07.10.17: Insider tips to Banff … and about that water

I’m by no means an expert, but there are definitely some tips that I think are worth considering if you ever make it to Banff National Park. Oh, and I found out why the water is so blue.

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Explore the city of Banff … with caution

Tourist traps are inevitable, nearly anywhere you go. The city of Banff is no exception, but it’s still one of those places you should get to and explore. Walk up and down the streets to check out the shops, and head to Bow Falls. The hot springs are really nice, too – just go there a little later in the evening to avoid the crowds.

Have access to a car

Banff National Park is absolutely massive. Having the freedom to explore and make your own agenda is pretty fantastic. You’ll need a car to do this.

Get an early start

We left our camp every day by 7:30 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. the crowds set in, parking gets nuts, and the hazy lighting from the sun sets in. It’s definitely worth your while to get to Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake, and Peyto Lake early. You could get away with getting to Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise a little later … just be prepared to park and walk a ways.

Establish a base camp or “home”

While driving an hour or two each day may sound obnoxious, it’s really not. The drives are so incredible and stunning, it’s worth the peace of mind having a place to call home for a few days. If you camp, I highly recommend Two Jack Lakeside – you’ll just need to book a ways in advance. If you’re not a camper, there are tons of accommodations in and around Banff.

Don’t go in early July

With Canada Day being July 1 and Independence Day being July 4, plenty of Canadians and Americans (and others) head to Banff. This is actually the busiest time of year in Banff.

Give yourself time for a lake day

No doubt, you’ll see a lot of lakes. The best thing about them: you can never see too many of them. But actually spending time to enjoy the waters is completely another thing. We had a little time to spend at Two Jack Lake, but having a full day to canoe, kayak, paddle board (or whatever) to just relax and enjoy the lake is worth it. You’ll be plenty busy seeing everything else. Take time to chill at a lake. Seriously.

Get to Jasper

We never made it to Jasper, but heard (and read) wonderful things. If you have 10 days and are driving, spend 4-5 days in Banff and 2-3 in Jasper. If you’re not much of a driver, there are a lot of bus tours that will take you up the Icefields Parkway.

Spend time in Calgary

Even at 1.2 million people, Calgary seems oddly quaint. It’s a hip, chic city that’s absolutely lovely. It’s worth taking a day or two to explore.

How the water gets so blue

Most of the water features you see in this area are the result of glacial runoff. Water leaving the glacier is muddy with rocks, gravel, and silt. As the stream slows down, it acts like a bit of a sieve, leaving most of that stuff behind to become a river delta. Silt flows into the icy water; most of it sinks to the bottom of the lake. Fine particles of rock, known as “rock flour” basically get caught into the silt. When the sun catches it, blue-green rays of light are emitted, resulting in lakes and rivers that are various gorgeous shades of greens and blues. Who knew?!?

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Checking off an item on my bucket list – add it to yours!

Banff had been on my “get to” list for a while. Everything about it was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Long story short, go. If my stories and photos haven’t motivated you to go … I’m a failure. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But seriously, GO.

07.08.17: The long trek home

Our comfy Airbnb provided us the comfort we needed after a very busy several days. Since time and crowds weren’t an issue, we slept in and were on the road by 9:30 a.m. Friday.

After a 20-hour drive spread out over a day and a half of driving, we made it home, in total driving 2,500+ miles. The dogs were pretty much motionless those two days, clearly exhausted from a week of busyness.

A long and quiet (and interesting) drive

We spent most of the day driving across northern Montana on US Highway 2, which proved to be much more interesting than driving across Saskatchewan. The mountains and buttes added great variety to the vastness of the state. We even saw a few antelopes and groundhogs on the drive!

We made really good time pulling into Dickinson, ND just shy of 12 hours later. We listened to a great audiobook for a large part of the drive: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales of the Making of The Princess Bride by Carey Elwes (who played Wesley in the film). It wrapped just as we started to get perfect evening lighting as we drove through the Badlands that you go through just before reaching the city.

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After another good night of rest, we were on the road on Saturday by 9:30 a.m., ready to make the long drive through North Dakota. I wish I could say it was a visually interesting drive, but it’s all basically flat farmland. We had Aisha Tyler’s audiobook giggling most of the drive home: Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartbreaking Tales of Epic Humiliation.

