Summer temperatures have finally arrived in the Ottawa region, which is partially to blame for the delay between Parts I and II of the West Coast Highlights By Car series. We’re currently en route to a wedding in New Brunswick, and the car ride finally provided me the time to finish Part II! The weeknights and weekends are only going to get busier from here as we begin seriously prepping for the Yukon trip. This means the posts will be shorter and sweeter for the next few months, but we can’t wait to begin sharing our trip preparations and travel plans with you!
Getting back to our West Coast travels by car… During the second week of our trip, we hopped back on the ferry from Victoria to mainland Vancouver. From there we travelled along the Sea to Sky highway to Pemberton, BC to visit my family. We took our time along this highway, stopping in Squamish for lunch as well as any spots marked “scenic” along the route. It is a beautiful stretch of highway that benefited from upgrades for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. I’m sure this drive is much more challenging in the winter, but mid-week in the summer it was stress-free and scenic. We enjoyed a lovely visit with my Aunt Sheila and husband Craig for two days in Pemberton. Sheila was stoically battling brain cancer at this time, and sadly passed away in the fall of that year. I am so thankful that we had the opportunity to visit her during our trip.
Pemberton is a short drive from Whistler, so we took a day to visit the resort and hit the mountain biking trails. This was my first and only mountain biking experience, and it was epic! Antoine was super excited to rent a new Giant Reign to test out on the trails. I’ll admit I was worried it would lead to a purchase when we got home, but so far he’s held off 😉 Whistler has a multitude of trails of varying degrees of difficulty, including easy paved and gravel routes as well as single track trails. We would highly recommend this if you’re living for summer activities in the area.
From Whistler / Pemberton we travelled north along Hwy 99 through Kamloops to Mount Robson Provincial Park. This was our longest drive of the trip at 673km in a day or 7.5 hours of driving. It did not feel long though, as the views were stunning and the winding mountain passes were incredibly fun to drive! The scenery changed significantly as well, as we transitioned from mountain vistas to the desert ecozone near the Thompson River and Kamloops and back to the rockies again. Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the rocky mountain chain. We spent one night at Mount Robson Provincial Park at the Robson River campground – campsite 18. We were pleased with this campsite as it was away from the highway and a short walk from the river. We enjoyed wine and a delicious meal prepared over the campfire, mentally preparing ourselves for the day ahead.
We decided to tackle the renowned Berg Lake trail for our second day at Mount Robson Provincial Park. The 23km long trail gains almost 800 metres of elevation and features seven campgrounds along the trail. We were advised at the Visitor’s Centre that most hikers tackle the trail over 2 to 3 days, sometimes using the lower campgrounds as base camps and tackling the vertical portions of the trail without packs. We only had 1 night to dedicate to the trail, so we decided to camp 16km down the trail at Emperor Falls with hopes that we could set up camp and continue on to Berg Lake and the glacier. The hike to Emperor Lake was strenuous, but well worth it for the stunning views and scenery. We made it to Emperor Falls and our camp site by late afternoon, but were fairly exhausted from the vertical climb. We set up our tent by the river, and I stubbornly pushed Antoine to continue another 7km to Berg Lake with a light pack where we cooked dinner beside the glacier lake. Another 7km back, with a bear sighting in between, and we had covered 35km in one day! It felt like quite an accomplishment, but we wish we’d had more days to tackle the trail at a more leisurely pace. The 16km hike out was slow and painful, but we managed to complete the hike with only a few toenails lost.
We knew the hike would be strenuous, so we treated ourselves to an AirBnB in Jasper following the trek. Feeling rested and recharged, we took off down the famous Icefields Parkway with a number of plausible destinations in mind. We found that many of the well-publicized stops along the parkway were busy with tourist buses and scheduled tours, so we mostly stopped at scenic lookouts on a whim to see different sights. We spent an unplanned night at Mosquito Creek campground along the Icefields Parkway, as the campground does not take reservations and we were not sure there would be room. Don’t let the name scare you away! There were no more mosquitos at this campground than elsewhere, and the campsites along the river were wonderful!
The next day we completed the Icefields Parkway and set up camp at Two Jack Lakeside campground, just outside Banff. The photos for this campground were incredible and I was really excited for the final site I’d chosen. Unfortunately photos can be deceiving, and we found there was little separation or privacy between our campsite (#27) and those around us. This trip taught me to take campsite reservation photos with a grain of salt! Often the ideal campsite you cannot identify from photos and maps alone – it takes repeat visits or advice from park staff to know the best ones!
We enjoyed a full day touring Banff, Lake Louise and area including stops at Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge. We were disappointed that some of the sights we hoped to see were not yet open for the season, such as Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park. Many of the openings depend on the weather, clean-up and snow melt in the mountains. This was early season rather than high season, which was both a benefit and a challenge at times during our trip. The highlight of our stay in this region had to be our hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house at Lake Louise. This is one of two teahouses at Lake Louise, and it offers incredible views of the surrounding glaciers and landscape as well as the Fairmont Chateau and lake from above. We enjoyed hot tea and freshly baked treats on the balcony upon arrival, as well as unique company on our descent. We happened to depart at the same time as the owner of the teahouse, whose family owned and ran the teahouse for over 50 years. She explained that she had visited the teahouse to oversee the arrival of a helicopter drop of staples such as flour and sugar. All other fresh foods served are packed in to the teahouse by staff. The owner was hiking with her two dogs and needed a ride back to her car at the airfield. We were happy to take her back to her vehicle, as we really enjoyed her company and stories on the hike back down.
Our final night was spent at an Airbnb in Kelowna, BC. The Okanagan region is well-known for it’s landscape, warm climate and amazing wines and the city certainly did not disappoint. The drive from Banff to Kelowna was also incredibly enjoyable and scenic, and we are happy that we planned a loop route so to not repeat our drive. We gifted our cooler and condiments to our kind Airbnb host, and hit the road for the final day to catch our flight out of Vancouver on June 11th. Fifteen full days touring British Columbia and the Alberta mountain regions – 6 days on Vancouver Island and 8 on the mainland were not nearly enough to see all the sights and hike all the trails that we wanted! But it helped to confirm our shared love of road trips, camping, hiking and exploring. We can’t wait to continue our West Coast adventures in August 2018 when we cross the country en route to the Yukon! Let us know if you have any questions about our last trip out west – we’re happy to share more details, logistics or recommendations. Happy travelling 🙂
Liz & Antoine