The trains rumbling through Banff give us an early wake-up call. Mr Fletche is up and ready to catch a sunrise in town and I’m up and awake so join him on his short drive through town over to Bow Falls. The tour groups have already started to descend; we decide to grab a breakfast-to-go back in town and return a little later. Banff National Perk becomes our go-to place for coffee and breakfast wraps. We eat our breakfast on the shores of the Bow River – there are worse places to be.
We head back out to Lake Minnewanka. Is it childish that this makes me snigger every time? We take a walk on the shore of this blue glacial lake, we’re there just before the first boat cruises of the day set sail so the water is relatively still. We um and ah about hiring a kayak; it’s the last day of the boat rental season at Minnewanka so it’s today or not at all. I seem to remember from my research that there was cheaper rentals elsewhere; there are also rentals right by our hotel on the Bow River so we decide to move on to Two Jacks Lake and come back a little later. By the time we return to Minnewanka those tour buses have arrived, and there are hordes on the dock. We decide to continue back into town, with a quick stop at the Tunnel Mountain Drive, the Hoodoos and Bow Valley overlook.
We have a mosey around town before stopping for lunch at Coyotes on Caribou Street. We have a half sandwich each; I chose to have mine with a Caesar salad and Mr Fletche has the soup. It’s a charming little open-kitchen cafe with warm, friendly staff. We make plans to return for breakfast before we leave Banff. We check out the kayak rentals from Banff Canoe Club; they are now closed for the season. Looks like we’ve missed our chance.
We drive up to Cave and Basin, the spot where Banff National Park – and indeed the entire Canadian National Park system – was founded. From here, we head west along the paved trail adjacent to the Bow River, until we reach the trailhead for Sundance Canyon 3.5km later. It’s late afternoon, yet we barely come across anyone else on the trail. We clamber up rocks, through forest and alongside waterfalls before the vista opens up and there is a spectacular view across the canyon. It’s a loop trail back down to the trailhead, where we meet back up with the path back to Cave and Basin. It’s about a 9 km hike altogether, with only a small elevation gain.
Mr Fletche heads out for sunset whilst I faff around on social media and catch up with the on-the-road blog writing. We’ve made plans to go to the Upper Hot Springs – and even get as far as the parking lot with our swimming cossies on – before turning back because it’s packed. I’m guessing it’s not going to be the nice relaxing experience we’d expected so we pop it on the future to-do list along with kayaking. Dinner is a Subway and we pop into Townhouse Liquor for an alcoholic accompaniment.
There’s no messing around this morning; it’s Thanksgiving Monday and we want to get out on the road to Lake Louise as soon as possible. We swing by Banff National Perk to pick up coffee and breakfast, and then we’re on our way to Lake Louise. We decide to take the Bow Valley Parkway rather than the TCH; this will take us all the way to Lake Louise.
Two things prevent us from getting to our destination as early as we planned. The first is that the Bow Valley Parkway is closed after a certain point, although this is quite close to the end of the drive. This means that instead of a through drive, we have to turn the Fletchemobile around and return the way we came, taking the junction at Castle Mountain to the TCH. The second thing is our first bear sighting. We’re alerted by the cars parked haphazardly at the side of the road, and a whole bunch of Oriental tourists who suddenly realise they are a little close when Mr Black Bear decides to poke his head out from the trees, and run for their rental cars screaming. We stay a sensible distance away, meaning we don’t get any decent photographs but we have the satisfaction of finally seeing a bear in the wild.
So detours, diversions and bears aside, we arrive at Lake Louise a little later than planned. We fight for the much-snapped view of this iconic turquoise lake backed by Mount Victoria with hordes of tourists who have been spat out of tour buses for their five minutes at this location. Luckily, we’re here to quite literally rise above the lake, and hike the 7km to and from Lake Agnes.
