Alberta Adventures Part One: Dinosaur Provincal Park to Jasper National Park

The Canadian Rockies. It’s a landscape that really defines our country, and for as long as I can remember I have always wanted to see them and explore them…and bath in their hot springs.

My husband has been to the west coast a number of times for business over the years, with a recent trip earlier this year. Each time he went I was completely jealous. “I don’t get much free time” he would say to me. But it didn’t matter. I hadn’t been any farther west than Detroit.

It was his most recent trip that I think really gave us the push we needed to make Alberta our next vacation destination. Plus, I had always been saying that I’d like to see some more of my own country, instead of jetting off to another continent.

On Friday August 22nd, we flew to Calgary conveniently from our hometown of Kitchener.
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The fight was approximately three hours, and we landed in Calgary at around 10:30 pm.

We gathered our bags, and picked up our rental car. I was rather upset when I was told we weren’t getting the Matrix we’d requested, however, I quickly forgave them once I saw that awesome yellow Fiat 500 we were given. What a fun car! New too, barely had 9,000 km on it. We would add over 2,500 km to it by the end of our journey.
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We spent the night in Calgary. Our accommodations were booked using AirBnB. It is such an affordable way to find accommodations, and we had a basement unit to ourselves for the night.

Day One

Our desination for our first full day, was almost a three hour drive East of Calgary to Dinosaur Provincal Park. On the drive there, I got my first taste of the prairies. Just lots of flat, flat land.
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The closer we got to Dinosaur PP, the more I noticed the landscape changing from prairies to the badlands. I could see the earth beginning to open up. I wasn’t quite prepared for the type of landscape I was about to see. I also wasn’t prepared for the swarms of mosquitoes that were waiting for us as well.  Another surprise, was there was no fee to enter the park. We had pre paid for our camping but I wasn’t aware that provincial parks in Alberta didn’t charge an entrance fee!

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Like the Canadian Grand Canyon… as far as the eye can see.

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It was unreal! You feel like you’re on a whole other planet, and even though it didn’t look this way when dinosaurs roamed the earth, it wasn’t hard to imagine them walking around.

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What we didn’t realize, was that the heavy rains prior to our visit, made for one hell of a slippery hike. Within the first 5 minutes of being out of the car, I slipped and came within 5 feet of falling off the edge and into the valley below. Normally everything is dry and hard. But when this soil becomes wet, the particles just slide against one another and you go along for the ride.

We spent the entire day hiking every trail the park had to offer. There was a trail in an area where a large amount of bones had been discovered, including that of the Albertasaurus. I loved being able to walk among all the Hoodoos and looking at all the spectacular formations caused by years of erosion, imagining what dinosaur bones may be lying beneath your feet waiting to be uncovered.

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Even the steel stairs they put in place for climbing up the hills was no match for the slippery clay.
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We even got to see a Hadrosaur skeleton, which lay exactly where it was found in 1959 by Roy Fowler, the Park’s first ranger.
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I also found it pretty amazing that the park had tons of these prickly pear cacti growing all over the park.
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Wildlife would be the theme of our Alberta trip. With our first sightings being these deer, which we saw a few times throughout the evening.
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I even had a run in with a Velociraptor.
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With our day winding down, we decided to set up camp. We had an excellent campsite near the trails and the Red Deer river.IMG_8956 IMG_8955
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For dinner we ate at the park restaurant. I had a lousy $7.00 cheeseburger. But it was our own fault. We left Calgary well before MEC could open, so we weren’t able to pick up any fuel for our stove. We had to pass through Calgary again the following day to drive to Jasper, so we would stop then.
After dinner, we took a stroll down to the Red Deer River. We found an unattended fire so we sat next to it and enjoyed the sunset on our first day in Alberta.

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Day Two
We slept great. Which one would expect after a near full day of hiking. I was up at dawn to use the washroom, and its worth noting this park had the cleanest pit toilets I have ever seen. I decided to take a walk on my own. I climbed up one of the trails, and watched the sunrise over the badlands and the Red Deer River.
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Today we would begin our long drive to Jasper Nation Park. We were on the road early enough to make it to Calgary for 11:00am for MEC to open. We picked up a can of fuel for our stove, and a patch for the tent. When we set it up the night before, I noticed a nice two finger sized hole in the corner of the tent.

