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On the Trans Canada highway between Hope and Abbotsford, British Columbia. Photo taken yesterday.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Crescent Beach (near Vancouver), British Columbia.

Where are they going next? Hamilton, Ontario.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff are beautiful, however...

They are not so beautiful during busy tourist season! What a circus!

We never "planned" on being in this area at all. And certainly not at this time of year. But when I checked the map to figure out our route down to Fairmont Hot Springs, coming down the Icefields Parkway was the only route that made sense. To go any other way would have added at least 250 kms (155 miles). Although, it might have been worth it!

It was 10:30am by the time we headed out of our forest road overnight spot and on the main highway towards Jasper...

Smokey start to the day.

We stopped at the Rearguard Falls to have a look.

The Fraser River at Rearguard Falls.

Though the photo doesn't show it, this was our first encounter with the summer tourist crowds on the Icefields Parkway. Hard to find parking, and then lineups at the best spot to view the falls. 

At the entrance to Jasper National Park, we bought an annual pass for $136.40 CAD ($105 USD). This will do us for our time in British Columbia over the next month, as well as our time in Newfoundland next summer.

Scenery along the way.

The last time Ruth and I were here was at the end of August 2006. At that time, it was foggy and rainy, and we even woke up to snow at the end of August! So we didn't get o see much scenery then either. This time, you could see that it was a clear blue sky if you looked straight up, but other wise the smoke obscured the beautiful scenery.

The Athabasca River.

Athabasca River.

The Glacier Skywalk.

We're not big fans of turning Canada's national parks into a Disney experience. 

They took away a beautiful free parking area in order to build The Glacier Skywalk and turn it into a paid tourist attraction. But, it's all about the money. You can pay $31 CAD ($24 USD) to go for a walk on it! Or, you can drive right by it and try and grab a photo because there is no parking allowed at that location anymore.

You have to park at the Athabasca Glacier parking up ahead and take a shuttle back.
At 6,500 ft altitude, there is not as much smoke.

We did not bother with this zoo.

After all, we saw much better glaciers up in the Yukon.

Too many tourists.

Waterfall from far away.

That's our road down there!

Then, we had to find somewhere to overnight. We made it as far as highway 11 which takes you east outside the park boundaries, and after about 18 kms (11 miles) found a rutted road leading into the bush. I walked it first and decided that Sherman could make it if I drove slowly!

Who says you need a 4x4?


Sherman, free camping at GPS 52.000567, -116.499938

Yesterday's drive, 278 kms (173 miles).

Up early this morning at 6:00am to make our way to Lake Louise...yikes!

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Big discount on Kershaw pocket knives...


And in Canada...




31 comments:

  1. Wow, you haven't even gotten to Banff, where you can hardly walk down the sidewalk without bumping into people, and parking an RV is out of the question. When we passed that way we went on to Golden BC, which was more to our liking. It's probably a bit civilized for you, but there was a nice municipal campground, lots of hiking, biking, and river sports (it's at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia rivers) and a town with interesting things to do.

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    1. Not going to Banff! Or Golden, for that matter. We're taking the 93 which goes to Radium.

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    2. Before heading down to HWY 93 please check whether is closed or not. The electronic display at Castle Junction may say it's open but the authorities can close the highway anytime. In this case your only option is to go through Golden .

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    3. Thank you for the heads up on Highway 93 but we were fine and are now almost at Fairmont Hot Springs and it is raining this morning so hopefully it will be a help to the firefighters in the area. :-)

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  2. I don't mind parking in one spot for July and August cause I just cant handle crowds anymore. The older I get the worse it gets.

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    1. We honestly haven't had a problem with the crowds all summer long, but Banff and Jasper National Parks are a big draw to the tourists in western Canada and during mid summer places like this are ones that we would normally avoid at that particular time of year.

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  3. There are some great sites there. I am afraid that the trend for many attractions to become more money driven is a done deal. I get annoyed at all those people taking up my space, but I bet they feel the same way about me:) The way RV's are being sold in the US, we may end up in bidding wars for a campsite soon:(

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    1. The whole area is absolutely beautiful but we would never plan a trip in that area during the months of July or August. It was a good thing that we only had plans to drive through the area instead of actually spending time there.

