Whirlwind tour of the Canadian Rockies

With an itch to travel but limited time, I began looking at close travel destinations. The country that came to mind was Canada. It’s practically part of the US and I could get there in a jiffy with time constraints. Banff and Jasper had been on my list for quite some time and I just happen to find roundtrip flights out of Fresno to Calgary, AB for only $250! I attribute this flight price to the fact that I was traveling there during shoulder season (October). And thus, my whirlwind tour of the Rockies began.

I landed in good ole friendly Calgary and was warmly greeted by…uh…airport greeters? I’m not even sure of what their actual job description is but they were friendly Canadians sporting bright red cowboy hats with lots of information (click here to find out why they were wearing iconic cowboy hats). Calgary reminded me of my hometown Fresno, California in many ways: It was a big city with small-town outskirts of neighborhoods & businesses. It was a city that was up-and-coming. The downtown center was very urban with tall, mirrored buildings and these towering “plus 15” walkways.

plus15.jpgPerfect representation of the urban city-feel of downtown Calgary and the ingenious walkways between buildings that stand 15ft from the street (so as to allow cars & busses to still pass below). With temperatures that can dip as low as -22F during the winter, these “plus 15” walkways can really save you from a bout of red noses and frozen fingers when walking around through downtown.

I didn’t stay long here, what with only 5 days to spare, but spent my arrival day walking around, catching the sunset and sights of Calgary.

calgaryoutlook.jpgStanding in Crescent Heights, taking in the sunset and the view of downtown Calgary.

Although Calgary doesn’t look cold, it was freezing, especially for a California native. I wore my big boots and thick, winter jacket while the locals sported jeans, sneakers and long sleeves. The next day, after a quick city tour of iconic and historical sites of Calgary, we hit the road to Banff National Park.

I can’t even begin to describe the beauty of Banff as soon as we hit roads covered in snow. Everything was beautiful and white-capped. I could barely keep track of all the brilliantly-blue, glacier-fed lakes. I got a chance to stop and see the easily accessible Johnston Canyon. WOW. You do not want to miss this. A winding trail through lush trees. A catwalk with the rushing creek below you & the limestone canyon walls hanging above you carved out by thousands of years of water erosion. Pressed for time, we quickly took the trail to a little hidden gem of a fall that can be accessed via a cave before turning around and heading to our next stop: Moraine Lake.

IMG_6211.jpgMy travel buddy, Liz, on the catwalk to the mini-cave that led to an up-close view of the waterfall pictured in Johnston Canyon.

Our next stop was breathtaking as well (along with everything else in Banff and Jasper). The super, awesome and cool thing about traveling during shoulder season was that there wasn’t very many tourists. You were really out here by yourselves (weather permitting). And, of course, the downside of shoulder season was that all of your sight-seeing and adventures are weather permitting. Thankfully, the entire 5 days here in the Rockies found us to have amazingly beautiful weather (musta brought that California sunshine in my luggage). Another great aspect is that you still get to see these beautiful, iconic places in snow since the roads and trails aren’t closed off yet.

IMG_5996.jpgMoraine Lake, situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

All these beautiful sites were only a build-up, however, to the quintessentially Canadian mountain scene: Lac Louise. This heart-stopping, glacier-fed beauty will make you believe that it’s turquoise waters can keep you alive forever. Liz and I took a hike to the Fairview Lookout from the boathouse on Lac Louise to capture this shot. (I highly recommend crampons for your shoes because this is a super steep hike, there is potential to slip & fall when there is snow on the ground).

lak louise over.jpgLac Louise with the iconic Fairmont Chateau overlooking the lake in the far end.

From above that water looks unreal, photoshopped even. However, even from up close, the water and it’s wide expanse of lake looks magical.

lake louiseView of the boat house on Lac Louise from the shoreline.

As if it wasn’t enough that there were beautiful snow-capped mountains and turquoise lakes, the drive itself along the Icefield Parkway was phenomenal. You just could not stop gawking out the window. Hence the reason I hopped onto a tour (this US-based company is AMAZING and their guides are hired local to the country/area, great value, great hotels, and they show you SO MUCH. The tour took care of all the driving, transfers, hotels and breakfasts. The tour guide was also local and superbly informative). The Icefield Parkway is 144 miles of highway that winds along the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountain peaks. There is no end to the amount of places you could pull off to take pictures or go on a hike. The scenery is mind-blowing. There are over 100 glaciers, cascading waterfalls and emerald lakes.

On our last day in the Rockies, we jam-packed it with lakes on lakes and then the iconic gondola ride over Banff. I highly recommend this experience. It was breathtaking and soooo worth the price. I was told that it is usually booked out as well so make sure to book in advance or as soon as possible.

athabasca falls.jpgcanyon of Athabasca Falls

I don’t normally ever travel back to the same place twice, but for Canada, and especially the Rockies, I would definitely go back. There was just so much to see & do that 5 days was just not enough but I was glad to have gotten away for a quick jaunt. For an exhaustive itinerary and pricing for my trip, visit Gate1 Travel online here.

IMG_6351.jpgAt the top of the gondola ride

 

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