In June of 2016 we bought a 1986 Bronco, built a bed in the back of it, and camped all around the North West United States and Canada, specifically some of the West’s most famous national parks. This is part of our series on that 3 week road trip picking up in the Canadian Rockies.
Cranbrook + Outlying Areas
Camped at: Whiteswan Lake
Must visit: Lussier Hot Springs
Gotta grub at: The Heidout on Main Street, a cool microbrew with some tasty beer. We shared the fish and chips + chicken noodle soup that paired nicely with my flight and Kenny’s red ale.
You can’t buy alcohol from the grocery store, so just know you will have to make multiple stops if you want any adult beverages. We ended up finding some really unique local beers from the local liquor store that we picked up before heading out of town to the mountains.
From Cranbrook, if you travel north on the highway you will find a little cutoff road that takes you to Lussier Hot Springs.
You can’t tell from the picture above, but the road is narrow – it is used as a one lane logging road – and there’s a perilous drop-off to the water below to our right. It is a pretty well traveled road, so you have to really watch the oncoming traffic since there’s not a ton of places to turn out and let people by.
Tip: Bring some beer and maybe a few extras to share with the new friends you will surely make here. In every hot spring we’ve ever been to, we have found the friendliest and most generous people. Our group of hot springer’s were even BBQing in the water!
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
This has always been one of my bucket list places to visit and it’s one of those places that when you see a picture of it you think, “there’s no way that actually looks that in person!” I’m here to tell you, this place does! Now these are just some of my iPhone pics since we decided against bringing our fancy DSLR camera with us – but even so I’m gonna print them because they didn’t turn out half bad for a lil iPhone. 🙂
We took the Canadian highway 93 north from Whiteswan all the way up through Kootenay National Park towards Banff National Park. The town of Banff is actually in the Southeast region of the park, so that was our last stop in the whole area before heading back down to the States. We spent most of our time in Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, which run right into each other. From here, we took highway 93 that runs into the Trans-Canada Highway 1, where we took the Icefields Parkway north, a 144 mile stretch of road that showcases the beauty of the land between Lake Louise and Jasper. You can see dozens of glaciers, lakes, wildlife, and waterfalls along the way. You will have to pay a fee to enter any of the parks, which was somewhere around $10 for a 24 hour pass.
The water is actually that turquoise! It’s so crazy in person. This article from Banff and Beyond breaks down why the water is this way,
“As the melt water from a glacier that feeds a lake starts to flow in the spring time it carries with it glacier silt or rock flour. The silt is created when rocks underneath the surface of the ice are grinding from the movement of the glacier. The rock flour is very light and stays suspended in the lake water for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the lakes their spectacular turquoise blue or green colour.”
And boy, is it spectacular to view!
We only stayed here for a short time, walked around a bit and decided there was too many people around for our liking. We headed to the smaller, less busy Moraine Lake, which ended up actually being my favorite of the two.
We climbed up to the top of a rock pile to lay out for a second and take this view in. It truly is breathtaking, makes you speechless.
Tip: Take the trail that hugs that shoreline to get a few different angles of the lake, with way less people!
Camped at: Mosquito Creek
Tip: The campsites in these National Parks offer free firewood with your purchase of a campfire permit. The campsite fee was $17.60 + the $8.80 campfire fee which put us at $26.40, that came out to about $21 USD.
The Columbia Icefield is located in Jasper National Park, where you can actually take an ice walk onto the glacier. This Icefield is the largest body of ice in the Canadian Rockies, and the meltwater flows to the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Ocean from the Hudson Bay. You can find all the info for ice tours, hikes, and the glacier skywalk here.
As you can tell from the picture above, we didn’t exactly see the glacier in it’s prime time. I’ve seen from pictures that its a lot more picturesque when there’s more snow on the ground, but it’s still a pretty cool thing to see such a large mass of ice in the dead of summer. This is the furthest north that we made it so we journeyed back south to get to the town of Banff.
The whole valley of Banff is SO DANG BEAUTIFUL! The town reminds me of a Tahoe ski village, minus the lake but add even better mountains. We initially wanted to spend a night somewhere in the town, but last minute prices of rooms and camping are pretty high. We ended up cleaning up at YWCA Banff Hotel, a nice community center hostel with cheap showers.
Camped at: East of Banff, in a really weird, nuclear plant campground that had no other people around. It was probably the weirdest night of sleep I had the whole trip because I was paranoid that someone would come kill us in the night. I’m not even going to tag the campground in here because I don’t want anyone to stay there!
Gotta grub at: Toque, a Canadian pub with a very chic interior and good food!
One of my favorite Canadian towns that we visited. It reminded me a bit of our local town of Truckee, CA – a small mountain town nestled in a a valley of mountains with cute eateries and overpriced shopping.
Gotta get your drink on at: The Grizzly Paw
There are so many beautiful places along the way and many unique camp sites and small Canadian towns to explore. These were just the tip of the iceberg. Do you have any favorites you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below and check out some of our other stops on our road trip across the Northwest!