travelogues Canada > travelogue British Colombia, Alberta

From Calgary to Vancouver

Fly & drive British Colombia and Alberta II

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - View of Whistler from water plane

From Calgary into the Rocky Mountains, where all of a sudden a grizzly bear appears. Via Banff over the Icefield Parkway along glaciers, rivers and canyons. Near Jasper, elks fight over territory, and around Clearwater a horseback ride to the waterfalls. A flight in a water plane over the snowy mountain peaks around Whistler. Spotting orcas, grey whales and seals off the Vancouver coast.

Travelogue: Anje M. Oosterhuis
Photos: Arjan Bolks & Anje M. Oosterhuis

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Calgary

Calgary was founded in 1875 at the spot where the Bow River and Elbow River meet. Not long afterwards, in 1883, the railway to Calgary was ready. Until 1914, the city's main source of income was beef processing; later oil was found in its surroundings.

In Calgary we first visit the 1988 Olympics Park which has ski jumps, a half-pipe and a luge run. We also visit the Olympics Hall of Fame and the super-fast skating rink on the University of Calgary campus.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - View from Calgary Tower

In downtown Calgary the elevater of the Calgary Tower takes us to an altitude of 191 meters, where we have a great view of the city, the surrounding prairies and the Rocky Mountains. We can also see, very clearly, the grounds of the Calgary Stampede, the center of the largest rodeo festival in North America.

The route from Calgary to Banff is incredibly beautiful: we drive on a plateau and gradually enter the Rocky Mountains

Snowy Owl, Marble Canyon & Paint Pots

All of a sudden there's a grizzly, standing on its hind legs

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Snowy Owl Husky Farm

In Bow Valley, a little south-east of Banff, in the town of Canmore, is a Husky Farm, Snowy Owl, with 150 huskies. It's a 24/7 job to keep the grounds clean (read: free of faeces). The huskies are working dogs.

We can pet the dogs as much as we want, but we are warned in advance: the dogs are not trained to sit or lie down on command; they are very strong. They can throw you down and take the expression "hug to death" a little too literal.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park

A guide tells us that summer is the time for the dogs to grow fat for the winter. They will go "sledding" (on wheels), but not as often as in winter. During the winter a dog will on average run 80 kilometers a day, six times a week. And they enjoy it, too!

The farm has many different breeds of husky, among which a breed which is only found in the northern part of Canada. It has a very thick coat. They also have a wolfdog, which is 98 per cent wolf, so it actually is a wolf.

From Canmore we drive to Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park. With Banff, Jasper and Yoho, the 1406 km2 Kootenay National Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, which are all on the Unesco World Heritage List.

The surroundings of Marble Canyon were destroyed in a large forest fire, which burned a surface of 170 km2 in 40 days in 2003. A great disaster, but also good for nature. Fire is a natural phenomenon and over time this area will have a richer variety of wildlife and plants because of it.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park

We take a walk in Marble Canyon, crossing bridges and taking trails along the canyon. Nature is really beautiful here, but it seems almost unreal because of the colors: clear blue water, grey rocks, green, mostly small plants and dry sticks that used to be trees.

After walking for a few hours, we drive to Paint Pots. The colors here are completely different. The dominant color is ochre, in stark contrast with Marble Canyon, only 1.5 kilometers away.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Paint Pots in Kootenay National Park

We walk about a kilometer from the parking lot on a hiking trail. We cross a suspension bridge and arrive at the Ochre Beds, clay deposits, some of them containing ferriforous water. In the past, Native Americans traveled from the mountains and the prairies to find "red soil" here.

The yellow ochre was cleaned, kneaded with water and then rolled into walnut-sized balls which were then flattened into small cakes. These cakes were baked in fire, which turned them into powder. Mixing the powder with fish oil or animal fat, it was used to dye bodies, teepees, clothes and stones.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Banff in Banff National Park

Late 19th century, the ochre was won manually by whites and taken by horse carts and train to Calgary, where it was used as raw material for paint. Suddenly this stopped and the evidence of how sudden that was, is still there.

