Summer 2017 RVing Recap: Week 2

When we started planning this trip, the thought of driving all the way up to Alaska was a bit intimidating. You hear all the rumors about the roads being so rough, they are nearly impossible to drive on at a speed greater than 20mph. About there being so few gas stations that you need to fill up at every station you see, assuming they even HAVE gas and aren’t empty. About wild animals everywhere, and no services, and it’s basically like going back in time 100 years! We actually had people ask us if we were actually going to DRIVE all the way up there – with our kids, and then they would look at us like we were crazy.

I researched for months since I am the head trip planner in our household. I was actually surprised at the lack of information for RVers on taking this trip. The most comprehensive guide I could find was on the Go RVing Blog, where Jen from the Newschool Nomads did a series of travel posts as they journeyed from the southern tip of Florida to Alaska! Jen’s posts were amazing and actually the inspiration behind our entire trip! They had three kids, one of them an infant, and they made it work and had a great time. We could, too! We also have enjoyed watching the Gone with the Wynns YouTube Channel, (which is fantastic and my husband and I binge watched all of their Alaska videos in a few nights), but most their information started once they were already IN Alaska and didn’t so much include the journey through Canada on the Alcan to get there.

So part of my motivation for writing about our trip is to help others that might be wanting to have an Alaskan adventure themselves! It is completely doable and not at all scary! It is one of those bucket list kind of trips, and I hope anybody who is out there on the fence about doing it might leave here more encouraged to jump in and go for it!

Day 8: We started our second week of travel in the beautiful city of Banff in Alberta, Canada! We slept in and then headed out to show the kids some of our favorite parts of the town. We started with the amazing Banff Fairmont Hotel because our two oldest kids are huge Harry Potter fans and this building just reminds us so much of the impressive stature of Hogwarts!

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We drove past Bow Falls and then decided to head over to Banff Ave to do a little shopping and find a fun place to have lunch.

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Banff Avenue is the most picturesque little ski town, with beautiful mountains in all directions, chalet style architecture, and shops and restaurants to fit every taste. We ended up at the Elk & Oarsman Kitchen & Bar. We ate on the second floor with a view overlooking Banff Ave and an impending storm.

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I was in the mood for something a little different, so I ordered an elk burger. It was a bit overcooked and not the best burger of our trip (stay tuned for that!) but it was satisfying.

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After lunch, we decided to walk our food off and explore more of the area. Since it is the 150th anniversary of Canada, all of their national parks and museums are free! At the end of Banff Ave is a historic building from 1903 that has been turned into the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site.

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There were some park rangers outside and they provided the kids with junior ranger booklets and let them hold some large antlers that they had just found in the forest.

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They have the largest collection of taxidermy that we have ever seen in one place. It was amazing to have the chance to see these beautiful animals up close! Charlotte wasn’t sure what she thought of the bears!

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As we left the museum, the rain starting coming down hard and we ran with the crowds to take cover in the shops. It just so happens that the cutest little candy shop was down the street, and who could pass that up? The pink bike just put me over the top!

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The inside had a wonderful selection of Canadian specialties as well.

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But the kids zeroed in on the salt water taffies right away. Who could resist all those colorful jars? Well, I could. I am a chocolate girl at heart, and went straight for the freshly made chocolate covered sea salt caramels instead. Amazing.

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We shopped for some souvenirs and visited with this Canadian moose.

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When we finished up our shopping, we hopped in the truck to do some exploring and ended up driving up to the Norquay ski area to take in an amazing view of all of Banff!

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On our journey back down the mountain, we were stopped in the road by this majestic big horn sheep who casually took his time crossing the street, and then turned back around to give us some side eye. He was an impressive guy!

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Our drive down Mt.Norquay Road turned onto a surprising gem, the Vermilion Lakes scenic drive. Even with the dark cloud cover, you could still tell that this place was special.

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We headed back to the RV park to warm up under some blankets as the storm continued to blow through and the air turned very cold. We worked on their Parks Canada books together before calling it a night.

Day 9: We headed back into town this morning so the kids could turn in their Banff booklets at the Banff Visitor Center and become Parks Canada Xplorers, the Canadian version of our Junior Ranger program. They received special red Banff dog tags in lieu of the badge they receive in the states.

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The visitor center is located on Banff Ave next to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church of Banff, so we stopped to admire the architecture of both buildings before walking deeper into town to find a little restaurant for some brunch. The restaurants were packed, and many of them are smaller cafe style eateries, so finding a table for six is a challenge! We ended up heading down Caribou St. and finding an outdoor table we could squeeze into at Coyotes Southwestern Grill. Being a southwestern girl myself, they had a tough audience, but I was pleasantly surprised with my breakfast burrito with green chilis and tomatoes.

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We then packed up the RV and hit the road again, in search of some turquoise water!

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We were very excited to return to Lake Louise on our drive between Banff and Jasper. It is a popular tourist destination, and for good reason. The glacier melt that drains into this lake creates the most pristine bright blue you’ve ever seen. It’s hard to look at our desert brown Arizona lakes the same after you’ve been some place like this!

