48 Hours in: Jasper

I celebrated my recent birthday with a quick jaunt to Jasper, Alberta. Thinking about going to the laid-back town? Read on for some tips on spending a long weekend, including some hikes, good food and an efficient big-horned car wash.

The Drive

Mountains near jasperYou’ve likely heard that the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic in the world. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical; yes there’d be mountains but it would probably just be like the drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, no? No. It was stunning, a put-down-the-chips-because-your-mouth-won’t-stay-closed kind of stunning. By the end of the drive I had a crick in my neck from swivelling back and forth, and a delirious grin plastered across my face. We lucked out that it was an unseasonably warm weekend and the roads were relatively ice-free; if you’re thinking about doing the drive in winter, check conditions before you depart. If you’re going in summer – head out early to beat the traffic.

Stretching Your Legs
Do you enjoy spending all waking hours on the move? Good news! Jasper is for you. Perhaps you’d rather stretch your legs while doing some low-impact sitting on a bench with a mug of coffee – good news! Jasper is also for you. There are a number of great trails and activities for all seasons. Due to the unseasonably warm winter conditions we had to pass on our plans for snowshoeing (for there was more grass than snow in many spots) but we found more than enough in the way of hiking trails and stunning views to satisfy our outdoor itch.

Our first stop was Maligne Lake, frequently identified as one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies. There are a number of trails that start at or near the lake, so we started down the winding road. As we rounded a corner, we slowed to a stop as a friendly female bighorn sheep trotted towards us and was drawn to the side of the car like a magnet. “This is amazing!” I thought, until we noticed two more of these sneaky buggers had appeared out of nowhere and were now methodically licking the side of the door. Okay. Not a huge problem. Just a couple of small lady sheep getting their salt fix.

A car pulled up behind us and we turned to wave at them when suddenly a GIANT SET OF HORNS appeared in the back window. It was Jurassic Park, sheep-style. We froze and wondered what to do. We couldn’t move without fear of bumping the sheep off the side of the road. So we did what anyone would do when surrounded by wild animals – we got out of the car and took pictures.

Sheep surrounding car

Sheep licking car

Eventually we became concerned about the imminent salt dehydration they’d experience, so we gingerly pulled away and watched as tongues were slowly dragged along the side like an iceberg. They did an impressive job cleaning parts of the car.

Marks on car from sheep

We opted just to do a hike around the perimeter of the frozen lake as it was such a crisp, clear day. I am so happy I brought my camera for a variety of reasons this day (big-horned car wash included) because people don’t lie. This place is BEAUTIFUL. Our plans to explore Maligne Canyon were shelved because it was exceptionally icy, and had become a slip n’ slide of epic proportions. Steve didn’t feel like re-injuring his knee which was a wise call.

Refuelling Your Tank
While food is more expensive than, say, Calgary, there are delicious options available. We grabbed breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery and Coco’s Cafe, and enjoyed my birthday dinner at Olive Bistro. Rest assured, for anyone who knows Steve – we also ate sushi.

Resting Your Head

We stayed at the Pyramid Lake Resort which had stunning views. Apart from the lack of in-room wifi and our tendency to leave the fireplace on just a tad too long, it was comfortable. There was a hot tub, but we never had a chance to check it out. In the winter there are horse-drawn sleigh rides around the lake. I opted just to make friends with the horses instead. One of them was a bit of a jerk.

Good to Know

  • Gas – There is a gas station in Saskatchewan River Crossing but it’s only open in the summer months between June and September. While the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is only about 230 km, it’s definitely not the time to test out the gas mileage of your car.
  • Seasonal Operations – speaking of only open in the summer months, some of the bigger attractions in Jasper aren’t open in winter. If you’d like to check out the Columbia Icefield or Jasper Gondola, winter is not the time to go. However, if you’d like a hiking trail pretty much to yourself, layer up and head out.
  •  Price – it’s a hard-to-access town, so things are going to be priced accordingly (except gas, still far cheaper than Ontario – whomp whomp).

Have you been to Jasper? What was your favourite highlight? Leave a comment below!

Hiking to Consolation Lakes

Trail sign at beginning

I really love mountains. I get squirrely, excited, jazzed about life when I see them. So it made sense that when crafting my 31-for-31 list this year, hiking in the Rockies would be on there because in addition to mountains, I also really enjoy hiking. There’s something about walking through peace and quiet in nature that restores your soul. Or at least mine. Until I inevitably trip.

It seemed, however, like this goal wouldn’t happen – valid reasons kept cropping up to keep me away from setting out on a hike, and I began to think I’d have to put this on the back-burner. Until it seemed almost possible for the end of July. Timing was good, Steve was recovering from knee surgery at a super-human rate, the weather would be perfect. Wildfires almost derailed plans, but thankfully they shifted and air quality was breathable. Rockies hike, ahoy!

We picked Consolation Lakes because reviews listed it as short, flat and totally manageable for small children. We do not have small children, but between my clumsiness and Steve’s recovery, we needed something that would require less effort and provide killer views. This fit the bill, so with a lunch packed we set out to the trail.

