One place that I can't stop thinking about (besides Alaska ) is Canada! Banff and Jasper National Parks to be more specific. Actually I haven't seen other NPS in Canada to comment but I think I can confidently say that they must be mind blowing too.. I'll have to wait and watch if I get lucky to see them in this lifetime but anyway I'm glad we got to visit the Canadian rockies at least once!
I came to know about Banff the first time many years ago when I first saw a picture of Moraine lake. It made me go "OMG does this place really exist??I HAVE TO go there !!" It was picture perfect. To be honest, most of the lakes in this place are.. Be it Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Bow lake , Maligne Lake...u name it and it's gorgeous! It's as if mother nature gave her finest attention to details when designing the Canadian Rockies and the landscapes around it.
Coming to our trip, we had a short 4 day vacation where we had to cover Banff and Jasper.
I made a nice little spreadsheet with detailed plans of where we would go when and everything fit perfectly. Only thing I didn't consider - it was the July 4 weekend and the whole world was planning to be here at the same time and apparently had the same itinerary as we did! It totally threw our first day off!
We took a very short flight from Seattle to Calgary. Immigration at Canada barely took any time. We spent the night in Calgary and started for Banff early next morning . As per our plan, we intended to go to Lake Louise first , do one of the 2 tea-house hikes ,then hit Moraine lake, and do a hike around the lake. The drive was all smooth until we neared the small town of Banff which is when we realized after looking at the tourist crowds that, uh-oh, we may be in for some delays! by the time we reached the national park entrance, there were thousands of cars standing in multiple lanes, to enter ! It took almost an hour even to get till the entry. Once in, we thought of heading to Lake Louise. As we were nearing it..well ? what do you know ? The exits were closed and signs were saying from almost 4 miles away that Lake Louise Parking lot is full! So we decided to try Moraine Lake and no surprises there! Even that was closed to traffic now as the parking lots were full :( We were told that we can try our luck in the evening as the crowds may reduce. I was like "Grrr! Are you kidding me ? I have an itinerary to follow with no time to spare!"
So anyway, we went to what was next on our list - Peyto Lake. Although I was a bit disappointed that we could not yet get to see the primary 2 things on our list, the scenery on the drive to Peyto made me forget all that. Mile after mile, all we could see were gorgeous rocky mountains and absolutely gorgeous glaciers lining them. I don't know what is it about glaciers that makes me love them so much. After a few photo stops in between, we reached peyto Lake.
It was a very small hike from the parking to the view point. Peyto Lake was breathtaking! The color of the lake was something that I had never before seen with my own eyes. Most of the lakes in the area are a beautiful shade of turquoise blue, and the reason for this is that all these lakes are glacial fed. During the summer, significant amounts of glacial rock flour flow into the lake, and these suspended rock particles give the lakes a bright, turquoise color. You can actually see the water flowing from the glacier into the lake along with all that silt. Peyto lake is A-M-A-ZING! Once done, we paid a visit to Bow lake and Hector Lake before heading to our hotel - 'The Great Divide Lodge' . Affordable, great location, easy access to the famous spots and decent enough.
In the evening we thought of taking another shot at Lake Louise & Moraine Lake. This time we got lucky ! yay! Sadly we did not have much time though to make that hike we planned. So we pushed the tea house hike to our last day.(a big mistake!)
The drive to Moraine Lake was uber amazing! When we reached the parking, there was still a lot of the holiday crowd. The access to Moraine lake was 2 ways - a very small uphill hike from the back side of the lake. Or navigate through a bunch of floating logs in front of the lake - to get to the view point. We crossed the floating logs like it was a cakewalk for us. But saw several people fall down into the icy cold waters and get wet. Brrr. Thankfully the water was only knee deep there. Spent a long time sitting here taking several photos and just soaking in the wonderful sight . This is a lake of dreams. The valley of ten peaks perfectly frames this inky blue lake. I mean, HOW can a place be this picture perfect ? It's like someone carved it out to be so photogenic ! The sun was almost setting and we still had to rush to Lake Louise so we had to say goodbye to Moraine. We rushed to Lake Louise, took a few customary selfies and then strolled into the royal Fairmont chateau hotel in total awe. This hotel sits on the edge of the lake royally! there was a lovely bakery selling absolutely drool worthy cakes and pastries. We took one of each and just gulped those in !
