It is always easier to leave a place when it is raining and Jasper saw us off with a slight drizzle and low temperatures. Our destination was the other tourist mecca of the Rockies, Banff National Park. Having already secured our camping spot for the next three days, we were in no rush and could enjoy the scenery along the Icefields Parkway. If only the clouds would lift!
We had to find our rain gear (I think we had used it once so far on the trip) for the frequent stops we made at the scenic lookouts along the Icefields Parkway. Fortunately, when we got to the Athabasca Glacier (the main viewpoint along the parkway) the clouds lifted enough for us to appreciate its scale. At the glacier, a large “rest stop” caters to tourists who have purchased “walking-on-the-glacier” tours. We avoided that and took in the visitors centre run by Parks Canada and let them teach the kids about glaciers. We then ventured back outside and opted to walk to the “foot for the glacier” for free with the kids. I also want to clarify, I imagine at one time you could actually walk to the foot of the glacier but now there is a pretty large flowing river at the bottom that prevents that. But you can get pretty darn close. The family enjoyed the short hike even though it was raining, windy and quite chilly. They have markers along the trail that allows visitors to visualize how much the glacier has retreated over the years. If we had visited thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have had to walk so far and would have stayed much warmer! We were happy to get back to the Jeep and proceeded to our campsite in Banff and got settled in.
Getting to Lake Louise the next day involved some planning. Everyone advised us against driving up to the lake as they warned us we would probably be turned away by Parks Canada employees. I don’t really understand if that is because parking is truly limited or if they are just trying to better manage the crowds. So we booked a tourist shuttle with Parks Canada that took us from a parking lot at the Lake Louise Ski Hill to the two major sites, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. Even though it was mid-week we were warned about lineups and potential delays. I won’t say it was the smoothest operation but we respected what they were “trying” to do. But some of the other tourists in the line weren’t loving waiting in a parking lot for half an hour to catch a ten minute bus ride
Regardless, the crowds at Lake Louise were manageable (maybe it was the day of the week we went) and after hiking about 1km down the lake, we got some moments of relative solitude. We actually made it to the end of the lake and the kids got to go off and explore. We did do one splurge here and went for afternoon tea at the Chateau Lake Louise. The kids were excited and rewarded us by being exceptionally well-behaved (meaning Paigey and I could enjoy our meal too)! They got their own special tower of food including mini peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Froot Loop Rice Krispies and miniature scones. After the big meal, we couldn’t be bothered to wait in line for the Moraine lake shuttle bus and just went back to Banff.
Banff itself was fun but as you can guess, the surrounding area has such amazing sites, we didn’t spend significant time in the town other than for eating. Our campsite was on Tunnel Mountain and was a mere ten-minute bus ride into town (they run a free shuttle from the campground). Our kids were experts at spotting the number 2 bus due to the large gopher graphic on it.
Just before leaving, we caught the early morning gondola up Sulphur Mountain (we got a family discount). I don’t think the kids had been on a gondola before and kept their faces pressed against the glass the entire ride. Julie and I were on the hunt for snow that we could make a snowball out of. At the summit we found some ten feet from us on the other side of a fence. We were so close yet so far! Abandoning the snow, we did the “required” hike to the old abandoned weather station before riding the gondola back down the mountain.
Waving goodbye to the mountains for the last time, we were off to Calgary to visit cousin Lorron.
Where we stayed (5 words or less):
- Tunnel Mountain Village II campground: Mountain view, free bus shuttle
By the numbers:
- Parks Canada Badges Bought: 0 – very little merchandise in stock
- Frequency of bus service into Banff from our campsite: 23 minutes
- Number of Oceans the Columbia Icefield flows into: 3
- Logs of wood Julie successfully carried at once to our firepit: 3
Ciao for now