I have looked forward to visiting Banff for many years. The pictures that I had seen in books were amazing. Lake Louise, Morraine Lake, Sulphur mountain…the list goes on. I feel like it’s a crime to not like Banff, but it was one of the few places I visited that didn’t live up to expectations. Lake Louise somehow felt less impressive in person, Sulphur mountain was covered in man made walk-ways, and there were enough people to make me feel like I was in downtown Toronto. It’s strange, because the pictures I took while in Banff are some of the best from my trip…yet I can’t say the actual experience was the same. Anyway, onward with my journal entry, written on day 1 of 2 at Banff National Park.
Day 9: Banff – 284 km driven
Today was a bit different than I expected. I discovered that Banff is way too crowded, and that it takes away from the enjoyment. Either way I did see some cool things.
I started off the day by waking up at a decent time so I could visit lake Louise early. One of the annoyances to Banff is that its big enough that you have to drive a distance to get to anything. Once I arrived at Louise, I noticed the massive parking lot that was more or less empty. Everything was very touristy, with the pathways being paved, and the lake was viewed from a stone brickwork viewing pad. The lake wasn’t all that impressive. I’m sure part of the problem was that it was early morning and the lighting wasn’t perfect yet. That also meant that I really couldn’t see the colour of the water the way I probably could have if I had come later in the day. But the thing is, the mountains that were surrounding the lake were either too far away or they just weren’t that impressive.
My next destination was the nearby Moraine Lake. The road in was nice and windy, and at one part, there wasn’t a guardrail and there was very little space between the edge of the road and the steep embankment. Anyways, I enjoyed Moraine Lake a lot more. The mountains were large and interesting, and I could start to see the deep blue of the water…although as with Louise, the lighting wasn’t that good early in the morning, so I decided to come back.
Next I drove to Banff, hoping to find the visitor center and get my usual map of all the trails and lookouts. Banff was quite busy, both traffic and people wise. I parked and started just walking around. There were a lot of cool little shops…but I have to admit, unless I’m really bored, I see no point in browsing through these shops unless I plan to spend money. I was asked to take some people’s pictures along main street a few times. Apparently people see my camera and assume that I’m a good guy to ask. I got to the visitor center and discovered a nightmare of busyness. The place was setup like a government office, with a long line, and several desks helping the people in the lineup. And even though I’m sure they were handing out free maps of the place, there didn’t seem to be a way to get one without waiting in line. I gave up and left, but this would be a trend throughout the day.
It was around 10:30am at this point, and I decided I should go do the gondola ride up Sulpher mountain. The parking lot was already full when I arrived, so I wound up parking up the road a ways. This seemed to be another trend to Banff. If you weren’t early to parking, you might have a several kilometer walk just to get to the place you were parking for. The lineup up for the gondola was long, but was moving quickly. The ride up wasn’t overly interesting as I was sitting in a bad seat to really see. At the top, it was amazing. I could see mountains in all directions….long into the distance…and I was on level with them instead of looking up at them. There was a boardwalk/steps to walk to the summit, which I did, although I admit, it really didn’t change the view much. At this point, all the people were getting a little annoying. They were everywhere, and it always seemed I was walking with a crowd. Once I was done walking around and getting some pictures I walked up to the Summit Cafe, which is a restaurant at the top, which has windows all around so you can eat and see the view. I got a heineken, and sat and just admired the view. Probably the most expensive beer I ever bought, but it was worth it. I think I appreciated this part of the mountain the most, as I was able to just relax and enjoy the view without the throngs of people all around me.
Next I decided to check out Lake Minnewanka. But there was absolutely no parking, there were people everywhere, and I just didn’t have the patience, so I left. I decided to try Moraine Lake again. As I was driving down that windy road, I could see cars were parked a long way back, but I decided to at least make a run through the parking lot and try to catch someone leaving. I managed to, so I didn’t have too far to walk. The lake looked much better in the afternoon light, although it was getting a bit too cloudy. I hiked up to the “rock pile”, that was huge, and got nice pictures. Then I hiked along he side of the lake. The crowd thinned out a little as a got further onto the trail. But it still wasn’t ideal.
Then I returned to my campsite where it was raining. It stopped, so I made soup. The mosquitoes were especially thick and it was driving me nuts so I ate my soup in the tent, and that’s where I am now.