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Trip Report Banff/Jasper/Yoho Parks and Canmore Trip Report

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I visited Canada for the first time last week, basing myself in Canmore and visiting Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks. I had heard many wonderful things about this area and I was not disappointed.
I traveled up there alone, but would be spending time with a friend and her family who are vacationing there for a month. My goal for the trip was to enjoy beautiful scenery and have a low key, relaxing vacation.

My hotel was the Best Western Pocaterra. This very clean, pleasant hotel is conveniently located with easy access to the highway, plus downtown Canmore. I would stay there again. An added bonus is that there are a bunch of wild bunnies that live on the grounds and it was fun to see them every day.

June 20 – flight from Houston to Calgary on Air Canada. Easy, punctual flight. It was my first time flying AC and I was pleased. I picked up my rental car from Budget, a “full size” for $182 Canadian for my 5 days, and hit the road. There were some surprising gridlock traffic conditions about 20 miles out of Canmore, from construction activities blocking a lane. Upon arriving at my hotel, I found my room was not ready, so I set off to find lunch and head to my friend’s condo. I picked up a turkey sandwich at JK Bakery, $6.75 and a cupcake, $1.75. Both were very good. After eating, I set off with my friend and her kids to do the Minnewanka Loop.

We saw a coyote casually meandering alongside the highway, our first wildlife! It was peculiar to see one out in the middle of the afternoon. I used to live in New Mexico and we only saw signs of them very early in the morning or at night.

This loop drive is scenic and fun. At Minnewanka and Two Jack Lakes, we saw tons of mountain squirrels and were entertained by them popping in and out of their tunnels. The lakes were not busy and it was pleasant to wander around and enjoy the views. There was a group of people practicing scuba diving at Two Jack.

En route to Johnson Lake, we encountered two big horn sheep alongside the roadway. They were oblivious as we stopped the car and took photos from them (from the confines of the car).

At Johnson Lake, it started to rain, so we didn’t stay too long there. We were getting tired and hungry. Dinner was at Boston Pizza. I didn’t think my pizza was very good, but my companions seemed to enjoy their wings and pasta. We called it a day afterwards and I headed to my hotel for the night.

June 21 – a rainy start to the day. It was a dreary morning, but we set out for Lake Moraine. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived, probably due to the rain. We spent some time on the lakeside trail, taking lots of pictures, although the color of the lake wasn’t what I’ve seen in photos.

The lodge by the lake has clean restrooms and a nice gift shop. The snack bar is very expensive!

The sun started making a shy appearance and more people started showing up. This is a place that is much more special when you have the trail to yourself.

I climbed the rock pile while my friend and her kids rested. I felt very out of shape trekking to the top. I blame the altitude! To my delight, the color of the lake is totally different from atop the rock pile, looking down. This is what I had been expecting and hoping to see! It was so beautiful!

Time to move on to the famous Lake Louise! The parking lot was extremely busy at this time, around noon. Luckily, we found a spot. While the lake is very pretty, it wasn’t my favorite of the trip. We had lunch inside the hotel, mine being a $7 hotdog. Afterwards, we walked around and enjoyed the prettiness of the locale. By this time, the weather was very cooperative and so much improved from the morning. When we were done for the afternoon, we headed back to Canmore so my friend and her kids could rest. I set out on my own to drive part of the Bow Valley Parkway, in hopes of seeing wildlife. Unfortunately, I didn’t even see a bug!

I also stopped in Johnston Canyon and hiked to the lower falls. This is a busy place, even late in the afternoon!

I returned to Canmore to pick up the gang. Dinner was at the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. While it was very busy, we were seated right away on the second floor. The food was average but we thought it a fun place. The kids enjoyed watching sports on the televisions.

We walked around afterwards, visiting the big head sculpture. It was a nice way to close out the evening.

June 22-the kids were sick! My friend wisely decided they should stay home, so I set off on my own on the Icefields Parkway, picking up picnic materials before embarking. The weather was simply perfect this day. It was truly a glorious day and gorgeous drive. I caught sight of two bears this day and was very excited. I can’t remember where the first one was, and honestly, I just saw his back end disappearing into the woods, but the second was located in the burned area off the parkway and I could see him/her clearly and got a pretty good photo. I had been obsessed with seeing some bears in advance of the trip, so I was thrilled to get a good look at one.

I also saw tons of big horn sheep in both directions this day. These critters seem to like being roadside and don’t mind the “paparazzi”. Ok, so “tons” means about 25. Some were babies and really adorable.

I made many stops along this journey for beautiful photo ops, like at Bow Lake. I took the hike to see Peyto Lake and found the milky turquoise color amazing. At Peyto, fyi, they have restrooms, but they are the “dry” type. May I just say these are gross? The design of the commode does not allow for a hygienic experience. I’d personally rather go in the woods. Ok, moving on…

Eventually, I made it to the Columbia Icefields Centre. Wow, was this a busy place! Kind of like Disney World craziness. I bought a ticket for the Glacier Adventure and was able to get on a bus right away. First, you ride a regular bus for about 5 minutes to a platform where you then hop on one of the buses specially designed to go on the glacier. These things have massive wheels! The driver was interesting and provided some good information. I’d say it took about 20 minutes to get to the glacier. The bus moves slowly and it sometimes has to wait for other buses to clear. Once on the ice, we had about twenty minutes to walk around. It was literally and figuratively cool!

