Alberta…The most westerly province we would explore, the one where we would find the primary target of our trip, Banff National Park.
We crossed into Alberta , adjusted our clocks, and stopped at a rest area for a dog-stop and photo op. It was warm and windy, and we were welcomed by the sight of bison on a hillside. Definitely not yet into the mountains, but we knew we were getting closer.
The dreariness of a long prairie drive was broken up when encountered our first ever highway boat inspection station. Since signs indicated all watercraft had to stop for inspection, we pulled into the station alongside big powerboats. Our canoe and kayak received a very thorough inspection, and we learned about invasive species in Alberta from the inspector. We received our “passing score”, and after 20 minutes or so, headed towards the mountains.
Our GPS thankfully routed us around downtown Calgary…we had nice views of the Olympic Complex, but noted the immense number of huge housing developments seemingly on every bit of (formerly) open space.
A quick stop for gas in Medicine Hat (we did not stop at the world’s largest teepee), and then Banff was in our sights! We arrived in Banff NP late afternoon; though we were still about 30 miles from Lake Louise Campground, we just had to stop and set foot in the town of Banff! We took a few “We made it!” Photos on Main Street, and then headed west to Lake Louise.
Our site at Lake Louise Campground was located in a small loop of sites, well-spaced, and which permitted us to forget that we were actually located within a large campground. The Bow River was just beyond our site ( on the other side of the electrified bear fence). The site was extremely quiet, and the only noise we ever heard was the sound of the rushing river, or the rumble of the trains along the Canadian railways tracks. We had no animal visitors, other than the Black-billed Magpies, who frequented the area.
Our first full day began in the dark, as we were up and out at 0630, planning to head up to Lake Louise for paddling. As we headed up the mountain, we saw that the road to Moraine Lake was closed, since that parking lot was full. We had hoped to also paddle Moraine, but the logistics were to make a morning paddle there a bit problematic.
We found a nice parking space at Lake Louise, and carted our boats to the boathouse access by 0800. There were some early bird tourists, but we took a few pics, and headed off into the turquoise waters, as the sun was just starting to peek over the mountains.
Yes, the water really is that blue! We could not decide if it was like paddling in windshield washer fluid or on tidy-bowl cleaner, but it was awesome! As the sun rose, the water’s color became lighter, and the views were amazing. On one shoreline we were cautious because of the rock slide warning signs. At the far end, we could hear the rush of water entering the lake, from the impressive glacial snowfield above us.
As the sun rose, we could really detect increased air warmth in the sunny side of the lake, so that is where we headed! The water temperature was in the upper 40’s ( we wore our woolies, but I should have worn my dry suit!), so we paddled close to shore.
This actually created a rather unique paddling situation…by the time we were paddling along the sunny shoreline, the throngs of tourists had arrived. Hundreds of them could be seen walking along the lakeside trail, within conversational distance from us in our boats. Apparently, for many of these folks, the sight of a paddling dog is unique. We must have been photographed a hundred times, by tourists pointing at our dogs, and calling out to them. We obliged many, and turned our boats so they could see the dogs…and our dogs were very well behaved hams!
We had the entire lake to ourselves while we were paddling, since we concluded prior to the canoe rental center’s opening. What a morning!, certainly memorable among all our paddling outings.
We then took a short hike to an overlook, getting a good view of the lake we had just paddled. On the hike, our dogs were complimented as “such sweet well- trained trail dogs” . This was nice to hear, since we were aware that many of our tourists hikes would require our pups to interact with lots of people. I was able to take a picture of a Clark’s Nutcracker, one of the many life birds I would see on this trip.
After heading back to the GO for lunch and a quick nap, we ventured out for a hike along the Bow River Trail. We carried bear spray “just in case” , since we were outside the protected campground area, and a different section of the trail had been closed due to bear activity. It was a beautiful hike, and the dogs enjoyed splashing in the cold river water, a well as sniffing out all the animal smells along the trail.
We did have to break out the Adventure Medical first aid kit, for some bandaging supplies after my husband sliced his finger. Thankfully, the injury did not require a trip to the Lake Louise medical center!
As a special treat, we decided to skip the campground cooking, and opted for Pizza! We picked up the pizza and brought it back to the campsite…the dogs reverted to “home mode”, and anxiously awaited each piece of discarded crust.
The weather forecast for the next day was not looking good, so we decided to skip a 0600 trip to Moraine. A helpful parking attendant (omnipresent in Lake Louise) had told us that after 0630, the only way to get to Moraine was via shuttle bus…which of course ruled out the dogs and our boats. A paddle at 6 pm or so was another option, so we decided that we would head up the Icefields Parkway in the morning. We planned to paddle Herbert Lake as long as it was not pouring rain, explore up towards Jasper, and go to Moraine early evening if weather permitted. Well, the day was a bit dreary, but not raining, as we found Herbert Lake.
It is a small lake, and no one was in the area…we found a water access trail where we could bring the boats to the water. Even with overcast skies obscuring some of the peaks, it was a fun little paddle. Clear green 56 degree water, many ducks, mountain views, and no one else around contributed to a successful paddling outing.
We then drove westerly on the Icefields Parkway, awed by the tremendous peaks that seemed to extend from the roadside up into the clouds. When the overcast skies broke, we could see the glaciers and the jagged mountaintops. Lots of stops for photos of course, and we were fortunate to be ahead of many caravans of buses and rental RVs.
We made the obligatory stop to walk up to the Peyto Lake overlook, certainly an iconic photo spot in the area. The path was not too crowded, and we were treated to the sight of a pair of Spruce Grouse only 10 feet off trail.
But, as the rains began to once again arrive, so did a busload of tourists who swarmed the overlook area from an upper parking lot, reinforcing every stereotype of rude,selfie-snapping, “oblivious to others” annoying bus tour folks.
The dogs behaved very well as we assertively plowed through this mess, and onto a trail below the observation platform, permitting us an unobstructed lake view. The view is amazing, but it would have been nice with a bit more solitude, and a bit less rain!
Our explorations continued, dodging frequent showers, with breaks of sun and partly cloudy conditions. We were really tempted to drop our boats into Bow Lake… what a magnificent spot!
But very threatening clouds dissuaded us, so we wimped out. We did get enough clearing in the weather to hike the Waterfowl Lakes area trails. At this point we were getting optimistic that an evening paddle at Moraine Lake might be possible.
However, the nasty rains returned, and we spent the afternoon reading, napping, and re-organizing gear in the GO. We did make a trip up the mountain road to Moraine, in gloom, fog, and pouring rain, to at least lay eyes on this spectacular location. It was raining so hard we left the dogs in the car, and took a few token photos to prove we actually were there.
Since the next day was to be our transition day, when we relocated to the Banff campsite, there remained the slim chance that we could get up and be at Moraine at 0630 the next morning. However, the canoeing gods were ignoring us, and the next day was the wettest of our whole trip. Packed up, organized, and fairly dry in the early morning darkness, we headed off to Banff. First stop, a coffee shop for warm beverages, where we could relax while we did laundry! With our only regret being that we missed out on paddling at Moraine, we urgently hoped that the rest of the week would permit more of our planned paddling and hiking outings.
To Be Continued….