We were super excited about a promising-to-be very interesting part of our 6-weeks travel through Canada, that was a 2-weeks drive through the Rocky Mountains.
We had planned it beforehand yet we couldn’t have known that we would land amidst a thick smoke coming from our destination – apparently, we came right in the middle of a wildfire period, having been roaring there for a month already. Wildfires hit the region every year to a certain extent. That summer, due to heatwaves and little to no rain, the wildfires were especially fierce. What were we supposed to do? Cancel the whole mountain trip, with all the booked accommodations and giving up our hopes to see the beauty of the natural wonders The Rocky Mountains contain or take the risk and stick to the plan? We were mostly concerned about our safety, also taking into account the air which was far from clear.
In the end, we decided to take that risk and, having checked the site of the Wildfire Service, we set our way into the smoky mountains.
And we never regretted – it was possible to see almost everything we’d planned. Yes, some trails and sights were closed due to the high level of danger and we had to turn back a couple of times but the Trans-Canada Highway was always open and safe.
We found out that wildfires are a natural phenomenon which has to be respected. The authorities don’t try to extinguish all the fire, they control it: the risk zones are regularly patrolled by helicopters, the fires are kept at a safe distance of 1 km from houses and The Trans-Canada Highway. When the fire is gone, only ashes are left behind. But very soon, new life takes over space, getting stronger and stronger, new forms of flora and fauna appear and flourish. We could see that rising of nature with our own eyes: from the massive fires in 2003 only burnt tree trunks were left – the ground was already covered with a bright carpet of green, violet, yellow and white.
The Canadian Rockies are full of natural wonders: beautiful mountains of different kind and shape, with glaciers and snowcaps, covered with coniferous or rainforests, sharp rocks or moss, rivers and lakes of various shades of blue and green and wild animals: we encountered plentiful chipmunks and squirrels, mountain goats, deer, a few times even bears walking along the road, luckily we were in the safety of our car passing by. But many people stop to take pictures and selfies with bears. Even though there are lots of signs prohibiting approaching the wild animals (and explaining why), some people care more about virtual likes than their safety.
The authorities seem to deal with the wildlife pretty well: the plentiful garbage bins are bear proof and there are signs everywhere prohibiting to feed wild animals, fines for garbage for leaving litter can be as high as 2000$, which makes sense – not only human food is dangerous for wild animals, it also attracts them to human habitats and touristic places. And if it might be fun or nuisance with chipmunks or squirrels, it’s a different matter if you meet a bear on a path to your next touristic attraction.
The Trans-Canada Highway is a picturesque road in its Rockies part. Even if you don’t have time to turn to plentiful smaller roads leading to wonderful places with viewpoints on lakes, rivers, canyons, waterfalls and other natural beauties, you will still enjoy the view most of the way. You may even get tired of constantly admiring the sights from the car window but sometimes you can rest the tired eye when the road goes through a forest.
At our first place of staying in the Rockies, in Radium Hot Springs, we were met by a lively and loud bearded Ozzy host and his guests gathering on the terrace after their day activities, drinking their teas or beers, cooking in the kitchen or barbecuing and watching the magnificent views from the windows featuring scarlet-lit mountains at sunset. A helpful bonus of the guest house was a small library with kids’ toys. The village itself is small, there are a couple of supermarkets there and sheep grazing peacefully around them.
In the morning, as usual, we hit the road again, this time in the direction of The Marble Canyon. A part of it is called “the lightning valley”. In 2003 there was a great fire which ate 170 square km of the national park.
Have you ever head the dead trees’ souls crying? We did that day. A creepy feeling it is to find yourself amidst a forest with the wind howling between the burnt trees, with no people around and to find a pile of bear faces on the trail, so soon we hurried back to the safety among the harmless tourists.
From there we hiked another 3 km to Paint Pots – a little valley with yellow soil where the native people used to get their paint.
The path there was a bit complicated by the fallen trees, not very convenient with a child sleeping in the back carrier. But we managed.
Approaching the parking lot on our way back, we had our little princess wake up and demand attention, food and getting out of the backpack restrain. There was a nice flat stone ahead, with a view of a river which we happily occupied, fed the little one and ourselves, rested and stretched a bit and went on to the car. Time to go back.
