O Canada, O Montana

by Joe
My wife and I anticipated a trip to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park for several years. Seems like every time we got close, something else kicked our interest. We just completed this trip in September and were amazed at the beauty, the food, and the international appeal of the area surrounding Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. This was the end of the season for many of the lodges and great park hotels in Glacier and Banff. However, we had great cool weather to hike in and a little taste of snow in the upper elevations of the mountains. It just added to the beauty of the scenery.

The trip was twelve days and just about right for us. You could scale up or down the number of days to fit your taste but no matter how many days you spend you will not be disappointed. I would suggest you try to avoid the mid-summer months as we were told the crowds are quite large. At the major attractions in Banff we still saw buses loaded with tourists.

We elected to limit our moves from hotels to two plus a one night stay in Calgary. On many of our past trips of this type, we have changed every couple of days if the need encouraged it. However, we were limited in choices around Glacier due to the end of season, closings due to fires in the park, and rooms being booked up. In Canada, we stayed in an awesome ski-type spacious condo in Canmore, Alberta, just a few miles from Banff. This town is the next up-and-coming ski/backpacking town with great accommodations and very good local restaurants. We stayed in Whitefish in Montana which is a great little western town also with great food. We stayed in a condo on Whitefish Lake which was really relaxing and comfortable, someone’s summer home.

A basic summary of our itinerary follows:

Day One: flew into Calgary, rented our SUV and drove 75 minutes to the condo in Canmore. Checked in, dumped our luggage in the room, and picked up supplies at a local grocery store and liquor store (for those wind down evenings). We still had time to drive up to the town of Banff for a National Park Pass and a look around. Ate at the Georgetown Pub back in Canmore which was a cool looking hotel and great Irish restaurant.

Lake Louise

Day Two: drove to Lake Louise. Hiked to Lake Agnes and the terrific tea house at the Lake. Trail is only 2.5 miles (5m RT), but it has about a 1,300 ft of elevation gain. See my wife’s post on our trip to this wonderful spot. Visited the famous Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise Hotel which is right on the shore of beautiful Lake Louise. We ate dinner at The Tavern in Canmore.

Johnston Canyon

Day Three: drove the old Trans-Canada Highway to hike Johnston Canyon. This may have been the most beautiful hike we did the whole trip. It’s only 1/2 mile to the Lower Falls and 1 1/2 miles to the Upper Falls. Although there is elevation gain here too it’s not nearly as hard.

Lower Falls

Upper Falls

We had a nice lunch with nice hot lattes at the Canyon Cafe, a little counter at the Johnston Canyon Resort located at the base of the Canyon. We drove to Sunshine Village ski area but the gondolas were not running. We had planned to take it up to an area at the top of the mountain where there is some great hiking. Next stop was Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff. This was the original hot springs and resort and the beginnings of the Canadian National Park System. Next we headed to the Banff Gondola and we were excited that it was running. The 4 man enclosed cars take you up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. We took some of the most spectacular pictures from the great visitor center on top of this mountain. Back to Canmore in time for the 7 pm Mass and then dinner at The Drake.

Bow Lake

Day Four: drove north to Bow Lake and then a little further to Peyto Lake. Hiked the Peyto Lake overlook and part of the way to the Bow Lake lookout.

Num-Ti-Jah Hotel

Visited the Num-Ti-Jah resort at Bow Lake. We had sandwiches and split a bowl of their buffalo/elk chili. My wife makes the best chili I’ve ever had but this was a close second (she liked it too).

Lake Minnewanka

Drove south to Minnewanka and Two Jack Lakes. Back to Canmore for pizza and salad at the condo.

Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise

Day Five: drove back to Lake Louise area. Took the Lakeside Trail to the source of the lake. Great pictures of the Fairmont from there. When we returned from our hike we had a great croissant and lattes at the Fairmont Deli and Coffee Shop.

We drove about 3 miles and parked at the remote parking lot and caught a shuttle bus to Moraine Lake. We almost skipped this because of the logistics but we are so glad we took the extra time to see this most lovely lake. I think it was my favorite. Hiked the Moraine Lakeshore Trail which is a great way to see this most scenic alpine lake.

Moraine Lake

On our way back, the snow that we had seen earlier in the mountains surrounding the lake began to fall so as a precaution we left the area on the next shuttle bus. Drove back to Canmore and dinner at the Iron Goat.

Whitefish Lake, Mt

Day Six: repositioning day. Drove south to Montana and Glacier National Park. There is scenic highway all the way and lots of beautiful country to admire. Saw it snowing as we drove through Kootenay National Park. Ate lunch at the Front Porch in Eureka MT right across the Canadian/US border. This was a most excellent diner! Checked in at our condo on Whitefish Lake. Bought supplies and settled in.

Apgar (West Glacier Entrance) Visitor Center

Day Seven: drove to Glacier National Park at the West entrance. We checked out the visitor center and got an update on the fires and the partial closing of the Going to the Sun Road. The Sprague fire event on the east side of Lake McDonald would not allow us to cross the park so we had to adapt and drive around the Park later in the week to see many of the sites on our agenda. Hiked to the Apgar area where the hotel had already closed due to the fire. Glad we didn’t book a room there. One store was still open and it had a coffee bar. We made note of that, and it came in handy later. Checked out Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald

Rocky Point

Hiked to Rocky Point overlooking Lake McDonald. We could see a little smoke but could not see any of the flames. Drove down to Goat Lick south of Apgar. Unfortunately , no mountain goats. Back to Whitefish for dinner at the Buffalo Cafe.

Day Eight: began the long drive around Glacier NP. Stopped at Two Medicine. Beautiful day and a beautiful lake but the wind was freezing cold.

Two Medicine

Drove north to St. Mary Visitor Center and St. Mary Lake. This is an Eastern entrance to the park. Took the Going to the Sun Road as far as Logan Pass which had been closed the day before due to weather. When we arrived we saw why. It was cold and snowy. Checked out the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The drive was spectacular.

Going to the Sun Road

Logan Pass

Stopped at St Mary’s Resort, the Snowgoose Grille, for a great late lunch before heading back the way we came. Stopped at the Whiskey Barn and sampled some Glacier Distillery whiskies.

The Whiskey Barn

Day Nine: went back to the West entrance and the Apgar area. We took several shorter hikes around the area and ended back at Lake McDonald. Enjoyed hot lattes at the store that was still open and bought some gifts. Ate dinner at the Craggy Range bar and grill.

Jackson Glacier on the Going to the Sun Road

Day Ten: Drove to the ski area outside of Whitefish, the Whitefish Mountain Resort. The prep work was being completed for the upcoming ski season. Drove to the small State Park on the other side of Whitefish Lake. Started packing. Went to Mass in Whitefish and ate dinner at Casey’s.

Downtown Calgary

Day Eleven: drove the scenic drive back to Calgary which is a little over 5 hours. Checked into our downtown hotel. Explored a little bit of Calgary, bought some gifts and ate at the James Joyce.

Day Twelve: Early morning flight back home.

All the sites we saw mentioned above are recommended but there are still so many we didn’t get a chance to see. I would also recommend that if you can find a vacancy at a place in the Glacier NP it will save some driving. We were a little far away especially since we couldn’t use the Going to the Sun Road to cross the park. Canmore is a great location for exploring the Banff area as well as the surrounding Canadian National Parks. The Canadian parks are free this year to mark Canada’s 150 Anniversary. Stop in and enjoy the sites!

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