Banff NP & Waterton International Peace Park

This is the fourth guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam, Anna, Cyndi and I toured the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. There are previous introductoryJasper National Park, and Columbia Icefield & Lake Louise posts as well as additional posts about our stops at Glacier National Park in Montana and Custer State Park in South Dakota. 

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Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park, established in 1885 in the Rocky Mountains. The park is located west of Calgary in Alberta, and encompasses 6,641 km (2,564 sq mi) of mountainous terrain, numerous glaciers, icefields, and alpine forests.

The Town of Banff

Located at the south part of Banff N.P., downtown Banff consists of countless souvenir shops and restaurants, all along Banff Avenue, which is the main street that runs right through the middle of this little town.  Even though Banff only has about 6,000 permanent inhabitants, it receives over 5,000,000 visitors a year.

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We arrived at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Park (5 minutes outside of downtown) in time to set-up the camper and then head back into town for a late dinner.

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After strolling around Banff Avenue, we ate dinner at the Elk & Oarsman Grill; a strong recommendation for the view of downtown and the mountain… the food was pretty good too!  I had an elk burger, Adam had a full slab of ribs, Cyndi had fish & chips, and Anna enjoyed a salad.

We enjoyed a couple of local brews too during a short rainstorm and all was at a reasonable price… including the free rainbow over the mountain during the storm!

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Hiking around Banff

After breakfast the next morning (which included bacon since there was less threat of bears in this campground), we went to see the Hoodoos, some tower-like natural rock formations that were close to our campground. Hoodoos are composed of sedimentary rock covered by harder rock so once the surrounding softer sediment erodes from wind and rain, the harder rock needles are left. The Hoodoos can be seen down in the valley and –while there is no official trail, you can walk down to see them if you have some good hiking shoes that have grip.

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We then drove 20 minutes outside of Banff to Lake Minnewanka for some more hiking to the waterfall along the awesome views of the lake.  On our way back, we encountered some mountain goats along the road and saw a black bear in another area of the park.

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We enjoyed lunch at St. James Gate; a neat Irish pub in downtown Banff. According to our waitress, the pub was actually manufactured and built in Dublin, Ireland, then shipped woodwork, artifacts and all over to Banff. It’s everything an Irish Pub should be and worth the stop for a sandwich and a pint.

After lunch, we visited the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel up the mountain from downtown Banff.  This stately castle was built in the 1880s by William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway in order to bring tourism to western Canada…and to ride his railway, of course!

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Disaster struck in 1926 when the original wooden hotel burnt down and was rebuilt larger and to its present state. It was very neat to wander the halls of this important piece of Banff history.

More Fun Around Banff

On Saturday, we drove out to what was billed as the best place to see wildlife in the area: Vermillion Lakes Drive. We thought that since we went mid-morning we wouldn’t be too late, but it was a bit disappointing in that we saw none.

We stopped on the way back though for a nice education trail called the Fenland Trail, just off the highway as you head back into Banff. This was about a 1.7 mile long, pleasant woodland loop that winds through a white spruce forest along the banks of Forty Mile Creek. There is an trail guide brochure at the trail-head parking lot and interpretive panels placed along the trail that were very informative. We also some folks canoeing and “supping”  (Stand-Up Paddle boarding) as Adam and Anna called it as we hiked the interpretive trail.

Since that was not enough hiking for the two younger members in the group, we went back and packed some sandwiches, then headed to the Tunnel Mountain Trail, just outside of town.

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The hike leads you to the top of Banff’s smallest and closest summit.  Once at the top, you get 360° views of the townsite, the Bow and Spray River valleys, the Banff Springs Golf Course, and surrounding peaks.

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According to the town of Banff website, this is a very popular “short” hike, but I wouldn’t call it short since it was 2.3 km (just under 1.5 miles) and included a 300 m (nearly 1,000 ft.) elevation gain from the lower trail-head with moderately-steep switchbacks.  You should allow 1–1.5 hours to get up or about 3 hours in total with breaks on this hike.

That afternoon, we needed to wash some clothes so Adam & Anna found a local coffee shop to check their email and Facebook account, while Cyndi & I found the laundry mat.

