8 Days in the Canadian Rockies
After a very eventful summer of 2020 during which I finished my degree, got married, read two long-overdue books, and finished a home-decor project, it was time to turn 30. To celebrate this milestone birthday, we decided to go on an extended trip. Given the travel restrictions in Canada around the time, an international trip was not possible, hence we decided to drive east towards the Canadian Rockies.
We booked the campsites in June and during the next couple of months, I was truly in character- obsessively researching and planning. I was sure we would spend every waking hour making our way towards a scenic view (spoilers: that didn't happen). I decided to put together a (very ambitious) colour-coded google maps itinerary.
In this post, I would love to share a short rundown of each day of the 8 days of our trip. I have included pictures, specific places, and the most memorable moments of each day. I have also shared our unique and unexpected experiences. We hope you find this guide helpful while planning your own trip to the beautiful paradise that is the Canadian Rockies.
Day 0: The Packing (Aug 26, 2020)
Since this was our first weeklong camping trip, we wanted it to be as rustic (and inexpensive) as possible. We took all the basic amenities along, pretty much carried a small home in the car. Among others, some important things that we took were:
Bedding: Air mattress, sheets, blankets, pillows
36 qt. cooler with ice packs
Kitchen stuff: Basic utensils, cookware, butane stove
Decor stuff: Rainbow lights, rechargeable night-lamp, picnic table cover
Hiking stuff: Hiking sticks, lifestraw water filter, granola bars
Emergency stuff: Batteries, ropes, flashlights, car jumper cable, power banks
Food: Some packaged stuff, but mostly fresh produce and frozen patties
Day 1: The Drive (Aug 27, 2020)
During the drive from Vancouver to the Redstreak Campground in Radium, the landscapes changed constantly. Hands down the most exciting moment of Day 1 was entering the Glacier National Park, where we first got a glimpse of the Rockies. As exhausting as the 9-hour drive was with the steep and winding roads, the sight of the mountains by the roadside was thrilling.
Day 2: The Ghost Town (Aug 28, 2020)
Banff Town Sign
Bow Falls Viewpoint
Bankhead Ghost Town
Two Jacks and Minnewanka Lake
After a much-deserved good night's sleep, we were up and ready by 7 (at least I was), very excited to start this trip. We spent the day covering some of the easy to access viewpoints. No big hikes yet. One of the lesser-known spots 10 minutes away from the Banff city is Bankhead. It used to be a thriving mining town, which was then abandoned in 1930 due to poor relations between the miners and the parent company. Today, some old structures remain, serving as tourist spots.
The most memorable moments of Day 2 came at the end of the very busy day of walking and driving. We sat by the shore of the Minnewanka lake with our feet dipped in the water and the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains, admiring the serenity that this place holds.
Day 3: The Thunderstorm (Aug 29, 2020)
Bow Lake Viewpoint
Parker Ridge Trail
The third day of our trip started with a raging thunderstorm. We made our way from the Redstreak campground across the Icefields Parkway towards our second place of stay (Wapiti campground, Jasper National Park), stopping for roadside viewpoints.
After the storm calmed a bit, we began our first hike of the trip, the Parker Ridge trail. The most exciting moment of this day was when after a long climb of many, many switchbacks, we saw the glacier emerging for the first time. There were spectacular views of the Saskatchewan Glacier tailing into a river as we reached the top.
Pro-tip for this hike: it gets really cold and windy up there, so it is advised to be appropriately dressed.
Day 4: The Wall-Climbing Mountain Goat (Aug 30, 2020)
Columbia Icefield Skywalk
The majority of Day 4 was spent at the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. This majestic piece of engineering is a 1 km walkable platform made of glass, standing 280 m up the ground and sticking out of a near vertical mountain wall. The Skywalk experience is a self-guided interpretive tour of the walkway, equipped with audio recordings explaining the history, geology, physics, and biology surrounding the area. This $21M project started in 2012 and opened to visitors in 2014.
The most memorable experience during the 4.5 hours we spent at the Skywalk was seeing a mountain goat appear from the nearby thick forest on to the mountain wall and proceed to casually climb down. The goat spent a whole hour just grazing on small bushes in the nooks of the rocks. It was really amusing.
Day 5: The Falls (Aug 31, 2020)
Goats and Glaciers Viewpoint
Bow Glacier Falls
Our last day in Jasper started cloudy, which turned out to be a bliss. The disk of clouds surrounding a mountain was the perfect backdrop for Athabasca and Sunwapta falls. We also stopped by the Bow Glaciers viewpoint, which offered stunning views of the turquoise Bow lake. I really wanted to take a dip in the lake, but it was freezing cold. Hopefully next time!
Day 6: The Big Beehive (Sep 1, 2020)
Big Beehive Viewpoint
If I had to choose my most favourite day of the trip, it would be Day 6. Not only did I get to see the much sought after Moraine Lake (which I was not able to during my last visit), we were able to go all the way up to the Big Beehive viewpoint on a warm and sunny day. Lake Louise looked like a stroke of bright paint from up there.
As much as we loved visiting the shooting sites of the Koi Mil Gaya (a 2003 Indian movie), the most memorable feeling of this day was the overnight thunderstorm that built up in the evening, providing the true wilderness experience. It was lovely sleeping under the pitter-patter of the rain. Thankfully it was really cozy with our sleeping bags and blankets.
Day 7: The Long Walk (Sep 2, 2020)
The morning of Day 7 was spent drying all our bedding and tent since water pooled inside the tent overnight. So much for the lovely moments of the Day 6 rain. At least the ropes I had packed came in handy.
Eventually, we headed to Lake O'Hara, where I had been wanting to go for a while. The lake is 11 km away from the parking lot at an elevation of 400 m. This highly eco-sensitive area is heavily restricted to traffic. The only way up is either by bus (tickets sold through a lottery every year) or by foot. Due to the pandemic, bus service was discontinued, so we hiked 22 km back and forth to see this pristine lake. We found it totally worth the effort.
A couple of things to keep in mind about the Lake O'Hara hike is that there is a lot of wildlife activity and barely any people, so keeping your ears open and carrying bear spray/bells would be very useful. It is best to plan it for a sunny day and start before noon to allow enough time to spend and safely return back before dark. For me, the best moment of this day was reaching the 11 km marker while climbing up.
Day 8: The Goodbye (Sep 3, 2020)
As much as we were dreading the trip ending, one of the most thrilling views we saw was literally 2 min of a walk away from the parking lot of the Emerald Lake. It was very peaceful. A perfect close to a perfect trip. After a long 9-hour drive home, we were devoid of all energy but happy to be back to the warmth of our lovely home. Best of all, it was finally possible to take a shower which we were devoid of because the showers at all the campgrounds were closed due to the pandemic.
Needless to say, the most memorable time of this day was getting back the sense of normalcy of regular life, albeit with a hint of homesickness for the Rockies.