Cycling the Icefields Parkway: Winter in August

Deutsche Version hier: Icefields Parkway per Fahrrad

Cycling the Icefields Parkway: Winter in August

Country: Canada

From Jasper to Lake Louise

Lesson learned: 64 km/h are fun!

Laughed about: Reverse zoo: People inside the fence, bears outside

Most wonderful miracle: Building a snow bear

Greatest challenge: Nope, nothing really

Days on the bike: 4

Kilometers cycled: 251

Average Kilometers per day: 62.75

Total Kilometers cycled till Lake Louise: 22.247

 

Cycling the Icefields Parkway. Missed the last one? Here it is: Roadtripping Yukon and cycling the Yellowhead Highway

We are slow morning people and it was 2 pm when we were finally ready to leave Jasper. And despite the late start, we took our time. Weather couldn’t have been any better. It was sunny and there was hardly any wind. The road was in great condition all with a wide shoulder and considerate drivers.

Scenic Icefields Parkway

Stop after stop after stop. It’s just too scenic

Cycling the Icefields Parkway

There is so much water!

Hidden gem on the icefields parkway

We stopped at a pullout without information booth and walked some five minutes to this hidden icy swimming spot

We stopped at every single bridge, viewpoint and pullout before we finally came to an end in the “Honeymoon Lake” state campground. There was a lake and without any wind it reflected all the surrounding mountains just like a mirror. We loved it.

We're visitors in bear country

We’re visitors in bear country

Rafting in Jasper National Park

Rafting is very popular here!

But unfortunately all spots were taken and there was no walk-in section. While we were standing there, trying to figure out where to pitch the tent, a nice lady in a caravan offered us to share her place with us. Great!

Honeymoon Lake in Alberta, Canada

The honeymoon lake is a truly romantic spot

On the way to the Athabasca Waterfalls

On the way to the Athabasca Waterfalls

It would have only been 27 kilometers to the next campground, but once you’re off the bike and your mind is set for “Feierabend” (after-work time), biking another two hours just isn’t very tempting.

Canada is Caribou Land!

Canada is Caribou Land!

Scenic Icefields Parkway

It was another warm and sunny day in scenic-landia

Next day we met quite a few other cyclists. They were on a guided and supported tour and we chatted with the supporters, whose job it is to carry everyone’s bags, provide lunches, accommodation and drive tired people and their bikes to the nightly stop.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

One of them handed us a chocolate “for the climb up to the icefield”. Uh-oh, seems like we still have a bit of muscle work to do. We knew most of our elevation profile thanks to the great (free) map that shows all camping, elevation, viewpoins, picnic spots and trailheads along the way (PDF here).

Famous and delicious S'mores!

Famous and delicious S’mores!

Jonas Creek Campground makes a good lunch break. That’s what the guided cyclists thought too. So we shared the kitchen shelter with them and answered all questions while we prepared ourselves some tuna-pea-carrot sandwiches.

Cycling the Icefields Parkway

The higher we climbed, the more white spots we saw!

It was a fresh day and the others had started the fireplace in the center of the kitchen hut. We shared our marshmallows and the others shared all their leftover-lunch with us (specifically yummi!). And there we had all ingredients ready for some delicious S’mores!

Glaciers on the Icefields Parkway

We saw more and more glaciers!

The Glass walk in the Icefield

This is one of the main tourist attractions: a glass walk! There was “no parking” all around (you have to use their shuttle) but we only stopped and did not park.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this North American delicacy, s’mores are sandwiches built of (from bottom to top): shortbread, grilled marshmallow, piece of chocolate, shortbread.

Viewpoint in the Icefields Parkway

One of the many viewpoints

Cycling the Icefields Parkway

On the way to the big glacier – we made it up the hill!

The climb was steep but doable and the s’mores had turned into energy already. The sun was strong but the wind blew cold and refreshing air. We stopped at every viewpoint, waterfall and parking, and the climb didn’t feel too hard at all.

In the Icefields Centre

In the Icefields Centre

Icefields Parkway by bike

Icefields Parkway by bike

At about 2000 meters the views were absolutely stunning. There were glaciers all around us, one of them was so close, that we could have walked up.

The Icefields Centre was closed already, but we weren’t looking for a tour or any hiking information anyways.

Icefields Parkway by bicycle

So much ice and snow!

Icefields Centre View

The glacier leads nearly down to the road!

