long trip report Canadian Rockies

Old Jul 28th, 2007, 07:14 PM
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long trip report Canadian Rockies

My husband and I recently spent 10 days (June 21-30) in the Canadian Rockies. We had a fantastic time! We received many great tips from this board that we feel compelled to write a review.
Our itineray:
Day 1: Austin - Calgary.
Day 2-3: Jasper
Day 4-6: Lake Louise and Banff
Day 7-9: Lake OíHara
Day 10: Calgary - Austin

Day 1: We arrived at Calgary, left the airport at 4 PM and headed downtown. The weather was sunny and mild. Tall pine trees stood straight like soldiers along the road, quite refreshing compared with the knotty live oaks we have in hot and humid Texas. We got to downtown, strolled around Olympic Plaza and TD Square -- places I once spent a lot of my free summer time as a teenager. I was quite surprised to find how much more crowded downtown is on a weekday afternoon, but of course, itís been 10 years.
We met up with my good high school friend. The last time we saw each other was at my wedding 5 years ago. We hugged and laughed, and itís like we had never been apart. She and her bf took us to a Chinese restaurant in the old Franklin mall. This place is bit fancy, and the food and service were both excellent. After dinner, we did some shopping at the Chinese supermarket next door, bought fruits, snacks, and bakery goods, which proved to be extremely valuable later during the trip. The highlight of the day was a spot on the hill for Calgary night scene, wow, it was breathtaking.

Day 2: Woke up early, had breakfast and said good bye to my friend. The drive to Lake Louise was quite easy, and as we got closer to the mountains, the scenery became more and more striking. Arrived at Lake Louise around noon, so we bought two sandwiches at Logganís and made our quick visits to Moraine Lake (you absolutely have to hike up the rock pile) and Lake Louise. One was incredibly green, the other incredibly blue, framed by the snow-capped mountains in the background, both were magnificent.
Our destination was Jasper, so we continued to head north along Icefield parkway, one of the most spectacular highways in the world. The sceneries were so gorgeous in every direction that I wished I had eyes all around my head to enjoy them all. We made numerous stops along the way, but our first major stop was Peyto Lake. Unfortunately, it was pretty chaotic with mobs of tourists, and it was cloudy. So we decided to come back another time.
We got to the icefield center around 5PM and took our Snocoach tour. It was interesting, the snocoach tires were almost as tall as me. Boy was it cold up there. I didnít think standing on the glacier was all that, so probably wonít list it as a must-do.
It took us another hour after the tour to get to our lodge -- Beckerís Chalet in Jasper. Itís right by the Athabasca River, the grounds are beautiful, and our deluxe unit was very spacious and comfortable. I was pretty tired after so much traveling, so we decided to stay put and eat dinner at their restaurant. It had such a pretty view of the river, the snow-capped mountain, and a beautiful sunset. For dinner, we both asked for their special. My steamed salmon was extremely tender, but my husbandís pasta (udon with smoked salmon, red bell pepper, basil, snow peas, mushroom) was the star of the night -- itís the best pasta weíve ever had! Needless to say, we were more than satisfied.

