Traveling Canada: The Icefields Parkway

I was so excited for our drive up the Icefields Parkway. There’s nothing that invigorates me more than a long, lackadaisical trip down a new road with mountains enveloping me. The weather forecast said to expect rain and thunderstorms, but the sky was a piercing shade of blue with only a sporadic cloud to block the sun. The mountains here definitely make their own weather.

We set off down the road and bid goodbye to the little town of Banff. The drive was just over 3 hours without stops, and we planned to make a lot of them. Rolling cliffs squeezed themselves against the side of the road, towering over us as we rolled forward. We passed the gates of Jasper National Park (you pay a second fee here) and then in a panic Katie remembered that we’d left our passports in the room safe back in Banff – 45 minutes south. After scrambling around and failing to get a cell signal, we resigned ourselves to the unexpected backtrack. An hour and a half later, and we were back inside the park gates with our passports glued to our chests.

The blue sky held out and provided us with amazing viewpoints at our various stops. Crystal blue lakes, jutting hillsides, and distant glaciers abounded. The shape and color of the mountains came in all forms – sometimes craggy and uneven with tops like pointed crowns, and other times smooth and sweeping. Some had snow caked on top and others had tall and triangular green trees. Every time a dark cloud approached, we took a breath, knowing it would pass like all mountain weather.

One of my favorite stops of the day was the Glacier Skywalk at the Columbia Icefields Centre. We didn’t have time on today’s drive to see both the skywalk and glacier up close, so we decided to save the glacier for tomorrow’s drive back down south again. The Skywalk is shamelessly touristy but manages to be worthwhile. A bus takes you from the Icefields Centre to the skywalk entrance and you walk past informational displays that explain ways the park monitored wildlife patterns to ensure that building the skywalk would not disrupt them. The park concluded that the structure actually provided some protection from predators for mountain goats that linger on the cliffside below.

A glass-bottomed walkway sits suspended precariously over a steep cliff. The structure moves slightly when you put your weight onto it, and the sky reflects off the clear glass and onto the spikey rocks below. In the distance you can see the Athabasca Glacier peaking out. An exceedingly cheerful older man kept offering to take our photo, resulting in 17 poorly angled close-ups of our faces and 2 inches of grey rock behind us. Luckily a 30-something lingering nearby gave us one winning shot once our “new friend” was out of view and looking for his next portrait customer.

It was getting late by the time we arrived in Jasper, a smaller and sleepier town than Banff. The temperature was unusually mild that night, and the sky was still bright and open as we walked into town for dinner. A tiny table at Syrahs of Jasper provided us with small plates and big glasses of red wine, a welcomed wind down after a day of sensory intensity. On our walk home, the wind whirled in out of nowhere and dark and ominous clouds hovered over the mountains behind us. The horizon quickly became hazy and light rain flicked the air. From the balcony of our 2nd story motel room, you could see dark trees in the distance and smell the crisp moisture that had just rolled in. It was a quick moment of peace in an otherwise ever-moving week. A moment to digest.

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