I’ve been to a fair share of exotic destinations with beautiful landscapes, but sometimes I forget that the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve seen are right here in my home country of Canada. A couple summers ago, I was in Alberta for a wedding, and my friend and I extended our vacation out west with a one week hiking trip at Banff National Park in Alberta and Yoho National Park in British Columbia.
You can definitely explore the national parks in the Canadian Rockies via car, but neither of us was keen on driving. Therefore, we booked a trip with Randonnee Tours, a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. This was a self-guided hiking tour but the company arranged our accommodations and drove us out to the trail heads each day. It was a bit pricy but we felt it was the best option for us at the time.
Day 1: Banff National Park, Tunnel Mountain
Our first hiking day started in Banff National Park. We primed ourselves with a short stroll and captured some views of the Fairmont Banff Springs, where we were not baller enough to stay.
We went on a short hike up Tunnel Mountain, which took us about a couple hours and reaches an elevation of 1690 metres. Nice and easy for the first day.
Day 2: Lake Louise, Teahouse hike, and Beehive trail
Lake Louise, the crowning jewel of Banff. We headed out to this famous lake around mid-morning and it was already teeming with tourists. It is a glacier lake with a characteristic emerald colour that comes from rock flour carried into the lake by melt-water. It really is very beautiful. You can take a canoe out or just take a zillion selfies in front of it like we saw many people doing.
After our quick stop, we ventured on to our first big hike. Today we were planning to do the Teahouse hikes, which take you up to two tea houses way up in the park. These are essentially little cafes where you can take a break for some drinks and snacks. On the way up, we passed by Mirror Lake.
After 3.6 kilometres of switchbacks and 400 metres elevation gain, we reached the first teahouse, Lake Agnes Teahouse, which has been around since 1901 when it was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers. We had our snack break and I creeped up on a chipmunk.
The second part of the hike is a diversion that takes you up the Beehive trails, either Little Beehive or Big Beehive. Originally we weren’t really considering this, but another hiker told us that it was a must-do to catch some amazing overhead views of Lake Louise. This hike was fairly intense. I think we had something like 20 switchbacks to go up, but we eventually got up there and indeed did get a very unique view of Lake Louise. This is one way to beat the tourist crowds for sure.
The final part of the hike then took us to the Plain of Six Glaciers, which leads up to the second teahouse. Fewer people make it up to this stage so we were pretty proud of ourselves.
Day 3: Yoho National Park and the Iceline
It was time to cross the provincial border and head to Yoho National Park in British Columbia. We started our day at Takakkaw Falls, which is the second highest waterfall in Canada.
We headed up on a hike taking us across the Yoho Valley, with final destination being the Iceline trail. This is a magnificent trail that culminates in a trek tracking the Emerald Glacier. As we reached the ‘peak’, we had to scramble up a really steep, narrow path where I felt like I was about to blow away. This made reaching the top all the more climactic. I don’t think pictures can even do this view justice.
So this is what you get to see when you hike 20 kilometres (elevation gain 300 metres)! The trip back down was nice too, but I wish I’d had waterproof shoes. We had to cross several small streams and I soaked through my light trail shoes which had otherwise served me well.
Day 4: Yoho Lake
This was a lighter day after our two previous days of intense hiking. We went on an easy trail taking us to Yoho Lake, where we stopped for a picnic lunch.
We enjoyed the hike back down toward our hotel at Emerald Lake.
Day 5: Emerald Lake
We spent our last day relaxing around Emerald Lake. We took short stroll around the lake and then rented a canoe for a couple hours on the water.
Overall an awesome trip. Magnificent views, superb photography opportunities, and memorable experiences all around. Go to the Canadian Rockies!