Banff National Park – Banff, AB

Comments 19 Standard

2016-08-31-AB-1470733.jpgAfter being spoiled and indulged aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, we disembarked at our final destination, Banff, a busy town within Banff National Park.  We didn’t bring Betsy here, planning instead to stop at Lake Louise later to meet up with friends.  So instead we extended our stay to three nights and rented a car for our explorations.

Banff (pronounced “Banph”) is named after Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of two of the original Canadian Pacific Railway directors.  It was originally founded and developed with tourism in mind, after the discovery of extensive hot springs in the area and the subsequent creation of Banff National Park.  The founders were very successful, as this little town is busy year-round.

Banff, Alberta

Cascade Mountain overlooks the town of Banff

Driving around town

Just a few miles away was the birthplace of Canada’s National Park System, and Banff National Park.  At the Cave and Basin Historic Site, we visited a naturally-occurring warm mineral spring inside a cave, with a nearby emerald-colored basin – both discovered in 1883 by three railway workers.

The discovery captured the attention of the nation, and since then it’s been expanded and protected.  Leading to the creation of Banff National Park in 1885, it was the first national park in Canada and the third national park established in the world.  Besides numerous hot springs, the park also contains at least 25 peaks rising 9,800′ or more.

A hugely popular public spa was built and operated for many years:

Banff Upper Hot Springs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the many natural mineral hot springs in the area that attracted travelers a hundred years ago.  Canada Parks maintains them, preserving their authentic heritage.  For $7.50 we could have joined folks for a steamy soak, but alas we came unprepared.  So instead I simply took a picture of them soaking as we soaked in the scenery of the surrounding mountains.

Upper Hot Springs

Upper Hot Springs, one of nine naturally-occurring hot springs in the Banff area

Driving up winding Tunnel Mountain Road, we stopped at Surprise Corner.  It was possibly named by locals because of the surprise that comes after a sharp corner.  We certainly enjoyed the sudden appearance and incredible view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel:

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The surprise was the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Continuing along scenic Vermillion Lakes Drive, we got a good look at Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.  The lakes here are the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Banff National Park.

Mount Rundle

The massive limestone wall of Mount Rundle with its towering cliffs stretches 7.4 miles southeast

Sulphur Mountain

A couple taking a break at the lake in the shadow of Sulphur Mountain

Walking around town

Being a fairly small town, navigating around was easy and Banff Avenue was a long stretch containing shops, boutiques, restaurants and château-style buildings.  With mountain peaks dominating the skyline, Banff is one of the few places we’ve been that have the combination of gorgeous scenery surrounded by majestic mountains and opportunities to hike near town.

Banff National Park

Canadians know how to enjoy their summers, adorning their homes, shops and streets with an array of beautiful flowers:


Banff, Alberta

Parking is at a premium here, and hopping on the “Roam” local public transit is hassle-free

In Canada they call it Washroom

Up here their called washrooms, eh?

We meandered along the Bow River Trail and walked past roaring rapids as we climbed above Bow Falls:

Banff, Alberta

A wooden pedestrian bridge crosses the river near town

Bow Falls

Bow Falls was featured in the 1953 movie “River of No Return “

Mount Norquay, Banff

Mount Norquay across glacial Bow River, which flows through Banff

Didn’t I say Banff has great mountain sceneries which ever way you look?

Beyond the town of Banff

Leaving civilization behind, we drove beyond town and explored Banff National Park further north, along Bow Valley Parkway.  We didn’t drive all the way to Lake Louise, saving some of it for our stop in a couple of weeks.  Along the way, the front range and mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains began to dazzle us.

The eastern portion of the parkway – called the montane – is a critical habitat for carnivores including wolves, cougars and bears.  From March 1st to June 25th, travel by vehicle, bicycle or on foot is not permitted between 8pm and 8am.  This is to ensure that wildlife can move freely across the landscape.

Grey Wolf

Our first sighting of a Grey Wolf!  It looked pretty black to us

Morons Curve- Bow Valley Parkway

A seemingly endless train at Morants Curve, following Bow River

Canadian Railway along the rockies

A wonderful view of Bow Valley, the emerald green river and glorious peaks

Sawback Range, Bow Valley Parkway

A sea of green, brown and red with specks of yellow

Sawback Range, Bow Valley Parkway

Jagged Sawback Range

With our time somewhat limited, we managed to squeeze in a decent 7-mile hike at Johnston Canyon Trail.  Having seen the overflowing parking lot the day before, we ensured an early start.  The trail follows Johnston Creek into a cool shady place between cliffs and magnificent waterfalls.

