– Banff, Alberta to Banff National Park –
Well, today was our big Banff day. We started the morning at 5am, as usual, with a run around Banff National Park. We headed out from the end of the city down the wonderful bicycle path that winds through most of the park. Today was the first day we needed gloves and ear muffs for our run. We’ve needed our jackets before, but this morning has been the coldest yet. A little more on that later, though.
The run was beautiful, though it spritzed rain for most of our trip. Ripley had a great time sniffing and dragging me along behind her. One thing that’s interesting about the path is that it is mostly lined with fencing that is intended to keep the animals in the park off of the road. There are sections of the path where gates in the fence are left open. However, on either side of the gate are electrified pads that allow bikes to cross, but not animals, as they will receive a shock on stepping onto the pad. There’s a separate, closed gate for dogs, horses, and pedestrians to use.
On our run, we also ran into deer two separate times. The first instance we spotted a six-point buck with the velvet still on his antlers standing right next to the path. He was not having Ripley come past, so we had to duck up onto the edge of the highway for about 100 yards to skirt around him before we went back down to the path again. We also ran into a pair of very young bucks, and Mark managed to scare them off by waving his arms and shouting as we approached them. They promptly panicked and ran away.
If you ever want to see the town of Banff practically empty, 5am is the time to do it. No one was out, even though it was light outside. We didn’t even run into anyone else out on the trail, which really surprised me. I would’ve guessed that a ton of the people in the park were the get-up-early-and-exercise type. Maybe they sleep in for vacation? Or maybe they didn’t want to brave the drizzle?
In any event, since we are in Banff again tonight, all we had to do this morning was shower and head out. We did stop by Tim Horton’s for breakfast, which was already quite busy at 7:30. They’ve recently introduced some Beyond Meat vegetarian breakfast sausage sandwiches, and Mark was excited to try one. I can’t eat any of the fake sausages he likes at the best of times, and the nibble he gave me of his sandwich proved that it doesn’t matter what kind of fake sausage it is, it will make me gag. Eugh. It’s too much like the real thing.
We arrived at Lake Louise by 8:30, which is pretty early by most tourists standards, but the road up to Lake Moraine was already closed for the day. They leave it open for everyone until 8am, according to the signs, then its closed until 4pm. I’m not sure what they do when people come back down. Maybe they let one or two people in throughout the day? Surely they won’t just let it go empty. They had park workers out manning the road block for a reason, right?
In any event, we mostly expected that, so we weren’t too disappointed. We parked for Lake Louise instead, and pulled on our rain jackets to brave the mist. Lake Louise is one of the most popular destinations in Banff, and it is certainly one of the best. Since we were early, we managed to park quite close, and the walk down to the lake was much shorter than we remembered from our previous trip with my parents back in the afternoon in July of 2015.
There’s a glacier right above the end of the lake, named Victoria Glacier, which is a little difficult to see in our photos, since the clouds we hanging so low over the lake. Still, the view was spectacular, and since we couldn’t do Moraine Lake, we had a little time to kill. We decided to take a walk down the path back to the end of the lake, though we hadn’t decided how far we wanted to go when we took off.
In the end, we walked all the way to the end of the lake, which ends up being a 5km (3.1 mile) round trip. It was neat, the walk was fun, and Ripley had a blast meeting people and talking about all of their Brittanys. Ripley makes fast friends with everyone she meets. Plus, we only saw one other dog out by the lake the whole time we were there, so everyone that missed their dog wanted to come and give Miss Ripley a pat. She was the belle of the ball.
By the time we made it to the far end of the lake, the rain was picking up and the air blowing off of the glacier was a little colder than we were dressed for. We would’ve been better off if we’d brought our gloves, but we didn’t, so we just had to endure until we finally decided to turn back. We were trying to get around far enough to see if we could spot the glacier from that end, but it never seemed to materialize from behind the trees, so we gave up before we froze.
We turned and walked back to the car, arriving back about 10:30. We had to dry off a little, and clean up Ripley’s muddy paws before we could get back in. Since we were still so cold, we drove back to the town of Lake Louise to get some hot drinks. I ended up with a Kashmir Chai, and Mark had a Russian Morning tea. Both were delicious, and holding the cup brought the feeling back to my fingers.
This coldness should’ve been a warning, because when we got back in the car, we decided to head a little more to the north to visit Bow Lake, which follows the road that crosses into Jasper National Park. At the park entry booth, the ranger told us that driving conditions in Jasper were terrible because the rain had turned to snow, and there was an RV overturned on the highway further up into the park, blocking both lanes of traffic. We asked about Bow Lake, and she told us it should be safe enough to go that far, so we decided to push on.
