Our intention last Sunday was to leave Columbia Falls immediately after breakfast and hightail it up to Canmore, Alberta Canada, a 6 1/2 hour drive. That was the plan until Mark, the innkeeper, overheard us discussing our day trip with fellow travelers, and enthusiastically joined in the conversion. Apparently Mark makes this trip often and he was adamant we take a “slightly” longer route that would allow us to see some of the sights on the eastern side of Glacier NP and vastly improve the scenery the rest of the trip. He spent quite some time mapping out our new route, complete with several can’t miss sights. “Shouldn’t add any more than an hour and a half.” So, who are we to argue? I mean really………..why be in such a hurry anyway.
So, per the map, we headed out toward the eastern side of Glacier NP, first stop, the Goat Lick Overlook. It seems that goats just love a good salt lick and Glacier’s mountain goats have a really good one not far off our new route. We pulled off the highway, drove to the trail and walked out to the salt lick overlook……..no goats (so no pictures). Oh well, there were a couple of porta potties available so at least the side trip wasn’t a total loss.
Glacier Park Lodge was next on the agenda. If you like old National Park lodges, this one is really pretty charming. We walked around the premises, found a nice display on the history of the park, used the restrooms (lots of coffee) and headed off to our next stop, Running Eagle Falls.
It was a nice short hike to these unique falls which seem to just appear out of the side of the mountain.
The highlight of our eastern side detours was visiting Many Glacier Hotel. This 100-year-old lodge has a Swiss alpine feel and sits majestically on the very picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake. We read that this was the place the rich and famous would stay on their visits to the park. The views are truly amazing but sadly only remnants of once massive glaciers can be seen from the Many Glacier Hotel.
Thus ended our time in Glacier NP, and as we finally crossed the border, we were grateful Mark took the time to re-route our trip.
The rest of our journey was driven on several winding rural highways and through some incredibly scenic countryside. With speed limits ranging from 110 t0 50 kph, we had to do some quick calculations in order to avoid getting ticketed (we used the drop the zero and multiply by 6 method to get us close……therefore 50 is the new 30!). In all it took us 10 hours to get to Canmore but we truly enjoyed the day and were very happy to see some of the highlights on the eastern side of the park.
By the time we had mapped out Part 2 of our trip it was late April and we quickly found that securing lodging near Banff National Park for late July (the busiest time of their summer season) was not going to be easy. We wanted to give ourselves about 5 days to tour the Banff/Jasper National Parks so we settled on a condo in Canmore (about 20 minutes from Banff.) The location worked out great, the condo, let’s just say it was not one of our better selections. We must have been a bit rusty in our lodging research because it turned out the condo had no laundry facilities neither in the unit nor in the building and no air conditioning. Lucky for us, the temperatures barely reached 80 degrees. On a more positive note, the view from the condo was beautiful, we were walking distance to 2 grocery stores, and the “old home” had secured underground parking.
We woke up late Monday morning to gray cloudy skies, so we decided to explore the town of Banff, have some lunch and visit their welcome center to plan out our days. Banff is a beautiful resort town, elevation 5,350 ft. surrounded by gorgeous mountains and filled to the brim with tourists. We left the welcome center armed with plenty of information. We had a quick lunch and planned to walk around town, but it became increasingly cold, windy, and rainy so we headed back to our condo. I spent some time catching up on work (more time fighting with the secure internet than working) and we sketched out our plans for the next few days.
One of the main attractions when visiting Banff National Park is a drive down the Icefields Parkway, a scenic highway connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks which parallels the continental divide. The most popular stop along the Parkway is the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains of North America. Not only were we going to view the Athabasca Glacier at the Icefield, but we also planned to walk on the glacier. We specifically asked the young agent at the Banff Visitor Center whether we needed to buy tickets in advance to experience the Glacier Adventure. He told us it was not necessary as the tours leave every 10-15 minutes and since it’s a 3 hour drive we couldn’t guarantee our arrival time so we should just show up. Famous last words.
