Jasper National Park
We drove for about 3.5 hours on the Icefields Parkway, stopping on the way and then reached our accommodation, the Alpine Village cabins in the evening. And the place felt heavenly. The cabins are located at the perfect place, about 2 kms from the town of Jasper, next to the Athabasca river. I was very proud of booking the place though initially I had been scared as you can book it only by calling the place - they are still not on the internet!
Once there, we went for a short walk in the woods along the river. It was quite scenic again, with yellow coloured trees on the mountains, a river flowing next to you and green trees all around you. It was all so quiet, all you could hear was the sound of the birds and the water. It almost felt like we were walking in the wild! We felt a bit scared of running into a bear and so cut short our walk and came back quickly to the cabins.
It got dark much later here in Jasper, at 8 pm, as compared to Banff where it was around 7 pm. We also felt that it was less commercial, and more quiet and wilder here in Jasper than Banff. There were also a lot more fall colors visible on the mountains, maybe because the altitude was much lower? The hills all around had parts of it which were completely yellow!
Jasper felt like a nice little town too, with about 20-30 eating options which was the opposite of what we had faced the last two days in Field! We walked around a bit in town, bought some groceries and then had a nice buffet meal at an Indian restaurant called Jasper Kebab and Curry House.
The fourth and fifth days were a lot more hectic than the rest of the trip as we did longish trails both the days. The next day, we drove till Maligne Lake which was about 50 kms or so from Jasper. The drive was quite picturesque, but I guess by this time we had got used to everything in the parks being super amazing:). Once at the lake, we started on the Bald Hills trek which was supposed to be one of the tougher ones in the area. It was a 13 km round trip trek of about 4-6 hours, with an elevation gain of about 500 m up to 2300 feet on the summit. We covered it in about 5 hours with all our rest, photo and snack stops!
The walk up was beautiful - all green forests around, spotted with remnant snow from the winter. The trek was quite strenuous but it was totally worth it. The view from the top, of the lake and the many mountain ranges all around was spectacular. Some of the hills had sharp peaks, some had rounded ones; some were brown, some reddish and some grayish! It was a sunny and bright day which made the pictures even more colourful:).
The last part of the trek up the summit was a bit steep. It went in a loop and the one we went up looked too tricky to come down on. But the route down turned out to be even tougher, with lot of slush, mud and snow creating the danger of slipping. But of course, we came down safely without falling:). We had also hoped to see some wildlife on the trek but all we saw was bear poop with lots of berries in it!
The whole trek seemed so tiring we thought we were done for the day. So we spent some time in the Maligne Lake lodge, again trying unsuccessfully to get a canoe for rental! We just ate some hot food at the usual Maligne Lake Lodge, and enjoyed the views outside while sipping on hot chocolate. I would suggest a trip to the lake for sure as its one of the prettier ones around with lots of activities happening too. There is canoeing, kayaking etc and they also run cruises within the lake (we did not do any of these though).
While driving back, we picked up two hitch-hikers for the drive to Jasper. They were in Canada for two months and managing a lot of it through hitch-hiking! While coming back, we made two stops on the way, one to spot a black bear and one at a lake.
There was a crowd at a spot next to the road, and when we stopped, we saw people clicking pictures of a bear, while it kept on eating, ignoring all the ruckus. We caught a couple of its poses too. It was very leisurely picking up food from the shrubs and walking around without a thought for the world. Of course, people around it were going mad clicking pictures, trying to go near it, posing with V signs and overall creating a lot of noise. Somehow I could not make myself go near the bear or disturb it. I think after my safaris in Africa, I have started respecting the privacy of animals and can no more act like the the clicking and irritating tourist. A lot of people there were doing exactly that though!
And our second stop was next to the Medicine Lake which was called so by the Native Americans as the lake always dries up in the summer due to underground streams which drain away all its water!! While we had driven up, the lake looked prettier, with stunning reflections of the mountains around, but by the time we came back the sun had gone away and so had the reflections. This area also had a lot more fall colors as compared to Banff, it was all yellow all along the road. The images in the car mirror with the yellow trees and the high peaks were all very impressive.
By this time, we had got a bit energised, and so decided to go towards the Valley of Five Lakes trail, which was said to be nice too. On the way, we spotted a male elk, who was sitting on the other side of the river and screeching (or whatever the sound they make is called!). In response to his screeching, the female elk also made a loud screeching sound and then we saw her crossing the river to get to the same side of the river as the male elk! The water must have been quite cold to walk across, but it was an engaging sight nonetheless.