Our campground was situated only one kilometer further, it was the only one along the way for tents only. Martine had recommended us site 14, but when we reached it, we saw that it had just been taken a minute ago by Shawn and his son Kaydin. We really liked both of them and just pitched our tent on the neighboring site.

Our wonderful camping neighbors

Our wonderful camping neighbors

We spent the evening munching more s’mores over Shawn’s campfire. It was a rainy night and didn’t stop all morning. I waited for a lighter drizzle to run down to the kitchen shelter, where we all had breakfast together. It was late morning when the rain slowly turned into snow and by late afternoon we walked through some 10 centimeters of white fluff.

Surprise! Snow in August

Surprise! Snow in August

Wechsel tent in the snow

Our home had no problem with a bit of snow

Fortunately there was a fireplace in the kitchen shelter. Shawn and Kaydin had to continue, but we decided to have a rest day. It could have been a miserable day with frozen fingers, icy roads and grey view.

Kitchen Shelter cooking in a Canadian Campground

Fixing some late breakfast for the four of us. I just love these kitchen shelters!

Building a snow bear

Building a snow bear

Instead we enjoyed a great snow day, made friends with Susan and her teenage son Alex, played a card game, had a snowball fight, built a snow man (or rather a snow bear) and walked up the forest for some beautiful views.

A little walk up the Icefield campground's hill

A little walk up the campground’s hill

Snow bear

Snow bear time!

In short: While it was a miserable rainy day for everybody situated on slightly lower elevation, we enjoyed a perfect snow rest day.

Much of the snow didn’t survive the night, but the mountains remained all white.

Next morning the snow bear felt slightly tipsy

Next morning the snow bear felt slightly tipsy

View from the campground hill into the mountains

View from the campground hill into the mountains

It was a 2 kilometer ride up to the Wilcox trailhead. We parked the bikes against the outhouse and hiked up the trail. It was a bit icy, then muddy, rocky and snowy, but it was still an easy walk.

Cycling towards the Wilcox trail

Short ride to the trailhead

Hiking the Wilcox Trail with snow

Such a beautiful hike! We were incredibly lucky with the weather

We reached the timberline in no time and walked through an impressive snowy winter wonderland with mountains, glaciers, sheep, mountain goats and all we could have wished for. It was absolutely impressive.

Mountain goat on the Wilcox Trail

Mountain goat!

Beautiful Wilcox Trail

We hiked up to this wide and empty place and all we saw was snow, mountains, a bit of shrub and some other hikers. It was absolutely incredible.

Two and a half hours later we were back at the bikes. It was early afternoon and there were still 70 kilometers to go.

But first we had to leave the plateau and roll down into lower roads. It was awesome. The bike computer showed 64 km/h! My eyes filled with tears, the helmet jumped up and down and my mirror vibrated and we had the fun of our lives.

Sunny day with snow

It was so sunny that we walked through the snow in shirts

One of the many viewpoints along the Icefields Parkway

One of the many viewpoints

It was another little climb up to the Waterfowl Lakes campground. You may wonder why we spent every single night at a campground instead of the forest, but the rangers do not appreciate wild camping in the national park too much.

The red chairs on the Wilcox Trail

The coolest little spot for a break!

There’s too many people out there who do not know how to camp bear proof and leave no trace. Well there were clearly more than enough campgrounds even for slow travelers as ourselves, so we decided that it was just fair to be using and paying for them.

Cycling the Icefields Parkway

Cycling the Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway on a bicycle

And yet another stop

On the crowded area we got ourselves one of the many vacant walk-in campsites, which are not accessible by car. This is the ranger’s way to make sure that even on a busy day there’s enough sites for hikers and cyclists.

Canada's Nature

I still can’t believe we didn’t see a single bear here!

cycling Canada

We met a lot of outdoor enthusiasts with kayaks, hiking boots, mountain bikes and stand up paddle boards

Roberto got up before 6 am next morning. It was just below freezing, but he couldn’t stop himself from an early morning ride to the lake. We had a cold ride up to the Peyto Lake, the Icefield Parkway’s highest point. This was when it finally got a bit warmer.

Beautiful Peyto Lake

Beautiful Peyto Lake

Early morning views onto the Waterfowls Lake

Early morning views onto the Waterfowls Lake

We walked over to the viewpoint and were surprised by a huge group of tourists and a packed viewing platform. Once I made my way through the masses I could understand the hype. What expected me was a bright turquoise lake situated in between the mountains.

