Our second full day in Banff, and we went to Johnston Canyon, Lake Johnson, and in between, took a boat ride on an artificial lake.
We wanted to get an early start to the day, which meant an early breakfast. We happened to see the guy from Bellevue again in the kitchen. He said a couple guys in his dorm room were planning on riding bikes from Banff down to Mexico. Ambitious.
Johnston Canyon falls
After quickly eating, we hit the road, briefly taking the Trans-Canada Highway until we got to the parking lot for Johnston Canyon. We had heard that the lot fills up quickly, and that we should be there before 9am. When we arrived well before 8:30am, the parking lot was wide open. We figured that in addition to the time, the thread of rain may have held off several people. We ran across drizzles as we were driving, but by the time we got out of the car, it had stopped.
Hopefully the weather would hold out.
The hike along the Johnston Canyon goes to two different waterfalls, the Lower Falls about a half mile in, and the Upper Falls a mile past that (as well as a short spur to the top of the Upper Falls). Knowing we wanted to see the Upper Falls before any possible rain, we headed out.
The trail follows the Johnston Creek, which was very fast-flowing and made a rushing sound as it went down the canyon. The trail was pretty flat and well-paved, and we quickly reached the Lower Falls. We figured we would stop to look at them on the way back, and proceeded to the Upper Falls.
Once past the Lower Falls, the trail became steeper. Along the way, we were rewarded with several other smaller waterfalls and very interesting canyon geological formations.
We arrived at the upper falls, and were able to get pretty good looks. We then took the even steeper trail to the top, and the view was very commanding; you got a better sense for the pool at the base of the falls.
The weather was still holding out, so we started going back down. As we got further along, we started seeing more and more people going up. By the time we got to the Lower Falls, it wasn't too crowded, so we got a good look. You can go through a tunnel in the canyon wall to get an even closer look, as well as get very wet.
Even more people were on the trail as we neared the parking lot, and by the time we got there, few spots were left. So we lucked out on both timing and weather.
It was still pretty early as we headed back to town. On the way we saw a couple cars stopped on the road to wait for a deer lazily crossing. As it got to the other side, it seemed to look back at us, smug in its ability to stop moving metal boxes.
Time to fill the car, but there seemed to be quite a bit of traffic at the gas station. I saw a couple open pumps, and there was one car in front of us. Unfortunately, it only backed up to the first pump, so I needed to back between it and the barrier on the other side; I ended up backing all the way to the fourth pump (had I known that one was open, I could have either gone around or pulled forward than turned around). Ah well. After filling up, we went to the grocery store to get a little more for breakfast, as well as lunch that day and a picnic lunch the next day (when we would be on the road).
Back at the hostel, we put everything away and ate. The next thing we were doing was scheduled for 4pm and it wasn't a very far drive, so we decided to go ahead and do laundry again, even though it had been only a few days. We figured that way, we would need to do it only one more time over the weekend.
Having so much time, we decided to head out early to Lake Minnewanka and see if we could get onto an earlier cruise, or find a short hike if not.
Lake Minnewanka Cruise
It wasn't too difficult to find a parking spot at Lake Minnewanka, so that was fortunate. We wandered around until we saw signs for the cruise, pointing us to the ticket counter. We had gotten there a few minutes before the 2pm cruise was set to sail, and since there was room, we were able to exchange for that sailing. We weren't even the last people to board.
Lake Minnewanka is long and snaking, but not very wide, so the cruise takes you about halfway, then turns and heads back. The tour guide explained that the lake came to be when a dam was built near the parking lot. In the process, the lake rose about 100 feet, leaving the village of Minnewanka Landing under water. Divers apparently still go down to try to find things which were left behind. Not only is the village down there, but an earlier, smaller dam can also be seen by divers.
The guide pointed out that the two sides of the lake were very different. The south side was very dense forest, while the north was less dense with lots of bare areas. He explained that the larger animals were mostly on the north side, since the predators wanted to be where the prey were, and big horn sheep and elk wouldn't last long trying to maneuver between close-set trees.
We were also told about bears and how they eat a couple hundred thousand buffalo berries during a day (hard to imagine the time it takes to gather that many berries). Apparently the quantity was determined by doing scat analysis.
As we were proceeding along the lake, someone spotted a bald eagle on the top of a tree. As we were nearing, it took off and started to fly. It was quite far away, but still unmistakable.
When we reached the turn-around point of the cruise, the captain spun the boat around so each side could get an unobstructed view. It was then time to head back to the dock.
Lake Johnson Loop
Since we did the cruise so much earlier than we planned to, we decided to continue driving on the Lake Minnewanka Loop until we got to Lake Johnson. A trail loops around the lake, which seemed like a good length for the afternoon.
There were quite a few people sitting by and in the lake, but no one was fishing. The park is trying to contain whirling disease, a deformation of fingerlings and fry caused by a parasite. If any fish are removed (or even mud from the lake shore), the parasite could be transported to the new location. Since we had no fishing gear, we were in good shape.
As we started off, we immediately saw buffalo berry plants with many ripe berries on them. Others had ripening berries, and others still had none. The park was closed off to the east side of Lake Johnson due to bear activity, and fortunately the ripe berries weren't enough of an incentive for the bears to wander over as we were doing the lake loop.
Having done enough hiking for the day, it was time to head back into town.
We decided to try to find a place to eat dinner in the town proper, so we arrived, found a parking spot, and started to walk around. A curry place sounded good, so we went upstairs and had lamb curry with naan. Quite good.
Next up was dessert. There was a candy shop not too far away, so we went into have a look, leaving with a couple pieces of chocolate bark.
Back at the hostel, we had our dessert, satisfied at how much we got done during the day.