Travel report Western Canada: Vancouver Island to Banff

Western CanadaWith the high mountains, farmlands and desert in our memories. Where we have previously traveled from Calgary to Vancouver, it is time to discover even more interesting places. With just under 2000 km on the odometer in a week, we have already come a long way. Over the next two weeks we will continue to the coast, the rainforest and the eternal snow. Hoping for better weather and even more wild life. With Vancouver Island, Jasper and Banff again on the horizon, there is a chance that we will meet all the animals of ‘The Big Five’.

The state of British Columbia

From Vancouver to Vancouver Island, Campground Surf Junction in Ucluelet

The ship departs from Horsehoe Bay, via the Strait of Georgia, to Nanaimo. This 60 km tour will take you approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. Vancouver Island can already be seen from the quay, but is still shrouded in the morning mist. While in Vancouver the sun is already trying to break through. At 450 km, Vancouver Island is the largest island on the North American west coast and has several ports. Once we arrive in Nanaimo, we first head north and then take the Alberni Highway west. We are staying on The Pacific Rim of the island. The road is quite hilly and contains many bends. We pass Cathedral Grove. It’s a short walk among the gigantic trees. On this walk, you can get close to the trees, because fewer decking paths have been constructed here. The trees are over 800 years old. The roots of the ‘Giants’, on the other hand, are very short. So the trees can easily collapse on windy days. It is therefore warned that you should not enter the forest on windy days.
Our campsite: ‘Surf Junction’ is located near the sea. Many surfers visit this campsite. The campsite has various facilities and is located near the beach. The sites are very wooded and sheltered. In the evening we visit the lighthouse in Ucluelet. You can reach this via a short trail. Vancouver Island is also known for the beautiful walk you can take along the coast of ‘The Pacific Rim’. The walk, called the West Coast Trail, is about 75 km long and is for the experienced walker, who usually takes a number of days. More information about this can be found on the Canadareizen website.

Pacific Rim National Park

Camping Surf Junction in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island

There are many sights and activities to do on the island. One of these is a tour led by a Park Ranger. These walks are free and can be followed daily here on the island. We follow the Schooner Cove Trail. Our guide Carl takes us to the ancient rainforest. The path leads us deeper into the forest, over wooden planks and many different stairs. Being good on your feet is therefore a must. As the name suggests, it often rains in the forest and it is very humid. So moist that you can wring out the pieces of wood. If you look closely at the trees you will see that the forest giants sometimes consist of four different trees. These are called Nursery trees, the younger trees have ended up on the old trees and use them as food. The oldest trees are often as good as rotten and this can be seen in the enormous holes that you can stand in. The path eventually ends on a stretch of beach with views over the Pacific Ocean. There are still several rocks and islands to be seen, which are only partially visible in the low-hanging fog. The tour is over and you can reach another stretch of beach via the rocks.
Back at the K’wisitis Visitor Center, we look at the brochures and the small museum in the building. Outside on the ocean, tourist boats gather off the coast. If you look closely, you can see whales breathing a few hundred meters away. We continue along the rocks onto the beach, curious about what else the island has to offer. Because the tide is low, more rocks are visible. In the pools that are left behind, you will find hermit crabs, snails, fish, anemones and crabs. A few meters from the beach, 6 seals are sunbathing extensively. Once again we see a boat coming, which stops close to the beach. And yes, the whales are breathing again and we see the beautiful mist. We clamber back to the car over the rocks and firewood. On the way to the campsite, we see a black bear running across from the car. Today we saw two animals from the Canadian Big Five. Three more to go.

Campsite Surf Junction in Ucluelet Vancouver Island

Long Beach is on the program because this is the stretch of beach on the Pacific Rim where you can find starfish. There is a small island in the sea, when the tide is low you can walk to it. We find several starfish on the island. There are orange and purple and they have a diameter of about 20 cm. The waves soon crash around the rocks again and we decide to go back. Within a few minutes the water, which was completely gone before, is back up to our knees. Whales are again passing along the beach and this time we can observe a fin above the water. A guided tour of the Creatures of the Coast departs from the Kwisitis Visitor Center. Once again a very educational walk on the beach this time. The Pacific Rim has many walks and beaches to offer, all very different. Below is a list of options.

Hiking in ‘The Pacific Rim’

  • Florencia Bay (reachable by descending several stairs).
  • Wickaninnishbeach.
  • Combers Beach (500 meters to reach this beach).
  • Long Beach.
  • Schooner Cove (1 km to reach it through the rainforest).
  • Rainforest Trail (1 km loop, but highly recommended).

What is special is that many signs on the island are bilingual. The language that is still spoken here on the island, but less and less, is the language of the Nuu-chah-nulth. These are the original inhabitants of the island. The culture of the ‘First Nations’ still plays a major role on the island and can be found everywhere.

