Rolling up to the Rockies: Banff National Park

My amazement with Pukaskwa and Grasslands National Parks was due in part to my complete lack of expectations. I didn’t know what to anticipate so that allowed me to be pleasantly surprised. On the other hand, since I’ve visited a few other mountain ranges, and had seen many pictures of Banff on Instagram…I had expectations. Expectations that initially led to disappointment.

I was already not keen on Calgary and after a weekend in the gym and living in the cookie cutter neighborhood, I was ready to get into the mountains. But as I drove along Trans Canada Highway and the Rockies came into view—the first thing that came to mind was: I need to get back to Germany. I immediately missed the Alps and the many quaint and charming villages that complete the appeal of the snow covered peaks and clear blue lakes. I’d wanted to be blown away by the Rockies, to experience love at first sight, and an immediate desire to relocate. That failed to happen.

To add insult to injury, the town of Banff is a total tourist trap. I’d like comment on its appeal, but it was lost amongst the sea of tourists who seem to move around like they were on a movie set.

I fought the urge to run back to my car to escape and instead made it to the information center, where multiple lines awaited those seeking information.  After a short wait, one of the well informed rangers gave me some recommendations on which hikes to tackle and which hikes I actually couldn’t do because I was alone. Due to the bear activities, some hikes required a minimum of four people and bear spray to undertake.

My First Hike in the Rockies: Bourgeau Lake

I exhaled deeply once I was the town of Banff was in my rear view mirror and I was on my way to the start of my first hike. The trail head for Bourgeau Lake is off of Trans Canada Highway. You have to watch for signs so you don’t miss the turn. The parking lot isn’t large, but it wasn’t an issue to find a spot to park.

Footwear change to hike

I traded my sandals for hiking boots and after entering the fenced in area, which made me feel like I was entering Jurassic Park, but is designed to keep the bears off the road, I was off on my hike. It was a slow start on a wide trail in the woods that eventually narrowed and got a little steeper. I passed a waterfall and began to have some views of the surrounding mountains. I felt the calm and joy of being in the mountains trickle through all my other thoughts and concerns.

I reached a small meadow area that led to the Bourgeau Lake where I climbed some of the boulders to enjoy the view and a cliff bar.


Bourgeau Lake Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

I was content and at peace once more surrounded by the beauty of the mountains.

Bourgeau Lake / Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Length: 7.2 km one way
Elevation gain: 725 m
Trailhead: Trans-Canada Highway, 13 km west of Town of Banff

Hiking time: 6 hour round trip (Took me 4 hours)

Observations Of Canada After A Month

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta but my parents returned to St-Come, Quebec when I was just a few weeks old. Except for a short trip to Nova Scotia, many years ago, the only impression or knowledge of my homeland was from growing up in St-Georges, Quebec. So when I started driving West, I didn’t know what to expect.

  1.  Dunkin Donuts have vanished from Canada…and been replaced with Tim Horton’s (Bad move)
  2. There are no St. Hubert restaurants outside of Québec (it once was my favorite restaurant – best rotisserie chicken and sauce). I figured it was a chain of restaurant across Canada.
  3. It’s hard to find curd cheese (also called squishy cheese) or poutine places outside of Québec. I can’t believe you can’t buy curd cheese in grocery stores outside of Quebec.
  4. Canadians really respect speed limits in work zones. It’s like Germans and crosswalks. I expect a lot of speeding tickets in the mail.
  5. The National Parks are as incredible as made out to be.
  6. There is no terrorist threat but if outdoor…take the bear threat seriously.
  7. Most Canadians are well versed on American politics and issues.
  8. Canadian flag proudly flies everywhere.
  9. There’s been a French radio station everywhere I’ve been but not necessarily a French T.V. station.
  10. Canadians know of two seasons: winter and construction season.
  11. Generally speaking, Canadians are quite polite and even call you to give you money back.
  12. Canadians are (rightfully so) not happy Hollywood decided to make Neil Young from California versus from his real birth place of Toronto in the upcoming movie about the Canadian singer and songwriter.
  13. Food is noticeably more expansive than in the U.S. (and so is gas).
  14. Western Canada is undergoing a recession due to the drop in oil prices, but I didn’t hear about it until I go to Saskatchewan and it was on the news everyday in Alberta.

Road Trip: This is Calgary…Eww

I’m always fair in my evaluation of cities by first stating, I’m not a city girl, but when I drove up to the neighborhood where my AirBnB was for the week, part of my soul died. It was a cookie cutter neighborhood with big box stores—houses, condos, and apartments built on top of each other void of character. My negative gut reaction to the neighborhood was powerfully strong and confirmed I will never be able to live in a place like that again.

Let me also add, the road network in Calgary…is absolutely terrible. I’ve never encountered so many car accidents before and found a road network so profoundly jacked up. The lanes merge at exits, expanded at entryways causing drivers to have to cross over multiple lanes to get on the correct highway and offered limited options to get to where you need to go.

The oil industry caused the rapid expansion of Calgary and the required planning to develop a thriving city and surrounding outskirts didn’t happen.

I arrived on a Friday and planned to use the weekend to explore the city and then venture to Banff that upcoming Monday. The Stampede was going on and while these types of events are not normally my thing, I’ve been stepping out of my comfort zones on this trip. Plus, it’d been a long time since I’d been to a rodeo.

