Oh hey little town of Jasper, Alberta! We're up early and hungry.
After a breakfast sandwich at Coco's Cafe (their motto is "If you don't eat, you die!"), and a quick visit to the Bear's Paw Bakery, we were off to the mountains!
Before we ever embarked on this Canadian Rockies trip, and before I experienced that low-grade panic attack on the gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain (see Part One), we had purchased Jasper SkyTram tickets for the morning of Day 5. The SkyTram goes to the summit of Whistlers Peak in Jasper and I gotta say, this gondola was a waaaaaay easier ride than the Sulphur Mountain gondola. Each car holds up to 25 standing people so it ended up being super roomy because there were exactly 5 people in our car.
From where the gondola drops you off, you can hike 45 minutes to the tippy top.
That trail to the summit is much steeper than it looks. Both Andy and I were like "nah, no thanks" - so we opted to stay on the boardwalks where the SkyTram left us. A lot of the walkways were covered in feet of snow, so it was a little tough getting around. We hopped from rock to rock, taking in the panoramic views.
I was pretty focused on the real life whack-a-mole game the ground squirrels and Hoary Marmots treated us to. I always thought that if I could be reincarnated, I'd like to be a seagull because, hey, stealing hot dogs and french fries from unsuspecting beachgoers just appeals to me. But after this trip, I'm changing my answer to any type of rodent on a Banff or Jasper mountain. These little guys seem to be living the dream.
From way up here on Whistlers Peak, we spotted some gorgeous lakes down below.
We chatted with the SkyTram operator (another Aussie - I swear we met more Aussies than Canadians on this trip) and he told us the lakes we were looking at were Edith Lake and Annette Lake. Once we descended the mountain, we decided we needed to see one of those lakes up close. So we started driving in the general direction of both lakes and a road brought us to the densely wooded shoreline of Edith Lake.
This place was absolutely magical. This is the kind of beauty that pushes any problem you have in the world far far away.
As much as we wanted to spend a lifetime on the shores of Edith Lake, time was ticking.
Can we talk about backtracking for a minute? Andy is not a fan. In everyday life, he's very skilled at plotting out the proper order of errand-running so that neither time nor mileage is wasted.
In general, our road trip methodology is all about the loop:
1) It's much more economical to drop off your rental car at the same place you picked it up. And forget picking up a rental in one country and dropping it off in another - you might as well buy a used car for what they charge!
2) Why cover the same territory when there's a different road to explore? There's usually a bunch of different options for creating an efficient loop...but not so much when it comes to Jasper and Banff.
On this night, we would be sleeping in the town of Canmore, in southern Banff. In this part of Canada, the loop method just wasn't an option unless we wanted drive 560 miles around the parks instead of driving 200 miles back down through them. Lucky for us, the Icefields Parkway and the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway through Banff is stunning at every turn and no one in their right mind would be bummed about getting to drive it again.
So we set out and relived some very recent memories of just a day or two before. Hey, look! Athabasca Glacier! Oh man, the real life Bob Ross painting!
Coming down through the parks from this direction gave us some supreme views we didn't see on the way up. We also took a short detour to Kootenay River in British Columbia. I wore the bear bell loaned to me by a coworker and we took a short hike down to the river.
Back at the Windtower Lodge and Suites, a small herd of grass-munching bunnies on the lawn outside our garden-level room distracted us from how teensy-weensy the hotel room was. We had a fabulous meal at Crazyweed Kitchen, ending with a dessert of banana fritters that blew our minds. A giant rainbow greeted us when we got back outside. On the short drive back to the hotel, we stopped and walked along Spring Creek and took in some local sculpture. This is Big Head by Al Henderson.
Day 6 and Canmore was just a blip on the radar as we drove south on Route 22 toward Waterton Lakes National Park. I know Montanta gets the Big Sky Country moniker, but Alberta has a ton of it too (makes sense - they are neighbors after all). For miles on either side of the road there were nothing but hay bails and oil well pumps. Other than a 5 mile stretch of 1) following what we determined was an impaired driver swerving off the road every now and then, and 2) a long stretch of baseball caps placed on fenceposts (we regret not stopping for a photo), it was boooooooorinnnngggg.
