Tag Archives: Banff National Park

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 7

I don't know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool.  I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this.  Just amazing.
I don’t know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool. I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this. Just amazing.

Thirteen days ago, June 18, 2015.

Off to Jasper! By way of the Icefields Parkway, which I’d been thinking of as the big highlight of the trip, and it did not fail me.

First, though, I want to mention a restaurant called Wild Bill’s (Peyto, not Hickok — a local fellow from the early days) in Banff townsite, where I ate the night before. Highly recommended, in an old-fashioned western sort of way. I had three sliders, one each of three different kinds, and a really good salad, and was treated to some boot-stomping music along the way.

Anyway, I was up and out early, checked out of the hostel, and walked to a local McDonalds — in a national park! — for a large hot tea (not even Mickey D’s does a proper unsweet iced tea up here <sigh>) before heading out of town, into enough on and off rain to clean my windshield.

And into a serious surfeit of stupendous mountains. The clouds came and went with the rain, but it was clear enough a good chunk of the time, and the cloud deck high enough when it wasn’t, that I had a good view most of the way. I did run into a bit of road construction just north of Lake Louise, but it wasn’t bad. And, after all, they have the same problem with road construction up there that they do in Yellowstone. A very short season for doing it, that coincides exactly with tourist season. Not much to be done about that.

Who cares about a little road construction when the view's like this?
Who cares about a little road construction when the view’s like this?

But the views were absolutely amazing. Mile after mile after mile of amazing. After a certain point I just sort of went on gorgeousness overload.

I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
And I think this is Bow Glacier.  There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.
And I think this is Bow Glacier. There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.

So here are some highlights of a day that basically was all highlight:

I took a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake (named after the same guy as the restaurant — and pronounced PEE-to, not PAY-to), which was a beautiful strip of aquamarine dropped down in the evergreens. Lots of wildflowers, too.

Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.

I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.

South from Bow Pass.
South from Bow Pass.

And I hiked about half a mile straight uphill to the foot of the Athabaska Glacier (which feeds off the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains). It provided a graphic example of why living on a moraine as I do results in a garden full of rocks.

The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
Athabaska Glacier.  A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don't let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.
Athabaska Glacier. A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don’t let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.

It was cold up there. I was so glad for my heavy jeans and my insulated jacket — and the hoodie with the hood up underneath, especially when it started raining on me again on the way back down to my car.

Then I drove down, down, down, into into Jasper National Park and a climate zone that felt much warmer than at Banff townsite even though it’s over a hundred miles farther north (since Jasper townsite’s altitude is 3484 feet, and Banff townsite’s is 4800 feet, it makes a certain amount of sense — 100+ miles distance is negligible in comparison). It was also sunnier, which was pleasant.

I stopped at Sunwapta Falls, where three rivers come together to form the Athabaska River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean, which just flabbergasted me at the time. I knew I was far north, but really? The falls are pretty spectacular, too.

Sunwapta Falls.
Sunwapta Falls.

And on to Athabaska Falls. This time of year, with the snowmelt, I was seeing all the waterfalls on my trip at their best. And more wildflowers, too.

The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
Another part of Athabaska Falls.  It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Another part of Athabaska Falls. It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.

Somehow, after I left the parking area at Athabaska Falls, I wound up on a sort of back road (not really another Bow River Parkway, but more like a paved forest service road back home) which wound north and eventually dumped me on the Parkway just south of Jasper townsite.

And so I arrived in Jasper townsite, which really reminded me of Libby. The scenery was different, but the ambiance was very similar. Small and remote (the nearest big city is Edmonton, about 225 miles, compared to Banff’s proximity to Calgary, only 75 miles) and touristy, but in a much more understated way than Banff. Unfortunately, my supper there was the polar opposite of what I’d had in Banff the night before, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.

The hostel was several miles outside of town, and they assigned me a bed tucked way back in a corner, which was fine by me.

It was an incredible day. I was exhausted, even after just about 120 miles, but wow, was it worth it. And in a couple of days, I was going to do it all over again, in the other direction.  After I explored Jasper.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 5

I love aspens.
I love aspens.  These were at Lake Minnewanka.

Twelve days ago, June 16, 2015.

This morning I visited Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the outskirts of Banff townsite. It contains the hot spring that first brought the area to the country’s attention and thus ended up being Canada’s first national park in 1885. Something they’re very proud of and make a bigger deal of than we do with Yellowstone (or some misguided folk, Yosemite), believe it or not. The first preserve was just a big spring inside a cave, discovered by the Stoney Indians, then rediscovered by some prospectors, who brought it to the attention of the railroads. It was developed into something of a resort, as have most of the other hot springs in these national parks.

They let you go into the cave, via a tunnel that was apparently blasted through the rock (the only entrance originally was in the top of the cave, and the only way in down via rope — the current entrance is a simple stroll). The basin, basically a pool, is still in fairly pristine condition, too, but the facilities built back in the early days for the tourists have all been closed down and paved over.

Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Another display.  I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
Another display. I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
The cave.
The cave.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.

The main exhibits were about the Canadian national park system, with a big multimedia program which was well worth watching. I do find it amusing that it was hot water that started both the U.S. and Canadian national park systems. I didn’t know that the Canadian national park service (whose members are called wardens, not rangers) predates ours, though. The Canadians have the first national park service in the world. We just used the Army to patrol our parks until we finally got our act together and created a park service.

