The day had come, we were to pick up our RV from Cruise Canada for our tour of the Rocky Mountains. To say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. We almost skipped to the centre after a three-hour bus journey from Edmonton.
When we arrived at Cruise Canada we filled out the relevant paperwork and then sat in front of a 20 minute video of how to use your van. We were then let loose!!!!
Our first destination was a gas station. We stopped at the pump and tried to fill the van up. It wouldn’t let us and we were getting more and more confused until a voice came over the loud-speaker saying ‘ people at pump 14, please use the pumps at the front of the building’. We had a chuckle and moved to the front. I have never heard anyone speak over the loud speakers in a petrol station before so that was a first. When I paid and the lady realised I was English she gave me a wry smile.
The next stop was the superstore. For some reason Pete and I love supermarkets and tend to spend a long time browsing the aisles. This however had to be a quick stop as we had not reserved a campsite and were unsure how busy they would be. We did a shop for the essentials, including some peanut butter cookies that we first discovered in Toronto and have become a bit addicted to. They are the stores own brand so only a few bucks and taste ridiculously good so this seemed like a good justification for us to purchase them. After a rushed shop we headed out of Calgary and to our first campsite …Willow Rock.
Pete drove (of course) and I skillfully navigated us there ( there is basically only one road west into the national parks and all the campsites are signposted, so basically a dream for me as navigation is probably the only time Pete ever gets slightly annoyed with me. Mainly because I panic and always take us the wrong way, anyway I digress.
We needn’t have worried as the campsite only had a few other vans in it when we arrived. We had a really friendly and helpful camp owner who talked us through our RV and made sure we were hooked up correctly. He said he was used to doing this for people as they are one of the first campsites outside of Calgary, so get all the keen but inexperienced RV users. He also gave us some firewood for free so that we could have our first camp fire in Canada, however the weather decided otherwise and we had a thunderstorm instead. This didn’t dampen our spirits though and we watched it from inside our cosy new home for the next 2 weeks.
The next day we headed to Canmore to pick up some supplies, which included a hat and gloves for me and some red wine to keep us warm (definitely not for any other reason). Then it was on to Tunnel Mountain campsite which is a short drive outside of Banff. Driving through the Rockies is beautiful. The snow-capped mountains, with thousands of pine trees against the blue sky is really a sight to see. We arrived at Tunnel Mountain, it was getting colder and we cooked our dinner and settled in for the night.
The next day we caught the bus into Banff. What a great town. It has shops and restaurants with snow-capped mountains overlooking it. We walked around and then got the bus to the Gondola which took us up Sulphur mountain. The scenery from the top was breath-taking. We must have taken over a hundred photos, some of which you will be able to see on the site, sorry.
Once we got back into the town we discussed whether to get the bus back to the campsite or walk. This was not because we were being lazy but because of bears. We were advised to get some bear spray as the places we are visiting still have bears around at this time of year. No one has died from an attack but there have been a few this year. It’s a funny feeling really because although we would love to see a bear in the wild, it would be best not to come across one unless we were in our van. We braved it and walked and we were pleased we did as we saw three white-tailed deers, and no bears …
We made the short journey from Banff to Lake Louise, deciding to take the scenic route along the 1A which runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway. There was some lovely scenery along the route and places to stop and enjoy the views. We saw another deer grazing in a small field, but not the Grizzlies or Wolves we were hoping for, or in my case, mountain goats ,apparently they have great beards!!
We arrived in Lake Louise and headed for the information centre, firstly to use the Wifi and secondly and probably more importantly to book the campsite in Jasper.
On we went to the campground in Lake Louise, to check in and find ourselves a nice pitch, near to the showers. Then it was off to the actual Lake named Louise. We parked up our RV and headed down to the turquoise water. We saw the Fairmont Hotel on the waterfront, where Suzie and Laurie (my sister and brother-in-law) stayed on their honeymoon. We then ventured over to the canoe rental centre and quickly made a U-turn when we saw the price of $85 dollars + tax for an hours rental. Instead we decided to take a leisurely stroll around the lake, then about 4pm the temperature significantly decreased and that was our cue to head back to the comfort of our RV.
The following day we decided to take the Gondola up to the Whitehorn Cafe, where we enjoyed a nice hot chocolate, and of course some stunning views. We also used the free Wifi as an opportunity to change our flights home!
Wednesday and we made the 14km drive to Lake Moraine, a haven for Grizzly bears due to an abundance of Buffalo berries. When we arrived we were met by warning signs, “Due to seasonal bear activity, only hiking in groups of 4 or more is permitted, anyone found in breach of this law could be fined up to $25,000.”
The chance of an interaction with a hungry grizzly, coupled with the pretty hefty fine was enough to confine us to the Lake.
