I’m lucky to have a group of friends that loves travelling and hiking. Every year, we do at least one epic trip to explore America’s beautiful outdoors. Mount Whitney, Zion, Bryce and Havasu Falls have been some of our previous destinations… and this year, it was Banff’s turn. About 2 hours west of Calgary, Alberta, Banff was Canada’s first national park. Its landscape includes forests, alpine mountains, glaciers and the most famous, intense blue lakes.
We rented an SUV and stayed in Banff town, a quite charming place, with lots of nice lodges. On our first day, as we drive the 45 min that separate the town from Lake Louise, we start to get excited about the wilderness around us and the endless hiking possibilities… But we also realize that the weather is terrible; not only cold, but also windy and cloudy, with intermittent rain and snow. Going ahead with the long hike we had planned didn’t make much sense, we would have to hope for better luck the next day. Instead, we decide to drive the Icefileds Parkway through Banff and Jasper, and stop in as many view points as possible for short hikes (tip: get a good map!)
First stop, to whet our appetite, Bow Lake, completely frozen and beautiful. Second, one of the main courses: Peyto Lake. A 15 min walk on an easy, yet frozen, trail takes as to the lookout over the immense tongue of cobalt blue. Next, another short drive and another short walk to Waterfowl Lake, which I bet is a super nice camping spot in the summer. Each lake is similar but unique, with its particular shade of blue, and different peaks and trees around.
We continue driving north, stopping at the Mount Amery viewpoint, where the Mistaya River looks cyan, and at the Weeping Wall, and… wait, is that a bear? Yes, a small black bear that probably just came out of hibernation and is looking for food. After devouring our lunch sandwiches, we take a short hike on the Columbia Icefield, a massive area covered in glaciers. True it’s not as beautiful as, say, Argentina’s Perito Moreno, but it’s quite impressive.
We drove a bit further to Athabasca Falls, almost all the way by Jasper, and it’s definitely worth the extra distance. Not for the waterfalls themselves, but for the beautiful river, the gorge and potholes it carves by eroding the quartz and limestone borders. A system of trails and platforms allows to view and photograph all the angles. We’re 200 km north from Lake Louise, and it’s time to start the drive back. But there is time for one last surprise: another black bear! This time, it’s really close to the road, quietly eating flowers… and it almost looks like a plush toy you could hug 🙂
Back in Banff town, we’re exhausted from a packed day, and happy that we made the best out of a disappointing weather. We just have one more wish: eat poutine!
On the second day, the weather looks much better, and we head to the most desired hike in the region: the teahouses. We leave the car at the Lake Louise parking, by the Fairmont Chateau, and start hiking up towards Lake Mirror. The views of Lake Louise on the way are completely surreal: intense turquoise color framed by green pines and snow-covered mountains. Mirror Lake makes honor to its name, offering a perfect reflection of the so-called Beehive. We reach Lake Agnes, which is completely frozen, and take a break at the teahouse.
The trail from there is completely covered in snow, we put our microspikes on, and at times even doubt if we took the wrong detour. Eventually, we converge with the main trail that connects Lake Louise with the Plain of Six Glaciers (if you don’t combine it with Lake Agnes). We hike on the hillside, enjoying spectacular views of mountains, glaciers and the ever further lake. We feel like we’re in a an episode of Game of Thrones!
By the time we make it to the last teahouse, I’m exhausted and starving, but extremely happy that the sun has accompanied us most of the time. After recharging, we continue up to the Plain of Six Glaciers and then start the way down. The snow is starting to melt, and we witness a small avalanche on a rocky mountain that we’ve nick-named “The Wall”. We complete the 12 mile loop back to Lake Louise, which looks more gorgeous than ever. This was definitely one of the best hikes of my life!!
On Sunday, we have a few hours before heading to Calgary to fly back home, and want to make the most out of it. So we go to Johnston Canyon for a short 3-4 hour hike that takes us to some waterfalls and river meanders similar to the ones in Athabasca. Then we drive to Moraine Lake and walk up to its viewpoint to enjoy the crazy colors one last time; in this case, teal or aquamarine, depending on the light. The clouds cover most of the peaks in front of us, as the weather is bad again. So I promise myself I’ll come back to hike the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Eiffel Lake, Larch Valley… and all the others we couldn’t do this first time that left us wanting more.