Because of the elk, we reached the Five Lakes trail late. It was a 4.5 km trail taking about 1-2 hours. We started at around 6:30 pm and our plan was to start back at 7 pm. Of course that's not what we did:). The trail to the lakes goes up and down a couple of times, a total going up of about 140 m and down of about 120 m. We finally spotted the first of the lakes at 7:10 pm and then decided to take the loop around them.One of the five lakes
There were five small lakes in total, all of different hues of blue and green. They would have been great for a relaxing evening. We however got a bit stressed about how late it was, and it was getting dark. By the fourth lake though, we came across a group of students on a school trip sitting next to a lake, shouting, playing and generally making a lot of noise. That gave us some comfort and thereafter we walked the rest of the trail slowly, taking all in the sights and clicking pictures:). We were back by about 7:50 pm, it was still not too dark but I do think in hindsight its a risk that shouldn't be taken. The grizzlies in the area are not known for their friendliness :).
While coming back to Jasper, we spotted the elk again. This time he was crossing the river and had reached the road. He was still making screeching sounds to call his mate, they hadn't been united yet! After that, we went back to Jasper, had dinner at Famoso Pizzeria and crashed early because of the tough day!
The fifth and the last day of our trip, we went to the Miette Hotsprings area on Highway 16 and did the Sulphur skyline trek. The drive was for about 60 kms and we spotted a young white wolf on the way! It was again one of the tougher treks, with a length of 9.6 km, elevation gain of 700 m and taking about 4-5 hours to finish (we finished it in 4.5 hours:) ). This trek was tougher than the Bald Hills one too, as it was a constant steep incline with no let down in going up. The views on the way were also not that much to write home about. We passed the Shuey pass at the 2.2 km mark and then continued the walk up to the top. Once on the top, you can see a quartzite stone which is a remnant from the glacial ages.
Thereafter, there was a swift climb up to the summit again. It was a bare summit with snow all around. It was tricky going up again because of the slush all around, but totally worth it. The view from the top is something you don't see anywhere else on the trek. Its a view of the mountains on the other side, and the Fiddle river valley from far off. We spent some time on the top, on the rock ledges, though it was tough to stay there given the strong winds.
Apparently this peak also has unexpected thunderstorms on the top, so its good to be prepared always. There were a couple of very quick golden haired squirrels on the top who are quite aggressive in looking for food in your stuff. The description of the trail mentioned that you need to be careful of them, so looks like they are quite well-known already:). I wish I could have stayed longer on the peak though, just gazing faraway into the horizon but the strong winds on the top made sure I could not:(.
Coming back took us quite long too and we were competing with a very old couple who were walking much faster than us:(, taking all the steep short cuts down. Thankfully we were able to overtake them but I can say we were quite equal in our abilities.
And then at the bottom of the trail, were the Miette Sulphur springs. Isn't it the perfect location? We went in for a short time to relax in the hot water, it was relatively cheap at 6 CAD per visit. We again saw some wild goats in the parking area; it looked like they were quite comfortable with being near humans. Apparently, this area was also the location of the erstwhile bustling Pocahontas coal mining town which later declined when the deposits ran out. Anyways, we had a quick lunch at the Fiddle Cafe and then were ready to go off on a long drive to Edmonton!
The drive to Edmonton was about 4 hours or so from there, on highway 16 coming from Jasper. We drove about 350 kms on a straight road, most of which was outside the park in the relatively plain areas. The road was mostly flat and we could see lights of Edmonton from 50 kms away! There were lot of falls colors here - full yellow trees all around. It felt more boring though as compared to the Parks. We did however spot a moose on the road who was acting funny. He was trying to get onto the road next to our car and then ran off into the woods!
Edmonton and then drive to Calgary
We stayed in Edmonton for about 3 days. It was a family visit, so not as much of touristy stuff to do. The city felt like any other North American city - with all the amenities, glass buildings and the perpendicular streets and avenues. The one thing I loved about Edmonton though was again its fall colors. The River Valley park looked absolutely spectacular with its bright yellows and shades of orange on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River.
The drive from Edmonton to Calgary airport to fly back was again about 300 kms on a straight road! The land was mostly flat, the colors brilliant (the dark clouds, the yellow sun and the yellow and green trees). We also saw a lot of agriculture land on this route, I guess it lasts only for a couple of months in a year.
And then it was time to say goodbye to Canada! It had been quite an amazing trip, discovering a new side of the first country I had ever been to outside India. And being able to experience what I had missed out 14 years ago!