Beautiful Banff National Park


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North America » Canada » Alberta » Banff National Park
August 19th 2016
Published: January 28th 2017
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Driving the Canadian Rockies had been high on my 'list' for ages. Due to the cost though, I'd always written it off as something we'd do later, probably when retired and especially not a few months after visiting Iceland, which seriously left my wallet hurting. So how did this trip come together?

Well, the boys made some firm friends at school who sadly (for us, definitely not for them), moved to Seattle, so I looked at the possibility of visiting them. Also at this time, a very close family friend of ours who we've travelled with many times was turning 40 and has always wanted to see Orcas from Vancouver. We could always go together and tie the two cities into one trip? It's a long way to go for two city breaks though, so I pitched the idea to him of flying into Calgary, driving through the Rockies and ending in Seattle/Vancouver. I knew what the answer would be, he's never said no to anything before, I couldn't see how this would be different.

Without hesitation he agreed. So it was all sorted, 3 weeks summer holiday in Canada with a stop in Seattle. With the costs split between us it would hopefully make it a bit more reasonable, especially as we'd be visiting in peak season.

We checked the flight search engines daily, waiting for some reasonably priced flights. I'm always amazed at how much more expensive it is to fly west from the UK rather than east. We ended up booking the flights on Christmas Eve with Westjet, direct flights from London Gatwick to Calgary and then back again from Vancouver. They were a bargain, considering the alternatives, but we wouldn't get any food on the flight and they had no seat back entertainment. The way Westjet provide IFE is to WiFi it to your own device (as long as you make sure to download the app prior to boarding). Surprisingly this worked really well, and the resolution and size on my iPad is far superior to any seat back screen, so I preferred it. As for food we just took a bag of sandwiches and snacks on board with us, didn't even eat all of it over the 9/10 hour flights.

I think the one bargain from the entire trip was the car we hired. Somehow we managed to pick up a full size, really nice car for the full three weeks with a pick up at Calgary airport and a one way drop off in Vancouver for £450. Our original intention was to hire a campervan but the cost was prohibitive just for the rental, you then have to pay for the distance you intend to travel so we decided a car and hotels/motels/Airbnb's was the way to go.

When we arrived in Calgary we spent a couple of nights in a lovely Airbnb in Inglewood and during our time in the city we didn't do much except recover from the jet lag and explore Fish Creek Provincial Park. It was a lovely park, especially as the weather was spectacular, but it was our first introduction to the mosquitoes which were voracious...

Something else we did while in Calgary was head to the Olympic Park and go on the Skyline Luge. We had such a blast, Nate went in his own luge and although Gabe was just tall enough to go in one by himself he chose to ride with an adult instead. It was so much fun that when we passed it the next day on our way out of the city, heading towards Banff, we stopped and did it all again. This time while leaving the Olympic Park though we noticed there was a Jamaican bob sled outside, which turned out to be the actual bob sled used in the filming of Cool Runnings! Absolutely brilliant, it's one of my favourite films of all time and one of the late great John Candy's best.

After the Luge we headed to Banff, and it wasn't long after leaving Calgary that the terrain changed and the majestic Rocky Mountains started to loom in front of us. We spent a few days in Banff first, enjoying what it has to offer. After visiting the town we headed up Mt. Norquay, so we could get some spectacular views over the town. This involved plenty of switchbacks, with some amazing stops to better enjoy the view, ending at the chairlift that would take us up to the cafe near the summit. The views from up there were just breathtaking, an endless vista of beautiful peaks and deep valleys.

We also dragged ourselves out of bed early so we could enjoy Moraine Lake, as we were told parking would be an issue if we didn't get there early enough. We ended up arriving at the lake around 8am and the car park wasn't full at all, so we parked fairly close to the lodge and quickly walked to the shore.

I'm not really sure what to say about Moraine Lake. Nothing I can write, or even the photos I've taken, can even begin to describe the feeling I had standing on the shore of probably one of the most incredible views I've ever witnessed. Moraine Lake is one of THOSE sights. Something that makes you wobble slightly, completely overwhelmed by just how bloody beautiful nature can be. The striking blue water flawlessly reflecting the surrounding mountains is staggeringly awe inspiring. It's no wonder that its image is used on all the promotional material for Canada.

