26 July 2011

Ragu's guide for your trip to Banff National Park

The Indian Paintbrush
Banff and other parks around it are part of a large world heritage site in Alberta and British Columbia provinces, Canada. They are mind blowing to say the least. Their natural history opens up new worlds. A trip to Banff is not just a way to spend time close to nature, it is a type of education. I will write another post on what I learnt there. But, for now let us see how and what we must not miss seeing or experiencing in Banff.

You need at least four days to see some important places. If you want to do stuff then you need more days. Your GPS may not show these places. I have a custom POI file with co-ordinates for these places which I will upload here (Magellan GPS) [I tired some geeky stuff and bricked my GPS. Lost with it were my Banff co-ordinates. Sorry folks!].

Day 1:
Land in Calgary - pick up rented car at around 10.30 AM at the airport.

1) Drive to Banff (150 Km). Watch for the Hoodoos (interesting cliffs) close to Banff town to your right.

2) Head straight to Bow Falls. Spend a while and drive across bow river for 10 minutes on the narrow road for nice view of mountains.

3) Drive to Banff Gondola where you will take a Tram (30$) to a viewpoint to see most of mountains and valleys around Banff (Cascade, Rundle, Sulfur Mountain etc ).

4) Visit the Natural Hot Spring by walk when you come down back to earth; take a holly dip!

5) Drive to Surprise Corner (We did not have enough time to trek). You can trek around.

6) Drive to Lake Minnewanka via the Minnewanka Loop.

7) Now if you have time drive and relax around Vermilion Lake and Water Shed

If you are still alive, come back to your hotel and take a nap to get ready for the next day. If you noticed you just forgot your supper!

Jhonston Canyon (Lower Falls)
Day 2:
Grab some breakfast and start early at 7 AM. Our car had a hole in the rear right wheel. I hope yours wont. We started late at 11.30 AM on a rainy day!!

0) Cave and Basin National Historic Site, I missed this. But, I heard you can experience natural hot spring in natural settings (not in a pool).

1) Drive to Lake Moraine via Hwy 1 (70 Km). There are few places where you should stop on the way. You will know when! If you do not want to stop and get out, then stop reading this please and go back to your coach! You can see Ten Peaks as you approach the lake. Walk around the lake all the way to Falls like stream. If you are up to real hiking/trekking job you can see the Glacier. But, it wont fit your 4 day itinerary. At least we could not make it.

2) Drive to Lake of the Little Fishes. The Indians called this thus. But some asshole renamed it to  Lake Louise. Walk around the lake do not be lazy like us! Well we were late and did not have time for more walk.

3) The real scenic beauty is reserved for drive on Bow Valley Parkway back to Banff.

4) Meet the Mountains that look like a castle: Castle Mountains. When next to the Bow river you can see a nice panorama of Bow River Valley and a Glacier behind it at a distance.

5) If you do not stop and get out when the scene is nice outside, you better not go to Banff! Anycase, Jhonston Canyon lower falls is one of the highlights of Banff. It is a 1.5 km walk from well the parking lot. The upper falls is 2.5 km walk. But the thunder of the falls when you come out of the small cave is a pleasant shock. It is all worth the walk and short breath. Do not miss Jhonston Canyon. The creek's high banks are nothing like what we have seen before.

Head home to hotel in Banff. If you camp that may be cheaper and better but will be hard. There are Indian and Chinese restaurants in Banff.
Rain Bow near Bow River
Day 3 
This could easily be the most hectic day. Start at 7 AM. If you are late no luck you will end up in the middle of  the road to Jasper. Fill your stomach and buy some groceries/fruits at Lake Louise or Banff town. Fill some Gas there is only one gas station between Jasper and Banff and they charge you a fortune (double).

1) Stop at Bow Lake for a photo opp. The South Saskatchewan river originates here as Bow River.
Bow Glacier (Bow River - head water of South Saskatchewan river originates here)

2) Then park at Peyto Lake/Glacier/Bow Summit for a nice walk to the view point. You can see 300 year old trees looking like plants next to the trail. Well that is where you can see winter in the middle of the summer. Peyto Glacier will be your first glance of glacier with its delta leasing to Peyto lake. Ah the valley is so wonderful.

3) Now you will start meeting some hills some creeks and finally the North Saskatchewan river.  Stop and enjoy the scenery. Do not miss the Icefield Parkway Loop.

4) Parker Ridge lets you walk to the viewpoint where you can see Saskatchewan Glacier, the largest glacier in the Columbian icefield. This is where the North Saskatchewan River is born.

5) Here comes the Athabasca Glacier. This is where Sunwapta river originates. Take the Ice Explorer trip on to the glacier ($60). Carry a water bottle. Glacier water is supposed to be the cleanest water available on earth. It tastes amazing - just like water! You could be drinking a water that is 125 years old. Take a walk around the small museum back in the Icefiled Centre to see a 8000 years old tree root.

6) Tangle Falls is right next to the road on the way to Jasper. All it takes is a stop.

7) Sunwapta Falls is the next attraction. Drive in a little and walk for 30 seconds to see the falls. Sunwapta river joins the Athabasca river after this falls and canyons. On the way to Athabasca Falls you are likely to see some Bears. Keep a watch, stop and see from a distance.

8) Athabasca Falls is not the most beautiful water falls I have seen. But, the canyons are simply amazing. Read the history of those Canyons. 

9) You are now headed for Jasper.  Where you should stay overnight. We drove back not before a dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Man, it was crazy.  I have heard Tramways in Jasper are nice. But if you tried Banff Gondola I do not see the point. There are grocery stores in Jasper. Get some fruits and snacks for on the way hunger. We stayed in Canmore that night after a 3.5 hour drive.

Athabasca Mountain
Day 4:
Early morning sunlight is amazingly refreshing. Drive back if you could not make it to any of the above or had bad luck with weather use the last day to revisit those sites. Weather can change every hour or so. If rough weather hits you, all you can see is lakes! Yes lakes no mountains no glaciers no nothing. All smokey blur sky. We visited Lake Louise and Hot Springs. Sun was out and we could see the mountains and glaciers. Say houdoe to a lot of Dutch tourists you will likely encounter and recognise if you recognise Nederlands. Head back home but not before heading to Calgary downtown (2 hr drive). Do not miss your flight. If you get a window seat, you can enjoy the Sun shit (yes) on the flight.

Some facts:
  • Gangotri is larger than Athabasca glacier. Why Athabasca is 6  x 1.5 Km Gangotri is 32 x 4 Km
  • Siachen in India is the second largest non polar galacier in the world.
  • The longest glacier is in Tazhakistan. 
I can not believe I am back. You wont believe it either when you are back. You hate coming back. Only thing that sends you home is your wallet. You think you got a thick one ? Well you are right if that is $2500 thick (from Toronto for 2)!

    1 comment:

    1. Anonymous12:29 pm

      Nice write-up, helping in my planning a lot. Thanks!!


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