“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
I had decided to visit Jasper and Banff National Parks (Canada and country 26!) in the spring before I had even thought about leaving Spokane. Then I got an amazing opportunity and accepted a job in West Texas. I kid you not, I planned the closing of my house to squeeze in this trip. Truly, I went to Canada, came home, and packed up my uhaul the following day. This post is going to focus on the basics of visiting the two parks. I will do separate posts regarding the famed Icefields Parkway and Lakes Moraine and Louise.
I was fortunate that getting to Banff from northeastern Washington was pretty easy. I had never driven across an international border in my vehicle (always a passenger or via train) so was a touch nervous. Due to Covid protocols, I did have to register my trip via the Canadian government and provide proof of my vaccination status. While restrictions have been lifted to Americans, regardless, you should always check the government website to see what is currently needed (you should do this with all countries you travel). I also always register my trip with the US State Department, it provides information in case of emergency or expedited processing of documents if I encounter any issues. Fortunately, the border lines weren’t long and I had already done everything that was required, they asked a few questions and then off I went. I had more questions coming back but I was only with the border agent for a few minutes each way. A note, especially if you have a longer drive to the border…check the hours of operation. The border crossing in Northern Idaho closed at 5 so plan accordingly.
I actually crossed into British Columbia and then into Alberta. I was able to stop at Tim Horton’s for donuts and a coffee. I also had to get gas. Something I noticed was, while Canada is truly lovely, there is so much math involved. Between currency rates, their use of metric, and kilometers per hour (god knows how much gas I needed, when, how much it actually cost-math is not my strong suit on the best of days). The kph was what got me…yes it is on my dash, so that was fine but the speed limit is a bit slow…like 50 mph. So that I did not get a speeding ticket is a true miracle (or that I know of!).
There are actually three national parks you’ll pass through getting to Jasper…Kootenay, Banff, and then Jasper. Due to this, and that I was road tripping, I went ahead and purchased a Canadian Parks Discovery Pass. Much like the US’s America the Beautiful pass, it grants access to more than 80 parks. I knew I was moving and would only be using it for this trip but, especially with the exchange rate, it would be worth it. You drive through Kootenay, which is famous for its Radium pools (I didn’t stop but seemed popular) and glad I had the pass as it was a touch confusing if you had to pay admittance if you were just passing through so the pass added some peace of mind.
None of the campsites I stayed were in the parks proper and all were booked with Canada’s reservation service. At Jasper, I stayed at Whistlers, which was recently renovated. The bathrooms were VERY nice! It was also about 10 minutes from the town of Jasper, a cute little mountain community. I stayed at two different campsites near Banff: Two Jack Main and Lake Louise. Two Jack Main is quintessential camping. Very woodsy and private. It is right across from Two Jack Lake and I saw a baby deer near the entry. The second, unlike the name, it is not at Lake Louise but the town (which is really just a couple of shops). Both campsites were near the town of Banff, which is significantly larger than Jasper. It was fun to just walk around. It reminded me of a combination of my hometown of Lake Arrowhead, CA and the fictional mountain town of Everwood, CO (if you have never watched the show, you should).
The area is truly magical and was so glad that I was able to experience it before I moved significantly further south where it is much flatter lol. Cannot wait to share more of the adventure!