Last weekend we took an amazing, whirlwind 1,000+ mile trip up through the Canadian Rockies. We only had three days but time limits have never stopped us before - we seem to think we have boundless energy and actually like being cramped in cars for hours on end. Apparently, our friend Sarah feels the same way because she's joined us for a number of our crazy rapid fire adventures and decided to fly up and join us once again. She landed Friday just before midnight and Saturday morning at 8:00 AM we were on the road headed to Banff National Park. What should have taken us 6.5 hours somehow ended up taking 8.5 hours, so we didn't enter the park until late in the afternoon, and were sad to discover that the mountains were shrouded in thick clouds and it was lightly sprinkling. As such, Justin (reasonably) wanted to look for a campground right away and pitch our tent before the rain really let loose. However, for the last 8.5 hours I'd been envisioning standing the shores of Lake Louise, Banff's iconic gem, and I was not going to let anything get in my way of doing just that. Fifteen minutes later we were standing with a mob of other tourists on the boardwalk in-front of the lake thinking... What the heck? This place is so much smaller than we thought! Somehow, photographs had lead us to believe that it was a huge lake, so we were pretty surprised to discover that it's actually quite small. Nonetheless, it really was beautiful and completely worth visiting if you should embark on your own Canadian Rockies adventure.
By the time we finished wandering around Lake Louise it was almost dark and we still had no idea where we were going to camp that night, which meant awkwardly hanging around the lobby of the Fairmont Chateau, an ultra posh hotel located right on the shores of the lake, in order to use their wifi to look up which campgrounds in the near vicinity were actually open. And that's how we ended up at Kicking Horse, a campground in Yoho National Park, which is practically a part of Banff. It only took us about 20 minutes to drive there from Lake Louise. We thought it was a pretty nice campground, but we're satisfied with any place that has a flat spot to pitch a tent and a few pit toilets, so in case you judge a place on more than that, here are some pros and cons in our opinion:
Pros - located next to a beautiful glacial river, has bathrooms with flush toilets and some showers, decent sized sites, and once you've paid for firewood you can use as much as you want from their giant woodpile (which seems to be the policy of all the campgrounds throughout the parks).
Cons - there's a train track on the hillside above the campground with active trains that might bother light sleepers, we thought the fee of $27.40 CAD for a tent site was a bit steep, and even if you bring firewood from home you have to pay $8.80 CAD for "fire permit" which allows you to use the campground's firewood, so there's really no point in bringing your own!
We slept amazingly well for the three of us being packed into our little backpacking tent like sardines. I slept in the middle and my sleeping pad was literally resting on top of a good part of both Justin and Sarah's sleeping pads. Anyways, we got up early and hit the road to drive the Icefields Parkway, a spectacular road that traverses 144 miles through the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site - in other words up through the middle of Banff and Jasper. The route is peppered with glaciers, pristine alpine lakes, expansive valleys bisected by milky blue rivers, and lots of wildlife sighting opportunities. Point in case, we had barely began our drive when we spied these two grizzly bears grazing by a lake. That's right, grazing. If you're super animal savvy and already knew that grizzlies eat grass, you can feel superior now. But if you're like us and had no idea until right now that grizzlies (and other bears) eat a fair bit of vegetation, here's the deal: in the spring when the vegetation is nice and tender, grizzlies move to low elevation areas where the snow has melted to graze on grasses, dandelions, clover and so forth (U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service). See? It was worth reading this post because now you know another pointless piece of trivia to bring up at dinner parties. Moving on... the weather during our whole drive up the parkway was kind of crazy. One moment we'd be in a sunny valley, the next moment shrouded in gloomy rain or a gnarly snow storm depending on the elevation. Getting all the seasons in one drive was kind of exhilarating though! We ended our drive in the town of Jasper and then turned around and headed all the way back to the town of Banff as our time was so limited. The following are all photos taken along the Icefield Parkway.
When we got back to Banff, per usual we weren't quite sure where we were going to spend the night. I had read that the Two Jack lakeside campground, which is just outside the town of Banff, is super nice so we looked at a map and decided to head over there and try our luck. When we pulled up to the entrance of the campground they had a sign out saying they were full. We'd spent a good 8 hours in the car already so we were pretty bummed at the thought of having to continue our wanderings. We decided to check things out just in case and were stoked to hear that there had been two cancelations. The guy at the booth asked, "Do you want to be at the drive up site next to a group of crazy Australians who I've already had to ask to quiet down, or do you want to be at the walk in site?" We opted for the walk in, and it couldn't have been more perfect. Seriously. The site (I believe it was #18) was probably only 20 feet from the road so wasn't really a walk in, and had lovely views of the lake with its own little path down to the shore. The whole campground was really nicely groomed with a trail around the perimeter of the lake, and we woke to an amazing, misty sunrise feeling grateful for having lucked into spending the night in a little slice of paradise. We highly recommend this campground, but be warned that there is a Two Jack main campground across the road that while much larger, is not lakeside and thus probably not near as enchanting.
Having fabulous trips come to a close always sucks. We were pretty reluctant to pack up and leave Two Jack, but we did get to take in a few more splendid views on our way out. We headed home via the road to Lake Minnewanka, which is literally just over the hill from where we were camping, and were rewarded with an incredible view back down over Two Jack from the hillside. The only other stop we made on the way home was to take a picture at the continental divide, so it was really one marathon day after the next. So totally worth it though - it always is. As Mark Twain so aptly put it:
Moral of this post? Get out there and have your own fantastic adventures this summer!