      I think sometimes these national parks have lost sight of the true reason that they were set up and that was to keep them natural and teach people about the nature and how to preserve it, not build all these touristy gimmicks to make more money! :-(

      We didn't stick around the area for long, we will go back again some other time and visit in May or early June or in September and early October when things are quieter. It doesn't bother us in the least if campgrounds are full because we rarely ever stay in one. :-)

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  4. It's too bad about the smoke. Personally I found the drive between Jasper and Banff the most spectacular I've ever done, and I've been blessed to have traveled a lot. I've been there twice, once on a Goldwing motorcycle, and once hauling a trailer. Luckily both times there were few vacationers, and the weather was clear as a bell. It's also likely that the glaciers have receded a lot in the last 20 years. The other area that was stellar was north of Whistler. If you've got time, and are in the area, check out Fort Steel, it's a cool place and piece of history.

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    1. It is a shame about the smoke but nothing can be done about it and we did enjoy the drive all the same, just not as much as if it had been under clear blue skies. We will return here again some year and plan to spend more time in the area but it will be in the shoulder months rather than July or August, it will still be busy but not as much as it is right now.

      It is a wonderful drive but we also thought that the drive oo the Dempster Highway was an absolutely beautiful one and a very quiet one. :-)

      We will definitely try to stop in Fort Steele unless we decide to go to Kimberley instead. And, yes we will most likely be in the Squamish area. Lots of fantastic places to see here in British Columbia.

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  5. Spring and fall are the times to visit the Jasper area...and once you make it out of the Parks...i.e.town of Radium... this time of year, you will breathe a great sigh of relief. I try to be in the hotsprings by 0700...get to meet some of the inspiring locals that are elderly but very fit...and then out by 0930. The whole National Park scene has changed so much in the last decade or two.

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    1. Agreed, however our drive through this area wasn't planned to be a sightseeing trip, it was just planned as a means to get from Prince George to Fairmont Hot Springs but is sure reinforced the idea of not visiting this area in the high season. It won't be long now though and the kids will be back in school and things will start to slow down a little. :-)

      We are looking forward to our time at Fairmont Hot Springs with our daughter and her family and other members of Kevin's family.

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  6. Hmmm folks read these blogs and some blogs encouraging public to travel while young etc., etc. is the cause of more RVs on the road and people living in them full time. Anyway guess have to put up with RVs on the road and in camp sites. Again beautiful country.

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    1. I don't think that the cause of more RV's on the road are because of young people living in them full time. It is just a combination of many things. The RV's that are out on the road going through Banff and Jasper park are ones of people that are just on a vacation trip from other parts of Canada and the USA and lots that are rental RV's, mostly people coming from abroad. However the majority of the tourists in this area are people in cars, or ones that have flown in and are touring around in a rental and of course tons of people that are on bus tours.

      Full campgrounds don't affect us in the least because we rarely stay in them. :-)

      Yes, it is a beautiful area of the country and one we would love to come back and spend more time in but it will be either in the spring or the fall.

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  7. In the last three years the rv traffic has increased tremendously down here in the USA.

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    1. Honestly when we are traveling through the states we really haven't noticed much of a difference in the amount of RV's on the road over the last few years, we always thought there were lots! ;-)

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  8. They’ve spent years in the states trying to get people to visit the national parks and now they are being overrun. A zoo doesn’t even come close! Glacier National Park was actually encouraging people to visit other places than the park this summer if they could! It’s wall to wall people there now and the beauty and ambiance of the park is ruined (IMHO) by these crowds of people, many who have no respect for nature and other people....kids screaming and running over delicate meadows, constant harassment of the wildlife by ignorant people...I won’t even go in the summer anymore and I’ve been going since I was 9 months old back in 1958. That bridge is an eyesore and a shame they took away parking. The smoke is finally starting to clear out here in NW Washington today, hope you get some relief, too. It’s been miserable for a couple of weeks now.

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    1. Yep, and a lot of that "traffic" going through the parks both in the USA and in Canada is from aboard. Lots and lots of tour groups! We tend to agree with you on the no respect part, we saw toilet paper many times just off the trails and these are only short trails where there are toilets in the parking lot! And yes, no concept of how wild these wild animals can be, it's not a zoo, these animals can attack at any moment. The beauty of these parks are best to be enjoyed at a different time of year, at least for us.

      Many people were upset at the building of this Skywalk, but unfortunately the ones that protested weren't listened to, money talks after all! :-(

      We still have lots of smoke but we did wake up this morning to some rain, not sure it will be enough to do any good though.

