A TOURING HOLIDAY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA AND ALBERTA SEPTEMBER 2010
My husband and I, together with two close friends, have holidayed together for many years – first with our children and then after they’d all left home we started to be more adventurous. We have already done three fly-drives in the USA most successfully and now thoughts turned to touring a very small area of Canada.
We all have slightly different interests so try to include some things we will all enjoy. Mostly we enjoy the countryside and do not need to be entertained by all the “tourist” offerings and we like to do it at our own pace so hence the home-made fly drive.
As were are all seniors who realise that time is running out for us to explore the world we can only touch the surface of the countries we visit so we try to cram in as much sightseeing as possible each day and then relax in a comfortable 3* hotel in the evening. We are outdoor people who do not need luxury accommodation, just clean and nearby to restaurants to which we can walk after our days out.
It was difficult to decide how many nights to spend in each place we wanted to visit – in all we stayed in 13 different hotels, some of which were only overnight stops on the way to the next destination.
Without the help of Tripadvisor choosing and booking hotels would have been very difficult. Hours were spent reading members’ reviews but eventually the hotels were chosen and e-mails started flying back and forth as we booked two rooms - and none of the choices failed us!
Then it was a question of fitting everything into the timetable and finding out as much information as possible on everything. Again, the Tripadvisor forums were great. Over the next few weeks nearly everything we needed information on appeared as a question or answer, so many thanks to all those who pre-empted our questions.
Planning for this holiday started back in the autumn of 2009 with me borrowing loads of guide books on British Columbia and Alberta from the local library and obtaining some literature on the two states directly from Canada. During the cold winter nights copious notes were made of places of interest to visit starting at Vancouver and finishing at Calgary.
Our holiday always starts the day before we fly – our friends do not live near us so we meet up at an airport hotel the night before just so that we don’t miss our flight. We arrived in Vancouver around midday, collected our 7 seater van and drove into the city and found our hotel easily. We were staying for four nights and as we had kitchens in our suites our first job was to find a nearby supermarket and liquor store and stock up on picnic making items for the next few days. We then sussed out several possible restaurants and went back to the hotel for a short rest (after all, we had “lost” 8 hours flying into Vancouver and we had been up early for our flight).
Bright and early the next morning we set off to explore Vancouver, armed with waterproofs and maps. First stop in a new place is to visit the Tourist Office to make sure we have all the information needed but on the way down to Canada Place we came across The Marine Building on Burrard Street, a beautiful building, both inside and out; lunch was eaten on Canada Place pier watching the many float planes landing and taking off. Next stop was the Harbour Lookout which gives spectacular views over the whole of Vancouver and explanation boards of all the important sites. A couple of hours later it was on to Gas Town to see the famous steam clock and finally on to see the Sam Kee building which is supposed to be the world’s narrowest business building. We then zigzagged our way back to the Davie Street area where we were staying.
The following day we had a quick drive around Stanley Park, stopping at Lions Gate Bridge, Brockton Point, and the totem poles for the usual photos and then we were off over to the north side of Vancouver to the Cleveland Dam and a walk down to the Salmon Hatchery where we spent ages watching the salmon leaping up the fish ladder. We then moved on to Lynn Canyon, crossing the free suspension bridge and doing two short walks (Thirty Foot Pool Trail and Twin Falls Trail). On the latter walk we watched three young lads tombstoning into the canyon below.
Our last day in Vancouver was spent visiting Granville Island in the morning and the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site at Steveston and Britannia Heritage Shipyard in the afternoon. The public market on Granville Island was magnificent and the walk round the island was very pleasant in the warm sunshine. We had a guided tour at the Cannery which was very informative on how salmon were landed from the fishing boats at one end of the warehouse and finished up in cans at the other end and loaded into trucks in the old days when most of the work had to be done by men and women and not machines, although there were one or two on display.
Our next destination was Hope which gave us an opportunity to explore the Othello Railway Tunnels and watch the salmon leaping in the river below, followed by Hope Slide – a mammoth land slide which altered the terrain for ever. We would have liked to have seen the old trestle railway bridge nearby but managed to miss it! The following day we had a quick walk around Hope trying to see as many of the famous chainsaw carvings as possible. Each is completely different and intricately carved by craftsmen.
We then headed up the Fraser Highway towards Kamloops, stopping at Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park to see the old suspension bridge where we caught sight of the Rocky Mountaineer and watched several other trains passing by. With hindsight we realised we should have spent some time at Boston Bar because we are interested in railways and both the CPR and CNR have yards on either side of the river and there are the remains of an old aerial ferry there. We also looked at the Siska bridges at Lytton.
