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Touring the Canadian Rockies in a Motorhome: Honeymoon Heaven or Hell?

As we planned our wedding in October 2017, we had always vowed to do something different and memorable for our honeymoon. Working in the travel industry and frequently helping brides and grooms to-be to plan their dream honeymoons to stunning 5-star beach destinations, the expectation from friends and family was high as they all wondered where a professional honeymoon planner would choose for her own trip of a lifetime.

Although the pull of those power-white Maldivian beaches and butler-service water villas was strong, my husband-to-be, who can’t sit still for longer than 15 minutes (and who’s fair Lancashire skin only turns from white to pink and back again in the sunshine) had other ideas.

Road trips have always appealed to us, as does adventuring in the great outdoors, so the snowy peaks, alpine forests, picture-perfect ski-resorts and iridescent lakes of The Rocky Mountains felt like it could be our dream destination. But having little (him) to zero (me) experience driving abroad (or camping for that matter), could taking on over 2000km in 8 days, in a 24ft, automatic RV, driving on the opposite side of the road, along mountainous passes, without phone or internet signal be a risky choice for starting married life? There was only one way to find out.

We decided to wait until the following June to take our trip, hoping to enjoy some warmer Canadian weather, but avoiding the crowds that come in July and August. We planned our route, starting with two nights in Vancouver (note: at least one night on arrival is essential as you aren’t allowed to pick up an RV hire straight from a trans-Atlantic flight, for obvious reasons) and then continuing to Whistler, Jasper, Banff, Lake Louise and then back to Vancouver via Golden and Kamloops. Our trip would end with a blow-out weekend in Vegas, celebrating both of our birthdays. With hiking boots and backpacks at the ready, we boarded our flight from London Heathrow to Vancouver.

Vancouver

The weather more than delivered for our first few days in Vancouver as we enjoyed exploring the city in balmy 28-degree heat. With little time, we purchased day-rider tickets for the water taxi, allowing us a morning exploring the city’s highlights by boat. Starting off at Granville Island, we filled our stomachs in the incredible food market, before making our way to the Olympic Park jetty, to wander along the pleasant promenade.

Granville Island Public Market, Vancouver

As luck would have it(!), we stumbled upon a perfectly-located Irish bar, Mahony and Sons, just as England’s first World Cup match began, so we stopped for a couple of drinks and enjoyed the spectacular city views from their fantastic veranda. As soon as full-time was called, I dragged my new husband out of the bar and back on the water taxi (Stamps Landing jetty) and took a quick hop across the river to trendy Yale Town, with its hipster breweries and independent coffee houses galore. Desperately wanting to explore Stanley Park, but knowing that we would never do the 400-hectare urban rainforest justice on foot, we hired bikes and started pedalling.

Stanley Park, Vancouver

The bike ride along Vancouver waterfront to Stanley Park was a highlight of our time in the city, cycling past stretches of beautiful beach (this city really has everything) and into the main park, where we took the outer peninsular cycle path past monuments, multi-million-dollar yachts docked in Coal Harbour and Lions Gate Bridge, before heading back to the city. If you only have a short time in Vancouver, this is the perfect way to take in as much as you can, and a guaranteed way to work up an appetite for dinner at one of Yaletown’s fashionable eateries (we ate at the very popular Earls Kitchen, and would highly recommend the tuna poke bowl!). Sad to be leaving so soon, but knowing we would be back for another night at the end of our Rocky Mountain adventure, we said goodbye-for-now and prepared to collect our motorhome.

Whistler

As previously mentioned, we aren’t the most experienced international drivers, and so pre-booked the smallest possible Fraserway RV for our trip. Arriving from the free shuttle service to the RV depot, we were told by an enthusiastic employee that they had upgraded us to a (seemingly gigantic) C-Medium vehicle, which would give us a full double bed at the back (rather than just the over-seating bed which, on reflection, would have been a bit of a squeeze with my 6ft5 travel companion!). Driving along stunning coastal roads, gradually into hillier, more mountainous alpine landscapes, we arrived at Whistler after around 2 hours. We stayed at the Riverside Resort Campsite, a small site around 2km outside Whistler Village, with a pedestrianised riverside path making for a very pleasant walk into town.

If our thoughts on Whistler in the Summer is anything to go on, you can only imagine how buzzing this resort becomes in Winter, when it’s submerged beneath metres of powder perfect snow. We made the most of our 2-day ticket for the impressive network of cable cars which took us up to various peaks surrounding the resort. The Peak2Peak, a car which runs between two mountains, was a particular favourite of ours, and from this crossing you can access Blackcomb Mountain’s 7th Heaven  Summit by a further chair lift. Although we were visiting in the middle of June, as we climbed higher across the mountain range, views became snowier, and by the time we reached 7th Heaven Summit, we were wishing we had brought more layers.

Peak2Peak Cable Car

Whistler town is alive with bars and restaurants (and cool outdoor clothing shops everywhere you turn), and given more time here we would have surely enjoyed some apres-ski nightlife (just without the skiing!). But, after a cosy first night in our motorhome (terrified of bears after a spotting at the campsite that morning!) we were on our way through the British Colombian countryside as we headed for Alberta.

Clearwater

The road from Whistler to Jasper is long, but incredibly beautiful, so we broke up the journey with a stop-over halfway. Based purely on guesswork we selected a town to aim for, heading for Clearwater, to the Dutch Lake RV & Campsite. Although we booked all of our campsites before we travelled (which was definitely necessary for the bigger, popular resorts in the National Parks), there were numerous campsites lining the highway to Jasper which we could have stayed at. Free camping isn’t legal in Canada, so you can’t camp at the side of the road, but facilities are plentiful and low cost, so you’ve never far away from somewhere to hook up your RV and rest your head for the night.

Dutch Lake Campsite Clearwater

The journey was long and at times a little hairy as we drove our giant vehicle around mountainous bends (well, Mr Footprint drove, I held on for dear life). But the views made it more than worthwhile, and by the time we arrived in Jasper National Park, we felt so surrounded by beauty that we were stopping every couple of miles for a view and a photo opportunity. There are so many points of interest including waterfalls, gorges and lookouts signposted along the way, with ample parking for motorhomes, so you can spend the day leisurely driving from point-to-point. And if you’re very lucky, you might see the magical sight of a wild bear, elk or coyote strolling along the side of the road.

Jasper

We arrived in Jasper in the early afternoon, and decided to try and beat the crowds with a late afternoon trip out to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. Around a 40-minute drive from Jasper town, we were advised by a campsite official that dusk is the best time for bear-spotting, so we enjoyed the drive as we tried enthusiastically to spot wildlife of any description. As it’s just one long road to the lake, you can tell where wildlife has been spotted as it’s the only time when vehicles grind to a halt and a queue is formed to take a photo of the totally non-perturbed animal in question.

Reaching Maligne Lake we consulted our map and prepared to hike to Spirit Island, a place we were desperate to see from the hundreds picture-perfect of photos we had seen in guides and brochures. However, on arrival at the lake, it quickly became apparent that the only way to reach the island is by an hour-and-a-half (rather pricey) boat trip, full of other tourists. Not exactly the peaceful, romantic stroll into nature that we had hoped for.

Nonetheless, we were there, and we weren’t leaving without catching a glimpse of Spirit Island, so we bought a ticket for the last voyage of the day and boarded a ship with around 50 other tourists. On reflection, it was actually a great tour which gave us much more insight into the glacier formations that surround the lake, and the reason for the lake’s striking turquoise colour. We arrived at Spirit Island and were pleased to discover there were multiple pathways to explore, and we weren’t queuing with the boat-full for a photo opportunity! We had 30 minutes to admire the astonishing beauty of the famous landmark – as the mist and rain set in, it became only more mystical and awe-inspiring – the colour of the water changing almost by the second.

Spirit Island, Lake Maligne

As we climbed back into the camper and began the drive back to Jasper, perhaps the most special moment of the entire trip happened. We spotted a wild black bear walking along the path beside us. It moved calmly and was not phased by the cars slowing down to marvel at it. We left absolutely thrilled, and were buzzing as we stopped at Maligne Gorge in the pouring rain on the way back to Jasper. If we saw nothing else on this trip, we felt we would leave content.

Jasper town offers plenty of amenities, but quickly learning that every bar, restaurant and shop had a complete power outage, we headed back to the camp site, which was also experiencing a power-cut, and we watched our very authentic woodland pitch grow darker and darker…all the time imagining the wildlife that was roaming around close by.  This was by far our favourite campsite of our journey, staying at the well-located Whistlers Campground.

Given more time in Jasper, we were advised that the beaches at Lake Annette, Lake Edith and Pyramid Lake are well worth a visit, but on a tight time schedule, we awoke early to take on the notorious Icefields Parkway which connects Jasper to Banff National Park.

Icefields Parkway

The word on the campsite was that the single road which connects Japer and Banff would be busy (with works to repair the worn roads causing big delays the previous day) so we hit the road early, ready to enjoy the views that awaited us. Be sure to top up your fuel before you leave Jasper. The 227km road has only one place to re-fuel, so you’ll be watching the gage nervously if your tank isn’t full!

We had planned to stop at Athabasca Glacier and the Icefields Parkway Discovery Centre, which features a range of excursions including buggy trips across the glaciers and the impressive Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway suspended above a stunning viewpoint. However, as we drove past the walkway (with no way of stopping) we quickly realised that all excursions were only accessible from the already busy discovery centre. The crowds and prices put us off, so instead of stopping here, we went in search of a more authentic adventure, further along the parkway.

Spotting Lake Peyto on the map (which was highlighted in our Lonely Planet guide as a recommended viewpoint) we made a stop here, and took the short hike up to the lookout. Turning the corner to catch the fist sight of the view, we were totally blown away with a huge expanse of shimmering bright turquoise lake which stretched out in front of us. Although the car park was full, there were fewer tourists and we were able to enjoy the sensational view, free of charge and without the crowds.

Twinning at Lake Peyto

We continued on, feeling smug at the gem that we had stumbled across and finally arrived at our next campsite in Banff town. Far less picturesque than the woodland resorts we had become accustomed to, our pitch as the massive Tunnel Mountain Village II Campsite was tarmacked with hundreds of motorhomes and caravans lining the man-made aisles of the site. However, with a free shuttle to and from Banff town and plenty of good-quality facilities (including a premium area of stunning woodland lodges that we would have loved to have experienced), we would highly recommend this campsite for anyone looking for a fuss-free base in Banff. We ventured out into the buzzing resort centre for a well-earned beer, and to stock up on supplies for the next few days.

Banff

At the heart of Banff National Park, and one of the most famous resorts in the Rockies, Banff is a hub for excursions of all kinds. The town is known for its hot springs, and if you are looking for luxury, a stay at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel would allow you to enjoy the springs from the comfort of a stunning 5* resort (just look for the gorgeous chateau-style building towering on the side of the resort’s hills – see photo below). If you’re on a budget, you can visit the main spring baths in the town, accessible by the hoppa bus. We paid a visit ourselves, and although we felt that the spring lacked a little authenticity (it did feel a little like a public swimming bath…we were expecting a more grotto-esque décor!)  the springs were lovely and we enjoyed floating around, soaking up some well-needed minerals!

The spectacular Fairmont Banff Springs, for a touch of luxury

Another attraction in Banff itself is its gondola experience, which takes you up the mountainside for stunning 360 degree views over Banff town and the surrounding national park. Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side, and as we stared hopefully at the ‘view cam’ in the gondola station, all we could see was cloud, and we felt that our short time in the resort would be better spent elsewhere.

We had been desperate to do some kind of river-based watersports whilst in the Rockies, so we decided to walk to Banff Canoe Club, to see what excursions were on offer. Hopping in a vacant canoe, we were given directions to Lake Vermillion by a very helpful employee, and off we went, joyfully paddling down the river in the light drizzle. This is an activity that we would highly recommend, and we laughed all the way round as we debated who was responsible for our dreadful balance and equally poor steering. Luckily, we made it back to the canoe club alive, and proceeded to enjoy an afternoon of bar hopping around town, slowly making our way back to the campsite for the evening, ready for a trip to our most anticipated destination the following day.

Exploring at Banff Canoe Club

Lake Louise

We were tipped off by the staff at Banff Canoe Club that Lake Louise would be busy, so we left smugly at 6am for the short 1-hour drive from Banff. On arrival, the carpark was already almost full and we wished we had set-off earlier, perhaps to catch the sunrise over the lake, which would have certainly been memorable. Despite the crowds we arrived to a picture-perfect view, as Lake Louise gave us a faultless mirror reflection of the mountain range around it. Truly one of the most spectacular views we have ever seen and we were pleased that we arrived before kayaks set sail across the lake, their ripples disturbing the glass-like stillness of the water and turning it a milkier jade hue.

Perfect reflections at Lake Louise

After a period of staring in awe and snapping our obligatory photos, we decided to leave to crowds behind and began the 5km upwards hike to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. As we set off, there were few fellow ramblers on our path, but as we descended a few hours later, hundreds of people were beginning the hike, so the consistent message for Lake Louise is…get there early to avoid crowds!

And what an amazing hike it was, wandering through woodlands, past waterfalls and streams before reaching the stunning summit of Lake Agnes, which offered an equally impressive mirror reflection of the lush green and snow-spattered mountains that surround it. This was originally the final destination of our hike, but inspired and energised by the ridiculously gorgeous views, we decided to follow signs up to Little Beehive, just a further few kilometres higher, where we enjoyed views all across Lake Louise, and the surrounding areas. We arrived at the look-out, the only people in sight, and enjoyed a few moments of solitude (disturbed only by pesky mosquitos…bring your spray!). As we headed back down, we spotted numerous Instagram husbands, capturing the perfect candid shot for their other halves who posed casually on rocks overlooking the lake (seriously, this place is an blogger’s dream). We descended feeling smug and serene as we passed revellers puffing and panting their way upwards past us.

Lake Agnes

After we had enjoyed the beauty of Lake Louise, we decided to make our way to Lake Moraine, just 11km away. However, although we had been early for Lake Louise, the road had by now been closed to Lake Moraine, which was already overflowing with visitors. Rather than spending our day queuing, we decided to go and find our campsite and explore Lake Louise town (aside from a pretty good information centre there really isn’t much there!) and return later that evening to have another attempt at seeing this famous Lake.

Luckily when we returned after 7pm we were (only just) allowed onto the road that leads to the lake. And it was SO worth the wait. The Valley of the Ten Peaks look down upon a brilliant blue lake which you cannot believe is even real. You can climb up a short path for the very best views… you might have to wait a few minutes to grab a lakeside spot to snap your photos, but the view is utterly awe-inspiring and we couldn’t believe that we almost missed the opportunity to see this beauty.

Lake Moraine

We spent the night in the fantastic Lake Louise Campground, reflecting on the incredible things we had seen that day, both in agreement that it had been by far our favourite day of our trip. The next day would bring our return drive to Vancouver, but not before my husband’s plan to throw me out of a plane in our first ever skydive came to fruition.

Golden and The Skydive

Having only agreed to the skydive in a moment of madness (and possibly hoping to call his bluff) as we woke on the day that it was due to take place, the looming dark clouds seemed like a godsend. As we started driving, we were plunged into darkness and rain pummelled down on the campervan, wind throwing us from side-to-side. There was no way we were jumping out of a plane, I had been saved. Pretending to be disappointed, I comforted a heartbroken Mr Footprint and assured him we would do the jump elsewhere, some other time.

We had already paid for the jump, so went to the Skydive Extreme Yeti base in Golden, BC to confirm it would be cancelled and to claim our refund. On arrival, the very helpful team welcomed us warmly, letting us know that their weather radar was following the storm, and it would be past us in less than an hour. The jump was on. HELP.

Signing my life away on a terrifying form of consent (which pretty much explained exactly why humans shouldn’t jump out of planes and the various reasons why our parachutes may fail) I was feeling a little anxious to say the least as we were kitted-up and talked through the safety procedures. We bundled into a small tinny aircraft, strapped to two very chilled-out instructors who, by their own state of utter calm and indifference could have been going to collect the morning paper.

As the plane climbed, I avoided looking out of the window, knowing that pretty soon, I’d be plummeting back down towards earth. They opened the plane doors to a rush of ice-cold air, and the beautiful expanse of British Colombian countryside below. It was too late to turn back, and I put myself in the hands of my instructor who gently tipped us out of the plane and into a cloud below, filming my terrified, rippling face the entire way down.

 

 

And yes, I would definitely do it again (I’m such a cliche!).  Post-jump, with the adrenalin still pumping and feeling like we could do anything, we excitedly continued our drive to Vancouver, stopping at the well-equipped Kamloops RV Park en-route, all the while comparing notes about our experience as if we were well-versed sky-diving pros.

Vancouver Round 2

The next morning, after a final scenic drive and dropping the RV back at the depot, we arrived ready for one more day in Vancouver – our last bit of cool Canadian culture before swapping our lush natural surroundings for the bright lights and party culture of fabulous Las Vegas, and the vast contrast of the supremely decadent Bellagio hotel…. well, you’ve got to have a little luxury on your honeymoon!

We enjoyed a final day of strolling from restaurant, to bar, to coffee shop, to hipster store, just enjoying the city and acclimatising to a slower pace after a whirlwind week exploring the Rockies.

We’d had the best time of our lives, and if we could do it all again, the only thing we would change is to give ourselves a little more time at each destination. We felt we really only scraped the surface of each place we visited, and we plan to return and spend time off the beaten track, exploring the lesser known hikes and trails and getting to know this beautiful region a little better.

Our final sunrise in Vancouver before we continued on to LAS VEGAS

So, is this the honeymoon for you?

If you’re looking for something relaxing, indulgent and luxurious, touring in a motorhome might not be your idea of honeymoon heaven. That said, this same route can certainly be done with some upgrades, staying for example in beautiful 5* hotels (check out the Fairmont resorts for the epitome of Rocky Mountain luxury hospitality) and there is really nothing more romantic than the stunning landscapes you’ll see on this trip.

But, if you’re wanting something truly memorable, which requires a bit of teamwork (working out how to empty the sewage tank, navigating treacherous roads, and enjoying each other’s company without TV or internet) then I can whole-heartedly recommend this trip as the very best start (and indeed, the best test) to any marriage.

To discuss your own Rocky Mountain adventure, speak to Mia on 0161 772 0149, or email mia@footprinttravel.co.uk

 

About the Author
Mia is our resident honeymoon expert. As a newly-wed herself, she loves to help brides and grooms to-be to create their dream getaway, from island hopping in Bali to African safaris, and everything in between. Favourite destination: Cambodia Next destination: Canadian Rockies