The last batch that was ready for transportation never left Paint Pots. At the end of the path are the real Paint Pots, three mineral wells.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Grizzly bear in Banff National Park

Back in Banff we are picked up at 7 PM by a guide who takes us on a wildlife tour. Dusk is the ideal time to do this, because then most animals get active.

Our guide knows the location of a bald eagle nest and also a good spot to see it. On the way there we suddenly see a grizzly. It is hiding behind trees, but when two mountain bikers pass, it stands up straight. For about three seconds we see it in all its majesty. It is an enormous animal! Then it bails.

A little later we see not only the bald eagles's nest, but also the bird itself. From not too far away, we see it sit on a branch next to its nest.

On the way we see mountain goats, and our guide tells us he hardly ever sees them, because they live much higher up in the mountains.

A little later we also see mouflons on the road and some elks.

Banff - Icefield Parkway - Jasper

Along glaciers, rivers and canyons in the Rocky Mountains

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Bow Lake along the Icefield Parkway

We turn onto Highway #93 to Lake Louise. There we exit onto the Icefield Parkway (Promenade des Glaciers), a 230 kilometers route to Jasper along glaciers, rivers and canyons in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

We drive along Herbert Lake and Hector Lake, parallel to the Bow River - which we don't see -, to Bow Lake, an extremely pretty lake surrounded by bare mountain peaks with snow on them.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Peyto Lake along the Icefield Parkway

We drive from Bow Lake to Peyto Lake. There we climb the Peyto glacier. The path is very steep, but our hard work is rewarded with a view of really stunningly beautiful blue water, a sand delta and the river valley that leads to Mistaya Lake.

The unusual blue color of the water in Peyto Lake is caused by small rock particles which fall from the Peyto Glacier and the reflection of the sunlight in them.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Mistaya Canyon along the Icefield Parkway

We continue on on the Icefield Parkway, now parallel to the Mistaya River, to Mistaya Canyon. It is a fantastic experience. There are no fences to protect us from the forces of nature, which is of course wonderful. But it's also dangerous: one wrong step and your life is over. If you fall into this water, with its currents and whirlpools, you are completely lost.

At Mistaya Canyon we see the least chipmunk. Now we have seen, with the golden- mantled ground squirrel and the Columbian ground squirrel which we saw in Kokanee National Park, all kinds of squirrels that live in Canada.

The Mistaya River runs through the Mistaya Canyon for 2.5 kilometers and then flows into the North Saskatchewan River, which runs through the North Saskatchewan Valley.

You can make a right here, exiting the Icefield Parkway, to the enormous Abraham Lake. But we stay on the Icefield Parkway.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Icefield Parkway

We drive along the northern part of the North Saskatchewan River to Bridal Veil Falls Viewpoint. From here, the road ascends and we aren't far away from the Columbia Icefield Centre at an altitude of 1,984 meters.

The surrounding mountains look increasingly rough and we see more mountain peaks with huge amounts of snow on them.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Athabasca Glacier along the Icefield Parkway

At the Columbia Icefield Centre we have an incredibly great view of the Athabasca Glacier and the Dome Glacier. The peak of Mount Athabasca is at 3,493 meters and the Snow Dome is 3,459 meters high. We see snow mobiles, large buses with huge tires, drive on the Athabasca Glacier.

We drive to Sunwapta Falls, staying on the Icefield Parkway. They are really worth visiting, just as the Athabasca Falls which we see a little later. Impressive nature highlights follow one after another along the Icefield Parkway.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Athabasca Falls along the Icefield Parkway

At the end of the Icefield Parkway we cross the Athabasca River and arrive in a park where we have rented two chalets: Becker's Chalets, located in pretty, wooded surroundings, about ten kilometers from Jasper.

We have dinner in one of the restaurants in Jasper and afterwards we drive around in the area; it's around 9 PM and dusk is setting in. This is the best time to look for wildlife. We see some deer and elks. On the way back to our chalets we see a black bear. He disappears rather quickly.

