Just saw this shot posted on reddit.com of Moraine Lake in Banff and compared it to the view we had. A little lack luster, heh?? Next time we go, and there will be a next time, it will be in August.
I finally got around to getting most of the pictures posted. I have two sets below: the first is just a ‘best of’ that I think shows the best nature shots I took, and the second shows more of what it was like to travel 4600 miles in 2 weeks with the family.
We did several hikes while in the Rockies. The girls (6 and 9) were with us for all the hikes so they are all family friendly. I tried to rank them based on the uniqueness of the hike, if what we knew about the hike turned out to be true, and my general feeling about it. I also have several more pictures of all of these locations so if you are interested, just email me.
Bow Falls (1 out of 5 stars)
Just outside of the city of Banff. It’s right in town and it was raining when we arrived to town so we felt like this would be easy enough to do and hopefully raise our spirits. It’s not worth it to try and view from the east side. Cross to the west and there is a nice view of the falls from an access road. The river rafting folks drop in just south of the falls and you can watch them from the viewing location. Bow Falls seemed more like rapids, than falls.
There is a short hike to the top of the falls from the parking lot but the view wasn’t great and the pictures confirm this. On the plus side, it’s right next to town, on the downside, it’s hardly worth the effort.
Johnston Canyon (3 out of 5 stars)
The canyon was pretty nice but it felt a little wrong when we were walking from the parking lot and got to hear a tour guide explain the rules for the stop to a group of 70+ yr old folks that were about to do the same hike we were. It’s a really easy hike and the canyon is very interesting. There is a lodge right next to the trail at the beginning with an ice cream stand that made it feel pretty touristy which made me a little disappointed. There is a very, very cool little hole at the end of the trail that you can walk through and be right next to the falls. The kids loved that!
Lake Agnes Trail (tea house) (4 out of 5 stars)
This was a 3.5 km one way hike. It starts just to the north-west of the chateau and we didn’t realize it before we started, but you can actually see the tea house from the chateau. It’s way up there, but you can clearly see it.
The entire 3.5 km is all up hill and fairly steep. We had to keep Brooke motivated to keep moving but she finally made it. I was proud that she decided to push on to the tea house after reaching Mirror Lake since her attitude seemed to be turning for the worse. The tea house was very nice and the young folks that work up there were great. We did get to experience some foreigners being incredibly rude to the staff of the tea house which was sad and funny. Here we are, up in the woods at this cool tea house and there is one server for a fairly large crowd and this old man felt like he wasn’t being served fast enough. This gentlemen walked into the kitchen to tell them to hurry up with his order. Odd, you think he would have been happy to just be served hot tea in the middle of the damn wilderness!
It was a quick hike back down. The major let down for me was that this hike only provided one view of Lake Louise. I was hoping to get some nice wide-angle pictures but didn’t get any. If you want to get elevation above Lake Louise, don’t hike this trail to do it. The trail also started to get a little crowded on our way back down (around 1pm). It looks like this is popular since the start is so close to the chateau, at least that is my guess.
Did I mention there was a fair amount of snow? Nothing like a little snow-softball to break up the hike.
This is the only view you get of the lake during the hike.
Athabasca Glacier (4 out of 5 stars)
Yeah, we did the mass-tourist thing better known as The Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience. We originally thought of hiking up to the foot of the glacier and just walk on, but there is a stream of water between land and the actual glacier. We were also advised against trying it (by some parks folks, but it felt a little like they were working for the Sno-coach people…). So we signed up to take the bus out to a transfer station where we moved onto the Sno-coaches and out onto the glacier.
You only get 20 minutes on the glacier to walk around which felt like way way to short of a time considering the $50/person cost of the trip. It was also a little sad to see the massive road they had cut into the glacier in order for the Sno-coach to drive on it. I understand that it raises awareness of global warming, but it felt a little anti-environment instead of respecting the glacier. Julie felt the same way, cringing as we rode in this $1 million huge, gas guzzling Sno-coach but it was the only way onto the glacier. It was a cool experience nonetheless.