From Campsite Surf Junction in Ucluelet Vancouver Island to hotel Sandman in Squamish

Today we leave the beautiful island, which had much more to offer, behind us. We leave early. We join the boat queue well in time and enjoy the beautiful view while sailing and watch the island becoming smaller and smaller. The next hotel is just 10 miles from Horseshoe Bay. Arriving on the mainland we take a part of the Sea To Sky Highway. This road goes from Vancouver to Whistler and is about 160 km long. One of the most beautiful highways in the world and definitely worth it. The Shannon Falls is on the route and we visit it. You can also take a cable car up for 84 CAD. It seems like a short stretch, but when you think you’re at the top, you’re halfway there and you have to cover the same stretch again. Which of course ensures that you have an even more beautiful view. For the daredevil, there is a suspension bridge, just like in Vancouver, that moves quite a bit, which you can cross. At the end of the afternoon it is very busy with many bus loads of tourists. On top of the mountain you have the opportunity to walk.

Hotel Sandman in Squamish

The weather is very sunny, just like on the island. The day starts with a visit to the Brandywine Falls. A high waterfall that crashes down loudly, with a view of snow-capped mountain peaks at a temperature of 29 degrees. We hear on the radio that the highway we need for the next waterfall is closed. The road to Whistler is also partly closed. This is because of the IRONMAN. We share the ‘Highway’ with cyclists who have already swum 4.2 km. Now I have to cycle 180 km and then run another 42 km. This event makes it extra busy around and in Whistler. There are additional parking spaces where you can park for free. We discover Whistler and walk just outside the town to Lost Lake.

From Hotel Sandman in Squamish to North Thompson River Campground

We leave early, because we have a long distance to travel. First we come across the Nairn Falls. After about 1.5 km of walking you can reach the waterfall. With a bit of luck, you will spot different types of snakes here. The next stop is Joffre Lake, but due to the large number of tourists there is no more parking space and we move on. The landscape slowly changes. The vegetation on the mountains is decreasing and nature is becoming drier. At a stopover we see people pointing upwards. At the very top, three Mountain Goats can be admired. We arrived at our destination in the evening. The campsite is located on a fast-flowing river, The North Thompson. A disadvantage is that a train passes by every half hour. And the trains in Canada are long, very long.

From North Thompson River Campground to Valemount Super 8

Our night’s sleep was considerably disturbed by the passing trains at night. We drive to BC Park Wells Gray. Where we visit the Spahatt Falls and stop at the viewpoint: The Shadden. The next stops are the Dawnson Falls and The Helmckenfalls. All beautiful waterfalls to view. The last activity is The Green Mountain Tower. A tough Gravel Road with many deep holes and sharp, steep bends uphill. But once you have taken this bump you have a wide view over the mountains. On the road to Valemount the temperature drops considerably during the rain shower, from no less than 31 degrees to 17 degrees. A few kilometers further the weather is nice again. There is a swamp area at the hotel, where you can walk with or without a guide.

From the state of British Columbia back to Alberta

From Valemount Super 8 to Whistlers Campground in Jasper

We continue to Jasper. On the way we drive to the Reargard Falls. The water comes down with great force. Gradually more higher mountains appear and we also see peaks with eternal snow looming. We stop to view Mount Robson. This is the highest mountain in Canada. At the Visitor Center we immediately collect more information about the new area. The signage including points of interest is very good. When you drive to your destination, you will come across many signs with ‘viewpoints’ or other sights. We visit Overlander Falls and Moose Lake.
We soon arrive in Jasper, a cozy and touristy town next to the railway tracks. What you should definitely try is a ‘Morning Bunn’. A kind of cinnamon roll that you can get anywhere in the area. But at Bears Paw Bakery, it also has icing on top. The campsite is located just outside Jasper. It is a large nature campsite of no less than 2 km wide. Located in a wooded area. We are reminded of littering. Because two bears were seen near the tents on 26-07-2016. A ‘grizzly bear’, which is rarely found at a campsite, and a black bear. That happens more often. The campsite has many bushes with red berries that are delicious for bears. The so-called Bearys’, when you go in the summer the bushes have numerous red berries and they therefore call it Beary Season.
We leave for Mount Edith Cavell. A high mountain, where you can look at the glaciers. The moment we get there you can hear the ice cracking. It’s not far from here to Athabasca Fall. The road there is bad and full of holes. Suddenly people stand still and we see movement in the bushes. Then an elk comes out of the bushes, or better known as the wapiti. You encounter this group almost every day in the Jasper area. We drive back to Jasper and see a train driving. Information tells us that trains here can be up to four kilometers long, so be patient when you come to a level crossing. We take a detour and are lucky, because there is a coyote on the roadside.

