Back Into The Mountains (Day 16)
Fort St. John > Dawson Creek > Grand Prairie > Grand Cache > Jasper
Drive Quality: 2/10 (until Jasper)
Road Quality: 7/10
Route: Alaskan Highway > Highway 2 > Highway 43 > Highway 40 > Highway 16
Wildlife Spotted: The human animal
There is no sugar-coating it. The days of stunning, yawning views are paid for this day. It is a long, boring, and frustrating drive, with little to say about it. The highway widens. It is filled with jacked up trucks, semis, haulers, and endless construction. Along the roadways, the earth is split open and pillaged. We are not innocent. We are running on the oil this area is drawing from the Earth. But it is drab to see it; it hurts to have ringing ears from truck horns and screeching brakes, hurts to breathe the smog and witness the fires burning. We put headphones on, cranked podcasts up, and put our heads down to pass through these hours of oil fields, farmlands, and flatlands as quickly as possible.
We stopped quickly for gas in Dawson Creek, then again in Grand Prairie. Grand Prairie is a strip-mall city, with food and beverage options at every stoplight. We grabbed a quick bite, then throttled out to Grand Cache. We were exhausted when we arrived so we stopped and sat on picnic tables to eat popsicles and turn our faces up to the sun. We continued South until finally, finally, the mountains again heaved themselves upwards from the Earth.
The drive into Jasper felt like a giant sigh of relief. Each peak in the park offered its individual personality, wildlife again became commonplace. We drove along lakes, watching a few travelers wading knee-high in turquoise water set against the backdrop of the red and grey cliffs.
We did not plan Jasper well. We rolled into town ignorant that it was a long weekend. The streets and restaurants were packed with families and tour groups and young people. We sat at a bar and scrolled through our phones, crossing our fingers that we’d find accommodations, though there were none. The bartender offered that some of the overflow campgrounds may still have spots, but with the sun close to setting, we were doubtful. We had almost resigned to continuing South as long as possible when luck struck. A campground we had left a message with had a cancellation. If we were willing to turn back and drive 45 minutes North to the outer rim of the park, we had a spot.
We did this, driving north to Folding Mountain Brewery, which is directly next to a campground. Though we were slightly perturbed about backtracking after a long day, the stunning views en route back North more than made up for it. The sun set as we throttled forward, and the mountains lit up in an eruption of purple and gold and pink. Most travelers were off of the highway by then, so we cruised freely around each bend, blown away by the beauty around us. This 45 minutes was perhaps the most stunning of all.
Once we arrived, we ditched our things and ran over to the brewery for a pint and a snack. This ended up being a great stop, with a great seasonal tap list and a fresh menu. We would highly recommend staying here before your drive through the park. The campground itself is well equipped and comfortable. We snuggled back into our tent that night bellies full and sprits high from again shaking hands with the mountains.
Note: Book ahead to stay in Jasper National Park. Though overflow campgrounds did have some availability, most all of the usual provincial campsites between Jasper and Banff are closed. Unless you are willing to cross your fingers and keep driving for several hours from here, plan ahead and book accordingly (lesson learned!).
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