Day 2 : We checked out and started heading towards Icefields parkway for THE GLACIER TOUR. My dream of finally standing on an actual glacier was about to come true ! :-D This tour was all about going on to the glacier in a mammoth bus that was specially made to be driven on the glacier. Lots n lots of crowds as expected, by the time we got our turn, it was well past lunch time. But finally, our turn came. We got into the bus and headed up a very steep slope on the glacier. It was a tad scary and it did seem like the bus was gonna slip on the slope. But it didn't ! :D They halted at their usual stop and all of us got down to just play around on the glacier. It felt super cool. Sadly the weather did not cooperate and it was pretty much cloudy and rainy and we could barely see the farther part of Athabasca glacier. I had read somewhere while planning the trip that we could take empty bottles and fill up the glacial water that flows along! So we had come prepared with 2 empty bottles... because , after all, who will pass the chance to load up on the elixir of life?? :D we took a sip from a stream of glacial melt water and it just tasted like heaven.. never has a sip of water tasted so fresh and delicious! It is quite slippery on the glacier so sturdy shoes or micro spikes are recommended!
Once our tour on the glacier was done, we went to the glacier skywalk - which is not really worth a mention.. And then started towards Jasper National Park. On the way, we stopped at Tangle creek falls, Sunwaptha falls and Athabasca falls. All of these were right off the highway with very short hikes.
The one thing we were waiting to see though were the bears ! I had seen so many posts of grizzlies and black bears being spotted along the roads in banff and jasper, and somehow we did not manage to spot even one yet! I was getting a tad impatient. However, on the drive to Jasper, while we were crossing one of the billion rivers along the highway, Niranjan spotted something move in the river on the other side of the road.. I was driving and immediately applied my brakes and made a U turn (thankfully there were no other vehicles that were subjected to my rash driving at that point! ) and just in few seconds - there it was!! A black bear crossing the river and coming towards our side of the road! It disappeared in a few seconds and reappeared from behind the bushes right on the road. It barely even noticed us ogling at it as it was so busy rummaging for berries.
Seeing the bear on the road, other vehicles stopped to ogle at it too :)
We started soon after this and reached the small and cute town of Jasper - so picturesque!
Day 3 : We were told at our hotel (Athabasca hotel) that the drive to Maligne lake will be fruitful if we were looking for wildlife. So we started early next day in high hopes of spotting not just bears but moose etc . What do you know ? We didn't see ONE animal, except for these chipmunks that played with us in a small park. They were really cute though.
Next stop in our plan was doing the Maligne Canyon hike. We were kind of lazy to do the entire hike (~4 km one way). There are about 6 bridges in the whole hike and the most interesting points (as per what i read online) were the first and the last ones. So we decided to just drive to the two individually instead of hiking from one to the other and coming all the way back.. We started off from the first bridge. It was so beautiful , we thought we would just go a little more before turning back.. we reached the second bridge... eventually we ended up going till the end of the hike! Never realized it though because all along the canyons are gorgeous, the water is beautiful and just has tons of photo stops .. Nature at one of its finest ever! We did however dread again walking back to our car , as it was all uphill. but somehow did it ! ( I am not the greatest of hikers, so any uphill hike seems a daunting task! )
After this , we were done with Jasper! Was looking forward to the drive back to Banff since we didn't really spend a lot of time in savoring the gorgeous landscapes on our way in. As soon as we started back, we were held up in a road block! Guess who was blocking the road ?? Why, a black bear of course ! We spent some time with this fellow, clicking pics and then moved on, only to be blocked by another black bear ! This one was really active, crossing the road in front of us multiple times .We must have easily spent an hour with this guy.. he was SO cute ! This was the first time I got to see a bear in action , munching on berries, crossing the road without a care in the world, playing with stones and just not bothered by the 20+ cars that were stopped to have a look at him ! I was super happy ! :)
On our way back to Banff though, we stopped and drooled over every single rocky mountain along the icefields parkway. What a landscape ! <3 One of the best places for driving and photography!
