Banff National Park Vacation

[Lake Louise]

If you ever have the opportunity to spend some time in Banff National Park (Alberta, Canada) immediately jump on it. The four days we were able to spend in the park were absolutely breathtaking and exceeded my expectations tenfold. We spent some time in Calgary, too, which ended up being a beautiful city as well. Here are some pictures and excessive thoughts from our time there:

Sawyer and I stayed overnight at a hotel by LAX, since we had a morning flight and I didn't want to stress over the morning traffic. The hotel valet temporarily lost my car, which made for a very stressful fifteen minutes (I actually growled "find my goddamn car right fucking now" at a valet, quietly so Sawyer couldn't here, but still... I was so mad), but once we got parked and settled into the terminal the rest of the trip was an absolute breeze. We flew into Calgary (three hours), got our rental car, and then stayed in a hotel by the airport. 

I packed up the kid and the car by seven-thirty or so and we drove almost two hours to the little town (village?) of Banff, in Banff National Park. It was raining a little bit, but by the time we ducked into the visitor's center for maps and bought an umbrella at a little store it had stopped. I didn't have much planned for the day, but was very eager to see Lake Louise, so we drove the forty minutes to the satellite parking lot to take a shuttle up to the actual lake. It was absolutely breathtaking, even when cloudy! The glacier was visible and the water was perfectly turquoise (rock flour + glacier water + sun's reflection). We hiked a bit around the lake for awhile and then drove back to Banff for a snack, and then a half hour back to Canmore, where our hotel was. I super-duper lucked out and our regular room was upgraded to a HUGE two-bedroom, two-bath, full kitchen, suite at no extra charge, since our room wasn't ready. It was crazy. We drove around Canmore and found a really good pizza place and stocked up on some groceries to minimize eating out breakfast and lunch, too, which ended up being a great decision. 

[Moraine Lake]

[Hiking around Emerald Lake]

[Emerald Lake + a rare Sawyer sighting]

[Takkakaw Falls]

Prior to traveling I booked an all-day bus tour through the park to sort of give us an overview of what was there and to help ease the driving/parking pressure on me. It turned out to be a great choice! We saw Moraine Lake, Lake Louise again, Takakkaw Falls, the Spiral Tunnels, Lake Emerald, where we were able to hike around for almost 90 minutes, and the Natural Bridge. Sawyer got a little antsy here and there on the bus, but it wasn't too bad, considering we were on and off so often. The bus picked up and dropped off right around the corner from our hotel in Canmore, which was perfect. The driver and tour hostess were really knowledgable and fun, so I actually learned a lot.

[Athabasca Glacier]


This was probably my favorite day in terms of what we say. We got up early and drove up the Icefield Parkway (one of the world's top ten drives) into Jasper National Park to tour the Athabasca Glacier and to walk over the Glacier Skywalk. Along the way we stopped at whatever looked beautiful- like Bow Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, and other spots along the drive. When we arrived at the Glacier we took a regular tour bus five minutes across the street to the base of the glacier and then a special six-wheel drive bus onto the actual glacier. We were allowed almost thirty minutes to walk out on the ice, which was absolutely amazing. I didn't think I'd be so impressed, but I really was. Afterwards we went to the Skywalk, which was a glass U-shaped bridge that allowed you to see 1,000 feet below. Heights don't bother me, but Sawyer didn't love it (I was proud of him- he didn't cry and went over the whole thing). Afterwards we had hot chocolate while getting one last look at the glacier and then drove back to Canmore. 

[View from Sulphur Mountain in to Banff]

This was our las chance to hang out in Banff, since I had to check out of our hotel. We took a gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain were we hung out for quite awhile (they had lots of different platforms with something like 500 steps total combined). We had lunch back in Banff (I had some excellent poutine) and then we took a bus out to Lake Minnewanka for a cruise around the water. We were able to hike around for awhile, too, and I let Sawyer throw rocks into the lake for almost thirty minutes (he loves doing this so very much). After exploring that area we went back to Banff and I started the sad, sad drive back to Calgary, where we stayed at the same hotel as the first night.

