City of Banff and Banff National Park
Leaving Calgary I headed west on Canada Highway 1, which is a major east/west route through the Rockies. Within a short ride I was at the entrance to Banff National Park where I got my free national park pass and directions to my home for the next three nights at Two Jack Campgrounds. From the ride to the campgrounds I could immediately see that Banff was a land of big mountains and numerous lakes where the forests were deep green, vast, and dense. I was in my element.
My campsite was typical of those found in the USA. It included a fire pit, a table, and a flat spot to pitch my tent. Nearby was a drinking water source and restrooms. There were also heavy metal storage lockers where campers were strongly advised to put their food and anything else that might attract bears. The need to be “bear aware” was reinforced by the rangers at the campground entrance. They told me that there was a bear in the campgrounds at the present time and I should be alert and careful.
After a good night’s sleep, I headed out bright and early to the Upper Banff Hot Springs and the trailhead for the footpath to the top of the Sulphur Mountains. I was advised by a ranger at the trailhead that the best plan was to hike to the top of the mountain first and then enjoy a soak in the hot springs when I was done. That was exactly what I did.
The hike to the top was a little over 5 kilometers with a gain of 700 meters. It took me about two hours to reach the top, but the view from up there was well worth it. I took so many photos it was hard to select the ones for this post as the sights were stunning in all directions.
Travelling has many obvious advantages, but there is one advantage that many overlook. It is the opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world and all walks of life. Let me share with you the people I met and got to know in just a 24-hour period.
At the Banff campsite my neighbors to the left were from Australia. When they arrived late in the evening of my second night, we introduced ourselves and proceeded to talked about our adventures for the next hour or so. They told me that they had been travelling in the USA for the past three months and were also spending a month in Canada. After Canada they are heading to Central or South America for more traveling there. Both were pharmacists who temporarily gave up their careers to travel. I shared with them some of my experiences in Latin America and also gave them my card with contact information and the address of Omar’s and my website.
The next morning, I went into Banff to a local coffee shop. Since I was looking to do another long hike that day, I decided to ask a couple at a nearby table if they had any suggestions. Turned out that they were not from Canada. Instead, they were from Holland and traveling the USA and Canada like me. They had just spent two weeks in the States and were planning to spend another week in Canada before returning home. They had a lot of very nice things to say about their experiences in America, but thought our politics were a bit crazy.
Later I noticed eight or nine BMW motorcycles had parked next to my bike along the street. All of bikes had Mexican license plates. That really peaked my curiosity so I started walking around town looking for a bunch of guys wearing BMW riding gear. It didn’t take long to find them at an outside café waiting for their breakfast to be served. They all spoke perfect English and like me they were riding to Alaska. However, they were planning to make the trip much faster than I. Their goal was to be in Anchorage by July 1st, stay for a few days and then head back. After some more friendly conversation about our experiences and plans, I was on my way again.
Next, I encountered a couple at the Bourgeau trailhead where I was just starting my hike to a Bourgeau lake. The couple I met live in Calgary and go hiking or running in the mountains around Banff every chance they get. Today they were running to a mountain pass beyond the lake I was planning hike. They were very friendly and as you might expect, super fit. Although I started out before them, they soon passed me like I was standing still. Later I saw them off in the distance running along the trail on an exposed ridge a mile or more beyond my final destination.
My last noteworthy encounter was with a barista at a local coffee shop. I overheard him mention to another patron that he recently traveled to South America. Needless to say, I had to ask him where he went and how he liked it. He and his significant other had flown to Santiago, Chile where they purchased a cheap car and then headed south to Patagonia. They loved their travels in Chile, but the cheap car was unreliable and a constant problem. In the end, they sold the car and headed back to Canada; however, they would like to return to Chile, but this time with a more reliable mode of transportation. The coffee shop got busy with customers, so I said my goodbyes and wished him well.
These experiences are not too uncommon when travelling for an extended time. Either you start up a conversation or someone approaches you wanting to know where you are headed.
For my second full day in Banff, I decided to ask a ranger from the National Park Service for a hiking suggestion. He recommended the trail to Bourgeau Lake. According to the Ranger, the hike was 7.4 kilometers one way with a 700 meter gain in elevation. He said the trail winds through dense forest until it opens up above the tree line where the lake is located.
As the ranger said, the trail passed through a dense forest shaded by the enormous growth of trees. After about 5 kilometers the forest opened for some spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Above the lake there were no trees on the mountain sides, just exposed rock and patches of snow leftover from the winter.
Although the surrounding forests and mountains were what I came to see, the town of Banff is also very nice. It is a mountain resort town much like Jackson Hole or the many other resort towns in the western USA. It has a nice mix of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.