Banff National Park, part 1 – Banff

Gargoyle Valley

Banff National Park, established in 1885, is Canada’s oldest national park. Like the other parks in the area, the westward expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway played a major role in Banff’s discovery and introduction to the world.  The CPR built the historic Banff Springs Hotel (1888) and Chateau Lake Louise (1911) to entice wealthy patrons aboard their trains for vacations in the Rockies. Both of these luxury hotels (with many renovations), and the resort towns of Banff and Lake Louise that grew around them, continue to draw tourists from around the world in the 21st century.

Banff is not the largest park in the Canadian Rockies – that honor belongs to Jasper. However, it’s the most popular of the parks, and with good reason. Even more so than the other parks, the largest and most spectacular mountains are right there in your face, and for non-hikers there’s a range of other activities in the 2 towns. For us, the quantity and variety of day hikes we could choose from really made us smile – and the number of squeals per hike so far, in the southern part of the park nearest the town of Banff, forced us to extend our stay. So, here’s part 1…

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Revelstoke, BC/Mount Revelstoke National Park

Lake Eva in Mount Revelstoke National Park

The grand concept for this trip was to make our way to the Canadian Rockies, visit (and hike!) the national parks there, and start making our way back. As Doug detailed in the two previous posts, we extended our westerly turn-around point to Penticton and added a music festival in Salmon Arm, both in BC. In addition to the five Rocky Mountain parks, we included the two national parks in the Selkirk range in our list, just a bit west of the Rocky Mountains in BC. The first of these is Mount Revelstoke National Park.

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Salmon Arm, BC: Smokin’ Roots & Blues Festival

That word Smokin’ in the title is an intentional double-entendre. Both potential interpretations are relevant and accurate.

We’d taken an excursion to Penticton for a visit, and part of our intention after that was to spend a little more time away from the national parks in the Canadian Rockies during the prime vacation period. Well, right between Penticton and Revelstoke is this place called Salmon Arm (which you can pronounce like “seminar,” except you add an M at the end) where they’ve been putting on a huge music festival for three days every August for, like, 28 years.

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Penticton, BC

Dream Cafe, Penticton BC

Barring something unforeseen, Penticton, BC is the farthest west we will venture on this trip. We’d actually intended to begin moving eastward again from Revelstoke, but as we were filling in the details we found out that Lisa Brokop and Paul Jefferson would be doing a show a few hours from there at right about the same time we were in the area. Lisa is a Canadian singer/songwriter now based in Nashville. Her husband, American singer/songwriter Paul Jefferson, is my cousin.

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Yoho National Park

The President Range, Emerald River Valley

Though it doesn’t appear so at first, after being here for a week we realize that Yoho National Park, Canada’s second oldest park, has a split personality.

The discovery of Kicking Horse Pass, the first pass across the Canadian Rockies deemed ‘safe’ for the railroad in the 1850’s, put Yoho on the map. This discovery allowed Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to complete the transcontinental railroad. After numerous catastrophic train crashes, CPR reduced the grade through Kicking Horse Pass (aka ‘The Big Mountain’) with the use of the spiral tunnels, completed 1909. CPR also built the famed Canadian Pacific Hotels – beautiful lodges in gorgeous, remote places marketed to elite travelers in order to encourage more rail travel. Although no longer owned by the railroad, Emerald Lake, Yoho Valley, and Lake O’Hara Lodges in the park continue to provide luxurious accommodations in ‘we-are-but-specks-on-this-planet’ nature. (Italics from their brochures. And they really nail it.) Of course, where goes the CPR, now also goes the Trans-Canada Highway.

Away from the railroad, the highway, and the Kicking Horse Valley, Yoho is a hiker’s paradise. There are three super-steep, super-deep valleys in the park with towering, nearly vertical rocks walls, hidden glacial lakes and countless waterfalls. Accessible by paved roads, the end points of the valleys include lodging, tourist vistas and trailheads. Those end points are where the two Yoho personalities cross paths. Not far from these points, hikers leave the resort guests and tourist crowds on the shorter paved trails and head out for some of the best hiking we’ve experienced anywhere in our travels of North America. Thank you CPR.

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Jasper National Park

Maligne Lake, Maligne Mountain, Maligne Glacier

We do love mountains! Views, mountain air, hiking, mountains in your face with glimpses of remote river valleys and distant peaks; forests and critters big and small, tiny mountain communities and ski towns, (usually) cooler temps. We were on our way to see the Canadian Rockies and set a course for Jasper National Park, the northernmost of the parks there.

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Edmonton, AB – Major provisioning stop

Living in an RV 6 months at a time is different from taking a vacation in an RV. It’s not just that life goes on while we’re on the road, our life is on the road! Several times in a 6-month trip, we need to pull in for some major provisioning. Our RV needs maintenance, the pantry is bare, the fridge is empty, the freezer is getting thin and we need a few special items. One such recent stop for us was in Edmonton, AB.

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The Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories license plate

We love Northwest Territories and have thoroughly enjoyed our travels here, and we hope that sentiment has come through in our 3 prior posts. In those, we’ve included observations and thoughts about diversity, friendly people, great music, interesting small towns, and a unique city. This post includes a few more of our thoughts about the Northwest Territories and a few noteworthy things that didn’t make it into any of the other three. We did a post kind of like a year ago in Utah that we called “the space between.” This is in that same spirit.

To start with, as it says on their license plate – the only one in the world shaped like a polar bear – Northwest Territories is spectacular!

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Yellowknife, NT

Yellowknife is out there! On the north shore of the Great Slave Lake, it’s a 15-hour drive from Edmonton, AB and 5 hours from the nearest settlement with more than 2,000 people. Although geographically isolated, it’s by no means disconnected from the world. It’s a modern city of 20,000 of the most ethnically diverse, friendliest and interesting people we’ve met on our travels.

We’d made a campground reservation to stay a few days for the music festival, and we extended it a couple of times to do some more visiting and exploring of the city.

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Yellowknife, NT: Folk on the Rocks

When we first considered exploring Canada this year, I looked at the map. I had to use a big screen – Canada’s a big place! Just pondering the sheer size, I noticed a dot on the map at the end of a road to the north on the edge of a huge lake: Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. It was all by itself and way up there. Curious, I googled it. It is the northernmost city in Canada. You get there on the northernmost paved road in Canada. It is the home of Folk on the Rocks, the ‘largest music festival under the midnight sun.’ We wanted to explore the Canadian Rockies in August/September. If we went to Yellowknife, the timing of the festival in late July would be perfect! We put a pushpin on the map and I made our only reservation of the summer at the campground next door to the festival grounds. We’re very glad we did!

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