Home » 2001 Cross Country Road Trip

Banff National Park, AL

Thursday, July 26, 2001 - 9:00am by Lolo
100 miles and 2.5 hours from our last stop - 3 night stay


We left Golden at the crack of dawn with the intention of getting to Banff early enough to get two campsites together--Banff campgrounds don't take reservations so it's crucial to get there as early in the day as possible. As we pulled out of the campground, we were stunned to see several very large big horn sheep just lying by the side of the road, completely indifferent to the cars going by. That was definitely the closest I've ever gotten to a big horned sheep.

Kids at top of Sulphur MountainKids at top of Sulphur MountainWe were fortunate to get two campsites in the Johnston Canyon area of Banff, which is where we wanted to be. After a quick lunch, we headed across the street to the trailhead for what is considered to be one of the best hikes in Canada--the Johnston Canyon Trail. It was a great hike for the kids. The trail meandered through tunnels and over wooden footbridges between the narrow walls of the 100-foot-high canyon. Much of the trail was along catwalks set into the sides of the canyon, on which we walked over the rushing water of the rapids. There were two spectacular waterfalls along the way--Lower and Upper Johnston Canyon Falls. The hike to Upper Falls took us about an hour and a half.

Gang hiking Johnston CanyonGang hiking Johnston CanyonWe now entered into the negotiation portion of the hike. The kids, quite frankly, were done. They had been hiking for close to two hours already and they had gotten to their intended destination--the Upper Falls. As far as they were concerned, it was time to head back down to hit the gift shop for some nosh and ice cream. The adults, however, wanted to hike the additional 3 miles, all uphill, to the Inkpots, which were colorful hot springs. There was no way we were going to get the kids to do it, willingly anyway. Michelle generously volunteered to take the kids back down while Herb, Hans, and I continued on.

It was a long hike, but we were able to make good time now that we weren't nudging the kids along. The hike definitely was worth it--even if there hadn't been any hot springs. As the trail finally started to level off, we came out of the woods into a broad, flat basin, surrounded by jagged snow-capped mountains--absolutely gorgeous. To top it off, there was the burbling and bubbling aquamarine and jade waters of the "Inkpots." Too bad Michelle and the kids didn't get to see it. The way back, which was about 5 miles, was all downhill and we really made good time. We found Michelle and the kids happily lounging at the picnic tables along the stream at the bottom. Good--everyone was happy.

Gaidus Family by Lake LouiseGaidus Family by Lake LouiseAfter a nice barbecue back at the campsite that evening, Herb informed me that it was time to remove the stitches from my forehead (see Olympic National Park for details on my head injury). We had everything we needed--medical expertise (Hans and Michelle were chiropractors and Herb was an EMT), anesthesia (vodka and orange juice), and sterile instruments (tweezers and hemostats from Herb's tackle box). First they applied the anesthesia--so far this wasn't too bad. Then I leaned back while Herb, quite delicately I must say, removed the 8 stitches. I hardly felt a thing. I think Tommy might have accidentally sipped on some of my anesthesia because he was acting pretty strangely that evening.

Kalchbrenner Family by Lake LouiseKalchbrenner Family by Lake LouiseThe next morning we set off early to Banff Townsite to take the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. It was about twice the price I expected based on the guidebook ($57 Canadian), but it was a great ride up the mountain and much quicker than hiking it. I think I would have preferred hiking it, but the kids definitely had more fun on the gondola. From the summit there was a stunning panorama of Banff Townsite and the fabulous Banff Springs Hotel, perched like a castle on the edge of the Bow River. After much picture taking, we decided to have lunch in the aptly named Panorama Room of the Summit Restaurant. The views were so incredible that I don't even remember what we ate--I think it was a buffet. The restaurant was circular and completely enclosed in glass, so the views were terrific from no matter where you sat. Herb was looking a little green--I think he was either sick or still suffering from trip fatigue because he said that he felt like the entire room was spinning--probably not a good sign.

