Iowa to Alaska: Canadian Rockies and Icefields Parkway

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

HINTON, ALBERTA

Jasper National Park reminds us of home, except for uniquely-shaped rock formations that seem to touch the skies above the RV. Many things are the same — bears, caribou, braided river valleys, snow. The last few days have felt a bit like traveling the Glenn Highway, with a few skunks thrown in for good measure. <—-I don’t recall ever seeing one of these striped marauders along the Glenn, so that’s new.

We’ve spent the past few days traveling up and down the scenic Icefields Parkway, a stretch of twisting, turning, eye-catching road between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. At 144 miles in length, the Parkway is flush with outdoor opportunities ranging from simple strolls to backcountry trips via horseback or on foot, and it’s one of the most popular international destinations in Canada.

Encompassing icefields and hanging glaciers reminiscent of Alaska, the drive can be done as a scenic journey to or from towns like Canmore or Hinton (where we are now), or as a stop-and-play adventure with the assistance of Parks Canada, an agency overseeing both parks and the activities therein.

We chose to stay in Canmore, a short 15-minute drive from Banff National Park. With a homey feel of a resort town without the expense Banff can often exude, Canmore had walking trails, great eats, and a nice vibe that has me considering how much a condo in this outdoor-centric town might cost for retirement purposes.

Peering down to the town of Banff from atop the Sunshine Gondola stop. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Peering down to the town of Banff from atop the Sunshine Gondola stop. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Banff, by contrast, bustled with tourists staying at the famous hotels and swarming through the quaint, European-style streets. We loved the architecture, the atmosphere, and the activities, climbing around the mountaintops after a gondola ride and soaking in the nearby hot springs. Blessed with a blue-sky day, we made our way back to the campground after cruising Lake Minnewanka and experiencing a hot day thunderstorm as we picnicked by the shoreline. Note: The Alaska Kids were not as excited by the lake cruise as the adults, mostly because there were no whales. But they did appreciate the vintage-style boat and stormy weather.

Jasper’s main attraction, aside from the mouth-dropping views, is the accessible Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier. The Glacier Discovery Centre is the hub for all things tourism up there, with bus rides to icefield itself and an adventure on the shifting ice and snow; to a walk out on a clear catwalk, dubbed the Glacier Skywalk, that won’t be for those with a fear of heights. We opted for a hike to the Athabasca Glacier’s toe, a short uphill walk of about 1/2 mile with a loop on the moraine for extra viewing and hands-on access to the ice’s scraping power on nearby rocks. Not a fan of group tours? This is the activity for you, and a wide parking lot is available for those wanting a simple hike without the crush of other visitors. Do be aware that large RVs may have trouble parking in the lot when crowded, however. Use the lot across the street near the Centre and hike across.

Every pullout along the Icefields Parkway offers scenery and relaxation. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Every pullout along the Icefields Parkway offers scenery and relaxation. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Continuing along the Parkway, take your time; pull out at every stop you can, walk a bit, and appreciate Parks Canada’s attention to well-maintained trails and day use areas. Once again we have appreciated the versatility of the RV for hot lunches on cold, rainy days, and the chance to relax before heading on up the road. The weather has been only spectacular or hideous, nothing in between, and with that, our 31-foot home on wheels has served us well.

Today we’re exploring the town of Hinton, rather a surprise for its outdoor recreation commitment and family-friendliness. The Hinton-Jasper KOA is nothing short of spectacular, with a kids playground, infant/toddler indoor playroom, game room, vast stretches of green fields, and a historic store selling all kinds of locally-made products. The shower rooms even have infant bathing sinks and tot-seats so parents can be secure of their little one’s safety. Nicely done.

Tomorrow we arrive in Dawson Creek, and Mile 0 of the Alaska-Canada Highway, where history and accessibility met in a need to connect the Lower 48 to the Alaska Territory so long ago. It is here the research for Alaska On the Go #3 will begin. Oh, did I mention that? Road Tripping the AlCan With Kids.

Driving on!

~EK

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