After weeks of trying to plan a road trip with friends, Max and I ended up doing something just the two of us: a weekend road trip in Alberta and British Columbia!
There were so many things I wanted to do, and so many people I wanted to see, but I knew I had to prioritize and plan around what was possible within our 4 days time frame. In the end, here’s what our schedule looked like:
Day 1 – Grande Prairie to Revelstoke with pitstops along Jasper National Park
Day 2 – Explore Revelstoke and area before heading out to Calgary
Day 3 – Visit Banff with friends from Calgary and explore Calgary
Day 4 – Explore a bit more in Calgary before heading out to Grande Prairie; pitstop in Red Deer
Honestly, the weekend became even more jam-packed than we had initially planned, mostly because we added lots of unplanned stops. In the end, it was definitely a trip we’ll never forget!
It all started when we headed out from Grande Prairie, AB on March 31st. We had been prepping for this trip for about a week, so we had plenty of snacks, emergency gear packed up, and our two backpacks ready to go. We left town sometime in the early morning – I know it was early because I had to wake Max up three times – but not before having a nice breakfast at home. I am so fortunate to have a boyfriend like Max, who had actually prepared some egg sandwichs the night before, so we didn’t have to rush to get some food ready for our lunch.
Initially, I had thought we would just drive straight to Revelstoke and explore the town when we got there, but that was before I realized that all the animals were now out and about within Jasper National Park! As soon as we saw our first group of bighorn sheep, I knew we would probably be stopping numerous times along the way.
During out stops, we even met a nice young family who let us use their binoculars to get a better view of two elks who were laying in the shade close by. We also stopped to let some bighorn sheep cross the road, and of course, the typical tourist stops to catch some snapshots of the mountains and lakes.
I was glad that they had given us a pamphlet at the park entrance because it listed lots of attractions we hadn’t known about when we first visited Jasper in December. We tried to stop at various places, notably at some hot springs, but a lot of it was closed due to it still being off-season. We did manage to see some beautiful sights when we stopped at Athabasca Falls though!
Although it was by accident, we also made a stop in Lake Louise. The reason I say “by accident” is because we missed the turn to go towards BC and ended up seeing the signs for Lake Louise, so we figured we might as well stop to take some pictures and grab something to eat.
We finally made it to Revelstoke through the endless twists and turns of BC’s mountain tops around 8:30PM. Our host, Lewis, was finishing up at work, so we made our way to his place to wait until he got home. Fortunately, he has plenty of welcoming housemates, one of which greeted us just a few moments after we arrived. We introduced ourselves and were surprised to find out he spoke french, just like us! He and his girlfriend gave us a little tour of the house and made us feel right at home.
Side note: I had never actually met Lewis before, but rather he was a friend of a friend who generously offered to let us crash at his place in Revelstoke for a night. What a great guy!
Speak of the devil, he arrived shortly thereafter and came downstairs so we could get properly introduced. Turns out he is from Sydney, Australia, and lives here with 5 other people – and still, they managed to be incredibly hospitable to the two of us and offer us a fold out bed to sleep on in our own room. Sometimes I’m just overwhelmed with happiness knowing that there are kind generous people like these.
To thank them for hosting us, we made them some homemade chocolate cake with vanilla icing from scratch. We had forgotten it in the car so Max ran out to get that and we went upstairs to meet everyone else.
We spent the rest of the evening socializing with everyone in the house, and got the chance to talk some more one on one with Lewis. He was so helpful, letting us know what we could do during our short visit, and where to find some cool spots. The one that struck us the most was by far natural hot springs! So he us a quick explanation about a cool spot not too far out of town, where you needed to take a ferry – at no cost – to cross the river, drive again for a little while, then take an old logging road in St Leon’s to then hike up a trail for 45 minutes to find the hot springs. Apparently, these specific hot springs were built by some hippies many years ago who had wandered in the woods and thought it was be a great idea to drag some cement there to create a pool for the hot water coming out of the ground.
Just hearing about it made our eyes light up. I had always wanted to go to hot springs, especially natural ones! As for Max, he had already experienced hot springs, but within man-made pools in a spa in Yukon. So it would be a new adventure for the both of us – that is, if we could actually find them.
We headed downstairs around 11PM, knowing we would have to get up early to catch the early ferry. Oh, I forgot to mention that we actually had another cute little roommate who was sleeping in the bedroom with us – a hedgehog named Hermie!
We got a good night’s sleep – for the short amount of time we actually slept. We were up around 6AM, getting ready to hit the road for 7AM so that we could catch the 8 o’clock ferry. We made sure to leave a thank you note to Lewis and his roommates, since we knew the chances were slim that they would be awake that early.
What a beautiful morning. We could not have been any luckier with the great weather that we were having that weekend. Clear skies, warm radiating sunshine, and just the slightest windchill. Take a look for yourself!
