This trip that took us more than a year to plan… has finally come to fruition. The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, recognized into the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its “exceptional national beauty” and “striking mountain landscape” in 1984, comprises 4 national parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay) and 3 provincial parks (Mt Robson, Mt Assiniboine, Hamber). Our trip covered all of them except Mt Assiniboine (not accessible by road) and Hamber (lack of time). While these parks are relatively in close proximity to one another, Banff and Jasper are located in Alberta while Yoho and Kootenay together with the provincial parks are located in British Columbia. Using Banff as our base for 6 nights, it allowed us to easily cover Banff, Yoho and Kootenay. Named after Banffshire in Scotland, the birthplace of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Banff is Canada’s first national park and the world’s third national park.
Our adventure got off to a rocky start the moment we arrived at the airport. The airline personnel was unable to issue our boarding passes due to lacking travel documents. Unbeknownst to us, since the last time we visited Canada in 2013, we are now required to have special clearance documents, known as an electronic travel authorization (eTA). Panic set in as we furiously tried to figure out how to salvage this trip without cancelling the whole thing. We were told we could apply for these documents online, and in best case scenario, we would get them in 10 minutes (we didn’t asked for the worst case scenario). So, for the next half hour, we sat by the chairs near the check-in counter and applied for these documents using our phones. Then, we waited, waited and waited. Hopelessness… is the appropriate word. Finally, we received the approval emails 5 minutes later. Relieved. We were thankful we arrived at the airport much earlier than usual. We were also very thankful for the help we got from the Delta lady (didn’t catch her name due to all the commotion). I digress.
Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are undoubtedly the biggest attractions in Banff. Hence, these places attract unimaginable amount of tourists like us. It took about an hour drive from town site of Banff to Moraine Lake, and by 8:30AM, there were no parking spots left. It took us 3 tries to get to Moraine Lake and on final try, we decided to get up 4:30AM and arrived on site at 6:30AM, and even then, the parking area was already half full due to sunrise photographers. For the remaining of our trip days, we started our day very early so that we didn’t have to deal with the bus crowds, obnoxious tourists from certain countries, wannabe Instagram models and the noon heat. Some of other places we covered include Peyto Lake, Johnston Canyon, Bow Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff Gondola, Banff town and Canmore downtown.
A couple of observations…
- The Canadian Rockies are insanely beautiful with plenty of snow capped mountains, alpine trees and glacier-fed lakes where the rock flours suspended throughout the water produce out-of-this-world turquoise and emerald colors.
- Banff is truly like a zoo… a zoo of people that is. Among the 4 national parks we covered, Banff is the busiest one due to its unparalleled beauty and its close proximity to Calgary. We purposely visited this place in mid June because the school holiday in Alberta begins on June 28. Even then, there were lots of foreign tourists everywhere… truly can’t imagine how it is like during peak season (July and August).
- While it was warm enough in June, some of the trails were still closed due to heavy snow on the ground, elevated avalanche risks and roaming bears waking up after months of hibernation. We checked the trail conditions on Parks Canada site every night and made adjustments to our initial plans.
- With the sun rises at 5:30 AM and sets at 10 PM, we had plenty of daylight throughout the trip.
- A&W fast food restaurants seem to be everywhere in Alberta… and they serve poutines too.
- Most product labels, signboards and road signs are listed in both English and French… it is a great way to learn French.
- We saved a lot of money by making our own meals most days. The only thing we splurged a little was a cup of hot coffee (and maybe a delicious pastry) after coming back from a long morning hike everyday.