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Canada Adventure to Glacier, Yoho, Banff, and Jasper

June 30 - July 7, 2017.

June 29, 11pm: we finally decided to head to Canada for a week of camping. We’d leave the next morning at 7am sharp. It was going to be awesome!

But let’s rewind… We’ve been wanting to go to some of Canada’s National Parks for a while. So, in late 2016 when we discovered that Canada was celebrating their 150th anniversary by giving away free access to their national parks for 2017, we jumped on the opportunity to get a pass, and we started working out plans to hit Banff and Jasper during the summer. Little did we know that not only would we nearly scrap the trip, but that we’d then end up seeing two additional Parks Canada.

Early June rolled around and I started planning, and we got a great itinerary. But as we reached the two-weeks-until-departure date, it looked like the weather was going to be cloudy and rainy the entire week - not a recipe for success, when the goal is amazing views and a (good) time to remember for your nearly-7-year-old.

So in mid-June, I quickly also planned a trip to our own Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s a similar distance from our home base, we’d always wanted to go, and weather there was going to be 80 degrees and sunny all week!

But we kept an eye on the weather and slowly but surely the forecast for Canada got nicer and nicer. Just a day or two of clouds with a small chance of rain. And with that, we made the call to head north, with 8 hours to spare!

Day 1: Driving to Glacier National Park, British Columbia

Our daughter generally enjoys camping. What she doesn’t enjoy so much is the driving to get where we’re going. And this time, there was a lot of driving. Ten hours or so, assuming we didn’t hit traffic, stayed on-route, etc. As she’s started to read more and more things have gotten better, but once we get into the “how much longer?” line of questioning, it becomes unrelenting. But @mrs.turbodb had a plan: books on tape. (More accurately, on memory stick.) About an hour into the drive, we broke out the first book, and when it ended 8 hours later, we were almost to our destination: Glacier National Park, British Columbia.

And then we arrived at Loop Brook campground, to clearing skies.

It was time to start exploring (that’s an old train trestle piling that’s being climbed), and then setup camp and BBQ a pizza.

Day 2: Yoho National Park

With the big day of driving behind us, we drove another couple hours to Yoho National Park, where we had three destinations: Tekakkaw Falls, Natural Bridges, and Emerald Lake.

When we got to Tekakkaw Falls, the clouds were back and it was a bit drizzly. @mrs.turbodb and I looked at each other, hoping we’d made the right decision. Oblivious to it all, @mini.turbodb ran up the trail to the falls.

We also stumbled upon two red Adirondack chairs - a treasure hunt of chairs celebrating Canada 150, sprinkled throughout the Parks Canada system.

And with that, we were off. As we drove away, we could still see the falls and the sun was starting to peak through the clouds as we drove through a 25’ snow drift that had been cleared from the road just one week before.

Natural Bridges is an amazing rock formation where the water from an entire river goes into a hole in the rock, and comes out the bottom - think of it like a tunnel. And this is no small river. We took some pictures, ate lunch, and had our first rock-skipping opportunity (which would become a trend everywhere we went) of the trip.

Ready to move on, our next stop was Emerald Lake, where the recommendation was to rent a canoe. At $60 an hour we passed on that, but we did make the 4-mile trek around the lake - our first of many hikes on the trip. And, not the best showing for the small one. There were I think three timeouts as we made our way around.

Emerald Lake really did live up to it’s name. Of course, it turns out that all the lakes we saw were this awesome emerald green color, since they are all fed by glaciers in the Canadian Rockies.

It’s Canada Day (July 1)! I’ve never seen such a patriotic crowd as Canadian’s on Canada Day (way more so than American’s on the 4th of July). Almost everyone was wearing a Canada shirt, or had a flag on their car. It was great to see, and some of us couldn’t resist joining in!

Being Canada Day, all of the campgrounds were full and that suited us just fine. We headed just west of the Yoho Park boundary and found ourselves a nice little forest service road where we setup camp, ate tacos and roasted marshmallows for dinner, did some exploring, and enjoyed an amazing sunset.