Day 3: Luckily, weíve got yummy food from shopping at Calgary. After a wonderful breakfast with bakery goods and fruit, we visited Patricia and Pyramid lake. Bathed in the soft twilight, both offered wonderful reflection views. At the end of the road, we hiked along the shoreline for about 15 minutes to the lakeís outlet stream. It was so quiet and magical.
Weather in the mountains is quite unpredictable. By the time we left the lakes, it was getting cloudy. Maybe thatís why there was no line at the Tramway ticket booth. It only took 7 minutes to get up there, half-way through, it was already so cloudy that we couldnít see anything underneath. It was very windy and cold up in the terminal, but soon the clouds started disappearing. The views of the valley and lakes underneath and the views of surrounding mountains all revealed in front of us. From the terminal, we hiked towards the summit. It wasnít a long hike, but the climb was steep, and the clouds were coming and going, so it rained for a little bit, and then it became sleet, and then it was sunny again. What an interesting experience.
After we got down, I wanted to check out Jasper Park Lodge, so we went there for lunch. I watched the PBS ďThe Great Lodges of the Canadian RockiesĒ twice, and I wanted to check out all the lodges mentioned in that series. Their emerald lounge looked warm and inviting, and we enjoyed our Duck Confit (excellent) and bison burger (delicious). After lunch, we joined part of their tour and got to see Edith Cavel Dining room. Itís at the lowest level of the main lodge, overlooking the beautiful lake right outside and the majestic mountains, itís also got some amazing wood work and a very elegant setting. Itís the most beautiful dining room Iíve ever seen.
Our next visit was Maligne Canyon. The overcast weather worked out great for us. The canyon was an interesting hike with pretty waterfalls. On our way to Maligne lake, we passed by a beautiful lake called Medicine Lake. Like all the lakes in the Canadian Rockies, itís surrounded by striking peaks. By the time we got to Maligne Lake, the last tour cruise had already left (4PM). But we werenít really interested anyways. Maligne Lake was much bigger than I thought, the views were beautiful, and with the gentle breeze, it gave a particular peaceful ambience. We took a walk along the shoreline, soaking it all in.
Raised in Taiwan, I have a strong liking for hot springs, so Hubby took me to Miette Hot Spring. There were four pools, two hot, two very cold. It was also surrounded by mountains. It was so thrilling dipping into the cold pools after sitting in the hot ones, and equally fun vise versa -- every pore of your body tingles. We repeated this multiple times, it was awesomely refreshing.
It was late when we came back to Jasper townsite. Went to Villa Caruso for a rack of tender lamb. So good. Came back to Beckerís and slept like a baby.

Day 4: Said good-bye to Jasper and headed back towards Lake Louise. It was sunny and we stopped by Peyto Lake again. Still mobs of tourists, but we hiked to the left and got to an isolated spot. The view from this spot was much better too. Met some guy who said he saw some bears, and this made us really wanna see some too. Right after we got back on the highway, we saw a black cub! Really close-by too.
Num Ti Jah lodge by Bow Lake is one of the lodges mentioned in that PBS series. We made a small stop and checked out the main lodge. Definitely full of history and character.
Again, this weatherís unpredictable. We continued to head south, but it started raining, then it was pouring. We decided to tour Chateau Lake Louise. It sits by the most dramatic lake in the Canadian Rockies. Because of the rain, the wait for lunch was crazy, so we left to eat at Bill Peyto Cafe (Lake Louise Alpine Center) instead. Casual, large portions, and great food.
By the time we finished lunch, the rain had stopped too. Headed to Emerald Lake in Yoho (Unfortunately, Takakkaw Falls was closed). Busloads of tourists made the lake a bustling place, but it started raining again, and we decided to wait it out in our car reading. Hubby read a sci-fi, and I had ďsense and sensibilityĒ which was so enjoyable that I didnít mind the rain at all. After only about 30 minutes, itís bright and sunny again, and the rain had driven other tourists away. We hiked along the shoreline and enjoyed the glistening lake, majestic peaks, and sparkling skies all to ourselves. Of course I had to stop by Emerald Lake Lodge, also one of the PBS series lodges. We also hiked to a small cute waterfall called Hamilton Fall by the lake. It was about 20 minutes one way.
On the way home, we found this small restaurant Truffle Pig in Field, very cute, run by a French speaking lady. The best was their dessert, yummy.
Thanks JudyinCalgary for suggesting Lake Louise instead of Banff for our lodging destination. It was an excellent decision. We stayed at Paradise Lodge, and it was absolutely perfect. The location is central to most of the sights, the grounds immaculate, the cabins so clean, comfortable, and romantic. They even had a presentation about wild life that night, and the speaker talked about wolves, bears, lynx, and wolverines in a very entertaining and animated way. Very interesting.

