I really enjoyed reading Mrs. Sword’s posts on what to do and what to avoid during her Jamaican honeymoon. And since I really haven’t seen a comprehensive post on vacationing in the Canadian Rockies, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on how to have a fabulous honeymoon (or vacation) in the Canadian Rockies. (Keep in mind that all of these tips are relevant only for a trip during the summer… winter is a whole different ballgame.)
First up, the stuff you need. Some of this stuff you should pack, and some you should buy when you get there.
- Good walking shoes Mr. Whale and I both bought waterproof hiking boots, because we were warned that June is relatively rainy, and we wanted to be prepared for hiking through a bunch of mud. We loved our shoes, but truthfully, good walking shoes (which could mean just the shoes you would normally wear to the gym) would probably have been fine. The main thing is that you don’t want to be hiking in your Toms or your Chucks.
- A Park Pass No one mentioned this to me before I left, so I had no idea I needed this. Basically, all the towns we visited (except for Canmore) are inside national parks. This means you need a national park pass to be there (like, just to be in the town… blew my mind). We just bought our pass as we were driving to Banff. We had to stop at a gate, and that’s where we bought the pass. It’s good at tons of national parks all across Canada. Just be aware that if you’re going to be there for more than a week, you’ll probably buy an annual pass which is about $140.
- Bugspray Thanks to vigilant bug spray application, I came away from our honeymoon with only four or five mosquito bites. But without it, I can’t imagine how many I would have had. We were seriously swarmed at times. I highly recommend Off Smooth and Dry. It’s not greasy at all. AND, I’ve actually gotten compliments about how good I smell after I put it on. How crazy is that?
- Layers The temperature in the rockies varies dramatically. Some mornings we would wake up freezing and be sweating by afternoon. You don’t need a big coat for summer, but definitely bring some kind of jacket (I used the zip out lining from my winter coat a lot) and bring several scarves.
- Binoculars The best part of this trip is the stuff you see. So… why not bring something to help you see better!
- Sunscreen You’ll want some sunscreen at least for your face. I wore long sleeves every day, so I didn’t really use it anywhere but my face, but Mr. Whale did the t-shirt thing a few times and wanted some for his arms.
- A Cooler During our first trip to the grocery store, we bought a styrofoam cooler, and it was totally the right decision. It was definitely helpful for our drives between towns (especially when we had to make a ten hour drive… our food definitely wouldn’t have survived that). You could also use it to pack a picnic lunch or snacks for the day.
- Water Bottles We did not pack nearly enough water during our first hike, and we thought we were going to die of thirst (not really, but dang we were thirsty). You don’t need to bring anything special. Just don’t forget to pack a lot of water. We brought about 2.5 liters for our six hour hike, and that was about right.
- A Hat I didn’t bring any kind of hat, but I kind of wish I had. If you wear hats at all, make sure you bring one. Sometimes it keeps the sun out of your eyes. Sometimes it hides your nasty sweaty hair. It’s just a good idea.
- Toilet Paper Alright, I know this is a little crazy. Don’t get me wrong, the Canadians definitely use toilet paper 🙂 BUT, when you’re driving along the road, you’re not going to see a lot of rest areas like you do in the US. You’ll see a little sign for a restroom, but when you pull over… it’s actually just a glorified porta-potty. That’s fine. It didn’t bother me at all. But, I did hate it when one was out of toilet paper… So, you might want to stuff some extra kleenex or tp in your purse when you head to the outhouse, because toilet paper isn’t a guarantee.
Next up, my favorite activities in order from best to… least best. (I mean, nothing was bad. Some stuff was just crazy awesome, and other stuff was just fun.)
1. Plain of Six Glaciers Hike For moderate effort and about six hours of hiking, you get an awesome experience. Mr. Whale and I both agree that this was our favorite day. If I could do it again, I would also do it with a guide. (I’ve heard great things about Great Divide, but they were booked up while we were there.) And the guide isn’t because the hike was too hard, but we had soooo many questions during the hike. What is this animal? Why does the ground look like this here? How thick is the glacier? How old is it? I think a guide could have shared a ton of interesting information.
1.5. Lake Louise Shoreline To do the Plain of Six Glaciers hike, you start by walking to the other end of Lake Louise. So, for us, it wasn’t really a separate event. But, if you are at Lake Louise, you must at least walk to the other end of the shore. (Or if walking isn’t your thing, rent a canoe.) The water is absolutely the most beautiful at that end.
2. Johnston Canyon and the Inkpots Hike If you’ve got a nice day with blue skies, this hike is awesome. The inkpots were so gorgeous. Pools of blue and green water with mountains nearby and a beautiful river. The inkpots is the perfect place for a picnic. (Heads up: It’s super crowded on the weekends. The parking lot was full. We had to park along the road.)
3. Maligne Lake and Spirit Island Pictures of Spirit Island are famous. You have to take a boat to get to it. It’s a little pricey but totally worth it, especially if the day is nice. (And I am not someone to just throw money around. It was worth my $60 ticket.) Also, the road to Maligne Lake is where we saw the most wildlife! It’s where we saw the bear cub! And the grizzly bear!
4. Banff Gondola and Alpine Lights You actually don’t have to ride the gondola to get to the top of the mountain. You can hike it. But I’m so glad we didn’t. It was worth the money to just hop on the gondola and ride up. And the food at dinner was delicious.
5. Moraine Lake Okay, I didn’t know where to rank this. When we were at Moraine Lake, it was really cloudy. The sky was gray, and it was just fairly dreary. So, for us, it didn’t really stand out. BUT, you have to go here anyway. And if you have blue skies, it’s probably going to be one of the most gorgeous places you’ve ever seen.
6. Natural Bridge This is one of those places where you just pull off the road, and you’re there. But it was so gorgeous. It’s on the road out to Emerald Lake, so if you’re already headed that way, make sure you stop.
7. Canoeing on Patricia Lake This was SO FUN. The water is a beautiful shade of green. And it was only $25 to rent the canoe for an hour. (And we stayed out for an hour and half, and they still only charged us for an hour. Score!)
8. Mount Edith Cavell This is one of the places you can get to off of the Icefields Parkway (but heads up… it’s about 30 minutes from the road). Unfortunately, a lot of the area is still closed after one of the glaciers fell last fall. But it’s still very beautiful.
A lot of people hike down to get right up close to the ice. Mr. Whale and I didn’t have time to do this, but honestly, I wouldn’t have done it anyway. (This is the warning that is on the Parks Canada website: Warning: throughout the Cavell area, hikers should stay on the trails and away from the cliffs, where there is danger from falling boulders and avalanches of snow and ice. Do not approach the Angel Glacier. House-size blocks of ice crash down. Ummmm… I don’t really want to mess with all that, especially after an entire glacier fell off the mountain and wiped out everything in its path.)
9. Tunnel Mountain Hike This was a super fun and really easy hike. You just drive about five or ten minutes outside of Banff and then hike for an hour or two. It’s a nice easy hike with great views at the top.
10. Maligne Canyon This canyon wasn’t quite as spectacular as Johnston Canyon (in my opinion). But Mr. Whale loved it. He would probably rank it a little higher on the list. I would totally do it again, but it wasn’t my favorite thing ever 🙂
11. Miette Hot Springs So many people raved about the hot springs in the area. And in all honesty, I ended up having a freaking amazing time at the hot springs. Mr. Whale practically had to drag me out, because I was so relaxed. But, it wasn’t at all what I expected. When I was in Costa Rica, I went to some hot springs near one of the volcanoes. It was phenomenal. It was very luxurious and exotic, and you felt like you were on a different planet. Here, it was basically like going to a swimming pool, except the pool was more like the temperature of a hot tub. There were lots of kids and just lots of people in general. I didn’t let that stop me from getting super relaxed, but I just want people to be prepared. If you’re looking for a super romatic hot springs excursion… this probably isn’t it.
Now, of course my list of activities just ranks the things we actually did. After being there and seeing what’s out there, there are a few hikes and activities that I would like to do when we have a chance to go back. If you’re thinking of going, here are a few other activities that I think would also be awesome
- Lake Agnes and Little Beehive Hike Like the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike, this hike leaves from Lake Louise. I’ve heard good things about it, but we just didn’t have time. It’s another full day (5-6 hours) hike.
- Lake O’Hara Hiking Apparently Lake O’Hara is restricted in who can access it. You have to make reservations to go by bus exactly three months in advance or plan a guided hike with a certified guide. We didn’t know this, so we didn’t get to go. But it’s supposed to be incredible.
- Takkakaw Falls
- Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Ugh, we’re so bummed we didn’t get to do this. Because the Icefields Parkway was closed on the day we planned to travel to Jasper, we lost that day of exploring. And then, because some roads were still closed on our way back, we lost about two hours of that day to extra driving. So… we didn’t get to ride the monster truck ice-mobile onto the glacier. Mr. Whale is still sad about it.
- Hiking at Maligne Lake We were pooped and wanted to go to the hot springs when we got back from our boat ride to Spirit Island. But, I would like to do a hike by the lake. It looked like a nice place to hike.
- Stanley Glacier
- Hiking around Bow Lake It’s supposed to be nice. This area was closed due to the landslides 😦
And last but not least, there were several websites that were very helpful while we were in Canada. Because the area is a popular destination, you can easily get sucked into a gazillion different sites. I recommend focusing on three websites. First, TripAdvisor. This doesn’t need much explanation. There are reviews for a ton of hikes, and it’s where I found all of the places we stayed.
Next up, the Parks Canada site. You should use this site to check the trail conditions before you go on any hike. To get to the trail conditions in a national park, click “National Parks” (on the left hand side). Then, click “Find a National Park” (also on the left hand side). Click on the park that houses the trail you’re interested in. (I’m going to click “Banff National Park”.) Click “Trail Report” on the left hand side. You should now see something like this.
The website is updated frequently, and you should use it. You don’t want to show up someplace ready to hike only to find out you can’t go. I was blown away by how many trails were still unusable while we were there. I mean, I know it snows a lot, but I really didn’t expect there to be so much snow covering the trails at the end of June. But… that’s just how it is 🙂
And last but not least, I’m on the fence about sharing this last site with you. The design of the website is not that great. (Black background with white writing? Seriously? Is this middle school?) But… I used it a lot, and it proved quite helpful. And so, I’m ashamed to admit I so frequently used a website with a name like AlbertaWow. I used this to research all of our hikes. The best part is that they post a TON of pictures from every hike. So… if you’re trying to decide what to do for the day, this will help you figure out the most beautiful place to go. Also, the descriptions of each hike are quite good.
Okay, embarrassing moment over. And, sadly, honeymoon over. If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved everything about our trip. It was romantic, adventurous, beautiful… everything I wanted in a honeymoon. We’re already planning a trip back, because we loved it so much.
Did I miss any big things that you should know about when going to Canada?
*All photos personal unless otherwise indicated.