Day 3: Banff National Park

We did a little sleeping in the next morning, and some more exploring around camp before packing up our things and heading out on our adventures for the day. We had what turned out to be our major hike of the trip to Lake Agnes planned for the afternoon, along with a morning of exploring Lake Louise.

Lake Louise rock skipping complete, it was time for lunch and re-application of sunscreen (there was no more rain in our future, as it’d get progressively hotter the rest of the trip). Then, set out for our second big hike of the day - a 1500 foot climb over two miles to Lake Agnes and the Tea House.

In an attempt to improve overall enjoyment, I bet @mini.turbodb that if she didn’t have a tantrum all day, that I’d make her mac and cheese for lunch for a week when we got home; and if she did have a tantrum, she would buy me some of my favorite french fries. Being that she loves pasta, the bet was on.

To help her out, the entire trip up to Lake Agnes, I made up a story that kept her attention focused on something besides her legs, and by the time we’d gotten back down, we still hadn’t had a tantrum.

After Lake Agnes, we headed to Banff by way of the Bow Lake Parkway. Knowing that Banff was the most crowded place we’d be, this was the only night I’d reserved a camp site. That made us happy, because campgrounds are smoky, loud, and full of other people (and in Canada there are no tents, just Canadream and AdventureCanada RVs).

We hit the sack early, with plans to get up very early the next morning for one of the highlights of the trip - a drive on Icefields Parkway - the road that connects Banff and Jasper.

Day 4: Icefields Parkway

We’re used to long days in Seattle during summer, but it turns out that driving 9 hours north, and moving one time zone east, they days get really long - withsunrise around 4:30am, and sunset close to 11pm. By 6am, we were awake, packed up, and heading out of Banff with two goals: exploring a cool “trail” in Johnson Canyon, and then a drive to Jasper along Icefields Parkway.

Exiting Banff at sunrise couldn’t have been more beautiful.

Not long after, we arrived at Johnson Canyon to an empty parking lot - a good sign given the traffic jam we’d seen there as we’d driven by the day before. Johnson Canyon is a cool hike, almost entirely on boardwalks anchored to the sides of the canyon, giving a whole different feel to the whole experience.

And then, it was time for breakfast (as the parking lot was filling up) and getting out of town for the main attraction for the day, Icefields Parkway.

The way I like to describe Icefields parkway is that you’re driving between peak after glacier covered peak, next to aqua blue lakes as far as the eye can see. To the point where - by the end - your reaction is “oh look, another one.”

And then, just as we were arriving in Jasper, we saw our first bear - a relatively small black bear. @mini.turbodb loved it (she was scared so it was exciting), and immediately jotted it down in her journal.

Campgrounds were full, so we headed to overflow (which was nicer). Setup camp, explored, skipped some rocks at a nearby pond, and ate dinner before hitting the sack. Another full day!

Day 5 and 6: Jasper National Park

As soon as we arrived in Jasper we could tell that it was more our speed. Half the number (or fewer) of tourists and just a much slower pace. We hiked around, visited an Old Fort, drove up to Lake Malign, relaxed in the park downtown, saw more wildlife, swam in glacial lakes, napped, and ate ice cream. And of course, we camped outside campgrounds (in a beautiful spot with way too many mosquitoes). This was our kind of vacation.

And then, it was time to start our trek home. We decided that we’d head out of Jasper to Mt. Robson Provincial Park to find a forest service road where we could setup camp. We were not disappointed, finding our best site in Canada!

@mini.turbodb also made her first fire (with a little help), which she was pretty jazzed about.

It was a fire that lit up the sky.

Day 7 and 8: Homeward Bound

Knowing that we had a long drive in front of us, we got up early again to break camp. Sun rising in a forest of dandelions, we ate breakfast and packed our things.

Then, it was out of Mt. Robson Provincial Park and down the backroads of Canadian highways (which were amazingly beautiful) to Leavenworth, WA for a special dinner at the Sleeping Lady and a final night camping in our favorite spot up Icicle Creek Road.

A lazy morning the next day, we watched the river, skipped some more rocks, and of course caught this frog before heading home around lunch time; ready for showers.

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