Day 5: After a good and leisurely breakfast at Paradise lodge, it was still cold and overcast, so we decided to go to Johnston Canyon. We didnít get there until 11AM. Itís a pretty easy walk from the bottom to the Lower Falls, but I didnít really enjoy the views because I was already hungry and wanted to go to the bathroom too. Hubby really wanted to go to the Upper Falls, and I agreed. The Upper Falls were another mile away, and indeed much more impressive, but honestly all I cared was when I could find a bathroom. I ran pretty much the whole way down back to the bottom. Later I declared that it was the worst experience on this trip (definitely go to the bathroom first before you start this hike).
We drove to Banff and ate at a Thai restaurant called Pad Thai for lunch. The pad thai was really not that great, but their spring rolls and red curry were delicious.
Banffís biggest attraction is Banff Spring Hotel. We joined their daily tour at 4PM, and itís guided by their hotel ambassador whoís been with the hotel since 1962. He gave lots of history of the hotel and interesting anecdotes of the celebrities whoíve stayed there. The rooms and halls are stunning too. The tour was very enjoyable.
There was so much construction on Banff Avenue that it became so dusty and impossible to enjoy much of the shopping. What did we do instead? Ah, hot springs again. Banff Upper Hot Springs were close by, and we enjoyed another great soaking session. Very relaxing.
Craving for more Asian food, we headed to the only korean restaurant in town. I loved their BBQ wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves, really special.
Right after we left Banff, on highway 1, we saw a grizzly sow with two cups. They were quite adorable.

Day 6: Itís a beautiful sunny day! We got up early and went to Lake Louise. Itís sunrise time, all quiet except a few clicking sounds from the photographers, then to our surprise, a group of Korean tourists started singing ďHow Great Thou ArtĒ in korean, quite cute. What can I say about Lake Louise, ďgorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeousĒ? Next we revisited Moraine Lake. Itís ďstunning stunning stunningĒ, and neither of us could decide which oneís our favorite. Itís bright and warm now, so we rented a canoe and rowed across the lake. With the gentle breeze and ripples, soaked in the views of towering mountains and the sparkling lake, it was just mesmerizing. We finally felt our experience with the lakes complete.
We had buffet lunch at Banff Spring Hotel, again, beautiful setting, great food.
After lunch, we visited Vermilion Lake. The lakes were shallow and made great reflection of Mt. Rundle. They really reminded me of Patricia and Pyramid lakes of Jasper.

Day 7: From Paradise Lodge, Itís only a 12 miles drive to Lake OíHara entrance. Along with a few others, we waited at the bus stop at 9 AM, and a cheerful young man showed up and helped us load our luggage into the bus. The drive was about 30 minutes. We were met at the lodge by some very friendly staff. The lodge looked very inviting and elegant, and because no boots were allowed inside, all the guests are walking with socks on only, quite an interesting scene. We were told unfortunately quite a few trails were closed because of snow. They gave us a map and two packed lunch bags, and we headed towards West Opabin Trail. This trail starts along the west side of Lake OíHara. Lake OíHara was glistening with a beautiful emerald color, but as soon as we started walking along it, swarms of mosquitoes started attacking us, one flew into my eye! After lots of tears, I recovered from this unpleasant accident, and we applied Bite Blocker (deet free from WholeFoods) all over our bare skins and put on sunglasses. Once leaving Lake OíHara, the trail became steeper and steeper, and I was grateful for the cardio training I had before this trip. For a long time, we didnít see anyone else. The scenery became more and more impressive as we ascended. Finally we reached Opabin Prospect. It was absolutely breathtaking, and to say that itís the most beautiful place on earth is no exaggeration at all. The sparkling sky, snow-capped rugged mountain peaks, peacock-colored lakes dotted along the green valley, the view was so open and gorgeous that we only regretted we couldnít come up with better ways to describe its beauty. We were in awe. After hiking around Opabin Plateau and enjoying the view from all directions, we sat down and had our trail lunch -- garlic chicken salad wrap and Italian stack, both very yummy. A fat marmot showed up and played in front of us.
We were ready to take the East Opabin trail, but the plateau was covered with snow, and there were no footprints either. We walked all over and couldnít find the trail, and it was getting cloudy and dark, so we started going back via our original route. But suddenly Hubby saw some trail across the river/lake from us. The river was low, and there seemed to be enough boulders, so we trekked our way down the slope, hopped across the river, and successfully made it to the other side. It was indeed East Opabin Trail. The way down was quite steep too, but not as bad as the west trail. It had stairs and was marked much better than the west. We came back to the lodge around 3PM.
After a hot shower and a nap, we went downstairs for dinner. We enjoyed apple and parnip soup, vietnamese summer salad roll, indonesian bucca busso, and cheese cake. Everything was presented so beautifully. The best was their cranberry and blueberry bread, the best sweet bread Iíve ever had.
Took a leisurely stroll along the lake loop. The night breeze gently stroked our hair, some ducks swimming in the lake, so peaceful and so idyllic. I told hubby that we should send our daughter to Lake OíHara to work during summer when she grows up. He laughed at me, ďBut sheís only 1!Ē

