My adventure to the Canadian Rockies was planned on a whim. Actually, it was more so ‘booked’ + not really all that ‘planned’ at all. When I saw my work schedule at the ER offered up a 5-day work-free stretch I plugged ‘Denver’ + ‘everywhere’ into SkyScanner + picked the most interesting destination that fell into a made-up budget. That ended up being direct flights to Calgary, Alberta. Bam…I was going to the Canadian Rockies!
Once I booked my flights I threw a few locations into AirBnB, read up on the reviews + picked a place in Canmore, Alberta. From the looks of it this little mountain town was the Canadian version of my very own mountain town, Silverthorne. It did not disappoint. The AirBnB I choose had me walking distance from…everything! Seriously, I arrived + headed outside to scope out the area. I found a river trail just down the street, which led to a bridge. A bridge that was essentially the same as the bridge along the Blue River Trail in Silverthorne, just outside Red Buffalo Cafe.
Ah, home…my new, foreign home!
The next morning I pulled myself out of bed with the sunrise + ventured outside for a quick walk to a local coffee shop. I settled into the Beamers Coffee Bar with my laptop, a to-do list + some gorgeous mountains staring down at me. As I gulped down some coffee I let my fingers do the talking + checked my way through the colorful list of real-life responsibilities. A few hours later I packed up my bags, hopped into my car + pointed the car toward Banff National Park. In no time at all I was busy wishing I had drug someone along on this trip — it would have been awesome to have them drive so I could gawk at the world around me.
Banff National Park Lakes
Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes, Emerald Lake
I had downloaded the free GyPSy guide app that works as a GPS audio guide to the world around you. In the 30 minute drive from Canmore to Banff I feel in love. That app was amazingly informative + led me right to the Banff Visitor’s Center where I picked up some winter hiking maps + borrowed some WiFi to download the GyPSy guide for Lake Louise + YoHo National Park. Yup, I paid for an app for the first time in my life. It was totally worth it + by the end of the day I was willingly paying for the GyPSy guide to the Icefields Parkway drive as well.
My stop by Lake Louise was nothing like the iconic photos you see from the summer. The mountains were shroud in clouds + the lake was covered in snow with patches of ice skating rinks swept clean. I immediately strapped on my microspikes + headed up the trail toward Mirror Lake + Lake Agnes. The trails were packed out + before long I was enveloped in the trees, far from the tourists far below. As I hiked upward I came upon a handful of hikers, but generally had the whole trail to myself. It was glorious. Beautiful, peaceful + glorious.
A quick stop by Mirror Lake, a bit of gawking at the Beehive + a scamper across Lake Agnes had me twitterpated. There was no denying it, these mountains were absolutely incredible. As I headed back to civilization I realized it wasn’t these mountains I was falling in love with — I was actually just rediscovering my happy on the trails. The winters months tend to find me working more than exploring, which slowly erases my memory of how much happy you can find on the trails. This trip reminded me it’s the trails that get me giddy, not the travel itself. Now that I’m back home, I’ll be out on the local trails falling head over heels in love with them all over again! This is a mentality I’ll need to cling to this summer as I allow work to take over some of my travel time.
Once I returned to my car I turned the GyPSy app back on + followed it toward YoHo National Park. Turns out YoHo NP is basically Banff NP, but in British Columbia [ie: on the western side of the Continental Divide, which divides BC from AB]. The guide took me to Emerald Lake, a natural bridge + onto an epic waterfall…or at least it wanted to. I stopped by Emerald Lake for a short hike, then popped in at the natural bridge. In the summer, according to the GyPSy app there is a pretty epic waterfall gushing through this natural bridge. In the winter, it is all frozen. As I walked across the overlook bridge I almost turned around midway since it looked…frozen. Then I saw the hole in the rock + realized that there was a water fall frozen *inside* the rocks! Oh hey, that’s cool!
