The Most Epic Alaskan Road Trip
Part II: Canada
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When I drove from the lower 48 to Alaska July 2016, it was exciting but I was in a serious rush. I needed to start my new job in 3 weeks and I would be embarking on this trip alone.
My trip from Alaska back down to the lower 48 was going to be a lot less stressful. I allotted myself 4-6 weeks to get to Colorado, and my boyfriend would be joining me. It was August so weather wasn’t going to be an issue and we could take the time to really explore and make the most out of a once in a lifetime road trip!
We decided we wanted to spend a lot of time exploring other parts of Alaska and Canada! It was also priority hit up as many national parks in the process as possible. We bought an Annual National Park Pass which was $80 ($40 each). The pass was well worth it! Some National Park entrance fees are as much as $25, we got our return on investment pretty quickly. Summer 2017 also happened to be the celebration of Canadian National Parks and all entrances were free!
The national parks we visited (US and Canadian): Denali, Wrangell St. Elias, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Northern Cascades, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. Other must-see stops that weren’t National Parks included Valdez, Whistler, and Vancouver.
The road trip took exactly three weeks and the total cost of the trip was $2109.35. Here is the full breakdown by category.
I have a lot to talk about during this trip so I’m breaking this part up into three parts Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48. This post will be all about the Canada portion of the trip. We spent 8 days in Canada. Canada in the summer is spectacular. If you ever get the chance to road trip Canada please go!
If you missed Part I about Alaska click here.
Yukon and northern British Columbia
We spent about 2 days in the Yukon Territory of Canada. If you look at a map the Yukon is very (VERY) far north. One can’t help feel so far from home in the Yukon. Kluane lake and river were very beautiful, I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you ever find yourself along the Alaskan Canadian Highway.
The town of Whitehorse is also in the Yukon which is the most populated city on the Alaskan Canadian Highway. It’s best to stock up here on groceries and other things you might need. When driving this highway you will pass through the northeast corner of British Columbia. This is where the Liard Hotsprings are, and they are totally worth the $5 entry! Liard Hot Springs is a seriously beautiful natural and refreshing hot spring.
We were pretty stoked to get to Alberta because this is where Jasper and Banff National Park are located.
Jasper National Park
When we finally arrived at Jasper National Park, we stopped at Maligne Lake and Canyon. If we had more time and the funds we definitely would have taken the ferry or kayaked to spirit island.It was very smoky due to many wildfires. We didn’t plan well for these national parks. They are very large and it’s worth it to camp in the park if you are able.
The campgrounds in the park can get reserved up quick but you can camp in the overflow camping lot. There is an overflow lot in Jasper and Banff, each is about $10-15 CAN a night and are self-regulated. These campgrounds are essentially a place to sleep with some outhouses but no other amenities. The campgrounds with more amenities can cost you more than double per night.
The first night we stayed at Wapiti Campground in Jasper NP, we were lucky to be able to get a spot without a reservation. It was $28 CAN, the hot showers and good cell connection were worth it. For more information about Jasper National Park click here.
Banff National Park
Between Jasper and Banff National Park is the Icefield Parkway. This is definitely one of the most scenic highways driven from Alaska to the lower 48, it is a MUST SEE. On this highway alone, we saw huge glaciers, elk, and even bighorn sheep crossing the road.
The most popular spot in Banff is Lake Louise. It’s iconic and everyone in the park comes to see this lake. One thing to note that it’s extremely crowded. It’s really worth it to get up early to see Lake Louise or go later (ie after 5pm).
For Lake Louise, there is an overflow lot shuttle where you can take a bus to the lake. This is recommended as often cars get turned away as parking by the lake is very limited. Also, note that this overflow lot is also a self-regulated overflow camping lot, we stayed here the second night in the parks.
My favorite spot in Banff National park is Moraine Lake. I think it is just as beautiful as Lake Louise. Moraine Lake is slightly less crowded and I enjoy the hikes around the lake. My favorite hike is Consolation lake.
The funny thing about big national parks like this is if you hike even just 15 mins away from the main attraction, you typically can find a view just as beautiful and all to yourself.
If you’re looking for convenience in these parks each park has its own village. The village has amenities like hotels, restaurants, and gas. Not to mention they’re such beautiful and cozy feeling mountain towns. To learn more about Banff click here.
I wish we had 3 weeks to spend in these beautiful parks but we only had 3 days.