Miette Hotsprings

The water has to be cooled before you can swim in it

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Marmot in the The Whistlers near Jasper

We take the cable lift to The Whistlers, the flat peak of Whistlers Mountain at 2,466 m, named after the high-pitched whistle of the hoary marmot which lives here. It was originally named London Mountain after the frequent fogs there, but renamed to attract more tourism. We have a great view of the Jasper Valley and most of Jasper National Park.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Jasper

When it's completely clear, you can see even farther. When it rains in the valley, it snows here on this mountain top, which can lead to treacherous situations if you're hiking.

Arjan and I drive to Miette Hotsprings, 40 kilometers from Jasper. We pass the large Jasper Lake and then make a right and enter the mountains via Fiddle Valley.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Miette Hotsprings

The water that arrives in Miette Hotsprings from the mountains is even hotter (54 degrees centigrade) than the water in Ainsworth Hotsprings. It has to be cooled before you can swim in it.

There are several pools with different temperatures. You can't stay longer than 15 minutes in the hottest one. So you cool down a bit and then go back in the warm water until your body tingles. It is incredibly relaxing.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Old locomotive in the center of Jasper

The railway that runs through Jasper is an important freight route. Trains pass frequently. Canadian freight trains are extremely long. A hundred wagons behind a locomotive is no exception. And often they carry two layers of containers.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Elks defending their territory

After dinner we take the car again to look for wildlife. On the side of the road we see a large group of elks, but we are already spoiled with those. The only animals we haven't seen yet, are moose. Today we are out of luck again. But we see two large elk males defending their territory.

Jasper - Clearwater

Wells Gray Provincial Park has impressive waterfalls

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Patricia Lake just outside Jasper

We leave early, because today we have a 400 kilometers trip, via Highway #16 West. We follow the Miette River for a while and pass Yellowhead Lake.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Motorrijder ziet zwarte berenjong in de berm niet

And then, all of a sudden, to the left on a dirt road, we see a black bear with cub. We park the car immediately. The bears walk into a bush toward the road and before we know what's happening, they are standing on the roadside, ready to cross.

From the opposite direction motor bikers are approaching who don't even see the animals, maybe because of their speed. When the motor bikers have passed, the bears hop across the road and start eating berries in a bush on the other side. The cub is still brown, but will get darker as it grows older.

In Mount Robson we take a break and enjoy the beautiful nature. We drive along Fraser River, the most important salmon river in the world. Every autumn the salmons who were born here, return to mate.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - On the way to Clearwater

Just outside Mount Robson Provincial Park we make a left to Clearwater. We cross Fraser River and take Highway #5 South, which follows the Thompson River for long distances.

Today the landscape is mostly woods, woods, and more woods. In and by itself spectacular, but it doesn't offer much variation.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Wells Gray Provincial Park

Clearwater is small village with a recreational lake. We spend the night in the Trophy Mountain Buffalo Ranch, about 15 kilometers from Clearwater in Wells Gray Provincial Park. This park has many waterfalls, some of which are very impressive.

The park is overshadowed by better known national parks like Jasper and Banff, but its natural beauty is amazing. The road from Clearwater ends at Clearwater Lake, but the park is much bigger, with many hiking trails. The other lakes and waterfalls can only be reached on foot.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Helmcken Falls

After our arrival at the ranch we decide to take a drive in the park immediately. First we visit Spahats Falls, in Spahats Creek Provincial Park which borders on Wells Gray. After a short walk we arrive at a waterfall, where the water falls into a 122 meters deep gorge with much noise. Here we have a great view of the Clearwater River far below us and the pink-gray volcanic rocks.

Afterwards we drive to Dawson Falls. There we are almost eaten alive by mosquitos because of the heat and the humidity, but the view of the 18 meters high waterfalls is fantastic. The Spahats Falls are very high and narrow, the Dawson Falls on the other hand are not as high, but extremely wide and the noise from the falling water is deafening.

