Apparently, we haven’t really even seen the really beautiful stuff yet. If that’s the case, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself when we get to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise tomorrow. Luckily, getting to Banff was just a 90-minute drive from our hotel in Calgary, all via the ever-so-convenient Trans Canada Highway 1.
The Canadian Rockies kinda just come outta nowhere. It goes from green rolling hills to BAM! gorgeous, massive, expansive mountains in the blink of an eye. It was definitely more crowded on the road, which makes sense, given Banff is a major tourist draw. It made looking at the scenery more challenging, so we made a couple pitstops to take it all in.
Dodging the tourist traps
The original plan was to take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and then hike down and hang out in the hot springs. We quickly learned it was a tourist trap, and at $50 for the gondola, long lines, and crazy parking, it seemed like a waste of money and time, especially given there are so many other trails we’ll be hiking for free these next few days. We instead opted for the turnoff in Banff at Bow Falls. The falls itself are nothing to be wowed about, but the crystal clear, teal glimmer of the Bow River surrounded by immense mountains was stunning.
It was from there we saw the iconic Banff Fairmont Hotel, which is also something spectacular to see. It was there we stumbled upon the golf course and Waldhaus Pub, that’s right on the 15th hole. It was sunny and 80ish, so a drink was right up our alley. We were able to work around the “no dogs on the patio rule” by sitting on the edge of it and having the pups sit on the other side of the fence that surrounded the patio. From there, they had no shortage of affection and pets from passersby.
On our way back we saw an elk strolling down the road. It stopped to grab a snack and wasn’t at all phased by the people taking photos of it, including me. I got about 10 feet away from it. The dogs didn’t really know what to make of it.
Strolling through Banff before heading to our camp site
Banff is an adorable town. But touristy. A lot of the architecture reminds me of Swiss and Austrian ski towns, so I imagine it gets all the more cute when it’s snowy and the skiers and snowboarders are in the town. The main strip through the town is filled with shops where you can do plenty of shopping. Swindle got some postcards and I got my usual magnet. We also stumbled by Rock Paper Silver, which (as you may be able to guess) sells silver jewelry. We both eyed up dendritic opal rings, which is basically a white stone with black and gray marbling. Luckily, the US dollar goes far.
At that point, we were tired of the crowds in Banff and headed to our camp site at Tunnel Mountain Village I. Our timing was impeccable; there was a short line. When we left an hour or so later to go get some ice, the line was … long. So if you ever go, be sure to get there right when you can check in at 2pm. Our site is decent … somewhat private. The way I parked my car makes it even more private. Through the tall trees we’re able to see the mountains from our site. We have a comfy setup; I recently invested in camping cots, thermarests, and sleeping bags, which will come in handy when the temperature dips into the 40s tonight.
One big bonus of national parks in Canada: you pay $10-15 for a fire permit (depending on the campground), and it includes fire wood. You just need to pick up the dry, chopped wood from a site. There’s even little kindling wood to help get your fire started. We’ve already burned through four big bags today. It’s an ingenious way to get people to stop bringing their own firewood to campsites, which is often a culprit for spreading diseases to the trees. Plus, it’s way cheaper.
Next up: Moraine Lake and hiking at Lake Louise
It’ll be pretty stellar to be outside these next few days. The word is to get to Moraine Lake early to avoid the crowds. After the crowds we dealt with today in Banff, we’re taking the advice and making it an early morning. Our lunches are already made and packed!