The Hiker Mama

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Super Quick BC Road Trip to Banff – July, 2017

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Fairview Mountain, Lake Louise

Our kids were at camp together for a whole week in July, so we thought we’d take a little trip without them. Aaron had a doctor appointment he had to go to, and one that would be difficult to reschedule, so we didn’t get out of town until 7:30 Monday evening. We made it smoothly over the border, and got a hotel in Abbotsford, BC, which felt so luxurious compared to our normal travel accommodations. We were on the road by 7:00, but were a tiny bit dismayed by the amount of smoke in the air. We soon realized that the smoke was from a large number of wildfires in the province. It would stay with us all day, becoming physically oppressive and blocking our views. Nevertheless, we thought we’d ride it out, knowing that often the air can clear suddenly, and anyway, we didn’t have an alternative plan in mind. We stopped briefly in Hope, for coffee and gas. Aaron was excited to visit his first Tim Horton’s. We stopped in Kamloops for the last few groceries we hadn’t wanted to take over the border (a few fresh fruits and vegetables, plus some necessary car snacks and ice.) Kamloops was particularly smoky and hot. We stopped again in Salmon Arm, where we made lunch, walked around a neat little park, visited the Visitor Center for some more detailed road maps for our trip, picked up our free Canada National Parks pass, and enjoyed a break from driving.

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Pier in Salmon Arm
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Nature Center at the Salmon Arm Park

This little town was very welcoming to us, and we think it would be fun to hang out there again, or camp in one of the many campgrounds nearby.

We stopped again in Revelstoke for gas and coffee, and used the Starbucks Wi-fi to figure out where we thought we’d try to camp. [Side note – we thought Revelstoke was just the coolest name, kind of a cross between medieval, sci-fi, and really awesome adventuring.]  This trip was unique for me, in that I hadn’t done even the most basic research before we went. We weren’t sure how far we’d be able to drive (Google’s drive time estimates are often wildly optimistic for long drives, as they don’t take into account bathroom or coffee breaks, or the road construction that seemed to block us on every pass we drove over.) I was getting pretty tired, as it was late in the afternoon, and I was ready to find a spot for the night. We thought we’d check out the campgrounds in Glacier National Park (not to be confused with the Glacier in America, this is a separate park.) We looked them up and got info on them, and then drove the last little bit through Revelstoke NP to Glacier NP. We looked in the first campground, Loop Brook, and saw that there were several spots available, and it was pretty nice.

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A Little Less Smoky

We thought we’d see what the next campground, Illecillewaet, was like, so we drove up the road to see. There was construction on this portion, and the signs were confusing (and nonexistent at the actual turnoff!) and it took us 3 passes before we got on the correct road. Once we finally made it to the campground (which was beautiful, as much as we could see through the smoke), we found it to be almost full, except for a few spots that were way too small for our tent. So we braved the construction one more time, and drove back down to the first campground, where we snagged the perfect spot for the night.

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Our Campsite at Loop Brook Campground

We didn’t check out the sites at the Mount Sir Donald campground, but it looks to be closer to the highway and the train tracks.

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Old Railroad Trestles

During our campsite explorations, we stopped at Rogers Pass, which has a nice viewpoint and some historical displays.

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Rogers Pass Memorial
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Aaron Capturing Smoky Mountains at Rogers Pass

It was smoky still, but not so bad that it hurt our eyes any more. We set up camp, made dinner, and sat around resting until dark. The Loop Brook Campground was quiet and peaceful, removed from the highway, and next to a rushing creek. There are nice outhouses, and in the middle loop is a true bathroom with running water and flush toilets. There was a fire ban, so we didn’t have anything to keep us up later. Mosquitoes were present, but not horrible.

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We got up early the next morning, made a big breakfast, cleaned up camp, and took off for Banff. We had decided overnight to just keep our campsite in Glacier and use it as a base camp, instead of hoping we could get a spot in Banff and moving everything again. This turned out to be a good plan, as the campgrounds in Banff were pretty full, and it would have been difficult to get a spot. We slowly made it through construction zones, and were happy that we could see a bit more of the surrounding mountains; the smoke had lightened just a little bit. There was a fire burning in the eastern part of the park, and the smoke plume was visible from the highway.

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Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass

We made a stop in Yoho National Park, at the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint, where we learned about the unique design of tunnels that help trains navigate the super-steep Kicking Horse Pass.

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Diagram of the Spiral Tunnels

There were many other viewpoints and areas of interest that we longingly drove right by. We probably could have spent all day there sightseeing, but we made the choice to be focused on getting to Banff, so we’ll have to come back another time. We stopped in the town of Golden for ice and a restroom, and yes, more snacks. It felt like it was taking forever to drive to Banff that morning; partly it was the construction slowing us down, partly it was the several stops we made. There is a nice rest area just east of Golden, where we made another stop and changed into cooler clothes. We finally made it into the town of Banff around 1 pm.

