Completing Part 1 of our Canadian adventure, we set out for Golden and then Banff. After gripping the steering wheel for 3 hours out of fear of bears and moose jumping on to the road or crashing due to fog, we finally arrived in Golden, BC. Exhausted and still full from our individual 12 inch pizzas, we went to sleep.
Day 4: White water rafting and Banff Town Center
We ate a quick breakfast and drove to the Alpine Rafting Center for a half day of white water rafting ($90 per person). Neither of us have been white water rafting before so we were scared and excited. After getting suited up in wetsuits and waterproof jackets, we got on a bus and were driven to the drop-off point in the Middle Canyon of the Kicking Horse River. All the instructors are HILARIOUS and listening to the rafting directions was akin to being in a comedy club. The two of us were put on a raft with a bachelor party so I gingerly took the “princess” seat in the middle of the raft that required no paddling (ten people to a raft, one guide, eight people paddling). Kevin and I did switch a few times so I can proudly say I’ve paddled through some Class 3 rapids. Going 12 km down the Kicking Horse River, we hit over four Class 3 rapids and one Class 4. Although we didn’t flip over, white water rafting was an exhilarating experience, especially with the Canadian Rockies as the background. At the end, we jumped into the glacial water and swam around for a few minutes, and were extremely thankful for our wet suits.After drying off, we headed on a scenic drive to Banff National Park in Alberta. Checking into our hotel in Banff, we were in absolute awe. The Juniper Hotel and Bistro has THE most incredible view both from the mountain side rooms and the outdoor patio (named Banff’s best patio). If you stay here, please, PLEASE, please pay the extra price for a mountain view room. It is 1,000,000% worth it. It does not get better than sitting on a spacious balcony staring at or waking up to unobstructed mountain views. The Juniper is known for it’s restaurant so our first night in Banff we had a gourmet dinner of moules-frites, wild boar, and strip loin on The Juniper’s outdoor patio. Next, we took a short taxi ride into town and headed to the Rose & Crown (a british pub) for some awesome live music.
Day 5: Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers
I woke up at 8 AM because a) brilliant sunshine had been radiating through our windows for 3 hours and b) I was SO excited to see Lake Louise. We brunched on the Juniper Patio (salmon benny and huevos rancheros) and agreed that breakfast was even better than dinner. We packed our backpacks with snacks, bug and bear spray, loaded up on water, and started on the 45 minute drive to Lake Louise. All the parking horror stories you hear about Lake Louise are true. The main parking lot (by the Fairmont) fills up at 8 AM There is a second parking lot about a mile away from the Fairmont but that fills up equally as fast. The next option is parking at a remote lot and taking a shuttle, which wasn’t really an option for us since the last pick up from Lake Louise is at 6 PM and we wanted to do a long hike. I have zero shame so ignoring all the signs that said the parking lots were full, I decided to drive as close to Lake Louise as possible and see what we can find. The first time we drove by the second parking lot, the attendant didn’t let us in but seeing that people were coming and going, I turned around, put our hazards on, and waited. My obnoxiousness paid off and after a few minutes we got a great spot walking distance from Lake Louise.
Remembering seeing Lake Louise for the first time almost brings me to tears. It is THAT beautiful. The further you walk down the path to the right of the lake, the less tourists there are (and to be honest, the better the views). Taking a zillion pictures of Lake Louise we made our way down the Lake Loiuse Tea House Circut, which connects the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, Highline trail, and the Lake Agnes trail. The hike itself is mostly above the treeline and MUCH easier than the back country hiking of Jasper. At the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail we stopped at the Six Glaciers Tea House for some chili. The tea house has supplies flown in by helicopter and only accepts cash, so make sure to bring plenty, I was disappointed we didn’t have enough for tea. After lunch, we made it to the top of the Plain of Six Glaciers look out and took a break in a little cave.The hike down the Highline trail is arguably more beautiful than the Plain of Six Glaciers as you get to see both the lake and the mountains in front. We found some more emerald lakes along the Lake Agnes Tea House trail and headed down to the Fairmont. There is an option to connect the Big Beehive Trail and see the Lake Agnes Tea House, which we would have done if it wasn’t for our dinner reservations. Our total ten mile hike took five hours with a lot of stopping to admire the views. We made reservations at the Fairmont’s Fairview Restaurant over the phone, not knowing that it was THE nicest restaurant in the Fairmont Complex let alone the nicest restaurant I’ve ever been in. Oops. Seeing our sweaty faces and muddy hiking boots did not deter the hostess from letting us in. We’ve never felt more out of place, sitting among patrons dressed in suits and cocktail dresses. Not the way I like to enjoy fine dining but we had no choice but laugh it off at that point. The chuckles continued as our $25 scallop & wild hog appetizer arrived with LITERALLY two scallops and .5 oz of boar meat shavings on the plate. The food was good but not $200 and starving afterwards good. We promptly stopped at McDonald’s on our way home because we classy like that.