Day 8: Woke up to a cloudy day. Breakfast was served at 8AM, and it was abundant -- muffins, fresh berries, yogurt, grits, cereal, hot plums, etc. along with hot breakfasts -- eggs, sausage, etc. What a treat.
Todayís hiking destination is Lake McArthur. Started from the day shelter, we hiked to Elizabeth Hut, then took the Highline Meadow to Schaffer Lake. There was so much snow that we could only see about 20% of the trail. Luckily there were some footprints to follow. Like yesterday, we didnít see anyone else for our entire hike. We took the highline McArthur Trail, which was quite steep in a few places, but the scenery was impressive. It took us an hour and a half to get to Lake McArthur. It was still frozen, surrounded by snow-covered peaks, it looked more like a winter postcard. We enjoyed our lunch on a rock, then we took the lowline trail back, which was covered with even more snow. At one point, my foot slipped, and I fell and slid down on my butt for quite some time. It was exhilarating, and we both laughed really hard afterwards. But my boots, my hiking socks, and my pants were all really wet and I couldnít wait to get back to the warm and dry lodge.
Again, after we got back to the lodge, itís shower, nap, more reading, and another gourmet dinner. Reading on the balcony with an awesome view of Lake OíHara was one of the most memorable experiences from this trip.

Day 9: Woke up and enjoyed another lavish breakfast. Headed towards Lake Oesa. After yesterdayís experience, I really hoped for no snow for this trail. It must be the most popular trail in this area, because we counted more than 15 people throughout our hike. The scenery towards Lake OíHara and Lake Mary was gorgeous. But Lake Oesa itself was still frozen. It was a shorter hike than the other two, and we actually came back to the lodge before lunch was over.
When we finished lunch, we canoed in the lake. The lake was calm with gentle breezes, the views towards every direction magnificent, and the whole ambience just so peaceful. I felt intoxicated by the surroundings and wished I could drift in that canoe for ever.
But it was tea time, and so we got back to the lodge and enjoyed our afternoon tea and dessert, socialized with other guests before we had to say good-bye and boarded our outbound van at 4PM.
Two hours later, we showed up at my friendís house in Calgary, and we went to a Japanese restaurant ďIchibanĒ for dinner. We got a sushi and sashimi boat, and I stuffed myself with lots of yummy salmon. Very satisfied.

Day 10: Itís our last day here. My friend took us to a famous Chinese dim-sum place for brunch. Iím not a big dim-sum fan, but the food was way better than Austinís. We parted after brunch, and hubby and I got back to the airport for our 1:30PM flight back to Austin. It was an awesome trip!
wind is offline  
Old Jul 28th, 2007, 09:33 PM
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Glad to hear you had a good time, wind. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Your report will help future visitors. I must admit I've never thought of telling anyone to go to the bathroom before they walk into Johnston Canyon, but that's a good point.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Old Jul 29th, 2007, 09:10 AM
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Great report, wind. It looks like you were there about the same time as us. We might have even passed each other at Lake O'Hara. I would like to stay at the lodge someday, although it would be hard to bypass Emerald Lake Lodge since we pretty much fell in love with the place. We met some people who were having a family reunion at the Lake O'Hara Lodge. What a great place for a family reunion!

Did you travel with your 1-year-old? By the mouth-watering descriptions of your restaurant meals, my guess is that you were on a kid-free romantic holiday.
Devonmcj is offline  
Old Jul 29th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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Thank you wind for a great trip report! We are in Seattle at a conference and can't wait for it to end and our holiday to start - have picked up lots of tips from your report, especially the restroom one!!
Thanks again.
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Old Jul 29th, 2007, 05:51 PM
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The trip's just for me and Hubby. My in-laws graciously offered to fly down to babysit our baby for us.

We have some pictures!
http://gallery.baobei.org/willjoyce/travel/rockies/

I think I'd choose July/August to visit the Canadian Rockies next time. Most lakes in Lake O'Hara area were still frozen and many trails closed in the last week of June. We were really bummed that we couldn't do those alpine routes.
wind is offline  
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