When we got to St. Cloud, we stopped off at Bo Diddley’s (I couldn’t resist) and took subs to go. We could barely contain our restlessness at that point – we just wanted to be home.

Home

But we made it home in good time – and safely, of course!

The dogs are still recovering from a week of non-stop activity, which (thankfully) made for a very quiet (and adorable) drive both days.

Next up: My recap and summary of recommendations should you ever come to Banff.

07.06.17: Going all the way in – Johnston Canyon and Two Jack Lake

After a much-needed good night sleep, we packed up our site in good time and were ready to get in a full, final day in Banff. And it turned out to be a terrific one.

Waterfalls at Johnston Canyon

Another early start proved to be a good plan as we headed to Johnston Canyon – we had the trail to ourselves! It’s just 15 minutes west of Banff. Discovered in the 1880s, the canyon consists of seven sets of waterfalls via Johnston Creek, a tributary of the Bow River. Fed by a glacier, the cold water has a gorgeous tropical blue color to it.

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Getting to the Lower Falls is a relatively easy half-mile hike. A lot of the hiking through this point goes along an ingenious path, that’s more or less like a bunch of scaffolding that’s attached to the inner rim of the canyon. It feels like you’re literally walking on water at times. Once at this first stop, there’s a little cave you can go through to get sprayed by the falls and cool off. (We needed it after a long, hot hike.)

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You can continue hiking for another mile up paved trails to get to the Upper Falls, but it’ll definitely be steeper. Seeing the next six waterfalls along the way makes the haul to the top worth it.

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Continuing on to the Ink Pots

After getting to the Upper Falls, we continued on for another two miles up a 1,200′ (steep!) climb to get to the Ink Pots, seven pristine, crystal clear ponds that differ in color. Some of them have air bubbles coming from the sandy bottoms, making it look like the water is boiling. But at only 40 degrees, it’s clearly not.

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Getting to the Ink Pots was a bit surreal. The hike getting there is on a windey, narrow path, which suddenly opens up to this gorgeous meadow where you see the Ink Pots, Johnston Creek, and the massive Pulsatilla and Mystic passes.

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We headed down to the creek and hung out for a while, or course dipping our feet in the ice cold water.

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We even emptied out our Camelbacks and filled them with water from Johnston Creek. The ice cold water tasted amazing. (Oh, and Frankie is still addicted to it.) The deer flies started to swarm in, so we took that as our cue to make our way back to the base of the canyon.

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Even though most of the hike back was downhill, it was a warm and we were in dire need of some rest … and some cooling off.

A drive around Lake Minnewanka

After hiking 7+ miles, Swindle and I were pooped. The dogs were pooped. So a short drive in the car was right up our alley. We read that the scenic drive around Lake Minnewanka was worth it, and we wanted to check out another campground. Driving past the campground was part of the Lake Minnewanka loop, so it was an easy option.

Two Jack Campground has two parts: Main and Lakeside. Sites are jam-packed next to each other at Main, which is not my thing. Lakeside is pretty incredible. There’s a bit more privacy, but most important, it sits right on the gorgeous, calm, aqua blue Two Jake Lake. You can only tent in the sites or rent the incredible oTENTik facilities, which is like a mixture between a tent and cabin. To get a Lakeside site you need to book WAY in advance. And be sure to bring a paddle board, canoe, or inflatable device to enjoy the lake.

Going “all in” at Two Jack Lake

We continued on the drive and saw another pull off for Two Jack Lake where we noticed a bunch of people swimming. We were still warm and curious to see what it would be like to take a full dunk in 50-degree water, so we pulled off the road to try it out. (Good thing we had easy access to our swim suits!) The rocky lake bottom definitely requires water shoes. (I initially tried without shoes and to my body’s surprise, fell in.) You have to walk out a ways before you can get to a point to do a full body dunk, which I couldn’t decide if it was a good or bad thing. It means you have more time to get used to the cold, but that means you also have more time to talk yourself out of not immersing yourself in it. It’s seriously that cold. We carried the pups out with us … they were even unsure, holding their paws up and looking at us like we were crazy as we got deeper in the water. The puppy power seemed to give us the courage to go all in. The dogs were like little, graceful guppies racing to the shore while we not so gracefully made our way back over the rocks.