Just north of the park, we took a quick detour on the Bison Paddock Loop Road. The scenery really started getting interesting again around here.
Appropriately named, the oval road goes around a fenced in paddock where bison are hanging out.
As you can see, it was a gorgeous little drive and well-worth the 20 or so minutes.
Red Rock Canyon was another little stop-off before getting to Waterton Lakes. I guess they name things pretty literally out here. It was a nice spot to stretch our legs on an easy hike along the canyon.
We would have less than a day in Waterton and there was SO much to see. So we dropped our bags at the Bayshore Inn and headed back out to see some more nature.
Pro Travel Tip: When driving in National Parks, pay close attention to slowed down vehicles going in the opposite direction. It usually means wildlife is in sight!
This was the case on our way up to Cameron Lake, where we spotted this bear.
We knew there were bear all over this part of Canada, but seeing one just 10 feet away from the safety of our car was a good reminder that we were in their habitat. This bear was also spotted on the way back to town. It was definitely approaching vehicles in a "i can haz foodz?" way so we watched again for a bit, but scooted out of there when it got too close.
Cameron Lake was downright dreamy.
Off the to side of the lake, I half expected to see more bears trudging through the woods.
This Stellar's Jay hung out awhile with us while we walked around. Andy will tell you I'm not a fan of jays and he's right. I find them to be total bullies in the bird world. Call me shallow, but this one was too gorgeous to hate on.
All this nature makes a girl want a hot dog. Lucky for us, Wieners of Waterton was open for business. We enjoyed a hot dog or three at a picnic table outside. For the record, this wasn't your average beige, soggy-bunned hotdog. This thing had a snap and we had all kinds of topping options. Solid place!
I grabbed an ice cream cone and Andy got some candy at Welch's Chocolate Shop. We meandered through the adorable town of Waterton before making our way back to the hotel. Thankfully, it's a tiny and wonderfully safe community - I'd left our hotel key back on the picnic table!!
At about 5:30am the next morning, I heard Andy rustling around in the room. I instinctively knew he was getting ready to go outside for some sunrise photography. I mumbled to him that he should wear the bear bell - that I had heard wildlife frequented the town early in the day. I think he told me he'd be okay, and he went on his way out the sliding glass doors overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. I drifted off back to sleep.
Andy carefully checked his surroundings once he got outside. He felt safe and headed toward the shore to set up and take some pretty stunning images of the lake.
He got lost in his own desire to capture the lake before the sun came up. He paused for a moment, waiting for the sun to rise completely.
That's when he spotted the bear. It was about 60 feet away. Andy and the bear made eye contact. I'm not quite sure how, but he managed to slowly put away his camera and back away toward the hotel room. Me? I don't think I would have had the ability to stay so calm. Once he was out of the bear's eyeshot, he ran full throttle back to the room. I heard him coming and knew something was wrong.
Breathing heavy from the adrenaline, we stood at the glass door and watched as the bear came into view. It turned over rocks on the beach, presumably looking for some breakfast.
After watching the bear go around the building, we cracked open our front door to see if we could spot it again. We assumed it would be off in the distance going away from us. But no. This bear was a curious one. It strolled past all the front doors of the hotel rooms and even sniffed at the steps going up to the second level.
When it got closer to our room, we closed our door but kept one eye on the peephole.
Even after the coast was clear, we were both pretty hesitant to leave our hotel room for some breakfast. We scurried over to the Lakeside Chophouse, passing a herd of elk on our way. At the restaurant, a stuffed cougar greeted us in the entryway. Our waiter told us that is was unusual for the bears to get that close and that we should report the sighting to the authorities. He then told us a cougar had been spotted the morning before. Yikes! This prompted a nearly half-day discussion of Would You Rather: Bear or Cougar edition. Personally, I'll take a bear over a cougar any day of the week. Cats are the worst.
To end this post, I'll leave you with some bear safety tips - be safe out there kids!
Part four of our Canadian Rockies adventure is up next! We'll: ...have our plans thwarted by ice (in a park with "glacier" in its name) ...get snuck up on by a moose named Herman ...and purchase a really expensive spoon!