In celebration of the 150th year of Confederation, we are trying to visit every Canadian National Park that we can drive to. This is the western portion of that tour.
Unlike the Airbnb in Fort Smith, my sleep at the Shamrock Motel was not quite as restful and I was awake well before the alarm went off. When I took the dogs outside, a light rain was falling so it was a quick pee break before we went back into the room so I could pack up and they could eat. Luckily, there was a cafe literally right around the corner for me. We stopped at Tall Timber Coffee Corporation where I got an americano, oh and a slice of banana bread please. I was distracted by the most amazing table and as my drink was being prepared, I was busy trying to figure out a way to sneak it out the door. Once the cup hit the counter, reality set in and I had to leave, wistfully looking over my shoulder as the door closed behind me. It was a very good cup of caffeine and the dogs and I enjoyed the banana bread as we continued westward. Yes. They had some banana bread. Of course they did.
Luckily the skies soon cleared and at one rest stop I brought the dogs out for a leg stretch and that was when I noticed the mountains ahead of us for the first time. I guess I had seen the mountains starting to rise up but it didn’t register as I was more concerned with the road directly around me. I was suddenly giddy as the dogs sniffed their way along the side of the lot.
We drove along Highway 16 and into Jasper National Park. Our first stop in the park was the Miette Hot Springs which was the first road that led off Highway 16. I obviously wasn’t planning on going into the hot springs but I did want to check it out. That was the plan. We didn’t go to the hot springs since the parking lot was crammed with people. So we went for a short hike along one of the trails that branched off from the lot. The trail was paved and quite wide, making it ideal for Piper so I didn’t have to worry about technical footing bothering her legs.
We ended up finding a spot where a small hot spring poured out into the river we were walking beside. The dogs were not impressed by the strong smell of sulphur and I had to coax them closer so that I could investigate the steam that was billowing over us for myself. I’ve never seen a hot spring before and this had a small deck that allowed you to stick your hand right in if you wanted to. The water had left a thick layer of white where it ran out of the rock; I can only guess that it was sulphur being deposited. There were plaques that were mounted nearby but the space was small and we took up a lot of it, keeping other people from having a look so we left before I could read it all.
The trail took us past an abandoned building from when the park was more of a spa destination. I wanted so badly to go inside and explore but it was locked up tight. It is for the best of course but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to sneak in sometime.
We turned around and went back to the car and returned to Highway 16 to continue west. I saw a small spot to pull over next to a lake and brought the dogs out for a walk. We wandered away from the parking lot and I sat on the rocky beach as the dogs drank and soaked in the sun. And swam. Good for Piper’s legs of course. I can tell you that water was cold so they were not in for very long. Once the dogs had finished exploring and were all sitting next to me, I took the hint and we went back to the car.
We weren’t driving too long before traffic was brought to an abrupt halt by a small flock of bighorn sheep that decided to hang out on the road. Needless to say, I was happily snapping away while Jack and Piper bounced around in the back seat. I think even Leo noticed something was out there.
We went south on the next road we came to, Maligne (pronounced Mah-leen) Road. The road is only 45 km (29 miles) long but it is a stunning drive. We stopped at one small lot so I could grab a slice of leftover pizza from the trunk and when I saw the barest hint of a trail into the trees, well I just had to follow it. We came to a river but rather than wade into the water for a drink like she usually does, Piper pulled on the leash to walk upstream. That was curious; normally she goes right in without any hesitation. I’m glad I trusted her because she found a small rapid where the water was an incredible shade of blue. I stood in the glacial water to take a few (OK a lot) pictures but I was not in there for very long. Yikes was that cold.
We drove a bit farther to Maligne Lake which is such a beautiful lake it is worth stopping. I wasn’t the only one to think so as the lake is quite a draw as evidenced by the crowd of people, the visitor centre, a restaurant, and boat cruise. We walked along the shore so the dogs could drink and Leo could roll, and I noticed a few people that tried to covertly take photos of the dogs. Well that just wouldn’t do so I waved them over and took pictures of them posing with the dogs. It warms my heart to see something so simple bring so much joy.
On the way back to the car, I stopped at the visitors centre and left the dogs outside while I ran in to grab a few souvenirs for my nephews. I was able to keep an eye on them through the glass and was happy to see how patiently they waited as they stared at the door. When I came back outside, they had drawn a bit of attention and one of the gentlemen unzipped his jacket to show me his shirt: he was a member of the wigglebutt club. A boxer fan. We stood there and traded boxer stories for quite some time before they had to reluctantly go. So did we.
