Kamloops to Jasper

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008

So, we left early, again spurred on by our guidebook, which suggested that a visit to the Wells Gray Provincial Park would be a worthwhile way to spend some time en route to our next stop, Jasper.

When I say en-route, what I really mean is 120 mile round-trip detour to land us back almost where we started, with the bulk of the journey to Jasper still to face. As it turned out however, it was indeed more than worth it.

The guidebook had mentioned a ‘bakery’, just at the beginning of the Park access road in the town of Clearwater, so this was our dawn chorus target as we struck out on Highway 5 North from Kamloops.

The Flour Meadow Bakery opens at 5am, is housed in a log cabin somewhat hidden in the trees, and is quite obviously a hub for the community. Notices at the entrance advertised for pickers to pluck surplus produce from locals’ back yards for distribution to the needy and, inside, a team of the most friendly staff rustle up a wide selection of delights. We enjoyed wholesome breakfasts and coffee refills at 50c a cup, then ordered gourmet sandwiches for our foray into the park itself.

There are a number of attractions ahead, not least of which are the Helmcken Falls shown above, but the undoubted highlight of our trip was coming across a real live bear.

The weather was by now beautiful, we could catch our first glimpses of Rocky Mountain peaks and then, while quite alone on the dirt park road, the bear lumbered from the trees on the left and began a slow, laborious pad along the roadside. Well briefed, we held back and kept the recommended three bus lengths away. As it moved toward the roadway, it took a cautious look over its right shoulder as if to check for traffic and framed its snout perfectly for an out-of-the-sunroof photograph. It crossed, walked a little further along on the right and then disappeared back into the forest. What a treat.

Wells Gray presented us with waterfalls and lakes, a close-up of a beaver dam and soaring forests. It also teased us with the first tingles of what was to come in the Rockies proper and provided a most favourable venue for our Flour Meadow Bakery lunch.

So, with a little regret at the brevity of our visit, but high hopes for what we were yet to see, we headed back to Clearwater to rejoin the ‘5’ for our hurtle for Jasper. We made time, of course, to stop at the Bakery again for coffee and cake.

As the road heads first North and then East from Clearwater, you are certainly aware of increasing elevation – much before the shoulders of the landscape around you heave themselves up to become more craggy and looming. Ahead of us lay the highest of them all, Mount Robson, and so it was that late in the afternoon we arrived in Yellowhead Pass to see Robson framed majestically by surrounding mountainsides. The National Park Center was by this time closed, but the car park gives chance for a leg-stretch and photo opportunity, albeit slightly obscured by peak-hugging cloud on our visit.

Heading East from Yellowhead brings you to the Jasper National Park gate, where a permit must be purchased if you intend to stop and visit within the Park. Permits are valid until 4pm of your planned exit day and can be extended at National Park Offices within the Park. An Adult permit is currently CAD9.80.

Descending from the Pass, it is no great distance before the town of Jasper approaches, lying within a broad valley bound on all sides by towering peaks. Our home for the night would be the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the most famous (and salubrious) of all Jasper accommodations and built on the site of the first tourist lodgings in the area, a tented camp erected by the brothers Brewster in 1915.

Occupying a favoured position on the shores of Lac Beauvert, the hotel has been made permanent and developed into a highly-rated property of international repute. Which all rather made our experience a little disappointing. Think absent door staff, limited parking, upgrade to wholly unsuitable room (there were three in the bed, and the little one said – call yourself a 5-star hotel?), inability of hotel concessions to post charges to the main account expeditiously and a complete failure to apply the advertised rate rules (AMEX FHR) at checkout and you do question spending CAD600 for bed and two breakfasts (third person extra).

The upgraded accommodation – Lakeside Junior Suite – was well located and pleasantly furnished, with a reportedly very comfortable bed. The sofabed which had to be pressed into service was less so. The bathroom could be charitably described as pokey and the chalet-style construction was about as sound-proofed as a Millets tent. Signing up online to (free) membership of the Fairmont President’s Club before check in at least afforded complimentary (wired) internet access however.

We grabbed a quick snack in the lobby bar, served by friendly and helpful staff, before retiring just ahead of an avalanche of conference delegates arriving for a post-dinner expenses-fuelled booze-up.

The second check-out battle of the trip ensued after a very acceptable breakfast in the Meadows Restaurant, and we were untroubled once again by any door staff upon departure. Likewise, the much-advertised herds of calving elk which were allegedly a peril to all around, steadfastly refused to show a hoof.

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