We arrived at Lake Louise in Banff National Park on a Thursday before one of the busiest long weekends of the summer, BC Day, on Monday Aug. 4th. Even though we arrived by 11am all the campgrounds with hook-ups or in the most popular areas were already taken. We were anticipating this and decided to try a first come/first serve campground on the Bow Valley Parkway called Johnston Canyon, suggested by Pam and Rob’s friend Tracy. We got lucky and got the last site available for a unit our size for 4 nights. It was dry camping at its best and ideally situated between Banff and Lake Louise.
After settling, we headed into Banff townsite where we happened upon someone who had just had a very, very bad day. It had occurred just before we arrived and the driver from Wisconsin was sitting nearby trying to contact people on the phone. So shocking, you wonder how on earth it could ever have happened, with the signs, the bright yellow tape and the chains hanging down. I doubt we’ll ever see anything like that ever again.
While in downtown Banff we went to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. This is the site of the original discovery of the hot springs in 1883, which eventually became Canada’s first National Park, known as Banff National Park. There’s no longer a swimming pool there, you have to go to the big resort hotel for that, but you can hike the boardwalks and see the hot water seeping from the earth.
It was a busy four days and we started with a hike to Lower Johnston Falls, walking distance from our campground. It is a beautiful hike that takes you through the forest and then along catwalks that are affixed to the limestone walls of the deep canyon and alongside the rushing waters of the Johnston Creek below. The Lower Johnston Falls creates a beautiful green pool before turning back into a raging creek. We saw several white water kayakers carrying their boats upriver, but we never saw them put in. Too bad, it would have been a wild ride.
We also went on a gondola ride high above Lake Louise where we saw a grizzly bear grazing in the meadow below us. No time for his picture but another one obliged us on the side of the road, intent only on his berries. Everywhere we went there were bear warnings and warnings to hike in groups and make noise. There were even grizzly bears sighted in our campground. We bought a bear bell for Laia, it was so big it made her walk crooked. It was hilarious, but better than being attacked.
We went to the Chateau Lake Louise, unbelievably gorgeous set on the shore of the chalky green glacial fed lake. Such a beautiful place, but at this time of year a complete madhouse with bus tours and tourists from all over the world descending upon it. Unbelievably, you only have to walk a short distance down the trails and the crowds disappear. Leonard decided to hike up to the teahouse at the Plain of Six Glaciers the following morning. It’s a beautiful hike that begins along the shore of Lake Louise and then climbs into the forest and rock slide area high above the lake. He returned via the Lake Agnes teahouse trail for a total of almost 10 miles. What an animal!
One afternoon we went to check out the historic Banff Springs Hotel, built in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad as part of their string of luxury hotels, the Chateau Lake Louise was also built by the same company. We wandered the hotel, and then sat in a lounge with large windows overlooking the mountains and had a light dinner.
Lastly, we went to the stunningly beautiful Moraine Lake, which many people consider to be the best of the Canadian Rockies. At one time an image of Moraine Lake was printed on the back of a Canadian 20 dollar bill. The blue-green color of this lake is so brilliant that it almost appears unnatural and is created from glacial silt. A 3 km return hike along the shoreline had us stopping every 50 meters to admire the beauty and take more photos. Thank god for digital cameras, the film never runs out. After the hike we noticed people standing on top of a large rockpile at the end of the lake, so we decided to climb up and were met with the view of a lifetime. I think it may have been my favorite place in the Rockies.