We also filled up some water bottles and enjoyed some very, very cold and fresh tasting water. We have a few bottles left in the fridge!
Athabasca Falls (3 out of 5 stars)
You can tell this is a popular tour bus stop when you pull up. Lots of crazy angles from the various bridges that go over these falls allow for a pretty dense population of people to view the falls at the same time. We needed to fight for a few key photo taking locations when we got there. It was later in the day when we got here so the sun was high overhead and did not lead to any ideal lighting conditions for taking pictures. The kids hiked around a little and it was an overall nice stop.
This is the view if you turned around from the falls and climbed onto a road. This was a pretty nice payoff for looking the other way.
Stanley Glacier (4 out of 5 stars)
Stanley Glacier was our first real hike of the trip. When we got out of the car at the trailhead, the temp was a nice a cool 36 degrees. Needless to say, we had on multiple layers, gloves, hats, the works. This hike climbs up for the first 1.5 km and then levels out as you get into a valley between two mountains. It was a cloudy day when we started but the sun came out when we reached the valley. It was a really pleasant hike with small water falls cascading off from the tops of the mountains where the snow was still melting. We were hoping to be able to hike up to the glacier, but it was really really high and we were not going to push the kids on the first hike.
We stopped for lunch at the top and had a little snowball fight. We were first on the trail when we went out but a few others showed up as we were hiking back down.
Marble Canyon (4 out of 5 stars)
This little gem of a hike we heard of from another couple while we were in Johnston Canyon. It is a km or two past the Stanley Glacier hike and we had some time in the schedule so we decided to go for it. What an awesome surprise!! This canyon is in the process of being formed and instead of hiking in the canyon like at Johnston, you hike on top of it and can look down to see it being formed. At some points it looks like you might be able to jump across it or would simply miss it if it wasn’t marked, but when you look down into the canyon it falls a couple of hundred feet at some places.
This area was very well blocked off with nice fencing to keep the kids safe. It looks very new and we guessed it was in response to some type of accident based on a sign we read at the end of the hike. This was only a km or two round trip.
Notice the nice railings!
Lake Ohara Shoreline Trail (5 out of 5 stars)
The best hike of the trip in my view. From the moment we walked up from the bus drop off, I loved this lake. Close your eyes and try to imagine the perfect mountain lake: the color, the views, the smell. That is Lake Ohara. I thought about this lake as we were driving home after the whole trip was over and I think I would go back to Banff just to spend a few days hiking the Lake Ohara area. I liked it that much.
This was highly recommended by a co-worker and needless to say, it didn’t disappoint. You have to call the park service a few months in advance to get a bus ride up to the lake and the day we went was the first day it was open for the season. They had been snowed in at the lake as recent as a few weeks before we were there.
We just did the basic hike around Lake Ohara but there are numerous hikes that shoot off from here and there is a lodge as well. The cabins looked really really awesome but when we looked into the price, it would be something like $700/day for our family to stay there. Just a little above our price range (yikes!). The water was clear and the sky was sunny with some clouds to add contrast. The hiking was easy and very enjoyable for the kids.
There is a little shop where you can get something to drink and a t-shirt if you want, but it’s pretty rustic. We took the 10:30 am bus and came back at 2:30. They only run the return buses every two hours so you have to plan ahead a little.
We saw an amazing amount of wildlife in the parks. Most of it was along the Icefields Parkway as we drove between Lake Louise and Jasper but overall, there was just an amazing amount of wildlife that seems to be everywhere. As spring was in the air and things were starting to thaw out, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise but based on experiences in U.S. National Parks, we were not prepared for the sheer number and closeness we experienced.
