Canadian Rockies by Suzuki Savage 650 (June 1998)
(c) 1998 Bruce Clarke
The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while touring the
Canadian Rockies on my 1997 Suzuki Savage LS-650 motorcycle. I rode from
Victoria, BC to Banff, Alberta, and then rode the Icefield Parkway north to
Jasper, Alberta, before returning to Victoria. The total distance travelled was
2055 kilometres (1233 miles) by motorcycle.
This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. I
have recorded my notes in Canadian dollars and metric measurements. At the time
of this trip, $1 US = $1.47 CND. 100 kilometres = 60 miles; 1 meter = 3 feet; 0
Celsius = 32 F; 20 C = 70 F; 38 C = 100 Fahrenheit.
I have typed up my notes exactly as I first wrote them. Many of my notes
were written late at night by flashlight, so some entries were very terse or
used poor grammar.
Sun., June 7, 1998:
(Victoria, BC -> Kamloops, BC: 400 KM)
I woke up early, eager to start riding. I had packed my luggage onto my
Suzuki Savage 650 the night before so I was on the road by 6 AM. I rode the short
hop to the ferry terminal underneath blue skies and 16 C temperatures - very
Being a Sunday morning the ferry was almost empty. Also onboard was a
couple heading over to Vancouver for just one day, with the girlfriend piloting
their Honda CM400 Automatic (the Honda had a lovely gloss black spray bomb
paint job). They told me that they had rode a loop through Jasper and Banff two
summers back and they said it was terrific. They warned me that there were long
stretches of road with no fuel stops.
A fellow with a Kawasaki Concours was also on the ferry, planning to
ride 800 miles north to Terrace. This guy seemed like a bit of a flake to me:
he kept warning me that the Rockies area usually has bad weather this time of
year (not true according to my research). It was as if he was trying to scare
me out of riding to Banff. I started to get a bit annoyed and finally pulled a
copy of the newspaper weather forecast out of my saddlebags to show him that
Banff was indeed getting good weather.
Once on the mainland I found traffic to be fairly light; the weather was
very good and I reached the town of Langley quickly. I got onto the
Trans-Canada Highway and had a pleasant sunny ride to Hope. In Hope the guy on
the Concours followed me into town while I gassed up. He told me he was
wondering if my Savage had enough range to get through the Coquihalla pass, a
distance of 120 KM with no fuel stops. My 650 gets about 25 KM to the litre
(about 60 mpg) on the open road so I told Mr. Concours I'd have no problem.
As I rode the Savage up into the Coquihalla the landscape started to get
barren and rocky. The temperature dropped to about 8 C. This lasted a short
distance and then the highway dropped into the Nicola valley, where I once
again had nice warm sunny temperatures.
The Coquihalla is not exciting as a road; it's mostly straight with no
major curves, but at least it has a reasonably fast speed limit of 110 KPH. There
is a toll booth that charges $5 for a motorcycle. I thought the asphalt was
rather bumpy and rough in many places. There were a couple of times when I got
quite a jolt going over a frost heave bump. The Scenery was actually
interesting in spots: mountains and forests, with patches of snow still on some
hilltops. I see a few deer on the roadside.
I notice a lot of Harleys, Gold Wings and BMWs out for a ride. I stopped
in the small town of Merritt for fuel and a ham sandwich. I see a rider of a
purple Suzuki Intruder 800 grimacing with disgust as he is trapped waiting for
a couple of huge RVs take their time turning in front of him.
From Merritt to Kamloops the road was uneventful. The Coquihalla highway
has two lanes each direction, with a third slow lane for all uphill climbs. This
made it very easy to dispatch all the slow RVS and semis. I also noticed a
couple of RCMP radar traps.
I reach Kamloops about 2 PM. After topping up my gas I ask for
directions to a nice campground. For $15 I can pitch my tent at a very nice
place (Knutsford) that has a small burbling creek.
This is my first lengthy ride ( >2 hours) on the Suzuki. It has done
well: I find the seating position is very comfortable for me. The only
complaint I have is that the engine crankcase gets so hot that my foot was
burnt even through the thick leather heel of my boot, leaving a blister on my
left foot. The bike is running fine and the oil level is good.
As I didn't feel like riding back into town for food, I went to the
small campground 'store' and bought a cold can of pork & beans along with a
large bottle of Gatorade. Mmm, delicious and nutritious.
