After visiting one of Canada's most beautiful treasures this Summer, I thought I would share some of my experiences and photos! It was an absolutely amazing experience with views like no other. And because of Corona restrictions, the national parks were hardly busy and there was so many more opportunities to enjoy the views.
It all starts in Calgary, Alberta. We flew with a newer, small airline called Flair, and it was a good flight honestly. Flair is definitely a budget airline, but the experience overall was good. Even though we travelled during a pandemic, the flights were packed and we were side by side with complete strangers. Part of me was surprised, but the other part of me kind of expected that.
We arrived at the airport and picked up our rental van, which was definitely needed because there was 7 of us. Somehow we managed to fit all 7 of us and all of our luggage in this van. I was quite impressed! At this point, we started our drive to Canmore, Alberta where we were staying for the next few days.
Our accommodations were at this adorable little resort in the mountains called Banff Gate Mountain Resort. We stayed in a little cottage facing the woods, where we could see deer walk by in the early hours of the morning. It was a gorgeous place to stay, and the rooms were quite nice. I highly recommend staying here if you & your family are looking for a nice, off-the-path place to stay!
Day 1: The Town of Banff
It was our first day in the National Park, and we spent it exploring the shops, trying out some delicious food, visiting the famous Fairmont Hotel in Banff, and taking the gondola up to Sulphur Mountain!
There is no feeling like being a tourist in a gift shop. So many unique pieces, things to see, and clothes! All the sweaters and hats, please. I totally ended up buying some cool souvenirs that were probably overpriced, but so worth it. Memories, right?
The gondola ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain was really cool. I had never done something like that before, and I really enjoyed all the beautiful views. If you're scared of heights, might not be the best thing for you, ha! Once you get to the top, there is a board walk area that walks across the top of the mountain. The views!!!! That's the one thing I really have to say. They were breathtaking, beautiful, amazing, and every other awesome adjective out there. Also, the squirrels are SO friendly. They just hop right onto your lap, always looking for food and loving the attention. P.S. Don't feed the squirrels... it could be $25,000 fine if you do!! Oops.
Day 2: Vermillion Lakes, Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka
I honestly loved Two Jack Lake the best out of all of these stops. I'm not sure why, but it just really captured my heart as we pulled up. Maybe because it was the first really blue lake that I saw. I was in such awe at the colour! It really doesn't look real. We had a nice little picnic out beside the lake, and went looking for bears. (We did this a lot over the week). After we finished up there, we continued on to Lake Minnewanka. This is where we did our first dive!! The water is FREEZING. Stop breathing, muscle seizing, total shock kind of cold. When I jumped in, I couldn't touch the bottom and panicked a little. I literally stopped breathing and couldn't move for a minute, but I eventually made it to shore. Then, I did it again haha! Had to get a video of course. Would I do it again? I did at Lake Louise! Lake Minnewanka has some pretty nice trails as well. They recommend having bear spray on hand, so make sure to pick some up right when you arrive at the airport.
Day 3: Lake Louise
This was the hardest day of the whole trip. If you have this nice little thought that you're going to take the leisurely stroll to the little tea shop on the mountain, think again. No where online explains the kind of hike this is. We did it, we made it, but boy was I NOT prepared for that.
Our hike began, and 2.5 hours later we were at the top looking at Lake Agnes. The whole hike was completely uphill, and the elevation of the mountain made it pretty hard to breathe sometimes. If you've ever hiked Rainbow Mountain, don't worry, this wasn't anywhere close that agony, lol! Once we got to the tea shop, everyone decided they wanted to hike to the top of Big Bee Have. This mountain is accessible from Lake Agnes, and brings the total hike UP to about 5km. A total round trip of 10km made this quite the day! I must say, the view from the top of the Big Beehive was SO worth it!! A view that words cannot describe. I was blown away by what I saw, and no picture could do it justice. It was an incredible opportunity that I am really glad I did not pass up.
After we enjoyed a nice rest at the top, and some tears at the thought of having to walk all the way back down the mountain, we started our way back. Going down is really hard on your knees. I wasn't prepared for the steep decline on my body. The next day I was definitely not hiking, ha! Overall, Lake Louise is such an amazing place and it is very obvious why it is so popular. I definitely recommend the hike, but maybe bring a smaller backpack than I did and don't forget water and some snacks.
Day 4: Moraine Lake & Yoho National Park
Our plan was to visit Moraine Lake after we left Lake Louise, but we were all so exhausted from the hike that we decided to get up for sunrise instead. We made it to Moraine Lake just after 7:30am, and thank goodness. If you want to visit this gorgeous lake, be warned that there is VERY little parking. They have a small lot, and once it is full, the long road leading to the lake is shut down util some people leave. It is best to go before 8am or later in the evening as people are leaving. Sunrise was a perfect time to visit! On our drive up the road, we had an unexpected encounter. A black bear walked out infront of our car!!! My first time seeing a wild bear, and it was SO cool! Little did I know that this would be the first of seven encounters during the whole trip. He just walked calmly across and ventured back into the woods. What a cool experience.
