have a lot more daylight hours to explore! I can’t wait!
Oh, and if you are wondering – we made it home before our playlist had ran out of songs! (I think there were around ten left.)
*Please leave no trace when enjoying the outdoors!
*When photographing wildlife, please keep your distance. (Parks Canada recommends 30 meters from large animals and 100 meters from bears.) Never bait, call, crowd, chase, or capture an animal to get a photo.