We were only a few blocks away, so we decided to take a walk down to the Bow River. On the way down, we came into a bit of excitement. We noticed an ambulance parked out front of a subway, and I saw a paramedic walk in. A moment later, a very sketchy looking couple came out and approached the ambulance. I watched the woman open the door, and take a jacket.  My husband and I looked at each other, and agreed that it looked like the woman was stealing from the ambulance. Then the couple began to walk away. I ran across the street and into the subway and couldn’t find the medics. I told someone what I thought I saw, and proceeded to call 911. As I was doing this, the other person I had told, knocked on the ambulance door, and one of the medics was inside. It had all been this huge misunderstanding. Nobody stole anything, and I ended up having to explain myself to the 911 dispatch. Twice. I was so out of breath and hyped up that they called back to make sure that I was okay.

So with that excitement now behind us, we continued our walk down to the bow river.
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We had an uneventful walk back to the car, and we began our drive to Jasper.

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My excitement began to mount as we started getting out first glimpse of the mountains.

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The closer we got, the more emotional I started to get. I couldn’t believe I was finally laying my eyes on the Rockies!

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We found our first pull over spot and I was blown away. I became so overwhelmed by the beauty of it all that I began to cry. My husband teased me a little, but it was a big moment for me. It was so much more spectacular than I ever imagined. The pictures I had seen my whole life never did it any justice, and here I was, finally laying my eyes on the mountains. I could check an item off my bucket list.
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I think the whole drive to Jasper, I was perched forward, elbows on my knees, camera in hand, staring out the windshield at the views. If the mountains were too tall to view through the window, I would stare up at them through our sun roof.

Every chance we had to pull over, we stopped. Especially heading towards Banff on HWY 1, we wouldn’t be able to stop on our return trip.
Banff 142 Banff 143 Banff 145My husband is a civil engineer, and the company he works for built some of the wildlife bridges along this stretch of the highway. He would point out which bridges they constructed, and could tell me which retaining walls were built by them as well.

Banff 149Here we were actually able to get down to the water, and dip our hands into the icy cold Bow River. This became a ritual. If we could get to the water, be it a lake or river, we would dip our hands into the glacial water.

Banff 154 Banff 153We continued our drive, and decided to make a stop at the famous Lake Louise. Here we would do our first trail hike. A 1.5 kilometer hike, VERY up hill. I didn’t pace myself, and just about bust a lung getting to the top.

Banff 160But we blast past all the weirdos taking pictures of themselves in gangster poses to have a tourist free view at the top. And what a view it was!!!! Once again, you always see pictures of a place, but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes. I couldn’t get over the color of the water!

IMG_9008On the much easier hike down (thank you gravity!) we came across some feathered friends. A pair of woodpeckers up in a tree, looking for a meal.

Banff 161We briefly joined the throngs of tourists at the boat dock, before making our way back to the car to continue our drive north to Jasper. 

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Banff 169 Banff 170 Banff 175We made another stop at a picturesque lake (though what isn’t picturesque in the rockies!). This time, the water was beckoning me to take a dip. So I took off my socks and shoes, rolled up my pants, and waded in. DAMN IT WAS COLD!! I couldn’t stand to be in it for more than a few minutes.

Banff 186 Banff 181 Banff 180Back in the car again. It wasn’t long after we left that we spotted a Black Bear on the side of the road! Our first Bear sighting! Going into this trip I had hoped to see:
Big Horned Sheep, Mountain Goats, Bears – specifically a Grizzly (though I didn’t expect to be able to see one), Elk and Caribou. I could check Bear off the list!
The next stop was along the Icefields Parkway. We stopped to take a few photos of the Glaciers, but we had plans to stop here on our return trip.

IMG_9023I found the closer we got to the boundaries of Jasper National Park, the mountains became bigger, and everything felt a little wilder.

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We stopped at a lookout with an amazing view. It was here I met a couple from Australia who were in Canada  visiting their daughter who lived in Victoria B.C. They were here for two months, and were now taking time to tour around the Rockies. We spent several minutes talking to each other, and enjoying the view before parting ways.

I really enjoyed my conversation with them, so I decided that I would make an effort to talk to people. I really loved finding out where people were from.

IMG_9018The next stop along the way was a waterfall. The name eludes me at the moment. But it was beautiful. I was ever so tempted to drink its water, but with a crowd developing I decided against it.

Banff 210 Banff 215  IMG_9026Dusk was fast approaching, so we decided no more stops. We still had to find our campground and get ourselves set up.

