Banff Roadtrip
Banff trip
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 29 June 2002


Total days of trip: 7
Total miles driven: 1700
Bear sightings: 4

Pictures are available here.

Getting there

After our last roadtrip to the California Redwoods, we decided that renting a minivan would make for a more comfortable trip, and, given the almost 1700 miles round trip between Portland and Banff, that was better for the health of our personal cars. We picked up the minivan from Avis around 10:45 a.m. Saturday morning (US$275 for a week). We then spent the next hour loaded it up with mountain bikes, tools, camping gear, food, air mattresses, clothes, books, and all the sundry supplies that one needs to live on the road for a week. Most of this gear we stowed in handy plastic storage tubs, which made organization a snap. We pulled out of the BOOM! Condo parking lot and were on our way at exactly 12:00 noon.

The trip up (from Portland to Vancouver to Banff) took approximately 18 hours. For the return trip, we opted for something new and shaved 5 hours from the drive time Banff to Spokane to Portland took only 13 hours. Both drives were uneventful and pleasant (the notable exception being a 45-minute wait at the border at the Peace Arch). Traveling in the minivan was cush. We traded off drivers frequently (every 2 hours) to stay fresh. The scenery was beautiful and if we got bored of that, there was conversation or reading. I had also purchased a CD-based MP3 player (the RioVolt) and thus we had almost 80 hours of MP3s to make the miles go down easier.

It's amazing how your perspective changes on a long road trip. On a trip to, say, Seattle, you start getting itchy after 2 hours, but if you're going to Vancouver, you're fine until hour 5...

All in all, I would definitely do the road trip again. The drive isn't as bad as you think, flying takes almost as long (when you factor in heightened security and its concomitant delays), and you can take everything you need with you.


The weather for our entire trip was unseasonably cool according to the locals. In the course of our trip, we encountered rain, snow, hail, fog, and high winds, but most of the time the weather was fine cool, partly cloudy, fog in the morning, burning off into beautiful sunny days in the afternoon/evening. The slightly cool weather was a real boon while hiking or biking. When we weren't physically exerting ourselves, a light fleece was all that was needed to stay warm. The sun comes up around 5:00 a.m. there and doesn't fully set until 11:00 p.m., which makes for some action-packed days. Indeed, most visitors and locals seem to take advantage of the long days by taking it easy in the morning. Most mornings we encountered very little in the way of crowds.

Vancouver (Day 1)

My grandmother was visiting my uncle (Peter) and his family (Monica and Allison) up in Vancouver, so we stayed with them Saturday night to visit. Pete barbequed up chicken, hot dogs, portabella mushrooms, and a bunch of delicious veggies. He also made his specialty dish, a spanikopita casserole. After dinner, Aimee, Pete, and I played softball in a small park by their house; Aimee's ball throwing ability improved considerably during our short game, although six-year-old Allison's superior softball ability still humbled us all.

Pete then drove me and Aimee to Chapters (think Canadian Barnes & Noble) where we picked up a guidebook to aid us on our Banff adventure. The prices were great, but the selection (surprisingly) was only ok; I think in the future I will just go to Powell's ahead of time and save myself the hassle.

By the time we got back, Grandma and Allison had retired to bed; the rest of us spent half-an-hour talking, and then we followed them into the arms of Morpheus.

The next morning, I cooked up a simple breakfast for myself, and then Pete cooked pancakes for everybody when he woke up. I showed everybody a bunch of pictures on my laptop from recent trips, and then Aimee and I made our farewells and were on the road by 11:12 a.m. Monica and Pete, sensing the empty cooler in our minivan, generously stocked us up with all kinds of goodies from their pantries leftover chicken and snapikopita, cheese, cereal, crackers, etc. This food ended up lasting us throughout the week in one form or another and was much appreciated!

Travelling to Lake Louise

We enjoyed a pleasant drive along the TransCanada from Vancouver to the city of Hope, an amazing little town that is unbelievably nestled in the only flat patch of land amidst 3000-foot tall mountains all around. For lunch, we were tempted by Subway, but were rebuffed by ridiculously long lines. We stumbled upon a delightful Japanese restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious bento lunch at "Kibo" for cheap (US$7 each). True to fashion in the Pacific Northwest, the Japanese restaurant was run by Koreans.