During the ferry ride, Max had the great idea to talk to some of the locals to see if we could get some more details about how to find St Leon’s hot springs. We crossed our fingers and drove off as soon as the ferry landed on the other side of the river. We knew to follow the signs to Nakusp, but we didn’t know how close or how far from there it would be. We accidentally turned onto the first logging road we saw, but it didn’t feel like that would be the right spot. We got back onto the road and kept driving until we saw little red pieces of tape attached to trees.
“I think that’s what those men on the ferry were talking about! Turn here!”
We took the old gravel road on the lefthand side after the indicators and we did actually see a sign saying “St Leon’s Hot Springs.” YES! We found the right road! We figured it would be a smooth ride from here on out. Well… we thought wrong.
We drove up that main road for as far as we could go, stopping every now and then to see if maybe we were supposed to stop and start walking into the woods. Eventually there was too much snow on the main road so we decided to start hiking. We walked and we walked, with a few breaks because man oh man, we are not in shape. We kept walking for 45 minutes and still, no sign of anything coming up. Every time we heard water, we would get our hopes up and I would run to see the trickling water and touch it – GAH! Freezing cold.
We turned around after that long walk, disappointed, but still hopeful that maybe the other road would lead us to the right spot.
Unfortunately, the other road didn’t seem much more promising, and at this point, Max didn’t want to waste more time walking. Our other option? Drive down to the closest spa resort and ask for directions! So off we went, back-tracking about 10-15 minutes to a spa we had seen on our way in. The young lady at the desk said she wasn’t sure exactly where they were, but if we wanted to wait a few minutes, her supervisor could give us some directions once she got off the phone.
I am so thankful Max is full of smart ideas. With the help of the supervisor from that spa, we were able to get some more details about how to find the springs. She specified that the trail that led to the hot springs was now blocked off by a bunch of rocks so it was impossible to drive them. But it wasn’t too far of a walk, she said we would find them probably 20 minutes into the woods after parking. So off we went – again!
We drove back to the old logging road and drove up to one of the two spots that it could be. We got out of the car and walked around, but Max was skeptical. There was no evidence of a well-used trail. We got back into the car and drove to the second spot that resembled the descriptions given to us. We had a good feeling, so we had a quick a snack, packed our bags, and started walking down the trail.
Twenty minutes or so went by and we were starting to lose hope. We agreed that we should probably turn around soon if we didn’t find it. I sighed, really disappointed that it seemed to have all been for nothing. But all of a sudden, Max says he sees something. I don’t get too excited; it could be anything.
“I think it’s a tarp or something… OH MY GOD, THIS IS IT!! WE FOUND IT!!”
I couldn’t believe it!!! Oh my God! It was so beautiful! And we were so tired from all that walking. And it was SO worth it!
We ran up to the little platform that some people must have built recently, hurriedly got undressed and made our way into the small pools of hot water! I couldn’t believe it – it was actually really hot! We could even see the steam coming off the bodies of water!
It was incredible. What an amazing experience!! We sat together, and talked and laughed and relaxed. We got to enjoy this moment in all its glory, just the two of us. I am so happy I got to share this moment with my better half.
Unfortunately, all this relaxing meant I hadn’t been keeping an eye on the time. And we had already missed one ferry because we decided to get directions and try to find the hot springs a second time. This time, we needed to catch the ferry if we wanted to get to Calgary early enough to make supper for our friends!
I got out of the hot springs and ran to check my phone. As I was doing so, Max was climbing up to the highest pool, which we were told was hotter than the others.
“MAX! It’s noon! We have to go, NOW!”
“Ouch! That’s hot!”
We exclaimed these sentences almost at the same time. We looked at each other and laughed, but hurried to get ready. It took us a few minutes to get ready, and Max made sure to get a quick snapshot of me before we left.
Immediately after we had everything packed, we started sprinting down the trail! We were mostly focused on not tripping, and the adrenaline was running through our veins. Don’t be late. Don’t be late. Don’t be late. It’s like our footsteps were echoing those words. Don’t. Be. Late.
We got to the car and hurriedly shoved our backpacks in the back seat and peeled out of there. I look at the clock. Shit. It’s already 12:20. And we’re a 20 minute drive away from the dock… let’s try to make it anyway!
We drove quickly down the dirt road, surely faster that we should have been driving, but no problems arose. We made it to the main road and Max put the pedal to the metal. We passed only one car on the way there, and we was definitely driving past the speed limit as well. Poor guy, he was probably trying to make it to the dock in time too. We made a quick last turn to drive up to the dock and… Crap. There it was, not even 100 feet out into the water. We missed it.
Ah well! We turned around and parked in the waiting area for the next ferry, which was scheduled in an hour’s time. We greeted the man who was in the car we had passed a few minutes earlier and explained that we missed it and it would be back in another hour. We decided to make the most of our time, so I grabbed a blanket and some cans of alphagetti and we walked down to the dock to sit and enjoy the view. Max also built a beautiful inukshuk, which I assume is everyone’s main pastime when they miss the ferry.
It was still a beautiful day outside. We laid down next to each other and bathed in the warmth of the sunlight. This is going to be a great vacation. With a start like this, how could it not be?!