Canadian Landscape

Lots and lots of blue glacier water

We stopped on top of a bridge for a picture stop and met Mark from Los Angeles

We stopped on top of a bridge for a picture stop and met Mark from Los Angeles

We continued a bit to the Bow Lake and had ourselves a late but filling breakfast. And finally the sun made an appearance. Little by little we let go of gloves, beanies and jackets and after breakfast we sat there in shirts at 20°C. Hard to believe that we started slightly below freezing this morning.

Bear

Visitor inside the (very overpriced but also pretty) souvenir shop

Bicycling Icefields Parkway

Ride down to the lake

Bow Lake is a stand up paddler’s paradise and here and now we decided that someday we’d go for a travel with folding bikes and an inflatable paddle board or kayak.

Bow Lake

Bow Lake

Icefields Parkway

It is clear to me that five days were still not enough time for this wonderful ride

It was a rather easy ride down to Lake Louise. There were a lot of road cyclists around us. Most were friendly, but some just overtook us wordlessly and pretty much scared me to death by their sudden appearance right next to me at fast speed.

No hello, no smile, not even a nod. Well, might be because they biked with headphones. Not the brightest thing to do, if you ask me, on a road full of cars and wildlife.

22.222 kilometers at 22 km/h speed!

22.222 kilometers at 22 km/h speed!

We stopped at Herbert Lake to watch the mountain’s reflections in the lake, but couldn’t really see anything. The air had turned somehow milky. A nice couple who we chatted with, explained, that huge forest fires down in Washington State were responsible for all the smoke in the air. Scottish Tanya from Golden would explain some days later: “Washington is far. That’s as if there was a fire in Northern Scotland and you could still see the smoke down in London!”.

Roberto cycling the Icefields Parkway

Roberto speeds up. We are ready to pitch that tent now.

Most people continue from Lake Louise to Banff, but we decided to spend the night and continue west towards Golden by the following day. All accommodation in and around town was completely packed. But there’s always a walk-in site left for us, so we went to the state campground. It was a whopping $27.70 per tent, but they had hot showers and we were in rather urgent need of one.

"one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet"

Another reason why the brochure states that the Icefields Parkway was called “one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet”

The campground was divided into RVs and tent spaces and the tenting area was surrounded by a huge bear proof fence. I don’t want to know how grave the bear problem must have been, for them to consider such a drastic and costly solution. Nevertheless we had to haul all our kitchen and bathroom items into the bear proof locker (situated on the other end of the campground of course).

Just one of those views

Just one of those views

Canada’s state campgrounds are simply beautiful. And this one wasn’t an exception. There was a paved road next to the fence and some gravel paths in the inside. Several narrow trails combined the campsites with the toilets and showers. The forest was kept wherever possible and we camped between big trees, shrub and mushrooms. Every site had a picnic bench and a fire pit. As usual the ground was gravel, but we couldn’t mind less. Usually there is a lot of wildlife to be seen inside the campground, but due to the fence, the wildlife here was limited to squirrels, birds and bunnies.

Bearproof fence around the Lake Louise Campground

Reversed zoo: Bears are kept out by the bear fence while people stay inside their cage.

We spent the evening with Mark from Los Angeles, whom we had met some days earlier taking pictures from the same bridge. One beer quickly turned into two pitchers and in the end we biked back home swaying uncertainly. We should have known better than drinking as much as a man who grew up in Poland!

Mushrooms

Some of our tent site’s private mushrooms! Canada’s state campgrounds are just so beautiful!

This night I dreamt of views, rivers and our snow bear. Most people ride the Icefields Parkway in two to three days, but we took full five days. And that was the best thing to do. This was one of the most beautiful stretches of the country and we’re happy that we enjoyed every single minute.

 

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  1. Wunderbar! Really beautiful scenery and we can only imagine just how beautiful it really is. One day…. Alaska to Argentina! Thank you for sharing and keeping us motivated.

    Ron & Petra
    Pedal Power Touring

    • Hello you two!
      Yes, down to Argentina, that’s our dream as well. Won’t come true during this travel, we simply can’t afford that much time (and don’t have the money either) for now… but some day for sure.
      But seriously the Icefields Parkway was one of our big favorite highways!
      Where are you at the moment? Cheers,
      Annika

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  5. Hello Annika ! Hello Roberto !

    Thank you for the wonderful report and the photos. We’ll start next week on Tuesday from Jasper heading to Vancouver via Caslegar and KVR.

    Happy Cycling

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