WHILE POACHERS POSE a problem in Canada's awesome Jasper National Park, families on a day's outing who only seek the pleasure of seeing wildlife are a greater threat. Motorists crash into about 120 animals, mostly elk and mountain sheep, each season. So why, I ask Jack Dexter, a park ranger, is the speed limit in the park so high? Visitors are allowed to drive at 70km/h through Jasper and neighbouring Banff national parks in the Rocky Mountains, areas that are home to grizzlies, black bears, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, caribou, wolves and coyotes. 'We can't lower the speed limit,' says Dexter. 'If we reduced the speed limit the traffic would be bumper to bumper. Around two million people a year visit Jasper park alone. Banff gets around seven million. We can only warn motorists to be careful. Hit a bear or an elk and you could be killed yourself. Certainly the car would be a total write-off.' We've driven 370km from Edmonton in Alberta to get to the small town of Jasper where our journey really begins. From there, we'll drive 150km south through the two national parks to Banff, before heading west to Vancouver, 850km away. The town of Jasper is a great little place, full of restaurants, bars, hotels and guest houses. Many tourists arrive here by train to start their national park adventure, picking up a hire car or joining a coach tour. The town has an excellent information centre. But it can get a bit noisy and, after a long drive from Edmonton, we want to escape the crowds, taking a Swiss-style chalet at peaceful Pyramid Lake only a few kilometres from town. We meet ranger Dexter on the lake shore, where he is asking a fisherman if he has had any luck, before politely adding that he would like to see his fishing permit. Dexter's job is seasonal as freezing winters close the parks to tourists for several months a year. For every 1,000 who apply to be park rangers, only 15 are accepted. Much of Dexter's work revolves around tourists, not animals. Many arrive thinking Jasper and Banff national parks are just big zoos, says Dexter, but some animals can be dangerous, even wild sheep. Rangers try to educate tourists not to feed wild animals and not to leave their vehicles. Feed a grizzly bear and it will start scavenging in the small towns, he warns. And grizzlies can be extremely dangerous and unpredictable. The litter bins in the national park are bear-proof, and bear-proof means reinforced steel with heavy bolts on the lids. But, of course, every tourist wants to see a grizzly, or at least a black bear. This is our ambition as we set off from Jasper the following morning and are told our chances of a sighting are good. After long months of hibernation, bears are hungry and start to forage below the snow-line around the middle of June. With luck, you may see bears by the roadside in June and July. Soon, we see several cars and camper vans parked by the roadside. Mountain goats, their long, silky, smooth coats having protected them from the rigours of winter on the upper slopes of the Rockies, are drinking from a stream. A tourist who was a park ranger tells us this is the first time he has seen them this close. Presently, they turn away and pick their sure-footed way up impossibly steep, slippery slopes, and are gone. We continue on through a vista of wild rivers, snow-capped mountains and icy lakes, towards the Columbia Icefield, on the boundary of the Jasper and Banff national parks, the largest accumulation of ice and snow south of the Arctic Circle, covering around 325 square kilometres. If we had more time, we would make a host of detours to explore more natural wonders. The two national parks cover more than 18,000 sq km, and Banff, though the smaller of the two, has 25 mountains which are more than 3,000 metres high. I marvel at how cheap it is for motorists to have access to all this beauty, for C$10 (HK$50) a day per car. We are lucky to be able to get through to the icefield. It's a long climb on a good surface, but even in summer, the weather up here can be so fickle that the road can be blocked by snow. A few hundred metres from the new icefield information centre, which has a good restaurant, looms the Athabasca glacier, a tongue of the Columbia Icefield that has swallowed many an unwary tourist. The glacier is up to 300 metres thick, but under the surface of fresh snow are treacherous crevasses. The most recent victim claimed by the glacier was a German tourist who had ventured out alone to trek on it. He fell down a crevasse. Even if someone survives such a fall, and some of these crevasses can be dozens of metres deep, the risk of dying from hypothermia before rescuers arrive is great. But tourists can get up on to the glacier and in safety. They take Snocoach tours from the information centre, buses with extra-wide tyres more than a metre in diameter. It's a five-kilometre round trip and we walk on the icefield in an area that has been approved for safety. We could stay in a hotel by the information centre, but we want to press on into Banff National Park. Along the way, we stop to admire the magnificent Bow Glacier and have a snack at the small, but expensive, hotel in its shadow at the edge of the glacial lake. We arrive in the small community of Lake Louise, around 100km from Jasper, at dusk. Finding accommodation here can be difficult; it's a popular spot and room rates can be hard on the budget. There is a youth hostel, but you must book well in advance. The nearby lake, from which the village gets its name, is backed by snow-capped mountains and its mineral-rich waters change colour as the day progresses. Get there early for a lakeside stroll before the crowds arrive. Lake Louise is a winter ski resort and you can't leave without taking the gondola to the top of Mount Whitehorn. It's a breathtaking 15-minute ride with splendid views of the peaks of the Continental Divide. Then it's off to Banff. We stop to observe elk feeding along the 60km route. Banff is the hub of the national park. Many tourists start here and head north to Jasper. But in spite of the huge numbers of visitors, it somehow manages to retain a peaceful atmosphere with laid-back restaurants, souvenir shops and camping equipment outlets. Tour companies offer a wide range of activities in the area, including hiking and white-water rafting. Banff offers a broader range of accommodation than Jasper and many guest houses have a charming, Swiss Alps ambience. There is another cable car just out of town, leading up to Sulphur Mountain, but we give it a miss and head for the hot-spring pool nearby to relax after a long journey. The pool is open in winter when, from what we hear, patrons have ice forming on their heads as they relax in the soothing warm water. Don't leave Banff without trying the reasonably priced buffet lunch in the opulent dining hall of the magnificent and imposing Banff Springs Hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1888 and reminiscent of some Scottish baronial estate. We leave Banff and head west on the long haul to Vancouver. Soon we are passing through Glacier National Park. At Rogers Pass, we drive through a long tunnel, built to protect motorists from spring avalanches. Minutes later, I see a movement from the corner of my eye. A bear - there in the grass at the side of the road. We have already driven 200 metres beyond and I turn back. It's still there, a black bear, foraging among the vegetation. We watch for 10 minutes before a camper van pulls up and the driver steps out with his video camera. I'm reminded of what the ranger, Dexter, said: how difficult it is to educate visitors. The bear pads off into the forest. The tourist is lucky not to have been attacked. When we arrive in Vancouver, we read that a jogger has been attacked and killed by a grizzly in the Rockies. This is one of the few regions of the world still dominated by the animal kingdom.