June 16 – On our way back from the Marble Canyon hike, just past the continental divide, we ran into our first bear on the side of the road. We were not prepared at all for this and the girls briefly got out of the car until we realized that this was not a safe situation for anyone. The bear was maybe 50-60 feet away. Mom got over excited and ran down to get a real close shot. As soon as it turned to look at her, she moved pretty quick to get out of there.
June 20 – Along the Icefields Parkway
June 18 – Along the Icefields Parkway
June 20 – This was the day of the black bear. We saw 4 in total which including the Grizzly, made 5 in one day. By the end of the day, some people in the vehicle had lost interest and just wanted to get back to have dinner. I still can’t believe it. We saw so many bears, wild, up-close and personal, that it was just too much. Amazing. You won’t hear anything like that driving through Yellowstone or Yosemite.
June 14, 15, 16, and 20 – Needless to say, these are the most common large mammals in the park. We saw some the first night we were in Banff, right on the shore of the Bow River. We also saw them along the Bow Valley Highway and along the Icefields Parkway.
June 16 – We saw this little guy on the hillside just to the north-west of the Chateau at Lake Louise. This wasn’t on the kids list of animals to see, but was definitely interesting.
June 18 and 20 – Both times we drove the Icefields Parkway, we saw these mountain goats in the same place. On the way back down the parkway on the 18th, a park service guy fired off some fireworks to scare the goats off the road since they were causing such an issue.
June 18 and 20 – I loved this grand-dad of bighorn sheep that we found. He was just hanging out, enjoying the morning. Again, on the Icefields Parkway. Similar location on both days. The older ones are way more interesting than the young or female. Love those horns!
June 19 – I saw a few of these on my way up the trail to Lake Oesa while we were at Lake Ohara. I ran up here to try to get a high view of the lake for a few shots. This litter sucker would not get off the trail. I yelled, threw rocks at it (hard) and it would not budge. I finally decided that I would just walk up to it and if it jumped at me, I would soccer kick the sucker off the side of the steep trail. Luckily, it didn’t come to that and it took off when I was about 2 feet away. Scared the crap out of me when it finally ran off.
The drive was uneventful through Minneapolis. We decided to stop at Mall of America and the kids rode in a giant blow up pineapple and I went with the girls on the Ferris wheel. At at the food court and got some fresh backed cookies from the tollhouse store for the road.
Julie slept and I rocked out to the stones and the who through Fargo. Past Fargo, we stopped for gas and I almost messed things up by opening the gas door while the side door was open. The door would not shut and I had to shove a magazine between the door and the gas door to force it shut or shut enough to move the door. It gave me a few minutes of anxiety while the girls were using the bathroom.
Arrived in Grand Forks and went to the Space Aliens Bar & Grill. Kind of a cool place and something a little different. We finished the night with some time in the pool and Julie went running on the treadmill (barefoot!!) while the girls and I played.
Plan is to be up early tomorrow for breakfast and then on the road, next stop: Medicine Hat.
Today started out with significantly better weather. After 4 hours of rain yesterday, the sky has cleared and the sun is out. Our drive today takes us from Grand Forks, ND to Medicine Hat, Canada. We are heading directly west from Grand Forks across a good portion of North Dakota and then heading north across the border. The kids are watching The Neverending Story this morning. As soon as the movie started Maddie blurts out “we’ve seen this before!” Dang it!! I thought this was going to be so awesome and apparently their cousin has the movie and they watched it with her without me knowing. Oh well, they are still watching it again. Julie has the first driving shift and is jamming to U2 (shocking).
We did a quick stop at the ‘middle of north America’ land mark which was a welcome surprise. Who would have guessed the middle would have been in some town in the middle of North Dakota…. although when I think about it, I guess it makes sense.
Crossing the boarder was quick but a few things we noticed right away: more trains and more oil fields. It is pretty amazing how many oil fields they have going through southern Saskatchewan. They have done a lot of mining in the area as well which has left the land with a burnt out, naked feel to it. Lots of browns and not much green.