For US$6 you can take the toll highway 5 from Hope to Lake Louise and shave off tons of miles and time, so that is exactly what we did. On that drive, we saw three black bears foraging for food along the highway (bear sightings at 3:43 p.m., 7:21 p.m., and 10:24 p.m.), as well as a herd of mountain goats (sighting 10:30 p.m.), replete with thick, rich, voluminous woolen coats. Beautiful scenery was also abundant, as you might expect, but with a certain ethereal twist lent to it by rain clouds that had been haranguing us since Vancouver. A surprise encounter was the small city of Kamloops, out in the mountains, yet with Costco, Staples, and every other chain store you might imagine in a much larger city. We also very much enjoyed a stop at "Fruit World", whose world consisted only of strawberries and cherries, but delicious ones at that and a deal at Cdn$5.

Around 10:45 p.m., we finally found a trailhead free of "no parking" signs, the Pipestone trailhead about 1 mile from downtown Lake Louise, and parked the minivan for the night. As this was our first night in the van, we had to learn the optimal way to position the storage tubs, bikes, sleeping pads, etc. We ended up locking the bikes and tires to a tree and shoving the tubs to the end of the van, which left plenty of room for us in the middle.

Lake Louise

Ranger station

The next morning, we were on the road by 9:32 a.m. and made our way to the ranger station, where we stocked up on parking permits, guide maps, and advice on things to do. When we arrived at the building, we were greeted by a veteran playing "Oh Canada" on his wind instrument; it was July 1, Canada Day! We thought this would mean crowds galore, but instead it meant free entrance to all Canadian national parks! You gotta love Canada; would U.S. parks give you free entrance to Yellowstone just because it's July 4?! Our total permits and fees for the entire week, including paying for a one night backcountry permit, was Cdn$48.

Polar Bear Dip

The first thing that we did was to participate in the Polar Bear Dip up at the Lake Louise Chateau. This is an annual event on Canada Day in which thirty-odd (and odd!) people jump into frigid Lake Louise (4 degrees Celsius in summer) and see how long they can stay in. The info pamphlet said that the event started at 11:30, so we toured the hotel grounds, took some photos, etc., and ended up missing the start of the event because they started it at 11:00 instead! We still managed to worm through the crowd and wade into the ice cold water for a minute or so. The crowd cheered on jubilantly as we went in, making it easier to bear the pain of the frigid water. After, friendly hotel staffers were standing by with plenty of warm towels and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, bathrooms were not as forthcoming, and we ended up changing back into our clothes in one of the exit corridors of the hotel lobby.

After changing, we ate a delicious sandwich at the hotel deli. One problem with sandwiches in Canada is that everybody apparently likes lots of mayo, so they coat every sandwich with it by default. Throughout our trip, we constantly had to ask for our sandwiches to be made to order so we could avoid the vile substance.

Mountain Biking Ross Lake Trail

Powered by the sandwiches, we embarked for our next adventure, mountain biking along the Ross Lake Trail. We had a little bit of route finding to do, but eventually found ourselves winding and dipping through sub-alpine forest along this 7.3km (each-way) trail. The trail was challenging, and we both gained respect for the ratings on the guide map (this trail had gained a "moderate"). Canadians are hard core when it comes to MTB! We didn't have much time to contemplate trail difficulty, however; the guide map had succeeded in terrifying us about bear attacks ("...cyclists are particularly susceptible to sudden, dangerous bear encounters ... bear bells are not enough..."), so we spent most of the ride shouting and singing. The lake at the end of the trail would have been delightful except that it started pouring rain on us right as we arrived. We huddled under a tree for a while and then returned via the Great Divide Road, a 10.5 km trail that was once a highway but is now closed to vehicles and is a historic route. Whatever its history, we were both glad for the smooth riding surface after having spent the previous 60-90 minutes dodging rocks. And throughout the entire ride, we only saw two other people a pleasant trend that would continue throughout our trip.