Johnston Canyon Trail

Interesting steel catwalks ran along the sheer rock walls

Johnston Canyon Trail

Yellow Lichens on pine trees

Lower Falls, Johnston Canyon Trail

Lower Falls as we returned near mid-day

Middle Falls, Johnston Canyon Trail

I call this Middle Falls

Upper Falls- Johnston Canyon Trail

Upper Falls, where most folks turn around.  We continued on to the “Ink Pots”

American Three-toed Woodpecker

A new bird for me – American Three-toed Woodpecker

We continued on and climbed above the falls to the Ink Pots.  Along the way we met a couple who stopped in their tracks when they saw a bear cross the trail.  They were happy to see us so we could hike as a group and make more noise along the way.  Kyle and Agnes became our instant “bear-deterrent friends”.

Johnston Canyon Trail

Thanks Kyle and Agnes for the picture, it was nice meeting you!

It was peaceful, quiet and beautiful when we arrived at the Ink Pots.  The area consists of several pools of emerald-colored mineral springs that bubble to the surface.

Ink Pots

I tried to capture the pool bottoms composed of quicksand that bubbled up to the top:

Ink Pots

One of the pools had this cool bubbling spring creation

These springs are unique in that they have a constant temperature of 4C (39º) and their basins are composed of quicksand.

Ink pots

Note the bubbling spring on the lower left forming a circle

The Red Chairs

Parks Canada has placed bright red chairs in scenic locations throughout the country’s national parks to help draw people to viewpoints where they can connect with nature.  On this stop we had two Red Chair moments:

Cave and Basin historic Site

At Cave and Basin Historic Site…

Mule Shoe Lake

…and at Mule Shoe Lake

Even the most appealing pictures I took here fail to convey the experience of being in these stunning surroundings and unspoiled wilderness.  But it was time to hop on a bus (included in our train package) for the return to Calgary and our lonely Betsy.  A rain storm during the ride from Banff National Park to Calgary completed an outstanding train trip across the Canadian Rockies.


P.S.  We’re back in the USA!  I’m ferociously trying to catch up with my tales and photos from our visits to Calgary, Edmonton, Jasper National Park and Lake Louise.  Bear with me as my weary fingers go into overdrive!


Next up:  A Visit to Calgary





Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Vancouver to Banff, Canada

Comments 14 Standard
Rocky Mountaineer

As you may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blogosphere recently.  Once again, blogging and reading friend’s blogs must take a back seat.  Our days here in Alberta, Canada have been a marathon of fun, and tapping keys on the computer just hasn’t been happening 🙂

I’ve taken many pictures of the stunning Canadian Rockies for all to view and enjoy in my future posts.  For now let’s take a train ride!  

While perusing the exhibits at a railroad museum in Winnipeg, Manitoba last year (that story here), Steve saw a picture of a beautiful passenger train chugging through the stunning Canadian Rockies.  He couldn’t quit talking about it, and a year later here we were in the Rockies taking the dream trip that he had booked several months ago.

I wasn’t that excited about the trip at first, as I had ridden passenger trains to work hundreds of times during my working life.  But when he showed me the route and the promise of indulgence and relaxation, I was “all aboard” with the idea.  And it gave him a break from driving and cooking for a while!


The Plane

We left Betsy parked at Bow RiversEdge RV Park (Steve’s review here) in Cochrane, Alberta, and boarded a plane to Vancouver where our getaway would begin.

West Jet Airplane

Steve’s first commercial flight in quite a while

We had visited Vancouver in 2012 – those blog posts are here and here.   With only a few daylight hours left when we arrived, we hustled to Harbour Center, where we used our voucher to see the city from 553′ up.  At the observation deck we had a 360° view, and although it was already twilight I managed to get some decent pictures.

Harbour Center

An outside elevator took us up to the Vancouver Lookout

Burrad Inlet

Burrad Inlet and a hazy view of West Vancouver

Historic Gaston

Historic Gastown

Canada Place

Built to resemble a ship sitting in Vancouver’s harbour, Canada Place has five iconic white “sails”

The Train

Rocky Mountaineer

He’d been waiting a long time for this moment!

The excursion we chose was a two day, one way First Passage to the West aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.  This route retraces the historic Canadian Pacific Railway’s route famous for uniting Canada by connecting it from east to west.  Boarding the train in Vancouver, we made an overnight stop at Kamloops and completed the trip at Banff on the 2nd day.  We chose the Gold Leaf Service so we could enjoy the luxury and comfort of a glass-domed coach with full-length windows. For the hotels we downgraded to the Silver Leaf Service, which saved us quite a bit of money and still provided very nice hotel rooms.