After such a nice walk it was a sheer pleasure to visit the hot springs located at a stone’s throw from our home. The place is very popular for a reason. There is a small percentage of radon in the water and it is believed to have a healing power. Anyway, it is relaxing at least to stretch in the hot pool of 40 C or jump into the “cold” one of 30 C when you feel like refreshing after a hike. Our baby loves water and that was a good end of the day for her as well. We wouldn’t recommend planning anything after visiting the hot springs as the only thing you want and are able to do then is sleep. It’s just too relaxing.
Next morning, after a good night rest at our temporary home in Radium, we went back to Banff National Park, our baby napping during the 1,5-hour drive, for a hike through the Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots. It took us about 6 hours to hike these 12 km in total.
The way to the Lower Falls is paved and you can even see people with strollers. Due to the proximity to the road and its easiness, this part of the trail is very popular among various kinds of tourists.
The next part, the trail to the Upper Falls, is not paved anymore, the way gets a bit steeper and less crowded.
After the Upper Falls, it’s where the real fun begins. The views are more beautiful, the steeps get more challenging, thus there is no more crowd, only the most dedicated hikers here and there, and still, it’s very safe.
Ink Pots, our destination for that day, are a few clear and very round pools located in a picturesque valley with a mountain river with a stony bottom and a small wooden bridge over it – for those who decide to go further. That’s what all those crowds come here for. These pools look like some creations of aliens but otherwise not very impressive. The valley itself is a much more interesting attraction.
Next to these aliens’ pools, we found some stones to sit on as all the benches around were occupied by admiring tourists. Meanwhile, our daughter was playing with stones, grass and other wonderful toys under her restless feet. Finally one of the benches became empty and we hurried to it. Good on time as the little one was getting hungry. It was the most suitable place to change her too. It was windy and a bit chilly but there was nothing better.
As usual, our tempo and rest frequency was dictated by the baby’s nap pattern: when she was sleeping we were walking, when she was awake, we were taking breaks every 30-40 minutes. It is not everywhere possible to stop on that trail as there may be a rock on one side and canyon on the other or just too crowded, but there are rest areas or just small openings next to the path where we could stretch a little bit and give some rest to the daddy’s back.
Next day we set our way to Golden where our next stay had been planned. We spent the whole day on getting there as there were too many beautiful lakes on our way.
Lake Louise seems to be the most popular lake in Canada. All the parking lots were full when we came there on Sunday, the cars were coming and having found no place were turning back. We decided to try and come the next day, on Monday, and it worked. We still couldn’t find a parking close by and had to walk some 15 minutes but it was worth it. The most distant parking lots offer shuttle services but we decided to have a walk. No surprise this lake is so popular – its water is of magnificent emerald color (and its first name was Emerald lake but was renamed to Luise very soon), it’s surrounded with rocky mountains with snow caps and glaciers sliding majestically down to the waterbed and feeding the beautiful lake with their juices.
There is a whole tourism industry around this magnificent lake for anyone’s taste and wealth including a ski resort nearby. We didn’t walk the trails around the lake as we had to go on to another natural wonder but we gave enough time ourselves to savor the beauty of this one.
Moraine Lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It feeds from the glacier and reflects beautiful shades of blue. Being situated at an elevation of around 1885 m, the lake met us with a chilly and rainy weather, which is quite a common thing there.
Emerald Lake is the biggest one among the 61 lakes in Yoho National Park.
Bow Lake -is yet another emerald beauty located conveniently next to the road. Just pull over, get out of the car (optional), snap a picture or two, or more and go on. The lake is good for a platonic love only due to a high level of contamination.
Natural Bridge – somewhere in the past there was a waterfall, then the softer soils were washed away, and what was left formed a kind of a bridge, with the Kicking Horse River flowing underneath, which became a tourist attraction now.
Takakkaw Falls — is a waterfall located in Yoho National Park, from the native people’s language translated as “it is magnificent”. A tall and strong, this waterfall is magnificent indeed. But still, nothing can beat Niagara Falls.
Peyto Lake is another glacier-fed lake in Banff National Park, located at an elevation of 1860 m, a short walk from the parking lot. It’s said to be the most famous and beautiful lake in Canada. The wonderful color is caused by the rock flour, brought to the waterbed with the melting glaciers.
