In late July/early August, I headed out for a 9 day road trip with my family around BC and the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. This was not a photography trip. It was a family trip to relive some of my parents past in Northern BC and to get a feel for what some other parts of the province are like. Nonetheless, I managed to fit in lots of photo ops!
Day 0 – Headed to the Cowichan Valley after my 6pm finish at work to meet in Victoria with the family and get our gear in order. We planned on camping for 2 nights and staying in hotels for 5 nights so there was lots of stuff for the 4 of us!
Day1 – We woke up early to get everything together and loaded in the car. We ended up taking out our suitcases back out and removing a few things in order to make things fit better! Once things were a little less squishy, we piled in and headed up island. Our plan was to stay in a hotel in Port Hardy for the evening to catch the ferry to Prince Rupert first thing in the morning!
On our way up we stopped at a few places – including a nostalgic visit to St Anne’s, the church my parents were married at in Qualicum Beach. It was very cool to see such an old structure and poke our heads inside to see the original furnishings, drapes and pews. Old wooden churches all seem to have the same fantastic smell and I went back to my childhood when visiting this one.
We also stopped for lunch along Judges Row, a quiet area of Qualicum away from the main beach. The beach area is still fantastic, there just aren’t all the crowds and hustle, and some gorgeous real estate to oogle too!
On our way north, we popped into Telegraph Cove to see the famous boardwalk village.
“Telegraph Cove got its name from Alfred Marmaduke “Duke” Wastell when, in 1912, the Superintendent of Telegraphs was looking for a suitable location for a lineman’s station. Wastell suggested the protected little harbour and referred to it as Telegraph Cove. Telegraph lineman Bobby Cullerne became the Cove’s first inhabitant, living in a one-room shed-roofed structure that is still there.” Source
The permanent population is about 20, though there are always dozens of fishermen, whale watchers and tourists in town (during the summer at least).
Telegraph Cove is well known for whale watching and hence seems to have adopted the orca as their mascot! We didn’t have time to stop in at the Killer Whale Cafe – But I had to pose for a photo anyways!
Port Hardy was Port Hardy. I don’t know it well enough to give it real justice. I can recommend the waterfront walk at the very least. Its quite peaceful in the evening with loons, eagles and leaping salmon! There’s a cute sculpture of a carrot down in the park symbolizing the ‘dangling carrot’ that was the Island Highway for north Island residents for years and years.
Day 2 – The Northern Expedition ferry begins loading 5:30 am and is supposed to sail at 7 am. We left our hotel in downtown Port Hardy around 5:15. It was only about a 10 minute drive, but there was already a line up when we arrived. We were able to skip the line by checking in and receiving our tickets the night before – well worth the effort! Make sure you get a view of the ferry before you load up – It’s super cool and way different than the standard BC Ferries! There is an option to book breakfast or dinner in the buffet. We had our breakfast in the buffet and it was SOOOO worth it! Some of the best food I have had and so many options!
The ferry ride is about 16 hours long – and if the weather is right I recommend riding on the outer deck for as much time as you can!!!! The scenery is stunning and we saw so much wildlife that you would never see if you were indoors. The captain was not always able to announce cetacean sightings in time so we saw way more whales by being out on the decks than waiting for announcements (He announced one out of 7 humpack whales and none of the 12+ Dall’s Porpoise we saw). There is an option to book a private room so you can sleep during the trip. In my opinion, if you are paying this much for a ride, on a boat that takes you along a main cruise route through some of the most gorgeous scenery on the planet, don’t pay money to sleep through it all! You can also pay to get into the lounge. This features the only seating area anywhere on the vessel that faces front off the bow. If the weather hadn’t been so great I might have gone for it, but with all the sun we had it wasn’t worth it. The comfy seats and refreshments did look rather inviting though.
There were tons of waterfalls too!
We got into Prince Rupert around 11:30 and headed to the fantastic Inn on the Harbour. They had a staff up to greet us and the others flooding in. Our room was perfect for a family of 4 adults though a little warm. We had a couple fans in the room though to keep things cool. The view from the common room during breakfast was fantastic – glassy water and the moist green of the rainforest! This is definitely a hotel I would stay in again, and look forward to staying it. It was warm and inviting and felt a little like home.
