What a difference a week makes

Our last day in the Canadian Rockies. It meant retracing our route back down the Icefields Parkway to Banff for our final night. Just one week since we journeyed north, but already there was change.

The timing of this trip was no accident. It had to fit between Erik’s graduation and starting his new job. But it also coincided with our philosophy of traveling in the shoulder or off-season. There are a few drawbacks to be sure, but the advantages suit our style. It means avoiding crowds and having places to ourselves. It’s simpler, less stressful and more economical.

The main barrier on this trip was the reduced access to hiking trails. Many were still closed due to snow, and more than once we had to change plans on the fly when faced with weather conditions. Today was a prime example. On reaching our chosen trail head, not only could we see that the hike started in the snow, but hikers preparing to leave were outfitted with gear and clothing we clearly did not have. Good sign that we should seek a different trail at a lower elevation. But fortunately, the area is filled with alternate options.  We were not able to summit peaks or access some passes.  Wildflowers were only just beginning to bloom, temperatures were chilly to cold at times, and some areas had yet to green up. But early spring conditions have their own appeal.

On the flip side, we rarely shared trails with anyone. Major sites had only a handful of visitors. Restaurants greeted us eagerly and offered prime tables with views. Innkeepers were still fresh with the season opening and offered lower rates. And the volume of RVs and tour buses on the roads was easily tolerable.

Our return route gave us a taste of high season. We traveled on a Saturday, and visitors abounded in each turnout and viewpoint. Reaching Johnston Canyons which we visited practically by ourselves the previous Saturday (granted it was the day that snowed), we were astounded to see cars, trucks and RVs spilling out of the ample parking lots onto both sides of the road! If we weren’t convinced of our early season strategy by then, that sealed it.

We also found previously ice bound lakes to be opening up. And wildlife was in great evidence. We got our first close up look at elk with huge racks, at two different spots along the road.

Banff was teaming with activity when we arrived. The source was the annual Banff National Park Bike Fest, and that day they were holding criterium races, on a 1 km loop around the main streets of town. We’d never seen such events before, and with the help of a local who explained the rules to us, we joined the spectators lining the route and enjoyed the excitement of the races.  It was a fun and unexpected way to end our trip.

We’re sticking with our strategy.  We picked the right week.

Oh no – Snow!

We’d seen the weather forecast. We were prepared for wet conditions, given the 90% chance of rain. But snow never even entered our minds. Not far into our journey away from Calgary toward Banff, the raindrops assumed a thicker, fatter quality and the realization of what we were seeing dawned on us all at once.Snow in CanmoreBy the time we reached Canmore and stopped for lunch, the accumulation was undeniable. Trees were straining under their heavy white burden, and green grass had been replaced by a snowy blanket. We settled into a local restaurant, enjoyed exceptionally good food, and had a good laugh at Mother Nature’s joke. Rainy weather was just unpleasant. But snowy weather on June 9 was an adventure.


If we learned anything about the Canadian Rockies today, it was how quickly conditions could change. Water rushing through Johnston CanyonWe gradually left the snowfall behind, replacing it with drippy skies, clouds, and the occasional burst of sunlight. Hiking through Johnston Canyon, we managed to stay mostly dry while marveling at the thunderous volumes of water plummeting down the river. The brown swirling current raced by at a torrential pace, exceeding the boundaries of its normal banks, and showering us with spray at its waterfalls.

View near Lake LouiseTraveling the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise, we were rewarded by lifting clouds that rose enough for us to see the towering mountains beyond the pine trees lining the road. The dark formations of the peaks, largely covered in snow were majestic and particularly stunning in contrast with the greens of the pines and the growing blue patches of sky beyond. We were surrounded by mountains in all directions, alternately materializing and slipping away behind swirling clouds. We finally knew we had arrived – Canadian Rockies, Day 1. Snow and all.

Canadian Rockies here we come!

We are about to embark on the third and final College Graduation Trip!  Diplomas were handed out Memorial Day weekend and the new job begins July 9, so this is our son Erik’s final hurrah and our special time together before he heads out into the “real world.”

The destination is the Canadian Rockies, and the focus will be on hiking in the mountains.  Erik’s choice is one of those featured in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Spectacular Trips.  That’s a pretty good recommendation, even if he didn’t know it when he made his selection.  After months of research, countless visits to TripAdvisor, and reading way too many reviews, we have all our reservations and are ready to depart on Saturday.  Here is the basic plan:

  • Arrive in Calgary and immediately head up the Icefields Parkway
  • 3 nights in Lake Louise, hiking in Banff National Park
  • 4 nights in Jasper, hiking in Jasper National Park, with a side-trip to Mt. Robson Provincial Park
  • 1 final night in Banff, then return home

The goal was to limit moving around and maximize time spent outdoors.  We also chose accommodations in simple cabins.  Erik would have preferred “back country” lodgings, which require hiking in to reach them.  That sounded like great fun, but the timing of our trip precluded such adventure, as they do not open until later in the season (something about snow conditions…).

If time, inclination and internet connections permit, I hope to blog along the way.  But there is also something to be said for unplugging.  If it comes to choosing between an evening bonfire and blogging, I  already know which will win.

Graduation Travel Tradition

It started with my husband.  During his senior year of college, he spent a week in Antigua with his parents.  Not with his brothers, just him and his parents.  It made a big impression on him, and he felt it was a special time shared with his parents before he left school and started his first job.  At his suggestion we decided to replicate it.

Even when they were young, we told our children about this plan.  When they graduated from college, we would take them – not their siblings – on a trip, to a destination of their choosing.  Over the years, it became my favorite dinner time probe.  Where do you think you will go for your graduation trip?

Our first trip was to Jamaica.  Our daughter, Karen, wanted a beach vacation, and a place to relax and soak up the sun after a hectic senior year.  We found a wonderful small resort, Catcha Falling Star, perched on the cliffs south of Negril.  We loved our round air-cooled cottage, jumping into the deep blue waters off the rocks, reading by the waterside, and sampling the local fare for dinner.  It was a week of pure relaxation and slow pace.  It was on that trip that Karen shared with us the depth of her love for her now-husband.  Truly a special time!

The next trip took us to Alaska.  Our son, Carl, was looking for adventure and wilderness.  Traveling around the southern portion of the state our favorite venue was Bowman’s Bear Creek Lodge on the Kenai Peninsula.  From there we experienced sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay, fishing for salmon, hiking on glaciers, and enjoyed the best weather of the trip.  The rustic log cabins at Bowman’s and delicious dinner savored on the porch were the perfect complement to our outdoor experience.  We especially relished that week with Carl, as soon afterwards he left for a year’s study abroad as part of his master’s degree program in International Relations.

And now the third and final trip.  Erik will graduate this spring and has selected Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies for his trip.  Hiking and mountains were the key ingredients for him.  The tickets are purchased, lodging reservations in the making, and anticipation is growing.  Now all he has to do is get his diploma.

That will be the end for this generation.  Will they continue the tradition?