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A few hours later, it was dinner time back at the camper, then back up the mountain to the Banff Upper Hot Springs; a historic spa and bath house. The hot springs were discovered in 1884 and commercially developed into an attraction in Banff.  Honestly, I was expecting something a little more rustic and less of a “cement pond” feeling, but it was a nice way to wind down in the hot pool after our day of exploring the areas around Banff.

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The next morning, we got up early to break-down camp and finished our stay in Banff with Sunday worship at a cute, little church: St. James Presbyterian Church of Canada.

It was then on to Waterton Lakes International Peace Park, about 4.75 hours south of the town of Banff.

Off to Waterton-Glacier IPP

Waterton Lakes National Park is the Canadian version of Glacier National Park in Montana. Together, they make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (IPP), the first of its kind in the world. Waterton Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve. It is the only park in the world that has these three designations!

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Waterton IPP is a blend of unusual geology, mild climate, rare wild flowers, and an abundance of wildlife. It also has a nice small downtown with ice cream shops and beautiful Cameron Lake.

Red Rock Canyon

Along the way to Waterton Lakes, we stopped at Red Rock Canyon, about 10 miles northwest of Waterton at the end of Red Rock Parkway. Red Rock Canyon has unique layers of red and greenish-, tan-colored bedrock called argillite, created when the minerals are exposed by water erosion.

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There is some short self-guided hikes that lead to some wonderful waterfalls in Red Rock Canyon. We took the Blakiston Falls Trail  which is 2 km (1.2 miles) with minimal ascent, but allow 2 hours total since it’s an excellent place for photos.

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Waterton Townsite

When we arrived, we immediately headed to lunch at Weiners of Wateron, a highly-rated gourmet hot dog joint in the downtown area. Coming from Chicago (a mecca of hot dogs), our expectations were high, but this place did quite well!

Afterwards, we attempted a stroll near Cameron Lake, but it too windy to allow much comfort. I took a few pictures, then we enjoyed some ice cream at Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlor… to actually warm up.

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The Prince of Wales Hotel sits majestically up on a hill overlooking the park. It was built in 1912 as an extension to the chain of hotels and chalets built and operated by the Great Northern Railway in Glacier National Park. We didn’t have time to tour the hotel, but did stop when we saw a group of people along the road up watching a black bear grazing on the hill.

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We then continued out to one of the the wildlife-viewing roads, a couple miles outside of town. This was an hour-long commitment and we saw a few more bear and some pronghorn “antelope”.

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After three days in Banff, it was back to good old U.S. of A. and 3 days in Glacier National Park.

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Columbia Icefield & Lake Louise

This is the third guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam, Anna, Cyndi and I toured the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. There are previous introductory and Jasper National Park posts as well as additional posts on our stops at Banff National Park and Waterton International Peace Park in Canada, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Custer State Park in South Dakota. 

Leaving Jasper NP to Head South

During our 2.5 days in Jasper National Park, we heard about a forest fire along Route 11, which was the main route south toward Banff.  We were advised by the park rangers to leave early the next day since the road would only be open from 10:00am to 2:00pm when safety would not be impeded. We packed up camp and left by 8:00am for our trip into the Athabasca Valley.

Athabasca Falls

IMG_4511A must-stop about 19 miles along the way is the Athabasca Falls, where the sheer volume of milky-white water through a gorge produces some amazing views. It’s about a 30-minute commitment to see the falls and their powerful water and misty sprays, but it is well-worth the time

During the summer, the milky river runs with meltwater heavy with the fine silt, the product of grinding down mountains over thousands of years. Take the nice walk across a safe bridge over and along the river. Though Adam has been to both Niagara Falls and Iguazu Falls, he still felt that the Athabasca falls were impressive. Though smaller than Niagara or Iguazu, I personally think Athabasca is unique due to the color and flow of the water from the canyon it rushes through.

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Columbia Icefields

After the Athabasca Falls, we continued south for an hour to the Columbia Icefield. A few miles past the Glacier Skywalk is the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre, where you purchase tickets to the various attractions. We opted not to purchase tickets for the Skywalk or the Banff Gondola due to our timeline for the day, but did get tickets for the Ice Explorer that actually takes you onto the Athabasca Glacier.