Overall, it was incredibly invigorating … even for the dogs. (Despite being zapped from the hike, they ran around like total spazzes after.) Once we got back to the shore, we sat and let the sun warm us up. We did this cycle three times, each time dunking a little more of our bodies in the cold water, but not being brave enough to go all the way under the water. In between dunks in the lake, we enjoyed a beer and chatted with fellow travelers who were loving the day just as much as we were.

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We eventually finished the scenic drive, going by Lake Minnewanka, where people were swimming and taking lake cruises, before connecting back to Trans Canada Highway 1 and making our way to our Airbnb.

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Ending the day in Cochrane

After a long day of logging nearly 30,000 steps, we were wiped and in need for a good night sleep before making the long drive home. Before getting to our Airbnb in Cochrane (which is about 30 minutes west of Calgary), we stopped at Tim’s Gourmet Pizza to get a pizza and salad to-go and also grabbed a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream from MacKay’s Icecream Shoppe that’s just around the corner from the pizza spot. Our Airbnb was lovely and comfy, with a patio to enjoy our pizza, beer, and ice cream. Talk about a perfect ending to an already perfect last day.

We have a long drive home, this time going through Montana and the southern part of North Dakota. This trip has been incredible, and we seriously lucked out with amazing weather. While I’m “soar-ry” (not sorry) to leave, it’s time to go home. (We do have day jobs.) The biggest bonus with this trip – instead of missing my bed and my dogs, this time, I only miss my bed. And I’m even more in love with my dogs than before. ๐Ÿ™‚

07.05.17: Dodging the crowds on Icefields Parkway

When Swindle and I were doing some pre-trip planning and talking about what was on our punch list for this trip, she mentioned, “How many aqua-colored lakes can we see before it gets tiring?” We both agree, it turns out, not enough.

While the sights and hikes at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise were incredible, we were ready to be away from the crowds. So we headed to Icefield Parkway so we could see if both it and Peyto Lake (and Emerald Lake that’s off Trans Canada 1) were worth the hype. Yep, they definitely were!

Amazing views on Icefields Parkway

The 145-mile Icefields Parkway takes you north of Banff to Jasper, which is both a city and national park. It gets its name because it’s where the glaciers came through thousands of years ago. The sights are stunning. Wide, U-shaped valleys flank massive mountains and create outstanding views. Every so often, you’ll drive by an absolutely gorgeous lake. The first stop on the Parkway was Peyto Lake.

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Many mosquitoes couldn’t bring us down at Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is located about 30 miles north of Trans Canada Highway 1. You can park at the first parking lot and hike up the hill, or do the “oops” we did and park in the lot up the hill where the buses park. (In our defense, we were following other cars and didn’t realize we parked in the wrong lot until we left.) From there, it was a quick three-minute walk to the lookout point. Between the turquoise blue lake and the incredible Wapta Icefield behind it, we had a “holy shit” moment that lasted for quite a while.

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You can stay on the paths and be in and out in 30 minutes, which is what we did. There are other paths, but they’re basically an unmarked maze. With no cell reception and being pretty sore from the day of hiking before, we opted to save our hiking efforts for later in the day.

The only negative – the mosquitoes. It was serious whack-a-mole. The dogs were even going a little out of their mind, biting at the bugs and scratching themselves like crazy. So if you go, double-up on the bug repellent.

Waterfowl Lake was a unexpected delight

We only came across Waterfowl Lake accidentally. The views of the valley from Peyto Lake inspired us to keep driving along the Parkway to see what wonders we’d come across. Waterfowl Lake was about 15 miles past Peyto Lake, conveniently located on a stopover off the road. It’s pretty hard to miss.

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Waterfowl Lake was such an unexpected highlight that we decided to sit on a rock next to the water and enjoy one of the sandwiches we packed for the day so we could take it all in. The pups waded and “patiently” watched while we ate.

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A relaxed hike around Emerald Lake

We knew that Emerald Lake was in Yoho (not to be confused with YOLO) National Park, but we didn’t realize that it meant we were crossing into British Columbia. That means we’ve made it to three provinces on this trip! Emerald Lake is about a 20-minute drive into British Columbia. Like so many of the other lakes in the area, it has majestic blue waters and tons of hiking and walking paths. We opted for the Emerald Lake Circuit, which was about four miles to loop around the entire lake and relatively flat. It was definitely less busy, but later in the afternoon and warm, so there was an unfortunate haze. Don’t get me wrong, it was still stunning, but a little hazy from the bright, hot sun.

