I may have mentioned once or twice or a thousand times, that we are not road trip people. I am not a road trip person. And we really don’t spend a lot of time in the car at home. That’s why driving across Alberta is such a great way to get your feet wet in road trip territory… Not only do you get to see so many different landscapes, we actually experienced four seasons in our week in June. Calgary and Drumheller were the start of Summer, and our trip to the Rocky Mountains, starting with Banff National Park, introduced us to Fall.
The landscape changes to prairie as you leave the Badlands, but the tiny points in the distance soon become the Rockies as you backtrack through Calgary and head west to Banff. It was less than a three hour drive from Drumheller to Banff, which was only slightly less spectacular than usual due to the thick cloud cover and intermittent rain. The first stop for us was Sulphur Mountain, and a gondola ride to the top courtesy of Brewster Tours.
Usually the views of the Rocky Mountains is breathtaking, but the kids didn’t really care about that anyway, and were delighted to be climbing into the clouds. The altitude played a few tricks with my ears, but the kids seemed unaffected and were ready and rarin’ to hike along the Skywalk once we got to the top.
The Skywalk is an easy 1 kilometre hike along a boardwalk, with the only real challenges being the staircases. A stroller would not be ideal, but a carrier or baby backpack would be an easy way to cart your baby or younger toddler along for the walk. Inside the Upper Terminal are a restaurant, washrooms (with change tables) and a gift shop. (Beware! The Brewster Tours Ice Bus toy is TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS but we promised Bub before we saw the price. He played with it so much he ended up dropping it and the door broke off which upset him so greatly, we eejits BOUGHT HIM ANOTHER ONE three days later to maintain peace. But I digress…)
We were getting close to naptime, and Bub’s dawdling grew to a snail’s pace. Although our stops along the way back allowed us to have a chat with a friendly chipmunk, if we were going to get any food into our kids we needed to hustle. We headed back to the Upper Terminal where we enjoyed our packed lunch of PB & Js (thanks, Drumheller Ramada Inn!) supplemented by a few treats from the cafeteria.
We needed to relax for a bit, so we headed to our home for the night – a fabulous condo at the Douglas Fir Resort. About five minutes from downtown Banff. Our one-bedroom loft condo was plenty of room for our family of four, and I secretly wished we could stay for more than just one night. I think the kids did too, since the rain meant we stayed close to home and spent A LOT of time at the Douglas Fir’s indoor playground and waterslides.
For my birthday dinner (yay!) we went out for steak, but kind of hurried back so we could hit the waterslides one more time, and also enjoy the cozy fireplace in our condo. The fresh mountain air, falling rain, crackling fire, and glass of red wine were all the perfect birthday presents and a wonderful way to spend an evening in.
Lake Louise is about a 45 minute drive from Banff, and the beauty of the Chateau reflected in the water is a vision you don’t soon forget. I was starting to get a bit emotional, as I remembered that Lake Louise was one of my dad’s most favourite places, ever. In hindsight I realized I should have brought some of his ashes to scatter there, but maybe I’ll hold on to some to take back. When my husband and I had been dating a few months, we went to Banff and Lake Louise after a friends’ lovely Holiday wedding. My dad was convinced I would be proposed to on that visit, so I spent the whole weekend going a little nuts every time my husband bent down to tie his shoe. Now it’s one of those funny stories we laugh about, and the fact that my dad is tied into it made it more poignant for me.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a beautiful hotel, with lots of baby-friendly and family-friendly touches (kiddie check-in counter – so cute!) and amenities. It is also very expensive – our simple lunch at the Chateau Deli was almost $50 – though it DID include a glass of a lovely Pinot Grigio (what?) The rain stopped enough for us to stroll around the lakefront, which is a pretty easy walk even for an urban stroller. Bub got to throw rocks. He LOVES to throw rocks.
Our home for the night was the Deer Lodge – just next door to the Chateau. The room was newly renovated and quite spacious, and I did like the way they incorporated the historic details of the room with the newer, modern decor. One caveat for a rainy afternoon – no TV. Luckily we are a two iPad family, and there is free WiFi! For the area, the Deer Lodge is at a really good price point, and their breakfast was really good.
Before heading onto the Icefields Parkway towards our next stop, Jasper, we dropped by Moraine Lake. We’d tried to visit earlier, but a tree had fallen across the roadway – trapping those who were trying to leave and preventing us from visiting. All was cleared up, and I’m so glad we made the effort. Moraine Lake is so beautiful (that word is kinda getting overused, but it fits). It was still frozen (this being mid-June), and with an excellent selection of rocks for throwing onto the ice. The Moraine Lake Lodge is really beautiful (again! sorry…) with that kinda upscale rustic feel – lots of river rock and rough wood with more modern finishes. And this was just the washroom! We didn’t stay long at Moraine Lake, but I’m glad we were able to spend that time with the rocks and ice and mountains.
And here is where I turn into a real nerd… and realize that I. Am. Old.
In the olden days when I’d gone out west for various visits and whatnots, I was always all “Mountains? Schmountains!” On this trip I was all “Mountains! Mountains!” I was overwhelmed by the mountains. And my feelings as we drove the Icefields Parkway on the way to Jasper were the same ones of awe and wonder I had at the foot of the Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome. As my ears popped continuously (my daughter complained of ear pain, although I’m not 100% convinced it wasn’t a ploy for lollies) I was excited to see what was around the next corner. The Rocky Mountains are spectacular. There are really no other words.
It took us about two hours to get to the Columbia Icefields from Lake Louise. Home of the (expensive) Icebus! We were delighted to be heading out onto the glacier, and I’m so glad we brought the kids’ winter coats, hats, and mitts. In June. Enter the third season of our road trip – WINTER! The Brewster Tours Ice Explorer adventure heads out to the Athabasca Glacier roughly every 15 minutes – you drive out towards the icefield in a regular bus, and then transfer to one of their specially designed Ice Explorer buses. This part of the trip is already awesome, as you head down an incredibly steep hill towards the ice. Once you arrive on the glacier, you can get out and wander for a bit, but make sure you stay within the cordoned off areas. The glacier is unstable in places, and those that wander off run the risk of falling into a crevasse – and staying there forever. Keep the kids close at hand. Children five and under are free for the Icefield Glacier Adventure, but obviously the experience is not stroller-friendly. But it’s awesome.
There is something awesome about standing on 400-year-old ice while surrounded by mountains. Wait for it, it’s beautiful.
The Columbia Icefield Visitors’ Centre has a really decent cafeteria, clean washrooms (change table is in the barrier-free loo) and of course, a gift shop. It was here where we replaced Bub’s Ice Bus with another at the same outrageous price. Fortunately we loved the experience so much our unintentional Ice Bus collection brings back such wonderful memories of our trip – especially when Bub has them do smash up derby!
The drive to Jasper from the Visitors’ Centre is under an hour. We stayed at the Best Western Jasper Inn & Suites, in one of their newer, huge, rooms. By this stage of our trip, we were tired, so we were grateful for a big, comfortable room with a huge Jacuzzi tub, comfy beds, and a fun pool. It’s about a five minute walk to Jasper’s main drag, so we took our time as we strolled out for pizza, and headed back to swim and then sleep. A really fantastic and reasonable breakfast buffet is available in the mornings, with kids five and under being free.
I would love to spend more time in Jasper one day. The stillness and the quiet was such a lovely contrast with Banff’s bustle. I was bummed to be leaving the mountains, but the roadside elk didn’t exactly beg me to stay, so it was time to move on