Hiking in Jasper National Park

After backpacking in Banff National Park and hiking to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, we set out for Jasper National Park. Jasper was more remote than Banff, and we had more nature encounters throughout the trip.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetThis sunset happened during our first night in Jasper. We all ran up to the balcony of our chalet to watch it. Our dad ran downstairs to grab his camera and by the time he was back up… not even 60 seconds later!… the sunset was over. Luckily, my sister caught this photo.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetThere were a lot of unique water experiences in the parks of Alberta, Canada. On our first day of hiking in Jasper, we visited the Miette hot springs! The source of the springs steamed hot and stinky sulphur, but the actual lounging area wasn’t stinky at all. We especially had fun running from the 100 degree waters and jumping in the ICE cold mini-pool nearby. The next day we hiked the Valley of Five Lakes, the fifth of which is featured above. We hike the trail backwards, starting at lake 5 where we ate lunch and soaked in the views before hiking out. Each lake was a vivid and distinct shade of blue or green.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetContinuing with the tour of spectacular water attractions, we visited the Sunwapta and Athabasca waterfalls the next day. Standing near water that is moving with such force is pretty terrifying. There were effective signs posted all around warning of people who were overconfident and climbed past the fences, only to fall in.

Processed with VSCO with m3 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetThe next day was our father-daughter hike. My dad, sister, and I all drove to a beautiful and isolated section of the park, planning to take a strenuous four hour hike. It took us an hour to hike to the trailhead, where a sign was posted announcing the closure of this trail due to the spotting of a mother bear and her newly born cub. You didn’t have to tell us twice… we’ve all seen The Revenant. After hiking another hour back to the parking area, we decided on a shorter two hour hike nearby, where we visited a secluded lake that was home to a beautiful swimming loon. The water was so clear that you could see the loon through the water as he torpedoed under in search of fish.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetWe also visited this insanely mirrored lake where from a distance it looked as if people were walking on water. This lake was massive, but at no point was it ever more than ankle-deep. Some bold people had braved the frigid waters and waded across the entire lake!

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetTo break up the 6 hour drive back to Calgary, we stopped halfway to stretch our legs and hike up to a glacier. It was wild to see the markers of where the glacier used to reach before melting, and so sad to see how much was gone. This glacier won’t be there for many more years.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with m3 presetWhen we got back, we did a bit of urban backpacking to get from the airport to the south side of Chicago. We were quite a sight at our bus stop downtown!

Be sure to read about our backpacking trip while we were in Banff National Park, and the amazing Teahouse Hike we took!


More Nature Adventures:
Hiking advice from my brother and sister
What we packed
What we read
What you should read

Backpacking in Banff National Park

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Last week, my family vacationed in Alberta, Canada. I would like to walk you through our travels in this photo-journey!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy siblings and I flew out 4 days earlier than the rest of the family for our second annual backpacking trip. We stayed in the Lake Louise Village of Banff National Park. The photos above are of the famous turquoise lake herself.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetWe got a late start on our backpacking trip, and after hiking up a highway for hours and hitchhiking the same distance in 15 minutes, we finally made it to the trailhead. Our first hour was spent on lunch and packing up to the halfway hut, where we hid from the sun and mosquitos and accidentally took a nap.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWhen we were finally loaded up and ready for the next 4 hours of our hike, it was late afternoon and we were anticipating some hiking in the dark. (Although, as we learned, the sun doesn’t set until 10 p.m. up there!) Just as we set out on the trail, it started raining, and more concerning, it started lightning.  There had recently been wildfires in the area, and there was a strong fire risk at the time. Feeling uneasy about our late start and the storm, we regrouped and decided to camp at the site near the halfway hut. Even though it was not the site we had reserved, we felt much safer and there ended up being extra tent sites there.

Processed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetThe campsite we stayed at was a short hike away from Hidden Lake, and as advised by other backpackers, we set up our tent and then hiked our dinner out over a kilometer to cook and eat bug-free in the tranquil space by the lake. It was a beautiful spot that felt like a secret, and the bear tracks on the trail meant that we were the only people crazy enough to head out there. Our only regret was not taking our sleeping clothes and blankets, because it was frigid and very windy.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetThe next day, determined not to repeat the day before, we were out on the trail by 8 a.m.. My patient brother and sister stopped at least 5 times so that I could adjust my layers. It was too cold to wear shorts, but too hot to wear sweatpants. We were on sheer and windy mountainsides, and I finally found the right combination of long and thin layers. The rest of the morning was spent in the etherial beauty of the Skoki valley. The meadow between the mountains was in the full bloom of alpine spring.

Processed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with f2 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with  presetMuch to the surprise of last night’s campers, we arrived at Baker Lake campground by noon! We had lunch and a nap, then took a tip from some other early morning hikers and wandered down the path less traveled in search of two small waterfalls.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetThe hikers told us that we would first see a small waterfall. Even though it was beautiful, they insisted that it is quite small and unimpressive compared to our actual destination. Just past it, there would be much larger falls.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetPhotos don’t capture the sheer scale of what we encountered. This photo of Kendra and Thor shows them right next to the falls, which are blocked by the boulders they are standing on. You can see how far up we are, standing where the river turns to waterfall.

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Processed with VSCO with  presetWe spent the rest of the day relaxing. We took in the view of Baker Lake, made dinner, and played cards. We should have packed a book of card games, because basically all we could remember how to play was Blackjack and Go Fish.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetWe were out even earlier for our return hike the last day, leaving by 7 and stopping for second breakfast and coffee by 9 or 10.