After the gondola ride down the mountain, we headed to the pool at Banff Upper Hot Springs for a well-needed afternoon of relaxation. We spent a few hours lounging in the warm waters of the spring-fed pool, gazing at the fabulous views of the surrounding mountains. I think it did us all some good.

Michelle and Kids at Lake LouiseMichelle and Kids at Lake LouiseThe next morning, our last full day in Banff, we drove the 20 miles north from Johnston Canyon to Lake Louise, which is probably the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. The lake is a stunning aquamarine color (from the minerals ground down by the glaciers above) and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains which cast their reflections in the water. As if the natural beauty weren't enough, perched on the shore of the lake is the famous Chateau Lake Louise, probably one of the most beautiful hotels in North America. What an incredible setting! Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn't the best--it was overcast and drizzling.

We had a hike planned that day that I was really excited about--the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, which leads from the shores of the lake up a fairly strenuous 3 mile trail to a teahouse at the base of Victoria Glacier. Since the weather was pretty lousy, we decided to have lunch first in the Chateau pub, hoping that it would clear up a bit while we ate. The lunch was great, but the weather still wasn't.

Tea time for Alexis and TommyTea time for Alexis and TommyUndaunted, we set off along the Lakeshore Trail on the northern shore of the lake to the trailhead for our hike. The trail then started to climb and just kept on climbing. Normally, we would have heard some complaints from the kids about this time, but they were driven by the promise of tea and scones at the top--I don't think they even knew what a scone was, but the thought of a remote teahouse out in the middle of nowhere where they could get food was intriguing to them--me too. The hike really was strenuous, but the kids were doing great--even giving 9-year-old Alexis the occasional piggyback ride. I soon realized that the one I should be worried about was Herb. I don't think he was feeling very well and his bad back, which tends to get worse on RV trips because of all the driving, was really hurting. On top of that, he was carrying this giant backpack loaded down with camcorders, cameras, snacks, drinks, and whatever else the kids had stuffed in there. At one point, he and I moved to the side of the trail to allow some horses to go by. As he squatted down to take a rest, sharp sciatica pains shot down his leg, and he couldn't get up. Hans and Michelle were way ahead of us, with the kids charging onward for scones. Herb was obviously in a lot of pain and the people on horseback were beginning to stare. Not wanting to cause a scene, he struggled to his feet and limped his way along the trail. With each turn I kept hoping to see the teahouse. Finally, there it was--a cute log structure with round tables on the porch, and there at the corner table were Tommy and Alexis sipping tea and eating brownies.

The teahouse really was unique--out in the middle of nowhere at the foot of a glacier. Supplies were brought up by mule and the employees took 3 day shifts. They would hike up (what a commute!), live and work there for 3 days, and then hike back down again. What a great summer job!

We tried to fix Herb up as best we could. I'm sure he wanted something stronger than tea, but it had to do for now. After two Motrin and some rest, we got Herb up and pointed him down the mountain. He made it okay and started feeling a little bit better. This vacation was starting to take its toll. We were going to need a vacation to recover from this vacation.

We were all looking forward to our next day--driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper.


Banff is Canada's oldest and most popular national park, receiving more than 4 million visitors in the summer. The park encompasses more than 2,500 square miles of lakes, rivers, and glacier-covered mountains. There are two towns in the park, Banff and Lake Louise, both of which have fine restaurants, shopping, and beautiful historic hotels.

Lake LouiseLake LouiseSummer recreational activities in the park include:

  • hiking along one of the 80 maintained trails that cover over 1,000 miles
  • family rafting along the Bow River through Banff townsite
  • more extreme whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River
  • fishing in the Bow River and Lake Minnewanka
  • horseback riding into some of the more remote areas of the park
  • biking along the beautiful Bow Valley and around Lake Louise
  • golfing on Canada's premier Banff Springs golf course.

There is much wildlife in the park including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, deer, moose, wolves, black bears, and grizzly bears.

