The Epic Icefield Parkway : Herbert Lake

Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true. 

One of the highlights of your journey through Western Canada will definitely be your drive along the Icefield Parkway. This road starts north of Lake Louise where you turn off Highway 1 and enter Highway 93, better known as the Icefield Parkway.

There are a heap of places to stop on this scenic road to Jasper but I’ll be sharing seven of my favourite spots with you this week going from Lake Louise (south) to Jasper (north).

The first stop would be at Herbert Lake. This lake is right off the highway and doesn’t look that much more exciting than the others you have just passed. But don’t be fooled.

Park your car on the parking lot on your left hand side and walk around the lake. At one point in the back of the lake you will discover a jumping plank where you can take a refreshing plunge into the cold water.

Be warned, leeches are common around the jumping plank and the shore so keep an eye out for them. We went in a bunch of times but had no problems.

Enjoy !

Johnston Canyon and Beyond

It’s not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.

Johnston Canyon is such a cool spot it deserves its own blog post.

On a sunny day last summer six of us decided to make a hike all the way to Mystic Pass. We were looking for a hike that day and I briefly read about this cool sounding place. The trail starts at the Johnston Canyon parking lot. Since no one had a better hiking idea my friends blindly trusted my suggestion and off we went. Let’s say preparation is always a very important part of the hike. I made myself one sandwich for the day and grabbed a snickers bar on the way out. We were already late and had some hiking to do. Little did we know we were embarking on a hike that is considered as a two day trip. The actual starting point is the Mt. Norquay Ski area that takes you all over Mystic Pass and ends at Johnston Canyon. Talking about poor planning skills.

A 30 minute car ride later we arrived at the parking lot. I must say, most people who start their hike from the parking lot hike only to the first point, the Lower Falls. This part of the hike is pretty easy and takes you along Johnston Creek all the way to the waterfall. If you have a little more time you can decide to make the climb to the Upper Falls for more viewpoints.

That wasn’t enough. We wanted to reach Mystic Pass that day, we carried on to our next viewpoint, the Ink Pots. My advice, don’t hike beyond the Upper Falls if you choose the Ink Pots as your turnaround point. It’s quite disappointing but the Moose Meadow next to it is a very nice spot to have your lunch along the river.

My friends asked me how much further this Mystic Pass was, I didn’t have an exact number in mind but told them convincingly it was going to be quite a hike still. Who knew I was so wrong with even being so vague. We had lunch and continued our trail. At that point nobody wanted to complain or whine about turning around, the most exciting part was still to come. We crossed the river over a log bridge and followed the signs to Mystic Pass. We saw some bear paws in the mud on our way so make sure you are traveling in group and use caution.

A little later we arrived at Larry’s Camp were we made a little stop. This is a nice-looking camp site next to the river. This is apparently the typical overnight place if you are doing the actual two day trip. At this point I was running low on food already. Luckily I had plenty of water with me. One of my friends was starting to get suspicious about this ‘we are getting closer’ nonsense. To my surprise, my other friend Hannah took charge and reassured them we were almost there. I don’t know if she was really thrilled to see this Mystic Pass or had even poorer map reading skills than I did that day but she convinced them to continue. We were climbing to an alpine meadow area now and start setting foot to a snow area.

We made another stop. We hadn’t seen a sign post in a while now. I started feeling guilty because I talked my friends into this but I didn’t feel like turning around now, we were so close, right ? Someone else who didn’t want to turn around was Hannah, she was determined we were only a few meters away from Mystic Pass. The other four weren’t too thrilled about the idea but Hannah her will was strong. And we gave it one more chance.

We reached an open land, it was getting pretty chilly now because of the altitude we reached and the wind that was gushing through this area through the mountains. A few steps further the snow was up to our knees. And that was the boiling point for two of our friends. Enough was enough. This was the end of the hike for them. Funny enough, we actually were at Mystic Pass but none of us realised it. The view of this place was grand and breathtaking though and well worth the effort.

We decided to turn around at this point. Still not realising we actually reached our goal we walked back, slightly disappointed and famished. The way back was smooth. We nourished ourselves with some leftover nuts and candy bars. We made it back to the Johnson Canyon parking lot right before dark. Thankfully the gift shop and restaurant were still open so we could grab some food and drinks.

