Day Four: Cranbrook to Golden, British Columbia
We had breakfast at another Tim Horton’s again this morning, it was starting to become a habit. I must say though, they’re pretty convenient, warm inside and have clean toilets.
Back on our way north out of Cranbrook, and on the 95, we stopped after Canal Flats to get a picture of Columbia Lake, the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River. We were a long way away from the last time we saw the Columbia River, back in Vancouver, Washington last year. That’s where it empties out into the Pacific Ocean after being joined by many of its tributaries and is much larger than it is here.
We thought about stopping in Radium Springs for the night, but the town didn’t look much and the campground was down a very large hill, which meant we’d need to walk back up it to go for a beer and have dinner. I took one look over the bridge to the campground and just kept driving. It would mean we’d have more time to enjoy Lake Louise tomorrow.
We were the first to arrive at the Golden Municipal Campground. Situated at the confluence of the Columbia and the Kicking Horse rivers, Golden is right in the heart of the Rockies and has year-round activities for lovers of the outdoors. One of its specialities is Heli-Weddings , where they chopper you off to the top of a mountain to get hitched. Apparently, it’s very popular.
We picked a spot right on the river and only 3 spaces away from the amenities block and, after some settling in, we took the car and went for lunch across the river in town. We had researched the local craft brewery, Whitetooth Brewing Company, and decided to find it first. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we headed over to the tiny main street and settled for The Taps Pub, a fashionably rustic looking bar and grill with a dozen or so craft beer taps. Shazz and I shared the ubiquitous chicken wings and a salad, it was pretty good.
North American bar food follows a very predictable bias, Taco Tuesdays, Wings Wednesdays etc. The other guaranteed, usual suspects are pizza, ribs, anything Mexican and Hamburgers. The smaller the town, the narrower the choice and the greater the likelihood of microwave pizzas!
Our appetites appeased, we took the car back, then walked back into town for a couple of beers. We took the walking path along the river, crossing the town’s excellent example of a wooden, covered pedestrian bridge.
The Whitetooth Taproom was open now and there were already 9 or 10 people inside. We decided to buy a flight (a taster tray of smaller glasses) of 4 different beers to try. I don’t know why we bother though, curiosity I suppose, but we always end up drinking the IPA’s. The 4 samples were a pretty good selection though.
By the time we got back to the campground, we were surrounded on both sides by huge caravans, although no-one was about. I scrounged around for some deal to start the fire and got it going. We still had plenty of wood left after not being able to have a fire for the last two nights. It was pretty cold again, but just being able to sit next to the fire surrounded by these majestic mountains was worth sitting outside for.
Day Five: Golden, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta
Once again we found ourselves another Tim Horton’s and had the usual for breakfast before setting out for Lake Louise.
We stopped in Golden when coming through on the bus, so today we would be revisiting the same drive, the TransCanada Highway through the icefields, but this time in daylight. Our luck, and the weather was holding up for us. It was cloudy, but there was more and more intermittent sunshine. The icefields were still thick with snow on either side of the road. Around here, avalanches and rockslides are common and road crews were out and about cleaning up from the previous night.
The drive through the deep, narrow valleys is stunning, there’s snow everywhere, it’s hard to believe it’s already Spring. We stopped at the Visitor’s Centre in Lake Louise village to buy our day pass ($10 ea) and proceeded up the mountain to the top car park. I couldn’t get out of the car quick enough. I’d wanted to see the iconic blue-green waters of Lake Louise with her surrounding mountains reflected on her mirror-like surface for years, since I was a kid. To say I was excited was an understatement. At least half of the sky was blue now which meant some great pictures to be had.
Imagine my surprise when we got to the lake and the whole thing was frozen over … I looked at Shazz, shrugged my shoulders, then we both laughed out loud. Of course it would be frozen, every other lake we’d seen today was frozen, why wouldn’t Lake Louise be?
I must say though, it was no less beautiful. It was stunning in fact. Its wild, wintery coat would be gone in a month or so and it would be the picture-perfect scene you see on all the travel shows and postcards, but for now its frozen facade gave it an extraordinary feeling of wilderness that we have been privileged to witness.
We took our time, walking out some way onto its icy surface, something you wouldn’t be able to do in a few weeks time. We’d never walked on a frozen lake before, it was weird but exhilarating at the same time. The scene was stunning, a blinding white wilderness that only the hardiest could survive in, but you only needed to look back over your shoulder to remind yourself that you are at one of the most popular natural tourist attractions in the world – although there weren’t too many tourists, God only knows what it’s like in the Summer!
We walked around the lake for a while and sat on one of the wooden benches to admire the view. The path was still covered in snow, but it was melting fast today. We looked back at the famous Fairmont Hotel, the view from a front-facing room there with a window would be amazing, a bit of a step up from where we’d be sleeping tonight – in the back of the car again!
After about 2 hours at the lake, we drove down to Banff where we’d stay the night. We had decided to include Canmore (just below Banff) in the trip on the advice of friends, so we didn’t bother staying the night in Lake Louise.
Once again, the drive down the Bow River Valley on the TransCanada Highway to Banff was stunning. Just before Banff, we pulled over to get some views of the Vermilion Lakes, sidewaters created by the Bow River and overshadowed by the giant, dune-shaped Mt Rundle. It’s a dramatic place for a little town like Banff.