Banff Townsite

The town of Banff is located in the beautiful Bow Valley, surrounded by massive, glacier-clad mountains, with the Bow River gently winding its way through town. Banff first became a tourist destination in the late 1880's after three Canadian Pacific Railway workers accidentally stumbled across a cave containing hot springs. The Canadian Pacific Railroad Company built the Banff Springs Hotel shortly afterwards to try to draw visitors to the area to enjoy the springs. Since that time, the town has grown tremendously as outdoor enthusiasts flock to the area to enjoy the its many recreational opportunities. Today the town is very busy, full of tourists enjoying the fancy restaurants, trendy cafes, and exclusive boutiques.

Sulphur Mountain Summit RestaurantSulphur Mountain Summit RestaurantOne of the best ways to get an overall view of Banff is to take the Sulphur Mountain Gondola Lift to the top of Sulphur Mountain where there is a restaurant with stunning panoramas of the area. From the summit, there is an excellent view of the Banff Springs Hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in North America. This nine-story stone castle, which sits at the edge of the Bow River just north of the Bow River Falls, has 875 guest rooms and 15 restaurants.

After a hard day of hiking or shopping in Banff, a good way to relax is in the Upper Hot Springs Pool located 3 miles west of Banff at the top of Mountain Avenue. For more than a century, people have been coming here to enjoy the comfort of the soothing hot sulfurous water. From the outdoor spring fed hot pool there are fabulous views of the surrounding mountains.

There are several hiking opportunities in and around Banff Townsite. There are walking paths along both sides of the Bow River that go through town, past Bow Falls and the Banff Springs Hotel, and on up to the Upper Hot Springs. The Fenland Trail, just outside of town, goes through marshes in a wildlife habitat along the Vermillion Lakes where you're very likely to see wildlife, especially in early morning and at dusk.

Near Banff townsite on Tunnel Mountain are 3 National Park campgrounds with over 1,000 sites in total. Two of the campgrounds are for RV's only while the 3rd is for tenters. Reservations are not accepted.

Johnston Canyon

View from Inkpots at end of Johnston Canyon TrailView from Inkpots at end of Johnston Canyon Trail15 miles north of Banff on Highway 1A lies Johnston Canyon, a steep, narrow canyon cut by the Johnston Creek. One of the most popular hikes in all of Canada is the hike through Johnston Canyon. The trail winds through tunnels and over wooden footbridges between the 100-foot walls of the canyon, which in many places are only 18 feet apart. Much of the trail is along catwalks set into the sides of the canyon, on which you walk over rapids on your way to Lower Johnston Canyon Falls (at 0.8 miles) and the more impressive Upper Johnston Canyon Falls (at 1.8 miles) plunging through the canyon. The hike to the Upper Falls takes about 1 ½ hours. For those that are more energetic, the trail continues for another 3 miles to the "Inkpots," a series of bubbling colorful pools formed by hot springs coming up through the colored rocks. The hike to the Inkpots takes about 4 hours.

Across from Johnston Canyon is the very pretty 132-site Johnston Canyon Campground run by the National Park Service. The sites are roomy and the views are spectacular.

Lake Louise

35 miles northwest of Banff lies Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful lakes in all of North America. The snowcapped mountains which rise sharply from its shores are reflected in the deep-green waters of the lake, whose vivid colors come from the minerals ground down by the glaciers above.

Perched like a castle along the shores of the lake, sits the famed Chateau Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful hotels in North America. Like the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel, the Chateau was built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to attract tourists to the area.

There are several good hiking opportunities in the area. The Lakeshore Trail follows the northern shore of the lake from the hotel to the end of the lake. The more ambitious Plain of Six Glaciers Trail is a fairly strenuous 3-mile hike that continues from the Lakeshore Trail up to the base of Victoria Glacier, where there is a teahouse serving tea and scones.

Truckin on November 28, 2005

If you enjoy the Rocky Mountain in Colorado and cruise into Canada check out an area known as Kanasksis Country in southern western Alberta.
Absolutely gorgeous!!!

Traveler on December 6, 2007

The Kanasksi Country is really cool!

Banff National Park location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.