Sunwapta Falls, located in Jasper National Park and next to the road, this attraction is so easy to reach due to additional comforts for tourists: stairs, rails, fences.
Long road from Golden to Valemount
On this day we had to make over 500 km to get from Golden to our next Airbnb home in Valemount. We’d always tried to make not more than 300 km at a time but in this area, at the time of planning, a few months before, there was nothing available closer. The baby slept her usual first 1,5 hour. Then we stopped for a picture of a beautiful lake and she woke up.
After that, it was a nightmare. Mom had to sit in the back and entertain the little demanding-and-easily-getting-bored boss all the way. Worst of all, we couldn’t stop too often and for long as the day has its limits. So exhausted and moody arrived we in the village of Valemount.
After such a hard day I needed a treat. So the next day we started with a nice breakfast at a local Swiss bakery.
As it was the last hot day, according to the forecast, we set on the way to the nearest lakes. Anticipating the refreshment of the cool lake water, we regretted having forgotten our swimming suits. But when we touched the water, the regret vanished – the water was too refreshing. Mountain lakes, you know… So we made a 1,5 hr walk around the 2 lakes, Edith and Annette while the baby was napping in her backpack and then spent some time at a playground next to the parking. The 1,5 hr road back demanded some effort from mommy to entertain the little one again.
For the next day rain was in the forecast, we were already tired of the car and we decided to stay in our village for that day. It was a very much needed (and deserved) rest day for us. We strolled around the village and neighboring forest for the baby’s second nap but otherwise relaxed at home. A big bonus of this apartment was that they had some toys, kids books, and smart TV, so we had enough facilities to keep the baby entertained at home.
Next day we hit the road again with a plan to reach the sky tram which was 1,5 hr drive away – the usual nap duration of our child. But the baby didn’t want to nap in the car, so we readjusted the plan and stopped on a halfway at the Berg Lake trail at the foot of the highest mountain in the Rockies – Mt Robson.
About 4 hours of a nice hike through a rainforest along the river to Kinney lake (Berg lake was too far for us) and back, with a snack on a stony beach of the beautiful lake and 2 baby’s naps, then a short walk for the little one till she got tired of it (so far this happens very soon), and we were back in the car heading to our village for a well-deserved dinner and rest.
After a long hike and a short drive to our village, we decided to pay a visit to the local restaurant Caribou Grill and have a try of their specialty – a venison steak. Food, beer, the interior made in wood and with caribou heads watching people from above – all was great and we were lucky to come just in time to get seated before people started lining at the front door, waiting for their venison delight. We wouldn’t have waited if we had happened to come later, being hungry and with a little child, so the restaurant was lucky as well.
From Valemount to Kamloops
It was a challenging day. The baby got sick and was crying a lot. On top of that, when we arrived at our Airbnb home in Kamloops after over 300 km of driving, the owner texted that the house was not ready and that at the time of the check-in. He booked a hotel room for us after we finally reached him via phone and said we were at the door of his house. We didn’t have to search for a hotel or think of money issues and the hotel was ok but it was not what we were looking for, even less with a crying baby.
We prefer staying at apartments in order to have access to kitchen facilities and be able to prepare food for the baby. As there was no kitchen, we asked for a kettle and made baby porridge in a paper coffee cup. A fruit poach added flavor and taste and the baby breakfast was ready.
The hotel also had a gym, a pool and a Whirlpool hot tub which was nice to experience in the morning, the baby loved it too.
We ignored the hotel’s restaurant and had our breakfast at Tim Hortons. First and hopefully last time we ate there. As junk as can be.
After this experimental breakfast, we headed to Vancouver with the baby peacefully napping in her seat and us savoring the last bits of the Rocky Mountains views on our way. When we were approaching the Bridal Falls our little one woke up and it was a good place to stop for a break. Somehow we missed the waterfalls and ended up at a waterpark. It was a hot day and some refreshment was appealing. Having waited in one line to an extreme slide for about 20 minutes among mostly kids and teens, I was not keen on repeating this experience and spent the rest of the time in kids pools and slides of different kinds with family.
After all the water fun we continued our way, saying goodbye to the Rocky Mountains and looking forward to the next part of our journey – Vancouver, the city, and the island.
Check this map to better visualize our trip.