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As we walked, we went by a snowpack, which was a little wild to see given it’s early July. The dogs were completely overjoyed – digging their paws and rubbing their faces in the snow.

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At about the midway point, there was wetland type area where all the little glacial streams come together. You’re able to walk on it and get to the edge of the lake. That’s where we opted to wade in the water and have another sandwich. The water was cold, but not as cold as Louise, Moraine, or Agnes, but it was still just as clear, clean, and refreshing.

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Frankie seriously could not get enough of the lake. She’d pull to wade in it any chance she got and would take a few drinks for good measure. It was literally becoming “water in, water out” for her. It was pretty funny. I think glacial water has become her new drug; she can’t get enough of it.

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A gas incident

One thing to be mindful of … gas stations are far and few between. Basically, with all the hills and winding of the roads, my gas gauge played some weird tricks, and things got stressful for a bit. Out of desperation, we did a turnaround to go back to a gas station that was out of gas when we went by it earlier in the day. They had gas the second time around, so we added enough gas to get us back to Banff … to the tune of $3.80/gallon.

The brush with near-run-of-gas experience got us into researching about gas gauges. We learned how off they are … for all cars. Apparently, when the gas light comes on in my car, I have a whopping 60 miles before my car will actually run out of gas, not the 20 miles I assumed. Now, I’m tempted to test it … close to my house, of course.

Two tired pups

The dogs definitely lagged behind as we made our way back to the car after Emerald Lake, and they’ve been pretty much passed out since we got back to camp. It has resulted in some ridiculously adorable pictures of them sleeping together, one of which is below.

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Our last night camping

It’s a little bittersweet that this is our last night camping. It’s been so nice being outside these past few days. We’ve been surprised to see how many people only camp for two nights; the three nights we’re staying is by no means long, either. We started with Rye and Ginger cocktails and have since switched to hot chocolates … spiked with butterscotch schnapps. So we’re feeling good.

We have another early day tomorrow to hike Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots. More to come. This has been quite the wonderful adventure!

07.04.17: Early birds catch the best light at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

Getting up early paid off. Not only did we get rockstar parking across the board, but we got amazing light. Like, AMAZING light. Lake Louise looked noticeably different at 3:00 p.m. than it did at 10:00 a.m.

The definition of awesome is to inspire awe. Today did nothing short of that. We were awed all day.

Twinkling, turquoise blue waters at Moraine Lake

Thanks to the helpful advice of a friend, we woke up at 5:30 a.m. (“ish”) and left camp by 7:00 a.m. to get to Moraine Lake as early as we could manage. Even by 8:00 a.m. parking was backed up quite a ways. We took a chance and drove up to the lake to see if we’d luck out, and it paid off.

After a quick 10-minute hike up a rocky butte, we came to the amazing outlook of Moraine Lake. The lake twinkled. The lake was an insanely gorgeous turquoise blue. The lake was crystal clear. The lake awed.

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It’s pretty easy to make your way around the lake. There are lots of walking paths. You can even rent a canoe or kayak. We opted for walking around, even dipping our hands in the water to taste it. As-is, it was ice cold and absolutely refreshing. We explored for a good hour or so, deciding to take off as the next large tour bus rolled in.

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Lake Louise’s milky aqua blue waters and an exhausting hike to Lake Agnes

You also want to get to Lake Louise as early as possible, as parking gets filled up quickly. Even 10:00 a.m. proved to be too late. Luckily, as we pulled up to the parking lot, one of the guys excitedly yelled, “They have dogs!” Despite Alberta’s genuine anti-dog policies, this seemed to be the one exception, as they then waved us up to a parking lot that offered us even better rockstar parking than we got at Moraine Lake.

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The glacial runoff spills right into Lake Louise, leaving a trail of silt behind it, which is what make it a milky aqua color. Despite its color, we tasted that water, too, and it was just as refreshing, but a little colder, than Moraine Lake.

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There were A LOT of people at Lake Louise, but it was still early enough in the morning that it left for some lovely views. We quickly headed up one of the hiking trails to Agnes Lake and the Teahouse. It was rated difficult, which it lived up to. Even though it was just 2.5 miles, it raised 1,500 feet in elevation, so it takes a while to get up. The trails were good, but it was pretty steep, so we went with a slow(ish) and steady approach.