Thursday and after we replenished our fuel and propane tanks, I expertly navigated us the 230km to Jasper.
Along the way we got to enjoy some pretty amazing views. Our drive took us through the Colombia Icefields, which apparently is one of the best driving experiences in the world. We passed through snow peaked mountains and the base of Athabasca Glacier. The views were as breathtaking as the research we had done suggested. We get to do it again on the way back to Calgary too, however little did we know at the time, the drive on the way back would not be so relaxing.
Whilst in Jasper we explored the town and had lunch with views of Pyramid Lake. The following day we travelled to Miette Hot Springs, about 60km North East of Jasper. Pete as the driver, and me deployed with the camera at the ready for any wildlife opportunities, we were all set. On route we saw a few herds of elk which were conveniently stood grazing near to lay-bys. After a windy mountain drive we made it to the hot springs, where we sat in a 40 degree bath for 45 minutes, whilst it snowed! It was lovely but we are looking forward to getting back to Calgary so we can get rid of the sulphur smell out if our swimwear.
Our last night in Jasper was Saturday, which is when we had our first substantial amount of snow. It had been snowing all day Saturday but not settling on the roads, that was about to change overnight.
We left the campsite around 7.45am and it had stopped snowing, but there was snow on the ground. In fairness the worse was still to come. As we left the campsite we saw some more elk grazing at the road side and we got to see a Stag who had huge antlers. After a few photographs, we headed south back to Lake Louise.
It was only a matter of a few kilometres before the conditions began to deteriorate. The road suddenly became entirely covered with snow, with some places having no prior vehicle tracks. Although he tried to hide it, it was pretty obvious that Pete was slightly uncomfortable (to say the least) about driving a 25 foot motorhome on snow, with no roadside barriers and big drops off either side of the carriageway.
The hairiest bit was probably coming down one side of a mountain, trying to negotiate the icy bends was tricky but at 10 KPH it was possible. As we got to the bottom of the mountain we had to make our way around a further hazard, this time in the form of a bighorn sheep. He was stood stubbornly in the middle of the road, refusing to move. We wondered why motorists had been flashing us on the way down the mountain, and there’s us thinking they were just being friendly.
After 3 hours we made it to the Sasketchwan Crossing where we stopped for more fuel, these RV’S really do drink petrol! On arrival at the petrol station, we found we were iced into the vehicle and had to remove it from the doors before we could get out. After some vehicle maintenance, which involved removing copious amounts of ice and snow from the wheel arches, we continued our journey south to a less snowier Lake Louise. It was a quick pit stop for the night before moving further south to Banff.
It had been pretty cold up until Banff, but the next couple of nights were going to be down to -8 degrees! Temperatures that would freeze the water system in the van and would make us liable for any damage caused to the pipes. Were we going to let that happen?, for those of you that know us then you will know the answer was, ‘hell no’. With anti-freeze in the waste tanks, the furnace and water heater going full blast, and our alarms set at two hour intervals to run the water, we were prepared.
Morning came and we had succeeded in keeping the RV from freezing. No such luck for the chaps behind us who had woken to a frozen RV, turns out one of them was from West Grinstead and had just arrived to start work in Banff. Apparently his plan was to live in the RV which he and his friends had purchased in Ontario. Let me repeat that, his plan was to live in an RV during the Canadian winter where temperatures can get down to minus 40 degrees! Two days into his 2 year long visit and his RV had already frozen and surprise surprise he and his chums had changed their minds, and went off in search of a proper house to rent. As they departed the campsite their vehicle sounded like it was about to blow up.
With us feeling rather smug about our victory against the elements, we walked into Banff hoping for another victory in the form of England, who were playing Slovenia in a World Cup Qualifier. Ninety minutes of absolute drivel later and slightly tipsy after two drinks each (yes we are lightweights), we headed back to our RV where once again we had to be prepared for another night of sub zero temperatures. We made it through the night unscathed, 2-0 us.
We packed up the RV and headed for Canmore to fill up with more propane, before heading off ready for our last two nights at Willow Rock Campsite. The coldness of a Canadian October had taken it’s toll on us and we were ready to hand back the RV and return to the comfort of bricks and mortar.
All in all a really enjoyable experience and something we would recommend to anyone. However be prepared to spend money as including the rental of the RV you need to factor in, propane gas, petrol, costs of entering National Parks, food, and campsite costs. Also if you want to do activities other than walking it will cost you.
The weather is also a big factor, it is cold here in October, if we were to do this again then August or September would be a better time to do it.
The scenery is unbelievable and is something we wouldn’t have experienced if we hadn’t rented an RV. It was definitely worth spending the extra money on, even if it means spending the next 3 weeks, going back to eating a burrito a day.