Hiking and wildlife watching along the Icefields Parkway | Jasper National Park

After hiking almost everyday for the past two weeks we were shattered and had clocked up roughly 130km and climbed up and down 7000m of altitude, plus waking up at 6am everyday took its toll. It was a shame as it meant we didn’t have the energy for any big hikes in Jasper but luckily we did hike most of the parks standout trails a few years back so this time we could take it easy on some short walks. The first of which was up to Parker Ridge which was a simple but rewarding route offering views of a glacier almost pouring down a valley like lava. The weather was still a bit iffy but it caused some low-lying clouds to drift through the valley and occasionally they’d disperse, revealing a little turquoise lake below the glacier. I spotted a different route on my map for the return journey which saved us seeing the same things twice. But the trail didn’t seem to exist anymore because after following some cairns along a ridge we arrived at an area of dense forest. It looked completely impenetrable but we’d hiked quite far down so we were committed to the route. We walked along the forest-line until it opened up enough to get through and then we just shouted for bears to warn them of our presence while navigating our way through the dense shrub. We could hear cars on the main road, it was so close but it took forever to reach.

Once we arrived back at Ruby we reserved a campsite for the night and then headed off on a hike to Wilcox Pass – so much for taking it easy in Jasper! There were some nice views of the Icefield along the way but with our binoculars we could see the mass tourism taking place with buses chauffeuring guests up to the glacier and then hoards of people queuing up on the ice. A big rain cloud was following us so we upped our pace a bit to try and reach the pass but just before we arrived it poured down. We were standing at the pass in a thick cloud with driving rain so we didn’t even hang around and rushed back to the car park. Once again it cleared up to complete blue skies on our way down, I don’t know how we keep timing our hikes so badly.

The following morning we had our first lie-in which we really needed, along with some Nutella pancakes. It was a scenic drive north but it took awhile before we saw our first bit of wildlife – a cinnamon coloured black bear grazing along the roadside. We pulled up and watched the cute bear nibble on berries. Sadly a group of people got out their vehicles and stood by our van taking photos. A ranger kept driving by to tell people to remain in their cars but as soon as they drove away people disregarded the rules. There was an Asian guy standing within a few meters of the bear and he had us and a guy in a caravan across the road telling him to get back in his car, but he just stood their filming on his iPhone. It was very frustrating. Then a family with two tiny kids stood the same distance from the bear and I told them “I wouldn’t stand that close to a bear, let alone with my kids – you’ll never outrun it…” but they just smiled and nodded, gently pulling their kids slightly towards them until a ranger came by and demanded they get in their vehicle.

Further up the road was a much bigger black bear who had an angry look on his face – not the sort I’d like to bump into on a hike! He’d clearly rolled around in a meadow as his fur was covered in big patches of pollen, maybe that’s why he look annoyed.

We decided while there was some sunshine we’d hike up to the Edith Cavell Meadows. It was a hike we’d done before but a bloody cracker so we were happy to visit again. There was a big chunky slab of glacier on the side of the mountain which gradually drops chunks of ice into the spearmint coloured lake below. It’s a very pretty sight with icebergs drifting through the water but also a very dangerous spot where a huge slab once dropped down and created a tidal wave that killed people. Unfortunately it didn’t stop some tourists walking to the shores of the lake and even climbing beneath the glacier. We headed uphill to the overlook which was nice but sadly none of the wildflowers were out. When we came in the end of July in 2016 it was alive with flowers but now I guess we were a few weeks too early. The trail had actually only opened two days before we were hiking it due to snow on the paths so I guess it’s in a very cold area of the park.

As we drove to the Snaring campground for the night we passed a sow and two cubs walking parallel to the road. They were on the move, walking fast through the woods so photography was practically impossible and we just enjoyed the few glimpses of them with our eyes. But one guy walked off the road, down the grass verge and a few meters INTO the woods to get a closer photo. People like that need to be imprisoned…in a really squaller third world prison while watching a crackly tv with footage of wildlife attacking humans because humans didn’t give them space and then they can watch the ranger come by and shoot the helpless sow and probably the two cubs too seeing as their now orphaned.

The overflow campground used to be a huge field where you could park wherever you found a space but now they’ve developed it into a proper campground. It took about ten tedious minutes to queue up and register before being given an allocated position with an official barcoded tag. The camp-spots were really wonky and there weren’t any trees around so we just had a view of all the other campers. On the plus side the lack of forest meant we saw the most incredible sunset above the mountain peaks. It’s funny because when we camped there three years ago we had one of our best sunsets while a double rainbow also pierced through the sky.

The following day we drove down to Maligne Lake. The forested slopes leading up the mountains looked autumnal which was strange in early July. But it was actually due to pine beetles who have caused havoc in Jasper National Park. Within a year of the beetles attacking a tree the pines turn red and a few years later they totally die. Now complete mountainsides have turned red and it’s quite shocking how bad the problem is, but a ranger we spoke to said 98% of the beetles were killed off during a cold snap.