Processed with VSCO with  presetThe last part of our hike was down an access road, which kind of a crappy ending to backcountry camping deep in the park, far from roads. We were fortunate to catch a ride and hitchhike again, which saved us hours skidding down gravel roads. Our Canadian driver was listening to a public radio program about wolves in Indiana and drove us all the way to our campsite in the park.

Processed with VSCO with f2 presetWe each made ourselves an easy feast. Thor bought a bag of raw vegetables and a half-baked baguette with a big hunk of cheese. Kendra has rosemary crackers with cheddar. I learned you can stick a can of chili right on the pocket stove and it heats through faster than a microwave! After a shower and an evening walk along the river, we slept through a night of rainstorms full and happy.

This is just the first 4 days of an 11 day trip! On day 5, we took an amazing hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, and I will share that story tomorrow. Following that, I will share our adventures from Jasper National Park, where we spent the next 5 days of our trip. There we visited hot springs and met families of elk!

Until then, be sure to read hiking advice from my brother and sister, see what we packed, what we read, and what you should read.



The Most Relevant Book

Have you heard people talking about the Hillbilly ElegyThe Economist says, “You will not read a more important book about America this year.” It is being recommended to help understand our nation’s divide and the recent political climate, and is being made into a movie!

I am currently reading the book, even though I am familiar with the communities described by the author, J.D. Vance. I have been surprised by two things while reading this: One, I know these people and scenarios. They are familiar. I can put names to the certain characters that appear in each scenario. I know a firey grandparent that believes any kind of personal education is the way to self-betterment, who also rails against the system that over-educates and under-utilizes young people. I can think of a number of families wrecked by alcohol and normalization of violence. I have had many friends who were raised by grandparents because their mom had them when she was somewhere between 15-22 and just wasn’t ready, and having a kid made it harder to be ready. All of these social factors impact education and job viability.

The social/working structure described in the Midwestern towns in this book reflects the ones I have observed in every Indiana town I have lived in. The author calls the region of these trends the “hillbilly highway” and describes the migration of “hill people” from… well, the hills of Appalachia to the growing suburban hubs of the Midwest. These hubs centered around steel factories and coal mines. My own family has always had at least one foot in the oil industry in some way, and my dad still works for an oil company. These hubs also started to close as production demand and value decreased. My dad was laid off at a company during the recession, and I can think of two other very close friends who also watched their dads deal with a career ending abruptly as a result of the changing economy. These lifestyle changes impact the entire household, and when someone loses a job and benefits and the regularity of a full time work schedule, there is definitely a disphoria that affects the individual who has lost that consistency.

I would like to clarify that I have never thought of the people I love and grew up with here in the midwest as hill people, but the hill people of J.D. Vance’s world draw many parallels with the people I love here in the rural Midwest, and considering all of these class factors helps to explain the world views of my family that, as a young, urban, liberal woman I have often struggled to accept.

I have been thinking a lot about the effect of growing up in a rural place (often conservative environments) and moving to an urban center, especially since that is exactly what I have done, but also because many people and art forms that are important to me have followed a similar trajectory. For example, at a festival I participated in last week, I was chatting with two friends and top-notch musicians about their background, and they revealed that each of them grew up in small, conservative towns. They are not angry at their red towns or bitter about their upbringing. They love and respect it, even as young men currently living in large metropolitan areas. They can identify those people that they love, even the ones who come off as being on “the wrong side.” They see and understand what that side is and why it exists, and what factors shaped those views. It helps that they both have anthropological perspectives attached to their view of these communities. Maybe that is the important thing, anyway, to just step back and take it all in, instead of passing broad judgements about who is right and wrong in an argument or debate. It also helps that their beloved art form, folk music, is a tradition born out of traditional roots and thriving in urban epicenters. In a way, genres like folk and blues thrive because they have followed the same trajectory that we as young rural transplants have made.

On the flip side, I have close friends who are endlessly furious at our little state of Indiana for voting the “wrong” way, introducing ludicrous bills restricting the rights of people who don’t look like the majority and the state leaders. I listen to their bitterness inactively, because I have spent years being angry and fighting and railing against my family, but I know that force and aggression don’t change minds, and I can finally see that these ideologies are not mindless acts of hate. I have seen my family change their minds- really, no one should be completely and forever stuck in their current point of view, and people who are informed and take note of their current reality will make informed decisions regarding their reality. For example, my mother recently evolved her view regarding education and access to resources surrounding birth control. She is religious, but is also the mother of two daughters. She has seen that even in a community that is very religious, many women become pregnant at a young age and don’t have an opportunity to become independent or manage their own life and income. She also knows that finally, for the first time, those unplanned pregnancies are decreasing, and women have control over the trajectory of their life. So she may not ethically agree with some of the more controversial aspects regarding access to birth control, but she believes that institutes like Planned Parenthood are providing a necessary service to women, and providing them with education at the very least. This evolution of opinion didn’t happen because I was angry and kept fighting with my family. These changes of opinion (and I have had many of my own) happen from a careful observation of how our society functions, and from noticing what works and what doesn’t.

This awareness of other people’s world views often manifests itself in the arts. Musicians exploring these themes in their own lives and work will often explore these elements using folk traditions. One example of this is “Michael Conway,” a song he written about the exploitation of rural people in need of work and money. As much as this strikes us as a white, blue-color, “hill people” problem, this affected different migrations in American history, and this song follows the life of an Irish-American immigrant name Michael Conway. The song calls the copper mining community of Butte, Montana the, “richest hell on Earth,” referencing a new perceived high standard of living, which was traded by unknowingly forfeiting good health and long life.



My next read? The Unsettlers, seemingly related, maybe even telling the reverse story. Why are the urbanites jumping off the grid?

Related: Dystopian Novels that Warned You this Was Coming

Related: Summer Re-Reads