Banff 231 Banff 233 Banff 235 Banff 229We had some difficulty finding our campground. When you are heading North, there is no sign for the Wabasso Campground. There is one however when you’re traveling South.No more stops turned into, “well… Athabasca Falls is right by our campground, lets check it out real quick.”

Banff 239 Banff 240We looked around for maybe 15 minutes, and decided, “Okay now we really ought to get going. We’ll come back tomorrow.”

We made it to our campsite before dark. This would be our home for the next four nights.
IMG_9028When we checked in, we were told by park staff that bears are in the area. They said a large black bear had wandered through the main campground earlier in the day. We were told to make sure to keep campsites clean, keep all food in our vehicles and so on. Anyone with any sort of good sense would know these things. Except our neighbours. We watched them, on a nightly basis, washing their dishes on their campsite. We cooked our dinner, relaxed by the fire before retiring to bed for the night. Wondering if we would be visited by bears in the night.

Day 3 – Jasper

The mornings we woke in Jasper, were the most beautiful. Our campsite was up off the banks of the Athabasca River, lined with pines, and mountain views.
IMG_9031The overnight forecast was not nearly as cold as we expected. For weeks the forecast was calling for lows of -2C. However it was a brisk morning. The kind that left your breath in the air. I put on all the layers I brought with me, including my hat and mitts to eat my breakfast.

We would start our day by going back to see Athabasca Falls. When we got there, we’d wished that we had stayed longer the day before…when there were 75% less tourists. This was the largest group we had been around yet. Now, we can’t always expect to have these places to ourselves but I hate crowds… and certain kinds of tourists. Which is unfair to say, because I am one, and I met some very nice people but there are always the certain kind. That hoard around and are generally inconsiderate for people and the environment.

Athabasca was certainly busy. Having to worm your way through people just for a decent picture. But was it a sight. All that water plunging into the gorge below.
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IMG_9035 IMG_9038 IMG_9039 IMG_9040 From here, we drove 30 minutes north  to the town of Jasper. Looking back, I prefer how understated Jasper is compared to Banff. We wandered around the kitschy shops, and popped into the visitor center. We grabbed brochures for the Spirit Island Tours, Miette Hot Springs, and the gondolas.

We took a drive over to Annette Lake and Edith Lake. It was close to 1:00 so we sat at a picnic table, and cooked up a soup lunch. We took a short walk along Annette Lake, before moving along over to Maligne Canyon.

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Annette Lake

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IMG_9045IMG_9046Maligne Canyon was the most impressive one I’ve seen. With its deep gorges, waterfalls, crystal clear pools, and unique rock formations.

IMG_9047 IMG_9050 IMG_9051 IMG_9053 IMG_9055 Unfortunately we rushed going through the canyon. Part of it was to try and get ahead of this family of 12. More than half were aged from 7-12 and were just running around, getting into the way of people, pushing past people. But really, we had a reservation an hour drive outside of Jasper in Hinton.

On the way there, were caught in traffic. Twice. There was road paving occurring, and it was down to a single, controlled lane. Further up, the bridge was under construction. Just on the other side of the bridge, we saw Big Horned Sheep. Check.

Banff 256Banff 261About five minutes up the road from here, we noticed some people pulled over to the side of road, taking pictures. This would be a common occurrence. We stopped to see what the fuss was about, and saw that there were 2 Elk on the side of the road. A third walked across the road. unconcerned of our presence and interest in them. I grabbed my camera, and crossed the road. It was my first time seeing Elk. It was one of the greatest animal experience I would have on the trip.

Banff 262 Banff 263Banff 276 Banff 274 Banff 271 Banff 268I had booked us a two hour horseback trail ride from 6:30 to 8:30. In the planning stages of the trip, I knew we had to go horseback riding. I thought that my Alberta trip would not be complete without it. It was also proving to be a costly affair. I was ready to give up on it. Until I was browsing Trip Advisor and came across the Old Entrance Trail Rides. A two hour trail ride for $65 a person. It proved to be extremely good value! It was one of the highlights of the trip.

IMG_9076 IMG_9085 IMG_9087 IMG_9093 IMG_9097 IMG_9112 IMG_9115 IMG_9119 IMG_9125 Banff 063Our horseback ride was a bit nail biting at times. Riding ridge trails just big enough for the horse. The white horse in the last picture spooked mine, sending him rearing back toward the edge you see behind me. Narrowly escaping death. But getting to ride horses on a mountain at dusk was everything I had hoped it would be.

