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.
Banff National Park
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.
Jasper National Park
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.
Kootenay National Park
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!
Yoho National Park
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.