We continue on to Helmcken Falls. Compared with the Niagara Falls near Toronto (50 meters high), the Helmcken Falls are three times as high. The water falls from an altitude of 141 meters in a deep bowl surrounded by forest.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Horseback riding in Wells Gray Provincial Park

The next day I take a three-hours guided tour on horseback to Moul Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. A few days ago people spotted some black bears on this route. Nice, but I hope we won't encounter them while we're on horseback.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Moul Falls

At Moul Falls we are assaulted by mosquitos. It's possible to get very close to the waterfall and even, if you don't mind getting wet, walk behind it.

Clearwater - Whistler

In a water plane over snowy mountain peaks

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - On the way from Clearwater to Whistler

After crossing some mountain passes, we drive to Pemberton, where we leave the mountains behind us. A little later we arrive in Whistler, where we spend the night in two cabins on Riverside Campsite.

Whistler is also known as "Bear City" and there are warning signs everywhere. We are not allowed to leave anything edible on the porch at night, because it could attract bears.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - View above Whistler vanuit watervliegtuig

Whistler is a lovely and lively town with a nice but touristic center. It is somewhat comparable to a place like Zermatt in Switzerland. When we are visiting, preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics are in full swing. Accomodations are built and roads are constructed and improved.

On our last morning in Whistler we take a 30 minutes flight in a water plane over Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park. We taxi from the port to the widest part of Green Lake. There the pilot accelerates and we take off.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - View over Whistler vanuit watervliegtuig

The plane moves and shakes. When we have ascended more, it gets better. We all have headphones and the pilot tells us what we see. The views of the snowy mountain peaks and mountain lakes are wonderful.

Whistler - Vancouver

Spotting orcas, grey whales and seals from a ship

We leave for our last trip by car, back to Vancouver, where our tour began two weeks ago. We take Highway #99 to Squamish and then drive along the fjord-like coast of Howe Sound to Vancouver North-West. Highway #99 is also known as the Sea to Sky Highway.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Beluga in Vancouver Aquarium

We enter downtown Vancouver via the Lions Gate Bridge. We visit the aquarium in Stanley Park, which has belugas, otters, sharks and sea turtles, but also reptiles and fish. There also is a dolphin show.

The next morning we drive to Granville Island in Vancouver and register at the office of Wild Whales Vancouver for a 6-7 hours boat trip, which we had booked in advance.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Vancouver from the boat

The boat can carry a maximum of 25 people and its only facility is a toilet. It is a converted fishing boat with a strong engine and it takes us from the coast off Vancouver southward.

We cross the border with the United States. After two hours we see orcas. Three large shoals of these enormous animals live off the Vancouver coast. One shoal is led by an over 90 years old female.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Orca off the Vancouver coast

When the captain finds a shoal, he can stay with it for a maximum of one hour and then has to leave. We see the orcas from afar, but some from a short distance. Small and very large male orcas sometimes appear above the surface alone, then again three at a time. They play, do a "slap tail" and dive underwater again to disappear for a long while.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Bald Eagles off the Vancouver coast

On the way back we see American bald eagles, grey whales, seals and a North American river otter. Around 6 PM we are back in Vancouver harbor.

Before we fly home, we still have a whole day to explore Vancouver. First we visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge at Capilano River Regional Park.

Canada, British Colombia and Alberta - Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver

The original bridge over the Capilano Valley was built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay and was a suspension bridge made of wood and rope. Nowadays the ropes are replaced by steel cables which can carry two fully loaded Boeing 747s.

The Capilano Suspension Bridge is with its 140 meters the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. It hangs 70 meters above the river that flows through the valley and it swings when you walk on it. On the other side you can take a great walk on wooden planking along cedars and douglas firs.

We cross the Lions Gate Bridge into downtown Vancouver and continue on to Richmond to see the new ice rink for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Afterwards we have a good lunch before we return the car at the airport and board the plane that will take us back to The Netherlands.

The first part of this trip was from Vancouver to Calgary
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