While there we scaled the rock pile, a huge pile of boulders at the end of the lake. It was only when we reached the top we realised that there's actually a walkway that would get you to the top effortlessly, but we enjoyed to climb and the boys loved the scramble to the top so it was definitely worth it. After spending maybe a couple of hours at the lake we took a short hike along one of the trails leading from the lake. There were a lot of playful ground squirrels around too, which obviously have been fed before as they'd approach you with little fear. When we got back to the car park and left Moraine lake it was easy to see why we were told to arrive early, the car park was packed and cars were also lining the road leading to the lake. When we got to the turn off for the lake near the highway, the road had been closed with park rangers only letting people down when someone had left. Glad we listened to the advice about getting there early.

After Moraine Lake we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to Lake Louise, probably one of the most iconic sights in all of Canada. Of course it didn't disappoint. It is seriously seriously beautiful, but it is crowded with people. There were masses of tour groups there but we took a walk around the lake (until tired little legs could take no more), and the further you go the quieter it gets. We wanted to take a canoe out on the lake but it was so busy we decided to come back the following morning, getting to the boat house as it opens so we'd have a bit more peace on our paddle.

The weather on the following day was a little overcast and cool, but we arrived as planned just as the boat house opened. While on the way into Lake Louise though we were in for something really special. A couple of cars were pulled over and just before we reached them, a bear crossed over the road. Not just any type of bear though, a grizzly bear!!!!! We pulled over and watched for a while as it peacefully foraged around the bushes for berries to eat. It seemed safe, so we got out of the car so we could get an unhindered look. What a sight, it was truly amazing. Our first wildlife spot and it's the one that everyone wants to see. After a short while, the crowds and the traffic that had built up was getting a bit too intense and at one point the bear started walking back towards the road causing everyone to scatter. At this point we got back in the car, immensely happy and continued on with our short journey.

What a difference in atmosphere at the lake. There weren't that many people around at all compared to the previous day and no one was queueing for a canoe either, so we were the first to go out. The canoes can carry three adults or two adults and two kids, and as Faye wasn't all that bothered, while we went out she sat on the shore and crocheted, much to the delight of the Chinese tour groups who for some reason were fascinated by her.

It wasn't a cheap paddle on Lake Louise, but it was incredibly serene and an all round great experience. We hired the canoe for an hour and that gave us enough time to get all the way to the other end of the lake before turning back.

Lake Louise was beautiful, no doubt, but Moraine Lake was definitely my favourite of the two.

After Lake Louise we drove onwards and onto the Icefields Parkway, reputedly one of the worlds most beautiful drives. Yep, it's reputation is very much deserved. Absolutely stunning! Every direction you turn your head you are faced with an incredible view, just spectacular, sheer driving pleasure.

We stopped a few more times in Banff National Park, we stopped for snacks on the shore of Bow Lake and then drove round for some cake from the lake lodge and also stopped off at Peyto Lake for the short hike to Bow summit. It was a really easy walk (not a single complaint from the boys so it must have been easy), and the views from the top over Peyto Lake and the surrounding peaks is simply sublime. Just when you thought the scenery couldn't impress you any more, you're confronted with another view that blows your socks off.

After a while of admiring the view we jumped back in the car and carried on up the beautiful Icefields Parkway. Onwards, to Jasper National Park!



There are more photos after the video of Nate crashing on the Luge!




Additional photos below
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29th January 2017

So glad you made it to both Iceland and road-tripped through the Canadian Rockies -- a stunning sight for readers' eyes and it must have been even more wondrous physically there. Really enjoying the new blogs and photos -- and my, how the boys have grown! ;)
29th January 2017

Beautiful Banff N/Park
You have done it again Michael. Brilliant blog with your amazing photos.
29th January 2017

On our list for ages also
Loved the blog! We've been planning to go for 30 years and have not made it yet. You've gotten us excited. we must go.

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