This is post #2 in a 5-post series on our Drive to Alaska! Check out the other Days here:
Day 1 – Colorado to Montana
Day 2 – The Most Scenic: Banff, Lake Louise & the Icefields Parkway
Day 3 – Logging, Big Trucks & Long Roads
Day 4 – Crossing the Canadian Rockies & Arriving in the Yukon
Day 5 – Arriving in Alaska!
We had spent the previous night in Great Falls, Montana, and headed north towards the US/Canadian border which was a few hours away.
Before starting out on this 5-day adventure, I knew we’d be going through some beautiful country. I also knew that not all of it was gonna be pretty. And this view is what I feared we’d have to endure during many of our 60+ hours of driving:
And while we did get a lot of wide open plains throughout parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Alberta, I actually didn’t mind it as much as I thought. It’s kinda pretty in its own right.
Crossing the Canada/US border at Coutts & Sweetgrass
2004 was the last time I’d driven into Canada. It was from Washington state into Vancouver and was pretty painless.
This time, though, we had a car full of our belongings and our dog in the back (figuring out what documentation we needed for our dog when crossing the border was an ordeal in itself – more on that in another post). We weren’t sure if they’d want to take everything out or not, though we obviously hoped not. Re-packing the Thule box would require some serious skills and we didn’t know if we could make it all fit again.
After waiting in line for about 45 minutes (there was only one gate open), it was finally our turn. Luckily the agent was nice, asked a few questions, glanced at our paperwork and sent us on our way. We must look like upstanding citizens. (As we absolutely are, of course.)
We had reached Canada. Yay! Another milestone completed.
From the border to Calgary, there wasn’t much to see. It was again quite flat like northern Montana and you’d barely notice you were in Canada except for gas being sold by the litre and priced a bit more than in the US (though US prices are catching up).
It was after you reached Calgary and headed west into the Canadian Rocky Mountains that things started to get good.
Here’s what you’ll see driving into Banff National Park. Pure ridiculousness.
The quaint town of Banff.
A fancy bridge that animals use to cross over the highway. I’m guessing they work pretty well because I don’t recall seeing any roadkill along the highway (which I can’t say about Wyoming & Montana).
I was but a wee child the one and only other time I’d visited Lake Louise in Alberta, and it was in the summertime so the experience was different in so many ways.
I guess that’s why it felt almost like a completely different place when I saw Lake Louise this time around: it was frozen and so you couldn’t see the majestic blue-green waters that I remember so vividly from the past.
It’s still a gorgeous area, though I’d really love to come back in the summer when the snow is gone and we can explore the hiking trails in the area.
Driving the Icefields Parkway
We could’ve headed north from Calgary and gone through Edmonton – which would’ve been faster and more direct – but then we would’ve missed possibly the most impressive stretch of mountainous road I’ve ever driven: the Icefields Parkway.
I didn’t even know this road existed until we started planning our trip.
Having grown up in Colorado, I’ve seen and climbed a mountain or two in my life. And there are parts of Colorado that have spectacular scenery, like Southwest Colorado down near Telluride, Ouray and Silverton. And the Dolomite Mountains of Italy rank up there towards the top of the list for my favorite mountains anywhere.
But I’ve never experienced a drive quite like the Icefields Parkway.
Around every bend there was a new-looking set of peaks. The mountains were massive and impressive in their own unique ways. You were surrounded on all sides by these magnificent masses covered in snow and trees and it was truly spectacular.
The Road Conditions
We were worried that we may encounter snowy and icy roads in March, but our timing must have been just about perfect because we only found small areas of patchy snow on the road. Most of the time, though, the 2- to 4-lane highways were in excellent condition.
Day 2 Stats
Total Time (including stops): 12 hours
Total Miles Driven: ~550