We had a bit of trouble finding the campground at first, so we headed to the Visitor’s Centre in the main street and got some directions from the staff (who were all Australians!!!). Armed with a map, we soon found our way up and around Tunnel Mountain to the campground, about 3 kilometres out of town and up a really big hill. I was thinking we’d need to take the car into town to look around this time when Shazz came back from paying our fees with the news there is a regular bus service that takes campers into town and back – and the bus stop was just near our site!
There was no time wasted in getting ready and taking the next bus to town. It dropped us in Banff Avenue, the main street, and we did the obligatory circuit around town. The Aussie girl at the Visitor’s Centre had told us about a couple of good pubs to eat and drink at, so we were set again.
Most of the town is much the same as others here. It caters almost exclusively to tourists. Apart from places to stay and eat, there’s the usual gift shops, candy shops, outdoor shops, jewellery shops, art galleries and tour agencies. It was very much like Whistler, but the setting was probably nicer. Since we weren’t interested in any of the above, we headed over to the Banff Avenue Brewing Company on the main street.
The taproom is situated upstairs and it was pretty busy by the time we arrived for a late lunch. We got a pint each of their IPA, but the menu looked a bit pricey for us, so after we finished our beers we headed across the street to the cheaper, but just as nice Elk & Oarsman Bar where they had a steak sandwich special on. It was the best steak sandwich I’ve ever had, bar none and only $12! The steak was huge and cooked perfectly – medium rare!
We had a couple of slow beers and watched the Ice Hockey Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, for us and most of the people in the bar, the Boston Bruins knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1. Ice Hockey is a religion here in Canada and you can’t go anywhere without it playing on at least half a dozen screens around the bar. It’s on all day, every day during the season, so it pays to take an interest, although I think it’d be a hard game to watch live at the arena.
The bus dropped us off just near our car and we set up the chairs to face the best of the mountain views while the daylight remained. It doesn’t go dark here till after about 9.15pm, so we had time for a few beers and a snack. Once again, we had to run the heater during the night as the temperature plunged below zero outside.
Day Six: Golden, Banff to Canmore, Alberta
On the way out of Banff we found another Tim Horton’s and dropped in for breakfast. It was just beginning to snow lightly and it was cold outside, so we weren’t in a hurry to get back on the road.
We had decided to drive over to the other side of the Trans-Canada opposite Banff to see the lakes over there. Firstly, we called into the nearest ones, Cascade Pools and went for a walk on the path skirting the waterline. The views back to Rundle Mountain where it was snowing were amazing.
Next, we drove up Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive to Two Jacks Lake. The lake was still half frozen and the view out over it was stunning. The icy wind blew up as we reached the lakeshore and made us earn our photos, but it was totally worth it.
Back in the car, we followed the road up to Lake Minnewanka (yeah, I know, unfortunate name), where we caught a fleeting glimpse of a mountain sheep. The rams have huge, spiral horns and they look more like goats than sheep. They’re serious-looking animals!
We drove across a dam wall and into a parking lot. The area is used as a trailhead for hikers and for picnics during fairer weather, but today there was just a few tourists trying to stay warm and get some good photos of the lake and valley.
From Lake Minnewanka, we got back out on the TransCanada for the short drive down to the small resort village of Canmore. After a quick lap down the main street, we headed over to the Spring Creek RV Campground to park up the car. The campground is overlooked by 360 degrees of snow-capped mountains, including the triple peaks of the 3 Sisters, standing out above all else. Just when you thought the views couldn’t get any better …
The campground is located about a kilometre or so from the main street on the banks of Spring Creek, an offshoot of the Bow River. We followed a walking path back through a new luxury alpine resort development and along a boardwalk back into town. Once again the main street is full of all the usual things, but it does have a bit of character and colour (not to mention the mountainous backdrop).
Once we’d done a lap of the main street, we called into the Half Hitch Brewing Company for lunch and a pint. The waitress was a bit over-zealous, but the beer was good, albeit, not theirs. The lunches we gigantic and neither of us could finish them, so we got them boxed and took them with us for dinner back at the campground.
Our last stop was the Grizzly Paw Brewpub. We pulled up a couple of stools at the bar and chatted with the Aussie barman who’d been there for 18 months. He said Banff was full of Aussies as well, they are everywhere in Canada it seems! We had two beers and walked back along the other side of the creek to the campground.
Fortunately, I found enough deal to get the fire going again tonight. We’d have to use up the rest of the firewood as we’d be back in Calgary tomorrow. The fire ring was situated right on the banks of the creek. We sat around for quite some time, watching the mountains fade into darkness and staring into the flames. The campground was basically empty, even the RV’s on either side of us weren’t occupied. It was a nice and quiet to enjoy our last night here in the Rockies.
Day Seven: Canmore to Calgary, Alberta
Today we closed the loop. We’d driven just under a thousand miles and seen some stunning scenery, especially the mountainscapes and all the snow. We’d also had a good look at the first part of the route we’d take on the bikes in early June. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, but with a bit of training in Calgary, we should get back to the Northern Tier in Montana without too much trouble. Then the fun begins!!