Crossing into Canada was easy. When asked what we had for protection, we wondered “from what?” And then we we showed our bear spray and were allowed entry. We crossed over at the Eureka/Roosville crossing in Montana, headed for Banff National Park.
Border crossing at Roosville, Alberta and Eureka, Montana
After thirteen nights in the camper (and one in the car), we were ready for a real bed and a real shower, so we stopped in Calgary for a night. That turned into two nights when Trent won $400 at the poker tables at Cowboys Casino and decided to splurge on another night so we had more time to see the city.
Texas Hold ‘Em is in Trent’s blood, and so he had an advantage in Canada
Calgary, much like Denver, has its roots as a small cowtown nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains, so we felt right at home. Calgary now has a population of 1.2 million. Difference: instead of mainly hearing Spanish as the first language spoken by many citizens, we heard French primarily, but also so many other languages from German to Japanese to Hindi to Arabic dialects and many more. It felt like the international city that it is, and we were so happy to see diversity embraced.
Giant head sculpture outside Bow Building in downtown Calgary; so much public artThe Calgary Tower (formerly Husky Tower built in 1969 to replace the old Canadian Pacific Railway station
View from the top of Calgary TowerStephen Avenue in Calgary; pedestrians only and lots of shops and restaurants
Two of “The Famous Five” statues commemorating the women who in 1927 petitioned that “women are persons” and should thus be allowed election to the Senate. They lost initially until it was overturned in 1929. #resist
We were lucky enough to stumble upon Fiestaval, a celebration that of Calgary’s Latino cultures. A representative from Parliament attended on behalf of the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his remarks were mainly about how proud Canada is to be so diverse and to celebrate the many people and cultures that have influenced it over 150 years since confederation. More than once I was a little jealous of Canada.
View of Fiestaval from Calgary Tower
We also discovered a Hare Krishna celebration in the downtown streets, which was fascinating and entrancing with the chanting and incense. Not to mention we were lucky to get a room because there was a Jehova’s Witness conference in town that brought 11,000 people from all over Canada. I do wish that we had a chance to learn more about the people of the First Nation who inhabited the land even before it became Canada.
Incense burning in coconuts at Rath-Yatra festival
And the people here are just incredibly kind and generous. One sign in a shop window said Canada: Celebrating 150 years of being nice. Yes! More than once we were offered tips and maps and advice from Canadians wishing us a great holiday. And thankfully no one ever grilled us on America’s current political environment. Again, so nice! We would definitely come back.
I knew I’d like Calgary when I saw this giant sign on the side of a building as we drove in
Gopher art in Olympic Park, Calgary
After a few nights in Calgary, we hit the road for Banff National Park, which was only a little over an hour’s drive. Canada has made all National Parks free to visit in celebration of its 150th, and even foreigners like us got to enjoy that perk!
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are stunningly beautiful and struck us as much more rugged looking than the Colorado Rockies that we are so used to.
View of the Canadian Rockies on the way from Calgary to Banff
We stayed one night just outside of Banff in an RV park in Canmore, a quaint mountain town, because we didn’t have reservations in the park. While in Canmore we did a hike straight up to the top of a waterfall and saw some splendid mountain lakes. We also visited the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company where Trent had raspberry ale, which was quickly becoming his favorite.
Then we stayed three nights in Banff National Park at the Tunnel Mountain campground, again we were lucky to get a site because reservations are recommended, and especially this year with Canada 150, it was packed.
Our view at Tunnel Mountain campground, which some days was obscured by smoke from a nearby fire in Kootenay National Park to the west
We did three hikes while we were in Canada: Grassi Lakes Trail, Pika Trail and Johnston Canyon. We also walked the three or so miles around Lake Louise, which was beautiful.
Grassi Lakes Trail
This short three mile hike started flat and then went straight up to two small lakes named after the person who discovered them. We were the only people on this trail as it was late in the day and this trail was outside of the park. I just knew a bear was going to make an appearance, but no such luck. In fact, we didn’t see any big wildlife at all in Canada.
