The Ultimate 5-Day Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff and Jasper (Day #3)

The Ultimate 5-Day Canadian Rockies Road Trip: Banff and Jasper (Day #3)
The final stretch of Icefields Parkway (taken by the author)

Black Bears, Grizzlies, beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and the stunning mountain town of Jasper.

The Icefields Parkway connects Banff with Jasper.

Rated as one of the top drives in the world, the Icefield Parkway is a 232 kilometers stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring Rocky Mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

We spent the majority of day 3 on Icefields Parkway, which included an incredible 17 stops and took us more than 8 hours.

Along the way, we saw some of the most beautiful lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and most importantly, a couple of Grizzly Bears. By the time we reached Jasper, it was starting to get dark, but there was still enough light for us to explore some of Jasper before ending the day.

Get yourself a cup of coffee and experience the day with me.

(Oh yeah, and if you haven’t already, check out day 1 and day 2, to get the full experience)

Early Morning Wildlife Watch

Still pumped by the bear encounter from the night before, I got a head start to my day, while everyone else was fast asleep.

I woke up at 5:30 AM, took a quick shower, and got into my car for early morning wildlife watching. Every person we met in Banff told us the best times to run into wildlife are dawn and dusk.

I drove around for 3 hours, but no luck. Except for a few deers, I did not see anything meaningful.

Although, now that the weather was so much better, I took the opportunity to revisit some of the Banff viewpoints, that were covered in rain and cloud during our first visit. Specifically, these were the locations I stopped by:

  1. Mt. Norquay Viewpoint
  2. Vermilion Lake
  3. Lake Minnewanka
Vermilion Lake Viewpoint (taken by the author)
View of downtown Banff from the top of Mt. Norquay (taken by the author)

After that, I checked out one of the places we missed on our first day — Bow Falls Viewpoint.

The view was pretty underwhelming. I guess, after you visit Niagara Falls, every waterfall is a step-down.

However, I did get a chance to chill by the falls, soak in the bring sun, and read a book. It was a great experience.

Bow Falls (taken by the author)

After reading for about 45 minutes, I packed up my backpack and started my 25-minute drive back to the hotel to get ready for the day’s long adventure — Icefields Parkway.

Breakfast: Good Earth Coffeehouse

Before starting our journey to Jasper across the Icefields Parkway, we decided to fuel ourselves as well as our car.

I quickly got onto Yelp and found the nearest highest-rated cafe: Good Earth Coffeehouse.

I got some hot chocolate, summer vegetable soup, and a tuna sandwich.

Breakfast from Good Earth Coffeehouse (taken by the author)

Ready for the long drive now, we fueled up our car and started towards what will end up being one of the longest, yet most beautiful, drives of my life.

Icefields Parkway

If you drive straight from Banff to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, without any stops, it will take you about 4 hours to get to Jasper.

However, that’s the biggest mistake you can make!

As mentioned before, this drive has been recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. You want to take advantage of that and check out the plethora of beautiful viewpoints, rivers, and hikes along the way.

Our map was marked with some crazy 30 stops. We decided to split them between our drive to Jasper and back to Banff, optimizing for short stretches of driving in both directions.

Now, let me go through all the stops we found exciting on our way to Jasper.

Hector Lake Viewpoint

Right after we passed Lake Louise, the first stop was Hector Lake Viewpoint.

It was the first of the 3–5 lakes we ran into in the first half of the drive.

There’s a quick pull-out to stop, take in the views, have some snacks, and be on your way. This is one thing you will notice with most of the stops. Most of the places are not designed for you to spend hours. You are more likely to spend 20–25 minutes and then be on your way.

At least that’s what we did.

Partial view of Hector Lake from top of the author’s car

Bow Lake Viewpoint

Whether you stop at Hector Lake or not, Bow Lake is a must-stop. It’s stunning! You get fantastic views of the lake, surrounded by snow-topped mountains.

If you are looking for a bathroom or some coffee, there’s a cute red lodge with a coffee shop that you can use.

There’s also a small boardwalk that gives you a fantastic photo opportunity.

Once again, no matter how limited your time is, I would definitely recommend checking this out.

Lodge near Bow Lake (taken by the author)
Bow Lake (taken by the author)
Picnic area near Bow Lake (taken by the author)

We loved this stop so much, we even stopped here on the way back from Jasper.

Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint

Very close to Bow Lake is Peyto Lake, with a short hike leading to a beautiful viewpoint called the Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint.

There’s ample parking, and the short hike is well worth it.

It took us about 10 minutes to hike up to the boardwalk with a stunning view of Peyto Lake.

View of Peyto Lake from the top of the hike (taken by the author)

Second Black Bear Sighting

Five minutes into our drive back from Peyto Lake towards Jasper, we ran into our second bear sighting (the best 2 are yet to come!).

The moment I saw the flashing taillights of a bunch of cars in front of me, pulled to the side of the road, I knew there had to be a bear.

Everyone slowed down, pulled their cameras out, and enjoyed the presence of this magnificent beast just a few meters from our cars.

After doing some research online, I knew that there were bears we could run into during the drive, but I didn’t know it would be this early on.

Black Bear chilling by the road (taken by the author)
Same Black Bear from a different angle (taken by the author)

Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint

After spending some time watching the bear, we went on a 30-minute driving stretch, before pulling over to the next viewpoint, right by the side of the road.

It was called the Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint.

Nothing too unique — just a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.

It was also a good time for us to munch on some snacks and get hydrated.

View from Waterfowl Lakes Viewpoint (taken by the author)

Mistaya Canyon Hike

If you are exhausted by all the lake viewpoints, don’t worry, I got you!

After driving for 20–25 minutes, we arrived at Mistaya Canyon. There were lots of parking, but no clear trailhead.

We looked around for some time, before finding a narrow opening beside the road. There weren’t a lot of people around, and the parking lot was mostly empty as well.

Only after going a little deeper into the trail did we notice it’s actually a 20-minute walk to see the canyon. I really wanted to check it out, but my exhausted legs didn’t agree with me.

However, after some persistent insistence from my friend, I decided to just suck it up and do the hike.

It’s so worth it!

Mistaya Canyon I (taken by the author)
Mistaya Canyon II (taken by the author)

The gushing sounds of the water and the lack of people really made this one of our best stops.

It was beautiful and serene. We sat by the rocks and spent quite some time there.

Saskatchewan River Crossing

This will be your first (and only) opportunity to refuel both yourself and your vehicle.

It’s a perfect midpoint if you are going all the way to Jasper. There’s a cafe, restaurant, souvenir store, and gas station.

If I am being honest, the food is pretty terrible. And that’s me saying that even though the drive so far, all the stops, and hikes had me totally famished.

I wanted to make the stop really quick, so I just got a fish sandwich and some fries.

After that, we were off to the second half of Icefields Parkway.

Author’s food at the midway pit stop

The Big Bend (Panther Falls and Bridal Veil Falls)

A few minutes from the Saskatchewan River Crossing stop, there’s a segment of the Icefields Parkway called “The Big Bend”.

It’s this formula 1-ish bend with beautiful mountain views.

I will recommend pulling over for a quick 2-minute stop and taking some panoramic shots.

Formula 1-ish bend in the Icefields Parkway (taken by the author)

Close by, there are also a few waterfalls you can check out. Personally, we didn’t like them too much. These were very small waterfalls with a pretty bad viewpoint. Or maybe we couldn’t find the good ones?

Regardless, depending on how much you like waterfalls, you can consider spending an extra few minutes around the Big Bend.

Waterfalls around the Big Bend (taken by the author)

Tangle Creek Falls

While Panther and Bridal Falls might not be worth your time, Tangle Creek Falls definitely is.

The waterfall is next to the road, and you have ample parking on the other side.

It looks beautiful! You can also hike up quickly to get some stunning photos and a top view of the waterfall. Our tired legs suggested otherwise, so we didn’t do it.

One of the coolest waterfalls right by the road (taken by the author)

BEST Bear Encounter!

The closest bear encounter was also the most surprising one.

We were driving through one of the most beautiful stretches of the Icefields Parkway, now closer to Jasper than Banff. Vehicles were becoming more and more infrequent with every mile we passed.

I was the only one awake in the car — makes sense cause I was the one driving!

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I caught a glimpse of “something black” behind some bushes. Similar to our first bear encounter, I quickly glanced at the rearview mirror to confirm there were no cars behind me, and then came to a sudden stop.

