Wow. Just wow. I’m almost at a loss for words to describe how fantastic cycling the Icefields Parkway was. For me the four days we spent cycling the Icefields have been the absolute best part of our trip so far. The scenery was simply breath-taking, with huge views all the way along, we were incredibly lucky with the weather, we stayed in far better than expected wilderness hostels and enjoyed it all in the company of Neil and Ali, some cycle tourists from Australia that we met on the road on Vancouver Island a few weeks ago now.
Last Saturday (25th June) we cycled through the beautiful Cowichan Valley out to the coast and then retraced our steps back up to Nanaimo, stopping to fix Philippa’s front pannier on the way. This time the bakery in Ladysmith was open and we were able to find out why people had been telling us about their cinnamon buns. When we’d ridden through Nanaimo on the way to Salt Spring Island we hadn’t been impressed as it felt very run down, but that’s because we’d missed the waterfront area, which is very pretty. We spent that evening with Kiersten & Denis who are close to the ferry back to the mainland. On Sunday we took the ferry back to Horseshoe Bay, enjoyed the ride back to the city, visited Dream Cycles so Philippa could get the front wheel that had been respoked checked and then waited around for the train to Jasper.
At 8.30pm on Sunday we waved goodbye to the Vancouver area and boarded our 18 hour train to Jasper. Getting the bikes and all our luggage on board was a lot easier than expected (top tip: get to the station early and check in the bikes and luggage around lunchtime and then spend the day mooching around Vancouver) and we settled into our comfy (for economy) seats for the overnight journey. With so much space we both slept well and awoke to snow-capped mountains. The train would slow down for any points of interest, such as waterfalls, so that everyone could take photos and admire the views. Before we knew it, we had arrived in Jasper!
And so on Monday afternoon we collected our bikes and luggage and headed straight for the supermarket to pick up supplies for the next four days as we knew there were few, if any, shops along the route. Before setting off on this part of the trip, I had also taken the precautionary measure of booking us into hostels for Jasper and along the route as we didn’t know what the weather might do, we didn’t know how cold it might get overnight at altitude (1,000-1,600m) and so I decided having somewhere warm and dry at the end of each day was worth it. Not to mention that Jasper National Park has more than its fair share of grizzlies!
It is going to be very hard for me to do justice in words to the sheer beauty of the road, so instead, I will let the pictures do the talking. For any cyclist that may be curious as to what to expect in terms of road quality, traffic, difficulty then read on….
For most of the route we had a great 3 metre massive hard shoulder, large enough that we could cycle along together and chat. No commercial vehicles are allowed on the Icefields so the traffic is largely tourist, with cars and RVs and big rigs. The speed limit varies between 60 and 90kph. We certainly never felt the traffic to be an issue at all. The road surface was good for the first 60’ish km and also for the last 60km to Lake Louise, with the bit in the middle very bumpy owing to expansion cracks; this gave us both sore hands and a bit of a headache.
The first day from Jasper involved a very gradual climb from about 1,000m to 1,600m. We stayed at the HI Beauty Creek that night after about 85km. So it was one of our longer days but the climbing was not that hard. We had plenty of energy to stop and take a look at Athabasca falls – well worth it. We stuck to Highway 93, not 93A.
Day 2 was 55km to Rampart Creek and this involved the steepest part of the road up and over the Sunwapta Pass (2,000m). I would describe this as an honest climb as the gradient remains fairly constant. It is probably one of the steeper climbs we’ve done on this trip but there are places to stop pretty much every 100m of ascent and with the steepness it is all over relatively quickly. We did not have to walk any of it. You then do get a descent and a flat to the Columbia Icefields centre (pop in and downstairs for a history of the road) but we had a stiff headwind so this was probably as hard as the climb. It was then a pretty easy ride down to Rampart Creek.
Day 3 was 65km and again involved going over a 2,000m pass via Bow summit. This was a much more gradual climb than the previous day, but if I’m honest, I think I prefer the shorter steeper approach as this climb seemed to go on for ever…. Do stop and walk out to the lookout point at Bow Summit as you will be rewarded for your efforts. Again, it was a nice easy downhill to Mosquito Creek (an appropriate name – take deet).
The final day down to Lake Louise passed in a 30km blur of downhill – pretty much no effort required at all. This would have been quite easy to slot onto the previous day.