Travel Journal: My Trip to the Canadian Rockies
This summer, I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to the Canadian Rockies with Tavis' family! We made the trek to cheer on Haley Smith at the Canadian XCO Mountain Biking Championships. This trip was especially exciting for me because a season spent living and working in Banff after I finished university is what first inspired me to start travelling full-time—I mean COME ON, who wouldn't be inspired by all that beauty?
With a short week to play with, we packed in as many outdoor activities as we could—squeezing in some eating, drinking and shopping too, of course.
We sized up glaciers, ogled at the landscapes towering outside our car windows and conquered one of the steepest hikes I've ever been on (Ha Ling, I salute you). If you scroll down, I've listed some of my favourite adventures, restaurants, and shops we visited along the way.
Grassi Lakes Hike
This trail was beautiful! It starts with a gradual climb through tree cover and ends with a steeper, more rocky uphill near the end—your efforts are rewarded with gorgeous waterfall views and, eventually, two majestic turquoise lakes (they somehow manage to be crystal clear, green, and blue all at the same time).
Ha Ling Peak Hike
This one was definitely more of a challenge! A solid 3.5 hours and 741m (2431ft) of elevation gain brings you up switchbacks and a rocky scramble to one of the most amazing views I've ever seen (seriously). So worth it—but pack water and maybe even a snack.
Canmore Nordic Centre
We were here to watch Haley's race, but there are a ton of trails fit for running, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and of course, mountain biking! Best part? It's all free.
Wild Orchid Bistro & Sushi Lounge
This place was so tasty! The service was friendly and the food was awesome—the tempura vegetables were a hit and the pork tan-tan noodles were a win as well.
Rocky Mountain Soap Company
An adorable little shop filled with natural and handmade goods. They have natural sunscreen, soaps, lotions and even deodorant (which works, by the way!). Definitely worth a stop—plus it smells so good in there...
Park Distillery + Restaurant + Bar
A relatively new restaurant on the main Banff strip, the Park Distillery doubles as a gin distillery and it's pretty darn good. The menu is on the pricier side, as is to be expected for any establishment located right in Banff, but the vibe is very cool (and obviously the cocktails are quite creative!). My favourite part is the little merchandise shop in the front—you can buy camping cups, hats, shirts and a whole array of other branded gear that looks a lot cooler than any of the souvenirs you're going to find at the gift shops in town.
Johnston Canyon Hike & Ink Pots
I cannot say enough about Johnston Canyon! Of course, I'm a bit biased—this is where I spent my summer in the Rockies! The hike itself follows the flowing river to the Lower Falls, the Upper Falls and eventually the Ink Pots for those who are keen. It's one of the most beautiful spots in the Rockies. (Insider's tip: the tour buses start arriving at 8:00 am, so get there before then if you can—trust me, your experience will be much more enjoyable.) They also have adorable cabins available for overnights and a tasty restaurant onsite—try the fish and chips).
Highway 1A Wildlife Drive
The scenic drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon and beyond! This used to be the main highway in town before the Trans Canada was put in. Now, it's a lot quieter than the main road and without fences, meaning animals make appearances pretty often. Get out there before dawn or at dusk when the road is quietest for the best chance—bear sightings are common in the evenings! Be respectful.
Be sure to stop for a look at these massive glaciers (bring your sweater, even in the summer!) While I wouldn't necessarily recommend spending the money, there are bus tours available that bring you out directly on the glacier so you can get an up-close look and even fill your water bottle with fresh glacier water, straight from the source. On a more serious note, it's even more astonishing to see the photos showing how much the glacier has receded in the last 100 years or so.
You will not believe your eyes when you see this thing. The water is so blue, it looks like someone snuck in overnight and dumped a couple thousand buckets of baby blue paint in the water. It is a must-see on my Rocky Mountain bucket list, just a short detour off the highway on your way from Banff to Jasper.
This one basically speaks for itself—you can't leave the Rocky Mountains without paying a visit to Lake Louise. Even more stunning than the lookout at the lake itself are the hikes surrounding it. There are a couple of different routes available, depending on how much time you have to spare, but I highly recommend at least conquering the first Teahouse hike. You'll be blessed with stunning views of Lake Louise from above and treated to a delicious homemade meal at the summit. (Interesting to note: the teahouse has no electricity—everything is made fresh by hand using fire or propane. Supplies are dropped off by helicopter at the beginning of the season and anything extra is brought up on horseback since it's not accessible by vehicles. Also, the brownies are BOMB.)
I would venture so far as to say I love Moraine Lake more than I love Lake Louise! Its deep blue water hidden away in the Valley of Ten Peaks gives it a magical ambiance. Back in 2013 when I was here, it was a lot quieter than Lake Louise with fewer tourists—you could actually sit back and enjoy the peace that comes along with being in the presence of such a natural wonder! However, it would seem that the rise of popular Instagram images from the area combined with Canada's 150th has given away its secret—it was packed this time when we visited *sigh*, but still as beautiful as ever.