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We are always so appreciative when a friendly fellow tourist offers to take a family photo for us!

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There are red canoe rentals here. Last time we visited, Avery was a baby, and this time we have Charlotte, so we haven’t been able to do a canoe ride either time. Next time we visit, we’re renting one of those and getting out on the water!

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A short drive from Lake Louise is the equally beautiful, yet very different, Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake is higher in elevation at 6,183 feet and still had a fine sheet of ice covering it. It is surrounded by the impressive Valley of the Ten Peaks mountain range.

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We grabbed cafe sandwiches and a hot chai at a little place in the town of Lake Louise before continuing on one of our favorite driving days of the trip. You can’t even blink on the drive between Banff and Jasper. It is just that beautiful!

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We arrived at Whistler’s Campground in Jasper very late, as the sun had just gone down. This is one of our favorite places in all of Canada! We were very excited for what the next few days had in store for us!
Day 10: Today was a quiet day for us. Adam had some work commitments he needed to close out, so we drove to downtown Jasper and left Adam at the visitor center so he could use their wi-fi to finish up some projects while the kids and I went souvenir shopping! We gave each of them $20 CAD to find something meaningful to each of them.

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We took our chalkboard photo in front of the train station that runs from Vancouver to Montreal. And sometimes they aren’t ALL on board with having their photo taken, ha!

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She came around though…

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And at the end of the day, we picked up Daddy and found a place for some delicious ice cream! The owners of Grandma’s Place on main street Jasper left such an impression on us that we ended up returning here for ice cream three nights in a row!

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Day 11: First on the itinerary today was the grand Athabasca Falls!

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Possibly more impressive than Niagara Falls was! A must see if you are in Jasper! From here we drove to a chalkboard photo location that we also used during our 2013 RV trip with high hopes. This was Medicine Lake in 2013 with a much younger Nicholas and Aubrey:

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And this is what it looks like today after a forest fire destroyed much of the vegetation in the area:

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Of course, the lighting was much better in the first photo, but it was also sad to see the damaging effects of a fire. We were quickly cheered up though as we continued on our way to find a dozen cars stopped for a baby who had wandered from his mama.

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The drive from Medicine Lake takes you further down to Maligne Lake. It is well worth the drive!

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Then it was time to head back into town for some more of Grandma’s Place ice cream to finish off our night! Of course, there were more wildlife encounters on the way.

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The owners recognized us and gave us all a free double scoop on our cones and the kids even got some free maple candies.

Day 12: For our last full day in Jasper, we decided to start it off with working off some of our ice cream from the night before. We packed up our hiking gear and headed out to hike Mount Edith Cavell, a hike that was highly recommended to us. Unfortunately the road up the mountain was closed through June 18th due to snow so we picked a different hike of the day: the Valley of Five Lakes.

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The 2.8 mile loop was listed as “moderate” but we found it to have quite difficult sections with steep upgrades. It paid off though as the mountains proved to be beautiful and the lakes various shades of teal and turquoise. There were quite a few mosquitoes but Adam wore his clip on repellent holster (Buy it HERE on Amazon) and that worked well throughout our trip. The kids did incredible on the hike and we were quite impressed!

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Day 12 Chalkboard: Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper

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We were starving after our 2 hour hike so we headed into Downtown Jasper for dinner at the Jasper Brewing Company. We sat outside at first, but the sky got very dark suddenly so we moved inside without a moment to spare as a storm blew through, knocking umbrellas from the patio down as people ran to seek shelter. We were warm and cozy inside with a window view to watch the weather. Adam and I split the beer sampler, which included a very unique Blueberry Vanilla Ale, and ordered a couple of very large burgers to go with it. Everything was delicious and we will definitely come here again the next time we are in Jasper!

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When the storm finally subsided, we walked over to the Jasper Visitor Center a few blocks away so the kids could turn in their latest Parks Canada booklets and receive their Jasper National Park Xplorer dog tags.

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Then it was off to Grandma’s Place for the third night in a row! We said goodbye to the owners, a lovely older couple who had been so generous to the kids over the last few evenings, and enjoyed our last double scoop of ice cream on that bench in downtown Jasper.

We still had a few hours of daylight left, and despite the heavy storm cover, we wanted to fit a few more sights in since we were leaving the next morning. Our first was Patricia Lake.

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Immediately past Patricia Lake was Pyramid Lake. There is a unique island in the middle of this lake that you can walk out onto via footbridge, but we skipped it this time because of the weather. Next time, Jasper!

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Our final stop of the night was Lake Annette and Lake Edith. I can only imagine how beautiful the true blue of these lakes are without all the cloud cover. We’ve had a lot of rain during our stay. There are wonderful paths for bikes all around these lakes and we’ve made note to come here for a full day on our next visit! We let the kids run around the playground in the rain for a bit before returning to our RV park. We had a visitor waiting for us at our campsite. Never a shortage of wildlife around here!

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Day 13: Today we woke up to more stormy weather and a small chance for snow! It was the coldest day we have had yet. The heater ran non-stop in the RV and we huddled under blankets as we drove north out of Jasper National Park. Is it really June??