After that, I pulled over to the right, woke my friend up, and started reversing.

That’s when we saw our third black bear of the trip, but this one was closer than ever before.

Best Black Bear Sighting of the Trip I (taken by the author)
Best Black Bear Sighting of the Trip II (taken by the author)

Hilariously, another car from across the road, saw us stop and then turned to park right behind me. Before we knew it, there was a line of 6–8 cars, including 2 tour buses, all appreciating the beauty of an alpha predator, a few meters from their vehicles.

Best Black Bear Sighting of the Trip III (taken by the author)
Best Black Bear Sighting of the Trip IV (taken by the author)

Sunwapta Falls

One of the best waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway is the Sunwapta Falls.

Similar to other viewpoints, there are ample parking spots, and a few bathrooms.

At this point of our drive, we got the best weather of our trip. The skies cleared up and the sun shone bright.

If you pick only one waterfall, I would recommend picking one of Sunwapta or Athabasca (more on this one later).

Top view of the Sunwapta Falls (taken by the author)

Goats and Glacier Lookout

This was our final stop before arriving at Jasper.

If you like mountain goats, your best bet to find them would be here.

We didn’t see any. But the views were beautiful and the water of the Athabasca looked majestic.

Panoramic views from Goats and Glacier. No mountain goats though (taken by the author)

Beautiful Mountain Town: Jasper

After 10 hours of driving, we finally reached Jasper around 7:30 PM.

We were welcomed by some beautiful Elks. Apparently, these Elks roam around the entrance of Jasper most of the time, so odds are, you will run into them as well.

Grazing Elks at the entrance of Jasper

Jasper is a charming little mountain town. The downtown is tiny — even smaller than Banff, which was already one of the smallest I have been to.

After checking into our hotel, we calculated that we still had around 3 hours of sunlight left. And yes, you read that right. During the Summer the sun sets at around 10:15 PM.

We quickly helped ourselves to some pizza from Jasper Pizza Place. The pizzas weren’t too good. They tasted more like “Domino’s “ than the delicious ones we had in Banff. We were starving though, so we finished both of them at an embarrassing speed.

Author’s dinner at Jasper Pizza Place

Next, we picked two of the closest lakes to downtown Jasper:

  1. Patricia Lake
  2. Pyramid Lake

Patricia Lake

Honestly, there’s not much to see around Patricia Lake.

We stopped for 5 minutes, grabbed a few quick photos, and then headed to Pyramid Lake.

Central viewpoint of Patricia Lake (taken by the author)

Pyramid Lake

While Patricia Lake was underwhelming, Pyramid Lake was absolutely gorgeous!

You will get some of your best views in Jasper from this lake.

The people we talked to around the lake told us that this is one of the hottest spots to see sunrise and sunset in Jasper.

There’s also a narrow wooden bridge leading to an island with several benches where you can sit to soak in the magnificent views.

We spend 30 minutes relaxing and were on our way back to downtown Jasper.

View of Pyramid Lake from the parking spot (taken by the author)
View of Pyramid Lake after crossing the bridge and reaching the island (taken by the author)

The Grizzly Bear Encounter

On our way back to downtown Jasper, in the most unusual circumstances, I saw the one “thing” that I really wanted when arriving in Banff — A Grizzly Bear!

After being fooled by the Cinnamon Black Bear on our first day in Banff, I knew the only way to recognize a Grizzly would be by its shoulder hump.

Similar to our black bear encounter, I saw a trail of taillights and hazards, before putting on my own hazards and pulling over to the side of the road.

The craziest part is this was only a 10-minute drive from our hotel. That’s how close to downtown these Grizzlies were!

Grizzly Bear seen from the other side of the road (taken by the author)
One Grizzly going towards another as seen by the author from his car

Wrap-up and Day 4 Teasers

Once all the cars got chased off by the police and park rangers, we turned around and went back to our hotel.

It was already 10:45 PM, and our exhausted bodies couldn’t go on anymore.

I took a quick shower, changed into my sleeping clothes, and fell asleep in under a minute of lying on the bed.

Without any doubt, day 3 was the most eventful day of the trip.

That being said, there is more fun stuff coming up for you on day 4 — Athabasca Falls, Medicine Lake, Spirit Island, and so much more!

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