Have you ever felt the need to just get away from the city for a few days?
Back in February, I was beginning to plan my approach to training for the upcoming North American Irish Dance Championships. For those of us who have the opportunity to compete in the major, we continue our annual training to make sure we are ready.
However, I knew that the month of June would be jam-packed with training and working my full time job as a Digital Media Specialist. That was when K and I decided to treat ourselves a weekend getaway in Jasper to recharge and enjoy a mini vacation.
After throwing everything into K’s vehicle, we began the four hour drive to Patricia Lake Bungalows. While I love living in the prairies, there’s something to be said about the beauty of slowly transitioning from the prairies to the mountains as we made our way west on the Yellowhead (Highway 16).
Two playlists and one pit stop later, we had finally made it to Jasper National Park’s gates. After paying the entrance fee for our weekend stay, we began to scenic drive into the heart of Jasper National Park. While this wasn’t my first trip into the park, it was the first time in 12 years that I had been there. Within minutes of entering the park, we were greeted by a flock of mountain sheep that huddled in the center of the road. With their pink tongues eagerly lapping at the salty ground, we slowly drove past as other tourists quickly pulled over to catch the moment on camera. This would be the first of several encounters we had with the wild tenants of the park.
After some more driving, we were flanked by the Athabasca River on our right and the smaller Talbot Lake on our left. Both bodies of water were a clear blue-green color that complimented the surrounding shades of green as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking to see, and only fueled our excitement further as we neared our final destination. After two weekends of cooler weather, I wasn’t surprised to see folks parking on the gravel roadside spots to bask in the sun while kids played on the banks of the Athabasca River. We knew we were only a few minutes away from the Jasper exit, so I decided to examine the thin booklet the gates had given us to begin navigating our route to Patricia Lake Bungalows. For those of you that are thinking “just Google map it,” I am sorry to say that there was zero cell reception for most of the drive between the park gates and Jasper. However, I did happen to screen cap the general directions on how to get there on Google!
I quickly compared the directions I saved on my phone to the map and quickly rattled off the roads we needed to take to reach Pyramid Lake Road. We managed to make it to Pyramid Lake Road without any problems and began our ascent up to Patricia Lake. My mother had told us about Patricia Lake Bungalows and immediately recommended it to us – Banff being the other must-see (I am determined to revisit Johnston Canyon). I knew that if my mother was recommending the bungalows, it would be beautiful. We passed the turnoff for Jasper Park Riding Stables, managed to catch a glimpse of a female elk stepping off the road into the trees and came to the fork in the road that separated us from Patricia and Pyramid Lake. We had finally made it!
We checked into the office and parked our car in the small gravel driveway of our cabin – whose front door overlooked Patricia Lake. We unpacked the car and hauled our gear into the cabin before heading into town for some dinner since it appeared by the time we had settled in. We quickly had to accustom to the one-way Patricia Street in search of a restaurant, which proved interesting considering I am gluten intolerant. After finding a parking spot close to the Earls, we decided to eat at Famoso.
By the time we returned from downtown, we decided to take a tour of the grounds and lake. We began the tour by checking out the small dock that rested on the lake, surveying our surroundings as the grey clouds started rolling in. It was the first time I saw the water in the lake and was floored by how clear it was. Granted, the North Saskatchewan River isn’t exactly the cleanest looking river compared to those protected in a national park.
What started off as a small tour soon became a long hike down the around the slopes and woods overlapping one of the main bike trails. Looking back, I wish I had opted for my Nikes rather than wearing flip flops… but hey, it made for some good laughs afterwards. After trudging through the trees and exiting on Pyramid Lake road two minutes before the riding stables, we hiked up the mountain and called it a night.
After cross referencing the booklet provided by the park gates with an article on the 16 best hikes in Jasper, we decided to try the 10 km hike on Bald Hills. After quickly eating some oatmeal, we headed northeast towards Maligne Lake Road to begin the 48 km drive out to Maligne Lake for our hike. We continued down the road where we were later greeted by the previous car’s brake lights and gradual decline in speed, eventually forcing us to stop on the highway. I remember looking around, seeing numerous cars stopping to park on the side of the road – when I suddenly saw a flash of black ahead before something disappeared before the convoy of vehicles in front of us. “It’s a bear,” I’d smiled to K as he leaned to the left to see it slowly meandering past the cars, angled towards us as it made it’s way towards the trees we had just passed. I quickly handed my phone to K as he lowered his window, catching a few shots of the black bear as he trudged away.
