It has been a while since we headed west on our travels (other than to Winchester) so time to correct this. So where to go? Friends had told us of their trip to Canada a few years ago and this really appealed, so borrowing their itinerary we laid our own plans.
“Welcome to Calgary where the time is 1830pm” said a cabin crew member on our flight. We left London at 5pm in warm sunshine and after an 8.5 hour flight arrived an hour after leaving! The weather was dull, wet and cold. We were glad of our warm “puffer” jackets whilst we were waiting for our hotel bus.
Our stay in Calgary was short, just one night, and after a long sleep we awoke to a dreary, foggy, cold morning and after a breakfast in our hotel we headed back to the airport to pick up the hire car. We had booked a “Full Size” Saloon, and not fully understanding what that meant, had a shock when we were presented with a Dodge Charger Saloon; a derivative of that noted American “Muscle Car”. The man in the car hire place said “……….. it is a lovely, comfortable car and has plenty of power”, not much use in a country where the upper speed limit is 100kph (62 mph). We noted that the roads were wide, as were the cars, and as we headed out on the highway, we tuned in to a Canadian rock music station.
Clockwise from top left: Welcome to Canada, leaving Calgary Airport on the Trans-Canada Highway: Things are improving; Our Dodge Charger; That’s better we can see now!
Canmore lies about an hour west of Calgary and is regarded as the “Gateway to the Rockies.” The town was named in 1884 by Donald A. Smith, later the first Baron Strathcona, after Malcolm III of Scotland whose nickname was also Canmore (Gaelic for “Bighead” apparently). Smith was a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway which runs through the town. Canmore was built on coal mining but it was only in 1965 that the place was incorporated as a town. As the 1970’s came and went, so the market for coal began to diminish and the last of Canmore’s mines closed in 1979. Today the town’s main claim to fame is as the home of the Canadian Nordic Ski-ing Centre, brought here as a result of being host to the Nordic Ski-ing events at the 1988 Winter Olympics hosted by Calgary.
Scenes of Canmore
Our accommodation is about a mile from the town centre and we got our first taste of “wildlife hazards” when the receptionist warned us of a young bear occasionally frequenting the grounds looking for food. It is their time for scavenging prior to hibernation, so they are looking for around 17,000 calories per day to build up their energy stores for the “long sleep”. So far we have not seen it. We were advised to carry bear spray (supplied free by the hotel) if we went out walking the many trails around Canmore. Everywhere we went outside the main commercial centre of the town, signs were up warning of the presence of these not so cute and cuddly creatures. General advice was, don’t go out alone, talk loudly to ward off the bears, and back away slowly.
More scenes from Canmore – All Policemans Creek except bottom right, which is Bow River
L-R: Canmore Memorial Garden; Lyn on the walk to Canmore centre; Us on the bridge over Bow River.
Canmore is an out and out tourist town these days and we arrived in time for Canadian Labor Day celebrations which meant a Highland Games event in the local park. We heard bagpipes and saw several kilt Canadians (I think they were locals) walking about the place but we chose just to explore the town, taking in the scenes, sights and sounds and generally finding our way about.
There are numerous walking trails in the local area. One in particular originates in nearby Whitemans Pond, about 20 minutes drive from Canmore, with a trail up to Ha Ling Peak. Heading along Spray Lakes road the route started to climb and narrow. We passed a large car park on the right and wondered why people were pulling off the road and turning round. About 50 metres further up the hill the tarmac road disappeared and became a rough gravel track. This was the “road” to Whitemans Pond. As we were not insured for gravel tracks we joined those using the car park to about turn. We ended up at Quarry Lake, close to the aforementioned Nordic Ski Centre and had a pleasant walk around the local area keeping a close watch for any wildlife, but the biggest beasts we saw were dragonflies darting around the lake. Later, closer examination of the tourist map revealed that the 742 Smith Dorian Hwy was actually a gravel track!
Clockwise from top left: Quarry Lake near Canmore; Another view of Quarry Lake; One of the locals, A dragonfly; A dragonfly stands by!; Bear country, a sign advises caution; Flowers in the sun
Canmore sits on the Trans-Canadian Highway 1 and in 2010, to celebrate 125 years of the Canadian National Parks Authority, a cycle trail was constructed from Canmore to Banff which runs alongside the main highway. It is a 22km tarmac route which occasionally leaves the side of the highway to provide some stunning viewpoints of the Bow Valley and the mountains that line one side of it.
We borrowed a couple of bikes from our hotel and spent a very pleasant, warm day cycling the trail. They were not road bikes, indeed, Lyn’s chosen wheels would have been more suited to mountain trails than a tarmac road. Nevertheless they were free so we were not about to quibble! We made it into Banff in time for lunch and after a brief walk around, headed home.
Clockwise from top left: At the start of the Legacy Cycle Trail; A gentle hill climb; Back on the level; We take a break on the trail; Us admiring the views! Lyn struggles on a mountain bike “Wish I had my road bike!” she said later.
Clockwise from top left: Log dam built by a beaver colony; Beaver den; Cascade Mountain overlooking Banff; The Trail; Views from the trail
Cascade Creek, which flows along part of the Legacy Cycle Trail.
Banff looks like a ski resort, which is what it is in winter. Wooden alpine style buildings blending in with modern concrete and steel structures provide shops and accommodation for visitors all year round and I was surprised how busy it was, even in September. I can’t imagine what it must be like at the height of the winter ski season.
Top and Centre row: Scenes of Banff . Bottom Image: Where’s mine? Lyn’s salad lunch has arrived!
About five miles west of Banff is a resort named Sunshine Meadows. We paid a visit on our way to our next stop of Lake Louise. It is a dedicated ski resort in winter with lodges, a hotel, cafe/bars and chairlifts heading off in all directions, but in summer locals and tourists head there to walk the high level trails accessed, via a the same mountain transport. From the top station a short walk brought us to the Standish Viewing Point, a large wooden platform on two levels which provided stunning views of the Rockies. It was breathtaking . Several trails lead away from this platform and we followed one down to Rock Isle Lake. Again the views were stunning all around. At the platform we were were advised of the presence of a bear nearby which made those walking a little more cautious, but we saw nothing sadly. We did see Richardsons Ground Squirrels and other small wildlife, but still no bears.
Left: Us on the Standish Viewpoint; Centre: Us by Rock Isle Lake; Right: Lyn in the Gondola
Views from the Sunshine Meadows resort
Top: Two views of Rock Isle Lake. Bottom left: The path down to Rock Isle Lake; Right: A Robinsons Squirrel
From Sunshine Resort it was a short drive along the Trans Canadian Highway 1 to our next destination on our Canadian Rockies road trip, Lake Louise.