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  9. This is why the so-called shoulder season is much better for travelers such as we retired folk, although in the more famous and accessible national parks, tourist season seems to last till the snow flies. Still smoky for you ... sorry.

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    1. We totally agree and as we mentioned driving through Banff and Jasper National Parks wasn't meant to be part of our trip it was only a means of getting from Prince George to Fairmont Hot Springs. We will go back to these parks another year and we will definitely be doing in the shoulder seasons, and yes they will still be busy but much more manageable.

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  10. It's been our experience that any national park is navigable as long as we commit to starting our day good and early. Hiking is also an automatic crowd thinner - anything over a mile is almost guaranteed to thin the trail substantially. Throw in a bit of elevation gain, and you are gold.

    Personally, I love that more people are experiencing national parks. How much better of an environment exists for seeing the beautiful world we live in, hopefully leaving with a commitment to work together to keep it preserved?

    Having said that, we likewise prefer to visit during non-peak times. Having the option to sleep in past the wee hours is just one reason why!

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    1. We were out early yesterday and it really didn't make a lot of difference everywhere was still busy. Luckily this drive through Banff and Jasper National Parks was not meant to be a sightseeing trip, and a good thing it wasn't because the smoke didn't help one bit with trying to see the beautiful scenery. We just thought that because we were driving through we would stop to see a couple of things on the way and quite a few of the parking lots at the hiking trails were already getting full, it didn't seem to matter if the trails were easy or not. In fact one of the trails that we did was an easy one and it was pretty much empty but it also wasn't in Banff or Jasper parks it was in Kootenay National Park.

      We have absolutely no problem with people exploring these beautiful national parks we just don't want to be there when they all do, such as in the months of July or August. ;-)

      Not sure how many of them come away wanting to better the world though when you see toilet paper just off from the trials in many places. :-(

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  11. I know the smoke from the BC wildfires on hwy 93 is bad and there are too too many tourists to enjoy the beautiful scenic Parkway, oh well tthis is the best country in the world right!!

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    1. We don't believe there is a best country in the world. Every country that we have ever been in has good points and bad points. Canada has it's fair share of both.

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  12. Hello,
    Interesting to read your blog post. It came up in my google new feed for some reason, so I'm not a regular follower, but I wanted to comment on a few things that bothered me from the post.

    -you seem to be quite negative on tourists (e.g. "Too many tourists", in one of your photos), but you too are a tourist, so I don't see how you can be so negative towards the crowds doing the same thing you are doing.

    -If you are annoyed by the uptick of visitors to beautiful places, I am surprised you blog about the beautiful places you visit. Despite what your response (to Rita Mizell), from anecdotal evidence indicates, Camper vanning/RVing has increased significantly in the last several years (great research on this coming from the University of Utah's Parks, Recreation and Tourism dept as well as Colo St.'s School of Natural resources). The North American national parks have especially seen an increase in this. Research indicates that the increase in camper vanning stems from 2 main reasons. 1. a wealthier, longer-living generation of retirees who can better afford RVs and are more fit to be able to travel than previous generations. 2. social media (blogs, twitter, instagram, facebook) hype of #vanlife. The biggest increase in campervans have come in the 20-40's age group using smaller RV's (vans: sprinters and converted ford econolines and similar). The hypothesis is that all of these social media outlets have shown this generation of people how possible, easy, and accessible it is to travel North America (and other places: see also iceland, NZ, and Australia) in a campervan. Campervanning has some major perks. It's more comfortable than tenting (easier set-up/tear down, better shelter from rain and mosquitos, etc). It's also cheaper than hotels and provides much more flexibility than motels/hostels. It appears to some to be a great sweet spot in the comfort-flexibility-budget triad. You must certainly have noted that in the past several years, small van rentals companies have popped up in North America (ex. Jucy, a new zealand company that has expanded to N.A., Wicked Campers, an Australian company recently expanded to N.A. and Escape Campervans (founded in 2009 in the USA)) One study I read (focusing mainly on europeans and asians), indicated that the great majority of tourists renting vans in the USA would not have come to the USA if it weren't for the small campervan rentals that have become popular. The main reasons they stated that America was inaccessible to them before were 1. Too expensive: cost of renting a car and hotels was to be too much). 2. Tent camping would be too uncomfortable (cold, wet, a month on the ground). Sorry for multiple comments, but there is a character limit set to your blog