Consolation Lakes is one of the trails that starts off of Moraine Lake, so you begin the hike with that gorgeous backdrop and all the tourists you could ever dream of. Many of them were on the path when we started which made me nervous because none were wearing appropriate footwear (or anything appropriate, really. Please, please leave heels at home. They do not belong anywhere in this vicinity). They quickly veered off to a vantage point (again heels! What is wrong with people?) and we set off on the smooth, flat trail.

Except it wasn’t all that flat.

Rocks on trail

Steve was beyond a trooper for the first 15 minutes or so. The rocks, for the most part, are large enough to support weight without wobbling, and a dirt trail with a slow incline greets you at the end. While the trail only has a small elevation gain (about 215 ft), hiking at the higher altitude really knocked me out. Also, I was simultaneously stuffing a peanut butter and banana sandwich into my face which likely didn’t help. I’m all class.

As you proceed along the trail and get used to the thinner air, you’ll be treated to the sounds of quietly murmuring Babel Creek to your left and the smells and sounds of a thick forest all around you. For the last half kilometre the trail opens up and you walk through a beautiful meadow lush with wildflowers during the summer months, until you’re greeted with this:

Consolation LakesConsolation Lakes

Sparkling lake, a glacier and killer views. Totally worth the wobbly rocks at the beginning!

All in, the hike was about six kilometres round-trip and took us less than two hours. As a head’s up, read the signs at the beginning instead of just casually glancing at them – there are currently regulations in place that require a group size of four people or more on the trail due to grizzlies (there is a hefty fine if you’re caught in a smaller group, oops). You’ll no doubt encounter many hikers (in our case, about eight Germans) who will be disappointed if you haven’t spotted any. Pro tip: you don’t want to spot a grizzly. It may not end well. Just enjoy the hike for its beauty!

In the City: Nuit Blanche

Once a year come sundown, Toronto’s streets overflow with pedestrian gridlock. Common sights and sounds include:

  • Perplexed expressions
  • Raised eyebrows
  • Smartphones used in lieu of flashlights to decipher maps
  • The phrase “Is this art?!” in confused tones
  • Collective “oooo-ing” and “aaaah-ing”

It can only be one night – the all-night art festival Nuit Blanche!

I braved the crowds for a few hours last weekend, timing my departure a bit later than in previous years in an effort to avoid the bulk of crowds. It wasn’t a terrible move, although by 12:30 a.m. it was clear I was beginning to be outnumbered by inebriated “art fans” so I headed home. These were my favourites:

Though not included in the photos above, another interesting installation was Night Shift by Brendan Fernandes. Inspired by Louis XIV’s Le Ballet de la Nuit, the performers spent the entire night dancing, making and transporting gold confetti in anticipation of the Sun King’s appearance at sunrise. This was…a bit frustrating to watch. One guy, who likely wore a groove into the floor by sunrise, picked up confetti ONE PIECE AT A TIME to carry it from one side of the room to the other. A man behind me poked through the crowd to see what we were all staring at, commented on the inefficient work and jetted out of there in search of “actual art.” To each their own.

And that’s the beauty of the event. Some of it is super weird. Some of it is accessible for everyone. And it ultimately creates conversation.

You can check out Forever Bicycles in Nathan Phillips Square until October 27 – I highly recommend it. Just don’t climb up it, that’s what trees and parks are for.

Did you go? What did you enjoy?

Visiting The Lost Gardens of Heligan

IMG_2657

I went to a botanical garden and liked it.

To be fair, I always enjoy photographing flowers and leaves. I’m never overly fussed about the gardens themselves – they smell lovely, but after awhile my brain gets bored and starts humming to itself or occupying me with thoughts about lunch and then I realize I’ve been awkwardly staring at tulips for who knows how long.

I visited Cornwall at the end of May with my parents who are big garden fans, and in the spirit of being a good travel companion I agreed to check out the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey. The weather was unseasonably cold and grey and many of the flowers not yet in bloom, but it was still quite the beautiful place.

IMG_2628The gardens were created by the Tremayne family over a period of time spanning from the mid-18th century up to the beginning of the 20th century, but were neglected after the First World War. Uber-neglected. Restoration only began in the 1990s (you can find several great TV shows and books on the subject) – a pretty phenomenal feat when you see how much work they’ve done in a relatively short timeframe.

The contents vary depending on the area that you’re wandering – from fruit and veg gardens (including Europe’s only remaining pineapple pit), to a sub-tropical “jungle”, to massive rhododendrons.

Highlights for me, however, were the rock and plant figures designed by a local artist and her brother – the Mud Maid and Giant’s Head.

And the hard-working pigs.

I can only imagine how beautiful Heligan must be when all the flowers are in bloom (and it’s warm enough for you to thaw out your fingers) – check it out when in Cornwall. Pack good walking shoes for the trip – many of the paths are quite steep!