Banff National Park
I continued to feed my obsession for the mountains a couple weeks ago by taking a trip to Banff National Park. It was such a wonderful and relaxing week. They really mean it when they call these mountains "The Rockies." They are quite literally jagged pieces of rock shooting out of the earth. They are seriously magnificent. Especially intriguing for the climber in me(: The weather wasn't ideal for climbing unfortunately, but I guess that just gives me a reason to go back. Keep reading for some more details of the week!
1. Lake Louise
In July the crowds around Chateau Lake Louise make it seem like you are in Disneyland. The hikes will also be crowded, but doing at least one is totally worth it. You can take that to heart because I hate tourist traps more than anyone. In fact the first thing I ask the visitor center when I go to a national park is "how can I escape the crowds?" That being said, Lake Louise is something you don't want to miss. In order to get a parking spot I would recommend going at 6am or 6pm. There is also overflow parking if you don't mind waiting for a shuttle.
The first day we hiked from Lake Louise to the Plan of Six Glaciers look out. This hike was a gorgeous 9 mile trail. We arrived at 6:30am so there were very few people on the trail until later. Because we arrived so early we were able to get a seat in one of the tea houses up on the mountainside. Tea houses are old log cabins with a deck and balcony seating, allowing for amazing views. The food is made fresh daily and is SO good! They have everything from soup & sandwiches, to coffee & biscuits. One tip is to bring Canadian cash as there is a surcharge to use American cash or a credit card.
From the tea house we went down to the Lake Agnes traverse which brought us to the Big Beehive (a large gazebo with amazing views of the lake from high up). From Lake Agnes we went back down to Lake Louise which made for a wonderful day hike.
2. Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is a deeper blue/green than Lake Louise and it is surrounded by 10 peaks. All of the mountain lakes in Banff come from glacier runoff. When the ice rubs against the rock it creates a grayish silt that flows into the lakes and makes them an unbelievable color. The trick is to get to Moraine around 7pm. This parking lot is even smaller than Lake Louise, but they stop monitoring it in the evening. Because Banff is so far north, in the summer it won't get dark until after 10. A short 7pm hike gives you just enough time to get in and out before dark.
3. Helen Lake
This beautiful 7 mile hike through pine forests and along a ridge-line has sweeping views of the mountains, the valley and the lake. The trail follows a subalpine tundra area with wildflowers and stream crossings. This hike was perfect for me because there were very few people around. Make sure to bring your bear spray, because less people = more potential for bears.
4. Boom Lake
No one actually recommended this hike to us. We ended up here because we were hiking a ridge-line trail in Yoho National park and it was pouring rain. We headed over to this hike tired, soaking wet and frustrated, but we came out pleasantly surprised (yet still tired). The trail to Boom Lake is very well paved and doesn't gain too much elevation. It leads to a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains (it's the lake where I took all of the photos in my orange dress:). We saw a lot of dogs on the trail too, so if you come with your pup, this is the hike for you!
5. Iceline Trail to Laughing Falls to Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park
This trail was recommended by us by the visitor center when we mentioned that we like to stay away from crowds. Personally, I did not have a great experience on this one because the weather was so bad. If you go on a nice day, it is a beautiful 9 mile hike through pine forests, along a ridge with mountain views and past sweeping waterfalls.
We only spent a couple hours in the town of Banff because it was extremely crowded. We walked around a little bit and went to the visitor center to get hiking recommendations. It is a cute town, but it is not a must-visit part of the park.
We stayed in the town of Canmore 10 minutes outside of Banff. Because of the size of the park, you will have to drive 30-60 minutes to get to most of the hiking trails anyway, so staying in Canmore doesn't add too much time to the commute. It is also a lot less crowded! We stayed at the Stone Ridge Mountain Resort. It was so perfect, equipped with a lovely balcony and a hot tub for the complex. As a bonus, it shared a parking lot with the climbing guide service (Yamnuska Mountain Guides).
The last thing I just HAVE to write about is a restaurant we went to on our last day in Calgary. We were in Calgary because it is the closest city to fly in and out of. The restaurant is called The Nash, and it is genuinely the best meal I have ever had. If you are ever in the area, stop by and order the Risotto to start and the Rotisserie Chicken as an entree. Trust me. You won't regret it.