After about 40 minutes, we came to an incredible outlook. From there, the water of Lake Louise looked even more vibrant than it did shoreside.

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We went another 20 minutes or so before we came to Mirror Lake, where you could see amazing view of the Beehive, a part of the mountains that, go figure, resembled a beehive. We and the pups took a much-earned break before making the rest of the way up the peak.

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Even though it was just a half mile, the last 15 minutes to Lake Agnes were brutal. It was really steep and there was little to no shade. Even though we had plenty of water, our legs were getting tired. The pups even stopped pulling. But we did it … we made the 2.5-mile trek up 1,500 feet to Lake Agnes before walking past a waterfall.

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The teahouse rests on Lake Agnes and sells a bunch of tea made from the water of Lake Agnes; they also offer snacks. We brought our own and just sat shoreside for quite a while, barely being able to dip our feet in the 40-degree water. We tasted that water, too. Again, wonderfully refreshing and clean.

We took a little different loop on the way back. Even though we were going down, it was even more rocky than the way up, so it was still a challenge for a bit. Archie definitely lost his energy by the end … I had to carry him for some of it before coaxing him to keep going. He was SO done with hiking.

Once we got back down to the lake, we stopped to dip our feet into Lake Louise and give the pups some time to rest. The water was still cold, but not as cold as Lake Agnes. The pups enjoyed some cuddles, both from Swindle and me, and the many people who couldn’t get over me holding Archie and Frankie like babies.

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Hot Springs in Banff was a perfect ending to the day

After logging nearly 30,000 steps today, we were pretty wiped out, so we chilled at our campsite for a bit, enjoying rye and ginger ales while we chatted and played Bananagrams. Our feet and bodies were hurting, so we headed to the Hot Springs in Banff around 7:00 p.m., which proved to be a great idea, as there was ample parking and no crowds. After that, we headed back to camp and made dinner on the campfire while we enjoyed a Canadian IPA infused with grapefruit. Think summer shandy, but not as sweet. We both felt more like ourselves at that point. We have another early morning, this time heading to Peyto Lake and Emerald Lake.

07.03.17: Blown away by Banff

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

07.02.17: Roads, Regina (NOT like Gina), and Calgary

First off, it’s been a long time that I’ve been this excited about a trip. I was packed literally a week before, which is SO NOT the norm for me. Usually, I’m packing mere hours before I leave. (In my defense, I was doing a bunch of laundry and my pack was already out.) I don’t know if it was the excitement about being able to bring my dogs, or going on a rare road trip, or getting to camp and hike, or just the knowledge of the amazing scenery that awaited me … I’ve been pretty fucking jazzed about this trip.

This adventure brings my friend Sarah Swindle, who I met a few years ago at a gym we used to work out at together. She’s a rad, adventurous chick and had never been to Canada, so I’m excited we were able to make the trip work! (I know a lot of Sarahs, so she’ll be referred to as Swindle on this trip.)

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Archie and Frankie – my little soldiers

Roads. And more roads.

It took us about 20 (driving) hours to get to Calgary, which we split up into two days. Day one was 13 hours to Regina. (We shaved an hour off thanks to my lead foot!) We headed west on Interstate 94, taking a pit stop to stretch our legs in downtown Fargo. Just past Fargo we came to North Dakota Highway 52, which we took north through Minot (where we took another pit stop) before coming to the appropriately-named border town of Portal. After getting our passport stamped, Highway 52 turned into Canadian road 13 and brought us all the way to Regina. We literally went west, took a right to head North and stayed on the long, windy (not to be confused with wind – there were bends) before getting to Regina. Despite it being two-lane road, it was pretty empty and there was a speedy white minivan that I was able to keep pace with, so we flew, going 85 mph (130 kmph) most of the way. (At one point, I did get to 100, but only for about five seconds.)

We saw a lot of beautiful farmland filled with neon yellow canola fields. Set against the blue sky and complimented with more green, it made a long drive really enjoyable. Ariz Ansari’s audio book, Modern Love, kept us giggling and led to some great chats where we learned more things about one another. (We also got through the NPR podcast, “Missing Richard Simmons,” which was great.) While it took a little while for the dogs to figure things out and get situated, they’ve been pretty chill. It’s a wonderful feeling to feel their head occasionally pop between us, reminding us they’re there, asking for a quick pet, scratch, or kiss. Archie is a bit more … demanding with his affections, but it’s nothing short of heartwarming.

