On our previous visit to the Canadian Rockies, ten years ago, our first stop was in Banff which we remembered as being too busy to be really pleasurable. We decided to try somewhere different this time, but we did pop in to Banff to visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Canada’s National Park System was effectively born at these hot springs. Known to aboriginal peoples for millennia, they were “discovered” by three railway workers in 1883. So many people rushed in to try to make money out of the springs that, to avert an environmental crisis, the government stepped in to create a reserve. Today, what was the bathing pool is decked and, when we were there, was set up to replicate a camp at the time of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
There were boardwalks to follow (see header image which mocks up the entrance to the first hotel) and we also hiked the Marsh Loop, a circular trail to the Bow River, where we met this impressive stag.
Planning a route in the Rockies isn’t difficult – there isn’t much choice other than East-West on the Trans-Canada Highway and North-South on the Icefields Parkway. The Trans-Canada skirts Banff which means we passed its exits several times. The first day we planned to visit the Cave and Basin, the queues to get off the highway were so long that we kept going east, took a detour onto the Bow Valley Parkway and stopped at Johnston Canyon with its multiple waterfalls.
To the east of Banff, we liked the small town of Canmore. Imagine having this view at the end of your street!
In Canmore, we bought these two hiking books which served us well over the next three weeks. Volume 1 included a loop walk in Bow Valley Provincial Park, an amalgamation of six interpretive trails which took us through moraines, riversides, lakeshores and forest paths. We couldn’t believe how quiet it was – we hardly saw any other hikers and ate our lunch alone in an enormous picnic area.
Coming up in the next instalment: Kananaskis, which was a lot busier.