We drove past a black bear and a moose and then realised our bodies had finally given up. We were too tired to hike a mountain so we just did a flat 5km trail to a lake and spent the rest of the day looking for wildlife. We took a steep road up to a closed ski resort but we didn’t see any wildlife and just as we were approaching the main road Craig spotted a bear family! They were black bears again (we had terrible luck seeing grizzlies) with a big mama and two tiny cubs. They were playing in a gravel pit used as a run-off strip and one cub entered a broken yellow container. The other one seemed to be playing with the plastic entrance, closing it to trap it’s sibling in and then opening it wide so it could jump out. As usual the mum was busy searching for food while she let her kids have fun and then she headed up a hill, not looking back for the cubs but knowing they would eventually follow her. We drove to the next road, hoping the bears would come that way and on our second drive-by I spotted them. They were spread out on a hillside looking for berries. One cub sat next to a berry bush picking them off with its little paws and then leaning right back while pulling a branch down to its mouth like a Greek goddess being fed grapes.

Jasper seemed to be full of black bears and we saw even more that afternoon. One had a savoury tooth and spent awhile turning over every rock he passed, searching for bugs. It was amazing to see how effortlessly he lifted up the heavy rocks.

The following day we left the park. We were wiped out and in desperate need of some affordable food as we refused to pay the extortionate prices for fresh produce in the parks. So we set off on a horribly busy highway with aggressive truck drivers intimidating us while flashing their lights for us to move over when it was impossible to do so. We were reminded of our first time in the Rockies, back in 2010 when mad truck drivers struggled to overtake us and instead did it in an illegal area where they almost caused us to drive in a ditch.

We found a disused rest area to sleep in and luckily we had it to ourselves all night – well, actually we had one visitor, a bear. We kind of didn’t expect to see any wildlife once we exited the park, but of course wildlife doesn’t know the boundaries. It was a big black bear and he walked along the carpark until he came across a pile of beige stuff that he began to eat. He was right across from us, maybe 15 meters away and we had just finished dinner with our door open ajar which was lucky as it gave us a sneaky corridor to look at him from. The bear was really chewing down on the stuff, we didn’t know what it was but it caused his mouth to foam up. Birds occasionally came and pestered him and we were wondering if a carcass was buried under the beige stuff. Bears don’t have very good eyesight, mainly relying on their smell, so it was funny when the bear would look right towards us as we were pretty confident he had no idea he was being watched.

After a whole hour of watching him he waddled a couple meters away from his food source, into the woods and laid down to sleep. Then we realised he was just a couple of meters from the pit-loo. Imagine if we or someone else pulled up and headed straight for the toilet! The following morning we drove by the area where the bear was eating – too scared to go on foot, and it seemed to be a pile of grain that someone had dumped. Such a shame as it’s not what bears are designed to eat and he’s getting a taste for food that humans eat which could encourage him into farms etc in the future.

It was an uneventful drive south, there were mountains and forest but after the Rockies it felt like a normal drive through south east England. We did end up at a very nice lake where BC hydro provided a free campground. It was so nice that we decided to stay three days! We enjoyed lazy mornings at the campground, eating on a picnic table in the warm sunshine and then walking to the lake in the afternoon where we basked in the sun. It was a great time to be there with 30° temperatures so we could plunge in the lake and return to camp every evening with a hot solar shower waiting for us. We befriended an old couple who were very chatty and always stopped at our campsite or the beach for a chat. The guy told us he liked the area as he could cycle 10 miles every day to town and back. We were very impressed as he was pretty ancient, and then his wife let us know it was an electric bike to which he defended himself “I hardly use the electric function” and I couldn’t help myself and cheekily said “just on the uphills” and his wife cracked up laughing, in fact we all did except for the husband who was still busy defending himself. He was 85 so I did back him up afterwards and compliment him for exercising, even if he was just sitting on a bike and rolling downhill.

The mountains grew taller as we reached Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. I’d heard about a nice hike to three lakes, but as we arrived we realised everyone else had also heard about the lakes. It was incredibly busy but we set off and within minutes we were at the first lake. There was a crowd around it so we just headed off on the uphill slog to the second one. We didn’t really know what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised as the water was the most incredible blue colour. The final lake was equally as beautiful with snow capped mountains and even glaciers surrounding it. It was just as impressive as the lakes in the national parks but as it was a provincial park it was free…and crazy busy. People were queuing to get the same photo along a tree trunk in the lake and then one person fed a bird which made everyone else want to do the same, just a few meters away from a ‘don’t feed wildlife’ sign. We had hoped to do a 1000m climb the following day but our bodies felt broken after Joffre Lakes which wasn’t even a tough hike, so we obviously needed more recovery time after pushing ourselves in the Rockies, poor us!

We continued on our way south, strangely excited to leave the mountains and see the ocean for the first time on the trip. We were heading to Vancouver Island where we’ll be spending the next month.

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