After I got back to my car, I ate half my sandwich while admiring the glacier. A sandwich with a view! Time to hit the road back to Canmore, with more photo stops along the way. One stop in particular that I liked was at Bow Lake, this time from the end of the lake where there is a lodge. It was really stunning. They have a little bridge on the property and a sign was stapled warning of a grizzly bear in the area. Alas, I didn’t see him. I ate the rest of my picnic at this serene spot.

There are so many lakes in this area and they are all pretty. I think my favorite lakes of the trip were Bow and Waterfowl Lakes.

June 23 – Banff area day. The kids were still sick, so I was on my own again. I decided to take it easy and spend time around Banff town. First, I set off at 6:30 am in pursuit of wildlife. I drove up to the Norquay ski area. Nothing. I went to Vermillion lakes. With the exception of some geese and ducks, not a creature to be seen. When I came out of Vermillion Lakes, I could see a ranger at the corner of the highway and Norquy Rd watching something. I drove as close as I could and sure enough, he was watching a grizzly. Yea!

I never did see any of the famous Canmore elk during my trip :(

I returned to my hotel for breakfast and then set off for Banff town. I went to the Banff Springs Hotel. It is a nice place. Then I went to Bow Falls and walked some of the trail. It’s really pretty here. Then I proceeded to the tourist shopping district in Banff and spent time looking in all the shops and selecting some gifts for my family. Banff town is much more touristy than Canmore and is your place to get souvenirs. Lunch was at the St. James Gate Tavern. The atmosphere is cool and it’d be a good place to have a drink with friends, but the food wasn’t very good.

After lunch, I went to the Banff Gondola. Like the Icefield adventure, this was a pricey treat, but still worth it. It was very busy, but the line moves quickly. To my delight, I got to go up and back in my own personal gondola, no sharing required! The ride is smooth and pretty quick, under 10 minutes. I was surprised at how long the boardwalk of stairs was to get to the top of Mt. Sulphur. I overheard one little kid telling his mom the stairs were endless and asking if they had to go all the way up. It’s definitely a work out and I didn’t feel guilty about the fudge I had purchased earlier. I leisurely enjoyed my time up there, but eventually some really dark clouds started moving in and I thought it best to head back down the mountain. I did a little more shopping in the town before heading back to Canmore and meeting up with my gang at their condo for dinner.

June 24 – Yoho day. My friend’s husband had arrived the night before and so he was on duty to take care of the sick kids while my friend and I headed off to Yoho. We picked up picnic supplies and hit the road. It was going to be a beautiful day.

We saw two doe alongside the highway at one point and were quite concerned for their safety. It was a particularly dangerous spot they had found themselves in, but I guess things turned out ok for them since we didn’t see any evidence to the contrary when we returned to the spot on the way back.

We went straight away to Emerald Lake. The parking lot was busy, but we scored a great spot. We had a leisurely walk (three miles?) around the lake, stopping for photo opps and to sit on various benches along the way to take it all in. This lake is beautiful and very still. There were tons of flies though in certain parts. Luckily, these weren’t the biting kind! They just seemed to love buzzing around us.

The restaurant was closed for a special event, so it was a good thing we had brought our own food. We had a lovely picnic at one of the few tables on the property.

Next stop, Takakkaw Falls! This was a fun little drive that included some switchbacks in the road. Only one did I find particularly sharp and luckily nobody was coming from the opposite direction.

The Falls are pretty impressive. It’s a pleasant walk to get to them, including a scenic pedestrian bridge. When you get really close, you find yourself getting a bit misted.

There was one crazy guy there who scrambled up the rocks to nearly the top, basically as high as it is possible to go. We watched with amazement at his progress. He was completely soaked from the experience.

We took our time here, sitting on rocks and enjoying the sight, took lots of silly pictures and just had a good time.

Lake Louise visitor center is a good place for a bathroom break, by the way, when passing through the area.

We went into Banff town to cap off our day’s activity, going into a few shops before returning to Canmore to meet up with my friend’s husband and kids. We went to the Iron Goat for dinner. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful view of the mountains. The restaurant had a very nice, relaxing atmosphere and good service. The food was pretty decent.

This was my final night and I was sorry to see my time in Canada come to an end.

June 25- time to fly home. My flight was at 1:15 on United. I set out at 8:30 because I wanted to be sure to allow for any unexpected traffic, getting gas, etc. Fortunately, even though the highway went down to only one lane for a duration due to construction, I made good time. My friend had given me a tip to refuel the car at Costco for a good price and she was right. Luckily, I had brought my membership card with me on the trip. While I don’t know what the prices were elsewhere in Calgary, the price at Costco was $1.03/litre, versus the $1.18 I had been paying in Canmore.

With the assistance of “Gertrude”, my Garmin GPS, I easily found the airport and returned my rental car to Budget with no problem. Going through immigration and security looked long, but it really wasn’t. I was there in plenty of time for my flight. Happily, it left on time and was an easy flight.

I really enjoyed this part of the world. The scenery is spectacular and the people are really nice. It was rough to return to the ugly, mean freeways of Houston!

Next trip, California in the fall for Sequoia and Yosemite Parks!

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