Next up on our trip was Banff National Park, located less than two hours West of Calgary. It contains some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen in my life, it’s a remarkable winter wonderland this time of year.
The town of Banff is often described as a touristy town, and an abundance of nicknack and souvenir stores does nothing to dissuade that notion. But the sheer natural beauty of the area immediately around the town makes it worth visiting. Even during peak ski season the town centre never seemed busy, the streets are definitely most lively in the morning and afternoon when people are heading out or returning from the ski fields. The rest of the time it felt like a pretty quiet little mountain town, very cool place.
We drove up from Calgary on the surprisingly well maintained two lane highway all the way into town. Seeing as it was Superbowl Sunday we decided we had to find a bar to watch it, and that was pretty much it for the first night here.
Seeing as it was looking like our first day here would have the best weather, we decided to catch the free bus up to Lake Louise. As we got off the bus, a small amount snow was falling and the sun was shining. The light reflected off the snowflakes and the snow on the ground in a magical way. Then as we rounded the enormous Chateau the main attraction revealed itself.
Lake Louise might be one of the most popular natural attractions in all of North America, and it’s very easy to see why. The view of the frozen lake with the enormous snow capped mountains surrounding it is truly breathtaking. We had picked a beautiful day for it, and had managed to arrive early enough in the day that the sun was still shining on the lake. Less than an hour after we got there, the sun had moved behind the mountain and shrouded the place in shadow. An absolutely incredible place to see, and I would love to make it back here during the summer one day.
We caught the bus back into town and seeing as there was an hour or two of daylight left, we decided to walk along a trail next to the Bow River up to a viewpoint. Within five minutes of walking we spotted a deer just down off the trail, just wandering through the snow. It seemingly wasn’t bothered by our presence at all, and quite content to continue on with looking for food. I was stunned, so this is what it’s like to be in a National Park.
The next day it looked like fine enough weather so we packed a bag and drove up the road to Johnston Canyon for a hike. It was a frigid -19°C when we set out, more on that in a bit.
The walk along the canyon was both peaceful and beautiful, the snow covered landscapes still wowed me constantly. The path weaved its way up the canyon to several viewpoints, the most impress being right at the top looking up at the upper falls. During the summer this is a powerful torrent of water, but in the middle of winter it freezes. Quite a spectacular site to see a waterfall of this size frozen solid, and the view became even more impressive as we watched ice climbers scale up the sheer cliffs of ice.
On our way back we rounded a corner to find a bright orange fox running along the trail towards us. This fluffy critter had got itself between us and the next people ahead, and after several attempts finally managed to make it up the snowy bank next to us. We got back to the car to have our packed lunch, only to find our water bottles almost too frozen to drink from. So we enjoyed a lunch of ice cold water plus extremely cold croissants and apple turnovers in the relative warmth of the car.
The second day ended with a trip up to the Banff Upper Hot springs, where we relaxed in thermally heated water within arms reach of snow. Quite a funny experience to soak in 39°C water while looking at a great view of a snow capped mountain range.
Our timing at getting to the bus stop down the road was impeccably bad. Which resulted in us having to wait in the cold for 20 minutes to catch the next one, by the time we made it back to town we were starving. Found a neat underground bowling alley and bar for dinner, ended up getting a pizza with maple sausage, cheese curds and maple syrup and it was actually delicious.
Our last day up in Banff was spent doing a couple of smaller walks around the town. It actually ended up being our longest day off walking yet at almost 24km. In between these smaller tracks we walked around town doing some shopping and stopping at a little cafe for hot apple cider to warm up.
Some really lovely sites along the trails we did, and the snow later in the afternoon was a brilliant way to end our time up in Banff National Park.