We spend the first and last couple days of our visit to the Canadian Rockies exploring Banff. We feel lucky that our first day ends up being the last day of straight months of rain. Everyone we pass for the rest of the trip are in such high spirits that summer has finally arrived. That said, our first, rainy day is spent exploring nearby towns, window shopping, brewery touring, ice cream eating, and taking a short hike up Tunnel Mountain when the weather breaks.
Banff is a little oasis nestled between tremendous peaks. Along with beautiful views, strenuous hikes, manicured gardens and river sport options a plenty, there’s also surprisingly good food, historic hotels and cute little coffee shops. We feel right at home. In many ways, it feels reminiscent of early weekends we spent exploring small towns in New England.
If you happen to find yourself in Banff, we loved our meals at Eden and Sky Bistro.
The Icefields Parkway, a.k.a. Highway 93, is heralded as a top drive of a lifetime. National Geographic rates it as one of the top drives in the world.
This road is well-traveled, especially when nearing a magnificent view point like Lake Louise or Moraine. Getting to experience each lake late at night, then early in the morning, and getting to approach each vista by bicycle is now the only way we could ever imagine doing it. All vistas require a climb, and biking that climb makes the view all the more beautiful. We crest a hill, we pause, we photograph, we snack (a lot!), we hydrate, and we marvel. The longest day we ride is 110 km, the shortest is 50 km, and the climbing never stops.
We bike from hotel to hotel, and the views from our rooms don’t disappoint either.
The lakes of the Canadian Rockies come in every shade from light teal to dark blue, they’re all mirrors to their surrounding mountain peaks, and they’re around every corner of the parkway. The science of why these lakes do what they do doesn’t ruin any of the magic. The glacier melt, which feeds the lakes, carries something called glacier silt or rock flour. This sunlight-reflecting silt comes from the glacier grinding along the rock underneath. And not only does this silt reflect the sun, it also stays suspended in the water giving the lakes that spectacular uniform, full look that reflects anything it can. From Lake Moraine to Lake Louise to Bow Lake to so many others that we passed each day on our bicycles, the surprise of their color never gets old.
Like a fairytale complete with tree-lined rolling hills and train whistles on the regular, the highway is our thoroughfare as we bike through Banff’s famous Bow Valley Parkway. The snow-capped mountains surrounding us tower towards blue skies, and the color of the river running next to us is that same surreal teal that fills the lakes. We own the uphills, we relish the downhills, there are no flats. There’s no better way to explore the Canadian Rockies.
“If you want, we can lend you some bear spray” is a helpful tip we receive upon asking for hike suggestions around Banff.
Lindsey doesn’t flinch, so I’m not sure whether I should be making it a bigger deal or not. I look at her for a cue, and then realize. “Hun, I don’t think they’re warning us about mosquito bites, I think they’re protecting us from grizzly and black bears.”
For someone who I know is so afraid of bats, I can’t imagine such comfort with the idea of crossing a giant bear on the trail.
“Oh! Oh wow! Ya – I didn’t get that at all.” Lindsey continues to think through some of the implications. “If we see one, we spray it? Do we run, act big, roll over?” Okay – maybe she didn’t say the roll over part, but that’s for dramatic effect in the retellings of the story.
“If you encounter a bear, the first thing you should do is…” There’s a short pause, but long enough for someone else behind the counter to chime in. At the same time, we hear, “run” and “definitely don’t run”. It’s conflicting advice, but at least now we’re armed with the most intense pepper spray (a.k.a. bear spray) we’ve ever had.
The level of fear from everyone we ask about bears is cautious but not scared, and so over a couple days, we also try to develop a similar attitude.
During the orientation of our bike tour, we’re presented with some more information on bear safety. Stay 100 meters away if you see a bear, unless it’s right on the side of the road, and then just don’t stop. And if a bear starts chasing you, hope you’re not the slowest cyclist – bears are fast!
On day 2 of our ride through the Canadian Rockies, we pass a black bear cub within feet of the side of the road. A couple cars are stopped to witness this adorable cub without mama bear anywhere in sight, or so we think. Per our directions, we keep moving. Definitely gets our heart rates up, but it’s all part of the adventure!