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Canada Road Trip - Part 2, The Mountains

Miles: 841 miles Days: July 7-16

We continue our way from east to west, relocating back to Portland, Oregon after three years in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This epic road trip topped our Year in Review: 2017 trips. In this part, we visit some of the amazing mountains of Canada beginning with the Rocky Mountains of Banff and Jasper, followed by a short trip to Whistler in British Columbia. If you missed how we got here, read about our first 1,100-odd miles in Canada Road Trip - Part 1, The Prairie where we travel from Winnipeg to Calgary.

We planned our epic road trip across Canada in June and hit the road in July. We didn't make any camping reservations, but we did our research to find camping areas off-the-beaten path in both Banff and Jasper to avoid the crowds. We wanted to visit, see the sights but also get a little bit of quiet.

Read about Planning an Epic Road Trip

Banff, Alberta

We had a very loose plan for where we would end up camping. We don’t like the large campgrounds, which meant that many of the campgrounds in the areas weren’t a good option for us. I made a list of a few of the smaller “first come, first served” campgrounds in the area. I made a list of two or three near Banff, one about two hours north and a few in Jasper. We planned nine days in Banff and Jasper. We were excited for hiking, reading, and just being outside around the campfire. At all of the campgrounds, we didn’t have cell service, which was even more perfect for our unplugged holiday.

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We didn’t find a campsite near Banff, they were all full. We had lunch in Banff and stopped to fill the growler before heading to the Rampart Creek campground about two hours north. At Rampart Creek, we found plenty of open sites.

Plaid Pinecone: Euro at the rivers edge of Mistaya Canyon, Alberta, Canada

We were in bear country and we were on the look out for bears. I don’t know if you’ve ever been bear camping. This was our first time in true bear country, as in bears had been seen and were regulars in the area. In fact, a bear had been in the Rampart Creek campground the night before we arrived! At Rampart Creek, we stashed all of our items in our vehicle. Michael got to use the beer bottle opener on Euro's dog leash that we picked up on our Colorado Road Trip.

Plaid Pinecone: Euro and Michael opening beverage with dog's leash in Rampart Creek, Alberta, Canada

At Rampart Creek, they had a communal kitchen where in extreme circumstances, they would require all campers to cook within the kitchen and store items in the bear boxes there. There were plenty forest rangers and bear watchers on patrol while we were there and we weren’t too worried. When you get into a bear area, you have to expect to change the way you do things to avoid harm to them and yourself. We made sure to keep everything locked up, which I know is not a guarantee but we did make efforts.

We did very little hiking until we got to Banff. On our first full day, we took at short hike at the picturesque Mistaya Canyon (Mistaya means ‘grizzly bear’ in the language of the Cree Indians). We also spent time reading and relaxing at our campsite.

Visit my favorite bookstore: Powell's Books

Plaid Pinecone: Scenic view of mountain and river in Mistaya Canyon, Alberta, Canada

Jasper, Alberta

After two nights at Rampart Creek, we decided to continue north to Jasper. Near Jasper, we found it easier to find a campsite and camped at the Snaring Campground on the Snaring River. We had been in bear country for a few days by this point, but our new campsite was a walk-in site and it was amazing! We met a woman who was packing up her car when we were unloading so she let us borrow her cart which made unloading a bit easier. At Snaring River, we were approximately a 1/4 mile from our vehicle, so we stashed all of our gear in the bear bins, heavy steel bins where you could store all of your stuff at night to avoid attracting bears.The woman in the campsite near to us wore her bear mace on her hip at all times. We joked that if we saw a bear, worst case we laughed about running toward her site so she could save the day.

Plaid Pinecone: Alisha and Michael reading at shore of Snaring River near campground, Jasper Alberta, Canada

We did see a bear. He crossed over the highway a car or so behind us. I couldn’t get a picture before he was off the road again.

We went into the town of Jasper for groceries, a lunch out, and a growler refill. We tried the 6060 Stout at Jasper Brewing Company for lunch and filled the growler with Jasper the Bear Ale for our next few nights of camping.