The Knutsford campground is peaceful and quiet; it's in a small gully
and is full of tall grasses and birch trees. The wind is rustling the leaves. The
temperature is 22 C and the sun feels very warm. The campground has 100 sites
but there's only about 20 in use. The kids are still in school so most of the
campers are either retirees or Europeans touring on vacation in RVs.
I've been thinking how strange it is that so many people in this world
never get to experience the simple pleasure of sitting in the warm sun having a
relaxing holiday. I often complain about life's difficulties but at least I
have enough control over my own life that a few weeks a year I can indulge
myself with a vacation away from the stresses of work. So few folks in this
world have that.
I was originally going to go to Jasper via Wells Gray Provincial Park
but I've changed my mind. Banff is supposedly the "crown jewel" of
Canada's parks. I think I'll ride to Lake Louise first. I can camp there for
two nights and do a short day trip to Banff. If Banff is really spectacular I
can stay longer and skip Jasper. If it's not great I'll then ride up the
Icefield Parkway to Jasper before heading back to Kamloops.
Mon., June 8, 1998:
(Kamloops, BC -> Lake Louise, AB: 450 KM)
I was woken up at 4:30 AM by the sound of a diesel RV leaving the
campground - grr. It was already starting to get light out so I got up at 5:30
and packed. The temperature had dropped overnight to about 8 C. I left the
hills of Kamloops on the Trans-Canada. For the most part the traffic was light.
This section of highway is a single lane in each direction with some passing
lanes on uphill climbs. The speed limit was 90 KPH. The shoulder is paved and
almost as wide as a lane in most places, so I found that slower drivers were
pretty good about pulling over to let me by. A couple of times I did encounter
a dummy in an RV who would make no effort to allow easy passing.
The roadside was actually very pretty; lots of craggy mountains, wooded
hills, rivers and lakes. In Salmon Arm I bought gasoline and had a breakfast at
McDonald's. I was back on the road soon and found the scenery and riding to be
pleasant. The temperature was about 18 C and sunny. I did have to stop for
about ten minutes just west of Sicamous for a construction zone.
In Revelstoke I stopped for a coffee. The store had a Harley Fat Boy
parked out front being sold for a Rotary Club raffle. I was going to buy a
ticket but they were $20 each. Yikes! When it comes to Harleys even the frigging
raffle tickets are expensive!
East of Golden I saw a big horn sheep on the roadside. As I rode through
Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park. At one point there was an
absolutely spectacular view of Rogers Pass, well worth stopping to take photos.
As I cross the border into Alberta I note that I have to set my watch one time
zone ahead; this means sunrise will be at 5 AM and sunset at 10 PM.
Finally I ride the LS-650 into Lake Louise village. While asking for
directions to the campground I meet three people who have rode up here from
Texas on a Harley Dyna Glide and a BMW R100-GS. I find the campground and
village to be similar in style to Curry Village in California's Yosemite Park.
After pitching a tent ($14 CND per night plus $5 park fee) I hop on my
Suzuki and ride the 15 KM to Moraine Lake. The speed limit on this road was
only 60 KPH and I can see why - I came around corner and was startled by a deer
on the roadside. Its brown fur disguised it until I was practically on top of
If you've ever seen a Canadian $20 bill that was printed in the 1970s or
1980s, there's an engraving of a lake backdropped by several mountains cover
with snow: that's Moraine Lake. The lakeside walk is easy and offers great
views. At the far end of the lake a river of water melting from the glaciers
feeds the lake. I grab a bowl of potato soup at the cafeteria and then ride the
650 over to Lake Louise.
The ride is about 15 KM. The railway runs through the valley below. In
days of old holidayers would get out at the valley train station, then catch a
tramline to the Lake Louise Chateau owned by CP. Now the Chateau offers easy
access to some local ski slopes that are supposed to be very good. I walked
along the shore of the bright emerald lake. At the far end of the Chateau
there's brown silty water running into the lake from the glacier.
By this time I was a bit tired and headed back to my camp. In the Lake
Louise Chateau parking lot I saw two more Harleys from Washington state and two
old Honda CB900s from Colorado. I didn't see the owners.