Early Tuesday morning after a Starbucks fix, we set off from our condo prepared for a long, beautiful drive along the Icefields Parkway. It truly was a spectacular sight viewing the remains of several very old glaciers. We passed many stunning glacier-fed lakes and rivers rushing along the sides of the highway. Almost 3 hours later we arrived at the ice fields, along with hundreds of other tourists. We quickly got in line to purchase our tickets for our Glacier Adventure. When we were just 2 parties from the purchase desk the agent announced that the earliest available tour was not for another 5 hours! Knowing we still had a 3 hour drive back home, we knew waiting 5 hours was not an option. The tour would have taken us on a huge vehicle that is specially designed for travel on glaciers, thus allowing us to actually step onto the glacier. The driver and guide would have provided us with lots of fascinating information about glaciers, ice fields, and how they impact our environment. I guess we will need to read about it on our own, definitely not as fun.
So, we ended up taking the alternative tour, The Glacier Skywalk which is a walkway built into the edge of the cliff that leads to a glass-floored observation platform looking out to other glaciers. It was actually pretty cool, but not what we had planned. We were also able to hike along a path that once was covered by the glacier, passing signs which showed how far the glacier reached in prior years. It was interesting, but also very cold, windy, and NOT like walking on a real glacier!
On the drive home we stopped and hiked Bow Summit to view Peyto Lake. The lakes in this area are a beautiful, bright, turquoise color. This is caused from the glacial rock flour that flows into the lakes and stays suspended in the water giving off this gorgeous color.
That night we came back to our condo, baked a frozen pizza for dinner, and crashed.
Wednesday was another gloomy, rainy day so we walked into downtown Canmore and had lunch at Rocky Mountain Bagel Company. Smoked salmon from British Columbia is so fresh and delicious.
We figured our day was going to be rained out, but suddenly the storm passed and the skies cleared so we headed back to Banff to visit the Banff Cave and Basin (Sulphur spas), where the Canadian National Parks got its start.
Next stop was the Banff Gondola which takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain, elevation 8,041 feet. Of course there is always the option to climb the 3.5 mile Sulphur Mountain Trail, hmmmm……we weren’t exactly prepared for this strenuous hike, Bob wearing jeans, and me long pants and shirt, but when have we ever turned down a hiking challenge? So, we bought some water and began our ascent of Sulphur Mountain.
Based on the information we had, the average time to climb was 2 1/2 hours. We thought we could tackle it in 1 1/2 hours. Well…the hike turned out to be very strenuous (or maybe we just aren’t as fit as we were on the previous trip). After several breaks to catch our breath, enjoy the view, watch the gondola pass over us, and to comment “what the hell were we thinking?” we made it to the top in 1 hour and 50 minutes. Not too bad! Not only did my Fitbit tally 21,527 steps but also 269 flights.
And…..we decided to take the 7 minute gondola ride back down the mountain.
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is located at the base of Sulphur Mountain, so on shaky legs, we decided to check it out. The hotel is reminiscent of Hogwarts Castle from the Harry Potter movies. It looks Gothic to us but is considered Scottish Baronial………..medieval nonetheless, and very posh. Maybe next time…
Back in Canmore we rewarded ourselves with burgers and the Canadian specialty “Poutine” which is french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. It was surprisingly quite delicious.
On the walk back to our condo we were treated to a rare double rainbow.
Thursday was set aside for exploring stunning Lake Louise.
Turns out we were not the only people who decided to visit that day!
Lake Louise, named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria, is truly a remarkable glacial lake. Turquoise colored, icy cold, surrounded by beautiful mountains and bounded by Victoria Glacier and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, it is no wonder so many people were there to enjoy the views. And to escape the crowds we decided to rent a row boat and see the lake from the lake. We had a blast!
So after a 2 hour climb and a 1 hour row, we decided enough was enough and headed back to the condo to rest, eat an early dinner, and pack for our trip to Calgary.