Was part one of our Alberta road trip all about Indian Summer city life in Edmonton and Calgary, part two involves the Canadian Rocky Mountains. And do they create the picture perfect backdrop to fully enjoy Fall’s colours. Sunbeams on yellow leafs turn trees into gold against deep blue skies or emerald glacier lakes.
It’s impossible not to take loads of pics – I often felt like a seasoned Asian tourist – and my sincere apologies for the Instagram spam during my trip. To describe this scenery in one sentence; think Bob Ross meets Twinpeaks on a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle box cover.
Part two will also have a more sporty nature with canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding and golf on the program. So, let’s drive – and tee – off.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the Rocky Mountains
Or as they say: JPL. It takes about a four-hour drive – 370 km – from Edmonton on Highway no. 2 to exchange city for Alberta’s magnificent Jasper National Park. An UNESCO World Heritage Site. The halfway lunch stop could be at Edson, where we enjoyed a great (and healthy: fresh hummus with vegetables and warm naan bread!) lunch at Originals Joes.
Jasper Park Lodge is an iconic go-to destination since 1920’s. What started as ten luxury tents along the pristine shores of Lac Beauvert (beautiful green lake) now boasts over 60 lodges and cedar cabins on nearly 700-acres of land. Right in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and Canada’s #1 resort golf course and luxury spa included. Did we come to the right place.
This luxury mountain resort is surrounded by nature and wildlife, a base camp to explore the area. It was elk mating season and more than once we found roaring male standing in our backyard to attract females. Be very careful, keep still and do not approach. Too much testosterone going on here.
A must do is rise early, walk a few steps to the lake, take a seat on one of the many bear chairs set out along the shore and fully indulge sunrise. Those colors!
What to do around Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge?
Too many options for only 48 hours! If you’re into horseback riding start with a relaxing morning mountain ride just outside the nearby village of Jasper at Jasper Riding Stables. Savor the splendor of the Rocky Mountains – unchanged for centuries – from higher altitude.
Step back in time with this journey trough nature, a good way to get the know the surroundings. The horses are experienced and all levels of riding skills are accommodated.
We did the one-hour Athabasca Outlook Trail, stunning vistas of the Athabasca River Vally and three mountain ranges included. From CAD 47.
The afternoon is for golf on the premises at the Jasper Park Lodge Golf Club. Open since 1925 and a hidden golf gem set deep in the of the Canadian Rockies ever since.
The 18-hole layout offers elevated tee boxes, dramatic bunkering and holes aligned with distant mountain vistas. Beware of bears in the thick forest around. Don’t go too deep into the forest to search your golf ball…
A challenging nature course and a must play when in Jasper. More about this and other Rocky Mountain golf courses will be up soon in a dedicated post. They deserve one.
Pro shop and club rental available. Green fees from CAD 149.
Day two is for jade green and blue that compares to none glacier lakes. Enter Maligne Lake boat cruise to Spirit Island. Order blue skies in advance. We did.
After a climbing mountain drive with numerous warning signs for bears – still zero on the counter – and mesmerizing views of the Rocky Mountains sub-alpine forests, valleys and lakes around every curb, Maligne Lake dooms up. It takes about an hour from Jasper Park Lodge.
We boarded a 90 minute guided journey on the blue green glacial waters of Maligne Lake, learned a lot on the human and geologic history of the area.
The stop at Spirit Island again shows the power and beauty of nature. This small peninsula is Indian secret ground and forbidden to trespass. The spirit of a forbidden love couple from two rivalling tribes still hunts this place.
Although the lake looks attractive for a nice swim, you better not. Just about freezing point. Another option is to walk the – easy – trail along the shores of this unforgettable lake.
Maligne Lake 90 minute cruise CAD 65.
Spa and dinner at Jasper Park Lodge
To take in the overload of natural beauty there is only one option left: go spa-ing. Fairmont Spa is a health club heaven with indoor and outdoor pools (lake view!), fitness area, steam room and sauna, yoga classes, Spa boutique and lounge.
Prior to my spa treatments I like to enjoy the steam room, in this case the Eucalyptus steam room. Breath in, breath out.
The treatments are inspired by natural elements, surprise, and reflect the energy of the mountains, rivers and waterfalls of Jasper National Park. I opted for the mountain stone massage. The use of hot basalt river stones together with warm organic lavender oil left me and my muscles in an ultimate calm state.
A state which seamlessly fits our dinner plans; sushi at Oka Sushi. One of the many restaurants in Jasper Park Lodge and definitely the smallest.
Twelve seats only, the maximum for Sushi Chef Tashuhiko Okaka. For 18 years he works with fresh seafood, shipped in from Japan and Vancouver, as key ingredients with every dish made on the spot. Oka san watches his customers carefully and makes sure we all have a plate in front of us, regardless who ordered first.
Since we sit quite close with the other guests, it feels as if we dine at a friend’s place. The atmosphere is intimate and the food is all about dedication. Watching the chef handle his knife as a ballet dancer in supreme focus, is like watching a culinary play.
The people next to us, from Edmonton, first make a reservation at Oka Sushi before they book the JPL. Need I say more?
Via Icefields Parkway to Banff, a Rocky Mountains daytrip
Next stop is Banff, or to be more precise: the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. There is only one way that leads to Banff, the legendary Icefield Parkway. Make sure to drive during day light on this 2-lane road, there is so much to see. Unfortunately we had some unpredictable weather conditions which led from rain, mist and even some tiny snow flocks (!) to an occasional blue sky.