Day 3 – We took a little wander down to the Cow Bay shops before checking out. Little was open unfortunately, but window shopping was fun! There’s a fantastic sculpture on the waterfront of a grey whale mom and calf that is a tribute to it’s late carver who passed away before competing it. Complete or not, it is absolutely stunning and a great testament to motherhood – both in the animal kingdom and amongst humans.
After Prince Rupert we headed to Port Edward to see the cannery – a national historic site. Fish canneries were a huge part of the provinces economic boom, and a main contributor of the overfishing of our waters. Nonetheless, the Port Edward cannery is a cool place to visit, with lots of history and many opportunities for awesome photos! You can do a self guided tour or pay to be on one of the guided tours. We took the self guided option (My dad’s a bit of a BC history aficionado) and explored for about 30-45 minutes. The old mess hall is actually open and serving soups and sandwiches for a reasonable price if you need a snack. The gift shop was one of the best and highest quality I have seen!
Kitimat is well known in the news as the terminus for the Northern Gateway Enbridge Pipeline. It is much more than the industrial centre it appears to be from the outside though. Right in the centre of everything is one of the oldest and largest Sitka Spruce trees in North America! There are fantastic hiking trails in the surrounding hills and mountains, and a great lake on the main highway in and out – Lakelse Lake.
Our next night was spent in Hazelton – A cute set of communities on the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. Old Hazelton is more residential and a bit of a highway town while Old Hazelton is the community where the shops and history are.
Day 4 – The village of ‘Ksan is a recreated First Nations village which seeks to show the past and present of the Gitxsan people. We took the guided tour to gain access to the three houses with artifacts that are otherwise closed to the public. It was worth EVERY penny! The guide was amazing and we learned so much about the culture, legends, dress, food, housing and current traditions of the community! No photography is allowed of the displays inside the long houses or museum but the history is worthwhile to appreciate and learn and the totems outside are a great subject.
Another super cool attraction between the two villages is the Hagwilget Bridge over the Bulkley River. It is the tallest single lane suspension bridge in North America! Mom was pretty freaked of course, and wouldn’t let us walk across, but we stopped at viewpoints on each side for some great photos!
The 1900 version of the bridge, built by local First Nations:
At the Bulkley River we stopped at a popular vantage point for migrating salmon over the falls. Here local First Nations and the DFO were assisting salmon in getting over the falls safely in order to improve spawning numbers. You could see salmon repeatedly leaping at the cascading water attempting to make it on their own.
In the later afternoon we stopped at Twin Falls outside Smithers – A pair of waterfalls pouring off a mountainside from a glacier.
We headed into Smithers this night – I spent most of the afternoon in the hotel with a headache 😦 but managed to come out for a wander around the community that evening and dinner at Subway. After dinner we drove out to Driftwood Canyon. This creek runs past an area with fantastic fossil beds that has yielded some great discoveries for science. There were great wildflowers too and the whole area was surrounded by farmland with old barns and towering mountain views.
Day 5 was a LOOONNGGGG one with a 5 AM start in order to reach Prince George in time to have lunch with my aunt and uncle. Because of our early start, we were lucky enough to glimpse a fox crossing the highway! Not a great shot, but proof that I saw him!
After Prince George we stopped at Purden Lake for a quick swim. This is a super popular swimming and camping spot for the locals and my favourite when I pop into the area. Tons more driving later, we stop in at McBride for fuel and a spot of ice cream. The perfect treat in the heat!
Our destination was Valemount. An absolutely charming community with more hotels than fast food spots. Like, way more. 5 or so hotels to one A&W. One very busy A&W. I recommend trying out the Caribou Grill . We didn’t get to go, but we checked out their menu and were pretty impressed. Prices weren’t extravagant but seemed worth the titles of each plate. We stayed at the Yellowhead Motel and would strongly recommend this place to anyone else travelling through! It was absolutely adorable with massive flower boxes, a quaint cottage construction, air conditioning (!) and clean rooms. There were picnic tables on lush green grass where we had our dinner too. The owners were fantastic and very helpful.