The state of Alberta

Whistlers Campground in Jasper

Maligne Canyon is the first on the schedule. The road to the Canyon is beautiful, but quite a climb. On the way back, we see a lot of traffic, but everyone stands still. People are getting out, and a number of tour operators are asking people to quickly get back into the car and close the windows. That almost has to be a bear. And yes, there is a black bear a few meters from the car and it will eat the bear’s berries undisturbed. He strolls leisurely from bush to bush and doesn’t care about all the tourists.
We continue to Medicine Lake. There are burnt trees around the lake. A large part of the trees here have been destroyed by a forest fire. The aforementioned Pine Beetle also strikes here. It looks sad, many hectares of destroyed trees. We see something brown running in the grass. It’s a Pica, which lets us get very close. Then we notice that people are pointing to trees. There is a nest in the trees with young sea eagles looking over the edge. We drive back to Jasper when we drive into a bear jam again. Several tour operator buses, cars and motorcycles block the road. There are two baby bears climbing into one of the trees. Mother must be down in the bushes. We end the day on the mountain at The Miette Hotsprings. A large hot tub with various facilities. It is our lucky day, because on the road to Jasper we see several Bighorn Sheep, Dall’s Sheep, Elks, a Coyote and deer.

Whistlers Campground in Jasper

In the afternoon we visit Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake. After the lakes we take the longest cable car in Canada. The Jasper Sky Tram. You climb Mount Whistlers at a speed of 21 km per hour. But it only starts after the cable car. You can reach the top in just 1.3 km. Signs indicate that it can take you half an hour. You can’t imagine that at all when you see the top. Not convinced, we start walking, but it is very difficult for us. The road is steep, it is hot and breathing is more difficult due to the high altitude. Ultimately you are at an altitude of 2464 meters. For a moment you have the feeling of being alone at the top, until you start the descent again. When you look down at the village of Jasper, you see that Jasper is shaped like the letter J. You also have a view of all the mountains around Jasper, such as Edith Cavell. The descent is a lot faster and down at the cable car we see the Hairy Marmot and several Squirrels.

From Whistlers Campground in Jasper to Tunnel Mountain Village 1 in Banff

At 7 o’clock in the morning we start the route that takes us over the Ice Field Parkway. One of the most beautiful highways in the world. If you start this early, you have a good chance of seeing wildlife and the sun slowly rises above the mountain peaks. The first stop is Sunwapta Falls.
Because we arrive so early, we can join the first tour from the Center of The Ice Field Parkway. We can go onto the glacier for 180 CAD. You will be taken by bus to a special ‘Snowmobile’. With the Snowmobile you can be on the glacier in 20 minutes. You can walk around here for 20 minutes and taste the water. When the time is up, you will be taken by bus to the Glacier Sky Walk. A viewpoint 260 meters above the ground, with a glass bottom. Here you can stay as long as you want and hop on the bus when you’re ready. Once back in the Center it has become very busy. So come early in the morning if you like peace and quiet.
Then we continue on the Ice Field Parkway, enjoying the view. We visit Peyto Lake, an azure blue lake in the shape of a fox. Bow Lake is also an incredibly blue lake. After quite a few kilometers we take a detour and end up in Yoho National Park. To view the next waterfall we have to ascend quite a bit. The hairpin bends are very short and people with long cars and campers have to maneuver quite a bit to get through the bends. Once you arrive you will find the highest waterfall in Canada here; the Takakkaw Falls. The water plunges more than 380 meters. The next stop is Emerald Lake, a large azure blue lake. Get here early, because in the afternoon it is very busy with tourists. Many buses are in the parking lot and many people walk on the jetty. The next stop is the Natural Bridge. Finally we visit Lake Louise. Where there is a large hotel on the lake and it is also very busy with tourists.

From Tunnel Mountain Village 1 in Banff to Hotel Sandman in Calgary

With only 5 degrees, this was the coldest night of the holiday. So when you sleep in a tent, make sure you have enough warm clothing and blankets. This day we leave again for the starting point and the tour of more than 4,300 km is almost over. You can get from Banff back to Calgary in a maximum of two hours. We quickly leave the Rocky Mountains behind us. We drive towards the flatter and busier part again. The city is full and we miss nature. We visit the Calgary Tower and have a view of the mountains.

Calgary-Amsterdam

We fly back to the Netherlands through the night. Because the plane flies so far north, it does not get dark on our side. Once back in the Netherlands, it is morning and the day begins. When you go to Canada you can, with a bit of luck, see many different species of animals up close. But do adhere to the safety rules that the Visitors Centers provide you with. We did not manage to see all the animals of the Big Five. We did not see the Orcas and the Moose. But it was a special journey.