These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…oops wrong line! These are the solo travels of a fair lady from Texas.
I began my adventure in the hopes of escaping the very mild winter in Texas for a snowy wonderland in Canada. And this introvert had no problem going alone! Of course, I made sure to read up on solo travel tips, as well as thoroughly researching the areas I was visiting in advance. So, selfie stick and passport in hand, I landed in Calgary, Alberta on a Thursday to a light layer of snow and fresh flakes falling.
Now if you are traveling alone to another country, be prepared to answer all sorts of questions from the customs officers. I was asked everything from my job, my hotel, and why I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband who would travel with me!
When traveling to Banff, you fly into Calgary, then have a 2 hour drive to Banff. As it was winter, and this Texan should not drive on ice/snow, I took the Banff Airporter, which was perfect. The desk for the Banff airporter, was nestled between a picture of a moose and the desk for the Rocky Mountain Wheelchair tours. This quaint location was where I heard my first Canadian “oh ya” of the trip.
Once we made it to Banff, after being awed by the scenery on the drive from the airport, I got settled in my room. My hotel, the Rundlestone Lodge is wonderful! The rooms are very nice, and the beds are so comfy! As someone sensitive to scratchy sheets, that means a lot! The hotel is about 3/4 of a mile from the downtown area, a straight walk down Banff Avenue. So I grabbed my water bottle and my jacket and set out to explore! The town is a classic mountain town with many cute shops and restaurants. There is also a beautiful Presbyterian church at the north east edge of downtown that is picturesque with the mountains behind its mint green steeple. I stopped for dinner at the Bear Street Pub, where they fed this hungry bear! Fantastic pizza, especially with their signature dipping sauce: honey and a homemade spicy sauce. Delish!
Friday, I had a relaxing morning then, made my way to Mt. Norquay to grab lunch and use a sightseeing lift ticket. I planned this perfectly without even realizing! By taking the first day to just sight see, I could watch the skiers and see how they got on the buses and be prepared for my ski days. Certainly helped clear out uncertainties! I rode the North American Chair up to 6,900 ft where the views were breathtaking. I couldn’t help but stare in awe and praise to my Creator! They have a tea shop at the top of this lift that was carved into the mountain. It has amazing views, but I imagine most people don’t realize it is there, as the only ski runs up there are double black diamonds. Certainly not my level ;)
I went to the Banff Upper Hot Springs that evening, and the entire time I was in the water, I was staring at the mountains off in the distance. I cannot find the words to explain, nor do I have any words at the moment. I am simply in awe.
A bit practical advice, should you choose to visit the hot springs: grab a towel from your hotel room (why pay for one?!) and bring a plastic bag or something to protect your belongings from your wet swimsuit and towel.
On my way back from the hot springs, I stopped off at Eddie’s Burger Bar and had the most delicious elk burger ever! Ok, maybe it was the only elk burger I’ve ever had…but it was so good!
Saturday, I went on a fantastic tour with Discover Banff Tours to Lake Louise. This company knows what they are doing! They have nice buses that pick up a small number of passengers, 9 people were on my tour. The tour guides also do a great job of helping us meet the people adventuring with us on the tour, sharing the history of the area, and stopping at the most scenic places for prime selfies. My guide was Hugh and he even had some old and interesting pictures to supplement his stories. He told us shortly after the tour began to keep an eye out for bears as they had already been seen “oot and aboot” this spring. Sadly, we didn’t see any, even along the railroad tracks where they will go scavenge for food that fell off the trains through the winter.
As we took the scenic drive from Banff to Lake Louise on the old original highway, he shared with us the history of the area. As they were building the railroad across Canada to claim all of the land and settle the country, a couple of workers discovered the vermillion lakes at Sulphur Mountain in 1883. The railroad was an important part of shaping modern day Canada, as it was the reason Vancouver joined Canada instead of the U.S. The Canadian Pacific Railway Company that built the first transcontinental railroad in Canada also built beautiful hotels all along the railway fashioned after chateaus. After the discovery of the hot springs at Sulphur Mountain, William Conrelius van Horne, with the railway company had the Banff Springs Hotel built in 1888 to capitalize on the tourism potential in the Canadian Rockies.
