Banff and Jasper National Parks

Banff had been on my bucket list for awhile so it was time for a trip. I flew into Calgary, picked up my rental car and got on my way.  I arrive after midnight so I had a hotel booked by the airport and started out my next day early.  My first stop on the way was Lake Minnewanka, then Bows Falls View Point, then off to Sulphur Mountain.  I had bought a ticket up the gondola (purchased on viator for a $15 savings).  I took the ride up and it was gorgeous! I did some hiking and then ate lunch at the restaurant at the time.  The Banff Upper Hot Springs was right by the parking lot and I had intentions of going, but when I got there it looked like a regular pool (even though I know it was hot, natural water) to me, so I skipped it.  I wondered around the cute town of Banff for a bit and grabbed dinner.  I had the bison short ribs (~$36)  at The Bison Restaurant, apparently a staple.  But it was delicious! Before calling it a day I stopped at the Tower of Bable for a quick hike (Moraine Lake Lakeshore) to see sunset and then off to the hotel.  I stayed at the Deer Lodge.  It was older and didn’t have a tv, but it was walking distance from Lake Louise so I can’t complain. 

It was time to explore the Lake Louise area and do some hiking.  I first started with the Lake Louise Lakeshore hiked followed up the hike to Lake Agnes.  The hike itself was crowded, but steadily up, so not too easy.  Once at the lake, which is beautiful in itself, there is the Lake Agnes Teahouse that serves hot drinks and sandwiches.  Although the food was nothing special (bring cash-no electricity up there), it was a cool experience. After I got replenished I continued up to the Devil’s Thumb hike.  I didn’t make it very far because within 15 minutes I was in snow up to my knees so I turned around.  I decided on the Big Beehive trail instead and I’m so glad I did.  The emerald color of the lake (coming from the rock flour from melting water) became more and more turquoise the higher I got.  When I got to the top I think I sat and stared for an hour, it was just amazing and I couldn’t look away.  There was a peace in looking out and I think everyone else felt the same way because there were a few people up there with me, but no talking. After I got back to the hotel I went to the rooftop hot tub and relaxed while it snowed on me which helped my muscles after all that hiking.  I had dinner at my hotel Mt Fairview Dining room.  It was slightly overpriced, but the food and the local beer while staring at a mountain (and I suppose the convenience) made it worth it. Time for sleep!

Since this was my day in the Lake Louise I had to get in some of the hikes I may have missed (although I’m sure there were plenty). I hiked Boulder Pass. This was a long and hard one.  So I had a packed lunch (a sandwich I bought inside the Fairmount Hotel-a must see to just walk around) at the top, relaxed and read a book at the top.  My sore muscles were asking for some more hot tub time so that’s where I went when I finished that hike.  This time there were some people in there that I ended up talking to for awhile.  I was so beat that I ended up eating a protein bar and going to sleep. 

Unfortunately the next day was rainy all day—and a lot of rain.  I attempted to follow my itinerary but hiking in downpours wasn’t happening.  I went to Emerald Lake and tried to wait out the rain in my car with my book and radio but the rain did not let up.  I took the scenic route (I don’t know that there wasn’t one) to Golden, where I was spending the next night.  If I had to do this again I would have stayed another night at the Deer Lodge, but I didn’t expect all that rain and couldn’t go up the kicking horse mountain as expected in Golden.  When it let up some I walked around town and through the kicking horse pedestrian bridge which was kind of cool.  I had some thai that came highly rated on yelp and called in a night.  I stayed at the Rondo Motel which I also would not recommend, but I can say I enjoyed having a tv that night.

I was very excited this day because my first stop—Peyto Lake was something I was looking forward to for awhile.  While I was driving (in JUNE) it started to flurry.  And by the time I got an hour into my trip it was a full on snow storm.  I got to Peyto Lake and was having trouble finding the path that lead to the overlook.  Two guys about my age seemed to be struggled and when we figured it out invited me to hike with them.  We got to the overlook pretty quickly, maybe 10 minutes of uphill.  It was truly beautiful, this turquoise lake shaped like a dog, surrounded by a fresh coat of snow.  As excited as I was, I knew there was a path that led to a higher viewpoint with rocks you can sit on to enjoy the view and less crowds. My new buddies and I were searching for quite awhile (and I’m pretty sure found some new paths) but with all the fresh snow we could not find the path and ended up heading back.  We said our goodbyes and I continued heading north.  Oh, I should also mention this drive up the Icefield Parkway was probably the prettiest drive I’ve had my whole life.  I drove to the Icefield Discovery Centre for my excursion.  I bought the excursion that included a ride on an all-terrain Ice Explorer that goes on the surface of the Athabasca glacier. I think the driver said the vehicle went to a 37% grade, or something crazy like that, but I do know that the tires on this thing probably had another foot on me! This excursion also included admission to the Glacier Skywalk attraction. So the bus took us directly to the skywalk which you do at your own pace.  It give you information as you walk along and then at the end there is a glass walkway that you can go on and see hundreds of feet below you.  I don’t have a fear of heights, but this made me hold my breath a minute or two! After we got dropped back off at the Discovery Centre I went across the street to hike the Toe of the Athabasca glacier.  It was a cool site and it makes you realize just how small you really are.  Then it was off to my hotel in Jasper the Tonquin Inn.  Not bad, and definitely a big step up from the Rondo Motel.

Because I woke up early I decided to do a sunrise hike and did a few small trails on the Jasper Discovery Trail.  After I walked around for a bit, I went back to my hotel, had a big breakfast for the day, and then waited for a pick up.  I was doing a white water rafting tour with the Rocky Mountain River guides.  That was a great experience.  Not as crazy rapids as expected, but definitely colder than expected! When I got back to the hotel I grabbed a quick early dinner and decided on a hike to Pyramid Lake. This was a pretty one and with the sun back out, even prettier. 

The next morning started with a heavy breakfast and then a day of hiking.  I went to Athabasca Falls, which was where the rapids from the river I rafted in came from and very cool from the top.  There were multiple view points and I think I covered them all.  There wasn’t much hiking to this stop so it was very populated.  After that I went to Valley of the Five Lakes and only ran into 3 people the whole time I was there.  It was much different and much more peaceful there. 

When I got up the next morning I headed to Lake Annette and walked the lake and then headed to Lake Edith (same parking lot).  Then I headed to Miette Hot Springs where the Sulphur Skyline Trail is. This hike was a little over 6 miles round trip, but steadily up and not an easy one.  Halfway through there was even a hail storm!  But once that passed and the sun come out the view from the top was amazing and made it worth it.  I left the park and stayed at Days Inn Hinton and slept pretty hard that night.

My last full day was a lot of driving—from north of Jasper back to Calgary.  It’s just about 6 hours without stopping, but of course I had to stop.  I wanted to make a few stops at places I missed on the way up.  I went to the Johnson Canyon and walked around both upper and lower falls.  Then I was getting close to where Peyto Lake was again.  I decided since the snow had melted, why not see what it looks like now.  I gave it a try and this time I was wearing a t-shirt! This time with no snow on the ground I was easily able to find the path I knew about from my research and made it onto my rock.  I was so excited and couldn’t believe how much different it was.  I got one of my favorite pictures of all time, and sat there and took in the moment.  Then it was back to Calgary.  I stayed at Hotel Clique Calgary Airport for my flight in the morning.  It was quite the nice hotel and a great way to end one of the best trips of my life.