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  13. In fact, if you look at the research and literature in this area, you will see that studies show that the biggest reason for the major increases in American national parks is the social media advertising they get from visitors. In the past, the vast majority of people visited the national parks out of interest to experience nature and see beauty, there is an increase in people visiting national parks in order to get their perfect instagram shots so as to improve their social media profile. Had you visited Lake Louise on your trip, I'm sure you would have witnessed the many, many tourists dressed, not for the outdoors, and doing silly/sexy/etc poses for their phones, not to mention the large amount of people with selfie sticks. Research indicates a great many people visit beautiful places not to just see and photograph the beauty but to photograph themselves in the beauty in order to increase their social media profile. Authors of these studies conclude that whereas people used to have to seek out beautiful areas on their own accord, do the research on how to get there, plan the logistics, etc because they were generally interested in a certain type of outdoor experience, it is now hand delivered to them. They scroll through their newsfeed on fb or instagram, see their friend (or favorite vanlife person they follow) standing on a ridge looking down at a beautiful glacier or turquoise lake with the hashtags #morainelake #banff #albertathebeautiful and they decide they must go there to get that picture. I have witnessed this first hand as I have come across many folks who have shown me an instagram picture and asked me where that was taken, because they wanted to get that very shot. When I visited Alberta, I chose where I hiked mainly by the old traditional methods of looking at a topo map and/or reading suggestions on one of the scrambling books I bought. One day we did the popular teahouse hike just to see what it was all about, but I wanted to add some adventure to it, so I looked at a topo and found a little peak (devils thumb) that I could tell could be scrambled up and that would afford beautiful views of the lakes below. It's not an official trail to the top and thus there are no trail signs and the trail itself isn't marked on a topo map. I was surprised at the huge number of people climbing it that day (mostly speaking a language other than english), so I decided to conduct my own research on it. I asked every group that we passed on the way down how they had heard of it. We passed 29 groups coming up. 17 had found out about it from the 'famous' instagram pics standing on the summit with lake louise on the right and lake agness on the left. 10 had found out about it from the AllTrails App, and 2 were Canadians that had heard of it from friends who had done it. I can tell you that most of the people I saw going up and down were not at the skill level that should be climbing such a steep scramble. We witnessed 3 large boulders knocked down the chute that people climb up, and only one of the people who knocked down a rock yelled rock. This indicates to me people who are not ready yet to be doing such a climb and would never have sought it out on their own, were it not for social media. To complete my minor research, I asked Parks Canada if they would ever recommend that scramble to a tourist asking about a good hike, and they say they never would, they only recommend routes with actual trails or they recommend a person buy one of the scrambling books if they are into more adventure. I live off an on in Colorado and NW Montana. In the areas I live, we have tried our best to keep our local secrets hidden, but every now and then someone can't help themselves but blog, instagram, facebook or whatnot one of the spots in order to boost their blog or increase their social media profile and then all of a sudden that hidden hot springs becomes over run, the beautiful backwoods campsite becomes busy and full of toilet paper and poo, etc.

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  14. I have not seen any research on this, but my personal opinion is that the rise of people visiting the outdoors because of (and in order to improve their) social media is leading to a degradation of natural lands. First off, with more people doing a thing, then of course their will be higher use and more degradation. But when people visit areas having not been trained in outdoor ethics, leave no trace, safe campfire use, do not disturb wildlife, bury or pack out poo, etc, then that also leads to degradation. I have no research on this, but I believe that before the social media outdoor boom, most people interested in the outdoors were trained in proper wilderness ethics by the people who also introduced them to their love of the outdoors: family, scouts, friends, etc. Or they took an interest and learned via books, which almost always emphasize wilderness ethics. However, social media just shows a beautiful place or says where a sweet campsite is, but doesn't tell you how to treat it well. As you mentioned, I have definitely noticed an uptick in toilet paper and poop around trails and campsites.

    This is anecdotal, but many years ago, when I used to visit the Utah parks and forests, I learned of free camping areas from friends and locals. They were always clean and taken care of. In recent years I noticed these places were put on blogs and shared on camping apps and these out of the way places became rather busy. Last year, when I visited, they had all been closed by the BLM and NFS. When I asked the reason at the regional offices, I was told it was because they had been overrun and not taken care of, and they were forced to close off access to save the area. I believe this will soon become a common theme across N. America. This is why I suggest to people like yourselves (who appear to have a wilderness ethic, just from reading a couple of your posts) to not post coordinates/directions etc to the places you freedom camp. People will get a hold of this blog, post it on their blog and so forth and they will become popular and accessible to the common tourist and not just to the more adventurous willing to drive around and find a place that might appear to be difficult to reach. Especially since you seem annoyed by "tourists" and crowds, I would think you would be more secretive on cool spots to you find the camp/hike etc that are not well known.

