Canada – Drumheller, Banff & Jasper

From Victoria, my sister and I went by bus, ferry, bus, and sky train to the Vancouver airport, then flew to Calgary, got a rental car, and finally drove to our hostel. I believe this was cheaper than flying from Victoria to Calgary. While we did spend a few days in both Calgary and Edmonton, all we really did there was sleep in our hostels. Here’s my one Calgary picture:

We will always remember Calgary for the joy that is construction and one way streets.

Anyways, much like BC, Alberta is simply incredible. It has so many different landscapes to explore! It is known for both the Rocky Mountains, and for being one of Canada’s three prairie provinces. How many places are known for being very flat and very not flat?

Our first Alberta destination was The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. This took us into an area known as the badlands, which had a very cool look about it.

Many dinosaur bones have been found in the badlands, making this area perfect for studying dinosaurs. The Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology has both a comprehensive museum and a research centre. There’s a window in the museum that lets you see technicians working on fossils.

This skull was my favourite.

Once we had seen all of the bones we could in one morning, we set out to see one of the features that makes this landscape so interesting – hoodoos.

Hoodoos are kind of like spires, but not so pointy. They are formed by the erosion of softer rock under a layer of harder rock. The softer pillar is cut away while the weight of the harder top keeps it in tact, giving a non-pointy spire-like formation known as a hoodoo.

We found the varied landscapes of Alberta quite interesting, as we drove out of the badlands through prairies towards the mountains.

Leaving Calgary behind, we were excited to start our exploration of this region we’d heard so much about.

Instead of heading directly to Banff, we hiked up to the Grassi Lakes. We were now officially in the Rocky Mountains!

It’s hard to believe that the colour is real without seeing it for yourself, but seriously, that’s really how it looked.

It was an easy hike, and the perfect introduction to the Rockies. Our expectations were high now for the rest of the trip.

We wanted to make the most of our time, so after the Grassi Lakes we headed straight to the trail at Johnston Canyon.

The first trail ended at the Lower Falls, which were nice to see when we went in May since the water was moving fast but there was still a wall of ice on the surrounding cliffs.

The walkway through the canyon reminded me a lot of Vintgar Gorge in Slovenia. Both were beautiful.

We had already passed Banff at this point and were heading to our hostel in the town of Lake Louise. My favourite landmark on the way was Castle Mountain, so called simply because it looks like a castle.

Castle Mountain was actually the site of one of Canada’s WW1 internment camps. Many people of Ukrainian origin were sent here simply for their ethnicity and made to work. A lot of Banff’s infrastructure, including the road between Banff and Lake Louise, were built by these labourers.

We arrived at our “hostel” in Lake Louise and found that it was more like a lodge. I felt like we deserved it though, cause hostels in Canada are around $40 CAD a night. The best part about this place though was the people. We met 3 British travellers named Rachael, Ella, and Jonah, who shared our love of cards. We spent the first evening teaching each other card games and the next day went together to Lake Louise for a hike.

Lake Louise is just as beautiful as the pictures make it seem. Alberta seemed determined to show us how many different shades of blue water can be.

This was my favourite day of the entire trip, because from the lake we began a hike up the Lake Agnes Trail. The trail was still covered in snow, (stepping off the trail got me into snow higher than my knees), and was therefore very slippery. This was the most fun I had on the trip. People were sliding and falling all over the place.

The first stop along the trail was at Mirror Lake, with the mountain known as the Beehive behind it.

It wasn’t much further after Mirror Lake that we arrived at Lake Agnes. The views of the mountains around Lake Louise that we saw as we climbed were stunning.

There is a tea house at the lake that wasn’t completely open at the time for people who wanted to sit down, but they sold drinks and cookies out of the door.

The descent was just as fun and tricky.

We ended the day playing cards at the hostel, of course.

The next day we went on a different, non-mountain-climbing adventure. Madeleine drove the 5 of us to Kootenay National Park, just across the border back into BC. We first went to Marble Canyon because we had heard of how beautiful it is.

It’s actually a sedimentary limestone, but it looks like marble and that’s good enough.

Our next stop was much stranger, and added to the already long list of different landscapes we’d encountered so far. A sacred site for First Nations people, The Paint Pots was unlike anything I’d seen before.

The Paint Pots are a series of ochre beds that used to be mined but are now a protected area. First Nations tribes made use of the red ochre for all types of paint, including body paint and clothing dyes. The path was mostly above water, but it was difficult to navigate and we all left orange footsteps on the trail back to the car.

We then finally made it to the actual town of Banff.

A good amount of time was spent on that bridge watching dogs. We passed some time exploring the town and wandering out to Bow Falls while we waited for our friend from back home – Lexi – to finish work.

We returned from the falls just as Lexi finished work, and she brought us on a pretty great hike called the Tunnel Mountain Trail.

We had already done a lot of walking that day, so that hike felt like an accomplishment. The view was certainly worth it, and I felt that we earned it.

Old friends catching up.

Having spent the past few days climbing mountains, we were happy to spend the next day driving down the icefields parkway to Jasper. Unfortunately, Rachael had to go home a bit earlier, so we were now down to 4.

We stopped at a place that looked to have a short little hike, and maybe a lake, and just figured we would look around a bit before continuing on our way. It turned out to be the path up to the iconic Peyto Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Madeleine – Conqueror of Mountains

It was here that we learned about rock flour. Glaciers grind rocks into very tiny particles which makes up the rock flour, which is then carried in meltwater down to lakes like Peyto Lake. The suspended particles are what creates the turquoise colour of the lake.

We saw a glacier!

The icefields parkway is a beautiful drive, there’s so much to see along the way. It turned out that the humpback and orcas we saw in Victoria were just the beginning of our Canadian safari. Jasper is the place to be if you’re looking for Canadian wildlife, beginning for us with some mountain goats.

We checked into our hostel, which had a 40 bed room but somehow wasn’t awful, then went for an evening drive to see more lakes and look for animals. We found them. We stumbled upon a whole herd of elk in a little cottage area.

Our first full day in Jasper began well, with a good quality coffee in a cafe that doubled as a laundromat.

The day included a hike through Maligne Canyon and a drive to Medicine Lake.

On the way back into town, we finally got a clear view of a bear. We saw one on the icefields parkway, but he was hiding in the bushes. This one had a bird friend and was perfectly content lounging about on the side of the road.

The most beautiful place we went in Jasper though was the Valley of the Five Lakes.

What better way to finish off Jasper? Does it get prettier than this?

Travelling with Rachel, Jonah, and Ella made the Alberta segment of our trip something special, so we were sorry to part ways as they headed back towards Calgary and we journeyed onwards to Edmonton. The beauty of Alberta was made much better by being able to share it with friends. It’s fun to discover places like Peyto Lake or The Valley of the Five Lakes and find that you all have the same thought – is that colour actually real?

So Madeleine and I drove to our two night stop in Edmonton, with a big horned sheep seeing us safely out of Jasper. We went to the West Edmonton Mall, got mild food poisoning, then promptly went to bed and called it a day.

We drove through downtown Edmonton to see what it was like, and it seems like a nice enough city. Having bought the park pass for Banff and Jasper, we thought we’d make the most of it and checked out Elk Island National Park. We saw a few bison on the way in and then not another creature besides Canadian geese for the next two hours. A bit or an anticlimactic end to the tour, but what can you do.

It was a trip full of outstanding natural beauty and quality time with friends, and we were ready to return home for a brief rest. The world is a beautiful place, but you don’t have to leave Canada to see just how beautiful it can be.