[Calgary Tower]

[The boys loved this]

Saturday we hung out around the hotel room for a few hours in the morning, since we were both really tired from being on the go everyday. Sawyer was getting far less sleep than normal and no naps, and I was just tired from nearly a week of solo-traveling with a four-year-old (I wasn't getting less sleep, but we were getting 15,000-20,000 steps a day and it's just gets a little draining being 100% responsible for your kid in unfamiliar places). After a late breakfast we drove to downtown Calgary to meet with Brie and her son! Brie and I have been blogger/Instagram friends for over six years, so I knew we had to meet in person since I was in her town. They took us to Prince's Island Park, where we saw the Peace Bridge and let the boys play. We walked to the Calgary Tower, which was really neat, and then had dinner together. It was the perfect end to our trip! Our sons are the same age, so it was fun to watch them play while we were able to catch up in person. 

I once again packed up all of our stuff and we drove to the airport. We had an uneventful flight back to LAX, where I had to schlepp our stuff from terminal 2 to terminal 6 parking- if you've never been there just take my word for it that it's a long way to begin with and even worse in 90 degree heat with a luggage cart and a kid. And then Southern California officially welcomed me back with a $205 parking bill for 6.5 days. 

A few things to note:
- Many, many people want to know why my husband didn't go. The answer: he has a demanding job that is hard to get away from and he also has a very real fear of flying. He is supportive of me taking Sawyer places, though, so it works out.
- The Calgary airport (YYC) is the best airport I have ever been to. It's clean, spacious, has pre-boarding comfort dogs that roam the terminals, has pre-clearance customs (so you don't have to clear in the US- the flight was treated as a domestic one when we arrived), a family security line, and volunteers to help out. 
- We didn't travel with a tour company; I chose to do some tours and activities in Banff, but it was just Sawyer and I most of the time
- My entire Canadian experience was amazing- it is the cleanest place I have ever visited. The bathrooms were pristine, there were hand sanitizer everywhere, I saw no trash by the side of the road, etc... You can tell that they take a lot of pride in Banff and Jasper.
- This was the first major trip Sawyer and I have taken together, but we've done quite a few car trips to Yosemite and Modesto, so I know his travel strengths and weaknesses! We had a few new LEGO books, the iPad for the plane and longer car distances, and snacks to keep him occupied. I didn't stress about bedtimes or serious nutrition, but I did make sure to keep the order of the different steps of his bedtime the same, which I think helped him go to sleep at night. 
- I tried to take my normal level of organization and then double it. When I packed for him each outfit went into a separate ziplock bag, which then housed the next dirty outfit. I planned out what we were going to do the night before each day and mapped our schedule backwards so that we were able to get to tour spots and times with plenty of wiggle room (feeling like I am going to be late makes me very anxious). I had a bag with me at all times that had bandaids, wipes, tylenol for both of us, an extra change of clothes, our passports, and cash. I also kept a folder at the hotel with copies of our passports, birth certificates, my driver's license, our flight information, the rental car agreement, and all tour confirmations. 
- When it came to the airports, I checked basically everything except for a backpack for each of us with no liquids (so the car seat and two suitcases). This made going through security and walking around the airport so easy! I am definitely going to get TSA Pre-Check soon, though.
- I tried not to set either of us up for failure. Sawyer can go happily on little sleep (for a kid) and can endure long distances in the car, but he can be a really picky eater (especially on the road). I made sure to buy snacks he liked at the grocery store in Canmore and the makings for PBJ, which he ate for lunch every day. I knew I would need at least an hour to myself every night after he slept to unwind, so I tried to put my phone away and read every evening (between that and the flight I managed to finish a little over two books). I also tried to let him know what was going on; if I needed him to give me a second to figure out directions I told him instead of snapping at him to be quiet. If I was worried about getting all of our stuff packed up I would give him jobs to keep him out of the way. I think traveling with him like this actually helped our communication skills, in a way. He was also forced to be more self-sufficient, like when he was cruising through LAX with a backpack on and rolling his own suitcase. 
- I had to really step outside my comfort zone and accept little offers of help, whether it was to take pictures of us, hold doors open, or even a little luggage transport cart in Calgary that whisked us off to our rental car in 1/4 the time it would have taken to walk (those volunteers are persistent!). 
- I tried to remember that this was a really special experience- that meant being patient, making stops to just look at the scenery, buying someone a few stuffed animals, taking excessive pictures, and being really thankful that we had this opportunity. 

1 comment:

  1. Banff is high on my list of places to see. The lakes look unreal and so, so gorgeous.