Recently, I headed to Canada for one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever done. A ten-day camping adventure in Alberta and BC with Trek America (read the write up here). Starting in Calgary, we road tripped all the way to Vancouver by way of Banff, Jasper, Wells Gray and Whistler, calling at some of western Canada’s most incredible attractions. Like the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefields Parkway!
I wanted to give you an idea of a day in the life of a Trek America Canada tour. But I also thought I’d pick the best – and by far busiest – day of the trip. Because that’s the most fun to write about! Not every day was as action-packed as this, and some days we just chilled out completely. But I wanted to give you an idea of exactly how much adventure you can expect from a Trek America road trip in Canada – and this is definitely one of the best adventures I’ve ever done…
READ MORE: 8 Reasons to Book a Trek America Trip
5am – Hitting the Icefields Parkway
We were up with the crack of dawn in Banff’s Tunnel Mountain Campground and had to pack up as fast as possible. On a Trek America Canada tour, everyone pitches in. In sleepy silence, we took down the tents, packed our luggage, and loaded the trailer. Then we bundled ourselves into the minivan and hit the road – with a picnic breakfast. It’s pretty rare for me to get up before 8am without complaining, but I was bubbling with excitement for the day ahead. Things were about to get EPIC…
READ MORE: Read my Trek America Mountie Review for loads more info about the trip!
6:30 – Surprise Stop!
It didn’t take long to reach the Icefields Parkway, a 235 km stretch of jaw-droppingly scenic road running from Lake Louise to Jasper. This sweeping mountain road is the stuff of road trip dreams: dramatic mountains, turquoise lakes, plunging waterfalls, and over one hundred glaciers mean there’s almost never a moment when you don’t want to be looking out the window.
Our very first stop was a mystery. We pulled into a carpark and our awesome Trek America Canada guides, Heather and Will, handed out blindfolds. Walking conga-line-style through fresh morning snow in the icy air completely blind was a surreal experience – especially before the first coffee of the day.
Once we were all in place, we pulled off the blindfolds and turned around. To discover… this:
Wolf-shaped Peyto Lake, viewed from the highest elevation on the Icefields Parkway, is the kind of view that just makes you throw your arms wide in speechless wonder. The mineral-rich glacier lake is the most astonishing shade of vivid turquoise, even on a dull grey morning like the one we had. And better still, we had the entire viewpoint to ourselves at 6:30 in the morning. Apparently it’s usually heaving with busloads of tourists, so this was a GREAT plan. And one hell of a surprise from our guides!
RELATED POST: 13 Amazing Places to Visit in Alberta (the Icefields Parkway is one of them!)
9 – Helicopter Over the Rockies!
Next up was a slight detour from the Icefields Parkway. Just after the iconic Saskatchewan River Crossing, we left the parkway and drove up to the Cline River Valley for the thing I was most excited about: a HELICOPTER RIDE OVER THE ROCKIES!
This has been a bucket list dream of mine for years, so when the chance came up to add it onto my Trek America Canada trip (at an additional cost) I had to say yes. So did most of the group, so we headed up to Rockies Heli Canada together for a heli hiking tour.
We flew up over the mountains, laden with pristine white snow, and into the Cline River valley. I can’t tell you how spectacular it all was – I’m just not that good of a writer.
Even a few weeks after, looking back at my photos from the flight makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I struggled to find words to describe it then (other than things like “amazing” and “awesome”) and I’m still struggling now. There was just such an overwhelming rush of emotions.
Nerves, excitement, adrenaline, awe. That exquisite feeling of pure, unimpeded joy coursed through me, erupting first as out-loud laughter, then real, embarrassing tears of joy. Massive thank you to Zoe London, who understood and squeezed my hand and totally shared that moment with me. As a solo traveller, I don’t always get to share my most joyous moments with another person, so that somehow made the experience extra special.
10:40am – Drinking Champagne by a Waterfall
After what felt like no time at all, we landed in a clearing next to a river so clear and blue it looked like someone had dyed the water. Next up was the hiking section of the heli-hiking tour, led by the legendary Ralph. He took us into the woods, along the trail of a river, stopping to point out animal tracks and interesting plants. Then we came to a calmer section of the river, where the crystal clear water was about knee deep. He took my arm, said “come on”, and dragged me into the ice cold glacier fed river without really giving me a second to argue, or even take my shoes off!
Turns out… there was another way around, and not many people from our group blindly followed Ralph into the freezing water. But it was a good giggle, and how many people can say they’ve waded across a glacier-fed stream for no good reason?
My soggy shoes and cold feet were worth it when we reached the end of our trail and found ourselves in front of a small but powerful waterfall, nestled between pine trees and overlooked by a towering peak. We scrambled to the top and shimmied along the rocks to get as close to the edge as possible. Not done with the surprises, Ralph pulled out a bottle of champagne and began handing out glasses! And that was one of the most surreal and incredible moments of my life: sipping champagne next to a waterfall in the Canadian Rockies at 10:40 in the morning – before hopping back in the helicopter and flying back down to where we’d started.
What a day. And it wasn’t even halfway done yet!
1:20pm – Lunch
When we landed back at the office, I caught sight of myself in a bathroom mirror and realised I was still grinning wildly. My face had moulded itself into that shape, and it didn’t die down as we bundled into the van and headed back to the Icefields Parkway for the next park of our road trip.
A couple of hours later, we reached the Columbia Icefield, and had a quick picnic lunch outside the visitor centre. Surrounded by snowy mountains and almost painfully bright white glaciers, drinking in gulps of cold, fresh air, I was still very much on a high.
2:40pm – Athabasca Glacier
As if one bucket list experience isn’t enough for one day, after lunch we crossed the road to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier for yet another adrenaline-pumping experience. A glacier hike.
Guide Dylan geared us up in extra layers and handed out crampons, and then – padded up like the Michelin Man – we set off. This isn’t the easiest walk I’ve ever done in my life. Unsurprisingly, walking uphill on snow and ice isn’t exactly easy, and I was grateful for the frequent stops. Especially because Dylan was an absolute mine of information, and full of interesting facts about the glacier. We also filled our water bottles with water fresh from the glacier – the coldest, freshest water you’ll ever drink – and sucked on ice cubes that were thousands of years in the making.
Surrounded by the peaks of snowcapped mountains, the Athabasca Glacier is an impressive reminder of the power of nature and the silent strength of ice. As you stand on its slopes, you can look back and see the path that this ice carved through rocks and mountains, and the scars it left on the earth, over thousands of years.
It was kind of a bittersweet experience, because as incredible as the scenery was, we had a pretty vivid reminder that the world’s most beautiful places probably won’t be around forever. The glacier is receding at a rate of ten metres every year, and it’s 2km shorter now than it was in 1844. It’s sad to imagine such beauty being lost forever, but it might well happen.
5:40pm – Drive to Jasper
Exhausted, we returned to the van one last time to drive the remainder of the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. We left the snow and up-close peaks behind, heading downwards into forested slopes. Prime bear-spotting country, apparently, and we got lucky with a brief encounter (our second of the trip!). A black bear just chilling out at the side of the road… that’s Canada!
7:30pm – Arrive at Jasper
Finally, about fourteen and a half hours after our day began, we made it to the campsite at Jasper National Park. The end of one epic day on our Trek America Canada tour! It was the busiest day of the Mountie tour by far, and also the most amazing – so many stunning landscapes and bucket list activities.
Late at night, we also came across a herd of grazing elk as we headed to the campsite bathroom to brush our teeth. As if Canada just wasn’t done surprising us!
I was a guest of Trek America and Explore Canada on this trip. But, as always, all words and opinions are my own and unbiased.