Stretching 232km through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, this world-class route winds its way through two national parks with unbroken panoramic views. Enough natural attractions to make several stops.
We opted for one stop only because of the bad weather, at the Columbia Icefield. An amazing ride on a massive all-terrain Ice Explorer onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. Never seen something like this before. And heard before. Since we were the only two English-speaking people amongst a bus full of Chinese tourists (everywhere in Alberta, btw) the guide decided to do the tour in Cantonese…
Now I can tick the walked-on-icefield box. Looking forward to come back and drive the Icefields Parkway in reverse direction to experience different views. In good weather.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Another legendary, opulent hotel. The BSH, just outside Banff, was built in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Owner Van Hoorn (Dutch?) decided that since he couldn’t export the Canadian Rocky Mountains’s scenery, he had to import the visitors. First came the hotel, than the village of Banff.
It’s living history from the moment you arrive. With 764 rooms and 23 restaurants this ‘Castle of the Rockies’ can host about 1200 guests. Ballroom, enormous stairs, brass doors, antique elevators, tapestries and conservatories, they all breathe another era. The cast of Downton Abbey would fit in perfectly.
A landmark in the picturesque alpine town of Banff, Alberta. Fun fact: the opening rates in 1888 were $ 3,50 per night.
Our suite was on the private Fairmont Gold floor and had everything a luxury traveller could wish for. Vistas from two sides, a separate living room, working desk, large walk-in closet and bathroom, crisp linen on thick mattresses and Le Labo amenities. Love those!
Breakfast is served in the Bow Grill restaurant, with panoramic views over Bow river valley and the Fairmont Banff Golf Course. The grass field in front of the breakfast room turns into a skating ring from November. So now you can see children skate while enjoying an eggwhite-and-spinach omelet from the eggstation.
What to do around Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel?
Again, our time is limited so it’s all about choices. We start with a scenic gondala ride up to Sulphur Mountain. I felt like I was on top of the world while standing on the spacious 360-degree rooftop observation deck. Looking around, observing the six incredible mountain ranges makes you feel humble as well. But there’s more.
The Banff Skywalk, a 1km awe-inspiring ridgetop boardwalk on 883 m. above Banff. Not for those with fear of heights, otherwise a must do. We also spotted some local wildlife including Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and many ground squirrels.
The weather changes very rapidly in the mountains, so when mornings clouds made way for blue skies we decided to go mountain-biking along the Bow river. In Canmore, just 30 minutes from Banff, we rented bikes from Gearup Rentals and off we went for a three-hour trail. Amazing! Such a stillness and such a stunning nature. Again lot’s of bear warning signs but none of them showed their face to us. Might also have something to do with me ringing my bell when biking through the forests parts of the trail. As the rental guy told me to do.
The afternoon is for golf, along the Bow river valley. More on the Fairmont Banff Spring golf course – and coyote’s and a herd of elk on the fairway – in my next post.
Safe the best for last, right? Enter Lake Louise. Another glacier lake with turquoise water, ringed by high snow peaks. This emerald lake is a short hour from Banff through the Banff National Park, make sure to you have your day pass close at hand. At first I was shocked with busloads of Asian tourists, but if you move on and start walking the trail along the right shore of the lake, you’ll soon be walking on your own. Indulging the great views. Rest on one of the many benches, stare across the water. The emerald colour of the water comes from rock flour carried into the lake by melt-water from the glaciers that overlook the lake. Breath taking.
Temptation lies around the corner, at the boathouse located at the west shore to be precise. Before we knew it we’re were peddling away in our red canoe to the far end of the lake. Working up an appetite for lunch at another Fairmont hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise.
1 hour rent CAD 85
Spa and dinner at Fairmont Banff Springs
The Banff Springs hotel is a place to get lost, a miniature village on its own. Needed a guide to get from our room (suite, sorry) to the Willow Stream Spa. Another Fairmont signature rejuvenating heaven. With 3 unique hot springs with pulsating waterfalls and a mineral pool in the heart of the spa, it is no wonder that visitors come here for over 100 years to awaken their senses.
This is a place to slow down your pace. All glass walled, so stunning Rocky Mountains nature is never far away. At one point, it was almost sunset, I was alone in the hot outside pool while inhaling bracing cool mountain air. It almost felt as a sacred moment. Pure serenity and perfect preparation for a pre-dinner massage treatment.
We couldn’t decide which in-house restaurant to choose from and decided on returning to higher grounds for some elevated dining. To Sky Bistro, in the Banff Gondola station, who just opened their doors a few days ago.
Contemporary interior, stunning Rocky Mountains views and a distinctly Canadian menu that features a handpicked selection of local produce and ingredients. Reservations advised, ask for the Sky Experience menu where gondola admission is included. Did I mention the cheesecake?
All good things come to an end and after some 1000 kms were back in Calgary. You could do this great road trip in 10 days but I would suggest a minimum of 14 days. That way you have more time to stop and relax when the scenery asks for it. It will feel too short anyway. Mark my words.
ps. no bears, have to come back.
Alberta Road trip part one : City life in Calgary and Edmonton
This road trip was an international journalists trip organised by Alberta Tourism Board. I was there by invitation on behalf of Chapter Fifty and Talkies Magazine and did not pay for all of the above-mentioned activities. Words, photos and opinions are my own.