Back in June my friend James asked me if I wanted to join him and two other guys, Lucas and Peter on a trip up to the Canadian Rockies (Edmonton, Calgary, Banff and Jasper). They were setting off in early August for a 6 day excursion through Alberta. I was excited that I was asked to join on this trip, although my soon-to-be wife was not as thrilled, mostly because she also wanted to do this same trip someday. Luckily, she loved me enough to let me spread my wings out and fly…
We set off from Seattle to Edmonton, and I was amazed how short the flight was (less than two hours). All the years of living in Seattle, I hadn’t realized that Alberta close to the Pacific Northwest. Upon arriving in Edmonton, we quickly picked up our rental and headed south through the high prairie to Calgary (3 hours by car).
Calgary, known for its rodeos and skiing, sits at the foothills of the Rockies and the edge of the Great Plains. The city of 1 million didn’t seem too lively for the Saturday night we arrived. We wandered through downtown and didn’t encounter too many people, mostly mosquitoes. We eventually made our way to an older neighborhood called Inglewood to have dinner.
Each of us in the group were in charge of a city on the trip and finding things “to do.” James was in charge of finding our Calgary activities, and he had found on the internet a “gym” that specialized in the great Canadian sport of Battle Axe Throwing. For $20 (Canadian) a person, we had an hour of throwing axes with some guidance by the worker at BATL. The sport is more or less like darts, but with axes.
The next day we embarked for our next location Canmore and Banff. They’re about 1-1.5 hours from Calgary in the Canadian Rockies. Banff, being our main attraction of the trip, is both a city (pop. 7,000) and national park with amazing mountain scenery and outdoor opportunities. However, we stayed in Canmore (pop 12,000), just outside of the park.
In Canmore we did a great hike up Ha Ling Peak. Ha Ling was a 3.5 mile, steep (2500 ft) hike. Though a tough slog, reaching the top was worth the journey. The view of Canmore below were fantastic. We couldn’t stay for long, though, because thunder and lighting was starting to roll in through the mountains. I was in charge of Canmore, and I found us a great place to eat: the Grizzly Paw Brewing Company.
In addition to Ha Ling, we explored in and around the town of Banff, renting bikes from the historic Fairmount Banff Spring Hotel and taking them up Sundance Canyon.
Next we left Banff and Canmore for up the road, Lake Louise. We stayed at the electric-fence-protected campground. Bears, especially Grizzlies, are a real danger for hikers and campers in the Canadian Rockies, although we only saw one black bear eating berries on the side of the road. Lake Louise was gorgeous, although extremely busy with day-trippers canoeing and hiking around the lake. We took the short hike up to the tea house. It overlooked the lake, Chateau Lake Louis and the valley below. While Lucas and Peter went on to hike up higher above the tea house and lake, James and I went down to the hotel to grab happy hour. By the time we came down from the tea house, the crowds of the hotel and the lake had disappeared. Besides the hotel, there wasn’t a whole lot to Lake Louise, the town that is. We ended up eating breakfast one morning at the ski resort, which offered an all-you-can-eat breakfast (the price was cheap, the food was mediocre).
On our way back to Edmonton, we drove through Jasper National Park. We stopped at the Columbia Icefields, which are large glaciers that straddle the Continental Divide in the Rockies. As well, we went to the Miette Hot Springs. We took a hike to the mountain above the springs, which was well worth the views. I thought the hot springs were overrated, though. They were too developed and too crowded to thoroughly enjoy.
We made our way out of the Rockies and on towards the capital of Alberta, Edmonton, after stopping for pizza in the lumber town of Hinton. Driving along from Hinton was very interesting. Although it was late in the evening (maybe 9 pm), the sun was still shining brightly, just beginning to set over the long flat horizon. The boreal forests also seemed to stretch on forever. I wondered how far we could have driven and still be in this large, global biome of taiga.
We eventually made it to Edmonton at around midnight. We stayed in an AirBnB just outside of Strathcona in one of the “ravine” neighborhoods. My impressions of Edmonton were great! The town gave off a cool, hip, yet, down-to-earth vibe. It felt a little Mid-West, but also urban West Coast. The downtown had a lot of high rises and cool parks. The neighborhood we stayed in was filled with tree lined streets and old craftsman homes. There was a big park that ran down a ravine to the Saskatchewan River. Strathcona had a lot of restaurants and boutique shops. We would be spending a lot more time in Strathcona in the coming days, because Peter had planned for us to come to Edmonton for the Fringe Festival, a week-long art, music and theater festival.
Before the festival began, though, we explored more of the city. We went to the Muttart Conservatory. The indoor garden was planted in 4 glass pyramids. The Conservatory was a nice distraction, but nothin compared to the large park/forest that ran up and down the banks of the Saskatchewan. Edmonton was built on the large bluffs above the meandering river. Along the banks were miles and miles of trails. We rented bikes and took a ride along the river.
Afterwards, we had tickets to the Edmonton Eskimos (Esks) game. Canadian football is slightly different that the American version. The field is slightly larger, the field goal is at the touchdown line. There are 3 downs instead of 4. There are a few other rule differences, but game play is mostly the same as in America. The Esks were playing Montreal’s Alouettes. The game play was definitely not at the same caliber as the NFL, and even the top college teams. Nevertheless, it was still fun to go to the game. The Esks won 23-12.
We went to the Fringe Festival the next day. The center of Strathcona was turned into a street fair. Buskers and street performers played next to food carts. Theater shows were the main focus of the Festival. We went to a one man show where he recounted a trip he took down the Saskatchewan to the Hudson Bay. We also went to a live action improv, a la Die Hard meets Whose Line is It Anyway?
After a week in Alberta, our trip was finally coming to an end. It is definitely a trip I would like to do again. We only saw a small portion of the Canadian Rockies, and Edmonton is a city I would go back to visit (maybe not in the winter, though). Being just a short journey from the US, it is a region easy to get to and to travel through. Go check it out!