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Scenic Banff

The town of Banff was different than we expected. It was crowded beyond belief, and took us quite a while to find a parking spot. There are many shops of all sorts, and we decided to walk around, find the visitor center, and figure out our itinerary for the rest of the day. We found the restrooms first (there are nice public facilities at the park next to the river, including water bottle filling stations and a bike repair station.) Then we walked into town and saw that there was a farmer’s market happening.

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Farmers Market in Banff

We picked up some lunch there, then walked over to the Banff Visitor Center.

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Really Cool Old Church and the Visitor Center

We got some good maps there, and I asked which attractions we should see if we only had half the day in town. She gave me some good ideas, and then we explored a bit more on our way down to the Banff Park Museum (the University of the Hills).

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Banff Park Museum, Built in 1903
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Banff Park Museum Displays

We learned that it’s the oldest museum in the national park system, including all sorts of animal and bird specimens from the early 1900s in a spectacular log structure. Aaron completed the Jr. Ranger booklet while we perused the displays.

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Woolly Mammals of the Park
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Majestic Raptors

From there we decided to go back to the car (picking up iced coffees along the way), and drive instead of walk to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

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Aaron Touching the Warm Water from the Cave and Basin Hot Springs

We could have walked down there, but we weren’t wearing hats or sunscreen, and I was feeling the effects of the sun. It was late enough in the afternoon that we thought the parking would be much better, and indeed, we had no trouble finding parking. We enjoyed visiting the museum around the hot springs in the cave, and walking the boardwalk trails around the area.

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Entering the Cave
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Historical Re-enactments at the Cave and Basin National Historical Site
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Clear Blue Water in the Grotto

It reminded me a little bit of Yellowstone. Kids will appreciate the historic re-enactments and the chance to see a rare snail, endemic to these pools only.

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Brilliant Blue Mineral Waters
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Boardwalks Around the Cave Opening
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Spectacular Views from the Cave and Basin National Historical Site

After we were done at the Cave and Basin site, we drove back through Banff and over to the drive around the Lake Minnewanka area. This is a scenic drive along a loop road, with some stops along the way.

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Mountains Near Lake Minnewanka Loop

The scenery was glorious, and we even saw a bighorn sheep right next to the road.

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Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
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Lake Minnewanka

We also saw some elk in this area. We thought this looked like a promising area to camp at some point in the future. Then we drove along the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels Highway 1, at a much more leisurely pace.

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Castle Mountain

We made a couple of stops for photos, and drove through one of the campgrounds to check it out. It looked like a good spot to camp, though all the spaces were taken, so we were happy we hadn’t tried to get a spot there late on Tuesday night. I think we would have been disappointed.

The Bow Valley parkway took us up to Lake Louise, which was going to be our last attraction for the day. It was late enough in the day that we didn’t have to worry about parking (in the middle of the day, parking is extremely hard to come by, and visitors will need to use shuttles from other parking areas in the park).

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Lake Louise

There were still plenty of people there, but we enjoyed our visit at this beautiful lake, with the snow-covered mountains surrounding the turquoise waters.

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Impressive Glaciers
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Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise

Next time we go, we’ll take a hike up to the historic tea room, and we’ll also take the time to drive up to Moraine Lake. We heard that it is beautiful, too. We also thought canoeing or kayaking on the lake looked fun.

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Changing Sunlight on Lake Louise

We were getting pretty hungry by this point, so we stopped at the nearby picnic area and fixed some sandwiches and coffee. Then we reluctantly needed to get back on the road for the 2-hour drive back to our campsite in Glacier. Thankfully, the drive took much less time than it did on the way on the morning, with the construction being done for the day, and no chance of sightseeing. We were back in camp by 10:00pm and crashed into our sleeping bags.

On Thursday morning we packed up and headed back west. The smoke had miraculously lifted, and the air was much clearer. A front was moving in, and that pushed out the foul air. It was really nice to be able to see the mountains that we were driving by. We considered taking a different route home, but in the end we decided just to stick with Highway 1.

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Riverside Park, Kamloops

We stopped again in Kamloops for lunch, which we ate at Riverside Park downtown. This would be a great place to let kids run around to break up a long drive. We made such good time that we were able to continue all the way home that evening. It was a wonderful trip! Too quick, but now we are stoked for the next time we get to travel there. We can’t wait to go back and take our kids!



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3 responses to “Super Quick BC Road Trip to Banff – July, 2017”

  1. Doreen Avatar

    We fondly remember our trip through many of these same areas. It was before your time, so we are encouraged that the scenery endures and we understand the impact it made on you. Lovely memories…

  2. neale Avatar

    Campground looks awesome 🙂 What was the tent you used?

    1. Hiker Mama Avatar
      Hiker Mama

      Hi Neale! I’m so sorry, your comment didn’t show up in my queue until today. How strange! Anyway, I have an older Big Agnes tent that isn’t made any more. It’s the King Creek 4 It’s been an awesome tent! It’s held up great for us. The only problem I’ve had is the zippers are starting to fail, so this winter I’m going to send it back to Big Agnes for repairs under their warranty. But we love it for our family.

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