The Icefields Parkway, Canada

The Road Trip Continues… Alaska to Pennsylvania

The Icefields Parkway is possibly one of the prettiest stretches of road I have ever driven on. And after a year in Alaska, that is saying a lot. The road is approximately 140 miles long and passes through Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, and Banff National Park. It cuts directly through the mountains like some kind of insane scenery-driven roller coaster. Jaw dropping.

Below are a few of my favorite spots along this amazing scenic highway:

Athabascan Falls

The sheer amount of water rushing and twisting over and under rock makes this place special. The first part of the falls is the most dramatic, a giant plunge into a smoothed out bowl of churning white water. The spray here was so intense we were covered in tiny droplets that blinked in the sun like Christmas lights.

After the initial drop, the falls cut through a deep canyon, crashing into the walls in violent bursts. I loved the curved face of the canyon walls, smoothed by time and water.

A bonus, in the early morning light, the mist created several rainbows that hung over the water like brightly colored ribbon.

Tangle Falls

This waterfall was unique in the way it stretched out across the rock face like tree roots, bending and splitting and reaching towards the clear, deep pool. And it did this again and again in a series of falls and pools, feeding into one another. A woven wall of water.

Columbia Icefield

The icefield, one of the largest accumulations of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle, feeds 8 glaciers and gets up to 275 inches of snow fall per year. From the highway you can see it sitting on top of the mountains like a massive layer of icing, thick-white. I am always amazed to see reminders, like this, of how the world used to look, covered in endless layers of white.

Athabascan Glacier

Pouring, like over flow from a full sink, Athabascan Glacier slides down the side of a mountain to form a horseshoe-shaped tongue. At the toe (the lowest end of a glacier), the snow is dirty and dripping, but above it on the walls of the mountain you can see hanging glacier, glinting blue, and the cracks of an icefall.

We also liked the year markers indicating the ghost of what was once the toe of the glacier. The 2000 marker is almost 100 yards from where the toe now sits. Hard to believe how fast it is receding.

Hiking Wilcox Pass Trail

This trail cuts above treeline quickly, offering views of the Athabascan Glacier and the Columbia Icefield beyond it. We crossed over graying snow and thin, cold streams running clear and slick across the rocky bottom. But my favorite part was when the trail swung up and over a rocky hill into the pass. Here the alpine meadow, spotted with gray boulders, stretches out into a canvas of green. It felt like the setting for a fairy tale.

The Weeping Wall

This spot is right along the highway. You turn a corner and bam: a giant wall of rock with long thin vertical lines of water cresting over the knife sharp edge of the cliff and sprinkling towards the ground. It is so big that everything looks small. The water looks quiet and wispy, but I am positive that it is all much bolder and more intense than it looks.

Peyto Lake

The color of this lake is like a dream or maybe straight out of Neverland. I am almost surprised we didn’t see Peter and Wendy drifting by. So pretty.

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The First Leg: Yukon, Canada

We are 24 days into our journey from Alaska to our new home in Carlisle, PA, and I am finally getting around to writing my first blog about the trip. I’m behind. Way behind. And it is hard to imagine how to backtrack and tell you about all the amazing things we have seen over the last 5,000 miles. But here goes nothing.

We left Alaska on June 30 and headed straight for Canada. Crossing the boarder felt a little like taking a big gulp of air and diving into the water. No turning back now.  Let the road trip begin!

Driving east, we took the famous Alcan Highway. It would carry us approximately 1,700 miles from Alaska deep into Canada. It has a reputation for great wildlife sightings, rough roads, and fabulous scenery. And it certainly lived up to our expectations on every front.

The first stretch of the Alcan travels through the Yukon, which I loved. It is wide open and wild. Sometimes we would drive for hours without seeing another car. Bears appeared alongside the highway like dark shadows and the mountains poured across the landscape. It is a place where you breath deeply and feel the power of the natural world.

Grizzly Bear

Wood Bison

The Alcan

The road conditions were awful: frost heaves, gravel, and pot holes that could swallow a dog. But our car plugged on without incident (which we were thankful for).

We camped every night. Enjoying the quiet of this part of the country and the rush of water from rivers and rain that make sleeping outside feel like being swept up into a lullaby. Lovely.

In many ways the Yukon felt a lot like Alaska. Like home. A fabulous start to our journey (even with so many hours in the car).