Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I have always been very fascinated with Aurora Borealis and this is another chance to observe this phenomenon. Really wish that it comes true this time. We are getting excited for our upcoming trip. A trip that we planned very impulsively, just over couple of emails with Priya and Pranshu. Our two other good friends won't be able to make it. We took a big risk of Canada visa, especially when there is a strike at the consulate. Luckily we got the visa in 15 days total...:) So atleast that's a relief.

Now comes the fun part of planing the trip. This is a peak season to visit the Rockies, so things are getting booked faster than expected. As ours is kind of a last minute trip, so we don't have much option. We are flying directly to Calgary, although I realized later that we could have flown to BC or Edmonton and took the famous Via Rail train to Jasper. Anyways, just a note for future travelers. Staying overnight in calgary and then taking the rental car. Then we are starting our long drive to Jasper. Jasper is ~ 415km which is around 5 hrs drive on google maps. But with all the scenic stops, it will be more than 7 hrs for sure. We are taking a vacation complete indian style. Priya is getting some puris and parathas for the trip and a lot of indori snacks will be part of the trip.

1) Booked Days Inn hotel calgary airport for o/n stay at calgary...it provides free airport shuttle, free internet and breakfast...
2) Then two night in Jasper in Best Western ...
3) Two nights in Banff in Fox Hotel and Resorts...

Things to carry.
2) GPS
3) If you do have your own car and still want the guided tour, consider renting a GPS audio guide such as the Gypsy guide - a small device that runs on GPS technology.  It will automatically trigger commentary about history, geology, directions and quirky Canadian stories.
4) You need to pack layers of clothing so that you can respond to rapidly changing weather conditions.
5) Umbrella/ Raincoat
6) Auxiliary cable
7) No foreign transaction fee credit card
8) Ask for AAA discounts.
9) Mosquito repellent
10) Sunscreen

Day 0: We flew from SNA to SFO and P&P joined us there. The flight from SFO-Calgary was around 2 hrs. Pretty smooth flight and we arrived at Days Inn, by a taxi cab at around midnight. Went straight to sleep that night.

Day 1: We started our drive to Jasper using the Gypsy guide app, but got lost on the way. Still it was very scenic drive. We came back on Hwy 1 and entered Banff National Park (BNP) in 2hrs. You can take the park pass for both the parks here. Stretching roughly 300 miles (480 kilometers) along the jagged crest of the Canadian Rockies, Banff and the adjoining Jasper National Park take in a vast tangle of great strapping peaks, mauled by glaciers and capped by the largest ice fields south of Alaska. And now started the beauty of these parks. The first sight when we saw the color of the water was ahhh. We had no words. Our first stop was at Hector Lake which was beautiful.

For 144 miles (232 kilometers), the route follows the Icefields Parkway, one of the world's most stunning roadways, farther north to Jasper. Along the way, look for elk, bears, and other wild creatures.  Bow River-The dense evergreen trees, swift blue waters of the Bow, and an abundance of bike trails, picnic spots, and footpaths. Bow lake's beauty was mesmerizing. The calm water turquoise water with some mist in the air had a spiritual effect on our souls there. We clicked some nice shots there. We observed crowfoot glacier and then made our final stop at icefields parkway. This is one of the most scenic spot on the Hwy 1. We arrived here pretty late at around 6pm and that was the fist time we saw the explorer bus tour. They closed that time but we decided to do this our way back. We stopped at Glacier View Inn and grabbed quick dinner for Ishan. This hotel has a very good view of five glaciers. But its far from both Jasper and Banff town centers. We arrived at Jasper pretty late ~10pm and settled in our loft. We tried Chinese food at Cantonese but were not satisfied with the taste.

Tip: There are very few restaurants and gas stations on this hwy1, so make sure you carry some food with you. The drive from Banff to Jasper is beautiful, so enjoy it.

Day 2: Made some sandwiches in our loft and left at 10am for Maligne Lake cruise at 11. This drive was around 50 mins and was very scenic. We spotted big horn sheep here. There is high chance to spot wildlife on this way. Maligne Lake is one of the top attractions in Jasper. There is only one family owned cruise line which takes you to the spirit island. It took about an hour and half for the round trip. They only allow to stay at the spirit island for 10-15 mins, but you can stay longer and catch the next ferry back. We were really lucky as it was a very bright and sunny day. The cruise is really worth the money. To preserve the pristine nature of the spirit island, they usually discourage not to walk on it. Very scenic spots here and cameraman's best shots. 

After the cruise, we started our way back to Jasper town, as we were running out of gas. There was no gas station close to Maligne lake. We took lunch at a Subway in Jasper that day. After lunch we went to visit the Fairmont Jasper Hotel. When we arrived here, weather changed very quickly with a heavy downpour and gusty winds. This hotel was amazing with a beautiful view of the lake. We headed to Maligne Canyon afterwards. There were three trails which takes you to the Maligne canyon. We took not a very strenuous hike and there were plenty of spots here. Dense green forests with the view of canyon and the scare of confronting the bear makes you realize the power of nature. It reminds me that we are not in a zoo. We then headed to Miette hot springs in Jasper and spotted a elk and a moose near the lake at around 6pm. The day light remains till almost 9, so we got a lot of time to cover things.  Hot springs was ok and can easily be skipped if you are short of time. At night we stayed back in Best Western.

Day 4: Fox Hotel had very good breakfast in chiliy's restaurant. We headed to Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise. It was around 40 mins drive form downtown Banff. It was hard to find a parking spot here and seemed like the most popular Canadian Rockies destination. Lake Louise was beautiful and the Victoria glacier on top of it makes it a perfect scenic backdrop. It was definitely a photographers paradise. It's worth staring few minutes at the magic of nature and definitely a hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies. I fulfilled my dream of kayaking in between the glaciers and it was my lifetime experience. We didn't do hike to the tree house but I believe its worth doing the hike around the lake louise.

We had some amazing hummus-falafel sandwich for lunch and then headed to Lake Moraine. This was my favorite lake of the Rockies. Crystal bluish-green water with some ten Rockies surrounding the lake. Perfect was the word! The parked canoes and kayaks added a lot to the scene. We spotted a grizzly bear here which was part of a research project on the Bears. It had a GPS tracking device attached to and they were checking the behavior of the grizzlies. It started pouring but we still went for a small hike near the lake. I just wanted to stay here forever and never wanted to come back. We went to Peyto Lake afterwards but it was pretty dark by the time we arrived there. So couldn't appreciate its beauty very well. Overnight back in Fox hotel and relaxed in their cave style Jacuzzi. 

Day 5: Our trip was coming to an end today. We got up early and headed to Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain. Banff Gondola is totally worth it with some breathtaking views of the Rocky mountains. I believe we were running short of time here and had to skip few scenic point. After taking off from Gondola, we hiked to the top of sulphur mountain and reached the cosmic ray observatory. It was one of the oldest canadian observatory. I saw people hiking to the Sulphur mountain from the bottom and it seemed like a very good hike. On our way back to bottom, we bought some souvenirs from the Rockies and started our way back to Calgary. 


The trip to Canadian Rockies absolutely mesmerizes the tourists and stands to its hype. Every night I used to check the aurora website for the forecast. I didn't get a chance to observe the Aurora here as well. So my trip was incomplete without that. But we all had a very good time here and hope to come back here soon. For Bollywood fans, movie Tum bin was shot exclusively in Banff and you will enjoy the movie more after visiting here. 

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