Moraine Lake

Back to Lake Louise Village for some donuts and cookies at Loggan's Bakery, and then we were on our way to Moraine Lake. This gorgeous aqua-blue lake was one of the highlights of our trip. Hiking and biking restrictions were in effect due to the presence of a grizzly (minimum 6 party size for safety), so we were restricted from doing the long hikes, but truth be told, 90% of the interesting stuff to see at Lake Louise and Banff has been made available to the masses via cushy roads and paved hiking paths. We spent quite a while here admiring the azure water and gazing up at the great mountains that towered over the lake and seemed to rise straight out of the water towards the sky. Upon leaving, we both proclaimed that this lake was more beautiful than even Lake Louise.

We headed to Lake Louise Village yet again, this time for dinner at the "Mountain Restaurant". (Lake Louise is quite small and rustic, thus the yuppy store names of more gentrified resort towns are notably absent.) Despite its demure appearance and pedestrian name, this place served up a great dinner. The wait staff was friendly and accepting of our American tendency to proclaim "daaaaaamn, that's cheeeeeap!" after mentally converting the price of each entree to US currency.

Camping, night two

After dinner, we briefly considered switching our van camping location, but ultimately ended up camping at the same place as the previous night. This time, however, we watched from our van as a farmer drove up his trailer and unloaded several horses, and left them in a locked corral for the entire night! I'm not sure if the corral was on his land or he was allowed to use it by the government, but either way, his confidence in leaving his horses unprotected gave me confidence in the security of our possessions for the rest of the trip (the thought of our $5000 of bikes and camping gear was never far from my mind when we left the van alone in secluded areas).

As was the case the previous night, our "camp site" was deserted all night; a park warden did drive around the parking lot the next morning around 8:00 a.m., although he didn't stop. Before going to sleep, we spent a considerable amount of time manually pumping up two inflatable mattresses that had somehow made their way into my possession over the years. Each mattress took well over 1000 foot pumps, making us both wish that I had borrowed a cigarette-lighter-powered pump. One of the mattresses had an obvious leak, which we patched with duct tape, and then had to reinflate. As cush an idea as the mattresses seemed before hand, our night on them was not destined to be a restful one. First, the two separate mattresses wouldn't fit side-by-side in the van; we had to turn them sideways and shape them like tacos to get them to fit. While this worked, the mattresses curved up the sides of the van. And, more disappointingly, both mattresses leaked out all of the air after only a few hours of sleep. All of these factors conspired to make for a very bad night's sleep!

Shopping at Lake Louise Village

The morning of day 4 actually started by returning to Lake Louise village, where we resupplied at the grocery store (which was maddeningly devoid of any prices whatsoever) and then ate breakfast in a courtyard behind the stores. Sightings include a marmot playing in the grass and countless locals picking up their mall from the post office. We then popped into the mountaineering store because I wanted to see about buying an additional foam pad to make sleeping on my ultralight, ultra-uncomfortable Thermarest more bearable. We were expecting that the exchange rate would treat us well, and we weren't disappointed I did indeed find my pad, Aimee picked up a bear spray holster and some Nalgene water bottles, as well as a cool bike flashing light in the shape of a skull.

Agnus Lake/Teahouse

After shopping, we headed back to Lake Louise proper to trek to Agnus Lake, a 7 km trek rising about 1200 feet above Lake Louise, culminating in wonderful views and a little tea house up at the top! The hike was easy and a bit crowded (the two often go hand-in-hand), but very enjoyable. Aided by some of the best weather we had the entire time, the views from the top were great, although the food and drink selection at the tea house was a bit disappointing. I probably shouldn't have expected too much from a place where everything has to be carried in by person! We were back at the car by 12:30, early enough to enjoy an awesome sandwich at Laggan's before making our way closer to Banff for our overnight backpacking trip.

Banff (Days 4-6)

Bow Parkway Elk, Mountain Goats, Marmot

We eschewed the faster TransCanada highway in favor of the more scenic Bow Parkway. Although the drive took a few minutes longer, it was well worth it on account of multiple wildlife sightings: multiple elk; a herd of scruffy looking mountain goats; and a lone marmot. The sun shining through the rustling leaves of the Aspen trees and the ubiquitous snowcapped mountains provided the perfect backdrop for our scenic drive.

