Cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway

Cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway: Jasper National Park

We had a good start to cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, or not. Not long after leaving our campsite at Mt Robson, Michael took a fall off the bike. The first fall of the trip (and hopefully the last)! I didn’t even notice he wasn’t behind for a good 10 minutes. When I did finally noticed, I stopped and waited… and waited. Eventually he caught up – bloody oozing out of his ankle. Apparently he fell while trying to take photos going down the hill. You think he would learn his lesson here and stop doing that. No, the idiot still takes photos while cycling along, down steep hills and mountain passes.

Finally we made it to Jasper! We were super excited for our first rest day in about 10 days. And what better way to celebrate than with an Indian dinner buffet. Carb loading in preparation for cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway.

While planning our cycle route through Jasper, Banff and the Rockies, I had all the intentions of doing some hiking. Well that completely went out the window when we actually arrived in the national parks. We were totally exhausted. There was no way we were doing all the hiking I had planned. To be honest – I don’t know what I was thinking. With that being said, we did attempt a couple of really small (2-3km) hikes. That was about all we could manage.

alberta vancovuer to the rockies

Icefields Parkway

After resting up for a day (yes, only 1 day), we headed off on our first day of cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. I was told we should take the quieter 93A instead of the main highway. We did. There wasn’t much of a hard shoulder, but it was quiet… and very hilly. I wasn’t prepared for the hills, but was still happy to be off the main highway. After cycling for about an hour we spotted a bear (not sure what type), dart across the road.

Eventually we made it to Athabasca Falls and were greeted with hundreds of tourists, including a friendly group of cyclists that were also cycling the Icefields Parkway, as a part of a 4 day fundraiser. I was quite jealous of their support vehicle at that stage – their super light road bikes and lack of weight from panniers (plus the extra training they probably did), meant they flew passed us on several hills.

From Athabasca Falls we were back on the 93 – the main route most people took when cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. We were headed for Sunwapta Falls. Just about 5km from the falls is started to bucket down. Luckily just before the turn off to the falls there was a restaurant that served yummy brownies – it would have been a crime not to stop and treat ourselves to a brownie, plus a hot drink. When we were finished, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out – maybe our luck had finally changed?

It was a slow cycle day after that – the kilometers seemed to drag. We finally dragged ourselves into Jonas Campsite, just as the rain started to pour again. We were exhausted and I was super worried about the following day’s climb up Sunwapta Pass.

Sunwapta Summit

It rained throughout the night and into the next morning. We wanted to get an early start to make it over the first pass.

It was cold and it was extremely wet but, we were in pretty good spirits. The climb up the pass was not fun, but it wasn’t as bad as what I was expecting. When we finally made it to the Icefields Parkway we were happy and very hungry.

We decided to hike to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier, and then head to the Icefields Center to treat ourselves to some decent food. The short hike to the glacier was great – though very busy! The Icefields Center however, was a nightmare! The biggest tourist trap ever. Being on a bike really distances you from the crowds of tourists that you sometimes even forget that it is really busy and it is the peak season. Though we did see tonnes of cars, RVs and buses drive pass, it’s easier to tune them out, that compared to crowds of people. Sadly, we skipped our treat at the center as we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible – we even passed up a lunch buffet (which is very unlike us).

Cycle tourists were certainly in abundance, cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway. During our entire 7 month cycle from France to China we met about 5 other cycle tourists. Along the Icefields Parkway we must have seen an excess of 50 cyclists. It made the whole experience a completely different one, and I welcomed exchanging stories and tips with other cyclists – something we rarely had the opportunity to do.

cycling the rockies
Cycling from Jasper to Canmore

Banff National Park

The rain continued as we made it to Wilcox pass and we struggled to find somewhere (with a shelter) to stop for lunch. We decided to start the descent into Banff National Park, hoping that it wouldn’t be as cold and wet further down in the valley – unfortunately we were wrong. I was shitting myself throughout the steep descent down. The hard shoulder was almost non-existent, the road wasn’t good and visibility from the rain were not great. That along with the busy road made it not the funniest cycle. On top of that, when we made it to the valley it was still raining and we still couldn’t find anywhere dry to stop for lunch. We ended up creating a shelter in amongst a bunch of trees.

After lunch we cycled on a bit and the rain finally stopped. The last 15km of the day we could actually enjoy the beautiful valley and creeks. We decided to call it in early and stop at Rampart Creek campsite to get an early night and try and dry off some of our gear. I definitely appreciated the rest.

Bow Lake Summit

Michael and I woke feeling a bit more rested, and a bit more positive about the cycle – even though we woke up to another wet morning. The plan was to conquer the Bow Lake Summit and head to Lake Louise to camp for a couple of nights.

Cycling the Bow Lake Summit to Lake Louise was my favourite cycle day of the trip so far. The rain even cleared up for a bit, which meant we could enjoy the mountains and alpine lakes. The first stop was Saskatchewan Crossing. We just hit our first 1000km mark that morning, and wanted to celebrate with a hot drink and of course a brownie (you’ve probably noticed a trend so far). The crossing was super overpriced but, I guess that’s what you expect for a tourist stop.

Next was Waterfowl Lake, where we stopped for a short break and a lot of photos. Then it was onto the pass. The climb was nowhere near as bad as I had expected, almost enjoyable. After the pass we pull into Bow Lake, next to an old lodge (which had surprisingly ok priced food and drinks) and stopped for lunch. It started to rain again, but even in the rain it was hard to not appreciate the beauty of the area – plus, the rain kept the tourists away (well some of them). Of course, we stopped into the lodge, for another hot drink and this time a cookie (they didn’t sell brownies).

bow lake: the rockies
The Rockies were absolutely stunning – despite all the rain!

Lake Louise

The rest of the day was stunning. Eventually we got off the Icefields Parkway and rolled into the village at Lake Louise. Luckily I’d already booked a site at the campsite, as when we got there we discovered it was fully booked and they had no walk-in sites.

We felt pretty accomplished after cycling in Jasper and the Icefields Parkway, but also very happy to finally have another day off the bikes. Next on the agenda was the Bow Valley Parkway! Fingers crossed we spot some bears!

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