There is beautiful and then there is Banff. When we realized just how far north we were in Glacier National Park, we decided to head further north to check out Banff National Park in Canada and it did not disappoint. In the process we also visited our 20th country since we left in March! One could easily spend weeks exploring this amazing area from the gorgeous mountain peaks to the turquoise lakes. It was remarkable.
As hobby photographers, we had seen a ton of pictures from Banff, but no photo can do this place justice. We will change it up a bit for this blog (since it’s Canada) and list a few things we learned while we were there:
#1 – Mobs of tourists are not our favorite.
Yes, we realize we are full-time tourists! However, even in picturesque places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the moments can be severely altered by the hordes of people who will do anything and everything to get their photos. We took some incredible photos while in Banff, but one of these days we will turn the camera around to show just what we sometimes are dealing with. In some areas it’s like a full contact sport just to get a photo, which brings us to our next observation…
#2 – You have to work to truly grasp the beauty and tranquility of these places
We started to realize this in the Tetons, but it was especially true in Banff: to really feel like you are alone and to be able to take in the spectacular beauty around you, you need to get off the beaten path. Go for a hike, climb a peak and get up EARLY! Some of the best moments we have had have been the result of reluctantly getting up at 4am and hitting the trail before the sun comes up. Since we have been traveling, these are the moments we remember the most. It isn't the iconic spots you see all over the internet, it is the hidden gems where we hiked, climbed, or traversed for a few moments of solitude.
# 3 – Wildfires are the real deal
It seems like we have been amidst fires ever since we got to Montana. We obviously had read about them and had seen them on TV, but when you are on the ground they are for real. If the wind changes and you find yourself in the smoke, it is not fun. The haze is one thing, but breathing in the smoke eventually starts to give you a sore throat and a headache. The western parts of our country have had a bad year with fires, but we know it is part of the natural progression of these landscapes. We are just glad we don’t need to deal with that on an everyday basis.
# 4 – Bear spray is the real REAL deal
A little story here: we did an 8.5-mile hike in Banff up Cory and Edith Passes. You can read about the route here. It is not terribly long, but the first half takes you straight up, with an elevation gain of over 3,000 feet to nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. It was no joke. We have not had to climb trails that steep since we started exploring these parks. It was a challenge.
At one point, we stopped for a break along a steep cliff and Nolan dropped his bear spray canister. It rolled down the cliff and seemed to stop about 30 or 40 feet below. Feeling it was safe to attempt to retrieve it (and try and save our $60, those things ate expensive), Nolan went down the cliff but within seconds started barreling back up coughing and crying. The can had exploded on the drop! Within about a minute we were covered in the plumes of spray and after rolling around on the ground for awhile attempted to book it up the mountain. It easily followed us for ¼ mile and got trapped in our clothes and packs. It took a good 30 minutes for us to once again be able to breath normally. That stuff is potent!!! We laughed about it later, but in the midst of the event, it was one of the scariest feelings not being able to take regular breaths let alone see! Be careful with that stuff!
# 5 – Everyone needs to see a glacier up close
Due to the wrong turn we took in our very own Glacier National Park, we did not get to see a glacier up close. Well, that was not happening in Banff. We got up early and did the “Path of Six Glaciers” hike and within a few hours found ourselves alone in a mountain pass staring at the massive glacier that feeds Lake Louise.
We took a break at the top and all of a sudden we heard what sounded like an earthquake and watched as a chunk of the glacier broke off into the ravine below. As we watched, we realized the ravine wasn’t actually a ravine, it was a continuation of the giant glacier just covered in mountain debris. If we listened closely we could hear the crevasses cracking further every few minutes. It was insane and eerie all at the same time.
It made us realize just how long it must take for these glaciers to carve through these mountains. Furthermore, the sheer force and power that was released when a piece broke off was incredible. We aren’t here to speculate as to what is going on with our climate, but one thing is for sure these glaciers are shrinking daily and everyone needs to see them in person to truly appreciate them. We can only imagine how that landscape must have looked 20, 50, 100 years ago…
# 6 – No matter what, you need to stop and take it all in.
Despite mobs of tourists lacking etiquette, smoke, bear spray and whatever else we encountered, we still managed to take in Banff for what it was: one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. We feel like we have been saying that a lot and are beginning to sound like a broken record, but it’s just so true. We love to take a lot of photos, but this was one of those places we just sat behind the camera and stared, totally in awe of what we were seeing before us.
After Banff we did a short two night stay in Vancouver. The drive there from Banff was long, but it was beautiful. Once again, on the drive, we encountered multiple wildfires.
Vancouver is an awesome city. Very hip, very beautiful and very open and friendly. Once again, we could have spent a week exploring Victoria Island, Whistler and the surrounding areas, but instead decided to relax, enjoy the city and recharge our batteries. It was much needed and we know we will be back.