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Even Katie insisted on wearing a blanket! She has warmed up even more to the RV and we now have to push our storage ottoman between our seats up front so she has her own “seat” to sit and watch out the windshield while we drive. Yes, she is spoiled.

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We took the 40 north toward Grand Cache, and that is when the day got crazy. As we pulled into Grand Cache we were stopped by a fire truck blockade. The fireman that came up to our window said that there had been a landslide up ahead from all the rain and they were trying to clear the road and have it approved to be safe enough for traffic once again. He said it could be an hour or more. We were not in the mood to sit and wait, so I put the route in my phone and it recommended an alternate, the 734, about 15 miles back. Even though it was slower, we always prefer to keep moving than to just sit around waiting. We didn’t take any time to research this route as it was chaotic with the fire trucks and rain coming down. We just turned around and started driving. This was our first mistake.

As we arrived at the 734, we turned left onto the road…and we were already committed before we realized it was not paved. Our second mistake. “Maybe it turns back into a paved road just past this intersection?” We drove about a quarter of a mile before seeing a road sign about rough road conditions that were only recommended for logging trucks and all terrain vehicles. I looked closer at the map on my phone to see it was listed as a “Forestry Trunk Road.” Damn. Several semi logging trucks flew past us and we crept along at about 10 miles an hour….bouncing and shaking all over the place. Stuff was falling over inside the RV, we were all glued to our seats, and there were no intersecting roads or pull outs for us to turn around on. The dirt road was getting muddier by the minute and the rain continued to pound down on us. This was not good. That’s when Adam made the decision to try to turn us around in the road rather than drive any further. The last mistake. He hadn’t done more than slightly pull us to the right shoulder of the road when we started slipping – fast! Suddenly I had the vision of us rolling and everything was totally out of our control. We kept slipping, deeper and lower into the mud on the passenger side of our coach. I was about to seriously panic when we slowed to a stop. It was 37 degrees outside, pouring rain, and we were stuck in the mud!

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In my pajamas and Hunter boots, I opened the door to the RV and the automatic steps descended into a pool of deep muck. It was a very bad situation. We were so far away from services that we didn’t even know how many roadside services would be available and it surely would cost us a first born. I was outwardly calm but nearing freak out status on the inside when a logging truck pulled up alongside us. He jumped right out and offered to help us. Then a second friendly Canadian logger stopped and offered his services as well. Thank God for the kindness of strangers! The first man hooked our RV up to his large truck with tow straps while the second guy blocked the road and watched for traffic. In no time at all, he pulled us up and back to the center of the road where the ground was much more solid. Grateful doesn’t even scratch the surface of how we felt! He refused payment and only accepted our kind words of gratitude.

So fellow travelers, take note! Google Maps may have recommended 734 as an alternate route from Jasper to Dawson Creek, BC – but it is most certainly NOT RV friendly, especially in a rain storm! And yes, before you ask, we DO have an RV specific navigation unit, but it is slow and doesn’t have up to date traffic conditions so our phones are easier to use and what we typically default to. But lesson learned this time around, and you can bet we were much more cautious with our route planning on the duration of our trip.

We managed back to the main highway 40 and retraced our steps back up to Grand Cache for the second time today. We were thrilled to see the blockade of firetrucks gone and the road reopened! We were back on track, getting on the 43 west which turned into the 2 going north as we crossed from Alberta to British Columbia. Aside from much more rain and fog as the day continued, we also saw a mama bear with her three rambunctious cubs playing in the grass along the roadside and several large moose. The sun was setting on the horizon when we finally reached our stop for the night, Dawson Creek! We jumped out – still in our pj’s, and took our chalkboard photo in front of the sign marking the official beginning of the Alaska Highway!

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We stayed at the Mile “0” RV Park for reference. It was very nice and was attached to the historic Pioneer Village- where the early pioneers who settled in the area of Dawson Creek, up to the Alaska Highway construction period, lived. Because of our eventful day, we did not have time to walk through the village but it looked worth a visit. We were just too exhausted and glad to be safe and back on the road! Tomorrow we start mile zero of the road to Alaska!

Day 14: Today we woke up, grabbed breakfast at Tim Horton’s and a few supplies from Canadian Tire, and then hit the road on the 97! Our destination today was Fort Nelson, about 453 kilometers, or 285 miles, from Dawson Creek. The day was, thankfully, uneventful with the exception of one bear sighting.

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We arrived in Fort Nelson around dinnertime and pulled into the Triple G Hideaway RV Park. We walked down to the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum a sort distance from our RV Park to take our chalkboard photo. Although it was closed, there was quite a bit to see outside, from historic vehicles to road signs.

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We grilled dinner and consulted our issue of Milepost to plan out our next week. We had planned on staying here another day so Adam could use the wi-fi to do some work, but upon seeing how close we were to the Northwest Territories, we scratched that plan and chose adventure instead. Always choose adventure over work =). See you, Tuesday!

And a quick recap for reference of our route for week 2:

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Products that we bought for the trip that we couldn’t live without:

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