Hello world! It’s been a while.
I apologise for my absence – life’s been mildly hectic/challenging over the past nine months, and I’ve had to take some steps away from things I love to do to concentrate on other things. However, your girl is well and truly BACK, and ready to get going on some adventures… and what better way to start than to embark on a solo hiking trip around Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada?
As I mentioned, it’s been a very difficult year so far for me. I won’t get into specifics because this blog really isn’t for that (keep it light, people!), but suffice it to say that I was in dire need of a break by August. I’ve always wanted to go to Canada, based purely on the stereotype of the friendly Canadian (which is 100% true, I discovered) and the beautiful nature you see on travel documentaries that somehow doesn’t look real… and so, on a whim one lunchtime at work, I decided to book a trip to Calgary. In two weeks time. With no real plan apart from “see nature and do some hiking and try and clear my head”. Fortunately I have a wonderful boss who totally got it and approved my PTO request almost instantly, and two weeks later I found myself at Gatwick, hiking backpack and walking boots on, ready to board a plane by myself to somewhere I’d never been before.
I’d never flown Westjet before, and, aside from a chaotic Gatwick desk and some truly terrible check-in technology, it wasn’t a bad airline. Great entertainment system, pretty good seat allowance for my 36″ legs, and a decent enough food selection. We landed in Calgary airport around 9 hours from take-off in London, and I went to pick up my rental car and set off to the temporary hotel I’d booked to settle down and power through the inevitable jetlag.
I woke up at 3am the following morning, which is actually fairly typical for me even in the UK (insomnia gang, where u at?) so, after some crocheting and texting with people back home, I decided to take full advantage of my early bird status and drive up to Banff to start the day in the mountains.
This turned out to be a GREAT decision…
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Banff (and to be honest, I wasn’t before this trip), it’s one of Canada’s national parks – the first one, to be exact! – and is located around an hour from Calgary. It’s renowned for its mountains, lakes including Lakes Louise and Moraine, and activities including plenty of hiking, cycling and water sports. Driving up to Banff from Calgary was fairly straightforward – a few junction exits and roads to manoeuvre, and I was safely en route up to Banff via the Trans-Canada highway (bucket list tick!). Practical tip: any visitor to the Canadian national parks has to display a national park day permit in their vehicle, which you can get upon arrival to the park (look for the signs marked ‘Park Passes’ near to the national park gates… but you can also get these in information centres within the park itself).
My first stop was at Two Jack Lake, pictured below, where I walked around, took in the truly beautiful scenery, and honestly, just breathed. I’ve never been somewhere so picturesque and relaxing, and watching the animals and water moving was so utterly tranquil, I could have just pitched up and spent the day there. It was exactly what I needed.
However, it was a little chilly, so I decided to go into Banff town, given it was a reasonably social hour at this point, and wandered around clutching a piping hot maple coffee (when in Canada, right?). Again, the scenery was stunning – and part of me couldn’t get over just how gorgeous it was in a seemingly regular town. I genuinely don’t know how people live regular lives there – if I lived there, I’d spend my time permanently staring up at the mountains and nature around me. I mean, come on…
After staring at the beautiful nature and sipping my delicious coffee, I made my way up to the cabin I’d booked for several nights. Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows are within the heart of Banff park, right next to some truly gorgeous waterfalls in Johnston Canyon itself, and are vintage ‘no frills’ cabins and bungalows, perfect for unwinding. I stayed in one of the ‘red cabins’, which were very compact and cute, and frankly perfect for a solo traveller (although I have no idea how more than one person could comfortably stay there):
The cabins themselves have wi-fi, coffee making facilities, a fridge (although word to the wise, there are minimal grocery stores in Banff park), and a TV with DVD player, although to be honest you probably shouldn’t stay somewhere like this just to watch TV. There’s also a coffee shop, restaurant and gift shop on the premises, and I spent many mornings sat with a cuppa on the porch crocheting and just breathing in the scenery before going off to hike. It was truly blissful, and, again, exactly what I needed.
On the following days, I spent a few days exploring both Banff and Canmore towns, hiking around the beautiful scenery, as well as venturing up towards Jasper, another national park north of Banff. It was lovely to have no agenda, nobody to answer to, and just have some me-time – which is the perk of solo travel I’ve truly missed. However, I have to give a special shout out to Lakes Louise and Moraine, which were truly the standouts of the entire trip.
Lake Louise is a glacial lake around 30 minutes from Banff town, and is renowned for having one of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the world, as well as some truly stunning blue lakes around Lake Louise itself. Given how utterly beautiful it is, it’s unsurprisingly very popular with tourists, and I took full advantage of my jet lag to venture up there at the crack of dawn and get some pictures and hikes in.
(Top tip: if you drive up to Lake Louise, I’d highly recommend using the Park and Ride facility, which costs $8 per car with free bus passes. It’s a LOT more reliable than the on-site parking at either Louise or Moraine, which fills up at 5am or so, and is expensive to boot!).
There are numerous hiking trails and activities around Lake Louise itself, and I decided to do both the Lake Agnes trail and the Lake Louise shoreline trail in the morning. The Lake Agnes trail was tricky – I’m relatively fit and walk a fair amount, and the trail itself was up a steep incline with uneven ground in parts. At the top of the trail is a tea house which, I’ll be honest, I didn’t get to because of time and lack of physical health (lol), but the peek-a-boo views on the way up were truly stunning:
The Lake Louise shoreline trail was a lot more accessible, and stretched its way around the lake, leading to the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail and another teahouse (these people really like their teahouses, clearly). It allowed some really gorgeous views of the other side of the lake, towards the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and was a relatively steady walk itself, despite being quite a busy trail.
Lake Moraine was next on my list, although I have to be honest and tell you my phone died here, which was HUGELY frustrating and also made me wish I’d invested in an SLR before going out 😩. It was, however, beautiful but VERY busy (possibly busier than Louise, although unsure if this is because of the time of day or the popularity of the lake?). Still worth a visit for sure, but make sure to time your visits to both lakes accordingly, that’s all I’ll say.
On the last day up in Banff, I decided to trek the Johnston Canyon next to my cabin – another popular trail, this time with some truly gorgeous waterfalls. This was a relatively short trail (I hiked for about an hour in total), with a few inclines, but similar to the other trails it did get quite busy – and I was very grateful that I could just hop across to it from my cabin. The standouts for sure were the lower falls – at the time of visiting, the upper falls were inaccessible – and the beautiful little rocky rivers and streams along the route:
All in all, I’m SO pleased I went to Canada. Even though I didn’t spend too long in Calgary itself, and chose to go up to the parks instead, I think it’s very safe to say that I’ve pretty much fallen in love with Canada and can’t wait to go back. Driving felt straight-forward, the people were absolutely lovely, and the scenery alone was well worth the 18 hours total flight time. Highly recommend, and I’m already planning a second trip – to the east coast, this time!
Watch out world, I’m back.