We reached our hotel Mountaineer Lodge at Lake Louise and checked in.
Day 4 : Sadly, today was our last day in Paradise but we had loads to do.. I wanted to go to Moraine Lake for sunrise but we were pretty tired from the previous day and also it was super cloudy so there would be no sunrise beauty over Moraine , which in some way I was thankful for because had it been clear, I would have dragged myself out of bed forcefully.. sometimes the quest to get an awesome shot takes the better of me ! But either ways, we didn't have a lot of time to spare. We still wanted to visit Moraine Lake once more for the last time.. So we checked out after breakfast and headed to Moraine. Thankfully since it was so early in the morning, the parking lots were empty! It was cloudy and we could not see the valley of ten peaks.. but the water looked just amazing and the reflections were beautiful... how I wished the clouds were less :( !
We were going to do the tea house hike today around Lake Louise. There are 2 tea house hikes to choose from - Lake Agnes , and plain of 6 glaciers. So we headed to Lake Louise next and there was already a long line to get into the parking ! And it was just 8 am! Somehow we managed to do a roadside parking . After asking around a bit, we decided to do the Lake Agnes hike since it was prettier and shorter. Both the hikes start from Lake Louise. The glacier one goes along the lake and straight ahead. The Agnes hike doesn't really have much of lakeside hike since it goes uphill right at the start. However there is a connection between the two hikes somewhere after Lake louise and we thought we would do this instead. It made the total hike to almost close to 10-11 kms round trip!! But we thought we could do it ! (DUH!!) It was a beautiful hike along Lake Louise.. the color of the lake is just so gorgeous, the weather was just perfect. Although after a while it seemed like we should have just stuck to the original trail coz it became very strenuous for us.. It was totally uphill and there was a stretch (the connection trail) where we didn't cross a single soul and got freaked out by the thought of coming across a grizzly!! which made us walk really fast and lose our breaths even more.. by the time we reached the tea house, I was half dead literally ! but once at top and we saw other people.. it seemed alright to relax, and look around and take pics :D Lake Louise looked like a million bucks from top!
The tea house was a much needed break from the hike. It looked very cozy and the setting was cute. It was way too crowded though to enjoy its settings though. Lake Agnes is right in front of the tea house and a wonderful place for photos!
We had some tea and hot chocolate, took some more photos around and started back our hike downhill. Downhill was pretty smooth yet tiring. On the way we stopped for a quick lunch (previous night's leftover pizzas :D) at Mirror lake.
Once at the bottom of the hike, we just spent a few minutes looking at Lake Louise for one last time. Even though we barely spent good amount of time at Lake Louise, we did not have much time to spare right now since we still had Johnston Canyon to cover on the same day and then head back to Calgary that night as our flights were early next morning from Calgary.
We rushed on the drive to Johnston. It was just starting to get dark and we had a good 2 mile hike to do. We decided we will skip the photo stops on the way in and take them on the way out.. so we started on yet another fast hike ! My poor feet had had it by then and they were screaming from inside my shoes for me to stop. But I could not listen to them! I was told by a friend that johnston canyon was one of the most loveliest hikes and I could not afford to skip it at any cost! After all , who knows if we ever get to visit Banff again. The parking lot was almost empty. The crowds had all gone as it was the end of the day. Apart from it getting dark, another thing was worrying us - the bears ! Well as long as there are people they may stay away , but what if once it gets silent they started to wander around and came across us ! So we walked even faster and faster. But all along I could not help but admire yet another different hike so absolutely breath taking. The absence of other people made me really feel and connect with Nature. For most part of the trail, it was just us in the canyons. This was such a different trail.. We had to follow the catwalks through the canyon as the stunning turquoise water flowed below. At the Lower falls, there was also a cave which took us so close to the falls the spray was all over my camera!
We quickly hiked to the upper falls next took a few snaps and then slowly started our hike back. On our way back we savored the spots and the quiet surroundings... It was so beautiful.. It was almost dark by the time we reached our car.