We started back up Maligne Road until we arrived at Medicine Lake. I avoided the busier parking lot and instead stopped near the boat launch where I figured it would be an easier and gentler hike. The large rocks at the side of the lake made it more difficult to get into the water but the section that had been cleared to launch boats was nice and easy. I waded in so I could get a better angle for some photos of a mountain and since I was already in the water, I decided to bring Piper in for some icing and maneuvered her so that her back legs were in with me. I figured that I would be the gauge for how long she stayed in. Well she didn’t stay in for very long and when we got back to the car, I changed out of my sandals to shoes and zipped on the lower sections of my pant legs, marvelling at the lovely blotchy white and red patches that covered my feet and legs. Looks like I got out just in time. On a side note: merino wool socks. Love them. My feet started to thaw out in no time.
Having narrowly averted possible frostbite, the next order of business was a place to spend the night. With the temperature dipping to close to freezing, camping wasn’t an option so I started looking at the gamut of hotel/motel/Airbnb. Well my friends the options were very limited since most of those places didn’t take dogs at all which didn’t really matter since they were booked solid. Crud.
The closest town, Hinton, was back east so I went there thinking I may have to do some old-fashioned pavement-pounding. On the way out of the park, I noticed a long line of cars stopped on both sides of the highway with people jumping out of the their vehicles to stand at the side of the road. Now I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I could tell that this was something I needed to investigate (I seemed to be doing a lot of investigating this day). I parked at the front of the line and ambled back to where there were several knots of people. That was when I noticed the elk lazing around on the shoulder embankment. Some lovely does were grazing contentedly and then a magnificent buck emerged from behind some trees. The small herd seemed completely nonplussed by the fuss they were causing. Just as I was getting ready to leave after having taken a gajillion photos, I noticed a man with a paintball gun and Parks Canada uniform standing a short distance away. He was explaining that he was there to make sure no one got close and that the animals didn’t become aggressive. The paintball gun was to move the animals along if it became too dangerous for them to stay. I would like to think that people would know better than to do anything dangerous just to look at wildlife but as I walked along the ever-growing line of cars I began to wonder if that was true.
Apparently the later in the day it is, the more animals you will see because I was again stopped when I saw a young elk grazing on the side of the road. This was more of the cautious creep by as he was just on a bend in the road and if he spooked, he could potentially run into a car or a vehicle coming in the opposite direction may swerve into my lane.
Then I stopped to watch a small elk herd on the edge of a lake. Some of the does stayed on the shoulder embankment to graze while the buck and some other does swam across a narrow part of the lake. It was a treat to listen to the buck bugle and some of the does call. Finally I went back to the car and joined my little pack of wildlife for the drive to Hinton. After yet another elk stop. Seriously where were they earlier in the day?
Once in Hinton I began my search for a room. Strike out. Strike out. Score: I found a room at the White Wolf Inn. It was a bit more than I would normally pay, as in almost $200 but it was either that or sleep in the car or camp with my delicate little flowers so it was a small price to pay for comfort. With a king-sized bed it certainly was comfortable and we were all able to squeeze onto the bed as I finished the last of the pizza and fell asleep.
11 228 km sq/2 774 500 acres
500 Connaught Drive, Jasper, AB (Information Centre)
Telephone: (780) 852-6176
HOW TO GET THERE
Highway 16, also known as Yellowhead Highway, is the major east/west route and most direct from Edmonton or take the Trans-Canada Highway 1 from Calgary to Highway 93A and north through Banff. Another option is to take VIA Rail into the park or one of the shuttles offered by tour companies.
WHAT TO DO
Everything. There is a network of trails for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and skiing. Horseback riding is another way to see the park.
If you’re looking at enjoying the water, you can fish, rent canoes, kayaks, or arrange to go rafting or enjoy a soak in the hot springs.
There are serviced, unserviced, backcountry, and cottage tents (complete with electrical lights and baseboard heaters) are available. There is every kind of year-round accommodation in the park but if you’re travelling with four-legged companions, they are extremely limited.
WHERE TO EAT
The town of Jasper has all kinds of restaurant and eatery options.