When the conditions are right, the clouds will put on a show around the mountain ranges alongside the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park.
It can be amazing with clouds dancing around the mountains of the Canadian Rockies.
And if the sun is in the right position, it can seem like the clouds are illuminated.
Converting photos to black and white helps show the drama.
Click to view larger.
I ‘m convinced that driving the Icefield Parkway from Banff National Park to Jasper National Park is the most enjoyable time you could ever have driving.
Here’s a few pics from just north of Herbert Lake near the southern end of the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park.
If staying in Banff townsite, as many people do, be aware that compared to the Icefield Parkway, a boring highway (Trans-Canada Highway) connects Banff townsite to the Icefield Parkway. It is still a great time though!
Jasper townsite, where most of the Jasper National Park hotels are, is minutes from the Icefield Parkway.
Stay tuned for more on Icefields Parkway. It gets even better!
When a vacation starts getting past 8 days, I think it starts to make sense to pack only enough clothing for half the trip and plan to spend a few hours at a laundromat.
A few hours in the laundromat is really boring, I admit! But it beats lugging 2 suitcases through the airport.
And it is good to have downtime on a fast-paced sightseeing and hiking vacation. It is a chance to catch up on reading and planning your next day.
In Jasper and Banff townsites, doing laundry is not a problem as there are multiple places to get rid of the dirty laundry stench cloud wafting from your suitcase.
Some of the smaller hubs, like Lake Louise, lack public laundromats. If that happens, another option is your hotel. Some hotels will have a coin-op laundry area.
Another tip is to skip the dryer and hang wrenched wet clothing from hotel room bathroom fixtures and anywhere you can find in the hotel room. This I do often.
If you want to get all Rick Steves, skip the laundromat altogether and wash laundry in the bathroom sink. I’ve tried this a few times. Let’s just say that it works but takes some getting used to. I trust the washing to do a better job.
Sometimes the wildlife is least where you expect it!
I had just spent 3 hours driving from one side of Kootenay National Park to the other leisurely looking for wildlife to only spot some deer and a glimpse of a coyote.
Then, then, I pulled into the town of Radium Hot Springs just west of Kootenay and see a group of bighorn sheep is walking through a gas station and on the sidewalk. Amazing!
I guess I should have followed them and maybe offered to buy a round of beer. They look like they’re bar-hopping!
That’s the way it goes when trying to spot the wildlife.
One thing is for certain: Always have a camera ready. Wildlife can be anywhere.
Here’s report off of the Parks Canada website this week (from the weekly bear report):
“Bubbling Springs [picnic area] has had several incidents of a black bear approaching people, receiving food rewards and displaying aggressive behaviour. The area has been under a closure for this past week. One black bear has been destroyed but the closure will remain in effect for the next week while patrols will indicate if there are other problem bears in the area. The animal destroyed was extremely human-food conditioned and was posing a safety risk to people.”
This is what happens when people feed bears. Don’t feed the bears.
What do you do if you see a black bear or a grizzly bear far away? Easy. Give them their space.
But what if you turn the corner and there’s a black bear or a grizzly bear coming in your direction? You should be prepared just in case.
There are different approaches to each type of bear situation and knowing the difference between a defensive attack versus a predatory attack is critical.
Parks Canada provides several resources that will keep you bear-aware and ready to enjoy the Canadian Rockies:
Black bear in Banff National Park
The other thing to think about it bear spray. Parks Canada suggests it. I don’t think it is necessary if you are only going on short hikes on the most popular tourist-heavy short-and-easy trails, like the Johnston Canyon trail in Banff National Park or Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. The other thing about bear spray is that it is pretty much the same as pepper spray and you can’t take it on airplanes, even in checked-in bags, so be aware. It is also expensive at around $40 or $50 in local sporting good stores (in towns of Banff and Jasper within the parks).
Me, I’m planning several longer day hikes this summer in the Canadian Rockies. I have a bear bell instead. I hate listening to it but may have it ready for remote trails. I’ll also visit parks information centers to find out about current trail conditions as there is good info on wildlife activity levels at the info centers.
