After crashing at a local hotel in Radium Springs BC, we awoke early (5am ish) still on central time and found ourselves enveloped by a fresh three or four inches of dry fluffy powdered snow, it looked like we had driven to Narnia. Radium as a town it seems was lacking in significant food and or eating options for breakfast… specifically COFFEE.
After a thirty minute explore of the area, we couldn’t find a single place open to get some and reluctantly we drove off into the east across Kootenay National Park on Canadian Hwy 93 (of which there are NO towns or coffee stops to be had) towards Bow Valley and Lake Louise/Banff. Normally an hour and half drive it took us two and half to cross the 80+ miles due to pitch black darkness and fresh unplowed snow on the road. We drove until almost 8:30am before we saw even a “hint” of light grey cracking the eastern horizon through the valley and silhouetted peaks. We “knew” we were in the mountains, we “knew” because we had driven this exact same road before (the ONLY road to cross the mountains from west to east this far south in the winter) but we couldn’t SEE a thing. I mean nada.
It was like driving in a cavern or cave, pitch black except for our headlights which seemed to be really weak in the oppressive inky black of the wilderness night. Our day clocks being used to the central time zone and more southern climes, we were shocked to find the day took sooo long to get to us. By the time we rolled into Banff the grey was gradually warming to shades of pink and orange and we could smell the soon to be embraced COFFEE… and we needed to drink IT !
After a most satisfying six cups of fresh strong COFFEE paired with an amazingly good saturday morning breakfast at “The Keg” located in what looked to be a most comfortable Caribou Lodge and Spa (pictured) we found ourselves revived and in much better spirits. To add to that growing optimism, the sky was glowing stronger now with red and orange and the darker shades of grey were gone. Morning it seemed, did put a whole new “light” on things, and despite its tardy appearance we were stoked to be in the Canadian Rockies in one of the most beautiful mountain towns in the world.
Banff is a UNESCO world heritage site for a reason, if you have not been to this jewel of the Canadian Rockies… it’s a MUST see. World class shopping, restaurants, scenery, skiing, wildlife, four season sports, art, music and family activities make it a huge magnet for the tourist circuit and we were only planning on making a brief appearance before heading off into wilder terrain.
We quickly explored the downtown before the crowds awoke and dodging ski resort vans and hotel buses for the downhill set, we crossed the downtown bridge across Bow River and took some quick pics of the famous castle, Fairmont Banff Springs lodgeand resort which sits majestically over the Bow River valley. Pricey, but amazing. We were really looking to see if the Bow river falls had frozen… located a few blocks behind the castle and directly on the river front, it had. It was breathtaking to see a waterfall that big and powerful frozen solid – now a massive block of ice… so we took some pictures to prove it. Posed for some of our own (see day one blog) and decided to head North before the crowds started making their noisy intrusions into our winter wonderland.
As we drove north out-of-town on the famous Canadian transcontinental highway one… we watched forlornly as the sun slipped behind the suddenly angry skies and the snow began to fall… slowly and gently at first, but with more urgency and vigor as we drove. By the time we had arrived at Lake Louise (about an hour north of Banff) we were in heavy snow and limited visibility. SO limited we couldn’t really see the mountains around Lake Louise and the iconic Victoria’s Glacier. Frozen solid enough to host a regional free-skate day, the lake was still beautiful and gracious to us and the ice magic sculptures were gorgeous to watch being carved.
Soon the saturday crowds began to arrive and hundreds if not thousands of weekend families began to explore the beauty and fun and festivities around us. Sleigh rides, hot chocolate, ice carvings, and snow… lots and lots of snow ! It was a winter wonderland for sure, but for adventure hounds like us… it was feeling pretty crowded. We decided to press on and drive north.
Next stop on our trip was to be my favorite! Bow Lake, and then up one of the most scenic 150 miles of roadway in the world, the Ice Fields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper. As we explored the beauty of Bow Valley in and around Banff National Park, we were revisiting sights and scenes from our past roadtrips, places and wonders that had appeared completely different in the long and sunny days of summer. For January, these were some of the shortest and darkest days of the year and its effect on the landscape and environment were profound. I found myself anxiously watching the clock to find out exactly when the faint light of day would be extinguished… it turns out around 4:30pm mountain time… WAY TOO SOON.
Regardless, we were excited, full of caffeine and undeterred in our desire to see the northern Canadian wilderness in the winter… a FIRST for us both. Part three for tomorrow, as we explore winter wonders of the iconic Bow Lake, the rugged town of Jasper and Wild British Columbia… and get into some deeper snow and a lot of fun.