The temperature dropped rapidly from 48°F to 36°F in just a few miles, and the rain turned first to slushy snow that smacked into the windshield in big gobs, then to huge, dry snowflakes that flew horizontally at the windshield and bounced off. By the time we reached Bow Lake, it was snowing in earnest. The clouds were low and gray and fat with snowflakes, and visibility was down by half.
We excitedly tumbled out of the car for some snow pictures. You know, because snow in June totally makes sense. We saw more snow today than we did all winter back home. The roads were fine this far south, but the snow was definitely sticking to the grass and trees along the way. It was a ton of fun to see it and play around in it just a little, but we decided to turn back after Bow Lake, as we’d originally intended.
Still, we stopped at several pullouts along the way back to catch a few more photos of the furiously falling snow. We couldn’t help ourselves, in spite of the cold weather. On our drive back down to Lake Louise, we passed tons of fire engines, ambulances, park and police vehicles, and even a snow plow. We weren’t sure what was happening, but it certainly didn’t look like it could be anything good.
Around 12:30, we stopped again in Lake Louise to grab something for lunch. While we were waiting in line to pick up our falafel pitas, we were told that there had been a 40-car pileup in Jasper, and that the roads into the park were closed for the snow. I know now that even the lower parts of Jasper ended up with almost 4 inches of snow today, and I do know that the road really was closed for a while, but I haven’t been able to find proof of the 40-car pileup story. Maybe that one was an exaggeration. I leaning toward the idea that it was. They were definitely turning as many people back at the entry gate as they could by the time we came back through, but that’s all I know for sure.
After we had eaten our lunch, we decided to retreat back down Highway 1 toward Banff to avoid any more potential snowy weather. We didn’t want to end up in a terrible traffic snarl or a snowy mess trying to get somewhere we didn’t need to go yet. Besides, it was a few degrees warmer down in Banff.
To fill our afternoon, we decided to wrap up the attractions left in and around the city of Banff. First, we drove up towards the ski area, which is obviously way more popular in winter. It turns out that there’s a wedding venue up there as well. I had been wondering about where everyone who got married in Banff actually went. I’m sure some of them use the hotels, as well, but considering how many people seem to do it, I wasn’t surprised to finally find a place meant just for events like weddings in town.
The ski area is also a great place to look down at the town and the Bow River, where you can truly see how big Banff is. It honestly doesn’t feel that big from the ground, but it looks a lot bigger from above. We hadn’t gotten Ripley out at the viewpoint that looked out over the city, and for that I’m grateful. It turned out that pretty much all of the ground in the area was covered in prairie dog holes. I’ve since learned that they aren’t technically prairie dogs, but are called Columbian Ground Squirrels, but I’m sticking with my terminology. It feels like a more accurate description somehow, even though this is clearly not the prairie.
They prairie dogs were very tame, and Mark was able to get incredibly close to them for photos without them disappearing back into their holes. The zoom lens made it even better. It looks like the prairie dog in the photo above practically allowed paparazzo Mark to shove the camera into his face. While Mark was spying on prairie dogs, I spotted a bighorn sheep in the distance, and we took some pictures of him as well. I feel like Canada has really trotted out all of the critters for us on this trip.
Back down in town, we visited the Banff Hot Springs area, and took a look at a few of the National Historic Sites in town, but we didn’t find any of those worth a picture or a visit, so we moved on. On our way past Banff’s off leash dog park, we decided Ripley could use a break, and we ducked in to let her run around for a few minutes like the hyper critter she is. If you’re keeping track, she first ran with us this morning, then she hiked around Lake Louise with us, and finally, she zoomed around the dog park for 20 minutes like a fool, chasing animal noises and running just to feel the wind in her ears. I can’t figure out where she still had that much energy. To top it off, Mark had to play with her and one of her toys a few minutes ago, while I was typing this. Her batteries never seem to drain.
In the dog park, we met two massive dogs that looked like Tibetan Mastiffs, though I won’t swear that’s what they were. They were easily 4 times Ripley’s size though, and the largest practically came up to my waist. Still, they were slow and sweet, though Ripley was terrified of them anyway. Maybe she thought they were horses.
After the dog park, we drove over to Bow Falls, which is loud and full of fast-moving water, but overall not a terribly impressive waterfall. When we finished there, it was still only 4pm, so we decided to drive over to Canmore to finish that edge of Banff and go to a real grocery store, one that was cheaper than the small one in town.
While we were there, we also had dinner at a place called Freshii, which served rice bowls and salads that were pretty healthy. We were glad to find something that wasn’t cooler food and wasn’t junk food for our dinner. It was after 6pm when we made it back to our hotel in Banff.
Tomorrow morning we are planning to go for our run again, then head out of Banff to pick up three more national parks here in the area. Then we are back to Lake Louise, where we will turn north and head into Jasper for several days. I hope that the weather gets a little nicer before we need to drive north into that park on Saturday.
– Trip Total : 2,674 miles –