    -I also wanted to touch on what you said about the parks. Indeed they are being overrun with popularity. And I agree that I don't like seeing pay attractions in them (unless all profits go to conservation). The glacier skywalk should not be run by some 3rd party that is making a profit. It should either not be there or be there to make money for conservation. And I had to laugh at the signs they had at the glacier saying how each person could help reduce their carbon footprint (ex. turning of devices when not in use, filling your car up with family members when you vacation so as to reduce car usage, driving fuel efficient vehicles, etc) while they were driving gas guzzling terra busses all day every day on the glacier!

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  15. -While some of the super busy areas (peyto lake, lake louise, the glacier, the roadside waterfalls) can seem annoying to people such as yourselves, there is actually a strategy behind it all. The Parks purposely have easy access draw card areas in the hope of keeping most visitors in those areas. In these areas they have a high level of interpretation (info signs, rangers) in the hopes of getting the conservation message out to a few of the people. But if you notice, in a place like Jasper and Banff, the main roads and 500m either side of them (the farthest the average visitor ventures from their car) occupy a minuscule percent of the park. This has the benefit of keeping a huge portion of the part much more wild. The Parks see it as better to have 95% of visitors in a 1% area of the park then everyone spread all over the park. This has a dual benefit as it also allows those more intrepid travelers to get out and still experience solitude. Sure, it's annoying to try to park in the parking lots, but hike 15k and over a pass from a road, and you'll hardly meet anyone. Better yet, take your pack and go 30k in, and you'll be alone. Lake louise, moraine lake, peyto, the athabasca glacier are all beautiful, but there are far more beautiful parts of the area that the Park keeps free of tourists by drawing them all into a few areas.

    -You seem to pride yourself on avoiding established campsites and RV parks. I definitely understand the draw to being by yourself, but again, the reason the Parks concentrate high numbers of people in one area is that it is better for the flora and fauna to ruin one area with 200 campsites than to ruin 20 areas with 10 campsites. Again, I would be cautious about posting the locations of too many of the freedom camping sites you find. As these places become found, more popular, and then degraded, they will be closed. Canada and the USA are so huge, so it's probably a ways off, but smaller countries (ex. NZ and Iceland) have had such problems with freedom camping and the vanlife culture in recent years that they now have very strict freedom camping rules and have banned it in most places. In NZ, stay in a designated spot or pay the $200 fine for freedom camping. Something to think about...

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    1. Well for someone who isn't a regular reader of ours you sure managed to waste a lot of your time on us! And I am not going to waste too much on my time replying to you because we have many other things that we would prefer to spend our time on. As you mentioned you are not a regular reader so we think it is hard for you to make these assumptions of us without really knowing us. No, we don't really consider ourselves as "tourists" per se, we consider ourselves as travelers. We like to spend time in different areas/regions/countries and get to know more about the areas or countries, their people and their cultures rather than just quickly past through them. We are full time travelers not someone on a vacation. This particular area wasn't even on our radar because we know it is busy at this time of year but it just made sense for us to take this route to get where we were going and we figured that we would possibly stop and see few of the sites along the way just to give our legs a stretch. And by the way we don't have a problem with tourists, we just don't particularly like going places where there are droves of them. We would rather see these types of places in the shoulder season or the off season. Actually our preference is seeing off the beaten path kind of places.

      You are correct that social media has probably influenced a lot more people to visit our national parks and many other high interest places but before social media these were still busy places, thanks to TV, magazines and other forms of advertising. Plus many people from overseas now have more money to spend so they are traveling to locations other than their own counties.

      There are lots of rental RV's out on the road and many others that are also vacationing, we are also sure that more people are full timing but still it is really a drop in the bucket as it is still considered an alternative lifestyle and many that full time spend their time stationary in a park hoping to spend less money than in an apartment.

      We have a bit of a following but don't feel that our posting the GPS coordinates of our boondocking locations will have any kind of impact on these places being abused. To start with most of the spots we find are already published spots. We also like to try to educate those that read our blog so that if they do use these spots they will be considerate with them.

      Also thought you might find this article interesting. http://theconversation.com/its-time-to-press-the-reset-button-on-canadas-national-parks-96628

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