One of our only wildlife sightings! A woodpecker!
Pika Trail to Ptarmigan Overlook
This three mile trail felt like six because it was all uphill, and so steep! We took a gondola up and I realized we were on a ski run. Duh. They marketed the gondola as a chance to grizzlies from above but we didn’t.
On the gondola to Ptarmigan MountainYou can see Lake Louise in the background-so aqua!
From the gondola drop off we started our hike. The destination was an overlook with more lifts. I thought it was just a so so hike along a gravelly road but it was good exercise. And at the beginning there were great views of Lake Louise and the mountains.
But then there was a long, wind-sucking hike up. And up. And up some more.
rent beat me to the top but, nevertheless, I persisted.
View from the top at Ptarmigan Overlook
After the Gondola and hike, we scooched on over to Lake Louise for dinner and a drink, followed by a long walk around the lake. We saw more people (i.e. tourists) congregated around the lake than anywhere else except maybe at Old Faithful in Yellowstone.
I was surprised to see that the waters of Lake Louise were as aqua as they had looked from afar.
Canoes on glimmering blue green Lake Louise
We sat at the bar in the gorgeous old hotel, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and shared some butter chicken and naan. I had a spike up hot cocoa and a sangria while Trent enjoyed a scotch followed by, you guessed it, a raspberry ale.
The lobby inside The Chateau Lake Louise
We enjoyed an after dinner constitutional, which gave us great views of the lake and hotel.
Up close, sediment called “rock flour” made the water in Lake Louise a little milky
At the far end of the lake, there were sheer cliffs leading up to the mountains and glaciers. We saw several people rock climbing and were very impressed.
Great rock climbing cliffs at Lake Louise
Trent climbed down to the shore and left our mark in the sand where so many others had as well.
Trent leaving our transient mark at Lake Louise
A canoe on the shore of Lake Louise, but no golden poppies
What a great hike! 6-7 miles of gorgeous scenery with built in air conditioning because we were alongside a river with seven waterfalls for two-thirds of the hike, starting with the lower falls. There were catwalks built all along the route.
Johnston Canyon, lower falls
Then on to the upper falls, which also had a paved trail along the way and spectacular overlooks.
Johnston Canyon, upper falls
Was it hard? Yes? Did I complain along the way? Not out loud. Okay, maybe I muttered the eff word under my breath a few times, but nobody heard so it doesn’t count. I keep wondering when this hiking thing gets easy.
ohnston Canyon, upper falls
Actually, the first two-thirds of the hike wasn’t bad at all, but once we got beyond the waterfalls and began the final 2 mile stretch to the ink pots (natural water bodies that are green and blue from the minerals) it got a little brutal. Much more uphill and by then my legs were tired. But it was a beautiful hike all in all, and my favorite in Banff.
Views of the Ink Pots beyond Johnston Canyon; minerals bubbling up given them their deep colors, which change throughout the year
After this long hike, a typical camper’s meal back at the Freedom Machine.
Trent cooked all our meals at camp and I did the dishes.
We spent our last full day in Banff proper, which reminded us of a mountain ski town in Colorado. Lots of cute little shops, beautiful views of the mountains and plenty of brew pubs. We sat out on the patio of Banff Brew Pub for a few hours and watched the world go by.
View from the patio of Banff Brew Pub
After a nap back at camp, we grabbed some dinner and then headed to the Banff Upper Hot Springs, which felt great after all the hiking we had done.
10:15 p.m. view from the Banff Upper Hot Springs
We had planned to venture further northward to Jasper National Park for a few days, but we woke up on our last morning in Banff and just decided we were ready to begin the long journey home (almost 1,500 miles) with a stop along the way to see Mount Rushmore. I miss my dogs so much!
So, we are headed back to Denver by way of South Dakota. More to come!