National Parks: Canadian Edition

Oh Canada!  We left the spectacular Glacier NP to see it’s beautiful Canadian sister, Waterton Lakes NP.  In order to get there we needed to cross the Canadian border… in a shady white van.  This was the first time we had ever driven over the border so we were definitely a bit nervous.  Rolling up to the border patrol in an old white van is not the most reassuring feeling and it proved to be right.  With our passports in hand the border patrol officer asked us a series of questions:

  1. Where are you from? Iowa
  2. Where are you going? Waterton Lakes NP, Banff NP, Jasper NP and Vancouver Island
  3. How long will your stay in Canada be? 3 weeks
  4. Where do you work? This is where we ran into some trouble… Jason jokingly said “Well, we’re kind of retired.” The border patrol officer didn’t crack a smile and told Jason to explain.  Then went the song and dance of Jason explaining how we saved up to do this trip around North America and quit our jobs because of it.
  5. How much money do you have on you? Jason opens his wallet and responds “About $50 US dollars.”
  6. How much money is in your bank account? Well, this is getting a bit too personal… Jason told the border patrol officer an amount (he fibbed slightly) and the border patrol officer let us into Canada!

Looking back on this we concluded that it would have been much easier to get into Canada if A) We had jobs B) We were driving a vehicle made after 2010 and C) Jason didn’t have a scraggly looking beard.  Turns out Canadians are very concerned about people coming into their country and taking their jobs, the border patrol officer wanted to make sure we had enough money to get our asses back to the ol’ US of A.


Lesson(s) learned and Hello Canada!…and hello, more wildfires! Over half of Waterton Lakes National Park was closed due to wildfires. Due to the closures, we decided to explore the town of Waterton. We found a restaurant that looked suitable and ordered some beers to celebrate our now “international” road trip. We ordered food and thus began “Kate’s Canadian Journey Fueled by Poutine.” IMG_20180907_164126_911 If you’re unfamiliar, poutine is a famous Canadian dish that consists of a base of french fries with an addition of cheese curds topped off with gravy. Nutritious and delicious.  Our trip to Waterton was pretty short-lived as we headed north the following day.  En route to our Banff destination, we made a pit stop in Calgary to post up at a public library for the Hawkeye game.  Jason is now a proud Calgary Public Library cardholder as a result!   From there, we got on the the Trans-Canada Highway and drove into Banff National Park.  Banff is a popular summer destination and the crowds were in full force downtown Banff.  We did decide to try out the Banff Hot Springs.  After all of the cold weather we had experienced this place felt really nice.  It is commercialized, in that it is a man-made pool but it was still worth it in our minds.

20180904_180827The crowds forced us to head north to the Lake Louise area.  Lake Louise in it’s self is breathtaking, but Lake Louise at sunrise is simply stunning.  To see the lake that calm and that beautiful was worth the 5:30am alarm and 32 degree frosted over windows.  Go to the lake before 8:30 am.  That is the time that EVERYONE rents the famous “red canoes” and pollutes the lake with their selfie sticks and lack of rowing (end rant).  After sunrise we hiked the Plain of Six Glaciers trail to see Victoria Glacier.  20180906_180301On the way up is a tea house you can stop at (make sure you have Canadian money, they will take US dollars but you don’t get a very good exchange rate).  In total it was about a 9 mile hike with some pretty steep inclines, but definitely worth it.  The next morning we set out to hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House.  It was an uphill hike (battle) the entire way.  Make sure you start the hike early so when you reach Mirror Lake you can enjoy it for it’s name.  20180906_175141The lake looked just like a mirror showing the reflection of the evergreens (on our hike back down the pristine reflection was gone).  We made it to the top and enjoyed the tea house overlooking Lake Agnes.  Staff and horses carry up supplies to the tea house and there is no electricity.  You can help staff by hiking down your garbage or other garbage as they are the ones that hike that down as well.  We each had a drink and shared tea biscuits (made fresh daily) before we hiked back down.  Our hike down was shared with two horses, so that made it slow and smelly.  In our opinion the “leave no trace” policy should also apply to horse poop.DSC01926

Up early again the next morning to head to Moraine Lake for sunrise as the parking lot fills up very fast and it can be hard to get in during the day.  20180906_073943Once again, stunning at sunrise and sans red canoers.  Then it was on toward Jasper National Park when we got to experience the most stunning drive in North America: The Icefields Parkway.

