Jasper and Banff in a Whirl

We haven’t had internet very often lately, so the blog is falling farther out of sync with our current activities. Therefore, I’m going to cover Jasper and Banff in one post and try to stay more up to date moving forward – hopefully our return to the US will yield more cell phone coverage!

Jasper Bests

  1. Jasper Brewing Company: we may have gone here three times and it wasn’t just the wifi that kept us coming back (or parked right out front). We loved the brews enough to do the sampler twice and I appreciated several interesting veggie items on the menu (it is always nice to have more than just a veggie burger or salad to pick from). We also loved swapping hiking recommendations with our waitress and got several pro tips, including the best ice cream in town and where to park overnight.
  2. Goats all over the parking lot at Miette Hot Springs: repeats were the theme of Jasper, as we went to Miette Hot Springs twice. The second time was largely motivated by needing a shower after a nearby hike, but we still enjoyed a hot soak. I also liked that there were two cold pools to mix things up, even if it took all my daily willpower to enter one of them for approximately three seconds. Even better than the Hot Springs were the goats wandering the parking lot licking tailpipes.
  3. Public land camp spots: we camped on public land just outside the park twice and enjoyed campfires and great scenery in both locations. We have quickly decided that backcountry camping is our favorite, given the solitude, unbeatable price (free), and lack of checkout times.
  4. Surprise friend meet ups: David’s friends from college, Andrew and Jenny, happened to arrive in Jasper on a family vacation on our last day there. Luckily they saw one of our Instagram posts so we knew they were there (even at the same hike!). We loved showing them the van and catching up over drinks.
  5. Mount Edith Cavell: for some reason we had the hardest time remembering the name of the hike, and called it all kinds of female names. I even had to look it up while writing this post. However, it was an awesome hike, with the views starting immediately from the parking lot. Although it was clouded in and snowing, I convinced David to hike up to the East Ridge summit. There were a few breaks in the clouds and well worth the effort (in my opinion – David provides no comment).

Jasper Worsts

  1. Bike trails shared by horses: we enjoyed mixing up the hiking with a casual bike ride on the trails around Jasper. However, we quickly learned that many of the trails are shared by horses. Between the frequent droppings, pulling over for horses, and rutted trails, these weren’t our favorite. We still had a good time and were grateful to some fellow bikers who warned us about a bear on the trail (which we didn’t spot).
  2. Rainy weather: overall, we lucked out with the weather in Jasper, managing to time our hikes to take advantage of the sun. We did have one day where it just poured all day. We decided to cut our losses and booked a campground for the day to wait out the weather. We are lucky to have the flexibility to plan around the weather, as we witnessed many other travelers braving the elements.

Banff Bests

  1. Mt. Rundle: we hadn’t planned to hike Mt. Rundle, but when David pointed it out from downtown Banff I wondered if it was summitable with our (limited) skills. I learned it was and, just like that, our planned rest day became a big hike day – the weather looked too good to pass up! We got an early start to beat the crowds, although no real crowds seemed to follow us. The hike is pretty mellow for the first few miles of switchbacks and forested climbs until you reach the “dragon’s spine.” This narrow section of scrambling unnerved us (David) a little, but with my encouragement we pushed on and eventually reached the top after a lot of scree. Luckily the peak provided some great photo opportunities, so David had no regrets about the hike. The climb down proved much easier than we expected and we were very happy to reach the forested section of the trail and even more so the van.
  2. Chocolate cake and biscuits: we secured an early morning parking spot at Lake Louise and hiked the Lake Agnes Teahouse/Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse loop with a side trip up Mount St. Piran. By the time we reached the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house, we really needed a pick me up. The Clif Bars weren’t cutting it so we treated ourselves to tea, chocolate cake, and biscuits with honey. All were delicious, especially because we were in the middle of the woods, miles from a roadway. The Teahouse was built in 1927 and all supplies are helicoptered in or carried by staff, who we learned hike in for 5 day stretches. If only we had a way to make chocolate cake in the van, all our hikes could be as delicious!
  3. Lucky timing at Moraine Lake: Lake Louise’s neighbor Moraine Lake is even harder to secure a parking spot at. We heard stories of vehicles lining up at 2 a.m. to wait for the road to the lake to open and families waiting in shuttle lines from the remote parking lot for hours. We felt like it would be wrong to go to Banff and not see the lake, but didn’t have the dedication to wake up that early, and I am not great at waiting in lines. We figured we would try to arrive at the lake just before sunset when the road isn’t controlled (during the day the 12km road is largely closed as staff monitors the parking lot to prevent vehicles stacking up on the road). We managed to time our arrival just right, so we showed up at the small parking lot when there were a few empty spaces. We spent about an hour wandering around the lake, taking pictures, and trying to find a water fountain (PSA: I have yet to find a trailhead, pull off, or parking lot in Jasper or Banff with water). When we left just before sunset, we estimated there were about 100 cars stacked up waiting for a parking spot. What luck!
  4. Parker Ridge: this hike came recommended from my friend Lydia and was probably my favorite in Banff. It doesn’t take too much climbing to be rewarded with amazing glacier views. We did this in the afternoon after a morning hike to Wilcox Pass, so it wasn’t too crowded, especially on the way down.

Banff Worsts

  1. Lake Louise crowds: we managed to get out of the crowds quickly by climbing up to Mount St. Piran, but the crowds at Lake Louise are definitely still stressful (at least for someone crowd-averse like myself). It seems like the best option is to wake up really, really early.
  2. Pricey restaurants: we enjoyed a couple good but unimpressive meals out in Banff. The restaurants do charge a premium for the much sought after downtown locations. In retrospect, we both agreed we would rather save our meals out for less touristy, more unique restaurants.

I struggled to come up with two worsts for each Jasper and Banff, so you can tell how much we enjoyed the parks. Although they are touristy, the towns of Jasper and Banff provide a nice break from nature and good opportunity for laundry, groceries, and ice cream. Overall rating: A.

Glacier views from Parker Ridge.

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