The Canadian Rockies have been on our bucket list for some time. Many RVers include Banff and Jasper on their Alaska itinerary but we chose to make it a separate trip to give us more time in this beautiful area. We left from Seattle east to Spokane, then north crossing the border in Idaho.
Once in British Columbia we headed for Kootenay National Park near Radium Hot Springs. It was a beautiful drive north along the river valley. The Rockies in Canada are much different than the US. Great river valleys seem to separate each range so the drama is more intense. The towns are small and surrounded by wilderness. The headwaters of the Columbia River flow north through this valey and include one of the largest wetlands in the west. We stayed at Redstreak campground just outside town where a committee of bighorn sheep welcomed us daily. It was a little odd that our area, loop H, had nearly all sites full and pretty close together while other loops were nearly empty. Turns out early in the season (June) reservations are only taken for a few loops and the rest are first come, first served. So the planners get kind of packed together.
Radium Hot Springs is the town in Kootenay National Park and also a very popular hot springs fed by water coming out of the ground at 40 degrees C. We enjoyed an afternoon at the spa associated with the springs and found it very high quality and relaxing. Marble Canyon was a beautiful slot canyon. Incredibly skinny with a creek crashing down thru it. Seven bridges provide access to visitors. And Parks Canada has setup their famous Red Chairs at a key viewpoint. Crashing water and deep chasms are always irresistable. Another wondrous spot nearby was the Paint Pots or Ochre Pots. Here iron oxide tints the mud to varying degrees providing a rich range of color. Back in the day, the mud was mined, dried and ground to tint paints. Now its protected like everything in the park.
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada. We stayed at Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court campground. This is a huge campground with full hookups that was very tidy and nicely setup. Our site was good-sized with separation between neighbors. We were happy to be in a no firepit area as we like to have our windows open and no campfire smoke. Our first full day we hiked the Johnston Canyon trail to the Ink Pots. This was about a 4 hour round-trip up a narrow canyon with some catwalks cantelivered along the sides. Spectacular waterfalls and a steady climb were features of this hike. We met nice people on the way. On the way back down the canyon we met 3 bus loads of tourists jamming their way up the trail. Seemed a bit much for a narrow trail. Maybe someone will think to stagger the busses. It was a beautiful day and a great hike.
We scouted a lake to launch our kayak but the weather turned bad. Rain all day, temps stuck in the 40s. But a good day to visit the Cave and Basin site in Banff NP. This is where the Banff hot springs were “discovered” by 3 Canadian Pacific Railroad workers in 1883. The springs led directly to the creation of Canada’s first national park and the 3rd on earth. First Nations people (as Native Americans are known in Canada) had been using the hot springs for centuries. Parks Canada does a nice job interpreting the site while the hot pools there are no longer used by the public. Greater hot pools have been built up the mountain for public use today.
Banff is a busy tourist town serving 3.5 million visitors annually. There are countless shops and restaurants and a very good farmer’s market on Wednesdays in summer. While the weather was showery and cool we visited the nearby town of Canmore. It was less touristy and very nice. We had hoped to hike to an old CP railroad trestle but we couldn’t find it. Nearby Lake Louise is another town within Banff NP. Its also very touristy. By noon cars were parked way down along the road to Moraine Lake, one of the most famous spots. Lake Louise itself with the beautiful Fairmont Hotel was equally busy. Any thought of kayaking these lakes was quickly dismissed, we couldn’t get close. The pictures give you an idea why this place is so popular.
A nice feature of Banff NP is the Bow Parkway. This two-lane road parallels the busy Trans Canada Highway 1 at a much slower pace, closer to nature. We saw a big bull elk stroll across right in front of us. The parkway affords views of Castle Mountain and many other beautiful places.
On to Jasper National Park.