DAY 1: Saturday, Aug. 27
4:00 a.m. Left home for long day of flights-Knoxville-Atlanta-Salt Lake City-Calgary. Picked up Enterprise rental car at the Calgary airport. Drove to Canmore; checked in to Elkhorn at the Lodges, a time-share condo exchange. Went to Safeway for groceries - SO VERY CROWDED! And we were SO VERY TIRED! If we every fly to Calgary again, we will definitely stay overnight in a motel before starting our adventures. Picked up a salad and panini from Safeway for our dinner. We actually liked Sobey's grocery store better since they usually seemed less crowded and you don't have to have a coin to use the cart, a real inconvenience our first time in Safeway. Canmore also has a farmer's market on Thursdays. Next made a stop in downtown Canmore to buy bear spray at Valhalla Pure Outfitters ($34.00 for canister, we brought our holster from home). Also bought some GemTrek maps - best selection was at a corner market (don't remember the name), across the street diagonally from the Outfitters store. We particularly found useful the GemTrek "Canadian Rockies Touring Guide for Banff & Jasper" since it shows all the parks in relation to each other (Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier) and on the back are city maps for Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise Village. Check out their website to see all the maps they offer for touring and hiking. Also be sure to pick up the free maps for Canmore/Kananaskis Country and Banff/Lake Louise, available where you find tourist brochures. Some of the web sites I found especially helpful for planning our Canadian Rockies trip were Trailpeak.com and World-of-Waterfalls.com/Canada.
DAY 2: Sunday, Aug.28
First stop to purchase a Family annual parks pass at the Banff gate - no wait early in the morning ($136.40)
We stayed on TN time (2 hours difference than Canadian time) for the entire trip. This really worked out to our advantage since we got a very early morning start and had hiking trails all to ourselves for the first half of our hikes. We left our condo in Canmore at 6:15 a.m and were starting the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail at Lake Louise at 7:45 a.m., after stopping in the Hotel to use the restrooms (the public restrooms at the large parking lot do not open till 9:30!) We really enjoyed this trail and the spectacular views of Lake Louise and The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. We arrived at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House at 9:30 and stopped to eat our packed lunch (since it was 11:30 a.m. TN time), with coffee and Chai tea purchased from the Tea House. The trail from the Tea House to the trail's end was officially closed due to trail instability - not only is there a sign at the trail, but there is also a notice on the Parks Canada website. Since we couldn't do that portion of the trail, we decided to continue on to the Big Beehive. Let me tell you there is a LONG, UPHILL climb from the Plain of Six Tea House on the Highline Trail to the trail leading to the Big Beehive! I felt like I was hiking the trail to Mt LeConte again - which I had done in the Smokies the week before our trip. There is a beautiful view of the Fairmont Chateau and Lake Louise from the Big Beehive, however I like the view from the Plain of Six Trail since that view does not have the parking lot. We continued on toward the Lake Agnes Tea House, stopping at the end of the lake, where we sat on the rocks and ate a granola bar as we watched the buzz of activity at the other end of the lake at the Tea House. Super busy at the Tea House. Had to wait in line to use the pit toilets located on an uphill trail close by. Then came the steep, slippery descent - I was glad to have trekking poles to use (we collapsed them and brought them in our suitcases). The entire trail loop back to the parking lot took us 6.5 hours (including our lunch stop at the Tea House). If you only have time or stamina for just one trail, instead of the loop, I highly recommend the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, instead of the trail to Lake Agnes Tea House. We did enjoy the shade on our return from Lake Agnes on an unseasonably hot day. I think our distance for the day was 9.4 miles (15 km), but I think we could have shaved some distance off that if I had looked at my detailed GemTrek map more closely. There is a map of this trail circuit in the free Banff/Lake Louise tourist map.
Dinner was at Subway in Canmore; we felt too grubby to go anywhere else.
DAY 3: Monday, Aug. 29
Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail (gravel road #742)leading from Canmore to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The wide gravel road is well-graded with no ruts. This was a GREAT DAY TRIP!! What a fantastic day of sights and wildlife! It started in the early morning twilight when we spotted a couple female elk along the roadside just after we had passed the sign for the beginning of the Smiith-Dorrien/Spray Trail. This road has fantastic scenery, especially as the sun is rising. Spray Lake is just gorgeous! And seeing the mountain tops start to glow from the sunrise was just beautiful! We stopped many times to take pictures. At one point, a huge female moose was right along the roadside munching on weeds - she actually came closer to our car as we were stopped. Later we saw lots of Bighorn Rocky Mountain Sheep at the junction of Highway 40 and Kananaskis Lakes Trail (road). We took Highway 40 south to Highwood Pass, the highest drivable mountain pass in the Canadian Rockies at 7200 ft (2206 m). We stopped at the Highwood meadows parking lot to do the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail across the street. Check out the trail kiosk for the access trail to the Ptarmigan Cirque trailhead. This is a must-do loop hike since it is so short, 3.7 mi (6 km), yet provides such fantastic scenery. We loved it!! It does have a tough uphill section, but quite short compared to what we did yesterday on the Plain of Six Glaciers circuit trail. We started the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail at 8:38 a.m. and ended at 11:00 a.m. (that includes a 30 minute stop for lunch). It was great to get an early start since we had the trail all to ourselves! As we were coming down the last stretch, a bus load of 50 some hikers were heading up the trail! What a treat to be all by ourselves for most of this hike! Beautiful western anemone seed heads on this trail! We drove back on Highway 40 north toward Canmore and had many more Bighorn Sheep sightings.
Since we had some extra time, we decided to continue on and check out Banff. We went to the Mt. Norquay Road viewpoint of Banff which was a big disappointment after so many gorgeous views earlier in the day. Then to Surprise Corner for the view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. On to Banff Ave. to find a souvenir T-shirt for hubby. Ate dinner at Barpa Bill's - yummy lamb burgers and small Greek salads. Also stopped at the Fudgery for peanut-coated caramel apples to take back to our condo. (To be continued.)