Banff had been on my bucket list for years. It made me so jealous everytime an Instagram acquaintance would post pictures of it's snow-capped mountains and bright turquoise waters. Why couldn't I be there?!
But we made it! Mountains (check), snow (check), turquoise lake (check)
Banff is the term I incorrectly use for the the entirety of the Canadian Rocky National Parks. It's actually 4 different parks: Banff, Jasper, Yolo, and Kootenay. Banff is the famous one (Alec), Jasper is on it's heals but still doesn't get the press it deserves (Stephen), and Yoho and Kootenay are rarely talked about (Billy and the other Baldwin Brother). *Ending analogy now* They are all beautiful, offer a slew of things to do, and each deserve a visit (but, I confess: we didn't go to all of them).
We started off in Banff (the town). We were IN LOVE. After 5 nights camping in Glacier National Park with no shower, nothing to eat but beans and turkey sandwiches, and no signs of modern civilization for miles, we were so down to hang in a super touristy place for the day. We treated ourselves to 2 ice cream cones, ate out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and relished our faux showers in the (clean) public restroom sinks to freshen up.
Banff is a town with good restaurants and beautiful views. You know what that means? You're exploring it with thousands of your best friends
We stayed at Two Jacks Campground which wasn't a campground to write home about. It was super crowded and enormous, but a cheap option compared to pricey hotels in town. We stayed in a spot just in the woods, but I do believe there are nicer sites along the lake, but I think you have to be a super planner and book months and months in advance to snag one of those spots (I guess I'll never get one).
We ate at Nourish Cafe, a vegan restaurant that said they had the best nachos in town. They're the kind of nachos that would give a Tex-Mex fanatic an aneurysm, with strawberries, quinoa, and other organic fruits and vegetables picked by free range people on top. The hippie part of my soul eats that shit up though.
A day was enough for us in Banff because even though double servings of ice cream is nice, it's just not sustainable. And the town is crazy touristy.
On to Mosquito Creek Campground we went, about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise. It's a first come, first serve campground, so get there early if you're planning on staying there. We loved it because it was central to some pretty awesome hikes, had a nice price tag ($12 a night), and we had a decent amount of privacy.
The whole setup for breakfast at Mosquito Creek Campground
But let's get real for a second. We were there in mid-July and it was FAHHHHH-REEEEEZING. Like, it hit 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Let me remind you: We were sleeping in a tent. We had a 15 month old with us.
Z hadn't gotten sick of beans
Thankfully, Z is like his Dad and is just a sweaty beast and thrives in those temperatures (I'm still thawing out though). All this to say, if you're camping, come prepared. We had to drop some money at an outdoor shop in Lake Louise for some extra insulation. My bargain shopping self hates when we not only pay full price but pay inflated prices.
There's a reason why the two sweaty dudes are asleep and I'm taking pictures...
Anyway, back to the awesomeness of Banff.
Our first hike was to Helen Lake. Jamie must have been secretly juicing because the hike up is quite steep, but he ran up the thing, passing really fit people along the way. I'm no doctor, but I think it's early onset Old Man Strength.
Like I said, the hike was steep and starts in the woods, but once you get above treeline, you're in alpine field heaven surrounded by wildflowers and mountain views. Once you get to Helen Lake, though, it's just ok IMHO (truth: I was disappointed). So, if you're not planning on doing the entire loop, for the love of God, at least continue on and go up on the ridge. I cried when we reached the top because I was overwhelmed by how beautiful it was. And another bonus: you'll never be alone on this trail as it's chock full of marmots and other furry creatures.
The walk up to Helen Lake
Helen Lake. Not saying it's not beautiful, but I'm just ungrateful.
The walk up to the ridge got slushy
Harry, I've reached the top!
In my happy place
Z isn't hating it either
If you're not into hiking, there is some beauty right off the road. This is Bow Lake that is worth a shoreside picnic or can o' wine.
