Julie Andrews knew what she was talking about when she sang the Sound of Music. I've seen the Austrian Alps, and while they're beautiful, they honestly cannot compare to the absolute majesty that is Banff National Park.
It's been two months since we arrived in Canada, and although we'd seen them from the air, we hadn't been to the mountains at all since getting here. In the last two weeks we've both accepted job offers (yay!) and so before we get back into a working routine, we thought it was about time we took a little road trip to the wilderness.
We'd met Gemma through a Facebook group for IEC participants and been chatting ever since. She moved to Alberta a matter of days after us, and was staying with friends in Lethbridge, a couple of hours away. She offered to take us on a road trip to experience some of the natural wonders that lay only an hour away and we were all too happy to say yes! She's hilarious and friendly, and was excellent company on our first mountain adventure in Canada.
We left at the crack of dawn, via our local coffee shop for some much needed caffeine, and drove straight to Lake Louise to try and beat the crowds. It had warmed up considerably, with the temperature even reaching 0 degrees that day, which was definitely a welcome treat. We took the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise before working our way back over the course of the day, even managing to see an elk on a highway embankment, our first view at native Canadian wildlife!
We pulled into the Lake Louise car park which was practically empty and made our way to the shore of the lake. The water was completely frozen over and covered by a thick layer of snow, surrounded on each side by towering peaks. It was so serene, the silence only broken by the crunching of our boots on the snow and the sounds of our own voices. We took a few photos and made our way over to the grounds of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury hotel overlooking the lake, and somewhere we could only dream of staying! We opted for something slightly more our budget, a hot chocolate in the hotel deli, before hopping in the car and making our way to Banff for some lunch and a bit of exploring.
Banff town is one of the prettiest towns we've ever seen, even the McDonald's was cute as heck. We only had a few hours to explore the town, and so had to skip activities such as the hot springs and the museum, but were able to squeeze in a look around the gift shops before having lunch at the Magpie and Stump, a delicious Mexican restaurant down Caribou Street. The portions here were huge, and definitely worth paying a little extra for.
After lunch we set off on a walk up Tunnel Mountain (or Sleeping Buffalo as it's sometimes known) to burn off the burritos and get a better view of Banff town and the gorgeous natural surroundings. Instead of starting in the town itself (parking restrictions can be a pain) we drove to the car park and set off on what would be the first proper uphill hike any of us had done since coming to Canada. We were entering cougar country, with forest warnings stapled to every noticeboard, and for the first fifteen minutes we were wary of every creaking tree and bird call, for fear of coming face to face with a wild cat. Luckily we weren't about to become cougar lunch, and the only animals we saw were circling birds of prey and a hungry deer chomping down on some vegetation. The trail was covered in compact snow, which made it easy to walk up, although we were very aware of the slippery difficulties we might face going back down.
We made it to the top feeling tired and ecstatic, but all in one piece, and the view was certainly worth it. Tunnel Mountain might only be a little summit, but it offers a great perspective of towering mountains on either side and the Bow Valley below. We started to make our way back down the trail, slowing down at corners to tackle the icy path, with Nikki being the only one to remain on her feet at all times. Sometimes a little bum sliding down a mountain can be good for you eh? We laughed constantly, mostly at my expense!
We left Banff and got back on the highway to travel over to Canmore, another town just outside the national park. Canmore is slightly bigger than Banff but just as beautiful. Gemma took us to Quarry Lake Park, where we trudged through knee deep, powdery snow before walking through the trees and taking a short loop around the lake and surrounding forest. It was a gentle walk and the perfect way to wind down the day just before the sun went down, and from there we made the journey back into the city.
Our first day exploring the mountains had been so amazing, we didn't want it to end. We love Calgary as a city, but knowing there is so much natural beauty just a short drive away is one of the great advantages of moving here. We wound down the day with pizza and beer (the ultimate girls night in) and went to bed hoping we wouldn't ache too much in the morning. The next morning Gemma drove back to Lethbridge, but we know there'll be plenty more mountain trails and road trips to come in the future. For now, Nikki and I are getting ready to start work in the coming week and looking forward to our next outdoor adventure.