Day 6 – We started early to avoid traffic and headed to a Swiss Bakery recommended to us by a local carver the night before. Apparently people come from all over BC to come to this bakery, so we had to give it a try! Prices were extremely reasonable considering they had been up since 2:30 making the delicious treats! They open at 5:30 like a true bakery and close in the early evening. We took our treats across the road to a small picnic table near the CP Railway tracks (My brother is a train nut). Lo and behold, a train thundered past while we were eating, so we had some extra excitement!
Our next stop was Rearguard Falls – The top end nearly of the Fraser River and the furthest point Chinook Salmon will make it on their inland migration (800km from the ocean!). The power of the water was incredible and was truly awe inspiring. The “30 min” round trip “hike” was fairly inaccurate for us, as it took only 20 min to stroll down look around, take photos and walk back up. It was fairly steep though and we’re all in good shape.
After Rearguard, the next exciting thing on the way to Jasper is Mt Robson. This is the highest peak in the BC Rockies and towers over the meadow below. There are a few great photo ops, including a pullout on the highway with a cute mountain goat themed sign.
The info centre is a bit of a mad-house and the start of the tourist craze you will experience throughout the entire Rocky Mountains. We took our photos and ran, but there are lakes, hiking trails and camping all based out of this spot.
Our next stop was actually past Jasper. Once we made it through the heaps of construction, rock blasting and paving (The worst part of summer roadtrips) dad wanted to show us a wildlife hotspot he had been through on a trip he made about 7 years ago… Except when we got there, there was nothing. It was a sulpher spring where he had seen mountain goats all along one side of the pullout and caribou on the other side. We just saw a puddle that smelt really bad from the sulpher deposits. After having a good laugh at dad’s expense, we headed down the highway determined to find something worthwhile after all the traffic we had just gotten through and boy did we ever! Not only did we find what seemed to be the nicest and most popular swimming lake around, we found our own private lake behind a sand dune! The main lake is known as Jasper Lake and sits on the north side of the hwy. Our lake, Talbot Lake is behind a sand dune on the south side, just behind a pullout. Both have fantastic sand, perfect temperatures and great mountain views. You couldn’t ask for more! According to the internet, Talbot Lake is a great fishing hole too!
After cooling down, we headed back into Jasper to do some shopping and check out the town. Besides all the touristy shops, filled with cheap trinkets and tourists, it is an absolutely charming town, and at this point in my trip, my favourite town. There are more outdoors stores than you know what to do with, but each one offers something a little different! I just had to pose with the massive steam locomotive on display by the train station as well (My brother might be a train nut, but I am specifically a steam train nut).
We stayed at Wapiti Campground that night. We were warned about bears coming in, as they have had a few black bears around this season. Bears don’t really freak me out and I have camped in bear country more than anywhere else, so nothing was all too new for me. Just the same procedures as always and the camp staff are happy to hand out bear aware brochures.
Free showers are available (Mine was ice cold while my moms was wonderfully warm – go figure) and if you need to cool down, there is a spot to the south end where you can easily access the Athabaskan River to dip your feet in the icy water. There was lots of small wildlife to be seen including columbia ground squirrels, red squirrels, and grey jays – all of which excited me because we don’t have them at home (The red squirrels were taken out by the invasive grey and black squirrels on Vancouver Island).
We spent our evening along the river watching river rafting boats lazily float by over the relatively small rapids. There was everyone from young children to the elderly on board, so definitely a fun option for all ages to try out! I think I will be giving rafting a shot next time I’m in the area!
Day 7 – We woke up early and got our things packed up after a breakfast on instant porridge and hit the road before the tour buses. Unfortunately, they start early too and we only had about 10 minutes at our first stop before we were overrun by 6 (!!!!) of them. So, the moral is, start REALLY early when exploring the Rockies in the peak season!
Our first stop was Athabaska Falls. Now, if you thought Rearguard Falls was exciting, wait till you see this waterfall! The pictures will say it all…
Make sure you take the path all the way around, over the falls and to the other side as this is where we had the best view. Few of the tour bus riders came over that far and the rainbows at that time of the morning were stunning! Overall, when looking back, this was my favourite stop of the whole trip.