No matter where you looked it was one mountainous view after another.  We stayed at a campsite just off the parkway and had the most pristine glacial blue river right next to us.  Canada you are really out doing yourself!  Friday, September 7th marked 2 months on the road.  We drove the rest of the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and the only way to celebrate 8 weeks of #vanlife in Kate’s mind… you guessed it, poutine and beer.  Saturday morning was Iowa’s Superbowl (the CyHawk game) and we were unable to stream it in Canada.  Instead we had the pleasure of quietly listening to the first half via iHeartRadio on our phone at the Jasper Public Library followed by buying a wifi code every half hour at a local laundromat to continue listening to the second half while doing our laundry.  A Hawkeye victory called for… poutine and beer of course!

DSC02059We visited Maligne Lake, Medicine Lake, and Maligne Canyon before making the drive west to Vancouver.  The drive was a 274 mile, winding stretch of up and down road where we found out just how old our van was in 3 separate events.  The first occurred somewhere near Kamloops, British Columbia, when we crossed the 100,000 mile mark.  Except, the van’s odometer only has 5 digits so, our 100,000 milestone turned into a 00,000 milestone.  Two thoughts crossed our minds at this point, the first, NEW VAN!  20180910_103131The second, and more frightening, how many times has this happened before?!  The second event happened while driving the Sea to Sky into Vancouver.  Driving a loaded down van up and down mountain passes doesn’t bode well for the brakes.  We had seen our fair share of mountain passes before but, in this case MichelVangelo let us know that the 18% grade going down was too much when the brakes started to smoke.  Luckily they didn’t start on fire (although we were prepared) and we decided to wait until we got back to the states to have them looked at.

Pre “Van Issues” aka Happy Campers

Anyway, if you have a vehicle with really good breaks, and is less than 30 years old the Sea To Sky Highway is another road that is a must in North America.  The third and final event happened during a pit stop for lunch in Vancouver’s famous Stanley Park.  When opening the sliding side door, the latch made an unusual sound. Not sure what happened but after the fact the back latch wouldn’t “latch” so there was a slight gap right around the rear of the door.  This posed a problem as the forecast for the next week showed rain, lots and lots of rain.  Another essential item for “vanlife” duct tape.  It was our quick fix until we were back in the states.


20180913_100825Hoping for fewer van “surprises” we boarded a ferry to Vancouver Island.  Driving our van onto a gigantic boat was a fun experience even if it was a bit costly ($75 one way).
A short hour and half later and we were off exploring the island.  Our first stop was MacMillan Provincial Park, a collection of old growth cedar and fir trees.  The park is right off the highway and a must-see.  A short walk leads you through gigantic, moss-covered trees that leave you in awe as you get back in your vehicle.  20180916_140729After spending the night in a secluded free campsite, we drove the rest of the way to the west coast, MichelVangelo’s first ocean!  Unfortunately, our visit to the coast was not the sun and warm weather that one would expect.  Instead? Endless rain.  We found our way to the town of Tofino where Kate had the “best fish tacos she’s ever had” from the Tacofino food truck and where we tipped back a few local beers to drown our rain sorrows.  The rain eventually stopped just long enough for a walk along the beach in Pacific Rim National Park.  Our trip to the coast was short-lived but, with more rain in the forecast, we found an AirBnB to dry out before hopping on a ferry back to the states (and Kate’s last helping of poutine for awhile).


Katie and Jason

P.S. – Check out the highlight video from our Canadian adventure!




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