After our adventures with tire exchanges we drove to Banff and were amazed at the millions of people there. Well, not amazed. It is probably one of the most touristic places in Canada, it’s summer, and it’s the 150 celebration so it was expected. We were kind of disgusted by all the people. Callum even said “gross” while we were driving through the town. We started calling all the people “cockroaches” because of how many there were and how they seemed to scatter all about when they got the go ahead to cross the street at busy intersections.
We were lucky to find a campsite the first night as we hadn’t booked anything ahead of schedule, due to not really knowing our schedule. Upon arriving in Banff, we drove to the Bow Valley Parkway where we planned to do a small hike in Johnston Canyon. We saw some bighorn sheep along the way and talked to another park ranger who was kind of annoyed at everyone (and us) for stopping to take pictures of them. Callum tried to strike up a conversation with him while I was getting my shots, and he was less than friendly but eventually said that photo takers are the number one reason animals are killed. I guess it’s because people who don’t care about the animals will roar on by as the animals start crossing at that exact moment. Also, the animals will get less and less frightened of seeing people. It’s a shame.
I did half the amount of walking in the canyon as Callum. We parted ways where he wanted to continue and where I felt “done” so I went back the way we came to our van and he continued on for another couple of hours.
The next day we did a longer hike called Castle Mountain Lookout which took us about 4 hours. The walk was nearly all uphill with little reprieve. I was promised two flavours of gelato if I did it all without complaining. Callum is only just beginning to learn just what I’ll accomplish if promised something sugary at the end of it. We hadn’t started the hike particularly early in the day—I think it was already after 1pm, but, we only saw a few others on the trail. The lookout was nice enough, though somewhat hazy, and the walk down was much easier. I got my gelato and then we had dinner (who says you can’t have dessert first?) and camped in the “overflow” camping that was available—a long line of cars on a narrow road.
We tried to go to Lake Louise or Moraine Lake the next day, but there were too many cockroaches. In fact, there was overflow parking and bus shuttles taking them all up at least 4kms away from the actual parking lot for Lake Louise. We didn’t feel like leaving Big Bertha indefinitely or being amongst the hordes, so we drove a very long way away to Bow Glacier Lake. We tried to make lunch in the wind and it took a long time to get things cooking on our camp stove and the whole process was so laborious, that we both had a long nap after cleaning up. We eventually left the parking lot and drove back to Lake Louise and thank goodness, we could actually park in the lot. We weren’t hungry for dinner yet due to our late lunch, so, I convinced Callum to pay the ridiculously high prices to rent a canoe on Lake Louise. It was $95 for 30 minutes or $105 for 60 minutes. We decided on the latter option and had a great time rowing as far as we could, which was to the end of the lake. The sun had already hidden behind the mountains but the colour of the water was still an impressive turquoise and everyone’s crisp red canoes glided like swans across it. To end our day we made our way up to the hot springs and finally had a dip in the heated pools, after trying to get there twice before (once deterred because we were a bit too late and another time because it was closed for maintenance).
Our next morning was very early. Callum got up and drove us to Moraine Lake while I continued to sleep in the back. We got there at about 6:30am and there were already about 30 cars in the lot. Callum got ready and embarked on what we thought would be a 4 or 5 hour hike while I stayed back to rest, read, write, and do a painting. I was even planning on doing a short walk up to meet Cal as he came back down. Like the Speedy Gonzalez that he is, he came back a full 1.5 hours before I expected him. In fact, when he returned, I was nowhere to be found. Of course, at that moment I was perched on a rock overlooking the lake, finishing up a painting and keeping an eye out for Callum’s return down the path. From my vantage point though, we later discovered we wouldn’t have seen each other and didn’t. I went back to Big Bertha and there was Cal, casually reading his book and wondering where I’d gone.
When Callum first came to Canada back in 2012, we went to Banff, but only for about a week, and in that time we didn’t do much. One friend asked us back then “Did you do the Icefields Parkway at least?” No, we had not. No time. “What?!” was his incredulous reply. “Re-do! Re-do your entire trip!” he said. So, we did. We drove this iconic stretch of highway and boy, was it beautiful. In fact, it is touted as one of the most scenic drives you can do in the world. Mountain after mountain, vista after vista, it really was gorgeous. It’s called Icefields because along it you can see different glaciers, the most popular one is the Athabasca Glacier. We visited this glacier via a very large bus with giant wheels, booking a tour which took us onto the glacier itself. We were served canapés and had time to take pictures with a buffet dinner waiting for us at the icefields centre afterwards. It was well worth the money as it’s not an everyday experience.
The next morning we drove to Jasper and did a little walk in Maligne Canyon. We saw some elk along the way. We also enjoyed the hot springs on offer in Jasper which is a bit of an ambitious drive from the town and even from our campsite, but, well worth it. The hot springs there are better than the Banff ones, I think. We went twice!
We woke early the next day and embarked on a 4 hour hike up the Sulfur Skyline Trail, starting at 7am. On the way up we saw no one else until 8am and then only two other guys who were basically sprinting down the hill. They were cheerful enough but didn’t offer much encouragement about the amazing view at the top. When we got up another hour later, we realized why: there was no view, essentially. There have been some pretty serious wildfires in BC this summer and the wind had blown the smoky air through to Jasper. Even though it was already 9am the hazy air made the light look like it was much earlier. A couple other groups made it minutes later after us. When we walked down a few groups coming up asked us if the view was worth it. We kind of just smiled and said “the exercise was good”. Nobody wants to be told they may as well turn back when they’re halfway up a mountain.
Later that day we saw some mountain goats, went to town to charge our electronics and do some laundry, and heard Big Bertha making some disappointing sounds. Callum pulled over no less than six times to investigate, walking around the van and trying to figure out if it was a tire again. Each time, he came back in the car announcing he had “no idea what’s wrong” and professing his hope that everything would be alright. I echoed his sentiments. That’s about the best mechanical work we can do. Thankfully, we didn’t have any other issues besides some smoking tires which we also kind of ignored after splashing a bit of water onto the wheels and hoping for the best.
We enjoyed Maligne Lake the next day and Callum did another solo hike up to Bald Hills while I waited again, sleeping a bit longer and then binge watching “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I expected Cal to be early this time, since it POURED RAIN. I got wet just sitting in the van with the tiny back vents open. He did come back and wouldn’t you know it, I was nowhere to be found. Hilariously, while I left the van for literally 4 minutes to use the outhouse he had come back, found me missing, and assumed I’d gone to warm up in the visitor’s centre. He walked all over the centre, trying to spot me in the crowds of people trying to stay dry, and walked all the way back to our van where I was snuggled in the back, eyes glued to the tablet. We had a chuckle over that one. Callum decided he deserved to add another km to his hiking count that day because of his excursion to try to find me.
We drove from Jasper that night all the way to Clearwater, BC. We really enjoyed Alberta a lot and knew that we would, so planned to be there longer. I would suggest at least two weeks just to properly see Banff and Jasper and the Icefields in between. I understand why it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Canada. It’s just a shame that so many other people love mountains, forests, trails, and animals! If you want to avoid crowds and don’t mind chillier temperatures, I suggest going in mid to late September instead, when all the people are back in their home-towns, busy with a new school year.