When we got to the Rockies and our hotel in Kananaskis Country, about 30 minutes outside of Canmore, Alberta, the weather was rainy and cloudy. The clouds hung so low that they actually blocked the view of the mountains, despite our hotel’s location right in the middle of them! It felt really strange, and a bit anticlimactic given how much we were looking forward to being there. At one point, when we were loading our luggage onto a trolley outside of one room in order to move to another, a hotel guest walking by (and misconstruing the situation) said it was good we were leaving because it was supposed to rain for the next four days. Not exactly a positive way to start a stay in the otherwise breathtaking Rocky Mountains… but then, like magic, the weather defied forecasters’ predictions; we had sunshine for the following three days we spent in Banff and Kananaskis. I still can’t believe our luck.
The first full day of our stay we went to the Upper Hot Springs in Banff. I wasn’t sure that the boys would enjoy it given how hot the water was (40C), but they did and it was hard getting them (and Eric) out so that we could get some lunch. After our soak, we drove back down to town and parked at the beautiful Cascade Gardens (likely the only place in the whole of Banff that still had parking available!), walked across the bridge over the Bow River, and found something to eat on Banff Ave. It didn’t take long to spot the beloved candy store I remembered as a kid, in the days when you usually got your candy from the local Mac’s Milk, where the selection was, comparably, very limited. I still remember my cousins, sister, and me buying bubble gum cigarettes there in Banff, having lots of fun pretending to be grown ups. They didn’t have them there this time, but they had just about everything you can imagine… and then some!
On the second day we woke up expecting rain, and when I noticed that that was, indeed, sunshine coming around the curtains, we quickly got dressed and headed back to Banff to take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain. It was already really busy when we got there at around 9:30am, and we managed to snag one of the last parking spots. Once we got into the gondola and started moving up the mountain, Milo became unexpectedly frightened. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the ride either, given my fear of heights, and of being in a windowed box built for four suspended from a wire on the side of a mountain… but boy was the view incredible! Tears of awe filled my eyes, as they have in many others places of natural divinity on our trip so far. Once at the top (thank god!), we walked around taking in the magnificent mountain ranges. Milo was very nervous about getting back down, though, and was whimpering with fear of getting back into the gondola, insisting that we should do the hour-long hike down the mountain instead. We ended up all agreeing – even Milo – that it was faster to go down with the gondola, and that it was usually easier when you know you’re going “home”. Thankfully, he felt much better as soon as we started our descent, and so did I.
On the third day we decided to explore Kananaskis Country, specifically Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, where there are several hiking trails, lookout/picnic areas, and campsites. The visitor centre was like a small museum all on its own, with information about the wildlife in the Rockies, which includes grizzly bears and black bears, cougars, mountain sheep and wolves. Many of the trails in the area were closed because of the amount of bear activity due to the wide availability of food, including ripe berries, at this time of year. We drove through the park and stopped for overwhelming views of the turquoise Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, as well as the mountain ranges. The smell of the forest, a bit less earthy and more spruce-y than Muskoka (though you’d make a fortune if you could bottle and sell either) was so soothing to the soul. And the quiet of the forest was nothing short of ethereal.
I cannot express enough how beautiful this part of Canada is, so majestic, so humbling.
Next stop: The dinosaur capital of the world!