Last fall we had two rad guys from eastern Canada – Russell Mathalon and Justin Shemie – take one of our vans out on a trip that had me wishing we could have tagged along! There are lots of great ways to do a campervan roadtrip – but my personal favorite is to take my time – and work adventures/activities into the different areas I’m getting to know. I loved that Justin and Russell threw so many hikes and even some backcountry camping into their roadtrip – so I asked them to share a bit about it in case it could provide some adventure inspiration for others too! Photos and words are by them 🙂 Enjoy!!
Being two Canadians from Toronto and Montreal, we knew we had to experience the Rocky Mountains before we could say we’ve seen our country. We are both very outdoor-oriented people who love hiking, canoe camping, and skiing. From canoe trips in Algonquin park to hikes in the Saguenay Fjords, we love being outdoors and facing new challenges. So we were ready to up the ante with an epic fifteen day hiking-van trip in September 2020 with North Campervans.
We wanted to maximize ‘hike time’ and minimize ‘drive time’ on this trip since we only had fifteen days. So we planned a ton of hikes within a relatively small range between Canmore and Jasper.
Below are just a few of the amazing hikes we hit in September. If you are planning your own trip and want to challenge yourself, we definitely recommend you check these out!
Cirque Peak Via Helen Lake
Our first hike of the trip was Cirque Peak via Helen Lake, right off of Icefields Parkway. The hike begins at Bow lake where you hike up a trail for around 5 KM before emerging from the forest to stunning views of Banff National Park. The real difficulty begins after Helen Lake where you start the steep hike up to Cirque Peak. The challenge is definitely worth the reward at the top where you catch amazing views of the surrounding mountains and glacial lakes below, notably Peyto Lake
After making our way down from Cirque peak, we decided the best way to finish off the hike was to take a ‘polar plunge’ in Helen Lake. Jumping in glacial lakes during and after our hikes became somewhat of a theme on this trip, especially since showers at most campsites were closed due to COVID.
Larch Valley, Sentinel Pass, Mount Temple
The next day we set our sights on Mount Temple. The hike starts at Lake Moraine, where we started before sunrise. We started the hike with our headlights on, climbing the switchbacks, through the golden larches, to the top of Sentinel Pass. September is a truly amazing time to do this hike, as it is golden larch season and most of the snow has melted. Continuing towards Mount Temple was the most challenging part of the day. This involved a lot of scrambling and we often found ourselves off of the trail. Mount Temple is a great challenge so we definitely recommend taking it slow, doing it on a clear day and starting early.
After some amazing hikes in the Lake Louise/Yoho areas, we headed up the Icefields Parkway towards Tonquin Valley. After an easy hike up Wilcox Pass, we made our way to the Wabasso Campground to prepare for our four-day backpacking trip through Tonquin Valley. The hike is a point-to-point route, so we planned to park our van at the end point, and hitchhike to the trailhead. The walk to the trailhead would have been a 4.5 hour trek, in addition to the 7 hours of hiking from the trailhead to our first campsite. Luckily, a lovely guy named Jo went out of his way to pick us up and take us to the trailhead! Turns out Jo is a teacher in Jasper by day and an all-season outdoor guide by night (well weekend actually). He runs a company called High Sights Guiding and guides groups through backpacking and ski touring trips. He was nice enough to drive us all the way to the trailhead, while giving us tips about the trail. Jo was one of those amazing people we encountered on our trip who made our experience that much better and we hope to one day have him guide us through the Rockies.
On day one, we hiked from the Astoria Trailhead to Surprise Point. We encountered rain, mud, and some bugs. We often sank down to our knees in the mud, almost losing our boots on several occasions. All to say, day 1 tested us physically and mentally.
The reward of what was to come the next day was well worth the uncompromising conditions. We began our second day by taking a detour into the Eremite Valley. Here, we hoped to catch a glimpse of the endangered Woodland Caribou which are often seen around September as they find new areas to graze.
After catching this lucky shot, we grabbed our packs and began hiking over to Amethyst Point. While making our way over, we were lucky enough to walk by a family of four Caribou!
When we arrived at Amethyst, we were greeted by the Rampart Mountain Range with Amethyst lake at its base. With their jagged peaks and steep walls, the Ramparts are distinctly different from the other mountains we had seen on our trip.
After spending the night and following morning admiring the lake and mountains, we began hiking to the Portal Trailhead where our van was waiting for us. Overall, Tonquin Valley was an incredible backpacking trip. We would recommend it especially for September when the bugs aren’t too bad!
Lake O’Hara was at the top of our list for this trip but they definitely don’t make it easy to get there. To access Lake O’hara you need to take a shuttle down the 11 KM Lake O’Hara Fire Road, but due to COVID, the shuttle was not running, so our only option was to walk the fire road twice (to and from the van) in one day. We began our day at around 5 AM to ensure we had enough time to see everything.
It took us two hours to make our way down the fire road. Since we were only at Lake O’Hara for one day, we wanted to make the most of it. We decided to take the Wiwaxy Gap and the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa. After stopping there for lunch, we ran into a great couple from Calgary. They joined us for the rest of our journey, hiking up Mount Schaffer, down to Schaffer lake and to Lake McArthur before finally heading back to Lake O’Hara and back down the dreaded fire road together.
At around 20 KM of hiking and another 22 KM up and down the fire road, this was by far our biggest, and without a doubt, most surreal day. To quote our friend Aidan who spent a summer working there “I was there for four months last summer and this is some of the best condition hiking you could possibly get.” Safe to say we picked a good day, and we hope you get as lucky as we did!
To wrap up, here some tips we wanted to pass on from our experience:
- Use hiking poles!
- Start your big hikes early in the day!
- Use North Campervans!!!
Be safe and have fun!