Natural Bridge // Kicking Horse River // YoHo National Park
I followed a trail down to the river’s edge + out onto the ice. The trail led right up to the hole in the rock. I was staring up at the rock, wishing I had bothered to put on my microspikes when I noticed the sound of gurgling water. I looked down + saw a hole in the frozen river about two feet from me…beneath the hole I saw moving water. My stomach dropped + I frozen. I’ve always been really hesitant around frozen water, especially rivers/streams because I’m convinced the ice will break + I’ll die. Here on the frozen river I was all alone…no one was parked at the trailhead, I’d seen no one on the trail + the only cars on the road were headed in the opposite direction. I felt honest-to-goodness gut-wrenching fear. Once I pulled my brain back through my ears I bolted off the ice.
As I scampered back to the safety of the shore [or what I thought was the shore, everything was under heaps of snow + ice] I started to rationalize the situation. Yea, I was alone, but I was on 3 inches of stable ice. I felt no shifts in the ice + heard not cracks. The hole looked to be pretty obviously man-made. There were tracks all over the river, many venturing out to much more dangerous looking edges [terrible reasoning, but damnit, I wanted to look at the frozen water fall *inside* a rock!]. I talked aloud to myself, took a deep breath + tentatively scooted back out onto the ice clad river. This time I was far more away of my surroundings, ready for any pops, cracks or shifts in the ice. Nothing. I jumped a little. Nothing. I ventured out further. Nothing.
Okay, it was safe! Probably. Honestly, I have no idea + this may not have been the best decision…do not take this as advice to do as I did [well, maybe run off the ice, that’s probably the right decision]. I made it to the mouth of the rock waterfall without any changes in the icy world below me. Up next…walking into the rock. This was terrifying but absolutely incredible. All around me walls of smoothly eroded rock stretched above me in graceful waves. The sound of running water echoed around me as a stream of frozen water cascaded down in front of me. I don’t if it was actually mind-blowing or if my heart was just pounding so hard in my ears I couldn’t process thoughts…but it was ah-maz-ing.
My heart slowly made its way from ‘omg, absolutely terrified’ thumping down to ‘squeeee, so amazing’ pitter patter as I drove back toward Canmore. I made it into town as the sun was setting, so I opted for a dinner of snacks with a side of remote work. Yay, balance.
Icefields Parkway Drive
Banff to Columbia Icefields
My third day in Canada kicked off very similar to the previous…an early morning start, a latte with WiFi access [this time I hit up Good Earth Coffeehouse] + a drive into the national park as soon as the sun popped above the mountains. I had downloaded another section of the GyPSy app to guide me along the Icefields Parkway. This historic highway, surrounded by stunning mountain views takes you from Banff to Jasper. It’s a 3+ hour drive, one way. I managed to spend nearly 8 hours exploring + I only drove half way, turning around at the Columbia Icefields.
Along the way I stopped for a handful of short hikes to overlooks. I gawked at ice climbers chipping their way up the Weeping Wall. My eyes crossed as I stared at a mountainside searching for Crowfoot Glacier + its missing toe. I bounced up a trail to Peyto Lake’s overlook knowing it wouldn’t be the stunning blue as promised [you know, because it was frozen + snow-covered]. I spent a lot of time in the car, but I was constantly pulling over to dance around the mountains. There’s a really good chance I created a few expletives in an effort to explain just how crazy amazing these mountains were. I picked favorites, only to abandon them for my new favorite with every curve in the road.
It was a Saturday when I ventured up the Icefields Parkway + there were dozens of cars parked up against the snow at the edge of the road. They were all owned by adventurous backcountry wanderers who had gotten up early to earn their turns. Since most parking lots + pull outs weren’t plowed they made their own parking area + headed into the mountains. As I stared off at the snow-covered mountains I’d easily spot slopes with ribbons of fresh tracks down their faces. I also so a handful of avalanche chutes — some with very fresh avalanches. I even watched a massive amount of snow crash over a cliff, which I initially thought was a waterfall. Mother Nature is a powerful beast when she wants to be!