The next day, we went a little farther north and did Wilcox Pass in Icefields in Jasper. With this hike, you get your bang for your buck. It's a 5 mile roundtrip hike with an 1,100 ft elevation gain/loss, but the views you get are comparable to a much longer and rigorous hike. You pop out above treeline pretty quickly, and then as you hike through the glacier-made fields, your views of the Columbia Icefield get more and more spectacular. The weather above tree line in this area is fickle to say the least. though. Rainy and windy weather comes in quick, so don't let the sun at the beginning of the hike fool you.Pack warm clothing and a rain jacket.
You pop out of tree line after a somewhat steep incline, then have open fields and great views from there.
Blurry at the top 'cuz it's freezing and we couldn't stop moving
Peyto Lake is another view you can see without a hike. I assumed that "Peyto" meant wolf, but a quick Google search told me it's named after the dude that discovered it.
The following day, we wanted something mellow because it was a little dreary and we got a late start because sleep was being replaced by shivering. We went up to Taylor Lake. The actual hike is just through the woods and it's nothing spectacular. To enter the trail, you actually go through a gate that prevents bears and other wildlife from getting out and running into the road. So basically, you feel like you're entering a bear cage (nay - you *are* entering a bear cage). We brought along speakers to listen to music because you have to make noise to keep the bears away and eventually, no matter how much you love a person, you run out of conversation topics after weeks of road tripping.
The following day was our FAVORITE hike. It was a longer one (about 20km or 12 miles). It's called The Iceline Trail and it's really spectacular. My camera died on the way up, so I wasn't able to capture the full beauty that this trail exuded, which gives you even more reason to go and see it for yourself. Many just do the Iceline loop, but only a small part of that hike gives you jaw-dropping views. The rest of the hike is somewhat lame (so we heard). A ranger gave us a pro-tip to hike up the Iceline Trail from Whiskey Jack Hostel parking lot just before you reach Takakkaw Falls parking lot. You can also start the hike from Takakkaw Falls if you are aiming for a mellow hike up, but from the the Whiskey Jack parking lot however, it is a very steep incline until you reach the beauty of the Iceline Trail at 7300 feet. Be prepared for inclement weather on this hike because as you get to the exposed section of this hike at higher altitudes, temperatures drop and it is offend rainy and cold. The views are worth it all though.
Definitely one of the coolest trails we've been on
Not pictured: the trash bag we put on Z when it started raining. We have since bought him a rain jacket.
Once we saw all the beauty we could stand on the trail, we turned around and backtracked for about a mile. Seeing the views from another angle was like we were on a brand new trail though. While you're still above tree line, there is an intersection where you can either continue going down or you can traverse to head towards Yoho Lake. The lake is deep emerald green, surrounded by tall trees. There is campground on the lake that would be a great spot to backcountry camp. We continued on a few more miles on Burgess Pass, just enough until we saw Emerald Lake from above. It was a really cool view and drastically different from the Iceline Trail views just a few miles back.
This hike had quite a bit of backtracking which is normally against my hiking protocol, but it was the most efficient way to see the beautiful sites and best parts of Yoho National Park. I would definitely recommend doing it, but be prepared with bear spray. Though the Iceline Trail is highly populated, the trail around Yoho Pass is not and it just looks and feels like bear turf.
The hike back to Yoho Lake
The view of Emerald Lake
Nice little nap in his trash bag
If you know anything about Banff, you'll notice that we didn't visit Moraine Lake, the picturesque lake that everyone and their mothers visits while in the Canadian rockies. We would have liked to, but it takes planning and you have to be on it in terms of timing to get a parking spot-2 things that we are not. We had plans to go, but after hitting 100 miles of hiking with no shower (that is so embarrassing to admit), sleeping in the freezing cold every night, and never actually getting warm during the day, we were far beyond done. Our friend texted us from Bozeman, Montana and told us that she had a bed and warm shower. No questions asked, we were up early the next day and on the road heading south for 10 hours. A shower never felt so good.
Fresh pedi. Those are hiking feet if I've ever seen 'em.
This is what 9 days with no shower looks like
Thank you Banff for letting me cross you off my bucket list! You were not a disappointment.
Have you been to any of the 4 National Parks in the Canadian Rockies? What was your favorite part?