Jasper National Park, Canada, Trip - September 1-5, 2004 (Day 1)

Ever since I saw a picture from Canada's Jasper National Park a few years ago, showing this amazing green glacial valley with stunning mountains, I've wanted make a trip there. So, we decided to take a family trip there this summer. Our initial plan was to drive up over the 4th of July weekend, but since we had just moved into a new house, we decided to put it off until the Labor Day weekend. In addition to visiting the town of Jasper (which is inside the park), we were going to accomplish a few other goals with this trip:

1. Visit Helena, the capital city of Montana. We've been out here three years now, and have yet to visit Helena. Most people know the capitals of the states, and asked us about Helena. Unfortunately we couldn't tell them anything about it.

2. Visit some of the other Montana cities we'd heard about but never seen, such as Great Falls and Cut Bank.

3. Visit Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, which is actually connected to Glacier National Park in Montana. Although we've visited Glacier several times, we've never crossed over to Waterton.

4. Visit the town of Banff and Banff National Park in Alberta. Although E and I had visited Banff in the winter during our 1999 ski trip, we had never been there in the summer.

5. Visit the world famous Icefields Parkway, and see the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest area of ice/glaciers south of Alaska. The Icefields Parkway is the road between Banff (technically Lake Louise) and Jasper, and it's actually route 93, the same road that runs right through Hamilton where we live. This is probably the most amazingly scenic road I've ever driven.

6. Visit Fernie, where we took our 2002-2003 annual ski trip. E didn't get a chance to go on the ski trip, so I wanted to show her what a neat place Fernie actually was.

7. As a bonus, we actually visited a 4th national park that we hadn't even intended on visiting. On our trip home, we passed through Canada's Kootenay National Park. It was another amazing place with more huge mountains of the Canadian Rockies, glaciers, and all that neat stuff.

Wednesday, September 1st, 2004

We packed up the Forester for the trip. The bikes are for mountain biking in Jasper.

On Wednesday, I finished up a little work in the morning and we headed to Helena, Montana for lunch. It was a little under three hours for the drive, and the weather was good (so far) with some scattered clouds, although it was starting to get a bit windy (a sign of things to come).

I've added a map of the Montana/Alberta/British Columbia area for those that are unfamiliar with the territory. Our route is marked in red, and key points are in blue. To follow the route, basically start at the bottom in Hamilton, Montana and head up and around the loop counterclockwise. Go all the way up to Jasper and then head down to the loop and continue counterclockwise back to Hamilton. In order, we'll head through Hamilton, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Cut Bank, Waterton, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Columbia Icefield, Lake Louise, Banff again, Kootenay National Park, Fernie, and end with Hamilton.

We had lunch at Frontier Pies in Helena, which was recommended. Actually it was hard to get Ty inside to eat after the drive. He started playing ball in the parking lot.

We finally got to see the capitol building in Helena, Montana.

The "Goddess of Liberty" statue is on top. The statue arrived on a train during the building's construction (1899-1902). The real purpose for the statue was unknown (shipping records were destroyed by fire), so they decided to use it as a statue for the dome.

Once we left Helena and headed north on Interstate 15 (past Great Falls and Cut Bank), the wind had really picked up.

I didn't get a picture of Great Falls, Montana, since we only passed it on the interstate, but our next location was Cut Bank (picture below), a place I'd often heard about during the TV weather forecasts due to its cold temperatures. It's a pretty small place at the edge of the great plains. There were lots of grain silos around town, so I'm guessing agriculture is a big part of the economy.

The winds continued to be strong as we drove west from the plains towards Glacier and Waterton National Parks. It was strong enough at one point that it ripped off part of the bug deflector on the Forester!

We stopped along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park for a bathroom break. Ty tried more than once to run out into the road and see what it was like to get run over by a car. Fortunately Mom saved the day!

That evening we made our way along the edge of Glacier National Park and up into Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. We had Ty's birth certificate so we got across the border with no problem. In Waterton Park, we stayed for the night at the Belly River Campground. There were tons of campsites, but only one other group of campers in the entire place. It was a bit spooky, especially as we tried to translate the crazy Canadian campground signs...

Stackable tents this way
This way to swim in a sea of people

As we set up the tent, it was still windy, and there were flashes of lightning off to the west in the mountains of the park. A brief but heavy rainstorm came by in the night, and the winds continued to increase to around 30-40 mph. We were buffeted by strong winds much of the night, but I slept pretty well. I was glad we'd brought the 4-season expedition tent, which I had staked and tied down very heavily just in case the winds continued to increase.

On to the Next Day