Next, I made the brief drive out to Lake Minnewanka, which, like Jackson Lake in the Tetons, is not an entirely natural lake, having been dammed at some point in its past. But it was still a pretty drive, and I saw my first bighorn sheep of the trip alongside the road here, which was very cool. It was also a good place for a picnic lunch.

Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.

Then I headed back up to Johnston Canyon, where I did find a parking space this time, and I saw more bighorn sheep along the Bow River Parkway on the way there.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.

Johnston Canyon is, like I said before, another one of those narrow slot canyons, except that the trail for this one goes through the canyon itself, rather than along the rim. The trail is cantilevered out over the river for several stretches, which makes for some good views, and about half a mile in, there’s a waterfall. You can see it from the main trail, but there’s a tunnel, the far end of which is so close to the waterfall itself that you’re standing in the mist.

The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon.  I don't know if it's got a name.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon. I don’t know if it’s got a name.

The whole thing kept making me think of the Mist Trail in Yosemite, only not nearly so strenuous. Not less crowded, alas — people were even pushing strollers up that trail, which sort of boggled my mind. It was a spectacular trail, though.

My last jaunt of the day was back in Banff townsite: the Whyte Museum, where I caught a tour of two of Banff’s earliest houses, both log cabins, one owned by the people who started the museum, and the other owned by some early pioneers here. The museum itself was about the history and culture of the Banff area, and well worth the time I spent there.

It was a full day, and a good one. One more full day in Banff, then off to Jasper on Thursday.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 4

Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.
Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.

Twelve days ago, June 15, 2015.

From Radium Hot Springs to Banff, aka, why is there a city in the middle of a national park?

Canadians have a much different idea as to what’s appropriate in a national park than we USAians do. I knew that, in theory, before I made this trip. But there’s something just really odd about having what I think of as a gateway community (and a bloody big one) inside the national park as opposed to just outside its border. Let alone what looks like their equivalent of an Interstate highway right through the park.

But I get ahead of myself. Twelve days ago today I drove back up into Kootenay National Park, and what should I see right after I emerged from the red rock canyon? A bear! My first one of the trip, but not my last. I don’t have a good picture of him, alas — I’d already passed him before I could get stopped, and there was another vehicle behind me in the pullout so I couldn’t back up, so the two photos of him I do have were taken through the back window of my car (no way was I getting out of my car to get a better look — I pride myself on not being a touron, as the Yellowstone folks sometimes refer to people who seem to be aiming to win the Darwin award).

A bear!
A bear!

I drove on, chortling about seeing a bear, up the route I’d taken yesterday and beyond, past Marble Canyon and up to the Continental Divide, which is also the border between Kootenay and Banff National Parks. I’m afraid my photo of the sign proclaiming this got sun-glared, but here it is, anyway.

The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP.  Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP. Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.

It’s not far from the Divide to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway (the aformentioned Interstate-alike), a four-lane behemoth of a road that bisects Banff NP. Fortunately, there’s an alternative, the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a winding two-lane that runs from just north of Banff the town to Lake Louise. I joined it about halfway between, just below the imposing and appropriately-named Castle Mountain (although apparently after WWII, it was renamed Eisenhower Mountain, of all things — that didn’t last long).

Castle Mountain.
Castle Mountain, at the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway, hence the light poles.

The Bow Valley Parkway is much more traditionally national parkish. Lots of pullouts with informative signs, trailheads, and so forth, and very peaceful, with one exception. I had thought to stop at Johnston Canyon, which was the second of those narrow, deep slot canyons, this one with a trail that goes along the bottom, but the parking area for the trailhead was so full that I couldn’t find a place to park. So I told myself I’d come back the next day, and kept going south to Banff the town.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.

Banff the town is beautifully situated, surrounded by some really oddly-shaped mountains (I have to say that I’ve never really seen mountains shaped like the Canadian Rockies anywhere else), and where the Canadian national parks began with a hot spring (more on that tomorrow). It’s also incredibly busy and touristy, but I really didn’t mind. Especially since my hostel, right on the Bow River (pronounced like bow and arrow, not bow or curtsey), was within walking distance of practically everything. The hostel was in a huge old building that used to be a hospital, but it was clean and pleasant and if it felt a bit institutional, that was okay, too.

The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.
The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.

After lunch in a restaurant (in a mall! in a national park!), I went exploring. Found the Bow River Falls, which were gorgeous.

Downstream from the Bow River Falls.  This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Downstream from the Bow River Falls. This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Bow River Falls.
Bow River Falls.

Visited the Cascade Gardens behind the big stone Banff park admin building, which were another anomaly, albeit an enjoyable one, from my point of view.

A view from the Cascade Gardens.
A view from the Cascade Gardens.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens.  Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens. Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.

Wandered through the public rooms of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which was much less iconic looking on the inside than it was on the outside, and drove up to the foot of the gondola, decided that it was not for me (I don’t do manmade heights, and this one made the one at the Tetons that scared me half to death last summer look like a quick lift to the top of the bunny slope), and ended up parked in the shade in their parking lot writing in my journal and enjoying the view.

The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.

I’d meant to visit at least two of the museums this afternoon, but it was Sunday and they were closed. So I put them on my agenda for tomorrow.

I like Banff the town. It’s just not my idea of what should belong in a national park, is all.

A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.
A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.