Those friends never asked me about a hiking idea again. Ever. But they all agreed it was all worth it. Personally, I think a hike up to Mystic Pass is possible in one day if you just start early enough and make sure you have enough food and water with you. We just started the hike really late and were not prepared for this prolonged journey. So again, make sure you are always prepared for your hikes. Always better to bring a little more food than you think you need.

Mother nature went total karma on me for not being prepared for this hike. When I went back to Johnston Canyon in February I made a very ungraceful slip on the extremely slippery ice in front of a bunch of young kids. They laughed.

Lesson learned.

Around Banff

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. 

Once you have strolled through the streets of Banff you can start exploring its beautiful nature spots around the town. Make sure these places below are part of your awesome road trip through the Rockies. Make sure you have a mix tape with epic road trip songs ready.

Vermillion Lakes : Before you enter the town of Banff you can make a right to drive to Vermillion Lakes. A great place to make a stop and snap some pictures all year round.

Mount Norquay Scenic Drive : Drive up this road to have a nice scenic view of the town.

Lake Minnewanka : Follow the Lake Minnewanka Road off Highway 1 to reach the lake. Once you park your car at the parking lot you can take a Banff Lake Cruise if you like but I would rather just spend my afternoon at Johnson Lake or Johnston Canyon instead.

Johnson Lake : If you decide to visit Johnson Lake for the afternoon then I can definitely recommend to hike to the back of the lake. There is this swinging rope spot you can have a lot of fun with. Try to go in the morning as the sun is still on your side of the lake. Fun guaranteed as long as you don’t let the rope slide through your fingers while you jump, right Julia ?

Banff, Alberta

Oh dear, I just got banff’ed. 

I imagine myself on a Sunday afternoon somewhere in the year 2065 where my possible teenage grandchildren will come and visit me and will ask me for a cool story from when I was young.

I will tell the Tales of Banff.

The Tale of Julia Twerk and Gordon Scoop

We all have those kind of friends. Whenever you are together with them you get into trouble, without even trying. Julia and Gordon are two of those friends that formed a dangerous combination in Banff. The first time we went to Banff we ended up in ‘The Dancing Sasquatch’. Let’s say we have been pre drinking for a bit and  the moment we entered the place, we lost each other and started three different stories.

Let’s start with my story, which didn’t end well and is the least exciting. I blame it on the change of altitude that made me malfunction but somehow I felt really tired and rested my head for a moment on a table. The next moment I remember is being kicked out of the club after five minutes while my two friends were inside having the time of their life. After trying to get back in, which was fruitless, I ran into a colleague of the lodge and her friend, Keith. I was happy to see her. So happy I could puke. And I did. Multiple times. All the way home and landed into bed where my friend dropped me around 3 AM. They saved my life that night and left to look for Julia and Gordon.

The story of Julia Twerk has a more happy ending. While I was being removed from the scene she was dancing her life away in the spotlights. She had a blast until she woke up in a hotel room she didn’t recognise the next morning. She woke up in the couch with a note and a glass of water next to it. She jumped up and ran to our actual hotel room. There she found me around 5 AM.

And the story of Gordon Scoop is just weird. While I was being removed from the scene and Julia was dancing her life away, Gordon was making a bunch of new friends. He was getting so well acquainted he raised his drinks with them and then poured his drink into someone else’s drink. The outrage was complete when Gordon tried to literally scoop his drink out of the glass of the guy. He had a great time until he woke up on a pull out bed in the middle of the hallway with a Mexican family staring at him. Confusion was complete when he tried to explain to the lady of the house that he worked here (who was he kidding…). Gordon was asked to leave. Once outside, he noticed he ended up on the other side of town. He made his way back to the actual hotel where Julia and I saw him stumble in around 7 AM.

Who says you need Vegas to have a ‘Hangover’ story ? We went for breakfast and all shared our stories. We laughed hard.

Another one of those, kids ?

The Tale of the Shady Shed

Another trouble friend I have is Sarah. We made the last minute decision to go to Banff again. Of course good old Gordon was game and his buddy from Ontario joined us. A friend drove us there and dropped us off. We got out of the car and looked for a place to stay the night.

