What better place is there to get lost, then in the natural and breathtaking grand landscapes that are The Rockies. All you need is a set of wheels, some decent shoes and preferably a windscreen clean of squished bugs (a fatality of most road trips).
Our road trip hit the west coast and started in Calgary, followed by Banff, a nights stop over in Lac le Jeune, before taking a diversion up to and through part of Jasper, to loop back and hit Whistler, Vancouver Island and finally Vancouver.
Here’s a little peak into the daily highlights of such a stunningly beautiful and adventurous country…
Not much can be said for Calgary other than it looked like some took a rather symmetrically square-made city out of Sims and plonked it into the middle of the flat plains of nowhere. Like most of Canada, we stumbled across Calgary’s China town and stopped for dinner. Other than a place to touch down, lay our heads to rest and grab our wheels, Calgary has little much to offer for the adventurous road tripper. Its only highlights for me were the insanely straight roads that go on for miles, which were peculiar to see from a bird’s eye view when landing. But what particularly peaked my interest were the road names, which are still named from the natives. With Stoney Trail and Crowchild Trail a couple of favourites.
Calgary/Banff National Park
Up and early in time to feast our hungry eyes on the Garden of Eden that is Banff National Park. A small fee is necessary to enter the park, but I’d gladly pay my right foot for the views I saw. The town of Banff is nestled in the valley, so every view is like you are being held in the palm of a great stone Giant. You’ll never get bored of Banff’s scenery. From turquoise rivers, to evergreen forests, snow peaked mountains contrasted with dark brown bases. The sweeping green soldiers of the forests occupy rolling hills, broken only by silt rich, glacier cold rivers that riddle the country. Not only does it have beauty, but it has brains to. And by brains, I mean an abundance of things to do. By the time we arrived it was early afternoon but we couldn’t check in until 4 pm, so we took a little walk and a cheeky bit of off rode hiking on the opposite side of Bow falls (little did we know at the time), and stumbled across the great and elegantly aged Fairmont Hotel that sits on the mountain side overlooking the river. It’s a hotel fit for any Count and his spawn. Seriously though, it is stunning and has some curious history about its ‘haunted halls’, which you should be sure to ask around if I’ve piqued your interest.
A short side note is that if you’re an avid hiker, or hope to go out on the more testing of trails you should carry bear spray with you and be sure NOT to be downwind when you spray it, its 100x stronger than police grade pepper spray. I told you you’d need your eyes for this road trip, didn’t I?
Banff National Park
A leisurely stroll through downtown Banff in the crisp mountain air took us to a delightful Greek restaurant for lunch.
After over eating, we decided it was a good idea to give the Bow Falls trail a go, to walk it all off. Again, this was a lovely leisurely stroll through the forest nestled beside the bow river, up until we hit the Bow falls, which was extremely busy with tourists. I personally favoured the stunning view of down river, which I think was far prettier than the falls themselves, whilst paddling my feet in the 3 degree glacial waters until they were pink and tingling. It was at this point we spotted the river tours that they have every few hours and jumped at the chance for some easy cruising through the beautiful turquoise valley. We had a lovely rafter named Paul, be sure to ask for him if you want to hear about the history of the land such as the Hoodoo’s to which the tour is named after. According to Paul, the word voodoo is believed to originate from these tall sandstone piers jutting out of the mountain face. They were believed by the tribes that once lived in Bow Valley, to be bad luck to anyone after nightfall, making it forbidden to come to the Hoodoo’s after sunset. But in crucial addition, Paul will enlighten you with his back-country skiing, his soon to be Olympian brother, how he was an extra in The Revenant and how he even got a head nod from Leonardo DiCaprio himself. Oh, and he lets you have a go at the paddles too, which is no easy feat with 15 other people in the raft!
And a bonus after the tour is you get a ride back to town or your hotel in a yellow school bus named Goldilocks or a red one named Papa Bear, weaving through emerald trees on the one way roads.
