From the time I was a kid, I loved to watch nature and wildlife documentaries. I would sit there and think about what it would be like to live in the various areas I was viewing. From time to time, there were certain landscapes that captured my mind more than others. The one place that always grabbed my imagination was the Rockies.
The Rocky Mountains always seemed dreamlike to me. It amazed me that such beautiful and mammoth objects existed in the same country I lived in. All I knew growing up (for the most part) was the cement surroundings of Greater Toronto. The Rockies seemed so far away to me – which I suppose from Southern Ontario they are. One day, I had to see them up close. It had to happen.
It took exactly 30 years, 1 month, 3 weeks & 6 days for it to happen. That’s the span of time it took for me finally see the Rocky Mountains in person. It was one of those special moments I’ll never forget. It was a wonderful sentiment for Kate as well as she had never set her eyes on the impressive mountains either. We both caught our first glimpses of the Rockies as we pulled into Jasper National Park. We just stared in amazement at what was presented in front of us. All I could think was that what we were seeing was far superior to what I used to see in all those documentaries.
Getting to Jasper required a decision. Did we want to take the easy & less picturesque drive? Or did we want to take the trip that would have us wanting to stop every five minutes to absorb the scenery? The easy & less picturesque route would have us travelling around the mountains, thus making it an easier the truck. The other option was to go to Banff and through the entirety of the Icefields Parkway to our campground just outside of Jasper.
In hindsight, we sort of wished that we had taken the route through Banff. The reason we chose not to go that direction was because we were going to drive down from Jasper to Banff for a couple of days before heading to BC. That didn’t end up happening thanks to a change in the forecast. Still, the route we decided to take to Jasper was beautiful.
As we made our way north, the setting around us changed from the golden hue of farmer’s fields to the dark greens of the thick Northern forest. The change in the scenery also brought with it wildlife that we had yet to see during our cross-country trek. Up to this point, we had seen plenty of deer, a couple of bears, and even a wolf but somewhat surprisingly, we had yet to see a moose.
Not long after our drive had begun, we were driving outside of Cochrane in an area where farmer’s fields began to meet the forest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large, dark animal moving quickly. At first, I figured it was likely a Black Angus cow but there were no other cows around. That caused me to do a double take. Sure enough, rushing through the field like Kate dashing to a candy store was a giant female moose. Both Kate and I smiled and laughed as we watched this moose tear across the field. Every time we’ve seen moose in the wild, they’re pretty calm. We typically would see moose foraging for food while barely making a move, so this was special.
Just outside of Sundre, we saw our second wolf of the trip which was walking near the road. A little more panicked was a deer that crossed the road in front of us before Rocky Mountain House. This deer was pretty impressive. As it sprinted across the road, we noticed it was heading towards a nearby fence. Rather than slow down and approach the fence with caution, this deer rushed towards the fence with no fear. It then flew through the air like one of Santa’s reindeer, flying over the fence before continuing on. We were shocked at how easily the deer cleared the fence.
While visiting Jasper National Park, we chose to stay at Jasper Gates RV Park in Hinton. As we arrived, a light dusting of snow began to fall. It was October 6th. For me, that made it the earliest snowfall I’ve ever seen. The previous record was October 12, 2007, when we were hit with a blizzard in North Bay after an Alice Cooper concert. One of the main reasons we chose to spend the winter in Tofino was because there would be next to no snow and here we were in Jasper experiencing snow. That being said, we did expect some light flurries during our trip to Jasper. However, the forecast originally indicated that there wasn’t going to be any accumulation of snow, so we figured we’d be ok.
Once we were set up at Jasper Gates, we went into town for a delicious pizza at L&W. Hinton is a nice little town of 10,000 people and is the closest town to Jasper National Park. It’s a perfect final stop before entering the park to grab camping supplies or groceries.
Miette Hot Springs
The morning after arriving in Hinton, we woke to much more snow than we had expected. Light flurries were still falling as we ate breakfast with the looming decision of what to do for the day. As the weather was less than perfect, I had a feeling that the Rockies were not going to be visible throughout the day. With this in mind, I opted to plan on avoiding the picturesque spots of Jasper with hopes that the weather would be clearer the next day. But what were we supposed to do on this day?
I sifted through a couple pieces of tourist guides and brochures and came up with a fun experience on a day that included snow – Miette Hot Springs. To me, it seemed like an obvious choice to sit in a steaming hot pool of water, while the snow falls around us and the Rocky Mountains provide a breathtaking background. The idea was pitched to Kate, who agreed and off we went toward the Miette Hot Springs.
Although the visibility wasn’t great, driving into Jasper and seeing the massive Rocky Mountains for the first time was rewarding. We had waited our entire lives to see these mountains. Here they were towering in front of us with a light dusting of snow covering them. We drove slowly for the next twenty minutes, while our heads swiveling from side-to-side trying to capture as much of the view as possible. After driving up and down a long and winding road, we arrived at the Miette Hot Springs.