Saturday was raining all day so I took advantage of the bad weather to escape to the gym. On Sunday, I made it to the Stampede. It was as expected fair full of food vendors, games, rides, and pavilions with various animals and other things to see. I walked around for a while but my true purpose was to catch the rodeo. After paying a cheap seat, I settled in to watch some rodeo, barrel racing and bull riding. Unfortunately, it began to rain and I had to escape inside to avoid getting soaked. I was bummed out because I was enjoying myself.

By the time I made it back to my car, it was pouring down rain. I was looking forward to getting to the mountains!

Road Trip: Winnipeg and Saskatoon

I have nothing good to say about Winnipeg. Nothing there worthwhile to see or do. My one eventful thing that happened is that I had to book another hotel, while in the lobby of the hotel I had originally booked, since they were going to put me on a smoking floor because of Little Man. I had no idea some hotels still had smoking floors.

After Winnipeg, I was supposed to camp two nights in Riding Mountain National Park, but as I kept listening to weather reports of incoming thunderstorms and rain, I couldn’t bring myself to go camp while getting rained on, the whole time.  At 4:30 in the morning, I laid awake in bed, dreading being wet for two days, so I began to look for new accommodations in Saskatoon, my projected stop after Riding Mountain. It meant a longer drive, but that seemed better than getting soaked and being miserable for two days. I was in luck, Paul, the AirBnB host I contacted was up early and able to reply to me right away. After answering a few of his questions, I had a place booked for the next couple of nights.

Taste of Saskatoon 2016
Taste of Saskatoon 2016

It didn’t rain as much as what they projected, but that’s just a gamble you take while on the road. I couldn’t undo my decision. I took advantage of being in a city by going to get my hair done. I also squeezed in a few workouts and checked-out the Taste of Saskatoon, which was being held in a park by the river.

Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa…and I’m assuming Toronto and Vancouver are cities with things to see and do, but for what I’ve seen from other Canadian cities, they’re not worth a stop. It’s all about the outdoor adventures!

Road Trip: Off to Sault Ste. Marie

The drive from Ottawa to Sault Ste. Marie was excruciatingly painful. There wasn’t much to see (the picture is from the following day) and while I broke down and finally downloaded an audio book, I picked a particularly boring one. The story was in need of some serious editing—it had way too many irrelevant details and lacked actual suspense. It was supposed to be a thriller. To make matters worse, the voice of the narrator was hitting a nerve. I kept having to turn it off, as it was putting me to sleep, instead of keeping me awake.

Speaking of assistance keeping awake. What happened to all the Dunkin Donuts in Canada? They appear to all have been replaced with Tim Horton’s, which dispenses dish washing water as coffee. This added to the difficulties of this drive.

The highlight of my day was driving through the small town of Spanish, which only had a few streets, but of those streets, one was called Ann Street and the next one over, Bernard Street. Wish I’d stop for pictures.

I made it to Sault Ste. Marie around 7pm. After unloading the car and grabbing some dinner, I was ready for bed.

In the morning, I found a grocery store and picked-up all the food I needed for the day and night/morning. This was it—my first night of camping awaited me and Little Man!!

Road Trip: Quebec to Ottawa

I left my mom’s house, or I guess I should start calling it my stepdad’s house, on June 29th and headed to Stoneham, right outside of Quebec City, to spend some time with my cousin and to visit with her parents (all family on my mom’s side). I had visited with my other cousin while in St-Georges where I finally met her four children. As I looked at her children, I recalled what an awesome time we all had (my brothers and her siblings) when we were their age—and how much time had elapsed since we last spent time together.

Anyway, at this point, I had an outline of my travel plans and most of my reservations were made at the way to Calgary.  However, I still needed to purchase my tent and some other equipment. I figured I would have more store selections in Quebec City over St-Georges.

My cousin offered me to stay at her house and it turned out to be such a blessing. Growing up, we were known for looking alike, and had spent time playing together. As an adult, I saw her when she made a stop in Baltimore, while I was stationed in Virginia, many years ago. But, we hadn’t spent quality time together in way too long and I had yet to meet her daughter. Spending time with her was like being with a long lost best friend.

She took me mountain biking at Mount St. Anne, I went shopping for the camping gear I needed, I visited my aunt and uncle (and other cousin), and overall had a nice stop with family in Quebec City. However, on July 4th, it was time to hit the road to start making my way West.

View of Lac Saint Pierre

I had a 4.5 hour drive ahead of me, which I didn’t think was bad, but turned out more painful or rather boring, than I’d anticipated. I arrived in Ottawa mid-afternoon.  I checked-in to my hotel and then headed out on foot to start exploring the city.

Since being in Canada I’ve heard this saying a few times now and witnessed it to be true: “We have two seasons in Canada. Winter and construction season.”

Ottawa from Bridge

There was major construction going on in Ottawa, which took away from being able to see the city in what would be its full glory. I took the lazy tourist option and toured the city on the large red double decker hop on and off bus. I was the most impressed with the massive bicycle lanes/network. The entire city is covered by independent bike lanes. Taking a bicycle tour of the city would have been a good option, had I arrived earlier.

Ottawa Parliament

I had dinner in the Byward Market which is full of bars, restaurants, shops and a farmer’s market during the day.  I even had Tinder “date” at an Irish pub before calling it a night.

I woke in the morning, had a workout at the hotel fitness center then headed out to my next stop: Sault St. Marie.

If you plan on going to Ottawa, I would wait until at least end of summer 2017.