Egypt Lake Backpacking Trip

We arrived at the Sunshine Village ski resort and spent a while getting our overnight packs ready and obfuscating and securing as many valuables inside the van as possible. We departed around 3:00 p.m. in excellent spirits and hiking weather. The first miles of the trail fell easily and we made good time to the first milestone on our trip, Camp E5 (we were ultimately heading for Camp E12 at Egypt Lakes). The hike reminded us of hiking in the Olympic National Park, particularly the Mt. Deception area. We were not totally blown away by the beauty of the area, as the guidebook led us to believe that we would be, but it was still pretty darn nice. I think residents of the Pacific Northwest have so much in their backyards that it takes a lot to impress us.

We saw very few other hikers (a total of two couples and one nice old man from Alberta who day hikes here every week), but we did run into plenty of snow starting at about 6200 feet elevation. The snow slowed us down considerably, but fortunately it was firm enough that we didn't posthole much. At about 8 km in, we reached my favorite part of the hike, a heavenly high mountain meadow with sunshine, tons of flowers (three types that I saw mostly big yellow ones, some big white ones, and the occasional little white one), and expansive views looking back into the valley from which we had just emerged.

The meadow turned out to be the high point of serenity and comfort for us; once we resumed, the hike turned into a death march and our progress slowed considerably. The snow itself wasn't that bad, but it was actively melting before our eyes, making the ground wet and swampy - not a friendly environment for boots or dry feet! We finally trudged up to the high point of the hike, ____ Pass, and then dropped a heart breaking 1200 feet into the valley on the other side! Our morale reached an all-time low on the descent; we were in pain, hungry, thirsty, and were wishing that we had stayed at the high mountain meadow. Most of our depression arose from the fact that we hadn't yet reached Camp S8 (which, according to the sign at the trailhead, we thought lay 2 km out from our desired camp), yet we felt like we had been hiking forever. Still, we persevered, stopped for water and to change into dry socks, and then kept on.

Eventually, we stopped descending and emerged into a clearing and came upon a man and his son gardening beside a really nice log cabin. They waved hello to us, and we went over to talk with them. It turned out to be the park warden and his son. The warden was really surprised to see that we had come down the route we did and quizzed us about the conditions on the trail for about five minutes. He then gave us a tour of his cabin (pretty posh!) and Aimee asked him about bear conditions. At this point, we still thought that we had an hour of hiking ahead of us, and were surprised when the warden said that the shelter was only 5 minutes away! We excitedly made our way down the trail, across a bridge, and up a knoll, to discover the best site for sore hiker eyes that I can imagine a big cabin, complete with six huge bunk beds, 2 long dining tables, a wood burning stove, and tons of firewood chopped and ready to go (they even had matches and scrap paper for firestarting!).

This raised our spirits considerably! By about 8:00 p.m., we had unpacked everything, had a roaring fire going, and were starting to boil water for our couscous and lentils dinner. It's amazing how much easier a cabin makes your life: We didn't have to worry about setting up our tent, finding a way to dry our wet clothes, cooking 100m away from our camp site, or hanging our food on a bear line. Instead, we let the fire dry our clothes and us and enjoyed the views and sunset from the cabin windows. At one point, Aimee told me that she was cold and asked me to close the window by the dinner table. I said no because I liked the breeze, and then her true motivation came out she was afraid that a bear was going to smell our dinner and stick his hand in the window and attack us! In truth, the cabin was pretty darn secure, and, for whatever reason, bears don't seem to attack cabins, so we were safe.

After dinner, we read for a bit and were surprised to look at our watches around 11:00 p.m. with a tiny bit of daylight still left outside (see photos). Amazing! I had thought I was going to have an awesome night's rest, but it turned out to be just average. The wood that the beds were made out of was pretty hard; if we had known ahead of time, we could have left our tent, stove, and fuel behind, and carried extra thick sleeping pads instead. Ah well, live and learn.

We awoke to a delightful surprise: A large group of pikas (high mountain rodents) were playing around outside the cabin. These creatures are fairly tame (allowing us to get fairly close before retreating into their holes) and they occasionally emit a cute little "eep!" every now and then. A big fat marmot also emerged after an hour or so, and we spent a while watching him scuttle to and fro eating grass and digging around in the dirt.

