The reason we decided to make a road trip that brought us into Canada was because the National Parks were giving away free passes, which we started to use. Since the short drive from Calgary got us into Banff much before our room was ready, we went on a short hike which introduced us to Canadian mosquitoes.
We mostly slept well in our University of Calgary dorm room, but at one point I heard a bunch of people enjoying themselves in the hallway. Fortunately I was tired enough to be able to fall back asleep.
People were still enjoying themselves when we woke up (or perhaps the original people were sleeping and these were different people). Ah, dorm life.
After breakfast, we took everything out to the car (one huge trip this time because of the distance), walked across campus to check out, and then back to the car. And then we were off.
Almost immediately we hopped onto the Trans-Canada Highway, the first time I've been on it. We weren't on it for very long, though, before we were entering Banff National Park.
Arriving at Banff National Park
Driving into the town of Banff, we were struck (but not surprised) how much it looked like an Alpine resort town. Our initial destination was the visitor center, so we found a place to park (which was pretty easy even though there were few spots) and walked the couple blocks.
We had a short wait for one of the people giving hiking advice, so we explained how long we were going to be around and what kind of hikes we were looking for. She gave us several options, including which hikes were busy, requiring arriving either early or late to find parking.
Armed with maps, we made a trail selection for the afternoon and went to find a grocery store to supplement what food we had for lunch. There was a small store on the way back to the car, and we were able to get what we needed. Further on the way back to the car, wepicked up a pastry, since the bakery looked pretty good.
Sundance Canyon Trail
Our hike started at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The plan was to do the hike first, then look at the exhibits, so we walked past everything (noting the strong smell of sulfur) and continued on the paved section of the Marsh Loop Trail until we got to Sundance Canyon Trail.
As with the segment of the Marsh Loop Trail we had just left, the Sundance Canyon Trail was paved and followed the Bow River. The river was a striking green, and was quite pretty with the mountains behind it.
There were some sheltered picnic tables near where the pavement ended and a dirt loop trail started, so we sat down to eat. At that time, we started to realize that there were a lot of mosquitoes and that we were starting to get lots of bites. On went the insect repellant, but we still did a lot of swatting away.
Starting the Sundance Canyon loop, we immediately saw a creek running down a series of waterfalls next to a sheer cliff (one side of the canyon). The trail became pretty steep at this point, with lots of stairs. We followed the creek for quite a while, then veered away from it as the trail began to make its loop. By this point we had made another application of repellant, since there were clouds of mosquitoes following us around like the clouds of dirt following Pigpen.
Back down the hill, and it didn't take us long to complete the loop and rejoin the paved road. We walked until we reached some benches by the Bow River where we sat down and had a snack. When we reached the apex of the Marsh Loop, we followed that along the Bow River. There were a few kayakers doing a lot of paddling to go against the current. We then saw a few guys floating in rafts. The speed of the river was a little slower than our walking pace, so we kept seeing them for several minutes.
As we were walking on the trail, a couple walked up to us and asked if we were on the Marsh Trail. They had seen the signs, but weren't prepared for all the mosquitoes, so they eventually decided to turn back towards the junction we had just passed. We weren't sure how much further the loop was but kept on going since the repellant seemed to be helping.
After the trail left the river, we got a better view of the marsh and wetlands. It ended at the parking lot, so we dropped off our hiking gear, changed out of our boots, and walked back to the Cave and Basin buildings.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Banff was Canada's first national park, originally established as the Banff Hot Springs Reserve. As the name indicates, there are hot springs flowing down the hill towards the marsh, thus the smell of sulfur as we walked by.
One of the first things you can look at when you enter the building is a cave to a natural grotto with the spring water. Since there are lots of thermophilic plants and animals which they're trying to preserve, you're not supposed to dip your hand into the water (but there's a fountain outside where you can feel the water's warmth).
Inside the display area was a huge model train set with all the landscaping made from LEGO bricks. There were a few people there who were answering questions people had about the set.
Exiting that hall, we went to the outdoor hot spring pool. After that, we followed a set of stairs to a series of boardwalks which gave you a view of the site. One went further up the hill, which we followed.
The site of the first Hotel Banff was one of the first things we passed. There were also many spots where you could view the spring flowing down, as well as pools where you could see a variety of plants and fish which had adapted to the warm water.
We worked our way down, and figured it was time to head back into town.
Rest of the day
We drove to the hostel to check in and deposit our things in the room. The hostel has a definite chalet theme, and the people at the front desk were very nice and helpful. We then got back into the car to go downtown to get groceries and dinner.
The grocery store was pretty busy and there were lots of items gone from the shelves. We were able to scrounge up breakfast items, but none of the options for dinner really motivated us. We decided to move the car out of the store parking lot then look for dinner and/or dessert (order not mattering). We scored a spot a couple blocks away, and started walking.
Passing by a small food court, we went to check it out. We enjoyed our meal from a Sri Lankan restaurant, then started thinking about dessert. Melody had spotted a pie place, but it ended up all the pies were savory. She had then remembered seeing a line at a gelato shop, so we walked that way, but it looked more like self-serve yogurt. Remembering that the place we got a pastry also served ice cream, we went there, but it was closed.
Admitting defeat, we headed back to the car. We had parked just behind a gas station driveway, but when we got there, one bus was filling up, one bus was sticking out of the driveway right in front of us, and another bus was essentially double parked next to us. Of course, there were cars behind us. The driver of the double-parked bus apologies, and explained that when the fueling bus finished, then both she and the bus in front of us would be able to pull into the station. We wandered around for a few minutes, then once we were clear of buses, we jumped into the car and pulled out before we could be blocked again.
On the way back to the hostel, we were on Moose Street and crossed Squirrel Street. I was amused that we were at Moose and Squirrel.
Back to the hostel where we didn't do much other than settle in for the night, enjoying the view out or window.