The title of this post gives away the most exciting part of my next adventure through Canada: I saw a bear!
After leaving Calgary and the Stampede (see previous posts) my next destination was the mountain town and national park of Banff. In order to attend the championship rodeo in Calgary however I had to cut my time in Banff right down to about 10 hours (including 5 hours of sleep). This still gave me time to see the famous Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, walk the Main Street at sunset, buy postcards and meet a bunch of people from my Calgary hostel for reunion ski shots (Samsun hostel bar, can’t recommend it and its bartender enough!) The next morning I was picked up from my hostel lobby by SunDog Tours and my Rocky Mountain road trip began…
I’ve never used a tour company when travelling before. I tend to think they’re too touristy and expensive but for this part of the trip there was no other way to see the sights I wanted to see (I really need to get a driving licence!) and to be honest this tour was absolutely perfect for me. The mini bus picked me up right from my hostel and after picking up a few other passengers around Banff we headed off to the first stop: Lake Louise.
Lake Louise is one of those places that everyone stops at when travelling between Banff and Jasper. The main reason for this is for the absolutely stunning view of the lake itself for which you don’t have to undertake a strenuous 3 hour hike like some other sights. In fact you can park your car/bus/whatever almost right at the lake edge. This ease of access of course meant hundreds of other tourists were crowded onto the viewing deck with me but thanks to a friend I made on the bus, our speed with a camera and our patience, we managed to get a photo that makes it look like we were (almost) the only ones there.
Just after leaving Lake Louise was when we saw the bear. It was a black bear (smaller and in theory less dangerous that a grizzly) and sitting so close to the edge of the road! She was eating berries off a bush and was completely unphased by the bus full of tourists staring and excitedly taking pictures.
The next part of the 12 hour journey through Canada’s Rocky Mountain National Parks took me through the national park named for the town: Banff. The road through the Rocky Mountains is hailed as one of the most beautiful in the world and it really is incredible. I took so many photos and there’s so many different view points to stop at that I can’t remember all the names so I’ll just post a few photos and you can trust me that it’s all beautiful.
Canada is renowned for its glaciers and you can see them (and hike on them) even in the middle of summer. As part of the SunDog tour we stopped at Athabasca Glacier and there was an option to go on a guided excursion to the glacier from a visitor centre located at the bottom of the mountain. Being the independent traveller that I am, I ran as far and as fast as I could from the thousand bus loads of tourists at the visitor centre and took myself on my own un-guided hike to the glacier field. I quickly found a path and enjoyed the walk after so many hours on a bus. It was a good experience and and I would recommend walking up there on your own 10x over the expensive and time consuming (mostly queuing) official tour.
After stopping at several more breathtaking view points and waterfalls we finally arrived at our final destination: Jasper. Banff and Jasper are often talked about, and visited, together and it was great to get to see both of these famous Canadian national park towns in one day. My visit to Jasper was almost as short and sweet as my visit to Banff. I had just enough time for some souvenir shopping (bear bells anyone?) and cocktails on Earl’s Bar rooftop terrace with a view of sunset over the mountains before bed.