The hike out was mostly uneventful until we reached the high mountain meadow that I spoke so highly of before. We encountered a nice couple from Banff who had brought their three kids camping for a few days. They asked us if we would call their chiropractor when we got into Banff and cancel an appointment that they forgot to cancel before they left for the hike!

Right around camp E5, Aimee and I were engaged in a good conversation when we crossed a bridge and almost ran smack into a grizzly bear foraging for food on the trail, only about 15-20 feet in front of us. 20 feet may sound like a lot as you're reading this in your comfy chair, but I assure you, it is entirely too close when you are dealing with a 700 pound omnivore. All three of us stopped immediately. The bear looked up and uttered a bassy "woof!". We slowly started to back away as Aimee reached down and pulled the bear mace free from its velcro holster. By this time, the bear had decided to take off, and I'm not sure if he knew the sound of bear mace coming out or not, but he definitely kicked in the turbo boost after the bear spray was out! He ran about 50 feet away, turned around, sniffed at us for a few seconds, and then continued out-of-sight behind some trees. The whole time that Aimee was getting the bear spray out, I was fumbling with my camera trying to capture the "once-in-a-lifetime type of shot", but alas it was not to be - I never really got a clear shot and none of the photos that I frantically snapped during the encounter turned out that well.

The rest of the hike out was obviously pretty boring compared to the bear encounter. We cleaned up at the ski area bathroom, unpacked our stuff, snarfed down some cheese, crackers, and salami, and got back on the road toward... Banff!

City of Banff

My first thought upon arriving at Banff was, "Wow! This place is great! I hope we haven't screwed up by not allocating more days to spend here." Our guidebook had said that people who live in Calgary often drive the 100 km to Banff to shop, and I can see why! Banff Avenue, the main drag as you might deduce from its name, is simply packed full of stores hawking everything from food to sports gear to gasoline to arts and crafts. The entire township is cradled in the center of mountains that go up and up and up, and the city is nestled into the elbow of a river to boot.

Info center & Hotel

Our first stop was the information center where we inquired about activities to do (the counter woman pretty handed us a nice activities book that pretty much covered everything) as well as places to stay for cheap. We were surprised at just how many cheap accommodations were available last-minute; scores of hotels and B&Bs still had vacancy, and many of them were offering special incentives to rent out their rooms. We walked over to a B&B close to the info center, but decided against it because of the small bedroom and lack of privacy. We then fired up the minivan and drove past a few other cheapos, before finally heading up the hill on Tunnel Mountain Road to the place we ended up staying at, the Douglas Fir Resort. For US$65, we got a room with a descent view, queen-size bed, sofa, fireplace, and kitchen. The only downside was a slightly smoky smell (the sales droid at the front desk said that all of their rooms are smoking since they have fireplaces...?! I have never heard of such a thing). We decided to not waste any more time and took it for two nights. Later on, we actually did check out the hostel across the street, but we definitely got a far better deal at the Douglas Fir (the hotel had two waterslides, two pools, two hot tubs, a sauna, and a steamroom too!). Still, the hostel offers private rooms and may be something to consider on future trips.

Shopping on Banff Ave

Excited to be back in civilization at last, we spent a few hours perusing the wares for sale at the various shoppes. On account of the excellent exchange rate, prices were paradoxically affordable given that we were shopping in a mountain resort! One outdoor store in particular had fantastic prices on climbing gear (for example, a Petzl Grigri for US$56!).

Dinner at Tommy's

For dinner, we walked up and down the strip a couple of times flip-flopping between the countless choises, ultimately choosing to go with simple comfort-type food at a bar named Tommy's. The inside of this place was like a dungeon, but outside seating was available. Those who had adventured with me know my weakness for chicken fingers; since I hadn't enjoyed any yet this trip, I went ahead and ordered them, along with the house "spicy plum sauce", basically plum sauce (which I've never tried with chicken fingers before) and hot pepper flakes - pretty darn good! Aimee had a turkey sandwich and was quite pleased with it. And nobody could complain about the bill - about US$6 each!

