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We spent two days in Banff National Park on our 20-day Wild West Road Trip. We came pretty close to skipping Banff because we didn't feel adequately prepared after a few people we talked to who had been before warned us about the bears and how remote it is. And it wasn't until we were in Seattle that we learned about the outbreak of wildfires burning in British Columbia. But we grabbed some gear at REI and did some quick research on the location of the fires, and made the decision to just go for it.
When we were in Vancouver, the locals we talked to told us they visited Banff often as a casual road trip whenever they had the time to take off for a camping trip. This made us feel better about our decision to not skip it.
On the drive from Vancouver to Banff, we passed through the areas where the wildfires had rolled across, ash still hanging in the air. Some areas, you could even see the fires still burning and helicopters hovering. The closer we got to Banff, though, the signs of fire began to fade away.
We were surrounded by incredibly massive mountains whose presence could swallow you whole. The sheer grandeur of the nature we were witnessing felt impossible for our brains to completely process.
We settled into our cozy campsite tucked back in a forest and then took a walk by Two Jack Lake just before sunset. Campsites get booked months in advance in Banff, so if you are planning a trip, plan in advance as much as possible. We were able to luck out with a spot near Two Jack, but not on the lakeside which would have been preferred.
Manda made us get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to take off for Lake Louise, in an effort to avoid the obnoxious selfie stick wielding tourists. When we arrived, the scene was so lusciously serene that we felt uncomfortable speaking above a whisper. The still water glowed a brilliant emerald green. The mountains on the lake's edge and the glaciers looming in the background cast a perfectly clear reflection on the water. Silently, we took in the sight and then set off for the hike up into the distant glaciers.
The hike started at the base of Lake Louise, on the other side of the Fremont Hotel. The rocky trail passed towering rock faces, ascended steeply into the trees, then opened up to the plain and eventually wrapped closely to the side of the mountain. We followed the switchbacks up to an old tea house tucked in the heart of Mount Lefroy, Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. It has no electricity or running water, and everything is prepared daily on site, cooked with propane stoves. At the beginning of the season a helicopter flies in to stock the tea house with supplies, and additional goods are brought up packed in by horses or with the employees when they come in each week for their shifts. The staff do five-day shifts and hike in and out on the same trail as we took.
While we were sitting on the veranda of the tea house, it provided us the perfect vantage point to witness a mini avalanche, which are common in the summer. We heard a thunderous sound and then looked towards the glaciers to see a spectacular dust cloud of snow as pieces of ice tumbled down the mountain.
From the tea house, we continued on a loose gravely trail along a lateral moraine that arrives at the Abbot Pass viewpoint. From here, we could look down across the crevasses of the Lower Victoria Glacier and get an up close view of the hanging glaciers on top of Mount Victoria (which is what we were looking at way back from the shore of Lake Louise). This was, by far, our favorite hike we've ever done.
Tips for the hike
- Start early! We were nearly alone on the beginning of the hike but had to fight crowds on the way back down.
- Bring a bear bell and attach it to your backpack so it is constantly ringing.
- Talk the entire time so that you are constantly making noise (keeps the bears away).
- Bring plenty of water and snacks, but be aware where you eat the snacks because the scent could attract bears and do not leave trash behind.
- Bring layers! When we started the hike we were wearing a tank top, a flannel/ light jacket, and another jacket on top. When we ended the hike, we were only wearing the tank top. Temperatures change dramatically throughout the day as well as depending if you are in the sun or in the shade and how high attitude you hike.
- Wear hiking shoes. The best purchase we made before the road trip was our hiking shoes. We would have been in major pain without them.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
After an exhausting and rewarding day, a peaceful happy hour with a view sounded just right. So, we waited until 6 p.m. when we thought all of the tourists would be heading home and set out for Moraine Lake. We were in for an unfortunate surprise, though, and got stuck in a traffic jam of people entering the parking lot. We patiently waited it out, got a parking spot and brought a couple cups of wine with us to sit on to the rocks over the lake.