It’s a relatively easy start to the trail, on a paved pathway but this soon turns into a dirt trail which is a little uneven in places. There is quite an elevation gain early on which takes our breath away, but nothing too difficult. We ascend through the forest, and the vibrant turquoise of Lake Louise glitters between the trees, even more vivid from this height. A hairpin switchback takes us away from the lake, and we climb higher and higher. As we ascend the temperature drops and snow is suddenly present all around us. Some of the paths are a little slippery, but nothing compared to our trek to Peyto Lake a couple of days earlier. We reach a frozen Mirror Lake, and continue our climb. It’s a constant incline, which seems to get steeper in the final 500 metres. It’s completely worth it though for the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Agnes, named after the wife of the first prime minister of Canada.
It would be rude not to stop at the teahouse, especially as we could do with a sit down and a hot drink. It’s outside service on the patio only, meaning it’s pretty busy, but it’s worth the wait and not a bad view to admire whilst we wait for our hot chocolates to arrive. Most supplies are helicoptered in at the start of the season, but the staff have to make their way up the same trail we did on a daily basis carrying any fresh food. That’s some commute.
The hike up takes us about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, and taking it particularly slowly on the icy parts. Coming down is obviously quicker, but still takes its toll on the knees. We could have continued on to the Little Beehive 1km past the teahouse but decided to leave that for another time. We decide to hop back in the car and head for Moraine Lake, but it’s clear that’s not going to happen when the Parking Full signs block the access road. It’s the last day of the season for vehicle access, and a holiday weekend so it’s no surprise that everyone wants to visit. We plan to return a little later in the day.
We stop and pick up a sandwich and chips from a store in Lake Louise village – and also my beloved peanut butter M&Ms. (If any of my North American readers want to send these over to the UK to me on a regular basis I’d be very grateful…) We find a suitable layby to enjoy our picnic and then decide to head back down to Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway.
Having already completed one hike today, we’re not planning on putting in too much effort here. It’s 1.1km from the parking lot to the Lower Falls, on a fairly even trail, and after a series of canyonside boardwalks we are treated to the gushing falls. We poke our head through the tunnel for a closer view and we can feel the mist from the waterfall. Never one to half complete a job, I suggest we carry on another 2.6km to the Upper Falls. It’s steeper than the first part of the hike, as we clamber out of the Lower Canyon, but eventually we are rewarded with the 40ft falls cascading into the pool below. Just to torture ourselves further we also climb the final steep path to the Falls outlook above the gorge. We don’t torture ourselves by carrying on to the Ink Spots.
Once we return to the parking lot, we decide to retrace our steps and see if Moraine Lake is a little less busy now it’s late afternoon. It is, and we’re soon driving down the beautiful access road. It’s very cold down by the lakeshore and I’m glad Mr Fletche isn’t planning a long photo session. We drive back to Banff via the Bow Valley Parkway; but there’s no wildlife to be seen. We have to be content with our one bear sighting. Our dinner tonight is at Rose and Crown, Banffs oldest pub.
It’s time to pack up and leave Banff, but not before breakfast. We head for Coyotes; after enjoying their lunch a couple of days ago we’re keen to try their breakfast offering. I opt for the Mountain Lady breakfast with a fresh fruit pot instead of an egg; Mr Fletche chooses the chorizo frittata which unfortunately doesn’t materialise at the same time as my breakfast due to a cock-up with the order. They are very apologetic and it doesn’t take long before the missing dish appears.
There’s just enough time to purchase the moose pyjamas I’ve had my eye on since I’ve arrived, and a Christmas decoration for our collection, and then we’re on the road once more, this time west on Trans Canada Highway to Revelstoke. We’ve barely left Lake Louise behind when we’re alerted to an animal presence by a number of cars on the side of the road. It’s our second bear, this time a silver tip grizzly chowing down on a carcass near the train tracks. No photos but we’re satisfied that our bear quota has been met with no need for the bear spray purchased in Jasper.
Next stop – Revelstoke!
I’m Emmalene, a 40 something with a passion for travel, theatre, food, drink and the occasional accidental hike! I’m a born-and-bred Birmingham native so expect lots of Brum content on here too…