“It’s a scenic drive, not a transportation corridor.” So states the Parks Canada brochure of the Icefields Parkway. Perhaps that’s why the 140 mile route from Lake Louise to Jasper took us 10 hours. The scenery alone was cause for diversion, and there were plenty of turnouts and viewpoints to indulge our appetite for views of the surrounding mountains, rivers, lakes and woods. A favorite stop was the overlook at Peyto Lake. The deep hues of its blue green water contrasting with the snow capped mountains and a bit of luck with the sunlight provided us with an astounding sight.
Of course, we did take time to do a few select hikes along the way. Our first was at Wilcox Pass, and proved that every hiking experience has its own unique flavor. This time we followed a ridge line high above the highway. It was wide open terrain, open to the wind, but providing constant views of the peaks around us. Passing above the tree line and into the meadow which formed the mountain pass, we were once again in the land of snow. We managed to continue forward progress crossing the snowy patches by literally following in the deep footsteps of earlier hikers. A few mis-steps revealed just how deep the snow really was! We ultimately reached a rocky pinnacle that provided a 360 degree panorama of snowy peaks. To travel beyond would have required snowshoes, and we were not that well prepared (but we did meet some hikers earlier who were – now we know why!). We took on our fill of the scene, took an abundance of photos, and mutually agreed that we had reached the far extent of our travels for that hike.
Or second hike was a hidden gem. Its only marking from the highway was a little hiker sign, and the initial path did not seem to hold much promise. But the Information Center guide had assured us there were six waterfalls, and he didn’t let us down. We soon came upon the lowest of Stanley Falls on Beauty Creek, and were captivated. The thundering creek had cut a deep gourge into the rocks, and the water tore downhill and around bends. We followed the trail upstream, marveling at how perilously close to the edge one could venture – it both afforded excellent views and invited danger. We did indeed find six falls, although it was almost continuous waterfall. It was a hike well worth doing, yet we didn’t meet anyone else on the trail.
Finally, as we closed in on Jasper, our progress was further delayed by wildlife. What appeared to be a long pileup of cars at the side of the road up ahead turned out to be motorists gawking at a black bear. There he was, along side the road, leisurely eating and ambling along. Naturally we joined the throng and took our share of pictures. The next encounter was a gray wolf, frustrated in his attempt to cross the road, and we tracked him just barely in the woods (from the car) until he moved further inland. Our last encounter was with three elk on a smaller road, and they made it clear that they owned the roadway as they crossed in front of us.
Sometimes drives are not meant to be rushed. This was one of them.