Along our drive, we came across a fantastic view of the railway at Morant’s curve. This view was on the cover of National Geographic.
After the informative and scenic drive, we arrived at Lake Louise. One of the unique things about Discover Banff Tours is the Hot Cocoa and Maple Sugar Cookies they provide. We had our treat upon our first sight of the lake, standing in front of the Lake Louise Chateau. Many people were out exploring the lake and the natural skating rink the Chateau maintains in the winter with a beautiful castle ice sculpture.
The tour guide also provided us with snowshoes so we could walk across the lake and explore the surrounding forest. I certainly did not want to miss out, so I strapped on my shoes and started across the lake with 3 other young Canadian girls also on the tour. We had a blast making our way across and figuring out how to use the snowshoes. I’m pretty sure we looked like idiots half the time, but it was worth it! The snow cover on top of the lake was up to my knees, and Hugh told us that the lake doesn’t completely that until late June. Halfway across the lake, I made an interlocking BU in the snow #sicem At the other end of the lake, is the small stream that was frozen over, but slowly trickling along water from the glacier high above on Mount Victoria that feeds Lake Louise and gives it this brilliant blue color in the summer.
Sunday, I decided to take another tour with Discover Banff Tours. I went on the Johnston Canyon Icewalk. Once again, I am so happy I went with a tour group, and this one specifically as their guides are so knowledgeable and they provide everything you need. On this tour, they had some grippers we could strap onto our boots, kind of like cleats, that helped us walk on the ice.
Johnston Canyon was formed when a whole side of Mount Ishbel fell off and slid almost a mile away. As the glacier on that part of the mountain started melting, it began to form Johnston Canyon in a weak point in the rock. This was such a fun tour as most of the time is was just our tour group of 11, walking along small steel walkways bolted to the canyon wall, with the little frozen creek running along below us, and surrounded by nature.
Excitingly, I took my first successful live photo at the lower falls! The lower falls, about ½ mile into the canyon were so pretty. The mist coming off the fall freezes, creating a frozen outer layer, with the water continuing to fall underneath. The water itself is moving too fast to freeze, creating a beautiful sight.
Once we got to the upper falls, it was much harder to see the moving water underneath as there was quite a thick layer of ice. In fact, it is so thick that people climb up, and we were able to watch someone climb up while we were there.
One of the other interesting facts the tour guide shared with us was the wildlife overpasses and underpasses along the Canadian highway. Through the national park in the Rockies, Parks Canada had multiple wildlife overpasses and underpasses built to help keep animals off the highway and safe from the cars.
The next 4 days were all ski days. I skiied at Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, Sunshine Village, and then at Lake Louise again.
I really liked Lake Louise, especially when it was clear enough to see the lake and the chateau in the distance. There were also a couple of lodges up in the mountain with resting areas and food. Norquay was a lot smaller and very icy. I don’t think they were having a good year for snow, but I used that day to practice my turning skills on the bunny slope.
Sunshine Village was a fantastic place, very different from any other ski area I’ve been to. When you first get there, it’s kind of confusing as there are not any slopes. You quickly realize that you have to take the gondola to get up to the ski base. I don’t know if this is actually true, but Sunshine Village seems to have been around the longest of all the ski areas. It has multiple different lodges with all sorts of character.
My last full day in Banff, I had another sightseeing lift ticket, so I decided to go back up to Sunshine Village for lunch. Afterwards, I went to the Banff Springs Hotel to explore and relax. I spent a few hours there just wondering around. Literally every details was considered in decorating and building the chateau. It really feels like you are in a castle! There was a woman playing classics on a harp in the lobby, so I found a sweet spot with a couch to curl up and read and listen.
And so ended my trip to Banff, a beautiful snowy adventure. As William Cornelius van Horne uttered “if we can’t export the scenery we will have to import the tourists”, consider me imported!