Rocky Mountain Loop
After Luke’s cycle adventure from Grand Forks to Whistler I drove down to Vancouver to pick him up as well as his mum, Ruth and stepdad, Pete who had flown in to join us for our last month travelling in Canada. Driving back to Grand Forks was a bit of a jet lagged blur for them but we spent the next few days soaking up the early autumn sun in 30 degree heat by one of my favourite spots on the Granby River.
It felt great to load up the truck and camper and get back on the road again. Our first stop was Nelson, a beautiful little hippy town about an hour and a half drive away. We wandered the streets and had an amazing lunch of poutine before heading out to Ainsworth Hot Springs, our destination for the night. As the day cooled off we soaked in the hot water looking out over Kootenay Lake. This is one of our favourite places to visit in the winter (and it was still great in the fall!).
After getting the little ferry at Balfour across the lake we drove south towards Creston and visited the bird sanctuary there. Having visitors is always the best excuse to check out places in your own back yard that you’ve never been to, and this place was a great little find.
We had hoped to get to another little hot spring that night but ended up stopping at a lovely little forestry site by a lake that suited us fine. My dad lent us a 20 year old BC forestry rec sites book, and for the most part we can still find many of them. They are usually out-of-the-way, basic (and free) campsites that are worth finding.
Our next stop was Radium, on the edge of Kootenay National Park. We first stopped to see a herd of Big Horned Mountain Sheep then decided since we were here we should probably check out the hot springs. For $6 each it was a bargain and we soaked up the sun and scanned the cliffs for wildlife.
We hiked down to Cobb Lake and were rewarded with beautiful reflections and fall colours, then headed just outside the park to find another free rec site for the night. Kootenay Park is a beautiful part of the Rockies and we stopped to visit the old ochre paint pots used by the first nations people and walk along the edge of the impressive marble canyon.
From here we passed into Banff National Park, a favourite of Canadians and visitors alike, and for good reason. The mountains soar above with jagged peaks and this time of year we had a full array of autumn colours. We spent a day wandering through the town of Banff, marvelling at the horrible tack shops but thoroughly enjoying the old taxidermy museum.
Faced with a rainy day we decided just to drive up through the park to the Columbia Icefield and work our way down. We arrived at our destination and found a little campground as it started to snow. Deciding that we were not that hardcore, Luke and I opted not to put up our tent but to join Ruth and Pete in the camper. It was a crowded but cosy night. The next day the snow remained but the sky had cleared and we walked up to view the ice field, a giant lake of ice sitting on top of the continental divide which feeds into the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic oceans.
Our most rewarding hike along the icefield parkway was up to a lookout over Peyto Lake, a beautiful teal, glacial lake. The lookout was packed with people, but venturing a little further up the path we found a better viewpoint with only 2 other people, who seemed surprised that we had found them.
Our next destination in the park was Lake Louise, we had tried to save it for a sunny day and we succeeded. The brilliant blue is just not the same on a cloudy day. We decided to hike the Plain of Six Glaciers, a 14km round trip, with a very conveniently located tea house at the 5km mark. A cup of tea at that point did the trick and we carried on to the end of the track.
Our last stop before leaving the national park was at Moraine Lake. In the cold of the morning we walked to the end of the lake where we could see the first fingers of sunlight hitting the ground. It is a beautiful spot (on the Canadian $20 bill in fact), but very busy, get there early if you want a parking spot.
Although we spent 6 good days exploring the Rocky Mountains, it was nowhere near enough time to feel we’d seen them properly. But the weather was getting colder and we wanted to get to Vancouver Island before Ruth and Pete had to leave. So we headed west again, hopefully to warmer weather and more brilliant sights.