After our incredible drive down Icefields Parkway we settled into our campsite at Tunnel Mountain, on the edge of the town of Banff (south end of Banff National Park). The rest of the afternoon/evening was spent on fun stuff like laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, bill paying, plowing through the in-box, trip planning, campground booking… you know… life stuff. (I had to add that because I know you all think I do nothing out here but have fun and take pretty pictures.🤣😂)
We rolled out early the following morning hoping to beat the crowd to Lake Louise. I should back up and mention that on our drive south, after we passed the turn-off to Lake Louise I noticed a “Lake Louise Shuttle Parking” sign, and my jaw must have dropped as we drove past a HUGE parking lot… with an exit all its own… which was installed since my last visit. 😳 I took that as a warning, and thus the early departure.
As we drove up the hill to Lake Louise I notice that the road to Moraine Lake was closed. 😳 “No way! No damn way!”, I’m literally aghast, and expressing it out loud. We arrive at what I already knew to be a substantial parking lot, before 7am to find it almost completely full. I hate to admit to the glumness John and I were feeling as we walked through the vast parking lot toward Lake Louise, and past the long line of people waiting to buy shuttle tickets to Moraine Lake. We stepped up to this incredible view, surrounded by noise and selfie sticks.
We literally stood there wondering what to do. Leave? No! We can’t leave! I’d been talking about my incredible experiences in these National Parks for soooo long! I planned our route back here so John could share my love for the beauty and tranquility here. While we tried to decide what to do, we started walking along the north (right) side of the lake.
One of the most memorable features in this part of Alberta is the glacier fed lakes. The emerald green/blue color is enchanting to me. Of course there’s a scientific reason behind the color, and it starts with the glaciers. In a nutshell, the glacial run-off is such a powerful force it grinds rocks down to a flour-like substance that trickles into the lakes below. The slurry (aka- rock flour) is so light that it floats. The sun reflects off these particles, refracting blue and green wavelengths of light. Voila!
Thankfully, the crowd thinned as we walked, and by the time we stepped off the pavement, and on to the dirt trail at the far end of the lake we found ourselves alone. We were now on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. After a pretty good uphill climb we took a turn toward “Little Bee Hive” and Lake Agnes.
We saw only a handful of people between one lake and the other, but oh my! The hordes at the Tea House! There was a long line for seating in this quaint and historic little tea house, and another long line for “take-out”. 😳 Really? I was hoping for a cup of cocoa, but there was no way I was standing in line. So, after a brief rest (and some photo ops) we moved along down the high traffic trail toward Mirror Lake.
I can’t help but compare our experiences in Jasper and Banff National Parks with my solo visit here five years (and a three months) prior. When I hiked to Lake Agnes in June of 2014 I shared the trail and tea house with no more than a dozen other people. While there with John, there were literally hundreds of people at the tea house and on the trail back down. It is mind boggling! I was there at the beginning of peak season, and this visit was considered off season! I can’t help but wonder and worry about the traffic in our national parks. It’s only a matter of time before some measures will need to be taken. Eliminating the huge tour busses would be a good start in my mind, but one can’t fault those tourists for wanting to see these spectacular places. Sadly, it’s starting to feel like “following the line” through Disneyland.
To add to the congestion on the trail back down, we shared it with at least two groups of horses… who slipped and slid on the rocks in the steeper areas, while tourists sat astride and held on for dear life. They took up the entire trail, and it didn’t matter if our pace was faster, the horses had the right of way. All we could do was follow their rumps down the mountain until they veered off on another trail.
After completing our hike (7.3 miles and a gain of 1,420′ in elevation gain), we were ready to leave. By John’s choice, the incredible Moraine Lake was not going to be on our agenda this trip, and it saddens me to know he may never see it.
For those of you who read my posts regularly, you probably get my disillusionment with our National Parks. (Again… US and Canada). They are absolutely worth seeing. They really MUST be seen, because they really are that amazing. But… I highly recommend going off-season. Maybe even more off-season than shoulder season. Keep in mind too, that some parks are much more popular than others. If in doubt, feel free to drop me a note, and I’ll give sincere advice from my perspective.
One other note about trip planning… During my visit in early/mid June, I saw a whole lot more wildlife than we did in September. I’m guessing that’s mostly seasonal, but the volume of people might play some part in that as well, especially since those people are very attracted to the wildlife and many don’t respect a good viewing distance.
We did pull off at one lovely vista, and enjoyed it all to ourselves on our way back into Banff…
The following morning we set out early once again, in order to beat the crowd, to Johnston Canyon Falls Trail. This is roughly three miles up (and back) a canyon past numerous waterfalls. We set out in cool/dry weather, but the precipitation built on our way up hill, and it was literally pouring on our way back down. Needless to say… since we started out in dry weather… we were ill prepared for the hard rain and were soaked by the time we got back to the car. Worth it though… Lovely trail.
Back in town the town of Banff we made the quick and easy stop at Bow Falls, and again at a lookout point along Bow River…
And then we made the drive out to Lake Minnewanka (Nakoda word meaning “Water of the Spirits”), where we did a short hike along the lake.
While in the area, we also made a stop at Johnson Lake, where we were surprised to find the parking lot almost empty. So… we hiked around the entire lake in complete tranquility.
This time of year there are few wildflowers to be found, so this one caught my eye… and when I got closer the bee caught my eye as well. The wind was really blowing, which makes photographing flora rather challenging, but I flopped myself on the ground anyway. Through my lens I watched this little bee hang on for dear life as the long stemmed flower flopped hopelessly in and out of my frame. I held my breath and hoped for good timing. I love the resulting image. The detail on the bee (in full res) is incredible! Look at the hair on his back, and the lines in his translucent wings!
And THAT, my friends, was the best of our brief stay in Banff National Park. All of our stops since setting out in the motorhome are worthy of much more time. All six of the posts I’ve shared since transitioning from boat to motorhome took place in twelve days (9/2-9/13). That is mind boggling, even to me! The thing is, there are so many incredible places on our route south that we hope to fit into our journey before the frosty cold requires a quick departure to a warmer climate. Safe roadways in the rig being the pressing matter, and as you will see in future posts… it did become a pressing matter. But alas… we made it work.
Still to come… Waterton Lakes National Park (Canadian side of our Glacier National Park), Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks. And that just catches us up to where we’re camped while writing this post. From here we travel into Colorado and the rest is yet unplanned.