We also passed a very cool operation underway with the road construction. They has a machine tearing up the road and then several hundred yards behind it, the machine laying down some fresh oil followed by the machine laying the new asphalt. Very cool and very efficient.
Just a hop from Medicine Hat to Banff. That’s what it was supposed to be, but it felt like the longest leg of the trip. Mainly due to us being anxious about arriving here but it certainly felt longer than the 4.5 hours we planned it to be.
We ended up going right through the middle of Calgary. The thing that caught me most off guard about the trip was the stop lights on route 1 through the city. The damn trans-Canadian highway is broken up by stoplights. Needless to say, this wasn’t the most well thought out plan for whoever decided to make a major highway would benefit from stop and go traffic. Oh, and the city decided that 10 am on a Monday was a great time to put up new flags in celebration of something on all the street poles so we got merged down to one lane for that.
As we approached Banff, it was obvious that the weather was turning bad and when we finally got here, we were not let down. Pouring rain, hail, and cold (45 F) made us all feel like we had just endured this long trip only to be greeted by a huge let down. But after checking into our hotel, getting something to eat and enjoying the pool, the weather cleared a bit so we went for a walk. Took a lot of photos. Here’s one group shot and then one the elk we saw. This short walk, less than 100 yards from our hotel, just reassured me why we came. Damn, this place is awesome!
As usual, trip planning started months before we left with Julie getting a few books and spending endless hours searching the web. We lucked out by having some expert advise from a friend at work who has been up in that area several times. Big shout out to John Maher for the help.
Julie spent a full week packing things up and getting the house, car, kids, etc. ready for Saturday morning when we planned on leaving. As we have purchased things for the trip over the past 3-4 months, Julie has been putting those things in a pile located in the corner of our bedroom. The pile reached a pinnacle this past week and that’s how you know it’s almost time to leave.
I got out of work a little early on Friday, got my hair cut before the trip, and then came home to pack up the car. We put all the gear on the driveway and then spent surprisingly few minutes getting it all to fit. That must mean we can fit more!!!
The girls have their little world in the backseat and Julie has all her gear for the long car drive setup like a mom workstation. Maps, food, reading material, electronics, games for the kids, coloring material, DVDs, it all has it’s place.
Every now and then I get the urge to share movies from my childhood with my girls. A few years ago it was Star Wars, then Goonies and this trip…. it’s The Neverending Story. I must have watched this movie dozens of times growing up and it was such a cool and unique movie when it came out. Very compelling story and the girls, being 6 and 9, are the perfect age in my view. As I sit here typing this, they are in the back watching Up!. They don’t know what ‘dad’s surprise movie’ is yet so let’s hope they are up for it!
We also need to be mentally prepared for a trip like this. It takes a lot of effort and planning for us to arrange this size/length of a trip. I hope that as our girls are able to reflect on this trip in the future they are filled with memories of our adventures. I have been thinking a lot about what activities and things we can do as a family that will leave a lasting impression and provide an opportunity for them to learn. I couldn’t be happier that Julie and the girls have become so interested in the outdoors. I think that of all the trips I took as a kid, it was the ones where we were in nature and outside that stand out for me. Mother nature has so much to offer and there always seems to be something different and exciting. Banff and Jasper will offer them such a different experience then what they have had in life so far, that hopefully it will inspire similar trips in the future.
We’ve done a lot of research into the Banff/Jasper area including the weather. It’s one of those things that you don’t think about a lot if you are going on vacation in the US anytime in June, July or August since it’s pretty nice everywhere. Turns out that the highs are around 60 F during the day and 38 F for highs at night. As we are leaving, here is the weather prediction for the next 10 days:
Oh, and did I mention that June is the rainiest month of the year in Banff? Let’s hope it lightens up for us. Sun rises at 5:30ish and sets after 10 each night. I’ve never been north enough to experience the ‘long summer days’. Hopefully our bodies will adjust.