My apologies once again for my long silence. Now that I’m settled down a bit and have my head clear I’m back to blogging. I have so many incredible stories and images to share from Canada it makes my head swim just thinking about how much catching up I have to do. So… on with it…
I headed out of Kelowna in the rain on June 13th eagerly anticipating the mountainous vistas of the Canadian Rockies, a place that’s long been on my bucket list. Sadly my disappointment grew as the clouds got lower and darker throughout the day. I can honestly use the word “agonizing” to describe what it felt like to drive for seven hours in a place I knew to be heavenly and not see a bit of it. My high for the day… after all those hours navigating The Beast through windy mountain highways in the pouring rain… was rolling into the campground. I’m sure the disappointment only added to my exhaustion. After settling in and walking the girls I called it a night with high hopes for a brighter tomorrow.
I was thrilled to wake the following morning to blue skies and sunshine. Finally I’d made it to Banff National Park and I was more than ready to make the most of my day! First stop was the visitors center in the town of Banff. (I never realized Banff was a town as well as a National Park.)
There was a bike race taking place there that day so the area was coming alive with activity when I drove to town. Much of downtown was blocked to traffic which gave me an opportunity to see the main drag with no cars and few tourists. It’s a lovely place. The town is clean and quaint and surrounded by majesty. I must come back for some snow skiing one day!!
It didn’t surprise me to see tables set up outside the visitors center, considering the festivities. I was surprised though, when I found out why. One of the staff told me there’d been a bear spray incident during the night. Being the smart alec that I often am I asked him if a bear broke in and sprayed his scent all over the place. (I haven’t a clue if bears actually do this like some other animals do.) That got a chuckle, and then the real story. An expired can of bear spray popped it’s top during the night and filled the building with a substance kind of like Mace on steroids. Note to self… remember to check the expiration date on my bear spray!! (Since then I’ve actually put a tickler on my calendar to dispose of it when that time comes. Clearly that should be at a hazardous material disposal site.)
Along with some great driving and hiking suggestions, the staff marked my map with areas to stay away from due to high grizzly activity. As much as I wanted to see a grizzly in the wild I heeded their advice and avoided those areas. My first stop was the Johnson Lake Loop. This was an easy two mile hike I could do with the girls, and it was breathtaking in every direction. The trail, which took me in and out of the woods all the way around the shoreline of the lake, was relatively light on traffic but I did run into a fisherman who asked me if I’d seen “the bear”. I hadn’t, but it was abundantly clear there are a lot of bear in Banff! Another note to self… do NOT forget the bear spray when stepping outdoors! (It’s pretty much permanently attached in an outside pocket of my backpack just so y’all know.)
After the hike I continued my drive past Two Jack Lake and on to Lake Minnewanka. There were other hikes I would love to have done in this part of the park, but I was scheduled to relocate to the Lake Louise campground the following day (40 miles away) and there was much more I wanted to see here before leaving.
Next up were Vermillion Lakes… a series of three incredible lakes with one of the most stunning backdrops I’ve ever seen!
From there I traveled back to town to see Bow Falls and the highly acclaimed Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
To top off the day I took a drive down Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy-1). This parkway is closed to traffic between the hours of 8PM and 8AM for the sake of the wildlife habitat, in particular bear, wolves and cougar. One interesting note is that the Trans-Canada Highway has wildlife fencing on both sides all the way through the park. In addition there are underpasses and overpasses at frequent intervals along the highway built solely for the wildlife, so they can safely migrate from one side of the highway to the other. (I was particularly intrigued and impressed by all of this, and have no doubt it has lowered the number of vehicle-wildlife collisions and deaths… human and animal… substantially.)
I’d no sooner started down Bow Valley Parkway when I spotted this adorable young big horn sheep (sibling not far away, but no sign of the parents.) I found it surprising that they were the only animals I saw on this wildlife friendly roadway.
By the time I arrived back at the campground the skies had changed once again, leaving me wondering what tomorrow would bring. I was so glad I’d made the decision to put the hours and miles in that day. To think what I might have missed!!
Before departing the following morning I took the time to visit Banff’s Sulphur Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the birthplace of Canada’s National Parks. First thing I saw as I entered the nearly empty parking lot was a small group of young elk, one wearing a transmitter.
Next stop… Lake Louise campground. Knowing I’d soon be hiking around this famous lake made me giddy with excitement! So excited that I had The Beast on the road in fifteen minutes flat upon my return to the campground. (Only the RVers out there will be impressed by that I’m sure.) Our trek took us back up the Trans-Canada Highway to the town of Lake Louise, all of which I’d driven in the pouring rain only a few days before. I was grateful to get more than halfway there before it started raining again, but it was coming down in buckets by the time we reached the campground.
I was told as I checked in that a mother grizzly and cub had been spotted in the campground that morning. That got me excited all over again. I was also told that some of the hiking trails in the area, including the one along Bow River where I was camped, were closed due to Grizzly activity. This came as no surprise, but put me on high alert… not so much for fear, but for the potential photo ops!
Another very interesting tidbit… the Lake Louise campground is the ONLY place I’ve ever camped (and I’ve camped in a LOT of places!) where all tent campers were confined within an electrified compound. I’m not talking an electric fence mind you. This was more like a high security prison. The entire fence is electrified. In addition, there are electric wires running between the rails on the cattle guard you drive across to get in. (Google “pictures of lake louise campground electric fence“. It’s impressive!!)
Regardless of the weather I couldn’t resist driving up to Lake Louise for a look-see. Even in the yucky weather it was just as spectacular as I’d always heard, and I could only assume the surrounding mountains were as well. While camped in the area I returned to the lake two more times, did some hiking and got some great images. Those and much more about my time in Banff National Park will be coming soon. Stay tuned for some great hikes, stunning lakes, majestic mountains, and my first two bear sightings in Canada!