First night at the hotel

After dinner, we walked around on the strip a bit more, and then headed back to our hotel to plan the next day's activities. We went to bed early, but a restful night's sleep was not to be in our future. First, the refrigerator compressor was loud and annoying, and I briefly contemplating unplugging it until a much more annoying squealing sound started coming from the air conditioner duct. The duct is one of those that you see all the time in retrofitted buildings, a giant circular flower head mounted in the ceiling. For some weird reason, this one was squealing like a pig in mud and there was no stopping it: I tried every possible configuration of having the AC and the fan on and off to no avail. It was thus that the rest of the night was spent tossing and turning and generally hating life. When we complained the next morning to the hotel staff, they were pretty nice about it and switched us to a more expensive room for our same bargain basement deal.

Banff Springs Hotel

Our first stop was this legendary mountain hotel, with nine full-service restaurants (formal dress code required unfortunately), lots of little eateries for snacks and informal eating, library, 27-hole golf course, full athletic facilities and outdoor heated pool, and lots of high-browed shops (the kind where they don't show any prices; if you have to ask, you can't afford it!). The place is full of twisting, turning highways, boardwalks, towers, and nooks and crannies that make it seem as if you're in a castle with countless things to explore. We walked around the hotel around 8:30 a.m., and it was deserted, but apparently it gets pretty crowded sometimes with people coming to check out the grandeur. Rooms were a spendy Cdn$400 per night for the crummy rooms when we were there, but apparently they drop to Cdn$150 during the winter.

Banff Cave and Basin

Our next stop was this historic site which, according to every park official that you ask, is the reason that Banff National Park exists in the first place. Basically a couple of brothers were exploring around in 1859 and happened upon a thermal springs that they thought would make them rich. The words "liquid gold" appeared frequently throughout the museum. Indoor plumbing and easy hot water were not yet invented, so I guess the guys were hoping to charge people money for the hot water, but that doesn't seem like it would make you rich. There may have been some mineral content in the water that they hoped to extract. We checked out the source of the springs (growing used to its sulphury smell after a few minutes) and then trekked around the extensive trail system above the springs. Like all Canadian Parks that we encountered, the place was in immaculate condition. Modern and clean signs with instructions in both English and French. Wooden walkways in immaculate condition. Very little trash or litter. Admission cost us Cdn$4 each, which was a rip off for what we saw, and while I wouldn't go again, I suppose it's worth at least one visit if you haven't seen it before.

Sulphur Mountain & Gondola Ride

Our main exercise for the day consisted of hiking up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, a grueling 2000-vertical-foot climb up relentless switchbacks. Of course, we could have taken the gondola up and been done in 10 minutes, but that would have deprived us of an activity and cost us Cdn$20 each! The good news for cheapskates is that if you hike up, you can ride the gondola down for free! Aaah, Canada. Apparently there are a lot of fellow cheapskates out there, as there were a lot of people on the trail. One young boy insisted on cutting switch backs and dragging his mother straight up the mountain, until he noticed that we always seemed to catch up with (or beat) him by taking the normal switchbacks. And then there was this European looking guy wearing those super tiny running shorts that European guys always seem to wear; his only other possessions were a tiny water bottle strapped to the small of his back, and those superlong skinny poles that crosscountry skiers use. He and his girlfriend were doing some sort of speedwalking up the mountain, although truth be told, they were only marginally faster than us!

Upon gaining the summit, we took in the panoramic view, and then were disheartened to find that we were really on the false summit and that the real summit still beckoned. It was pretty windy up there, so we didn't mess around and navigated the elevated wooden walkway system (as before, in immaculate condition) to the true summit, upon which rests a combination weather station and cabin that a famous local used for almost his entire life to forecast the weather for the area.

We hung out here for a while, had some French people take a picture of us, took some pictures for the French people, and then headed back. The gondola ride down was much easier on the knees than the hike would have been and afforded much better views as well. The hikers must stand out from the paying customers, because the employees at the top of the lift and the bottom both asked us how the hike was.

