On the fourth day of our Canadian road trip we spent the morning organizing our son’s living situation in Calgary and buying him some groceries and then an emotional good-bye. He is excited to get back to his life, and we must get on with ours! We hit the road on our own with a little change of plans.
We had been trying to contact our daughter who is tree planting in the interior of British Columbia (deemed a necessary service), but had had no luck so far. We thought we would try to get close to her location in British Columbia and give her a chance to find some internet or phone signal to contact us before we headed back east. We had been enjoying our drive so much and were in no rush to go back home.
So our new plan was to drive west into British Columbia, through the lower part of Banff National Park, towards Kelowna B.C. and then up into Jasper National Park Alberta and back home – taking a slightly different eastern route home than we had traveled on the way west. Two of my favourite bloggers suggested a different route back as well, so it must be a good idea to change things up!
The day’s drive was to be about 6 3/4 hours – which was good because we had spent the morning in Calgary. We have many times driven through Banff National Park, enjoying the scenery and looking for wildlife. We have enjoyed the park very much, but thought we would like to see some different scenery. My husband has also always wanted to see a Grizzly Bear in the wild (but not too close). We have spent many days driving up and down Banff and Jasper searching for that elusive Grizzly with no luck at all.
I had read that there was a Grizzly Bear in Golden B.C. that was in a tourist park – if all else failed. “Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is home to the world’s largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat. This Grizzly Bear Refuge is where resident orphaned grizzly bear Boo lives and plays.” We didn’t really want to see a Grizzly in an enclosure, but I bet it would have been a good tour! In the meantime, we saw more Magpies as we left Calgary – we hadn’t seen one since our surprise sighting in Northwestern Ontario.
We took Highway 1 – the TransCanada west from Calgary into Banff National Park. We have always paid an entrance fee of $20 or so, but we were told by the gate attendant that if we were just driving through to B.C., there was no fee. That was a bonus!
We saw our first wildlife crossing bridge fairly early on.
We took a short jaunt through the park and then continued west on the TransCanada towards Golden B.C. Normally while we are in Banff, we like to take the old highway 1A (Bow Valley Parkway) which runs parallel to the main freeway – in hopes of seeing wildlife. This highway gives you an opportunity to drive slowly and pull over to view wildlife more often. Most of this highway was closed though due to COVID 19. A few days later our son told us that he and his team had visited on their bikes – as the road was made available to cyclists for the time being during the pandemic. We continued through Banff Park towards Lake Louise. It was a rare opportunity seeing the park on a beautiful summer day without traffic and crowds of tourists. The park has continued to gradually re-open access and facilities and Canadians are visiting, but we are missing our international visitors.
We continued on the TransCanada across the provincial boundary – into a new time zone and into British Columbia.
When entering Yoho National park, we were right on the Continental Divide – We read that from west of this point, water flows west into the Kicking Horse River into the Pacific Ocean and on the other side water flows east into the Bow River into the Atlantic Ocean. I started to worry about this as we were driving as I remembered that there was an Arctic Watershed plaque in NorthWestern Ontario – and the water after that point flowed into Hudson Bay. A little further research, and I found out that the Bow River flows into the Prairies and joins the Oldman River and then they become the South Saskatchewan River which then flows into Hudson Bay, which is technically a sea of the Arctic Ocean and connects with the Atlantic. Phew! I wish my High School Canadian Geography class had been connected to travel – I would have paid attention more!
As we travel through Yoho, we came upon a tunnel, which we realize is a large wildlife crossing bridge – the same idea as in Sudbury and Banff, but this one is a larger, longer structure.
We start to see areas which have been improved to prevent rockslides and avalanches – this one a gravel slope with new fencing for wildlife?
As we travelled along we saw an elk (or moose – he was far away) at the back of a flat – and I tried to get a photo as we whizzed by. Wildlife are like UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster – we know we saw them even if we don’t have photo-evidence.
I was getting a little uptight as we traveled up and down hills. The scenery was once again spectacular as we passed through a crazy rock cut and down into a deep valley and back up again. I am terrified of heights – and I am grateful that my husband is driving, but I was suspecting he was feeling just a little nervous as well. So I was definitely gripping that handle on the roof of the car – (apparently it’s called the “mom exaggerates too much handle” or the “drama handle”) and my husband was remaining calm.
