If you take the Icefields Parkway southbound from Jasper National Park, you’ll cross right into Banff National Park. Stop number two with our free Canada 150 pass. It’s a spectacular drive in the summer and I found myself wondering what it looks like in the winter. Ah, but that’s for another trip.
A dramatic drive to be sure, but the jangle button is on high putting Jackson on high alert. This is also where the smoke from the summer British Columbia fires finally caught up with us.
Approaching the Columbia Icefields and heading into the smoke
We stopped at the Columbia Icefields visitor center for lunch and took some shots of the Athabasca Glacier. The picture in the top right shows the teeny bus heading out onto the glacier. We were considering taking this tour, but in the end opted to stay out of the smoke since we’ve already walked on a glacier.
We were so intrigued by these weird looking overpasses. Turns out they are actually wildlife crossings. If you peer into that photo, you can just barely make out the mountains we’re trying hard to see through the smoke.
Banff – The Town
We camped in the national park and found it to be an odd setup. Kinda like camping on the side of the road, but it was in a real campground called Trailer Court. It served our purpose and was darn hard to get. We had a whole week booked originally, but shortened it to 4 days since the last 3 required a campsite move. A whole week in one spot sounds so long to us after our vagabond ways. We’re happy with this change since it’s very smoky, and irritates our eyes and throats, not to mention obscures the lovely views.
Right across the road from Trailer Court is the Hoodoo viewpoint. What’s a hoodoo, you ask? A column or pinnacle of weathered rock and most often made out of sandstone. These hoodoos looked like castles above the Bow River and this first night was our best view with the least amount of smoke.
The town itself was crowded and had lots of shops and restaurants. Initially we weren’t sure we liked it, but it grew on us. Mainly because we decided to forgo the scenery visits and hiking we had planned, and just enjoy what this touristy town had to offer. Let’s just say we ate like kings for 4 days, eating out for both lunch and dinner. If we can’t have stunning views, at least we can sample the local cuisine. Chinese, Mexican, and even McDonald’s worked for us. AND there was a Dairy Queen in one of the malls. Yes, we went every day.
Every evening there were different entertainers on the the street. This guy on the violin was phenomenal playing top 40 music. People had great fun dancing with the mariachi band and when was the last time you even saw a harpist? She was delightful and I applaud her just hauling that thing around.
Each day we had high hopes for clear skies and each day we realized it was not to be. Since we had time, I enlisted Pat to color my hair. He did a great job and was certainly cheaper. Of course I got a haircut at a Banff salon and I’m sure I paid as much for that cut as I normally do for a cut and color.
We also took the opportunity to take in a theater production at the Lux in town. ‘Mavericks of the Mountains’ was a fantastic comedy with only three players and minor costume changes. We laughed and laughed and learned about the town and park history. Banff was the first National Park in Canada and people flock here year round.
In the end, we had one clear day in Banff and set out to make the most of it. We took a drive to Two Jacks and Moraine Lakes and took in as much beauty as we could in such a short time.
The stylists in the salon said we HAD to see Moraine Lake if we saw nothing else. Shocking color is the best way to describe it and we just stared at it from all directions. It’s also surrounded by seven peaks making it awesome from top to bottom.
Just gorgeous aquamarine water
At the end of the lake, we found the stream that feeds it. On the other end there is a huge pile of rocks. There’s a difference of opinion on how it got here – avalanche, or carried by water. We’re thinking it’s a bit of both. Top right shot shows teeny people who climbed the giant pile, and the bottom shot shows just how big the chunks really are.
As much of the Seven Peaks as I could capture in one shot
Canmore To The Rescue
After we cancelled the additional three days in the Banff campground, we realized the error of our ways. Those three days were the crucial three of the Labor Day weekend. On the one hand, we didn’t realize it was also celebrated in Canada and on the other, we simply didn’t check the calendar. Where are we going to go? All Banff park campgrounds are full and we’ve been checking with the rangers every day. We decided to bug out early on our last day and check a city park in Canmore, just a little over 15 miles down the road. It’s first come, first served, so we’re crossing fingers. Happy day! We get a pretty good spot and it’s perfect for us to enjoy some local events we had our hearts set on.
Canmore is charming and we enjoy more eating out with perogies on a stick (just yum!). Jackson gets star treatment with his own water bowl filled from a pitcher by our server. And how about that for a lunch view?
This town has some great trails and that ever popular river walk we like.
More of the meandering Bow River
RCMP Musical Ride
You remember my need to to see one Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman actually on horseback? Well with the Canada 150 celebration in full-swing, the RCMP scheduled musical rides all across Canada. I was so bummed when I thought we would miss the one in Banff because of our scheduling mishap. This was my big chance to see not one, but 32 Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen on horseback. But Canmore saved the day and I promptly bought tickets.
The RCMP has a group dedicated to performances on horseback. “Their performance consists of intricate figures and drills choreographed to music. These movements demand the utmost control, timing and coordination”, according to the RCMP website. You just don’t know how thrilled I was to see this pageantry in Banff at the foot of Rundle Mountain.
The horses were groomed to a high gloss and and the RCMP uniforms were crisp, even in the 80+ degree heat. Do you think I got my photo op?
You know it! Sybil, a 12 year old mare, is the star in this shot. The Mountie isn’t bad either. All the riders moved to the crowd at the end of the show, and patiently answered questions and posted for pictures for as long as we wanted. This mountie noted that the Musical Ride is a full-time assignment for three years. They perform and raise money for charity year-round. Canada should be very proud of this impressive group and I’m so glad we were able to see them in action.
Canmore Highland Games
I wasn’t the only one who had a must-see event in the area. Our stay in Canmore also allowed us to go to the Highland Games. We saw a flyer in town and thought we’d have to miss this event, too. We’d never been to one, but always wanted to go rub shoulders with men in kilts.
The best of both worlds! A mountie AND a group of bagpipers in kilts. We are both satisfied this day.
And how about this enterprising business! I wish we had something that needed cleaning.
The sheep herding demonstration was great fun. At one point, a young sheep dog in training chased one of the sheep on stage. A bit of chaos ensued.
We also got to see some of the actual games. All competitors have to wear a kilt and they show off with feats of strength and control. This is the best shot I could get of the caber toss. Essentially they have to lift up what looks a lot like a telephone pole, take a few running steps and flip it up and over to land in a twelve o’clock position. I couldn’t even believe it could be done. This guy made a perfect toss.
There were pipers, drummers, dancers, and of course food.
I enjoyed some poutine topped with macaroni and cheese. A most healthy meal I’m sure. Definitely a non-skinny choice!
The vendors were interesting and I loved a photo titled ‘Highland Coo’. That’d be a cow with long horns and a giant gold ring in its nose looking straight into the camera. We don’t have enough wall space or I would have purchased that lovely. And finally, my biggest disappointment. Pat refused to try on a kilt for me.
And what do you do when the campground dryer refuses to dry? You string a crazy clothesline all over the motorhome. Pat may not be willing to try on kilts, but he does solve problems for this gal when needed. Underwear was removed from the shot to protect us both.
So, we can’t show you lots of beautiful scenery from Banff, but it’s a great place with or without the mountains in view. Turns out we did need a whole week here and glad we got it with the Canmore relo.
Next up – more Canadian travels on our way to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. See you on the way!