Banff, AB: Okienomad’s Trip Through Canada’s Oldest National Park
Once we had rested up from our flight and Canadian Thanksgiving in Calgary, we picked up our rental RV, and pointed the RV North and tried to get out of the city as quickly as possible. You can read about our experience with the RV rental in a previous Blog Post. We made a short stop in Canmore, AB to hike a bit, grab some coffee, and score the single coolest thrift store purchase that I have ever made (see: 90’s Shimano bike jersey).
First thing is first, Canmore and much of Alberta as a whole, has bike lanes, hundreds of them. To an unsuspecting tourist from bike-averse rural Oklahoma, these lanes look like lanes for cars. I mistakenly tried to turn onto one of these glorious bike lanes and was swiftly pulled over by one of Canada’s finest. After a short run of my ID through what I have to guess was Interpol, we were free to go.
We stopped for coffee at Good Earth Café and after a mediocre cup of joe, we were on our way to Grassi Lakes Trailhead. I wish we had more time in Canmore as it was an interesting little town with what appeared to be a ton of mountain biking and hiking trails, but we had only planned on this one hike so we hoped it would be a good one.
When we saw the trailhead, we couldn’t help but notice the hundred-foot waterfall that cascaded down the side of the hillside. We hiked along-side the waterfall to the top, where we found the Grassi Lakes. The views from the top were exceptional and we picked a great hike to start our trip into the Canadian Rockies.
Do yourself a favor and if you are ever presented with two options on a hike, “easy” and “less easy”, always take the “less easy” route. You will be glad that you did. These lakes were well worth the hike up and the views were worth the effort to hike the “less easy” trail.
We arrived in Banff at dark and drove straight to our first campground of our trip, Tunnel Mountain 2. We camped at Camp “2” because it was officially winter season in Canada. The entire campground is huge (600+ RV sites) and I can’t imagine what this place looks like during peak season. Most of the facilities were on and in good condition, but our “campsite” was literally a parking spot with a plug-in. My expectations for RV living probably needed to be adjusted a bit.
Travel Tip #1: If you are traveling in an RV in the late Fall or Winter FILL UP WHENEVER POSSIBLE! Every chance that you get to dump your grey water, fill your fresh water, fill propane, or fill vehicle fuel, do it! You never know who will have fresh water in the next town on the map.
When we woke up we saw a rig parked across from us that was unique and had some branding on the side of the RV. The rig belonged to the Symons, a family living full time in their RV and travelling all over Canada. You can learn more about them at http://symons4everonroad.over-blog.com.
If you have never been to Banff, there a few things that you need to see first. The Fairmont Hotel, Cave and Basin Historical Sight, and Bow Falls are a few that come to mind. These are iconic sights that are beautiful and fun to experience. We spent half of our first day in Banff visiting these locations. We parked in town and walked the impressive trail system from one side of town to the other and back around for lunch.
For coffee or to get on the web for a while, we recommend Whitebark Café. The café is in a hotel lobby, so it is comfortable, has a public restroom and Wi-Fi plus the coffee was some of the best that we had in Alberta. If you are in an RV or large vehicle, we recommend parking at Wolf St and Lynx St near the Banff Canoe Club or at the Central Park Parking Lot on the South end of town. Central Park has public restrooms and is across the street from Banff Public Library (free Wi-Fi). Both parking spots are near the Bow River and make a quick walk to downtown.
One of my favorite businesses in Banff was the All in the Wild Gallery on Banff Ave. Jason Bantle is an excellent photographer and his work is on display and for sale in his downtown gallery. To see more of his work, check him out at www.bantlephoto.com . –Zach
I really enjoyed the walkability of Banff in that you could park in the FREE public parking and walk to anywhere in town. It was nice to not have to move the RV to go do something different.” -Rachael
If you have an afternoon in Banff, take the time to drive to Lake Minnewanka. It is a long and winding road to get to the lake, but be sure to cross the lake and complete the loop alongside Two Jack Lake. The views of the lakes and forest along the road are beautiful and we saw quite a bit of wildlife on this road, including some rutting bull elk that were locking antlers when we arrived.
If you are leaving Banff and heading toward Jasper, travel on HWY 1A instead of the TransCanada HWY, the Bow Valley Parkway is much more scenic and much less traveled. The road leads you to a destination called Johnston Canyon. Do not skip Johnston Canyon! There were more waterfalls and cascades scattered along this canyon than any other location in Alberta. To read about Johnston Canyon and the rest of Banff National Park, you will need to keep an eye out for our next blog post: Bow Valley Parkway and Lake Louise.
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