We love national parks and were fortunate last year to explore the magnificent Yosemite National Park in California. Shortly after that trip we started scheming for an ultimate road trip that would traverse the iconic national parks in Canada and the US.
With a bit more planning, we decided to take a break from our trip around Australia (and leave our van in Adelaide) to catch the end of the North American summer. Our plan is to visit the Canadian Rockies and then make our way south through Montana to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming and then into Utah and the iconic Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. We would then finally head into Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon.
We commenced our trip in Seattle, which greeted us with fantastic weather. Part of our reasoning in starting in Seattle is that you can’t take a rental car from Canada into the States one way. So, we picked up our hire car, which we named George as it was from Washington, from downtown Seattle and all going to plan we would drop it off in Phoenix, 4,000km and 4 weeks later. Hey, we’re Australian - we like long distances!
After a short trip to the Pike Markets in downtown Seattle we headed up to Vancouver. On the way, we made the short detour to the Boeing Factory in Everett. The kids had a ball in the interactive museum and we even spotted the Qantas’ firsts Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the tarmac awaiting delivery in November.
Arriving in Vancouver, we were greeted by some unseasonally hot weather – 32’C. Summer doesn’t finish here until 20 September (and this was 1 September), but only a week earlier it had been 17 degrees! It was however, Labor Day Long Weekend – so it was extremely busy on the roads and various attractions around the city. Nevertheless, we made the most of our couple of days in Vancouver, taking in the views offered by Stanley Park, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain.
The next day we headed two hours further north to Whistler. This journey takes you along the famous Sea to Sky highway; an incredibly scenic road that includes side trips to some gorgeous waterfalls and the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish. The pictures demonstrate just how breathtaking this part of Canada is.
After arriving into Whistler late afternoon, we took a stroll through the village. This place is a mecca for skiers in the winter and mountain bikers in the summer. The highlight here was the Peak-to-Peak gondola - a world record-breaking gondola than spans Whistler Peak and Blackcomb Peak. At the top we were lucky enough to spot marmots, deer and a black bear!
From Whistler it was a long but scenic trip to Sun Peaks. Similar to Whistler, this is another ski town but essentially just an overnight rest stop for us. We then headed into Jasper National Park in the heart of the Canadian Rockies for a few days.
Shortly after arriving at our hotel, we were sitting outside enjoying the warm afternoon by the lake when a female elk casually walked next to us and stopped to eat the grass. Now a female elk has beautiful massive brown eyes and a docile disposition, so Anthony got up close to take some photos. No sooner had Anthony taken a few steps when the local ranger raced up in his truck and jumped out with an air rifle to scare this wild dangerous beast away. We had to work hard to convince the kids that the ranger was not going to shoot the elk!
Unfortunately wildfires further south in British Columbia meant that heavy smoke hung over much of the Rockies. Nevertheless, our trips to Lake Maligne and the Columbia Icefield were unforgettable. The scale of these mountains and forest really has to be seen to be believed. The kids had not seen ice or snow before, so watching them slip about on the Athabasca Glacier was fabulous. Thomas now agrees that ice can burn your hands. Who would have thought – Mum & Dad were right!?
Our final stay in Canada was in Canmore, just south of Banff National Park. This is a beautiful town surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks. With three days to explore the area we set off on a whitewater rafting adventure. None of us had been rafting, but it was such a great experience I’m sure we’ll do it again. As you can see form the photos, the kids rode up front and loved every minute of it! We surfed, spun, crashed and splashed most of the afternoon down the river. Given we were rafting in a river consisting of melted glacier, we were thankful for the wetsuits!
I didn’t think we could top the rafting, but the next morning the smoke-haze cleared and revealed the stunning scenery of Banff National Park, Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. We admired it from every angle – from a gondola, from a lunch spot in the mountains and then a wander around the lakes. Canada had certainly lived up to expectations. It had been a fantastic 10 days of scenery, good food and easy, friendly travel. Next stop… Montana.
Squamish: Sea to Sky Gondola & Brandywine Falls
Jasper National Park
Icefield Parkway: Jasper to Banff
Whitewater Rafting, Canmore
Banff National Park
Lake Louise & Lake Louise Gondola
And off to Montana...