After slowly making our way around the stopped vehicles, who were waiting to see if the bear would linger, we continued our drive and came around the bend where Medicine Lake began. The first thing we noticed was that large sections of forest that appeared to have burned in a fire, leaving a stark red line of burnt trees against the never-ending expanse of green. While some of the cars in our convoy from Jasper decided to pull over, we continued past the gravel parking lot towards Maligne Lake. It wasn’t long before we noticed that Medicine Lake, which was on the passenger’s side, was slowly lowering in level until it appeared to be dried out on the other end where the run off’s drained into the lake in small rivulets. It wouldn’t be until later that we learned why it appeared to be disappearing.
About ten minutes later, we rolled into the parking lot for Maligne Lake and slowly began our ascent on the Bald Hills trail. We started on the main travel until we reach the fork in the road that allowed us to choose the steeper hike. By this point it was getting significantly warmer outside and I figured that the steeper route would be much more challenging. I’ll be the first to admit that I was often spouting words of encouragement out to myself, which K found quite humorous. I may or may not have kept saying “it’s getting steeper, so we must be getting to the top,” only to realize we still have a long ways to go. Fortunately, we were well stocked with Spitz and water, so we took small breaks when it was needed. However, one wasp clued in to this and began following us for at least ten minutes. For those of you that don’t know, I hate wasps and will often be found sprinting in the opposite direction. For the hike, the opposite route just happened to be up the steep incline. While it was not the type of encouragement I had initially expected, that wasp certainly gave me that extra boost of energy to push up the mountain. At about the halfway mark on the incline, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how great the view was. We were able to perch on a large rock for a short break while I pulled out my Canon 7D for some landscape shots in between the trees. After a few minutes of photography, I quickly put the camera away and we continue our hike towards the top of the trail.
We knew that we were close to the end of the trail when the trees started to spread out and the ground wasn’t as steep – that and the snow we came across was a dead giveaway. We joined with the main trail that looped around to the top and dropped our bags next to the post where they tied up the horses. After 5 km, we had finally hit the top of the trail where it connected to the main loop where we’d continue for our descent. With the temperature reaching 28 degrees Celsius, we drank some water and welcomed the cold breeze. After some more pictures with the camera, as well as some personal shots on our phones, we began the hike on the main path for the Bald Hills trail. By 3 PM, we had stepped back into the Maligne Lake parking lot and were ready for some relaxing.
It was on our return trip that we decided to stop at Medicine Lake to get some photos. I am a huge fan of contrast, so the burnt trees against the lush surrounding forest was too interesting to pass up. When we were about halfway around the lake, we noticed a large number of cars that were parking along the side of the road. After finding somewhere to park, we walked back to the spot assuming that it was for a great angle of the lake between the trees. That was when I noticed a slight movement in the tree and we realized it was because there was a bear laying out in three. The bear wasn’t alone though… she was accompanied by her young cub whose paw was barely visible as it dangled from his perch. We were lucky to catch the mother moving about and decided to leave for the final stop at the other side of the lake.
Once we pulled into the turnout for the lake, K quickly started reading about the history of Medicine Lake and the cause for it to be drying out. We learned that the lake is filled with glacial melt waters that eventually drains through sinkholes at the bottom of the lake into an underground cave system (more information in the provided link). After reading about the cause of Medicine Lake’s drainage, we were about to walk down the stairs towards the lake… only to be warned by another pair of tourists that there was a bear below. Despite searching the rocks for the bear, we couldn’t see anything and decided to loop around to get closer to the rocks.
After some cool shots of the lake, mountains and large strangely-patterned boulders, we walked back and K quickly picked out the small black bear the tourists had mentioned on our far right. We quietly made our way towards the stairs and drove back towards Jasper to relax for the remainder of the night.
We spent the majority of our morning packing everything up and loading our gear into the car. Once we had packed up the car, we decided to squeeze in one last adventure before pulling out of Jasper to begin our long drive home to St. Albert. This, ladies and gentleman, was my first time in a canoe! After 40 minutes of canoeing on Patricia Lake, it’s safe to say that I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was also on this small adventure that I managed to snag one of my favorite iPhone shots of the entire trip.
Once we had returned the canoe gear, we hopped into the car and began the long drive home.
Our weekend retreat in Jasper was everything we had hoped for. While we only got to do a fraction of the many activities and sites Jasper has to offer, I know that there are plenty of other adventures waiting for us when we do decide to make another trip there. Patricia Lake Bungalows was, by far, everything we had hoped for. Our accommodations and location were perfect for us, as we had an incredible time exploring some of the wonders Jasper has to offer.
For those of you that are considering a trip to Jasper National Park, I would highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed!