Elk, Hot Springs and Forest Fires – Jasper National Park – Days 67-69

Children playing in the sand by a lake with forest fire in the background

Back on Jan 31st, I sat at my computer waiting for the reservations at Jasper National Park to open up. I had been quite fortuitous with other national park bookings and we were once again trying to get lucky. We were aiming high and trying to land a spot in one of the Otentiks at the newly refurbished Whistlers Campground (as Paigey really did not want us camping in our tent with the bears and the cold). Unfortunately on that day, the park hadn’t yet made a decision as to if they were opening the Otentiks to the public so I was somewhat disheartened. I reached out to Parks Canada directly to try and get some insight if they were close to a decision and was told to check back later. So each day thereafter I would log onto the site and see if those Otentiks were available to the public. I was multi-tasking on a work-related “zoom” call when I lucked out on a morning in April. With our spot secured, Jasper was firmly on the itinerary! After 40 years, I was finally going to get to visit Jasper!

I was the most excited as we left Vernon and started our long drive up Highway 5 in British Columbia. There was a decent amount of construction along the way as I believe work crews were working on the Trans Mountain Pipeline (sooo many construction sites). As we approached Mt. Robson (at the highway terminus), the temperature dropped and it got overcast. Due to the change in weather, we were unable to see one of the most photographed mountains in Canada. It wasn’t all that bad as we rounded the corner of the mountain and then we all started cheering as we passed the Welcome to Jasper National Park Sign.

Whistlers campground was probably the largest site we had stayed at on the trip. The sign at the gate said the park was full and there were RVs everywhere. With the grounds having been refurbished recently, the campground is much more “open” than others we camped at. The trees are going to take some time to grow in and create some privacy along the loop roads. But one of the benefits of that is we had clear views of the mountains and good sight lines when the kids biked around the loops. What that really means is that I could read a book in my chair, look up and keep an eye on my kids a couple hundred metres away.

Two girls riding bikes around Whistlers Campground
The “somewhat” abandoned Whistlers campground – very easy to keep an eye on the kids

With the campsite set up and our kids biked out, it was time for dinner in the town. Knowing we were in a major tourist town, on one of the busiest weekends of the year, we managed our expectations. Lineups were at least a half hour everywhere and we were famished. So we jumped into an empty and mediocre-at-best, Japanese restaurant. But they took our order right away and 15 minutes later dinner was served. Why share this story? Well exactly when the dinner was placed on the table, the power went out. And stayed out. No other food was served and we were fortunate to have cash to settle our bill. We went outside and the town was “dark” with restaurants emptying out. If we had gone anywhere else, it would have been no food for us that evening. We really do have horseshoes as the only store still open was an ice cream shop selling all their goods before they melted. I lucked out with a Nanaimo-flavoured cone, the children picked some of the worst flavours ever.

The day before departing to Jasper, we had heard on the radio about a wildfire that was burning about 10km north of the town. It was relatively small and the town and campgrounds weren’t in danger. Unfortunately, the fire had quadrupled in size since our last update and it had burned the transmission lines that carry power into the town. With our dinner cut short, we (and the town) were hopeful that power would come be restored that evening. With the town essentially shuttered for the evening, we headed back to our site. For some reason, the campground still had power so we thought nothing of the hiccup. We even lit a fire and enjoyed the campsite (yep, you could light a fire in the national park with a forest fire down the road). In fact, things were so “normal” the kids even went and attended the last nature show of the year at Jasper National Park about bats. White-nose syndrome is a thing! They even got their pictures with Parka the mascot who had been quite elusive up until now.

We woke up the next morning with the power out across the campground. The night was a cold one around 2 degrees and we felt it. Our electric heater in the Otentik didn’t run in the evening. We did schoolwork beside the fire and then made the “responsible” decision to find somewhere to fill our gas tank. The closest station was about an hour up the road in Hinton. With the power out and the town pretty much shut down, we needed gas, cash, groceries and a passport photo (a long story which we’ll tell later). So once Isabella had successfully recited the 3x tables, we drove the highway north to our “supply depot”.

Driving through the mountains is always exciting. Wildlife is everywhere, the lakes are turquoise, the drop-offs are terrifying and the mountains tower over. Want an even better experience? Have all the above but with helicopters flying overhead with water buckets! The highway hugged the fire that was burning on the west side. It was definitely the closest I’ve ever been to one and you could actually see trees catch fire and then erupt into flame. And during this time the CN Rail trains kept right on chugging along. Paige and I were mesmerized and we stopped more than once to watch the choppers lower buckets, fill up and then race off.

Two children doing bridges in parking lot at Jasper Train Station

With the loss of power and an ambiguous timeline to get it restored, tourists really did begin to empty out of the town and our campground. At the hot springs, there were only a handful of people to shake their heads as our kids alternated from the ice-cold plunge pool to the very warm thermal baths. The kids biked down the main campsite roads with no concern for traffic. And only their mother yelled at them when they did bridges in the middle of the parking lot.

Fortunately for us, the campgrounds were finally forced to shut down the day we were leaving. We packed up our gear, and bid goodbye to Whistlers with the Parks Canada Employees thanking us for our patience. We’ll always remember our forest fire time in Jasper.

Where we stayed (5 words or less):

By the numbers:

  • Locker tokens Mike Needed at the hot springs: 2 – even though one is required, he always locks it accidentally
  • Hours Julie had her mittens: 18 – it was cold so we bought them gloves, Julie forgot hers in the women’s washroom
  • Elk spotted in our campsite: 13
  • Cost of a passport photo at Shoppers Drug Mart: $24 (we chose a less expensive option)

Ciao for now


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