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Archie needed Swindle time – and wasn’t taking “no” for an answer

Regina does NOT rhyme with Gina

Or as a local DJ says, “It rhymes with fun.” We arrived to the capital city of Saskatchewan on July 1, which is Canada Day. This year Canada celebrates 150 years as a country. This also meant fireworks were happening … and probably some pretty epic ones. To sum up dogs and fireworks, know that (in the US), more dogs run away on July 4th than any other day of the year. It stresses dogs out. Big time. Luckily, we were too exhausted to make it to the 11pm start time, but we still had time to explore what Regina had to offer. Some nuggets:

  • Saskatchewan Roughriders: The team of the Canada Football League has a huge following, boasting as the “Green Bay Packers” of Canada, likely due to the all out greenness of the team. The day we arrived was the first game of the season in their new stadium. The city literally shut down for the game.
  • Wascana Lake: This absolutely lovely lake in the middle of the city is surrounded by the legislature building and museum … and a lot of geese. But seriously, it’s stunning, so you should go.

With 215,000 people Regina felt oddly small. But it was a great little down. Thankfully, they have a couple dog park, which we took advantage of before getting back in the car again for the long drive. I know my dogs were grateful.

Onward to Calgary

Seven hours on Trans-Canadian Highway 1 was terrific. Seriously. More rolling hills with vast canola fields of farmland. We eventually stumbled through the Canadian Badlands, which aren’t as breathtaking as the ones in the Dakotas, but it offered some much-needed visual variety at that point. Thanks to the speedy driver from New York, we were able to pace someone again, so we made good time to Calgary, flying 85 most of the way.

Quickly, the cardinal rule on pace driving … try to stay within a football field length at time. Getting closer makes it obvious you’re tailing (and can be annoying to the car being paced), and any farther negates any advantage you’ll get by pacing, mainly being the bird’s eye to any cops who are on the ready to give out speeding tickets. For the record, we saw just two cops in our 20 hours of driving.

Calgary is a really lovely city, and with 1.2 million people, it’s one of the biggest cities in Canada. Like my beloved Minneapolis, it’s a wonderful mixture of culture (a lot of Chinese influence – they even have an adorably small Chinatown) and nature.

Prince’s Island Park: This lovely park is getting renovated after the massive and destructive 2013 flood took it (and a lot of Calgary) out. It’s large, with many grassy knolls, walking and biking paths, bridges, and sculptures. It’s a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. We got lost here for a while, in the most wonderful of ways.

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Theย Bow River: It flows through Calgary, and due to glacial silt, it has a lovely cloudy aqua green tint to it. The chilly river flows fast and clearly gets enjoyed. Many people were dropping in rafts (think whitewater but much more low-key) to float down the river.

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The Big Cheese Poutinerie: Located in a super hipster part of town, it boasts 20ish options of the national dish of Canada: Poutine. The classic version is french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Swindle opted for sweet potato fries, which were awesome. I had a bunch of veggies added to mine (mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers). I wish I would have opted for sweet potato fries in mine. Oh, and a small portion will do you JUST fine.

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When you Canada, you poutine. (An beer.)

Other culinary highlights:

 

  • Sweet Tooth: If you’ve never tried rolled ice cream, I recommend it. We headed to Chinatown to find this very popular shop. Basically, they take your ingredients and put it on a cold stone. Then they add this liquid (what will soon be your ice cream), and mix it all together into teeny, tiny pieces. They then use this tool to roll the thin strips of ice cream into … rolls. It’s cold and tasty!
  • Regrub Burger Bar: Regrub is just burger spelled backwards. What was going to bring us here were their insane milkshakes. If you’ve ever seen those colossal Bloody Mary bars where you can add pretty much anything you could think of as an accoutrement, that’s basically what this place does, just with the sweet variety. Alas, they close at 8pm on Sundays, so we didn’t get a chance to try it out.

One disappointing thing to learn about Calgary is that anti-dog laws were recently passed in Alberta, making it really hard to bring your dogs places … even restaurant patios. While we were able to bring them pretty much everywhere else, it was a bit of a bummer that we couldn’t sit and enjoy our poutine and beer at a restaurant with the pups. It’s a good thing we’ll be outdoors the next several days!

Onward to Banff

To say I’m over the moon excited to be outside camping and hiking these next four days is a massive understatement.