Though it doesn’t appear so at first, after being here for a week we realize that Yoho National Park, Canada’s second oldest park, has a split personality.
The discovery of Kicking Horse Pass, the first pass across the Canadian Rockies deemed ‘safe’ for the railroad in the 1850’s, put Yoho on the map. This discovery allowed Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to complete the transcontinental railroad. After numerous catastrophic train crashes, CPR reduced the grade through Kicking Horse Pass (aka ‘The Big Mountain’) with the use of the spiral tunnels, completed 1909. CPR also built the famed Canadian Pacific Hotels – beautiful lodges in gorgeous, remote places marketed to elite travelers in order to encourage more rail travel. Although no longer owned by the railroad, Emerald Lake, Yoho Valley, and Lake O’Hara Lodges in the park continue to provide luxurious accommodations in ‘we-are-but-specks-on-this-planet’ nature. (Italics from their brochures. And they really nail it.) Of course, where goes the CPR, now also goes the Trans-Canada Highway.
Away from the railroad, the highway, and the Kicking Horse Valley, Yoho is a hiker’s paradise. There are three super-steep, super-deep valleys in the park with towering, nearly vertical rocks walls, hidden glacial lakes and countless waterfalls. Accessible by paved roads, the end points of the valleys include lodging, tourist vistas and trailheads. Those end points are where the two Yoho personalities cross paths. Not far from these points, hikers leave the resort guests and tourist crowds on the shorter paved trails and head out for some of the best hiking we’ve experienced anywhere in our travels of North America. Thank you CPR.
We do love mountains! Views, mountain air, hiking, mountains in your face with glimpses of remote river valleys and distant peaks; forests and critters big and small, tiny mountain communities and ski towns, (usually) cooler temps. We were on our way to see the Canadian Rockies and set a course for Jasper National Park, the northernmost of the parks there.
Living in an RV 6 months at a time is different from taking a vacation in an RV. It’s not just that life goes on while we’re on the road, our life is on the road! Several times in a 6-month trip, we need to pull in for some major provisioning. Our RV needs maintenance, the pantry is bare, the fridge is empty, the freezer is getting thin and we need a few special items. One such recent stop for us was in Edmonton, AB.
We love Northwest Territories and have thoroughly enjoyed our travels here, and we hope that sentiment has come through in our 3 prior posts. In those, we’ve included observations and thoughts about diversity, friendly people, great music, interesting small towns, and a unique city. This post includes a few more of our thoughts about the Northwest Territories and a few noteworthy things that didn’t make it into any of the other three. We did a post kind of like a year ago in Utah that we called “the space between.” This is in that same spirit.
To start with, as it says on their license plate – the only one in the world shaped like a polar bear – Northwest Territories is spectacular!
Yellowknife is out there! On the north shore of the Great Slave Lake, it’s a 15-hour drive from Edmonton, AB and 5 hours from the nearest settlement with more than 2,000 people. Although geographically isolated, it’s by no means disconnected from the world. It’s a modern city of 20,000 of the most ethnically diverse, friendliest and interesting people we’ve met on our travels.
We’d made a campground reservation to stay a few days for the music festival, and we extended it a couple of times to do some more visiting and exploring of the city.
When we first considered exploring Canada this year, I looked at the map. I had to use a big screen – Canada’s a big place! Just pondering the sheer size, I noticed a dot on the map at the end of a road to the north on the edge of a huge lake: Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. It was all by itself and way up there. Curious, I googled it. It is the northernmost city in Canada. You get there on the northernmost paved road in Canada. It is the home of Folk on the Rocks, the ‘largest music festival under the midnight sun.’ We wanted to explore the Canadian Rockies in August/September. If we went to Yellowknife, the timing of the festival in late July would be perfect! We put a pushpin on the map and I made our only reservation of the summer at the campground next door to the festival grounds. We’re very glad we did!
Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park in Canada and the fifth largest national park in the world.* How large? It’s nearly 45,000 sq km (17,300 sq mi). How large is that? By comparison, Yellowstone, one of the larger national parks in the US, is approximately 9,000 sq km (3,500 sq mi), just 20% of the size of WBNP. Like Yellowstone, WBNP is significant on a world scale. It’s the home of the largest free-roaming wood bison herd in existence, one of two nesting grounds for the rare whooping crane (the other is in Texas where the same whooping cranes spend their winters, when it gets real cold at WBNP) and the largest freshwater delta supporting four waterfowl migration routes across North America. Oh, and it’s home of the world’s largest beaver dam, 850 metres (2,700 feet) wide.
The past three weeks have been packed with music, biking, urban adventures, exploration, new friends, old friends, and the usual off-the-wall stuff – the essentials for what makes us want to keep on traveling. Yet we were feeling the need to chill just a bit, maybe take a hike. So we headed for Elk Island National Park which features lakes, wildlife, hiking, and a small campground. It’s famous for its bison conservation work. I’m not making this up.
Between the park and the weather, Elk Island was exactly what we needed.
Larry highly recommended we stop at the World Famous Gopher Hole Museum in Torrington, AB, on the way out of Calgary. He said we’d like it, but he wouldn’t say why. Hmm. Well, Larry seems to understand us, and our sense of humor, so why not?
Calgary (rhymes with strawberry) is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, with a current population of 1.3 million. It’s a diverse city with 60% of the population of European descent and 36% ‘visible minority’ (non-white, non-aboriginal), the remainder being indigenous/aboriginal/First Nation. A former Olympic city, one of the largest in western Canada and a hub for the region’s agriculture, mining and oil activities, this should be an interesting place to explore.
We knew we wanted to visit Studio Bell, site of the National Music Centre and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. We also checked our festival list and assumed we’d be able to find some interesting event. Well, dontcha know, we would be in Calgary for their biggest event of the year – The Calgary Stampede – billed as ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.’ The Stampede attracts 1.3 million visitors from outside the city each year.
With our recently boosted confidence in urban camping, we set a course to arrive just a couple of days before the start of the Stampede.