Our morning continued and we found ourselves on a nice walk around the edge of the lake. We had some time to kill before the canoe docks opened, so we enjoyed the peacefulness and kept moving as it was really cold that morning. We really wanted to jump into this lake, but apparently this lake is especially cold compared to the others, and can actually cause hypothermia in the Summer months. Anyways, we got a 3-seater canoe and 3 of us enjoyed a 1 hour canoe ride on the lake. I definitely recommend this canoe ride over the one at Lake Louise. Over there, it is overpriced and only a half hour, where this one is $30 cheaper and 1 hour in length. Also, the lake isn't as big, so you can actually canoe around the whole lake in this time. It was SUPER cold out on the water, and my hands were absolutely numb by the time I got back to the dock, but I'm really glad we did it. Such a beautiful view that you can't get any other way. We finished the morning off with a hot chocolate (the best hot chocolate, I might add) and continued our journey.
The rest of the day, we planned to spend in Yoho National Park in BC. This park is attached to Banff, just over the British Columbia border. There are some gorgeous places to visit such as Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake. The falls are cool because you can go right to the falls itself and get a whole new perspective. We got some really cool pictures here. Emerald Lake is beautiful, and had a really nice trail leading around the lake. Careful if you're visiting in the Winter months, avalanches are possible at this lake and the trail can be a little more dangerous!
Day 5: Icefield Parkway - Drive to Jasper, Alberta
Our stay in Canmore had come to an end, so we packed up the van and headed north. If you drive along the Icefield Parkway, you eventually end up in Jasper National Park. This highway is known to be one of the most beautiful highways in all of Canada. I have to agree with this! So many gorgeous stops along the way, beautiful views, lookout points and so much wildlife! We saw animals all over such as a female moose, more bears, elk, & more! So many beautiful creatures. This was my favourite part of the whole trip... Well, maybe not the 4 hour drive, but the stops along the way were great. ;)
The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre was such a cool spot! You can take a walk to where the Athabasca Glacier sits, and see it up close. The ice line is receding every year, so we had to walk a good distance to get to it. It's crazy to think that it was all the way to the road at one point. The centre also has a tour that takes you to their new skywalk adventure. A walkway was built that extends off the mountain, it basically feels like you're suspended in the air. The floor is glass and see through, so it can be really freaky. But the views were so nice, and the feeling of hanging off a mountain was pretty awesome.
Mistaya Canyon was another spot we stopped at on the way to Jasper. Here we actually saw a bear print right in the dirt. It was 100% a bear par, you really couldn't miss it. It was cool to see, but also freaked me out a little. It means a bear could have been anywhere nearby.
Our accommodations for the next couple days were actually in Hinton, which is an hour outside of Jasper town, so we finished off our drive and headed to our Air BNB. On the way to the house, we passed a heard of long-horned sheep! We initially though they were mountain goats, but later learned that they were female & baby sheep instead. They were climbing up the edge of the mountain and hopping from ledge to ledge. It is SO cool how their hooves balance on the smallest of cliffs. Driving along the road to Hinton showed us so many cool animals. The best time to do the drive is early morning or late evening. That's when all the wildlife are out and about.
Day 6: Jasper
We spent this day in Jasper National Park, visiting Maligne Canyon, waterfalls, and Maligne Lake. One of the coolest stops from this day was Maligne Lake. Apparently this lake is known for bear and moose sightings, but sadly we saw neither. We did enjoy a nice walk along the edge of the lake. There are so many gorgeous hikes and trails throughout all these parks. So many to do and not enough time!
We then headed into the town of Jasper to do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. Once again, too many souveniers! I love gift shops a little too much. Once we finished shopping, we found a little pub that we could sit and have a good meal. The food at every restaurant we went to was delicious! The next day was our last day, so we headed back to the Air BNB to pack up and get ready to hit the road early the next morning.
Day 7: Icefield Parkway - Drive to Calgary, Alberta
This day was reserved for our drive back to Calgary to catch our flight. But we decided to make a stop first at the Japser Sky Tram and hike at the top of Whistlers Mountain. After a week of hiking and adventuring, this day was pretty exhausting. The Tram drops you off close to the top of the mountain, but you gotta hike the rest of the way to the actual top. Uphill is my worst nightmare when the elevation is high, but we made it! We also saw a Hoary Marmot resting on a big rock as we were walking back to the Tram. He was so cute!!
We drove all the way back to Calgary, grabbed a hotel and went out for some late night food before we ended our trip on a flight back to Ontario. It was such a wonderful trip with great memories made. There is still so much theat we didn't get to visit, so I can't wait to go back one day!
Until next time...