Back in the Village I grabbed a tasty ice cream float and snapped some
more photos of the Bow River. There were a few mosquitoes hanging around. Tomorrow
I plan to ride to Banff in the morning and return to Lake Louise in the
Tue., June 9, 1998:
(Lake Louise, AB -> Banff, AB and back: 130 KM)
I woke at 5:30 AM not from noisy neighbours but from cold: I was
shivering. I curled up into a ball and pulled my leather jacket over my
shopping bag for extra warmth. I got up my and pulled on my jacket and clothes,
then walked to the shopping mart. There was a coffee shop open already so I
bought a warm cup of java. I noted that the temperature was +2 C. My sleeping
bag is rated to 0 C but even with a foam pad between me and the ground I still
cooled off overnight. I get on my motorcycle and start riding to Banff, about
60 KM east of Lake Louise. It's cold but sunny.
I notice that the Trans-Canada is fenced on both sides to prevent wild
animals from crossing the highway. Every kilometre or so there's a tunnel under
the roadway to allow wildlife to walk past safely. There's also an occasional
overpass for animals such as wolves or cougars that are wary of the enclosure
of the underpasses.
I reach Banff. Most of the parking lots are only three hours but I find
one lot good for 12 hours behind the Mount Royal Hotel. I lock up my Savage and
helmet, then go to the visitor centre. I figure that rather than me trying to
find my way around town I would pay for a half day bus tour. I book a tour at
the information centre and let the bus carry me to the various highlights of
the town. It is sunny and has warmed up to 18 C. We visit the Cave & Basin
Hot Springs, the Bow Falls, the Hoodoo rock forms, and various scenic views.
All through town were elks eating at people's lawns. I then return to
the town centre. Although I like the scenic surroundings I don't really enjoy
Banff's kitschy book and gift shops. I found a Home Hardware store and bought a
flannel camp blanket for $5. I then mail some postcards and eat some lunch. The cloying
commercialism starts to get to me - there are too many folks wearing sweaters
bearing trendy corporate logos. Half of Banff's population seems to consist of
young skateboarders and college students working here for the summer. I think
Banff might be a good base to explore the many local trails and lakes but I
decide that I want to head back to the much less hectic Lake Louise.
I've heard many people
say they prefer the North Rim of the Grand Canyon over the South Rim as it's
less busy and commercialised. I would say that Lake Louise compares very
favourably to the North Rim, but Banff is far more commercial than the Grand
Canyon's South Rim.
As I leave Banff, a few
drops of rain start falling. Instead of taking the Trans-Canada back to the
campground I ride a parallel road called the Bow Valley Parkway. This route is
closed at night, and during day has a speed limit of only 60 KPH. The idea is
to allow cars to travel at slow speed to observe wild animals without
interfering with the flow of traffic on the Trans-Canada.
Almost immediately I see
several elk on the roadside. The rain starts to pick up, just enough to dampen
the ground. I reach Johnston's Canyon, a very narrow rocky gorge that the Bow
River rushes through. The trail is very easy (wheelchair accessible) and gives
a magnificent view of the Bow River and a waterfall. In the parking lot I see
the two Washington Harleys I saw yesterday, and I see three litre-size
sportbikes going by on the Parkway towards Banff.
By now the light rain has
stopped (hooray). I hit a couple of large bumps in the road, enough to bounce
right off the pavement. As I get close to Lake Louise I see several cars
stopped, completely blocking the entire roadway. I stay a good 75 metres back
and see a _huge_ black bear sitting on his rear end next to the roadway,
nonchalantly eating some bushes. Some of the car drivers are not very smart;
one mini-van stopped and the whole family got out to take a look, getting to
within five metres of the bear to take pictures. I guess they don't realise
that a black bear can run 40 MPH for short distances and has claws and teeth
more than an inch long. Finally a couple of the cars move out of the way and I
have room to ride by. I have room to ride past. I have to pass within a few
metres of the bear and feel a tad uncomfortable.
As I reach Lake Louise
the sun is showing again and temperatures are about 17 C. I get a sandwich and
check out the visitor's centre. The weather is decent but there's a bit of a
cool breeze blowing. The centre states that the Icefield Parkway is in good
shape, so tomorrow I'll ride north to Jasper, about 230 KM. Normally this would
only take two or three hours but apparently there are many scenic viewpoints to
check out; I've been told that many drivers take all day to cover the Icefield
About 7 PM I go walking
along the Bow River. There's a very pretty path along the river. I also visit
the historic old Lake Louise train station (now a restaurant).
