Travel Talk: Banff, Canada

I thought it would be fun to recap some of the travels I've done in the past and take a break from publicly publishing my deepest worries in life. Sounds like a plan? Great. we begin with Banff!! 

How I Heard About It: Instagram

It's probably how I find most of the places I want to go to lately. I follow way too many travel Instragrammers and there are multiple versions of this classic picture of a woman with beautifully coiffed hair, sitting in a canoe on turquoise waters.

Insert Exhibit A:

                                                                 Do it for the 'gram

Naturally I had to go there myself and see if it was as beautiful as it seemed. Plus all of Canada's national parks are free this year! I'm cheap and I love free anything. That's $137 extra to spend on food!

How I Planned It: Blogs

I always read blogs before heading out to a new destination. Let everyone else do the work for you and shamelessly copy their schedule! That's the epitome of efficiency, ladies. 

I really liked this one since it covered all of the hikes, attractions and drives I should be doing in the short time period we were there for. Reading all of the posts made me more and more excited and gave me an idea of what to expect the moment we landed.

If any of you are curious and want a driving itinerary, this was pretty much our route. We had to spend a night in Calgary, pick up our rental car and then head straight out to the hostel to check-in. We tried our best to squeeze in as much as we could in 3 days, and with some coffee, snacks and good music, we were able to hit up pretty much every main sight!

Of course, the outdoorsy side of me wished I could backpack and wander around for months, but for a short reality escape, our schedule sufficed.

Where I Stayed: HI Hostel, Lake Louise

Clarification here--my travel partner is quite the spontaneous soul. After going to Iceland, Miami, and Portland with this last-minute fellow, I've long had to throw away my inclination to plan and go with the flow and let him book accommodations last-minute (works for me since I don't have to do it!).

So we went to Calgary with no idea where we would be staying the next night. Luckily, there was a good deal on a hostel with a prime location. It was huge and there was a cool loft-like layout. We were only minutes from Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which made it easy to go when there wasn't a huge rush.


What I Did: Hike (and drive)

If I'm going to Canada...the land of glaciers, alpine forests and maple syrup, I will be hiking. The hike I was really interested in was the Teahouse Hike at Lake Louise. Basically there are two teahouses that actually sell pastries and coffee around the lake, but the catch is that you have to work your ass off to get to them. The Lake Agnes one isn't too bad to get to, but if you want to do the Teahouse Challenge (going to both of the teahouse in one day ~ 9 miles with quite a bit of elevation gain), then it's a long day.

Since we were on a tight schedule, we had to seize the time we had and attempt the challenge....starting at 6pm. Thankfully, it was June so the sun didn't set until 9 pm! 

Reading about the hikes online made it seem like a piece of cake (or a cup a tea..ha) and pretty straightforward. However, I learned pretty quickly real life isn't always as easy as blogs and Instagram make it seem like. There was a recent avalanche that basically destroyed or covered most of the trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse. It was like walking on a slippery, melting sheet of ice while dodging tree stumps and branches and hoping that your worn out hiking shoes don't give out. On top of that, I was getting paranoid about grizzlies ripping my bright pink jacketed self to shreds the entire time. 

We were going at such a slow pace and had the trail to ourselves which amped up the fear factor higher. Finally, we come across this woman who is nonchalantly walking through the avalanche-wrecked trail and learn that the rest of the trail was impossible to navigate.

Secretly, I was really happy about this so that we had a smaller chance of becoming a bear's dinner.

We still got to go up to the Lake Agnes teahouse and soak in the watercolors of the sunset. 



The rest of our days were spent driving up to Peyto Lake (where it started June), Jasper National Park for the Icefield Parkway to see the enormous glaciers (and purchase overpriced coffee), Moraine Lake to reflect (and take an introspective picture: see below) and get some awesome scrambling in at Mt. Yamnuska. 


Take some time to explore the actual town of Banff. It is essentially the most perfect mountain town I have ever been to and I want to retire there ASAP.

My Tips

  1. International Data: We went rogue and didn't even get any data. We did try (and wasted 2 hours in Calgary trying to set it up), but in the end we just pre-loaded our driving route when we had free wifi. It worked really well surprisingly and it helps that the route to Banff is very clearly marked.
  2. Food: Maybe I'm picky, but it didn't seem like there was a good selection of restaurants on the road. Or any restaurants at all. Maybe I'm used to America where neon fast food signs lure me every 10 minutes. Trailhead Cafe in Lake Louise was great though! Go to Tim Horton's for the classic Canadian donuts and coffee too.
  3. Weather: We went in June expecting to see the sunny skies that Instagram touted. Nope. It snowed and rained and was bone-chilling cold. Bring. all. of. the. layers.
  4. Car Rental: My travel partner is very good at finding deals (helps that he is just as thrifty as I am). Renting a car from Calgary city itself was almost 50% cheaper than renting from the airport. Take the train straight into the city for a few dollars and voila! 
  5. Flights: Book early! You can find flights ranging from $150-$300 and they are all direct out of LAX.

How I Liked It: 4 Thumbs Up

Honestly, I fell in love with Canada during this trip. I will go back, but for a month when I feel like I need a soul-searching trip. Plus the people are so friendly! This year is the year to go in terms of popularity--it is worth the hype. It's also a great spot to see the Northern Lights! 

Go make a trip out to our friendly neighbors (and apply for citizenship while you're there).