In Jasper, I got my first glimpse of the Northern Lights. Michael grew up partly in Alaska, so he’d been that far north and had seen the Northern Lights before. This was my first ever time this far North, the nights were very short at that time of year. It was just starting to get dark around 11pm and was light again around 4am. In the middle of the night, I was up and the sky was glowing, an alien green light that M later told me was the Northern Lights. You don’t always see ‘dancing’ or lines, sometimes it is just the glow.

We took a side trip to Cline River and Newegg, Alberta the next day. This was one of my favorite days on our trip. We found a great place to get Euro out of the car and run off some of his energy. We spent the day seeing the sights of the area, the glaciers, the mountains, the blue sky. We spent our day soaking it all up.

Plaid Pinecone: Euro taking a dip in Cline River near Newegg, Alberta, Canada, with mountains and water in background

Clearwater, British Columbia

We liked being in Jasper and could have stayed longer, but we were eager to continue moving west. Just outside of Jasper, near Mt. Robson, we would cross into the Pacific Timezone which was very exciting for us (the sign left a bit to be desired though). We cut our stay a day short and headed to Clearwater, British Columbia with plans to camp near Wells Grey Provincial Park.

When we arrived in Clearwater, we learned that part of the forest in the area was on fire. In BC alone, they had over 80 fires burning at that time. We had hoped to hike Helmcken Falls. The park was completely closed as was the road up there due to the fires. We spent the night at a campground in Clearwater and went out to dinner that night. We chatted with a family from Belgium, who were there on holiday and traveling around in an RV to see all the sights.

In the morning, we woke to a smoke filled North Thompson River Valley. We took that as our cue to continue west. We were now three days ahead of our schedule. We decided to use our extra days to camp on Whistler in BC. We have both always wanted to camp in Whistler, but it didn’t make the first short list for this trip. We now had the extra time to fit it in. But, we had still been camping for eight nights at this point. So we stayed a night at Sun Peaks Resort to restock, shower, re-energize and quickly research first-come, first-serve campgrounds near Whistler.

Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, British Columbia

Sun Peaks Resort is a ski resort in the winter, but in the summer months it is starting to become a popular destination for hikers. The hiking in the area is quite nice and the quaint little swiss-style chalet village is a real treat. We strolled around the restaurants and shops. We had a quiet dinner out and geared up for another camping trip.

Nairn Falls Provincial Park near Whistler, British Columbia

Plaid Pinecone: Lake and Mt. Whistler on sunny day, British Columbia, Canada

We left Sun Peaks early and headed to Whistler. We were excited to drive through Vancouver, a place we had been to before, but were even more excited get back into the mountains. We decided on Nairn Falls Provincial Park for two nights. The scenery did not disappoint, the drive alone was breathtaking. We hiked near the falls and around a nearby lake that had an off-leash dog area with beach. After Whistler, we caught up with our schedule which took us just south of Vancouver for a few nights.

Plaid Pinecone: Euro taking a dip from hike in Nairn Falls Provincial Park, Whistler British Columbia, Canada

Point Roberts, Washington near Vancouver, British Columbia

We looked for accommodation based on location to the Tsawwassen ferry and it ended up being in the US! Point Roberts, WA is a US exclave located just south of Vancouver BC. You must go through two border crossings from the US to reach it, else take a boat. 

Plaid Pinecone: map image of Point Roberts, WA and Canada border                Plaid Pinecone: Euro in the grass at edge of the beach overlooking the sea, Point Roberts, Washington

Point Roberts is just five square miles in size. The seafood dinner at South Beach House Restaurant was amazing. The ocean air was just what we needed and took a hike at Monument Park where you could ‘walk’ over the border into Canada.

We hadn’t heard from our friends on Vancouver Island and contemplated skipping it altogether opting for more time on the Olympic Peninsula. After our first day in Point Roberts, we enjoyed it so much we decided to stay an extra night. In the end, we decided that we would still go to Vancouver Island for a couple nights camping even without the opportunity to catch up with friends. Luck would have it, our friends got in touch with us the morning we planned to catch the ferry.

Continue reading about our epic Canada Road Trip in Part 3, The Island where we continue our travels west and visit Vancouver Island, Port Alberni and Victoria. If you missed it, read about how we planned our epic road trip

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