After leaving Banff National Park, we headed west towards Vancouver. We wanted to explore the scenic mountains of British Columbia. We didn’t even know about the national parks in BC until we started driving through them. Needless to sa, they were just as impressive as Banff and Jasper.
Yoho National Park
Banff and Jasper National Park get a lot of the attention but Yoho National Park is just as beautiful, and a little less crowded. Key stops in Yoho include Natural Bridge and Emerald Lake.
These stops are right off of British Columbia 1 and are very clearly marked. It was quite smokey due to numerous wildfires in British Columbia but Emerald Lake was still breathtaking. We decided to splurge and rent a canoe ($60CAN for 1 hour), it was a magical experience!
Golden/ Kicking Horse River
As we continued west we stopped in Golden which is a cute town along the highway where we were able to buy reasonably priced groceries (which was not the case in the national parks). We stopped by the Kicking Horse river for lunch, there were plenty of pullouts and places to picnic outside in and outside Golden. Spend some time walking along the turquoise river and take in all the beauty of British Columbia.
The landscape changed drastically as we drove into Lillooet. As we continued west along the highway the mountains became dry and the vegetation was more sparse. We came across a giant canyon which took us by surprise.
Lillooet Cayoosh Creek
After a few more miles we found ourselves back in a lush green forest. You will notice that British Columbia has many parks/campgrounds/picnic areas along the highway. Any of these options will likely provide you with a beautiful spot to picnic. We picked a spot by Lillooet Cayoosh Creek. This spot provided beautiful shade and a creek to cool off in.
Duffey lake provincial park
Duffey lake is another spectacular park that one would drive through driving BC-99 (sea to sky highway). We came across a lake where we saw a number of cars stopped. We found many floating logs that create a dam-like structure on the lake as well as a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountain Rohr.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Joffre Lakes is definitely the most popular spot we stopped at in BC, this is because it’s absolutely stunning. There are a few options for activities to do here. First, you could take a leisurely hike (500m from the parking lot) to lower Joffre lake which is what we opted for. If you have more time you can continue on a more strenuous hike up to middle and the upper Joffre lakes.
Pemberton is a small mountain town along BC-99 that is a must stop. It has a small town vibe with a strong outdoors culture and breathtaking views of Mt Currie. We were super stoked with Pemberton’s beautiful recreation center including a state of the art gym, showers, and skatepark that can be used by the public.
Whistler is obviously known for its winter activities but I was pleasantly surprised by the boom of activity going on in August. We found a gorgeous mountain town with ample water and mountain activities available. Recommended activities include taking the gondola to get a bird’s eye view, kayaking/canoe/SUP in the many lakes and rivers.
Tips for a perfect Canadian road trip
Make the Trip
As you can see from the pictures Canada is incredibly beautiful. The Canadian Rockies is full of pristine glaciers and crystal clear blue lakes. Its truly a once in a lifetime experience and should be enjoyed by everyone!
Don’t use American dollars
You will find in Canada that most places take US dollars which is super convenient, but also kind of a ripoff. This is because the US dollar is worth more than the Canadian Dollar, however they change and charge your US dollars as if they are Canadian. Most places operate this way and usually warn you, others do not.
So for example if you buy groceries and the total is $50 CAN, you give them $50 US dollars, there is no change. The current exchange rate is 1CAN = 0.81 US. So your $50 bill would be $40.33 US dollars. Therefore, you’re losing almost $10 with this purchase which can add up very easily. The ideal method would probably be a Credit Card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
If you don’t have these check with your current bank/card, most automatically convert the transaction for you, thus it will show up in the US dollar equivalent on your statement. The only catch is most charge a “foreign transaction fee,” for my debit card it was 3%.
Going back to the grocery store example, if I paid the $50 CAN with my US debit card, I would see 40.33 on my statement, and then a 3% foreign transaction fee which would be 1.20. So you’re only losing $1.20 instead of almost $10.
Stock up in Larger towns
We took a route that mostly took us through scenic parts of Canada. Tho these quaint mountain towns are so wonderful to visit they are often overpriced regarding basic necessities like gas and food. It is worth it to stock up in larger towns in order to save some money on essentials.
Dedicate as much time as possible
I feel like there is never enough time to really visit a place as large and beautiful as Canada. I think two weeks is definitely the minimum to get the most out of road trip like this.
Whats your favorite spots in Canada? Leave a comment below!