The Icefields Parkway (Which is the road from Jasper to Lake Louise) is not a road you want to rush. There are viewpoints all over the place and you will want to stop at all of them. So don’t plan to drive it in the 3 hours you could theoretically complete it in – Take 5, or 6.
The next main stop for us was the origin of the Athabaska River – The Athabaska Glacier. Known as one of the easiest glaciers to access in the world, it is an absolute 100% must see. Even if you are not going on a walking or driving tour onto the glacier itself (Which we didn’t do, but I will do next time), hike the 1 km to the glacier to see it in person. Its so cool!
The parking lot was WARM when we got out, but we took jackets with us anyways. Definitely worthwhile as it was cold and windy at the top. We snickered at everyone going up in tanks and short shorts as we came down afterwards! There are warnings at the bottom about taking it slow and easy, or avoiding the trip up altogether if you have heart or lung problems. The glacier site is a 2000 meters and the air is actually noticeably thinner here. Even being perfectly healthy, we noticed a shortness of breath that was not common on a hike of this simplicity for us. It’s steep, but only in a short section.
Bow Lake was the next highlight. This lake was equally gorgeous to, but less crowded than Lake Louise so make sure you stop here. It also features a glacier or two and the same stunning blue water. There is even a lodge here you can stay at if you want to spend a little more time in the area. There is a day hiking trail here as well if you want to get a better view of the surrounding landscape.
Lake Louise was the tourist epicentre of our trip. I almost would have avoided it altogether at this point in the season/day if it wasn’t such an iconic Canadian landmark. The tourist crowds were just NUTS. The best way to take in the scenery but get away from the madness is to do one of the short hikes near the lake. The easiest to access is the one along the western side of the water. You get views of the Fairmont and glacier and get to see all the tourists in the canoes out on the water. Renting a canoe is ~$60 an hour I am told, and often the winds pick up and push you to the far side, leaving most paddlers unable to paddle back. Many then opt to leave the canoe on the shore and walk back along the trail, racking up a nice pricetag by the end of their excursion. Talk about a tourist trap 😉
Our second to last major stop for the day was Morant’s Curve. This is every train geeks dream place and is known for the particular curvature of the track along the river. Luckily, after only about 5 minutes, a freight train rumbled past, making this the cherry on top for my brother’s trip.
And our last stop for the day was Emerald Lake and the Stone Bridge over the Kicking Horse River.These seemed to be mom and dad’s favourite sites respectively.
Emerald Lakes features its own resort and canoe/stand up paddleboard rental facility. Had we more time, I would have loved to rent a board here and get out on the water. The mountain in the background of this shot is burgess shale, another famous fossil bed. Walking tours of the shale are available and it is otherwise not accessible to the public.
The hole in the wall/stone bridge is a unique geological feature created when the waterfall that once flowed over the top of these rocks punched a hole in the rocks underneath, creating a shorter and more efficient pathway for the water to take. There is a great little path to the other side of the river so you can see the falls from all angles!
Because none of the campsites allow reservations in the Lake Louise area, and we didn’t want to rush the parkway on our way down, we simply accepted that it would be near impossible to get a site in the area and we would need to drive to Golden to get a site. We ended up staying at Campers Haven, a family run site outside Golden.
Day 8 – Day 8 was spent driving to Chase with a few small stops along the way – Revelstoke was our lunch stop and we arrived on Saturday, which is farmers market day! You could tell who had the best fruits based on the lineups! Lots of outdoors stores here too to serve customers embarking on the dozens of outdoor activities available in the area.
We also made a few swimming stops at Shuswap and once we were in Chase, Little Shuswap Lake. We stayed at the Chase Country Inn – Cute, quaint and clean, however the framed Christian quote on the wall was a little much for me. We had dinner at a more upscale, but well priced, hotel restaurant downtown. They don’t have a website that I can find or any kind of online listing or I would pass it along to you. They were right next to Pete’s Pizza and Pasta on the main drag.
Day 9 – On our way home. We pretty much just drove and drove and drove with a stop for gas and snacks before hitting the ferry in Tsawwassen and returning to Victoria!
I consider this trip a scouting mission – Finding which areas of BC I want to see again and spend more time in to get better photos. I would love to hear your recommendations of where to hit up next!