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Client Blog: Wheelchair across the Canadian Rockies: Part 1

Saskatchewan Crossing on Icefields Parkway

Roger and Jane are long-term friends and clients who have seen a lot of the world. In recent years, Roger has become our most prolific blogger, and this brilliant two-part report adds to an enviable library of travel journalism he's produced for us… “We had planned three weeks in an area renowned for skiing but as we now prefer sunshine, May and June seemed the perfect time; end of the ski season and before the summer tourists flood in. The first 10 days took us from Calgary to Vancouver through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We arrived in Calgary in the evening and were welcomed by the famed White Hat Volunteers, who symbolise the hospitality extended to visiting guests. We stayed at the Calgary Airport Delta Hotel, conveniently situated across the road. Everyone we met was very helpful, polite and hardworking - worth the customary 15-20% tip for exceptional service - the concierge gave us local maps, pointing out places of interest and took our bags to our rental car. We didn't need GPS and easily followed his route along Memorial Drive which follows the Bow River, past the Canada Olympic Park - where Eddie the Eagle famously ski jumped in the 1986 Winter Olympics - along Highway 1 before stopping off at Canmore, in the Bow Valley, where we stopped at The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company Bar for the first of many home-brewed beer taster sets. A pass is required when you enter the Banff and Jasper National Park area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site - we paid $136 - before completing the hour and a half drive to Banff. We drove up Banff Avenue, took a quick look at the gondola and sulphur pool before booking into the Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa, a typical ski accommodation with complimentary underground parking, a log fire in the reception area and the famous Keg Restaurant where we enjoyed a slow roasted Alberta prime rib. The next morning we had planned to get on the Gondola early but with low cloud we headed to the popular Melissa's, a family owned restaurant, for breakfast; my huge pancake with maple syrup was only half eaten. Early parking in town was easy and free as we went to look around this ski resort's town and sidewalks; walking along the Bow River to Bow Falls, then the picturesque town centre, with its backdrop of snow-capped mountains and array of boutiques, bars and restaurants. In the afternoon we drove the nearby 24km scenic loop to Lake Minnewanka. We only saw bighorn sheep next to the road but there are also elk, mule deer, white tail deer, fox, wolves, coyotes and bears in the vicinity. From there we took the short drive to the Mount Norquay viewing point, overlooking Banff. A free (for hotel guests) local town bus stops right outside, so that evening we went to the Brewing Company in the Clock Tower Mall; a typical ski sports bar full of locals, serving local brewed beer on tap. There are two drive choices to Lake Louise; we took the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) which branches off the Trans Canada Highway, hoping to see wildlife along the roadside, however a late start and dismal weather meant we saw very little and headed straight for Lake Louise. Our luxury Fairmont Hotel provided an excellently efficient valet parking service for $30 and we went straight into the Lakeview lounge for a cocktail and our first view of the shimmering emerald lake surrounded by towering mountain peaks and the glorious Victoria Glacier. Our fully accessible room offered the same view through a large panoramic window and we never got fed up with the vista.

Lake Louise view from our room

We had phoned the previous day to book the elegant Fairview Restaurant which also affords magnificent views of the Lake. We highly recommend a visit for its decor, service, food and wine. The next day we took the popular 4km picturesque walk along the lake shore, adorned with beautiful striped chipmunks, before having lunch at Lakeview. After which we drove to the Sightseeing Gondola; there is a steep pathway to the bottom but everyone was very helpful. I was helped onto the chairlift with my wheelchair travelling in an enclosed gondola and at the top I was lifted into a 4WD truck and taken to the Wildlife Interpretive Centre and lookout area. There was just enough time to take the short drive to the spiral railway, natural bridge and stunning Emerald Lake before the day concluded. The next day was warm with a cloudless blue sky giving us the picture postcard flawless view on our departure and the opportunity to enjoy one of the most beautiful drives in the world; the 230km Icefields Parkway offers incredible views of lakes, glaciers, mountains and a prodigious ice field all the way to Jasper. A three-hour drive easily doubles with stops at Herbert Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake and Peyto Lake, a simply breathtaking sight with accessible parking in the upper level car park.

Lake Peyto

We stopped en route for lunch at Saskatchewan Crossing before driving into the Columbia Icefields (largest in the Rocky Mountains) and sunbathing at the powerful Athabasca waterfalls. The Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre, Jasper has free blue badge parking. The first night we ate elk bolognese in the cosy, rustic Hearthstone Lounge, whilst viewing through the window a couple of wild elks grazing along the roadside. Next day we drove to Maligne Lake, famous for its colour, surrounded by peaks and glaciers, with boat rides available to the visually stunning Spirit Island - alas, we missed out because of atrocious weather. However when we returned to Jasper to drop off the car (a day late, oops) the weather was sunny - we had learnt how in Canada you can experience three seasons in a day - we walked along the main street, with its quirky restaurants and shops before sitting outside, sunbathing, overlooking the Canadian National Railway mainline, at the popular Jasper Brewing Company with a handcrafted beers sampler and calamari. We later experienced the famed karaoke evening with half price wings and beer; we were made to feel very welcome in the crowded Champs Sports Lounge by the mainly young locals who gather there every Wednesday. In the evening a rep delivered our boarding pass and instructions for the Rocky Mountaineer. The following morning our luggage was collected and we were picked up by a private taxi and taken to the train station, where we were welcomed by the staff and first to board the train via a lift, and taken to my luxurious seat using an isle chair. We chose the GoldLeaf package on our 'Journey through the Clouds': this features a fully glass-domed coach, downstairs restaurant with gourmet meals, all day complimentary drinks and snacks and an outdoor viewing vestibule. The leisurely deluxe journey meanders through spectacular scenery including rivers, mountains and waterfalls with the occasional sightings of bald or golden eagles, with storytelling commentary from delightful staff.

GoldLeaf service on Rocky Mountaineer

After a sunny morning the weather had turned cloudy with heavy rain upon our arrival at our overnight stop in Kamloops. We were first off, with the customary red carpet and even an umbrella whilst escorted to a nearby roll-in taxi which took us to the hotel five minutes away. We had been checked in and the luggage was in our room (part of the GoldLeaf service) giving us time to visit the hotel's vibrant sports bar for cocktails. We left the luggage in the room and early next morning a taxi was waiting to take us back to the train ready to continue our journey west towards the coastal city of Vancouver. The remote and dramatic vistas made the whole experience unforgettable; highlights include Mount Robson, Pyramid Falls, Fraser Canyon, Yellowhead Pass and the journey along the North Thompson River. The staff, transfers, scenery, socialising and food were incredible. Upon arrival, we were taken by taxi to the 'world class luxury' Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver, where our luggage had already been delivered. The next 10 days were quite unbelievable...

Read the second part of Roger's travel report here.

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