In mid-July our journey finally brought us to Banff, Alberta and looking back we were quite lucky to have visited here prior to the effects of the devastating wildfires tearing through BC. Apparently, shortly after we left, Banff had some wildfires come close to them as well and the smoke started to cover the skies from the wind blowing in from BC. We were quite lucky to avoid this unlike so many that have been significantly affected by these huge wildfires. Tragically, there are several places that we stayed in BC that are now under an evacuation order and we can only hope the fires don't reach them.
The drive from Jasper to Banff took us through the beautiful Columbia Icefield Parkway which is one of the best drives we've done while on this journey. It ranks right up there with California's Highway 1 and 101, B.C.'s sea-to-sky highway and the Oregon Coast. The biggest difference of course is the enormous snow covered Rockies, glaciers, waterfalls, abundant wildlife and pristine turquoise lakes along the entire drive. I think its my favorite drive so far! Such a great drive to do in the summer...I may want to avoid it in the winter though LOL.
For the first time this trip we managed to meet up with a friend from home which the kids (and us) were so happy and excited for. Our friend Adele met us for a few days in Banff while she was en-route to visit her friend in the Yukon. It was great to hang out with a friend from 'home' for a change even if it was only for a few days...the kids were of course ecstatic to see her and spend time with her.
If you only have a limited amount of time to spend while in Banff I highly suggest going to see this incredible and picturesque lake. Thanks to our friend Katie for the reco! The water here is as turquoise as you can imagine as it just finished melting a month prior to us getting there. As a result, it was a chilly 34F!! If you can manage to bring your own canoe/kayak here you'll save yourself $90 an hour!! We weren't so fortunate, so we had to drop the money to go out on the lake, but regardless this is an absolute MUST DO. Just the most beautiful scenery you can imagine with crystal blue waters, glacial waterfalls, majestic snow-capped mountains and gorgeous wildlife all around you. This was perhaps the most memorable event during our time there.
Summer time is such a beautiful time to visit Lake Louise, but its also the most busy as you can imagine. The weather was incredible, most days in the high 20's which was perfect for us! In order to get to Lake Louise they setup shuttles a few miles out and forced people to park there instead of further congesting the area around Lake Louise itself. The only way to drive close to it is if you are staying at or have a dining reservation for the Fairmont Lake Louise hotel. In our case, we opted to book a dinner reservation there which let us park right at the hotel and make it a bit easier for us. A side note...dinner was excellent at the Fairmont Lake Louise for those interested. The view from the hotel is spectacular and its probably one of the most famous Canadian tourist photos in Canada. Regardless of how busy this place was, its pretty cool still to actually go see it in person and walk along the shores of Lake Louise.
Banff Springs Hotel
We booked ourselves in for a lunch at this hotel while in Banff and we were treated to some interesting ghost stories of this historic place. Apparently (although not entirely confirmed), one of the ghost stories of this hotel was the basis for Stephen King's famous movie The Shining. According to legend, there's a room in the hotel where some unspeakable murders happened many many years ago. After the hotel tried to move past it, future guests staying in that same hotel room reported seeing and hearing blood on the walls and people screaming. This happened so often that the hotel finally decided to close the room forever! They plastered over the door and wall-papered over it to make it seem like there was never a room there when in fact there still is! Its a fun and cool little experience to walk this hallway and stand outside where this room once was! Wendy gave her best impression of Jack Nicholson standing outside the room ("Its Johnny!") LOL! There was some other eerie stories about ghosts elsewhere in this hotel so if you're into the supernatural this is a famous spot to hit while out in Alberta.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The Cave and Basin is a cool little place located just past Banff Springs hotel and as we learned, was the birthplace of Canada's National Park system. Years ago, two men found the natural occurring hot springs here and wanted to buy the land. The Canadian government also needed money to extend the railroad out west and saw this hot spring as an opportunity to bring people and raise money for the railroad. The result turned into a nationally recognized reservation of land and the birth of Canada's national park system! How cool is that? The kids enjoyed walking into the cave to see the natural hot springs and they even got to learn about the history of the cross Canada railroad. Lots of fun and lots of Canadiana culture for the kiddies!
Overall, Banff and Lake Louise was a great place to visit, especially if you have never been before. Now that we've been here - we'll probably choose to stay in Jasper again as it much less busy there and you still get the amazing Rockie Mountains with crystal blue waters and tons of wildlife roaming around.