We got up early to head to Calgary as the drive was longer than we had thought. We grabbed some very strong (and free) coffee from the hostel before we left.
The drive was over the same flat roads as before, with long straight sections at the unreasonably low speed limit of 100km per hour. I don’t condone speeding, but when the road is basically empty and just one long straight stretch for miles and miles, it is easy to let your foot get heavy…
We stopped at a lovely place called extreme pitta for lunch – they do pittas filled subway-style with lots and lots of fillings. We also had tasty pitta chips.
We drove on to a brewery called Big Rock, just outside of Calgary. We had booked the brewery tour only a few days previously. We went in and were greeted with a bar set up for tasting. We sampled one beer each before heading out on the tour. Eva had one called Citrodelic and I tried a maple lager.
The tour was really interesting and went fully though the whole brewing process, from choosing the malts and hops – the room they were in smelt like a pet shop – to cooking everything up, to the fermentation and then the bottling.
After the tour we had a full tasting, then got free glasses and visited the gift shop. We bought a case of special beers brewed for Canada’s 150th anniversary and some cute tasting glasses.
Although I hadn’t had much to drink, we waited around in the car park for a while before driving to our hostel, with Eva tipsily navigating.
We got there and found that there were some beautiful hares hanging out in the car park – it seemed odd, but why not?
We tried to go to this cool market over the road, but it was shut. So we headed out to a lovely park on St Patrick’s Island.
We passed some lovely murals with mosaics on our walk there. The park was gorgeous, with loads of cute dogs running around. We watched the clouds for a while, then headed off on a walk.
We found a hill where there were lots of cute birds swooping around. Eva and I both had a go at rolling down the hill, but it was easier when we were little!
As we were in a messing about kind of mood, Eva decided to walk through a temporary ford that went across part of the island. This of course resulted in her having very wet jeans!
We slept well in Calgary and enjoyed the free breakfast they provided including maple syrup porridge for Eva and maple syrup waffles for me.
We went back to the market that had been closed the previous day and bought some cute but quite expensive nut/ seed butters from a hipster stall in one of the shipping container shops, complete with geometric/ landscape photo artwork!
We drove back to the rockies, watching them grow as we sped nearer – the view of the mountains from the flat plain we were on was absolutely incredible!
We were so happy to be venturing back into the stunning area again – this time heading for Banff – the most visited national park in the area. This was evident by how busy the town was when we arrived.
Eventually we found a free car park and wandered around in search of lunch. We found a tasty veggie cafe called Nourish, which was mostly great, but had some odd flavour combinations. The puddings were wonderful though.
We went to the information centre and then picked up the Banff Xplorers booklet, which had a lot of activities in it that didn’t require us to visit anywhere – this seemed like a shame.
We drove along a scenic road called the Bow Valley Parkway to find a campsite by Castle Mountain. Castle Mountain is another spectacular natural sight and honestly, I am running out of new words to describe them all!
We found a spot to camp (the last available one) and made dinner. We needed more ice for our cooler, so I went on a short solo drive down the road to see if I could get some from a nearby shop, but it was closed.
The next morning, after being given a friendly reminder to pay for our night at the campsite, we drove up to Lake Louise town. Here we discovered the reason why the Banff Xplorers booklet was not so exciting – there were several sub-booklets for Banff: Lake Louise, Cave and Basin and Banff Park Museum, three of the main sites of Banff.
We decided to visit lake Louise first, but it was so unbelievably busy that the parking was completely full. We had lunch nearby, then tried again, but still no sucess. We then noticed that the road to Moraine Lake was open – so we followed its windy way to the lake.
Moraine Lake had a surprisingly small car park, but we drove around it a few times and eventually found a space.
Moraine Lake is something special. The fist thing we did was walk up a hill to a viewing area at the one end of the lake. The views were incredible and we also met some very friendly (highly habituated) chipmunks who were begging for food.
The clouds were wafting in and out as we stood there and took a few hundred photos each. We made our way back down the hill and walked along the side of the lake. It was cold, and you could tell we were at high altitude because there was snow on the opposite bank!
After a few minutes, it decided to rain. Heavily. We took shelter under an information board and pondered about our lack of hiking. We had only done short hikes and the main reason was a lack of suitable equipment. Next time we would bring things so we could hike properly.
The rain cleared up, so we carried on walking around the bank. I decided to paddle in and stand on a partially submerged log – turns out that the water was incredibly cold! I balanced on the log, but after the wind tried to push me off several times, I returned to shore.
We enjoyed our time at Lake Moraine and didn’t really want to leave. In all my travels this year, this was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.
Out next stop was the Lake Louise gondola, which we had picked up a voucher for earlier in the day and was apparently a great place to view bears from. We arrived in the late afternoon, which also gave us a further discount – we ended up getting tickets for less than half price!
The gondola had two options: enclosed and open. Despite the cold, we went for the open gondola, for best bear viewing potential.
The gondola was a very relaxed ride, with grassy slopes below us and the mountains towering above. We wondered how high we would end up. After a while, people on the other side, coming down the mountain, told us to look out for the bears.
As we glided slowly along, we reached a clearing to our right and inside it were three bears! A mummy bear and two baby bears! They were quite far below us and seemingly unaware of our presence as we made lots of excited noises.