Apparently it was busy in Banff that weekend because all accommodation was sold out. We didn’t worry too much and would figure out where we would lay our heads later. We ended up in… ‘The Dancing Sasquatch’. I recognised the bouncer was working there as well today. Luckily, this time I was already adjusted to the altitude. We got in but soon enough we lost one of us. I’m telling you, that place has a sort of hidden portal.

We didn’t worry too much about our friend and got some ‘time machines’. A very popular cocktail with an overdose of sugar. At least it kept us going until the place closed. Then the worrying started. Where are we staying tonight ? It started raining now as well and we went for some pizza. Our friend was still traceless. After looking for places we could spend our night we ended up in a dusty shed on the outskirts of town. I must admit I never had this type of accommodation in my life. After sharing our pizza with a homeless guy and retrieving our long lost friend we called it a night. Waking up on concrete is like showering with glue, it shouldn’t happen. We got up, shook off the dust and got out of there. Speaking of a cheap way of traveling AND a story to tell.

There are so many stories when I think of Banff. Like the one with lost iPhone, the one with the fire hydrant, the one with the 300 dollar fine or the one with the mushrooms…

Let’s just say Banff is a great place to have a good time. There are a handful of good bars, bunch of restaurants and the town is nestled in between mountains with Mount Rundle as the most profound one of all.

The Tale of Barpa Bill

For good food, go check out Barpa Bills. Barpa Bill is originally from Greece and came on vacation to Banff years ago. He loved it so much that once he got home he decided to leave it all behind and move to this little town. My hero. Nowadays he still runs the place with his son. The burgers and wraps are just delicious !

The Tale of the Morning After

Another great breakfast place is Melissa’s Missteak. You have a wide range of breakfast options and the service is great. Perfect place to cure a hangover. Not special stories here, just good food !

The Untold Tales

And then there are stories that are just not meant for posting on a public blog. Because they are too long, too inappropriate or too irrelevant for anyone except the ones you share the memories with. Some memories should be kept close to your heart and shouldn’t be posted on a blog. Readers wouldn’t feel the same way you want them to feel and you would be left with a feeling of misunderstanding. The Untold Tales belong in the head of those who experienced it.

Beyond the Tales

What else it there except good stories and food ?

Cheap Bastard Tip : You can take the Banff Gondola all the way up the mountain where you’ll have a great view over Banff. If you have time and a pair of hiking shoes I would recommend to hike the switchback all the way up. It saves some dollars. (Although you should at least have a Gondola Experience somewhere in Western Canada).

Hiking : You can make a nice hike from the town centre to the Bow Falls and all the way to the Fairmont Banff Springs. For the more experienced souls there is the climbing of ‘Rundle’.

Lake Louise : Hiking

You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there is no joy in living your whole life on the ground.

Hiking around Lake Louise is worth your time.

If you want an easy stroll you can start with the lake view trail.

For those who don’t have that much time you can go try the Fairview Lookout. An half an hour climb to a magnificent lookout view over the Lake and the Fairmont (all year). This trail starts close to the canoe docks, on your left from the lake with the Fairmont behind you.

The more extensive hikes are the ‘Plain of Six Glaciers’ , ‘The Big Beehive’ and the trail to ‘Lake Agnes‘. All these hikes are accessible during summer only and start on the right side of the lake (if you are facing the lake with the Fairmont behind you). Make sure you stop at the teahouses for a nice little break.

Lake Louise, Alberta

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

We all have seen Lake Louise.

If it isn’t with our own eyes, then through a postcard from your aunt Suzy or from a cover photo of your ‘1001 things to see before I die’ guide that is catching dust on your shelves.

The pictures don’t lie, Lake Louise is a gorgeous place to be. It just gets REALLY crowded during the summer months. Don’t be surprised to see a whole herd of people trying to take their perfect picture of the lake. Golden advice here again is … come early to see the lake and go hiking afterwards.

Bring a visit to the Chateau Lake Louise while you are there.

During the summer months you can go hiking (More information about this in my next blog) or canoeing (although Moraine Lake has cheaper rates).

During the winter months you can go hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, ice skating, ice hockey… plenty of choices for the Canadian sport fans there but I recommend to try them all. It’s pretty neat to play ice hockey with your friends on the frozen lake while the sun is setting over the mountains.