The drive to Calgary went pretty smoothly. We didn’t stop much and decided we would tough it out and wait to eat supper at our friend’s place. We arrived there around 7PM and were greeted by their big old fluffy dog, Fribourg! What a cutie! I’m not much of a dog person, but I really liked him as soon as I met him. Right behind him were his owners, Melanie & Marc! I introduced them to Max and we made our way inside their beautiful home.
The rest of that first night in Calgary was spent catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones. Oh yeah, and eating delicious 3 cheese grilled cheese sandwiches made by the lovely Melanie!
The next morning, all four of us got up around 7AM so we could hit the road around 8AM. Destination: Banff! Obviously we weren’t going to make a trip like this and not stop in Banff, especially when our friends offered to bring us! So we made a quick stop for breakfast at Starbucks/Subway and then hit the road.
On the way, Melanie and Marc suggested we take time to get a look at these cool spots, just as beautiful as Lake Louise, but much less touristic. The first one was called Lake Minnewonka, which was once a village that got flooded hundreds of years ago.
The next one was Two Jack Lake, just as breath-taking as its predecessor, although I didn’t get a chance to look up any information about its history.
Ok, enough of that. You guys probably want to see a super cute cheesy couple picture in Banff, right? Well here you go!
So on the way back, we decided to make a stop to this place our friend recommended. It’s called La Belle Patate, and apparently they have killer poutines there. Given that all of us are Acadians from the East Coast, we obviously couldn’t resist giving it a try. I’m not sure how they would rate their experience, but I would probably give it a 8/10. Not the best poutine I’ve ever had, the gravy was quite spicy, but the cheese was fantastic.
After filling our belly’s – probably more than we should have – we hit the road and headed back to Calgary, where we then took the time to decide what we would do with the rest of our day. That’s right, our day wasn’t even over yet! Final decision was as follows: we would take the C-Train to the zoo for the rest of the afternoon!!
In case you weren’t aware, I am slightly obsessed with zoos, especially since I worked at the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, NB for 4 years – and I’m heading back there this summer! So basically, this trip to the Calgary zoo was my main reason for coming to Calgary. OK, no, I take that back! The main reason was obviously to visit friends!
But anyway, time for the zoo!!
First thing’s first: I SAW PENGUINS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE! I almost shat my pants. Dream come true!!
And we also saw a bunch of other animals, too many to name! We took our grand old time walking around the whole zoo, stopping for a mandatory soft serve ice cream cone! Unfortunately, the primate section was closed by the time we got there, but regardless, I think we were all very satisfied with our visit!
We ended up spending more time in there than we had thought, and the zoo was actually closed by the time we left. We grabbed some tickets for the C-Train and headed back to Melanie & Marc’s house as soon as we exited the zoo. Side note: It’s pretty awesome that the terminal is literally right next to the zoo entrance.
That night, Maxime and I cooked up supper for Marc & Mel as a thank you gift for being such wonderful hosts. We made our new specialty: Vegetarian Cheesy Chili Mac! (link) We then spent the rest of the night at home, relaxing and chatting, accompanied of course by their adorable giant dog.
The next morning, we packed everything up and said our goodbyes. We had invited them to come check out the Shooting Centre, and although they had shared interest, they had to get ready for the Juno’s, as they were volunteering that afternoon – pretty good reason, I would say! So Max and I headed over to the Shooting Centre just the two of us and spent some time checking everything out, including an indoor high-tech shooting range and a wide variety of ancient and antique pieces. Max seemed really impressed with their selection so I’m glad we took the time to go and check it out.
After that, we decided to hit the road. It’s at that moment that Max asked, “Hey, are we going through Red Deer?” Turns out his cousin’s family had been living there for a few years and he hadn’t seen them in ages. He had never even met the kids since they had been born! So he got into contact with his cousin’s wife – his cousin was out working in Saskatoon, unfortunately – and we planned a visit on our way home.
We also made another pit stop on our way out of Calgary when we spotted the giant Bass Pro Shop! We figured it would probably be very similar to what we have in Moncton, but to our surprise, it was even bigger! Max found an ammo box on sale and decided to purchase that, while I decided to buy myself a bag of popcorn – I know, typical me, buying food everywhere I go.
And off we went! I did all the driving on this last day, so that I could get used to long drives before heading back East. I had to stop quite a few times, as I was pretty exhausted from our adventures. But we made it to Red Deer in time for supper – without forgetting to stop for a bottle of wine, of course. Our host, Lisa, greeted us at the door with hugs and a beautiful smile. I liked her already. She introduced us to her kids, although I’ve already forgotten their names. We went up into the kitchen area and chatted while we made some moose sausages, salmon, and veggies on the BBQ. And don’t worry, it did indeed taste as good as it sounds!
We had a great visit, but knew we couldn’t stay too long if we wanted to make it home at a reasonable hour. Lisa offered us a bed for the night, but unfortunately, I had to work the next morning. So we said our goodbyes, albeit not without taking a quick selfie!
And off we went, for the last leg of the trip. We were Grande Prairie bound around midnight and we quickly drifted off to sleep, our tired heads fille with lots of new precious memories.