An early start was made the next morning so that we would have time to explore Wells Gray Provincial Park. We managed to visit Sphats Falls, Green Mountain Lookout, Dawson Falls and Helmcken Falls before dusk arrived.
After a comfortable night stop in Clearwater it was time to head for the Rockies but the weather changed to rain and low cloud as we drove towards an invisible Mount Robson so we pushed on to our hotel in Jasper.
The following day we had warm sunshine so it was off to Maligne Canyon and Lake. On our return from this spectacular gorge we came across a male elk and several cows and bighorn sheep. On our way to Pocahontas Coal Mine Site, which was a little disappointing, in late afternoon we spotted a bear moving across a sparse tree area, which gave us quite a thrill! It was the only one we saw.
Our last day in Jasper was spent walking Old Fort Point Loop, which gave spectacular views over Jasper, and driving to Mt Edith Cavell and Angel Glacier where there were small icebergs in the lake.
We planned to do the Icefields Parkway over two days and arrived for our night stop at the Glacier View Inn on the Columbia Icefield around 5 pm after stopping at all the pull outs along the way. We just had time to walk out to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier in a freezing wind before darkness fell and then we made use of the time after our meal in the restaurant there looking at the exhibits in the Visitor Centre after all the visitors had gone.
We took the second snow coach of the day out onto the Glacier before heading off towards Lake Louise. Unfortunately the rain arrived so rather spoiled our views on the second half of the Parkway. We did walk to Peyto Lake and Mistaya Canyon as the rain had eased a little.
At Lake Louise we walked the shoreline trail, visited Lake Moraine, walked the Moraine Rock Pile Trail and also walked to Consolation Lakes. Whilst in Lake Louise we had snow overnight which made the countryside look very pretty – however by the end of the day it had all gone.
We then detoured from the Rockies into Yoho National Park and spent a day watching trains at both Spiral Tunnel viewpoints, visiting the Natural Bridge and the impressively high Takakkaw Falls, which we all enjoyed, and then driving to Emerald Lake before staying overnight in Field.
A very short drive the following day took us to a walk to Wapta Falls before reaching Golden where we visited the Wolf Centre, in the afternoon.
Our next day trip was to Revelstoke passing through Rogers Pass. Another day of rain but we managed to walk both the Loop Brook Trail and Abandoned Rails Trail after spending some time at the information centre at Rogers Pass. We had a very quick visit to Revelstoke Railway Museum, too.
We needed to head back up into the Rockies so we followed a road to Shelter Bay where we caught the Upper Arrow Lake Ferry to Galena Bay. We stopped in Kaslo for a couple of hours to explore SS Moyie, a beautifully restored passenger and freight sternwheeler before heading off to Ainsworth Hot Springs for the night. A very pleasant night-time dip in the Hot Springs before a very late dinner brought a long day to an end.
The next day we crossed the beautiful Kootenay Lake by the ferry (both the excellent ferries were, amazingly, free to use) and drove to our next destination, Cranbrook, via The Glass House, near Boswell. Cranbrook was an overnight stop so that we could tackle Kootenay National Park the next day.
Travelling through Kootenay National Park was pleasant and we had time to walk the Paint Pots Trail and walk to Marble Canyon before reaching our final destination of Banff where we had three nights.
Our first day there was spent doing all the scenic drives – Tunnel Mountain Drive, walking to see the hoodoos; Looping the Lakes Drive (Minnewanka and Johnson) and exploring the very interesting, but long deserted, Bankhead Coal Mining Site. We also drove to the Vermillion Lakes but there were few birds to see that day. The next day we drove along Hwy 1 (“Valley of the Giants”) and returned along Hwy 1A (“On the Wild Side”) which was very quiet, scenic and with loads of information boards at strategic places. Unfortunately, we did not see any wild life so early evening we visited Bow Falls and then drove around the golf course where we saw lots of elk. We also saw deer wandering freely in Banff town.
The end of our wonderful holiday had come and we just had time to drive up Mt Norquay to have a final overlook of Banff before heading off to Calgary to hand in our vehicle and wait for the aeroplane to take us back home.
Altogether we covered some 2008 miles over 23 days and had three days of bad weather which prevented us from seeing some of the views we wanted to look at. All in all it was a very good trip and we look forward to returning to the area again sometime as there are still many things we didn’t get to do. We have abiding memories of the beautiful, snow-capped mountains, the colours of the spruce and aspen trees, the many varieties of waterfall, the lovely walks and the amazing length of the freight trains together with the engineering skill of the old pioneers who got the rails through the Rocky Mountain passes as well as 1,000 photographs to look at in our dotage!