Biking to the river & Banff Centre

After the gondola, we headed back to the hotel and checked into our new room, which was basically the same as our previous room, except slightly larger and with a sofa. And most importantly, no funny vent thing in the ceiling making obnoxious noises! We took a much-needed power nap for an hour, watched a little TV, and then got motivated to go biking near the campground area at the end of Tunnel Mountain Road. Most of the hiking trails in Banff are open to bikers as well, and they were really fun! It should go without saying at this point that good views were omnipresent. We biked down to the Hoodoos hiking area (a few miles), and then turned around and dropped down to the river on some doubletrack. The trail riding around town is not very technical and made for a pleasant change from the biking we had been doing.

From the river, we decided to call it a day activity-wise. The climb up from the river was pretty physically demanding; we pumped our way up some pretty steep trails until we hit the road and, serendipitously, the Banff Centre for High Mountain Culture, the same folks that produce the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival. We spent some time spinning around the campus (it's a postgraduate institute for study into arts and culture) and generally being envious of the people that get to live here and study at the Centre! With places like the Banff Center and a bustling cosmopolitan city center, it's quite easy to forget that you are up in the mountains in what should be a quaint mountain town!

Dinner Night Two - Coyote's

Feeling guilty about how cheap we had been eating for the entire trip, we decided to splurge for a nice meal. After pontificating over the many choices and recommendations in the guidebook, we walked into our top choice and asked to look at the menu. The hostess sensed that her restaurant wasn't our thing and asked spent about five minutes giving us the lowdown on the various dining options available in town. You find yourself becoming accustomed to this sort of friendly treatment in Banff, and your subsequent reintroduction into your normal life is quite a shock!

We ended up taking the hostess's first recommendation, a restaurant popular with the locals called Coyote's. The food, ambience, and service were very good (as expected) and we scored with a nice table right by the window, where we could gaze out and marvel at how light it was outside at 10:45 p.m. We also watched group after group of young women dressed to the nines pile into a dance club across the street. After dinner, we talked to the bouncer and learned that it was ladies' night at the club (free drinks for them), which certainly explained the popularity. We didn't go in, but overheard the bouncer tell a girl beside us, "it's pretty dead in there right now" (gotta love that Banff honesty!), to which the girl responded, "I'm from BC and have nothing else to do, so I'm going in!").

By the way, despite our efforts to spend lavishly on dinner, we still only ended up spending $15 per person!

Bike Tour: Cascade Ponds to Lake Minnewanka

The next day we checked out of the hotel ("wow, that's a good rate" said the clerk upon checkout) and headed over to check out a cluster of several lakes near town. We parked the minivan at Cascade Ponds, and then hopped on our bikes for what would turn out to be a roundabout adventure. The source of our difficulties was trying to navigate from a "Biking in Banff National Park" map that we picked up for free from the visitor center. The high-level nature of the map plus the tendency for Canadian mountain biking trails to be more "rough and wild" conspired together to get us lost. We ended up spending about 30 minutes pedaling about and were about to give up when we finally found the right trail.

Our next stop on the trail was a cool historic site, a ghost town that used to be where the Canadian Pacific Railway mined goal. According to the interpretive signs, the town was at one point bigger than Banff, which is hard to believe since there is next-to-nothing left of it!

After the ghost town, we made our way to Lake Minnewanka, which we found nice, but again, not as earth-shatteringly beautiful as the guidebooks had led us to believe. The lake is basically a drive-up marine park that allows power boats, so it is quite popular with the locals (it was mostly deserted when we visited, however). Just like the cabin on our hike, this park offers huge piles of free firewood that visitors can use to stay warm.

Rather than retrace our route back, we decided to make a loop out of the trip and passed the other lakes in the area. They were nice enough likes, although pretty standard fare. The ride was the memorable part: deserted Canadian highway, perfect weather, scenic vistas... the ultimate contentment!

Lunch at Earl's

After biking, we were anxious to get a nice lunch and decided to give the popular Canadian chain Earl's a try. This place has a lively atmosphere and ambiance, but the menu was not as diverse as I would have liked. We both ended up getting the exact same thing, an anemic grilled chicken breast served on sourdough bread. I guess on a normal trip we would have been more than satisfied with this meal, but our other experiences in Canada had raised our expectations!