We started the Ice Explorer experience with a bus ride across the highway and partway up the mountain. Then, we transferred to this large ATV-like Ice Explorer vehicle that took us further up a very dusty road to the glacier. The driver-guide shared a wealth of fascinating information about glaciers, icefields and their impact on our environment during this hour & twenty minute journey.

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Once on the Athabasca glacier, we stepped out onto the ice and took in views of the glacial vistas. We were forewarned not to venture outside the designated areas as walking on glaciers can be quite dangerous due to unseen crevasses. In fact, as soon as we stepped off the Explorer, a man went knee-deep into the glacier water that they said is cold enough to cause hypothermia in less than 15 minutes. Seeing this, we gingerly trudged up to the glacier wall, took pictures and felt the glacial stream run down the edges of the safe area. We had about 15 minutes to walk around and experience a glacier before having to return to the bus with the same number of people they brought up.

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We had such a beautiful, sunny day that you could sense the glacier melting as our time ticked away. Bring your warm jackets though since the temperature on the glacier is much colder and it can very windy if you get anything less than the ideal day we enjoyed.

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Camping at Lake Louise

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Our final stop that day was Lake Louise National Park. We knew this place
would be interesting since there was an electric fence around our campground, or what I called the “bear-ier” to keep the wildlife out of the campgrounds.

While Cyndi & I prepared a dutch-oven slow roast safely behind the electric fence, Adam & Anna drove to Lake Louise and took the Lake Agnes Trail 4.5 miles and 1300 feet upwards towards the Lake Agnes Tea House. They said it was a splendid, little hike and worth the climb through the forest.

Since we were in bear country (and I’m not talking about the Chicago football team), we also attended a program later that night which educated us on the differences between grizzly and black bears. This helped us later identify both types when we spotted them… from afar, of course!

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Grizzly Bear – Hump on its back, pointed ears, round face, claw-like paws (example photo from Internet, photographer unknown).

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Black Bear – Can be black or brown, rounded ears, larger & straighter snout. (example photo from Internet, photographer unknown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also were reminded to remove all garbage and food around our campsite (although Adam & I already knew that from our trip to Philmont several years ago).  It was a peaceful night’s sleep knowing that we had properly packed away our “smellables” (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, non-canned food) in the SUV since we have a soft-sided, pop-up camper; not a hard-side RV.

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Hiking at Lake Louise

After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we hiked 3 km along Lake Louise to the opposite side of the famous Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau Hotel.  This was a fairly easy hike and offered great views of the lake. There were rock climbers along the way and horse-back riders for part of the hike too.

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Enjoying Emerald Lake

After lunch, we headed to Yoho National Park with its aptly-named Emerald Lake. We rented a couple of canoes ($35 1st hour) and paddled our way all the way across the lake, taking in the beauty of the glaciers and its cold, crystal clear, emerald green water. An hour was plenty to get across & back while also allowing for some extra float time.

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After canoeing, Anna convinced me to join her for a 5 km run on the loop around the lake as Cyndi and Adam hung back to read and relax. As the rain tried to creep over the mountain and our “woop-woops” got louder (to scare off the bears), Emerald Lake turned out to be a great way to finish the day before driving the last 1.5 hours to Banff National Park for the night.

 

Getting to Jasper National Park

This is the second guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam, Anna, Cyndi and I toured the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park. There is a previous introductory post as well as additional posts on our stops at Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, Banff National Park and Waterton International Peace Park in Canada, Glacier National Park in Montana, and Custer State Park in South Dakota. 

The first “real” stop on vacation was Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, but we first had a couple days of driving into Canada.

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Dakota Thunder: The World’s Largest Buffalo

A Long Day of Driving

We drove for 16 hours and 903 miles before stopping the first night in Minot, North Dakota. Along the way, we stopped to stretch in Jameston, ND and saw the world’s largest buffalo and White Cloud; a living, albino buffalo.

We also discovered Jameston is the birthplace of American writer and bit actor, Louis L’amour (1908 – 1988).