Banff National Park
Early bird catches the worm, or should I say kayak. We hit the Banff Canoe club in the crisp hours of the morning for an hour of paddling against the lazy cyan current, ogling the swarming pines that fight for light on the river banks, with a backdrop the Olympians would build their summer house on. A calm and relaxing scene oddly complemented with the welcomed interruption of the great long train honking as it passed along the old railway tracks and the sun warming me as I inevitably managed to splash myself way too much with the freezing water. Alas, I still didn’t get as soaked as my Dad!
We hit up Melissa’s restaurant in town for a delicious lunch, and then slowly but surly glided up to Sulphur Mountain on the gondola’s. I would have welcomed the 2 hour hike up, but the old man wasn’t so sure. A busy spot filled with people and chipmunks, but with views as breathtaking as this, who can blame them?
We accidentally almost went down the Sundance Trail which thankfully after asking the man at the gift shop, we found out will take you out the national park. We’re not done with you just yet Banff!
Banff/ Lac le Juene
We jumped in the car and hit the road at 8:30 am to take a detour to Lake Louise because if you doing the west coast, this view is not one you can pass up. Since we got there early, it made parking a breeze and let us hop right on to one of the canoes. We paddled to the end of the lake to get a closer view of the remnants of winters’ icy blanket, cradling the grey Rocky Mountains, and managed to get momentarily beached but thankfully did not capsize. The canoes aren’t cheap and it works out a lot better for your buck if you go for an hour instead of half an hour (only $10 more) but honestly, its like your floating on a sea of opaque diamonds.
This unregrettable and incredible detour set us on a 5-hour drive to our next overnight stay. But don’t worry, if the winding mountain passes aren’t enough to fuel you, there are often stops on the side of the road where the view is just so impressive you’d need all your strength not to pull up and glaze at its wonder.
We found a rustic old cabin on the roadside for a speedy lunch, with a quick return to the car to gain some miles. After 2 and a half hours of driving, broken only by a short stop at a cute roadside fruit stand, the GPS told us ‘You have reached your destination’. Baring in mind we were in, quite literally, the middle of no where, with rolling golden grass hills in every direction. Unperturbed we continued down the road for another 20 minutes and found a crossroads we guessed was the place. Well, we ended up going down both roads because the first one was wrong, of course. Then we checked in to our teeny tiny fisherman’s cabin out on the lake and grabbed a quick dinner before resigning for the night.
Lac le Juene
A morning of seriously chilly air saw us to breakfast, where we were greeted by the owners 4-month old rare Hungarian poodle who was an adorable mop of black fur. After a hefty breakfast we walked it off with a walk around the lake, admiring the local’s lake houses but unfortunately didn’t find the beaver dam. Instead managed to get swarmed by incredibly persistent bugs, so a hefty retreat to bid little cabin 6 farewell along with the jumping trout in the lake and yet another glorious view.
En route to Whistler, amidst a 4-and-a-half-hour drive were I undoubtedly fell asleep, I awoke to a view of Canadian gridlock. The adventurous child I am had to clamber down and over the sun bleached trunks in the river, thankfully despite a momentary wobble and a fleeting teeter, persistence and flexibility paid off and I survived to climb another item of Canada.
We found an absolutely delicious Thai restaurant called the Barn Nork for lunch, and later for dinner hit up Samurai sushi which was über yummy, not to mention refreshing to support an establishment that cares so much about their impact on this world.
Breakfast was at the hearty Southside diner across the highway, followed by a short drive into Whistler town which was at the time hosting a huge DMX event called Crankworx, a must for any biking fanatic. Sponsored by Redbull, its no wonder they took the ski lifts up to the top of mountain and biked it down on crazy, sloping routes!
Since those ski lifts were reserved for bikers only, we took a short walk over to the base of Blackcomb Mountain and grabbed the T-lifts up for the awesome experience of the Peak to Peak gondola which took us over to the other mountain peak. Once up there, we took a couple hours to hike a few trails and take in the scenes, however the horseflies up there wont give you a minutes rest before they pester and bite you.