All too soon, we had drifted past them. We carried on, getting closer to the top of the gondola. As we got close, we spotted a second family of bears chilling out directly below us. This was very close to our destination!
We got to the top, got off and admired the view. You could see all the way back to Lake Louise and the lake was visible as a sparkling turquoise puddle in the distance.
We headed back down pretty quickly as we wanted to see the bears again. The bears near the top had moved further down and were only just visible through the trees, with both cubs climbing up and the mummy watching from below.
The lower set of bears were still there and after we went past them, we made it out duty to alert others to their presence.
We reached the bottom and bought a couple of coffees to drink with some Oreo’s in the car before making our way back to Lake Louise, praying that the car park would finally have space.
The one disadvantage of travelling in a car.
We arrived and, likely due to the time, found there was space. We wandered over to the lake, which is also stunning and has an incredible glacial mountain backdrop – which at this point in the day, looked like it was painted onto the sky.
We both agreed that we preferred Lake Moraine though, in part due to the massive, quite ugly hotel that stands on Lake Louise’s shore. A prettier building used to stand in its place, until it burnt down in 1924.
There was a lovely boathouse with quaint little canoes, which turned out to be extortionately expensive.
We dipped our feet in the cold water instead, then had a little walk around the lake shore.
We drove back down the road a bit and made dinner in the rest area we had had lunch in earlier. It was a decent place to cook and eat, but there was a lot of wind, at one point nearly ruining dinner by threatening to knock the pan off our tiny stove. We saved the dinner, but the piece of foil we were using as a lid blew across the road and out of reach.
Cute ground squirrels entertained us as we ate.
We drove on to our campsite for the night, the well-named mosquito creek, where we parked up next to the creek in the last available space and battled off the mosquitoes every time we ventured out to the toilet. Once again, we pacified ourselves with some Kracken rum and slept.
The next morning revealed beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We drive out and stopped at a wonderful lookout by bow lake. We wanted to make coffee but there were lots of Asian tourists and it was incredibly windy and cold! After a few minutes of admiring the view, we drove round to a car park at the end of the lake, where we managed to make coffee and get dressed.
We had a little walk by the freezing lake shore and touched the lake (this was one of our Xplorers challenges). The lake was cold.
We did a nice walk, with random patches of snow alongside it, up to a wonderful viewpoint for Peyto lake, which is shaped a bit like a coyote.
We headed on to touch another lake, waterfowl lake, which was only accessible through a campsite. We decided to make full use of their flushing toilets and wash our hair in the sinks. Sadly there was no hot water.
We carried on driving up to Saskatchewan crossing, which has amazing mountain views. We ate lunch, then headed into a pub for a drink. The ‘pub’ was a sorry excuse, only having a meagre selection of drinks, hardly any food, no snacks and bad country music. The views were stunning though.
After we finished our drinks, we walked down the hill to a cafeteria that we hadn’t seen before and got chips. Nom.
On the way back to Lake Louise town we stopped at Mistaya canyon which was absolutely stunning and you could get right up close to the water which was pretty awesome.
We went back to Lake Louise town and handed in the Xplorer booklet to get our prize and picked up some more booklets for the nearby Kootenay and Yoho national parks.
We around trying to find a campsite that was suitable and encountered yet another bear family, a black bear mum and two cubs, with the two cubs climbing a tree. The bears are so beautiful, but you see too many of them near the roads. We also spotted three white tailed deer.
We ended up back at Castle Mountain, which was very full and so we parked up in the day area and made camp. After some food and more rum, we settled in to sleep.
It was about 11:30 and we were just falling asleep when there was a knock on the window of the car.
Maybe I watch too many crime dramas but my immediate reaction in my half-asleep state was fear.
“Eva! Eva! There’s someone there!” I whispered urgently, before coming to my senses.
The friendly Parcs Canada man waited until I wound down my window to speak to him.
He told us that we were in the day area and we should move to another campsite down the road.
It was 11:30pm.
The car was rearranged for sleeping, which included fully tilting the seats back, rearranging our luggage and getting into our sleeping bags.
I was very tired.
So I said “What, now?”
For some reason, he decided that it would be better if we put up our tent, but I couldn’t be arsed, as I began to explain to the man, but then Eva sleepily piped up that we didn’t want to sleep in tent because of bears.
Eventually he said we could stay there if we paid, so we did.
Anyway, the next day we headed to Cave and Basin, which is a site near Banff town with a famous cave and sulphur hot spring.
Cave and Basin has its own Xplorers booklet and by this point, we were getting quite addicted.
The site was very interesting and had a lovely cave and some tiny rare snails. There were also fluffy beanbags and cute stuffed animals.
There were also some boardwalks through the marshland where you could see fish and birds and supposedly moose. We saw no moose. They are so elusive. The elusive mooses.
We then tried to go to tunnel mountain but we couldn’t find the car park and then walked around until we found some sort of power sub-station, at which point we gave up and went to see the Vermilion lakes, just outside of Banff town, where we had to find some brass plaques for out Xplorers booklet. We then went back to went to the Banff visitor centre to hand it in.
We had a bit of time left, so we explored Banff Park Museum, which is quite small and full of stuffed animals as well as some interactive elements. We had a lot of fun completing the booklet that went with that venue – and it was the hardest yet!
So concludes our Banff adventures!
I will write the next chapter soon, so get ready to hear about the small, but perfectly formed Yoho and Kootenay national parks.