Wed., June 10,
(Lake Louise, AB ->
Jasper, AB: 230 KM)
I slept well until 5:30
AM. The extra camp blanket I bought helped a lot to keep me warm. An occasional
light shower through the night would wake me briefly before I fell back asleep.
I got up and packed. As I left Lake Louise the weather was cloudy and 5 C. I
started north on the Icefield Parkway. On both sides were thick forests
backdropped by tall mountains. I would see patches of blue sky to both the far
west and far east, but unfortunately the rain started falling where I just
happened to be. I wave at three BMW riders heading south, and notice they are
not wearing rain gear - a good sign for the road ahead?
I start to see some
glaciers. About 35 KM north of Lake Louise I stopped at the Crowfoot Glacier.
It used to look like the three toes of a crow's foot, but the lowest 'toe' has
melted away in the last century. (All the glaciers in this area are melting
back at high rates, possibly because of global warming.)
A few KM further I turn
left to Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier. From the top of a hill I can see that the
end of Peyto Lake near the glacier is brown with silt, but further away the
heavy silt has settled out, leaving the other end of the lake bright blue with
The rain falls heavily
for the next 35 KM but as I reach the Saskatchewan River Crossing the sun
starts shining. A sign warns me that there are no more fuel stops between here
and Jasper - about 153 KM.
I pull off my rain gear
and start riding through the wide river valley of the Saskatchewan. The parkway
climbs up above the treeline into the glaciers. It's very sunny and
crossing from Banff National Park into Jasper National Park, you encounter the
Columbia Icefield Centre. There's an educational centre that offers 4WD
"ice bus" tours onto the Athabasca glacier. I decided to have
breakfast in the dining room that faces out towards the magnificent view of the
I then hop back on my
Savage and ride north. The road is very bumpy in sections due to frost heave. I
have to keep my speed below 90 KPH or so or the Suzuki gets bounced right off
the pavement!. The road drops in elevation and I'm soon riding next to the
Sunwapta river. At one place I see three shaggy white mountain goats. As I get
further on, the snow-capped mountains and glaciers start to change to green
hills and forests. I begin to see many elk grazing on the road's shoulder.
As I get close to Jasper,
I pull into the Athabasca Falls area. I see a 23 meter tall waterfall in a
narrow quartz gorge. The park has several platforms offering great views of the
About 1 PM I ride the
LS-650 into the town of Jasper. Although I only rode 230 KM it feels like much
more because of all the photo stops. Just as I roll up to a gas pump, the
engine starts to strain, meaning it needs to be turned onto the reserve fuel.
I top up the tank and get
a campsite at Whistlers Campground just outside of town ($20 CND). Unlike Lake
Louise, this campground has showers, so I get to take my first hot shower since
Sunday night. Whew - what a luxury!
As I walk back to town
with a small bag of laundry, an elk chased me several feet down the road! (The
elks are calving, and so are very protective of their offspring.) After doing
my wash I grab some potato salad, cold beans and fruit juice from the
Jasper is much less
kitschy than Banff. While Banff has many expensive hotels and shops that cater
to jet-setters, Jasper is much more oriented to supplying services to local
guides and outfitters; there are lots of campers, fishermen, mountain climbers,
When I get back to the
campsite I realise I'm actually quite tired. I had planned to ride the gondola
here at Jasper, but instead I'll relax at camp and get an early start tomorrow.
I plan to ride to Kamloops tomorrow (about 450 KM) and spend the afternoon
From a riding point of
view the roads today were not at all challenging: I haven't seen any 'twisties'
or hairpins on the entire trip so far. However, from a scenic aspect the
highway is fantastic. Imagine if the Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon were
big enough to have a 140 mile long road running through them. That might give
you some scale of the enormity and beauty of the Icefield Parkway.
When I pulled into camp
today the same folks I saw on a Harley and a BMW at Lake Louise were here,
packing up to leave. While we were talking an elk walked through our campsite.
There's also a couple of Germans on two Yamaha dual-purposes all fitted up with
cargo racks and hard panniers.
By 8 PM the sky has
reached about 80% cloud cover with a temperature of 18 C. The campgrounds at
both Lake Louise and Jasper are good - lots of firewood, picnic tables,
well-placed access roads, etc. The grounds are still heavily wooded and there's
enough space between sites that you feel you have a bit of privacy.
