(Sorry for the loooong delay between posts. I got sick for a week after my cousin’s wedding in late October, then I got insanely busy with work throughout all of November. I still hope to finish this series…just a few more entries to go!)
This day was one Jess and I were looking forward to most – Banff National Park! It’s probably Canada’s most famous park and for good reason – the lakes, the glaciers, and the mountains all make for some amazing pictures and experiences.
Anyway, we woke up early-ish in the morning and had a complimentary breakfast in our hotel’s little restaurant. The attendant there was very friendly and was well-traveled, so he gave us lots of good insight about what to see and do while in Banff. Jess went over our (hopeful) itinerary with him, and his response was, “That’s crazy.” Jess has the unfortunate habit of overpacking itineraries with activities and sights, haha! In the end, he proved to be right – we only saw about half of what Jess had initially planned.
Our first plan was to leave the U-haul truck at the hotel and use only the Jeep to explore Banff, then return to the hotel in Canmore get the U-haul and then head to Jasper, our next stop. The hotel/restaurant attendant said that we’d lose over an hour by circling back to Canmore, and to maximize our time, it would be best to simply check out of the hotel early and take both with us into Banff, then drive to Jasper from there.
So, that’s what we did. We still drove separately since the U-haul didn’t do well with inclines and we were in the mountains at this point. This ended up being a good idea in the end.
Anyway, our first stop of the day was at the Fairmont Inn, an iconic Gothic-style luxury hotel built in the late 19th century. With it being set against the rugged mountains, it makes for quite a sight. Jess and I aren’t nearly rich enough to stay at such a place, but we wanted some pictures of it, at least, so we stopped there and got some.
After, we moved on to take pictures of some rapids nearby. It was still fairly early in the day, though, so there was still lots of fog and mist being thrown up by the rushing water against the rocks, obscuring most of the views. Still, we took lots of photos. Fortunately, this area had a big parking lot with large spaces for tour buses, so we left our U-haul in one such space and took Jess’s Jeep into the town proper of Banff.
I’m not going to lie, the town of Banff is basically a tourist trap. It’s filled with tourist shops and pricey restaurants. Still, it was a nice break and Jess and I stopped at a tea shop, picked up a few small souvenirs, and took the chance to take a bathroom break, as well.
We then moved on to Moraine Lake. As we didn’t want to circle back, we picked up the U-haul (though, the mist had cleared and so we took even more pictures, haha) and left for one of Banff’s most iconic lakes.
This was a mistake. For those not in the know, the route to Moraine Lake is a tight, winding mountain pass with no shoulders and, in places, no barriers to keep one from falling off the side of the mountain. It’s so treacherous that there is a sign advising drivers to try to avoid driving large vehicles – like our U-haul truck – on that road. This pass is also closed during the winter season because of the risks of avalanches. Navigating that road in the U-haul (which, again, struggled up the inclines, as well) was genuinely terrifying.
The parking lot at Moraine Lake is tiny and extremely crowded with pedestrians everywhere. Parking is notoriously difficult to find here, so most people end up parking on the side of the road, which again, it tiny. This did not make it any easier to drive our gigantic truck around. The only advantage we had was that there were large parking spaces reserved for tour buses only, and since there were not as many buses as cars, there were a couple of these spaces still open. We took one for the use of our U-haul and used whatever space left over for the Jeep.
After I shook off the anxiety from the drive, we went to see Moraine Lake itself. It was stunning and I understood immediately why it is so loved and iconic. The water is an intense blue and the snow-capped mountains serve as a wonderful backdrop. We took lots of photos and because my boots were waterproof, I took a few steps into the lake, as well. It was cold! Our initial plan called for a short hike in the area, but we were realizing already that we wouldn’t have the time, so we decided not to do it.
After we were done, Jess offered to drive the U-haul back down the mountain pass since I was so terrified of it. She said that she was used to off-roading in her Jeep, so it wasn’t as intimidating for her. I agreed and drove her Jeep, which was much, much easier!
At the base of the road, there are some tourist shops and restaurant. We looked at a couple of shops and stopped for a quick lunch and a sandwich and pastry restaurant.
Then, we headed to Lake Louise, Banff’s other iconic lake. Taking our lesson from Moraine Lake to heart, we left the U-haul near the restaurant we ate at (again, lots of tourist bus spaces) and took only Jess’s Jeep to Lake Louise. The drive was much easier, though, and there were more spaces (but it was still insanely crowded).
