Banff, Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is a popular and scenic route from Jasper to Lake Louise. Commercial trucks not allowed and hence lots of tourists in RVs, cars and buses. Also a fair number of bicycles both supported (i.e. unloaded) and unsupported. I had made reservations for each night and hence knew I had to climb 1000m+ the first day. Overall it was a great three day ride – with many photos to show below.
It was 4C (39F) starting out but quickly warmed up during the day. The route initially started along the river and was flat, but at 5km after crossing a glacier stream started to climb.
Near the top was a beautiful lake, perfect for early morning reflections.
As I neared the end of 93A, I came on this group of rafters getting their pre-trip briefing. At 15km was junction with Icefields Parkway as well as Athabasca Falls.
The falls didn’t drop far (12m, 40ft) but had lots of fury to them.
After this followed the river slowly uphill with scenery such as photo above. At 40km was Sunwapta Falls and a lodge here and chance to get lunch.
Most of the time the shoulder was fine, though did occasionally suffer from two problems: (a) as seen above, some strong lateral cracks that would cause a “thump, thump, thump” as I cycled over them. Interestingly the way to avoid this was to cycle in that groove in the middle and (b) when passing zones appeared the road didn’t get wider but instead the shoulders went away.
However, not to complain.
It was a slow steady climb to ~74km where suddenly the grade increased to ~8%. I pedaled some and also walked a little of this hill.
Near the top was this tourist attraction where tourists could walk out onto the skybridge that jutted some 250m+ over the valley floor below. After this sky bridge a short descent and last little bits going to the Columbia Icefields.
A good picture of the end of the icefield glacier below.
What I thought was interesting was almost immediately the river started large from bottom of the icefield. Also here was a large “Icefields Centre” with cafeteria and chance to refuel at end of the day. After this just 8km including 4km to top of the first pass (2035m) and boundary between Jasper and Banff Parks.
Overall a tough but satisfying day with over 1000m of steady climbing from Wabasso Campground to and over the pass.
I stayed overnight at the Hilda Creek Hostel. A nice little place with dorm and kitchen building. The hostel itself was “unattended” meaning they emailed you a lock code and you needed to make sure you kept everything clean. There was another party of three there, friendly folks who also gave me some water (there river was fresh glacier melt and lots of sediment). The dorm was a bit dark, so I actually set up my tent outside.
In the morning after the sun reached over the ridge, I set off for the day. First 40km would be downhill and then I would climb just as far back uphill over the next ridge.
Steep descents down into the Saskatchewan River valley and also several degrees colder as sun hadn’t quite reached. Photo above coming to the “weeping wall” where small rivulets came down the steep rock face.
Many more dramatic mountains to pass, I stopping taking photos of all of them. At 40km was Saskatchewan Crossing, a large commercial place and chance to get early lunch.
Tour buses were definitely stopping here and the line to restroom would suddenly grow as busloads queued up.
After lunch another 2km to cross the bridge at 1394m and from then another 34km of climbing back up to 2088m. Had a good climb to start and fortunately, not quite as steep as day before.
I did see some cyclists such as ones below, but you can see it was fairly busy.
Pretty close to the top was brief area of construction (and exception to the “no trucks”)
After this the rest of the day was mostly downhill past several deep blue lakes.
Here was Crowfoot Glacier.
End of the day was another hostel, this time Mosquito Creek.
This hostel had more guests as well as someone attending. Nice location and good place to relax.
Woke early in hostel and careful not to wake other campers, made my breakfast in the cook building. Packed my gear and was on the road by 8am. It was still cool in the valley.
The predominant direction today was downhill with the first 27km going down to Lake Louise Village.
Just before the village, the Icefields Parkway officially ended and there was a short stretch of Trans-Canada Highway (route one). Apparently, I missed the separate bike path but the (interstate-type) highway was fine. One interesting thing this highway had done was erect huge fences everywhere to keep moose/elk etc off the highway. Instead they were directed onto animal crossings such as the ones above.
I stopped in at the visitor center in Lake Louise and got my Banff National Park information. Also found a chance to upgrade my planned campground to a hotel that wasn’t outrageously expensive. I considered cycling (200m+) up to Lake Louise but decided that could wait. From here the next 60km was along the old route, now named Bow Valley Parkway.
To help keep the animals from going onto the highway, they had “Texas Gates” as shown in sign above. What is a Texas Gate? Well looks a bit like below.
Yup, in Texas they would be “cattle guards”.
The Bow Valley Parkway as a quiet route with several information signs and stops along the way.
This one told us about bears (I only saw one on the second morning of the Icefields ride).
The route roughly followed the railway and the Bow River.
This sign and nearby statue was interesting since it talked about internment camps and road crews, but this time during the first world war and likely Ukrainians from the parts of Austro-Hungarian empire.
In a few places, the road split and each direction was its own road. However, look at the nice wide striped shoulder on this one.
Near end of the Bow Parkway, the road rejoined the Trans-Canada and this time, I did find the bike path that led on to Banff. Nice little parkway that then went past a few lakes.
To arrive at Banff itself.
Here I found my way to hotel and then walked around downtown. Tomorrow a rest day here to get a few errands such as laundry done and otherwise prepare for the Great Divide cycling route. Nice to have made it to Banff.
OMG! I was wondering if you were going to take the Icefields Parkway. Love that road! We were there in 2009 and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. Definitely had a great flashback with your pictures. Thanks!