Jasper Road Trip 2015 – Day 1: Icefields Parkway to Jasper

Jon and I just returned from a 3 day mini-road trip to Jasper. I took way too many pictures to recap everything in one post so I’ll be writing a short series about our trip. We travelled from Calgary to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and then back again.

I was pretty excited to get started on our mini-vacation on Tuesday. We managed to leave almost exactly when I planned – 10 am – so that we could spend the whole day enjoying the drive from Calgary to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. We’ve driven the parkway before but not in many years, and never before in the winter. The highway isn’t maintained in the same way in the winter and you should probably check out the the winter guide to the parkway before planning a visit.

We had beautiful weather from Calgary until we turned up Hwy 93 (the Icefields Parkway). Traffic was light and because we were traveling on a Tuesday in the early spring, there were no lineups to get into the park. A park pass is required for travel on the Icefields Parkway so we bought ourselves an annual pass to ensure more visits to the park this year.

Unfortunately, conditions along the parkway weren’t as nice. While the road was bare (and mostly dry) we hit lots of snow squalls, which made it impossible to see the mountains that the highway is famous for. I had mapped out some stops but we quickly bi-passed my first planned stop at Peyton Lake when we drove into huge, wet flakes of snow at Bow Summit.

A snowy start to our drive along the Icefields Parkway
A snowy start to our drive along the Icefields Parkway

The snow continued until Saskatchewan River Crossing but began to thin out as we climbed up to Parker Ridge. The road was bare but the huge snowdrifts on the shoulder gave an indication of what the road might be like during actual winter. I’m sure it is stunning in January, but I think we got the best mix – clear roads and snowy vistas once the sun finally broke through the clouds.

Nothing is open along the parkway in the winter, but we pulled into the trailhead at the Columbia Glacier to take a look around anyways. The trail was packed down so we hiked a little ways towards the glacier to take in the views.

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The glacier field – so pretty with so much snow
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Brrr…. happy I’d brought several layers and my newest down jacket along for the ride

The weather improved as we drove towards Jasper so we stopped a little more often to take in the sights. Usually in the summer the road is crowded with people but it was basically just us so we pulled over at all the stops and enjoyed being the only people out there.

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Tangle Falls – just one of the beautiful sights along the road

I wanted to stretch my legs after so long in the car, so we stopped at Sunwapta Falls for a short hike. There are actually 3 falls – the upper falls is accessible basically from the parking lot on a paved path, but you can hike down a short ways to see the other two falls. The return trip is approximately 3 km (including a visit to the upper falls) and took Jon and I about 45 minutes. Snow was practically gone at this lower elevation so the trail was just a little muddy in places.

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One the trail at the upper falls.

While I wouldn’t hike this in the summer (the crowds would be beyond my enjoyment level) it was perfect in early spring. We were the only car in the parking lot and got to enjoy our lonely visit to the falls.

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Looking back to the upper falls from one of the viewpoints along the trail to the lower falls
One of the lower falls
One of the lower falls
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More lower falls

After our hike we had one more stop – Athabasca Falls. This site is more developed than Sunwapta (lots of information signs and paved paths) and had several cars in the parking lot when we pulled up. Still, we managed to snap some shots of the falls without anyone else around.

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Athabasca Falls

From Athabasca Falls it is a short drive to the Jasper townsite. We were starving when we arrived so after a short walk around we ate dinner at the Jasper Brewing Company. It was fairly busy on a Tuesday night (we later realized that it must be spring break for Edmonton students) but we found the food and drinks only so-so. We weren’t overly impressed with either of our beer choices (Jon had the Sutter Hill PIL and I had the Blueberry Vanilla Ale) and our meals, while fine, were just average.

We stayed at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge which is a few minutes east of town. It costs a little more than other hotels in town, but (in my opinion) is worth it for the feel of staying at a resort. Most rooms are located in smaller buildings throughout the property and ours was about a 3 minute walk from the main lodge. After settling into our room we headed back to the lodge and spent the remainder of the evening in the hot tub, pool and steam rooms relaxing. Sitting in a hot tub looking out on the lake and mountains is a pretty nice way to end a day!

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