Due to the late arrival that night, we stayed at the Hampton Inn in Minot; a nice place to stop for a short sleep before another early start and another long drive the next day.

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When we got moving the next morning, we headed northwest from Minot for another 14 hours and 732 miles to Edmonton, Alberta for our first night of camping. Since we are big ice hockey fans, we enjoyed an unexpected “hockey fix” when we drove through Edmonton and saw the Rexall Center, the venue in which the Edmonton Oilers play. We took pictures with the statue of Wayne Gretzky, where “The Great One” started his career. We also arrived in Edmonton just in time for a 7:00pm Sunday night mass at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples; a catholic church built in 1913. We were warmly welcomed at this unique Edmonton inner-city parish that had a aboriginal theme in its decor with many mentions of The Creator, spirit, and nature. We then enjoyed dinner afterward at a nearby Thai restaurant and drove a short distance just outside of Edmonton to Glowing Embers RV Park, a nice campground for a quick overnight sleep before another early start the next morning on the way to Jasper.

Jasper National Park 

We arrived early Monday afternoon in Jasper National Park after what seemed like a short drive of only 5 hours. We took the obligatory picture in front of the national park sign (it’s a dad thing!) and enjoyed the mountain river and lake views when we drove into the small downtown area.

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After arriving, we gathered some information from the Jasper Visitor Center (a must stop in any new town), enjoyed lunch at a local microbrewery called the Jasper Brewing Company, purchased the necessary bear spray for our hikes ($35, but never needed it, thank God!) since there are bears in the area.

We then headed over to Whistler’s Campground where we would camp for our next 2 nights.

My First Glaciers – Mt. Edith Cavell

After a quick camper set-up, we were off to the first of our many hikes on the trip: a 45-minute trek to the Angel Glacier and Ghost Glacier, both on Mount Edith Cavell (elevation 3363 meters or 11,033 feet). It was sad to see pictures showing just how much these glaciers had shrunk the last few decades. Mt. Edith Cavell was so-named in 1931 after a British nurse who helped soldiers on both sides during World War I.

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Jasper Tour Company; a great way to see the park!

The next day in Jasper, we took a guided wildlife tour with Jasper Tour Company and highly recommend our guide, Joe who made it fun and informative. He took us through waterfalls, showed us thousand-year-old fossils in rock formations, and spotted a black bear, eagle, and osprey for us and told stories of native folklore.

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Our tour also included a boat ride to Maligne Lake, the crystal-clear and glacier-cold home of world famous Spirit Island.The next time you’re in the main concourse of New York’s Grand Central Station, look up at the ceiling to see a painting of this beautiful island… or just look at this picture I took!

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After the boat ride, we packed our bear spray and remembered Joe’s advice that a couple of good “woop-woops” would scare off any wildlife during a 4.5k hike (about 3 miles) called Valley of the Five Lakes.  Anna swam (albeit very briefly) in one of the very cold, glacier-fed lakes while the rest of us cooled off our weary feet on this day near 32 C (90+ degrees F).

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Then it was back to the camper for dinner.

Canadian Rockies & Glacier National Park: Introduction

This is a guest post by Adam’s dad as Adam and his girlfriend, Anna Sutphen joined me and Adam’s mom, Cyndi on a 2-week summer camping vacation to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park shortly after their year-long adventure in South America. I get to write for this section since we were thrilled to share this Traverse adventure with Adam and Anna.

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Anna, Cyndi, Rich and Adam’s Glacier adventure

The Planning is Done and Away We Go!

After months of research and planning (mostly by Cyndi), we started the trip by hitching our pop-up camper to the rented Toyota Sequoia SUV the night before an early Saturday morning departure. We had 2 long days of driving from our Chicago suburb to Alberta, Canada.

Camper + Sequoia

Our plans included visiting Jasper National Park, the beautiful town of Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefields, Yoho National Park & its amazing Emerald Lake, the town of Banff, and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, before returning to the U.S. parks of Glacier National in Montana and Custer State Park in South Dakota.

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We knew that we would cover a lot of miles but felt it was worth the effort given the predicted loss of all glaciers in North America sometime in the next 20 to 30 years.

This is the first of several posts that will follow during this next week about the various stages of our trip.