Following our mountain adventure, we headed back down to join the ground folk and grabbed a drink at the wholesome Amsterdam pub in Whistler town. We then chilled a couple hours by the pool in the afternoon sun until dinner took us to the much loved and rightly-so, pizza place, Creekbread. Phenomenal salads and pizza’s only a true stone bake pizza oven could bake, and they gladly catered to vegans, with a vegan pizza on the menu (no vegan cheese, just lack of cheese) but were happy to turn any pizza vegan. The atmosphere was buzzing and the resulting food-baby was unreal.
The time had come to experience the Sasquatch zipe wire. I had already done the longest zip wire in Latin America when I went to Monteverdi, Costa Rica, so how could I pass up the longest zip wire in North America? We booked on the day and went after lunch, with a ride up the T-lifts we got suited up for a short drive and a little walk to the platform. There are two wires about 2 metres apart, so you can go two at a time. After being secured in, the gates opened and it was time to take the 4 steps that lead out to the drop; a thin, shaved path directly through the forest, opening out into the great expanse of Whistler valley. Told to tuck our knees whilst going down for maximum speed, only to let go of the bar when we’re over the valley for the most fun and giggles as you swing back and forth, grappled by the wind. For me, the swinging came early as I only held on to the bar with one hand as I tried to record the whole thing. Had a heart pumping blast nonetheless!
We followed the day with a cycle round the Lost Lake Trail, with a cheeky dip in the cool crystal clear lake and to admire the tiny toad migration.
Today we did what road trippers do. We drove. We grabbed the ferry to Vancouver Island, drove a little more to hit our cabin and the beach, of course just in time for it to cloud over and rain. We still manage a little beach stroll with wet sandy toes and crabs scuttling about underfoot. Dinner saw us to Mekong River Restaurant for amazing Vietnamese food and friendly chatty staff, who told us all about his life on Vancouver Island and all the god spots to go, definitely worth a visit!
We cycled to the beach, where I managed to get swatted in the face by a blackberry bush, but what a lovely day it was for such a hit. We had a refreshing meal at Sam’s sushi for dinner and then stumbled across a cool little market for a wonder about, with local buskers filling the warm, dusk air, and stalls selling things that ranged from mermaid blankets (sadly for kids), postcards, art work, and hand carved surfboards.
Tofino, Vancouver Island.
After our little chat with the owner of Mekong River restaurant, he told us Tofino is worth the 2-hour drive, so whilst I slept and dad drove,we made it to the stunning and untouched little fishing village of Tofino. We took a water plane out for the nature tour, gliding over incredible views of green, cream and blue, speckled with a downed fighter jet from a lost war, oyster farms and grey whales feeding.
Vancouver Island/ Vancouver
We said our goodbye to Parkville, Vancouver Island and hopped on the ferry back to Vancouver. We dinned on amazing Korean food at Sura, only finding out its rated one of the best Korean restaurant in Vancouver afterwards, and later grabbed a black coffee to sip whist chatting away as the sun went down and the city came to life. Vancouver is a diverse mix of city life; a hearty mix of big old stubborn houses that refuse to give up their piece of seemingly suburban life amidst huge skyscrapers. It is undoubtedly great for shopping, with malls and stores in abundance, and has a great array of different places to eat.
I took a quick dip in the icy sea and then settled in for some sunbathing with the locals at English Bay. We caught the dazzling sunset dipping lazy and low along the horizon out at sea, with the silhouettes of others enjoying the fleeting rays of the day, with buskers filling the evening air.
Shopping, shopping, food and more shopping. Why else end the trip in Vancouver? We also cycled around Stanley Park for a couple hours, which hugs the coast line, taking in the last of these beautiful views. We ended the afternoon with a snooze on the beach, lychee mojitos’ before getting lost on our way back to the hotel.
For someone born into the urban and bustling city life of London, but has an eye for the stark beauty nature provides, I fell in love with Canada. Safe to say I didn’t miss the many ‘help wanted’ posters plastered about town. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back …
Written by Raphaella Ruggiero
Edited by Amy Ruggiero