Clear blue skies and sun magically appeared the following day. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions to drive the Icefields Parkway. Robyn and Steve queued at the bakery for coffee, breakfast and lunch supplies whilst I had my granola and packed up. We were on the road by 9.30am. The traffic was light; the road was wide, and the scenery was stupendous.
Athabasca Falls was our first port of call. The height of the waterfall was small but the volume of water converging into the narrow gorge was enormous. The noise was deafening. Whilst the car park was full, people were not intrusive as we wandered along the paths and stopped at the lookouts.
On the way to Sumwapta Falls, we stopped at the Kerkeslin viewpoint, which had a magnificent view of the milky looking, glacial river below and the sparkling mountains beyond. On our return to the car, it astounded us to see the number of vehicles parked at the side of the road (and not in the car park!) so people could take photos of mountain goats. The people were oblivious to the spectacular view just a few metres behind them.
The Sumwapta Falls were swarming with people and cars so we didn’t stay long. We climbed down to the river edge, avoided a crow intent on its lunch, and from a lookout watched a whitewater rafting trip set off down the river.
The Columbia Icefield lured us in next. By the side of the highway, cars and buses filled a hotel car park. We turned in the opposite direction and drove the short distance to the Icefield car park. A walking track was carved out of the moraine and easy. We took our time to marvel at nature’s wonders. The tour and walk on the glacier looked appealing, but we had many miles yet to cover.
It was already early afternoon at that point and Robyn was determined to fit in a hike before lunch. A 35 minute climb with incredible views brought us to the top of Parker Ridge where we ate our sandwiches in sight of the Saskatchewan glacier. That picnic spot would be hard to beat! It was a steep ascent but well worth the effort. An additional bonus was that there were few people, proving that you don’t have to go too far to escape the crowds.
Robyn had another hike planned but our destination for the night was Calgary and the day was passing quickly. At least it remained light until after 10pm. We had to content ourselves with a walk to the viewpoint of Peyto Lake at Bow Summit where we fought with the Asian tour groups to find a space on the platform to take photos.
The Parkway ends just before Lake Louise. Robyn and Steve had a friend working at the Fairmont Chateau there and wanted to call and see her. We were lucky to find a parking space and went to track her down. The number of people along the lakefront was astonishing! We chatted to Marina for a while, looked at two expensive rooms with views of the car park (professional interest on Steve and Robyn’s part) and decided to return the next day for sightseeing.
Our original intention was to have dinner in Calgary when we arrived. However, it would have been so late we stopped in Banff for a quick takeaway instead. This almost proved mission impossible! People jammed the pavements, and it took a while to find a cafe or restaurant that wasn’t too busy to provide takeaways. Eventually, we discovered a non-descript Japanese cafe that sold us excellent ramen noodle soup, which we ate sitting on the edge of the pavement next to the car! Had I reached my lowest ebb?
Calgary was another hour and a half away and it was almost 10pm by the time we arrived. Robyn had booked the Hilton with her staff discount when we couldn’t find any accommodation less than $300 a night around Banff. It was cheaper to drive backwards and forwards and have a comfortable room to sleep in. This worked well in theory but it was tiring for Steve who was driving.