Have you heard of the Secret Season? I had, but I had no idea there was a special name for it! Of course, I am referring to the ‘offseason’ in the Rocky Mountains. It is the time after fall but before ski season and Christmas break.
I went the second week of November to Jasper National Park. I had been to Banff during the secret season and its still a little on the crowded side. Lots of tourists out looking at cool things. But Jasper? This as my first time. If you have ever visited Jasper National park in peak season, May to October, then you know how busy it can get.
We arrived early afternoon on Wednesday. The plan was to stop at Jasper Brewing Company for lunch, walk around downtown and head off to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge to check-in and have dinner. Finding parking is usually a complicated experience so you take the first spot you find at the far east of town and walk several blocks to the far west side of town.
The lack of people almost tricked us into parking by the totem pole. Almost. I suggested we drive closer to the brewery. We found four spots IN FRONT OF THE BREWERY! FOUR people, FOUR!
We went inside and one other couple was there. We didn’t have to wait for a table. While we were there one couple and a group of 8 came in. That was it. Lunch was delicious as always and we each had the winter ale because…winter and we like ale. But I know from experience the 150 IPA is fab and so is Jasper the Bear Ale, which is my usual. When I say ‘usual’ I mean the last time I had beer was three years ago. I gave it up, and all things carbonated. I treated myself on this occasion because ale is just so good with the fried chicken sandwich with siracha aioli.
After lunch, we toured around town, which was empty and largely closed. A lot of shops and restaurants were closed for the season. We popped into Parks Canada’s information building and bought a friends of parks t-shirt. All proceeds go to supporting Parks Canada. My favourite vacation spots in the world are thanks to Parks Canada, so I support where I can.
Across the street from Parks Canada is the totem pole, so I stopped in the middle of the road and took a photo. No one tried to run me over, I stood there for a good long while just marvelling at the spaciousness of an empty park. It was absolute heaven!
The totem still looks good and is easier to see without people standing in front of it. Then we sauntered back to the west side of town and drove to the hotel where we had booked a few nights. I will go into greater detail of the resort in a future post. But I will say this, Jasper Park Lodge is lovely. We had dinner at the lodge and poked around the grounds before calling it a day.
The plan for the next day was to head down the Banff Jasper Parkway and see what we can see. At breakfast, we overheard people talking about the big horn sheep heard at Medicine Lake and thought maybe we should go there first since we are already on the south side of the Athabasca River.
We hopped in the car and drove the short distance to Maligne road. We normally stop at the canyon first but we wanted to see the herd before they moved on. It didn’t take long for the dry snow-free road to becoming a snow-packed but sanded winter driving road. The higher we climbed in elevation the more snow we encountered.
The vistas were phenomenal. I come up here frequently in the summer but the mountains really show off their craggy detail in the winter when covered in snow. It was spectacular. There was a forest fire through the pass a few years ago so the mountains are on display for all to see. When we arrived at Medicine Lake, there was the herd, down on the frozen lake. They look like dots but it really shows the scope of Annunciation peak.
Here they are in the zoom version.
Then we came across a moose sow and her calves. I have only been this close to a moose on my street. Never in a National Park. But that’s Canada for you.
The air was crisper than at the lower elevations. Jasper townsite is 1060 metres (3477 feet), the climb up to Medicine lake to us to an elevation of 1670 metres (5479 feet). It put things in perspective, Vancouver’s elevation is 0 because its at sea level and Edmonton is at 2300 feet. It was 9C in town but -5C at the higher elevations. We met a couple from New York State sitting in their car at Maligne Lake. They had boots, snow pants, down-filled jackets big mittens and a hat. I wore my converse, jeans and a sweater. They marvelled at the lack of winter clothing we had on. It felt like spring to us, but we are smart winter travellers and know that anything could happen. In the car were winter boots, jackets, mitts, hats scarves, blankets plus an emergency kit with hand warmers, booster cables, emergency blankets and all that other important stuff you need to keep warm in your car until help arrives. Happily – none of that was needed and we chatted for a while with the American tourists.
We made our way back down to the townsite and ate lunch at the Other Paw, a sister bakery to the Bear Paw. Both are delicious. The Other Paw, is more of a deli and we had fantastic sandwiches and cookies.
Bellies satisfied, we went south down the parkway to Sunwapta Falls. This is where I was not dressed for the conditions. It was too slick to hike down the icy pathway towards the falls. I did not want to be a statistic, so we took photos of the totems and drove back towards Athabasca Falls.
Again, not dressed for the conditions, but we drove over the bridge and took some lovely shots.
Then hopped back into the car and headed north to Pyramid Lake. I didn’t take a single photo. It was nice just to sit and look. Being present on this part of the journey was wonderful. It was interesting to me that Patricia Lake was not frozen, yet 200 meters away, Pyramid was. I wondered f there was an underground spring or heat source that kept the water open. During WWII, they tested ice hull aircraft carriers and one is at the bottom of this lake. Not that the open water had anything to do with it, but it may be why they chose that lake to test it.
Driving back to the room, we saw a mule ear buck just sauntering along Mildred Lake. The amount of wildlife we saw on this trip was the opposite of the amount of people we saw. Elk, deer, big horn and eagles were out in full show. Come during the secret season for a quiet and restful few days. You won’t be disappointed.