The awesome service began the moment we checked our luggage and hopped on the bus that took us to the train station.  This was our first experience having luggage transferred directly into our room at our next stops, and we liked it a lot!  They even gave us our room keys on the train so we didn’t have to check in at all.  Loved it!


We were sent off in a festive mood


Gold Leaf Service

Gold Leaf Service – this is the way to experience the Rockies!

The trip was superb, thanks to our coach hosts Pete and Shino.  They totally spoiled everyone, and also provided a colorful narration for the natural drama unfolding outside the windows.  In addition, we got a copy of the Rocky Mountaineer Mile Post, which featured a route guide listing points of interest along the way – referenced by mile posts.  It also explained information about the train, the history of the route, and the wildlife that we might see along the way (and we did see a bear, a couple of Bald Eagles and many Bighorn Sheep).

Pete and Shino

Pete and Shino were amazing

Downstairs in the dining car, Candace and Lynn made sure our tummies were always filled with yummy food and drinks.  Between meals we were plied with all the drinks and snacks we wanted.


Fill it up, I’m not driving!

Here’s a sampling of our excellent main courses freshly prepared in the kitchen and served on real china:

Cheers to our new friends, Rocky and Marsha

Cheers to our new friends, Rocky and Marsha.  Rocky is a pilot, so he and Steve had lots to talk about

Day 1 – Vancouver to Kamloops

The first day of our journey took us from Vancouver to Kamloops in British Columbia.  The scenery unfolded from the lush green fields of the Fraser Valley through forests and winding river canyons surrounded by the peaks of the Coast and Cascade Mountains.  We also traveled through the desert-like environment of the British Columbia Interior.


Pete or Shino would advise us in advance of any major photo opportunities, and the train would slow down a bit for us to get a good shot.  The downside was that taking pictures from within the glass dome showed reflections in many photos, and the common vestibule outside the car was always packed with people taking shots from there.

Hells Gate

The steep walls of the infamous Hell’s Gate Canyon on the Fraser River

Rainbow Canyon

Rainbow Canyon

Avalanche Alley

Rock sheds and slide detection fences protect the rails from unstable areas above – this area is called Avalanche Alley

Frazer River


Our greeting party as we completed the first day

Once off the train we walked around Kamloops to burn some of the calories we had ingested during the day.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate – a monument honoring the vital role played by Chinese workers in building the railway


Concert at River Park in Kamloops

Kamloops Courthouse

A town in Alberta or British Columbia would be incomplete without lots of beautiful flowers!

Day 2 – Kamloops to Banff

On the second and final leg of our journey we continued east to our final destination at Banff.  We passed many more sparkling lakes and rivers, and an historic area.



We passed through the spot where the last spike of the CP Rail Line was driven in 1885 at Craigellachie.  If not for the construction of the railway – built between 1881 and 1885 to connect Canada east to west – this dream-filled landscape would have remained hidden to the world.



Kicking Horse River

We crossed Kicking Horse River seven times

The final section was an area full of railway history, tunnels, bridges and snow sheds. The most interesting part of our journey was when we entered the “Big Hill.”  In 1907, unique spiral tunnels were constructed that took 1,000 men 20 months to complete.  It allowed the climb to be reduced to a manageable 2.2 percent from the dangerous 4.5 percent that existed.  It’s described as a perfect maze, the railway doubling back upon itself twice, tunneling through mountains and crossing the river twice in order to cut down the grade. Pete narrated the entire 8-mile stretch as we traveled in the darkness.

Spiral Tunnel

The white dotted line is the route the train took through the Spiral Tunnel

Once out of the tunnels we had crossed the Continental Divide, the highest point on our journey.  This was the boundary between Banff National Park in Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia.  We began seeing glaciers, high mountains and glacier-fed rivers.


Bow River

Glacially fed Bow River

Rocky Mountaineer

A happy rocky mountaineer gives a thumbs-up to this trip!

We were among 625 passengers aboard 16 coaches.  On board we were surrounded with a team that ensured we had a wonderful journey.  There was a lot of interaction among passengers, especially during the lively commentary from Pete and Shino.  It was a luxury experience that definitely exceeded our expectations.


Arriving in Banff, we extended our stay for two days so we could experience what the town is all about.  Since this post is already long, the automobile portion (actually a rented automobile) will be up next.


Steve grudgingly gets back into the driver’s seat…


Next Up:  Banff National Park