Banff National Park & Beyond

Canadian Customs

Piegan-Carway Border Crossing

12:30 PM – A blaring silence fills the 15×15 foot waiting room of the Piegan-Carway Border crossing just north of Babb, Montana.

Boots, sitting beside me in a reception chair, dyes the pages of the Border Service Agency coloring book.

As she shades the coat of a drug-sniffing dog with her beige Crayola, my eyes scan to the top of the page. Above the canine’s contour, a caption reads, “Did you know Canada’s Border Service searches every vehicle with drug-sniffing dogs? Smuggling drugs into Canada will get you arrested!”

12:31 PM – The walls are closing in…

12:34 PM – The PA system crackles: “Christopher DePauw, please report to the Interrogation Desk.”

I clear my throat and turn to Boots, looking her deep in the eyes.

“Whatever happens, I love you,” I tell her, a stream of sweat falling from my face.

“Okay, Chris.”

“Take care of Ollie for me… he needs to eat twice a day. He loves walks and humping soft objects, both living and dead.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Gela can’t be trusted — if you remember one thing, remember that,” I plead.

Reaching out to me, Boots’s middle finger rises tall and firm.

“I have to go, I’m sorry. Be strong, I know you will be.”

12:37 PM – As I approach the desk, the customs officer sizes me up.

I’ll run if I have to, I decide. I ain’t never goin’ back to the clink.

12:38 PM – “Mr. DePauw?” he asks, throwing me off with a dizzying trifecta of a charming Canadian Accent, mild amblyopia, and east-Asian descent.

It’s immediately clear that I’m no match. He sees right through me, I think. Right through me and into my Chevy Cruze’s steering column where the gram of shake is stashed. 

“Yes!” I whimper.

“It looks like you forgot to mention during the screening that you were arrested in 2008.”

Aw fuck. My thoughts turn back to Boots.

“Will she wait for me?” I whisper.

“Sorry? What was that?” interrogates the customs officer, his accent just absolutely raging with each vowel.

“I demand my lawyer,” I demand, demandingly.

“Anyway, as I was saying,” he continues, “It looks like you have an arrest on your record. Not a big deal. If you had a couple it might be an issue. Just make sure to tell us next time, okay?”

“Si,” I respond, multiculturally.

“You’re good to go,” he tells me, shaking his head, in what I could only interpret as the agony of defeat.

12:40 PM –

These fuckers really let us into their nation

Entering Alberta, Canada from Montana, United States

For the record we saw zero wild roses smh

Getting There

Cafe Orange in Fort Macleod, Alberta

wildly inappropriate, yet festive

From Glacier National Park, we drove 4.5 hours and 423 kilometers (whatever the shit that means) almost directly north through the Alberta province to Banff National Park. The route took us into and through Calgary, and those 15 minutes of civilization were just enough keep our brains sane.

Cafe Orange in Fort Macleod, Alberta

Blog session at Cafe Orange en route to Banff. The only good thing about Fort Macleod. YEA I SAID IT

At risk of sounding like a broken record, the drive into the park was unreal. We headed west from Calgary toward the park as the sun was setting over the towering Canadian Rockies.

Calgary to Banff, Trans-Canada Highway

It looked better in person. Gonna have to trust us on this one.

As we entered Banff NP, its differences from U.S. national parks were more blatant than a fart at a funeral. Compared to parks like Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Badlands, Banff was lit. Like, literally lit. Its bright welcome signs and glowing villages were a far cry from the rural solitude of American parks.

Also, it was expensive. Rather than charging per vehicle like NPS-operated parks in the U.S., ParksCanada charges about $10 Canadian per person, per day — whereas the NPS fee grants you a week of admission.

Long story short, Banff is the Vegas of National Parks. Only fewer hookers.

TIP: Parks Canada is celebrating their 150th Anniversary as a nation by granting free admission to all parks in 2017. So if you’ve ever thought about visiting Canada, there’s no better time. 

Lake Louise

Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park

The Diamond in the Wilderness

Lake Louis, Banff, Alberta

Victoria Glacier towering over Lake Louise

Lake Louise is the crown jewel of Banff National Park. Named after Queen Victoria’s 4th daughter, the glacial lake is world famous for its mind-bending emerald hue, a product of the rock-flour carried down in the meltwater of the same eroding glaciers that serve as the lake’s picture-perfect backdrop.

Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park

The glacier dominating the western horizon beyond the lake is “Victoria Glacier” because Canadians love the motherland

Near the lake is the hamlet of Lake Louise, a miniature version of the Town of Banff. Near both the lake and the hamlet is some of the raddest shreddiest gnarliest powder skiing/snowboarding in North America. As for us, we were ballin’ on a budget. We were all about the lake.

So we rented a canoe. At first, the $85/hour price tag ($64 USD) gave us pause. Then we met William, a solo traveler/fallen angel, with whom we could squad up and split the cost.

Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta

The Dream Team

Canoe Rental Lake Louise, Banff National Park

William provided excellent rowing skills, in-canoe photography, and generally tolerable conversation. We strongly recommend him to those lucky enough to someday cross his beautiful path, wherever and whenever that may be.

Canoe Rental Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Be free, sweet bird. Fly away.

Canoe Rental Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Boots

Swimming in Lake Louise, Banff National Park

I am the luckiest man alive

While there were definitely cheaper and less crowded waterbodies to paddlestroke in the park, Lake Louise was not to be denied.

Plain of Six Glaciers

(Loop to Lake Agnes Trail via the Highline)

While the park’s treasure trove of trails is enough to make even an 70’s porn-star blush, we stuck with our Irish mate’s recommendation and settled on hiking the Plain of Six Glaciers for our day-hike in Banff.

Lake Louise Hiking Map, Banff National Park

Kilometers, eh?

  • 14.2 kilometers

  • 5-6 hours

  • 1500-2000 ft. elevation gain

  • Moderate/Difficult

  • Highlights: Lake Louise, Lake Louise Viewpoints, Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, Abbot Pass Viewpoint Lake Agnes Teahouse, Pine Forest, Wildlife

From the Lake Louise parking lot, the trail heads to the right, passing the historic Chateau Lake Louise before wrapping around the north shore toward Victoria Glacier to the west. The lakewalk portion is paved and flat, making for a pleasant warm-up stroll capped off by east facing views of the Lake and the hotel. (Most embarrassing sentence I’ve ever typed.)

Chateau Lake Louise, Banff National Park

A Grand Canadian Railway Hotel – Chateau Lake Louise – on the eastern shore (also not our image)

Until about the two mile marker, the trail traverses the valley floor on well-maintained path. After this point, the trail turns to rock and dirt while steadily rising in elevation through pine forest and along mountainous ridges with switchbacks scattered throughout the way.

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff National Park

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff National Park

At about four miles, there’s a sign for a short offshoot trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. This is the sort of place your grandmother dreams about: a log-built chalet tucked deep in the wilderness, serving tea, coffee, biscuits with jelly and honey, sandwiches, and bistro desserts.

Also we saw a porcupine ^^^

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff National Park

For many, it seems, this is the endpoint. But for us, this is where the fun began. After the teahouse, the trail is kept together solely by bootprints impressed upon the tops of thin and steep moraines headed toward Abbot Pass.

Moraine, Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Banff National Park

Moraine

Moraine, Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Banff National Park

Mo Moraine

Where the ridge ends, so does the trail. From there, you can either turn around and head back or trudge the vertical skee of rock up to Abbot Pass Viewpoint. Needless to say, we trudged.

Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Banff National Park

Boots trudgin’…

Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Banff National Park

… and trudgin’

And like all the best hikes, there was a pot o’ gold waiting at the end of this is sweaty, rancid rainbow.

Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Banff National Park

Abbot Pass Viewpoint – Lake Louise (left) Plain of Six Glaciers (right)

On the way back, we broke off the out-and-back, opting for the scenic route instead (Lake Agnes Trail). This added a couple extra miles which were outweighed by a bunch of extra neature.

Lake Agnes, Banff National Park

Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes Teahouse, Banff National Park

Lake Agnes Teahouse, where you climb 1000 steps to realize they only accept cash

Mirror Lake, Plain of Six Glaciers Trail hike, Banff National Park

Didn’t quite capture the mirror effect

And finally, a couple more overhead looks at Lake Louise, because dat bish fly no matter the angle.

Lake Louise Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Lake Louise Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Lake Louise Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Lake Louise Plain of Six Glacier Trail

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