While in Yoho in Kicking Horse Pass, we were actually at the highest point on the TransCanada Highway (1643 metres) – and it seemed like it – as we had been ascending forever. The problem with that, is that you have to travel downwards again.
There were a lot of trucks on this highway – I guess this must be a very important transportation corridor. It was just surprising to see so many trucks on the same route with SO MANY steep ups and downs and turns. We are warned that there are 14 kilometers of sharp turns and decline. I have no plans of driving this in the winter or driving this in an RV!
We wondered if anyone ever had to use the runaway lane on the right side of the road.
While the drive was scary for me – I am SO GLAD we did it. It was just beautiful.
At Golden B.C. we travelled through Glacier National Park and over Roger’s Pass.
As we head towards Golden B.C. we start to see warnings of bears on the road. The signs say “do not stop” and we travel along – just worried about all the trucks and steep hills. Eventually we pull off on a roadside paved “pull off” to defuse and let some trucks pass us. It was then that we saw him – our first GRIZZLY!
He was hard to see – I don’t know how my husband spotted him, but there he was, hanging out on a big grey rock across the highway from us.
Although this one was dark, we could see that he had a ridged back and different snout than the black bears.
We read later that there had been a 10km no stopping zone set up on the TransCanada from Yoho to Field B.C. as Grizzlies – including a rare white Grizzly had been feeding beside the road, and this was to prevent traffic congestion from people trying to view the grizzlies.
We hadn’t intended to stop and see a grizzly right there, but we were so glad that we did! Seeing a grizzly in the wild was definitely one of our bucket list trip items – even if we are not quite ready to make a bucket list yet!
We travel on through the town of Golden B.C. – quickly grabbing some McDonald’s coffee. Golden seems like a tourist and ski destination with lots of visitors, despite the pandemic. We didn’t need to stop at the Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse Mountain resort – because now we had seen our Grizzly.
We continued towards Glacier National Park in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. It is famous for caves, mountains, Rogers Pass and it’s Glaciers of course. It’s also known for it’s heavy snowfall and avalanches. Roger’s Pass was discovered in 1881 as a pass through the Selkirk Mountains that was used by the Canadian Pacific Railway as well as the TransCanada Highway to allow access across the country. Roger’s Pass is noted for having the highest avalanche rating for any highway in North America. Apparently National Defense Employees live in this park through the winter monitoring avalanches equipped with Howitzers to control the avalanches!
There are seven “permanent concrete avalanche sheds” to “protect motorists travelling on the stretch of the Trans Canada Highway that passes through Rogers Pass.” We didn’t know what these odd tunnels were at first!
We seemed to be descending now as we made our way towards Revelstoke and Mt. Revelstoke National Park. We crossed the Columbia River on a large suspension bridge.
After that we headed through a lush green area of lakes and trees – It was warmer again as we were at a lower altitude. We travelled past the Shuswap Lakes, Sicamous and Salmon Arm. There were lakefront homes and cottages and houseboats. It was rainy and humid, and after being in the higher altitude cool weather, it seemed like we were suddenly in a rain forest.
We wound along the South Thompson River and related streams and lakes passing wineries and fruit markets and headed towards Kamloops.
Kamloops is located where two branches of the Thompson River join. I was familiar with Thompson Rivers University – an online University based in Kamloops – and wondered why they called it – Thompson Rivers – why was it plural I had always wondered? Well now I realized that there are 2 branches of the Thompson River.
We decided to stay in Kamloops for the night, as it was the first larger city along our route – and we stopped at a Coast Hotel – a chain of hotels we had not tried before. We were able to book a ground level room, so as not to share an elevator with other guests and the hotel was modern and fresh. British Columbia was very open for business, having experienced the pandemic early on and started the recovery sooner than Ontario.
It was difficult starting the day by leaving one of our children in a faraway city, but we had a wonderful day driving through the mountains and into British Columbia. Seeing the Grizzly bear in the wild though, made our day!