The viewing point at Lake Louise was insanely crowded. We initially brought Remi with us to allow him to stretch his legs, but so many people were trying to pet him without permission that he was getting extremely anxious and Jess could tell he was ready to snap. So, we took him off to the side, away from the crowds. This actually took us to the canoe rental docks, and from there, we started mulling over actually caneoing on Lake Louise. I was a little nervous about it since I had only ever canoed once in my life, and I ended up tipping the canoe over while getting in. That, and Jess wanted to bring Remi into the boat with us. I absolutely vetoed that idea, as the thought of a large, anxious dog like him sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
We talked to the staff there, though, and they assured us that they loved dogs and would be happy to watch him at the docks while we out on the lake. They were incredibly friendly and helpful. So, we paid the fee for a half hour canoe rental (it was really pricey, but eh, it’s a tourist spot), got fitted with life jackets, and got into the canoe. Jess, being way more experienced with canoes, took the back as steerer while I paddled in front.
We were out for about 10 minutes when we could hear Remi howling at the dock, so we paddled back. Jess again wanted to bring Remi onto the canoe, but again, I said no. I would rather wait at the dock while her and Remi took the canoe, which is what I ended up doing. I used the opportunity to take some pictures. Surprisingly, Remi was well behaved in the canoe and did fine while Jess paddled around for the remaining 10 minutes. It was a bit funny to watch, though, since the combined weight of her and Remi in the back end of the canoe caused the front end to lift out of the water a little, haha!
Afterwards, Jess bought a souvenir sweater from the canoe rental place and a picture of her and Remi in the canoe, and we thanked and chatted with the staff again. They were awesome people and, again, quite friendly. They said we came at a good time since they would be closing up the canoe rental shop for the winter season in about a week.
As we made our way back to the parking lot, it was already about 3 p.m., and we realized we’d have to start making our way to Jasper if we wanted to get there before dark.
And so we went. Unbeknownst to us, the road that goes directly between Banff and Jasper is closed to all large vehicles – such as U-haul trucks – without special permits. We never came across this information in our research, though in hindsight, it’s not like a lot of people drive U-hauls through there. Most people going between Banff and Jasper are tourists in their own personal vehicles.
But the park attendant was sympathetic when we told her we already had lodging booked in Jasper. The only other way to Jasper would have been to circle around back through Calgary and head northwest, but we’d lose a significant amount of time – a matter of hours – and it was already late in the afternoon. As a result, she let us through. We were very grateful!
Jess and I drove separately again – me in the U-haul, Jess in her Jeep – figuring we were going to be driving through mountainous territory. The road is actually quite nice with only some steady inclines. Clearly it was planned very well. The scenery along this road was also stunningly gorgeous, taking you past mountains, glaciers, lakes, and forested valleys. I wanted to take lots of pictures, but with the U-haul being so large and difficult to turn around, I only stopped twice along the whole way. Jess stopped a couple of more times than I did, though.
We reached Jasper around sundown, with me arriving first as Jess had stopped for photos about half an hour before Jasper. Our hotel was on Pyramid Lake, though, so I took some nice photos while I waited for Jess to arrive. By the time we were reunited at the hotel and checked in, it was already dark.
Jess and I were too exhausted from our long day to go far, so we ate dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. There, we discussed our plans for the coming days. Each and every day thus far was very long and very exhausting, especially the days we were on the road for 12+ hours. Looking at our plan, the next 3 days would be about 12+ hours of driving each day, and at that, Jess broke down and said she needed a break. However, I couldn’t spare another day because I had to fly back home and work my next shift. I told Jess that, ultimately, it was her trip and she had to make it to Whitehorse one way or another, whereas I had no obligation to make it all the way there. She had a choice: either keep the itinerary as is and the two of us would drive to Whitehorse over the next 3 days, or Jess could slow down the pace and drive there in 4 days with me leaving her at some point before Whitehorse. Although Jess dreaded driving alone on the isolated Alaskan Highway, she said she was too tired to keep up this pace and went with the latter choice.
After dinner, I spent the remainder of the night figuring out travel plans. I had to cancel my flight from Whitehorse entirely and start from scratch. And let me say here that I will be hard pressed to use Expedia to book flights again, as it was such a frustrating experience to re-book flights. Long story short, the customer service agent was entirely unhelpful and failed to explain anything. I was so tired and frustrated that Jess ended up taking over the process until it was settled.
At the end, it was determined that the only major airport (and I use the term “major airport” relatively) between Jasper and Whitehorse was in Grande Prairie, Alberta. As a result, I decided to fly back home from there on October 4. From there, Jess would have to drive on her own…
Travel Path: Canmore > Banff > Jasper
Distance Covered: 313 km
Distance to Whitehorse: 1,929 km