We drove the hour back into Jasper, looking for a bite to eat. We had almost gone with Subway when we saw a place called North Face Pizza. They had cheap food so I ordered a delicious bacon cheeseburger, and Nick had the most amazing pizza! When we sat in the car afterwards, we watched an Elk walk right across the street, and join many others in front of the visitors center. Welcome to Jasper.

Day 4

Today would be our last day in Jasper. We woke to one of the most beautiful sunrises so far.
IMG_9129We decided to start the day off with a trip to the Miette Hot Springs, and eventually make our way to Maligne Lake, to take the Spirit Island boat tour.

We made a quick stop long the way to Punchbowl Falls. Which was truthfully, not all that impressive.
IMG_9132 IMG_9130 IMG_9131Along the way we came across a large herd of Big Horned Sheep. Which was pretty neat to see. These ones had some very impressive horns compared to the ones we had seen a day or so prior.
Banff 302 Banff 304It was quite a long drive to the Miette Hot Springs. But it really helped to enhance the experience.
Banff 289 Banff 296It also helps that we were there rather early, and didn’t encounter many people in the pool. We would later visit two other hot springs, but this was by far the most impressive. It had two hot pools. One hot, one hotter. Along with two cold pools. One pool was so cold, it felt like pure glacial melt! It was quite exhilarating (or scalding!)  bathing in the hot pool, getting into the coldest pool, and then plunging into the hottest pool.  If you have the choice of going to any of the hot springs, I would highly recommend Miette!
IMG_9135After our dip, we took a partial hike on one of the nearby trails. We found a couple of spots where the sulfur springs were emerging from the mountain. There were a group of students there from I believe it was the University of Vancouver. They found one of these sources, and at the time I took this photo, his thermometer read 42 degrees Celsius, but it reached a peak of approximately 57 degrees!

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We also came across the ruins of one of the old baths. Curiosity got the best of me so I had a snoop around.

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After leaving here, we made a stop at a look out point. Where I had my mind blown! 360 million year old rock!

IMG_9172IMG_9180IMG_9181Another stop we made was along the Athabasca River, to view the former site of Jasper House. I’ve always had a bit of fascination with the fur traders, and routes they would have taken, and it was pretty great to almost follow in their footsteps.

Banff 308Banff 309Banff 310 Banff 311Back long the highway, where the bridge was under construction, we took a hike up the ridge to try and locate a sulfur spring. We came across what was left of maybe a trappers cabin.

Banff 320Banff 322Banff 326Banff 318 Banff 317 Banff 316The damned spring ended up being at the far end of the lot where we parked. It was so poorly marked. By this time, we realized we were running very late, and had to rush to make it to Maligne Lake for 4:00pm, which was when they ran the last tour.

IMG_9192We booked it. Driving faster than we probably should have been for winding mountain roads we weren’t familiar with. We arrived ten minutes before the last tour. Nick dropped me off as close as he could, and I ran inside and said to the clerk, “Please! Tell me you have two spots left on the last tour?!” She informed that they were booked, but a group had not yet checked in. If the boat radioed back that there was space, they would get us on. So we waited. The call came. The boat was full. I was so upset! I fought back tears as we walked out. It was my own damn fault for not watching the time. Or pre booking tickets.

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IMG_9195We didn’t stick around. I was so disappointed that I didn’t even want to stay there. So we turned around and headed back to Jasper.

On our way back to Jasper, we made a stop and the breathtakingly gorgeous Medicine Lake. Once of the most spectacular places I ever sat down to eat. Prior to arriving here, we saw a female Caribou on the side of the road. I didn’t take any pictures because at the time I thought it was just a deer. Nick kept insisting it was a Caribou. I should have listened.

IMG_9197 IMG_9198 IMG_9199 IMG_9204on our first day in Jasper, we saw a gorgeous painting of Spirit Island by a local artist. We wanted to purchase it, but felt that the $60.00 price tag was a tad steep. We decided now to go back and buy the painting. By not spending $64.00 each on the boat tour, I felt now we could justify buying the artwork. We picked up our painting, and made another trip to North Face Pizza.

Tonight, we would spend our last night in Jasper. Tomorrow, we would pack up and make our way to Banff for the second half of our journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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