Banff National Park! This was Canada’s first national park and is, arguably, one of the most beautiful places on Earth! The mountains here are gorgeous and rugged, and the lakes, rivers, and valleys are unsurpassed. The downside, though, is that everyone is in on the secret and it can be pretty crowded. We were hopeful that by hitting the end of the shoulder season (the campground closed the day we left) we would avoid some of the crowds, and while Banff is crowded in ANY season, this plan worked out pretty well for us! We were able to find parking in every spot we wanted to visit and nowhere we went was overly packed. We will call that a win!
We “bearly” made it into the park before we were greeted with our first wildlife sighting. A large black bear was foraging in the grassy area right beside the highway. Lots of people were stopped and many were getting out of their vehicles and getting WAY too close to the bear, but luckily it seemed pretty focused on filling its belly. We opted to stay in the truck anyway, just to be safe!
We were in the Banff area for three full days and one of them was a complete washout. It rained the entire day and the clouds were really low, so since we couldn’t see anything anyway, that day was mostly spent just completing some chores. The other days were spent outside enjoying the gorgeous landscape!
First off, in Banff National Park is a town, appropriately named…Banff! We would compare the town of Banff to a very upscale Estes Park, CO, or maybe Aspen, CO. We ventured into town first thing to hit the visitor center and just browse around a bit. We needed ideas on what to do while in the area, and while the visitor center was helpful, we got the best suggestions from a man working in the Helly Hansen store in town. He was super great. We didn’t purchase anything (have you seen those prices??), but he was still extremely friendly and took a ton of time to get out a map and show us all the places nearby that we should see! Once we left him, we got right to work on seeing some of the sights he recommended.
Our first stop was Vermillion Lakes. Here there are three lakes lined up along Vermillion Lake Road, each with gorgeous mountain backdrops. We parked at one end of the road and walked to all three!
Next, we drove to the Norquay Lookout along Mount Norquay Road. This is a stunning overlook of the town of Banff, the valley it sits in, Vermillion Lakes and all the amazing mountains that surround this area. It is one of the better overlooks we have seen! We also drove the rest of the way up the road to the Mt. Norquay Ski Resort. Our friend at Helly Hansen said you can often look up the ski runs from the base and see wildlife on them. We didn’t see any while we were there, but it was still a beautiful drive up!
His final suggestion that we checked out is Cascade Ponds. These are beautiful ponds, again with the spectacular mountains all around! To top it off, there is a small cascade where the ponds empty into the Cascade River. We even found a set of our favorite Parks Canada red chairs that we tried out. The view is as beautiful behind the chairs as it is in the front; views truly are 360° around here! By this time, it was starting to get dark and time to head back to the Bigfoot. Out of the nine suggestions that we were given, we only made it to four of them, so there is still plenty to do someday when we return!
The one other nice day we had in the park was spent bike riding. During this time of year, they shut down part of one of the main scenic roads (the Bow Valley Parkway) to vehicle traffic and only allow bikes and pedestrians. This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. There is no guarantee that we will ever be back when this is happening, so we wanted to take the opportunity while we had it. It was a great ride. There were several scenic pull outs with gorgeous views, and it was great to be able to ride without the worry of traffic. We even encountered several resident mule deer along the way!
On a serious note…while we were enjoying the beauty of Banff, a couple and their dog were attacked and killed by a grizzly bear in the backcountry of the park. All accounts we have read and heard say that these folks were well accustomed to the backcountry and knew all the right things to do in order to avoid such a terrible outcome. It is not believed that they were doing anything foolish or made any terrible mistakes; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were not able to deter the bear. What started as an exciting and fun weekend for them turned horribly, horribly tragic. This attack serves as a somber reminder to us that every time we enter the wilderness we are taking a risk…a calculated risk – and one we are willing to take – but a risk none-the-less. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those attacked.
Until next time!