There a few other natural hot springs in the Rockies, but Miette is the warmest. The water flows at 53.9 degrees. That’s Celsius! It’s actually too hot, so Parks Canada cools the water off a touch to around 40 degrees. The cost to enter the hot spring is affordable at $6 per person plus $1 for a locker in the change room. If you travelled to Jasper without your bathing suit, you can also rent a suit that is reminiscent of bathing suits from many years ago. Thankfully, because we travel with our home, we were prepared.
With our bathing suits on, it was time to be brave. We had to take a quick cold shower, before heading out into the elements. The pool isn’t too far from the change room but after taking a cold shower, the freezing air bites with force once it hits your skin. Within 10 seconds of being outside, we were relaxed in the hot spring.
There are two large pools and a few smaller ones that vary in temperature. Because of the time of year, the pools were quiet. There were maybe 20 other people among the various pools which gave us lots of room to move around. In the summer, when there are plenty of tourists around, I’m sure people pack the pools like a can of sardines. That would be unpleasant but our experience was perfect. We sat along the edge of the pool while light snow fell onto our heads. The visibility of the Rockies was almost non-existent but we still enjoyed the views of the dense forest of Ashlar Ridge surrounding us.
An hour or so after soaking in the warm water and various minerals, our pruned fingers and toes told us it was time to go.
The next day, we were hoping that the weather would clear a bit and allow us to view more of the Rockies. Sadly, that was not the case as the sky was filled with clouds that covered the mountains. The snow continued to fall from the sky as well. With our time in Jasper limited, we realized we still had to get out and enjoy what we can. As a result, we decided that we would take the day to drive around the park without a specific plan.
Our non-specific plan led us to Maligne Canyon which I had read was incredible. Unknowingly, I had thought that the canyon was a small hike to a look out. That it wasn’t. Rather it was a much longer hike than we had expected but one we welcomed.
Throughout the hike, we stopped many times in awe at the views of the canyon. At certain spots, the canyon gets to over 50 meters deep. There were striking waterfalls surrounded by the rigid rock walls of the canyon. The hike ended up taking almost 3 hours as we traversed the trails and bridges surrounding the canyon.
Visiting Jasper allowed us to witness plenty of wildlife. We saw many herds of large elk, bighorn sheep, and a moose. At first, we thought that it wasn’t a big deal to see a moose in the park as the surroundings seemed fitting for a moose. Kate told a couple of the employees at Jasper Gates about the moose and they said that it’s rare to see moose in the park. They had both lived in the area most of their lives and between them, had only seen moose on three separate occasions.
There’s one thing we learned while driving in the park. You never know when wildlife will cross your path, whether you’re on foot or in your car. On a couple of different occasions, we had wildlife cross in front of the truck. One junior elk almost ran into the side of our truck before veering back into the woods to wait for a clear path.
Seeing the herds of bighorn sheep was fun. They sure are goofy looking with their large horns sitting atop their tiny heads. Their horns can weigh up to 30 pounds which is more than the entire weight of the bones in their bodies.
Most people use common sense when it comes to wild animals and safely view the animals from the comfort of their vehicles. Then there are some others who are about as bright as the Arctic in December. The first time we saw a herd of elk, we pulled over and were shocked at what we saw. Casually walking amongst the herd of elk were two morons who must have thought this was some sort of fenceless petting zoo. There the morons were, taking more selfies than anyone could ever care to see. I get wanting to capture the incredible moment of seeing such a large herd of elk in person but use just a slight touch of common sense. In the herd, there were some hefty males with 15+ point racks. If they were the least bit threatened and charged these nitwits things could have gotten interesting.
Unfortunately, occurrences like this are common in national parks. Just read this story from the Calgary Herald. You likely won’t stop shaking your head in disbelief that so many people can be so stupid. If you do encounter wildlife, whether you’re driving down the road or hiking a trail here are some common sense recommendations from Parks Canada:
We recommend you keep at least three bus lengths (30 metres/100 ft) away from large animals and about three times that distance (100 metres/325 ft) away from bears. Here are some more tips for wildlife watchers and photographers:
- Don’t entice wildlife by feeding, reaching out or simulating calls (eg. elk bugling).
- Keep the animal’s line of travel or escape route clear. If it approaches you, move away.
- Retreat immediately if you notice signs of aggression or any behaviour change.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Animals feel threatened by this.
- Leave nesting birds, denning animals and newborn or young animals alone.
After a few days with less than optimal weather conditions, we left Jasper with the desire to come back. The park is huge and it’s impossible to enjoy it all within the course of a few days. We had discussed how it would be fantastic to be able to spend a summer sometime in the area. That would give us a few months in the park allowing us to immerse ourselves and enjoy everything the park has to offer.
Departure Time/Location: 8a Cochrane, Alberta
Arrival Time/Location: 3p Hinton, Alberta
Total Distance: 517km
Next Stop: Kamloops