With all the driving it took very little effort to fall asleep…I walked into my room, shoved some food in my face, took a shower + crashed into my pillow. Who knew driving was so tiring?! In my defense, I had to drive + be crazy stoked at the same time…without crashing the car. That takes concentration, y’all!
Bow Valley Parkway Drive + Hike
Moose Meadows + Ink Pots + Johnston Canyon
My fourth day in Alberta, Canada was actually my last full day [yay, travel days] so I decided to take full advantage of it…with an early start fueled by coffee + laptop time [went to RAVE Coffee, gotta mix it up!]. Remote work doesn’t always respect the sanctity of weekends, especially when on the move! I couldn’t resist the sunshine for long + was on the road headed back into Banff National Park by 9:30am. My plan for the day was to drive up the Bow Valley Parkways then hike up Johnston Canyon to check out the Ink Pots.
With it being a Sunday I decided to make my trek a bit longer to avoid the popular Johnston Canyon Trailhead. About a mile north of the main Johnston Canyon parking lot is the Moose Meadows lot. It’s a tiny lot, but it offered exactly what I was after — solitude. I filled my pack with what-if’s, strapped on my microspikes + headed up the trail. In about 3km this trail would connect with the popular Johnston Canyon trail. At that point I had the choice to continue up to the Ink Pots or head down to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon. I opted to check out the Ink Pots, then head down the canyon to eventually run down the road to get back to my car at Moose Meadows.
Best. Decision. Ever.
The vast majority of the trail leading to the Ink Pots was shroud in evergreens, but near the top I caught a glimpse of the mountains through the trails. I did a little dance. The mountains off in the distance were incredible + exactly the peaks I had been swooning over from the road. They had a near perfect symmetry while still holding onto their rugged mystery. I was in love. I had found my new favorite mountain. Again.
The Ink Pots are made up of multiple pools in varying colors along a stream. The colors are changed by the mineral variations in each pool, according to the GyPSy app. In the winter it wasn’t obvious, but the pools were crystal clear. Even without the stunning views of the jagged mountains off in the distance it would have been a beautiful place to just…be.
Oh, but it got better! After roaming the Ink Pots I headed back down the mountain. Johnston Canyon was highly recommended by everyone I talked to, so I didn’t want to miss it. Instead of back tracking all the way to my car I opted to hike down Johnston Canyon. As soon as I entered the canyon it started to feel like a sunny Sunday — there were people everywhere! I can only imagine how busy this area is in the summer! I followed the masses down the trail, then veered off onto the river. There was a handful of ice climbers on the frozen water falls + they had packed out some nice trails atop to frozen river.
My venture into the natural bridge taught me to trust the science behind frozen water. I actually ran about a half mile down the frozen river before it connected back to the main trail. I even scrambled down a mini ice fall along the way. It was beautiful + being away from the crowds was calming. I am such an introvert on the trails!
Once I got back to the main Johnston Canyon trailhead I stripped off my microspikes + hit the road. Less than a mile later I was back at my car inhaling tortillas + salami. Broke girl travel food, ftw!
Kootenay National Park
It was now the afternoon of my last full day in Canada + I was headed back to Calgary for the night. With a little detour. The Bow Valley Parkway connects with Highway 1 at the same junction as the road to Kootenay National Park does. Well then, that decided that! I headed into Kootenay NP just to see what it was all about.
Without the GyPSy app telling me which trailheads had the best views + which hikes were a worthy adventure I wasn’t sure what to do with myself! I stopped off at a few trailheads with groups of cars, but didn’t hike much. It turned out a big part of Kootenay NP was closed due to wildfires. Okay then, guess I’ll head back to civilization!
I arrived at my AirBnB in Calgary late on Sunday night, showered my sweaty self + crawled into bed. The next morning started early with a trip to the airport…where there wasn’t a Tim Horton’s beyond security. I was holding out until my last day to snag some of the famed Tim Horton’s but alas, it didn’t happen! I still made it home in one piece, leaving behind some stunningly gorgeous + very snowy Canadian Rockies.
Should my life fall apart in the States I have a back up plan…or two. I’m looking at you, Switzerland + Canada!
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