Thu., June 11,
(Jasper, AB ->
Kamloops, BC: 445 KM)
I slept well with
overnight lows about 7 C. I packed under a sky rippled with clouds. As I left
Jasper there were several elk grazing on the roadside. A sign warns me that
there's no fuel for 125 KM. The scenery is of gently rolling hills covered with
trees. I'm well below the treeline and it's fairly warm for early in the
Shortly after crossing
back into British Columbia I see a black bear perhaps ten meters off the left
side of the road eating some leafy bushes. I turn off the Yellowhead Highway
onto the Yellowhead South. The mountains and snow disappear. I stop gasoline
and a coffee at the tiny village of Valemount (four gas stations, three hotels
and a small food mart). I set my watch back an hour for Pacific time.
I continue south. There's
a single lane in direction with a couple of small delays for construction.
There's hardly any traffic, and most of what there is consists of logging
trucks or semis hauling freight. At a truck stop in Blue River I stop for a
hearty breakfast. As I walk out to the LS-650 rain starts falling. I pull on my
rain gear and start riding. After about 50 KM the rain stops and the sun breaks
out. I'm starting to see farms and the terrain is flattening out. I find it
very warm in Clearwater as I fuel up my motorcycle.
After another hour I find
myself Kamloops. It's still early in the afternoon and I think about riding on
to Merritt but decide to stay for the day in Kamloops. It's sunny and 29 C.
I find a fairly nice
campground right near downtown for $15 per night. I walk into town and drop off
a roll of film while exploring Kamloops. It's a funny town: it's a junction of
three highways, a railway, two rivers and a lake. The water seems nice for
swimming and boating. The hills around the town have grasslands and trees. Most
of the downtown core has undergone renovation, and yet I find some ugly spots.
There are a lot of seedy-looking transients sitting on the sidewalk begging for
change only a block or so away from a new townhouse construction site. You can
see three new stores in a row, but then the fourth shop is vacant. I notice
several bums stumbling around drunk or stoned while panhandling, but yet the
cops are busy handing out parking tickets to tourists and local business
vehicles. Huh? Visiting Kamloops is like looking at a pretty woman with some
After having an ice cream
I pick up my photographs and retreat to my camp site, disappointed by Kamloops.
I realise around 8 PM that I haven't fuelled up since Clearwater (125 KM) and
have to go 75 KM to Merritt. I'm too lazy to go looking for gasoline now, so I'll
have to fuel before leaving town tomorrow morning.
This campground is right
next to the Thompson river, and there are lots of boats on the water. Even at 9
PM there's only one other camper in a tent (a bicyclist from Germany), along
with a handful of RV campers.
Here and to the west it's
partly sunny but just to the south I can see thick dark rain-clouds. One thing
I like to do while camping is look up at the stars, but it has been cloudy
every night of the trip.
Fri., June 12,
(Kamloops, BC -> Langley,
BC: 350 KM)
I woke up to a warm
cloudless sky. After packing up I start riding at 6:30 AM. Riding the
Coquihalla with quick stops for gasoline in Merritt and Hope, the road was in
good shape. The Coquihalla is a very straight fast highway and I was able to
reach a friend's home in Langley (a suburb of Vancouver) in just three hours. I
spent the next day or so visiting my friends, including a visit to the
Vancouver Zoological Centre (a safari-type game park) in Aldergrove. I rent
home Sunday morning.
I found my Suzuki Savage 650
to be an adequate and comfortable, if unexciting bike.
CND drivers: tend to drive at or slightly
above posted speed limits.
Speeds: City is usually 50 kph. Highway
is usually 90 to 110 kph.
Roads: Generally good condition and
Banks: Easy to find; usually one in
every town. Many gas stations also have ATMs.
Camping: $15 to $20 CND per night, and
easy to find.
Fuel: $1.75 US per US gallon on
average. A few stretches of 120 to 150 KM without fuel stations.
Food: Cheap and plentiful
Helmets: Mandatory. When I took the ferry
from Vancouver back to Victoria, an Arizona man visiting Victoria for a few
days on his son's Yamaha Seca 650 said to me as he pointed at his borrowed
helmet "I hate wearing these f*cking things!"
People: Very friendly and helpful. Never
encountered any attitude problems.
Weather: Generally warm and sunny, but
definitely bring a good rain suit!
There are several place
in Vancouver and Victoria that rent motorcycles. One place I've heard is good
can be found on the Internet at www.gcmc.com