We LOVED the Rockies. From the time we first saw them in the East Kootenays to the time we left them in Jasper we were in awe. No wonder millions of people come to these towering, snow-capped mountains each year. We explored Kootenay National Park, Banff National Park, and Jasper National Park which all border each other.
Unfortunately, the weather for almost our entire time in the National Parks was rainy. My friend Josee says that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Well, we had bad clothing. My spring jacket soaks in the rain instead of repelling it, and my kids, well, they have decent spring coats but refuse to wear them. They always opt for their hoodies much to my dismay, saying, “It’s FINE mom!” Mike also had an unexplained pinched nerve in his back that started giving him trouble a few days before. This meant that we didn’t get in as much hiking as we would have liked. We kept most of our hikes to the well-trodden 5km or less hikes but we still saw jaw-dropping scenery and enjoyed some amazing camp spots!
Kootenay National Park
On the Eastern edge of the Kootenay Valley and the Western edge of the Rockies, Kootenay National Park was our first introduction to the Rockies. We spent a relaxing afternoon at Radium Hotsprings, soaking in the thermal waters. While not the most picturesque hot springs we have been to, it was an amazing experience. While we soaked, we watched a mama and baby mountain goat climbing the hills across the highway. Pretty special! Radium is within the National Park boundaries which means that the prices are really reasonable. Only $21 CAD for our entire family.
Our other favorite spot was “Painted Pots”, a site frequently visited by the indigenous peoples in the past because of the ochre mud. The river was the color of orange rust with swirls of yellow and green. It was simply stunning. The kids took their shoes off right away to feel the mud squish between their toes as we walked, I soon followed suit when I finally convinced my adult brain that the feel of the mud on my feed would indeed be worth the trouble of washing the mud off of my feet when we got back to fresh water. I am so glad I did as when my feet squished into the cold mud, I felt much more connected to the land and its history. Washing that mud off in the cold glacial river water was actually painful, but all part of a beautiful experience.
Banff National Park
We went straight to the city of Banff to find a campsite and we were immediately turned off by the throngs of tourists. WOW. Banff is as busy as Angkor Wat! We left town pretty quickly to find a camp spot. We were told we were lucky it was mid-week and that kids were still in school. Apparently, the whole town fills up in July in August! Being so turned off by the busy town, we almost considered leaving the very next morning to get to less visited places. But then we read that the public transport system will pick you up at the campgrounds (which are a good 10 minute or more drive out of town) and bring you downtown for free! Getting back to the campground costs $2 per adult and $1 per child. We thought that was such a brilliant idea, talk about incentive to leave your car at the campsite and reduce the traffic in Banff. So that next day we hopped on the bus and took it all the way to the last stop, the prestigious Banff Fairmont Hotel.
We then slowly meandered through the town, taking the walking paths down by the river, enjoying a picnic in the park, exploring the Banff museum (which is free for pass holders), and wandering through the farmers market which just happened to be on the day we were there. The entire day in Banff cost us $6 (the bus ride back to camp) and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Lesson learned….sometimes first impressions are wrong.
We took in one of the most popular hikes in Banff, Johnston’s Canyon. We made it up to the second waterfalls, but had to turn around for Mike’s back and due to the fact that it was raining. We were completely soaked by the end of our hike! But oh, what a pretty hike. We wound our way up the Canyon on the wide, groomed path (with hundreds of other tourists). In the places that were sheer cliffs, suspended boardwalks had been drilled into the side. The rainy weather made the canyon misty and mysterious and the waterfalls at the end were a beautiful reward for our efforts.
Of course, what visit to Banff National Park is complete without a visit to the iconic Lake Louise? This is probably the most photographed scene in the park, and for good reason. Stunning.
But our favorite lake was actually Lake Moraine. We did visit later in the day so that may have had something to do with why there were less crowds but we thought the Lake was equally as stunning as Lake Louise, not as built up, and had few people (if you haven’t guessed it already, we are not fans of crowds!)
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park ended up being our favorite of the three. We spent most of our time near the town of Jasper. The mountains are not as stunning as in Banff (though they are still incredibly beautiful) but we loved the wide valley and the amazing network of mountain biking trails. We were able to ride our bikes from our campground south of town to four beautiful lakes, and then back to Jasper town, before returning back to our camp spot. We figured we rode about 25 km, almost entirely on trails.
The elk were calving while we were there and there were signs EVERYWHERE telling people that the mamas can get very aggressive if you get to close. We saw at least 20 elk on our bike ride, all with young calves following at their hooves. We enjoyed watching them from a safe distance. At one point we were viewing a mama from across the road when an unsuspecting mountain biker was blazing down the trail towards the elk. We yelled for him to watch out but it was too late, he startled the elk who charged at him! Luckily he escaped with a furious pedal and quite a few loud yelps!
We even had a group of elks and elk babies right in our camp spot one evening. Talk about an up-close wildlife viewing experience. Luckily these mamas were not aggressive and were content to slowly wander through our site while chewing the choices grasses.
The Rockies are such a special spot and we enjoyed our small exploration of them. I could see us coming back again when we had more time to go a little more slowly. One week was not enough!