Beyond bears, it is equally important to be aware of the elk. Elk seem harmless but can be aggressive and are a bigger source of conflict to the uninformed tourist who doesn’t give the elk their space.
Ok, I jest.
But anytime you are driving along and all of the sudden come to a stop for a freight train, you’ve experienced it:
The Canadian Rockies Mandatory Rest Stop.
Yes, they happen.
Yes, you could be sitting for 10 minutes or more.
Just relax, get out and stretch and enjoy the break. Unfortunately for me, this picture was just before Canmore (coming from Calgary) on the way to Banff. Vacation hadn’t quite started yet!
And remember kids, “Idling Pollutes. Please don’t idle your engine. Turn it off!” Also, don’t put large cigarettes into your tail pipe as the picture shows. It is really not good for your car.
Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is about 10km from Banff townsite and is adjacent to the larger Lake Minnewanka.
Two Jack Lake is on the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive loop and is a pleasant place to bring a picnic lunch.
There are picnic tables available along the shore. Off in the distance is Mount Rundle.
After lunch, take a walk along the shore to stretch your legs before heading to the next destination.
Camping is available here too at the Two Jake Lakeside Campground and Two Jack Main Campground.
It is well known that the best time to go to top attractions is in the early morning before the zombie tourist hordes arrive and the lines get long and smelly.
I think Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is an exception to this rule.
A visit to Johnston Canyon Trail is worth it, even in the peak afternoon hours, despite its popularity.
As a traveler, I know I can’t see every popular destination in the morning. I have to pick and choose.
I needed to dedicate my morning time slot to Banff’s Sulphur Mountain Gondola. Johnston Canyon Trail would have to be in the afternoon.
It was a great choice to do the Banff gondola in the morning and the just-as-popular Johnston Canyon in the afternoon. The lines at Banff Gondola were almost non-existent in the early morning and we had a gondola to ourselves.
Johnston Canyon Trail in Banff National Park has a lot to like. It is close by (18km from Banff townsite), easy to hike (well worn walkway, takes an hour to get to 2nd waterfall) and very scenic (waterfall and river views).
Johnston Canyon also has enough room to handle the volume of visitors – the exception being the parking. Unlike other attractions, there are no admission lines. Just get out of your car and start walking. Everyone is spread out. It is an enjoyable experience absent of the “sardines in a can” feeling.
As you can see from the picture below, when I got there mid-afternoon, the parking lot was full and lots of cars had to park on the street. It was still worth going to in the afternoon. Even though we parked in the road, it was only a short walk to the path. The trail wasn’t as crowded as the amount of cars park on the road would seem to indicate.
Parking lot full at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
So if you see cars in the road at Johnston Canyon like pictured, do not despair. Hike and enjoy.
This tip is for you if you are planning to visit Jasper National Park or Banff National Park – or anywhere in the Rockies with a tramway or gondola ride to the top of a mountain.
My advice is to do the ride to the top of the mountain during the first day of your vacation that the weather is clear.
Firstly, if you wait until the last day of your trip to do the Jasper Tramway or Banff Gondola (Sulphur Mountain Gondola) or other mountain ride, it may be too foggy or raining hard or even snowing hard. You’ll get to the top and will either have an obstructed view or won’t be able to see anything at all.
During my last trip to Jasper, we took a chance on the Jasper Tramway on a foggy day with low-hanging clouds. It worked out ok, but it was too cloudy for hiking at the top and the view while riding the tramway car was obstructed, as you can image from the pictures below.
Secondly, seeing the views early in your trip gives you perspective. You’ll better appreciate the vastness of the Canadian Rockies.
Here’s one of the views from the trail on the top of Sulphur Mountain, a worthy excursion after reaching the summit on the Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola ride.
Thirdly, in the case of the Jasper Tramway or the Banff Gondola, once you are dropped off at the upper terminal, if the weather is good, you can explore the summit area for even more great views.
That being said, a little cloudiness is to be expected. As long as the clouds are above the mountains, the views are spectacular. If you are in doubt, you can always call the information desk at the popular Jasper and Banff attractions to find out the current weather conditions at the top of the mountains.