Jasper is Just Amazing

From Banff we drove the Icefields Parkway through the Columbia Icefields, past the Athabasca Glacier, and spectacular snow-covered mountains. If you don’t like pictures of mountains, streams, and wildlife, you can probably skip this blog.  It’s overload up here and we just loved it!

Our home in Jasper was the newly renovated Whistler Campground in Jasper National Park. While many of the trees have been removed to combat bark beetles, the 360-degree mountain views made up for it. Frequent visits from local elk made it even more beautiful.

Upon our arrival in Jasper we hit up the local laundromat/coffee shop, SnoDome Coffee , one of the best we’ve ever seen. Susan and I followed laundry up with shopping, so Jasper left a positive impression from the beginning. 

Jasper is surrounded by world-class hiking trails, and we set out to explore a few of them. In truth we could stay here for a year and never see it all. Maligne Canyon, however, was a good choice to get us started.

The roughly three mile hike skirts the canyon rim, traveling over five bridges along the way. The narrow canyon has been carved by millions of years of rushing water which creates smooth rock and round potholes that hold spinning whirlpools of water.

Our time in Jasper has been punctuated by abundant wildlife, which is exactly what we were hoping for. We found a large herd of mountain sheep along the side of the road, numerous deer and elk, fox, beaver, and the holy grail: bears!

Steve encountered this mama Grizzly bear and baby while out on a run one morning.

We also came across this mama Black bear and her two cubs eating on the side of the highway. Just incredible!

On a different day we tackled another popular hike, The Valley of Five Lakes. In about three miles we circled five distinctly different lakes, each a different color.

Besides the great exercise, we enjoyed the sunshine and relatively crowd-free trails. Shoulder season is definitely the time to be here!

We also stopped to check out Athabasca Falls, a stop along Icefields Parkway that has been a stop for travelers for centuries. It’s now a well developed site that allows you to get up close to the falls.

We continue to enjoy traveling with the Shoemakers. Our nightly happy hours and dinners are a highlight of each day, a time for us to share our day’s adventures and plan the next.

We are now heading north to the start of the famed Alaska-Canada (ALCAN) highway. The historic road will usher us to the 49th state and we are looking forward to the journey! 

Banff National Park Oh Boy!

We love the National Parks in the United States. However, our first visit to a Canadian National Park has blown us away!  Banff National Park in Alberta is truly spectacular, and our four days here only scratched the surface. 

We arrived to the Tunnel Mountain II Campground in Banff National Park in a snowstorm and wondered if we’d see any of the beautiful peaks that define the area. But, low hanging clouds and cold air didn’t put a damper on the excitement. 

But within hours, the blue sky began to show through and it was on!!  

Our first hike was from our campground to the hoodoos overlook. Sweeping views of the snow drenched mountains with the Bow River below indicated something special. 

With our traveling companions, Russ and Susan Shoemaker, we braved the cold, and a little snow, to finish the first of several beautiful hikes. 

We headed to Lake Louise on our first full day and were greeted with more snow and low-hanging clouds.

The view was not what we had hoped for but Susan’s photoshop skills allowed us to see what it might have been like had the clouds lifted and the ice on the lake had melted. 

On our third day here we were blessed with spectacular blue skies and a bit warmer weather (if 50 is considered warm). We set out to take on the popular, 1 1/2 mile Johnston Canyon hike.

Though much of the trail was ice-packed which made for slow-going, we made it to the upper falls with ease. The advantage of being here early in the season is smaller crowds. We were happy to have parts of the trail to ourselves which made it even more special. 

Evenings are special too. We’ve been taking turns making dinner and have enjoyed several meals cooked in the Park’s cooking pavilions, around a wood-burning stove. Spending time with Russ and Susan is always fun, as we love to hear about their world travels.

We’ve known them since Susan and I worked together at the City of Phoenix in the early 1990s and being together is always so easy. 

On our final day in Banff we tackled the Tunnel Mountain Summit trail which provided 360-degree, sweeping views of the town of Banff and surrounding area. We could have sat up there and soaked in the views all day. 

We are sad to leave this beautiful area, with it’s many animals, sweeping views, and wonderful people, but we know there’s more spectacularness ahead!

The Smokies and Knoxville

We crossed another National Park off the list this week with a wonderful visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMP). It’s a big place that could have kept us busy for months and months. Over 800 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT), hundreds of historic sites, and innumerable streams and rivers make this one of the most beautiful parks we’ve seen. 

They say GSMP is defined by the 3 Ws: Wildlife, Wildflowers, and Waterfalls. We would add one more letter to the description: C for crowds. Even in the off season, which is what March is considered, the crowds at the popular sites were large. We can’t even imagine what it would be like in the peak seasons of summer and fall. It’s no wonder it’s the nation’s busiest national park…1/3 of the US population lives within a days drive of its borders. 

On one day we explored Cades Cove, a verdant valley punctuated with historic homes and churches, abundant wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We drove the 11 mile loop road, stopping along the way to learn about the settlers who populated the valley in the early 1800s.

We also spent a day driving the Newfound Gap Road, which crosses the park from Tennessee to North Carolina. The mountain pass reaches an elevation of over 5,000 feet where the road crosses the famed Appalachian Trail. We enjoyed some short hikes along the drive but skipped on the AT (for now). 

We also spent one day just hanging out at our incredible RV resort, Little Arrow Camping Resort, in Townsend, TN, right outside the entrance to the national park. We had a waterfront site that allowed us to listen to the rushing water right from the rig. Each evening we participated in activities, including Bingo, Trivia, and Smores night around the fire. Bob especially enjoyed the socializing. 

From Little Arrow we were able to hop on several hiking trails. One took us to a viewpoint that overlooks the cute town of Townsend. There a local carver is installing a giant Sasquatch, and we were able to chat with him about his work and admire the grandeur of the piece. 

Just down the road from Little Arrow we did a hike in the national park which we learned is one of the best trails to see the spring wildflowers. 

After our four days at Little Arrow and GSMP we drove less than an hour north to Knoxville. Steve had been here back in 1982 for the World’s Fair, so we did some reminiscing. There are no RV parks near downtown Knoxville so we “camped” on top of the Civic Auditorium parking garage, which provided us with electricity and security!

The main reason for hitting Knoxville was to complete another marathon.

Steve braved the cold and wind to finish the marathon in less than four hours. This was his 25th state, so he’s half way to his goal of all 50 states!

From here we head west towards home and will not likely post anything more until we begin our next RV adventure in May when we head north to Alaska!  So hang on…there’s big stuff ahead!