Lake Louise village is right next the highway 1 where you can buy groceries, liquor and your typical souvenirs. There are some bars and restaurants there too.

HI Hostel Lake Louise has a nice restaurant where you order good food for a decent price.

For pizza, Timberwolf is your go to place.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Advanced

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing

One of the most memorable things I have done this summer or even in my life are climbing mountain tops in the Canadian Rockies. After hours of sweating, heavily breathing and cursing I managed to reach the top and an inevitable smile appears when I look at my comrades. The view up there makes you forget about all the hard work you’ve put into this climb. For a second you realise how quiet it is up there and how small you really are in this universe. You take a breath and after that follows a photo shoot with you and your friends before having one of the most scenic lunches of your life. Eifel Peak and Temple are two of those views.

Eifel Peak : The first hike of my season in the mountains… I wasn’t really prepared for this intense hike but I managed to make it to the top in three hours. To get there you follow the trail to Larch Valley that starts at the canoe docks. From Larch Valley you follow the trail to Sentinel Pass but on the way there you will pass three benches. At those benches, make a left and walk on making your way down until you reach a river. Cross the river and scramble your way up to the other side of the ‘valley’. There you will see a path going direction the mountain. Follow the path that changes into a bunch of broken rock fragments until you find your first inukshuk on your way up mountain. There are multiple paths that lead to the top. Enjoy the spectacular view !

Temple : And for those who really want to go all the way there is Temple. A 4-5 hour climb that starts at the canoe docks. Follow Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. At Sentinel Pass you make a right and from there on you can follow the little markers (studying the track of the hike is strongly recommended). The hike is quite intense and has a vertical climb in it. Check weather conditions because the summit of Temple is only accessible during a very short window each year. Typically late July to Mid August. I missed this window by two weeks and ended up 400 meters from the summit. My finish line was thwarted by an ice field that was created a couple days before I hiked up there. A major bummer but still a great accomplishment and splendid views.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Intermediate

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy”

If you have a couple of hours and the easy hikes around Moraine are not enough for you then it might be your lucky day because there are some intermediate hikes that take you a couple of hours to complete.

Larch Valley : This trail is a very popular one. Starting point is at the canoe docks. The trail basically consists out of a bunch of nasty switchbacks that take you all the way to Larch Valley. But the view is fantastic, especially if you come in September when the larch trees turn golden, a must see but make sure you come early. There are special buses that run between Moraine Lake and the Lake Louise Overflow parking (Highway 1) during those few weeks in September.

Sentinel Pass : If you want to continue on this trail you will hike all the way to Sentinel Pass. From here you have a beautiful view over Larch Valley on the one side and Paradise Valley on the other side. Definitely worth the stretch if you ask me.

The Tower of Babel : This is one is a little tricky. The trail for the Tower of Babel isn’t really the greatest one because there is no actual trail. You start at the parking lot and start on the rock pile trail, then take a left to continue on the Consolation Lake Trail and once you crossed the rocks that washed out the path take a right through the trees. There you will encounter more rocks and the start of your scramble all the way up to the Tower of Babel. It is an intense scramble but the view over Moraine Lake is just breathtaking.

Moraine Lake Hikes : Beginner

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.  

If you choose Moraine Lake as your starting point of a hike, you are a in for a treat.

There is a hike for every kind of hiker.

These hikes only accessible during the summer season (June-October).

If you don’t have a lot of time or if you don’t like to hike all that much than you can hike the rock pile or do the lakeshore trail.

Lakeshore Trail : a nice flat trail along the lake with nice views of the ten peaks and people enjoying their canoe ride. The trail start next to the canoe docks.

Rock pile : The classic stroll. The trail starts on the parking lot next to the public toilets. Make your way up and take that money shot that used to be on the back of a Canadian 20 dollar bill

Consolation Lake : A nice and easy hike that leads you to quiet spot in between the mountains. Please make sure you are traveling in a group of four as there might be a bear warning in this area. This trail starts at the parking lot where the Rock pile trail starts. A little further down the trail there will be a trail continuing on the left. Follow that trail over the rocks that washed out the trail. A little further you’ll find a path again.