Day 6: Fishing on Lake Minnewanka
We woke up at 7 AM and were at the Lake Minnewanka dock by 8 AM filled with some Tim Horton’s coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I found Banff Fishing Unlimited on TripAdvisor and booked a private 4-hour charter for $400. Our fishing guide was a boisterous Alberta native that has been fishing on Lake Minnewanka for over 30 years. Knowledge bomb: the water in this lake was also bright emerald green and we have 360 degree mountain views. Most of Alberta’s lakes are such a beautiful color due to silt. When a glacier melts into lakes, it deposits silt, which creates the unsurpassed green color of the water. Boom.While sipping on some Coors Light and chatting about everything from fishing to Canadian politics (Kevin’s initiative) we caught 5 whitefish each and saw a bald eagle, as well as some rams and mountain goats. The national park allows you to keep only trout so we had to release all our whitefish and go to The Block Kitchen + Bar for brunch. Everyone we asked for food recommendations raved about this place but I think they were hype-beasting it. I didn’t think it was anything special so I think one could take it or leave it.
We went home for a nap and some scenic reading on our balcony before enjoying elk bolognese at the Elk and Oarsman bar. Can you tell we really like wild game? Rose & Crown called our name again and we ended up dancing and signing along to live country music till 2 AM. This place has live music every night and their bar food is great!
Day 7: Banff Town
We wanted relaxing day so we slept in until 11 AM and got some breakfast at Melissa’s Missteak, which wasn’t very good. Next, I walked around Banff town buying a ton of olive oil at Evoolution – they have this AMAZING garlic olive oil that tastes fantastic with some fresh parm. Yum! I also picked up some other random souvenirs and did a distillery tour at Park Distillery while Kevin got a bench workout in. We then did a short little hike on the Tunnel Mountain Trail and saw the most gorgeous full rainbow.
Our next stop was dinner at the BEST steak house – Chuck’s. We went with the prawn & pork belly appetizer and the Taste of Alberta Beef (wagyu, prime, and grass fed beef (beefs?)) along with potato gratin and brocolini. Coupled with the Coal Miner’s Daughter (Hendrick’s gin, lemon, honey lavender syrup, rosemary syrup, egg white, activated charcoal) and the Old Barrel (Rye, Amontillado sherry, Benedictine, Angostura bitters, lemon zest) it was an out of body experience. We enjoyed our hotel’s hot tub and headed to bed early with the hopes of seeing Lake Morraine in the morning.
Day 8: Attempt at Lake Moraine and Calgary
Waking up at 6 AM, packing, and grabbing some Tim Horton’s we were on our way to Lake Moraine, which is a few miles away from Lake Louise at 7 AM. We pulled up to the main drive just before 8 AM and the road leading to Lake Moraine was roped off due to the parking lot being full. There was no other way in and my hazard lights strategy wasn’t going to work out this time. Instead, we headed out to Lake Louise for one last glimpse at the lake and were able to easily find parking right near the Fairmont.
After looking at the lake for an hour, we started on our hour and a half long drive to Calgary, stopping for some Cuban cigars on the way. Brunch at Monki Bistro (Smoked Salmon Benny and Chorizo benedicts) was no OEB but delicious nevertheless.
- Book Banff VERY early. Looking at hotels in November (over six months in advance) I already saw a lack of availability
- Bring LOTS of bug spray and maybe even those mosquito wrist bands. We actually really liked the OFF wipes
- Thankfully we didn’t need to use our bear spray and at $30 per can it seems like a lot but it really makes you feel much safer on the trail
- Banff is very crowded but it’s shocking how many tourists never even step foot on a trail. If you want some privacy just start walking!
- Parking at Lake Louise and Lake Moraine is nearly impossible unless you are willing to take a shuttle. Getting to Lake Moraine at 8 AM wasn’t enough so for a better chance try to get to these two places around 7 AM. Since it doesn’t get dark until 11 PM in the summer, we saw lots of people arriving at 3-5 PM, once most of the tourists are gone
- Food in Canada is delicious but fatty. Just eat it and worry about the calories later
- Weather in the mountains changes very quickly and the forecast for the town of Banff might be vastly different from the mountains. Dress in lots an lots of layers
- We were non believers before but trekking poles help A LOT. There are some great ones sold on Amazon for $25.
- Actually hiking around Lake Louise is a must. The views only get better
- Don’t expect a raging night life in Banff (although we managed to stay out till 2 AM a couple of times). Rose & Crown and Wild Bills are great but it’s no Vegas