Day 7: The Return Home

Banff Library & Groceries

We hopped in the car and tried to find a more optimal route home, but found ourselves lacking in that most important of road warrior tools: Maps! Luckily, the Banff library was just down the street. The library definitely has the quaint small-town library feel, almost like a high school library on steroids. We originally had planned to use the Internet, but it cost Cdn$1 for 15 minutes here (Hey! Free at most US libraries!) and the schedule was full. The librarian pointed us to a motley collection of used roadmaps, but they didn't have the one we needed most (Idaho). An atlas yielded the vital information and a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation predicted a time of 12-13 hours for Banff - Idaho - Spokane - Dalles - Portland, a significant savings over the 16-18 hours it took for us to do Portland - Vancouver - Banff.

Tim Horton's

We had been on the road for a few hours when that most treasured of all Canadian fast food restaurants, Tim Horton's, came into view on the horizon ... a mere 50 miles from the US border. I deftly guided the minivan through a 90 degree turn into the parking lot and we parked to grab dinner and donuts. Amazingly, this was the first Tim Horton's that we had seen on our entire trip! (Technically, Tim Horton's is now owned by the Americans, the Wendy's restaurant chain to be specific, but don't tell the Canadians!) I absolutely adore the Tim Horton's menu. It's pretty much like the now defunct chain Boston Market in that they serve wholesome food. I opted for the chili bread bowl; it was delicious and it filled me up completely. At Tim Horton's, they use donuts much like McDonald's uses French fries: Every value meal has one docked on the side. A chocolate glazed donut brought my Canadian odyssey to a delightful end. Despite Aimee's protests, I also bought a half-dozen donuts "for the road".

The marathon drive home

Aimee and I traded off driving every two hours. The scenery continued to be amazing beyond words until the sun set and we could see only the highway cat-eyes. Best border crossing ever (took a total of 2 minutes to get across). The roads were pretty twisty in Idaho, I was glad that we had a wee bit of dusk to navigate by. Once we got to the main country highway, we picked up the pace considerably. I felt a remarkable safety in the dark straights of that country road: At one point, we hadn't seen another car for almost 30 minutes. As I gained confidence that no cop in his right mind would choose this road to wait for speeders, I slowly put the peddle to the metal and soon we were making pretty good time. There was one scary moment when Aimee was driving and out of nowhere our headlights illuminated a man waving his arms in what looked like an attempt to get help. Not knowing whether this was someruse or not, we went the safe route and didn't stop.

Around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., we were both too tired to continue on and decided to stop for a brief nap somewhere near the Dalles. We pulled off the highway, drove past a large trucker gas station, and parked the minivan under a tree overlooking the Columbia River. It was pretty remote and the only sounds we heard were from trains passing on the other side of the river. Aimee likes to remind me that during this entire time, I was in a zombie state and would have happily kept sleeping all morning. Somehow Aimee dragged herself up from her deep slumber and we were on our way again just after dawn.

We made it back to the BOOM! Condo before 8:00 a.m. and in short order had everything unloaded (after a week of living in the minivan, we were adept at loading and unloading its contents). It took us a few minutes to put the seats and floor mats back in, and then we drove downtown to return the minivan to Avis (conveniently open 24 hours for returns).

Returning yet again to the BOOM! Condo, I had a very strong desire to take a shower and cleanse myself from the grime of the trip. Throughout my shower, I dreamt of only one thing sinking my teeth into a delectable chocolate glazed Tim Horton's donut. When I got out of the shower, I went upstairs to find both Aimee and the donuts missing. About 10 minutes later, she reappeared from a visit to Mimi and Dan upstairs and told me that she had offered them the donuts. I was pissed. I had just spent the last 10 minutes in the shower dreaming about eating those donuts, and now they were gone. Plus, Aimee didn't even want to buy donuts at Tim Horton's - I was the one who wanted them! Aimee ran upstairs to try and intercept Mimi and Dan before they ate the donuts, and she actually made it up there just as Mimi was about to take a bit of a chocolate glazed one (my favorite). When Aimee told her that I wanted the donut back, Mimi took a bite anyway and said "too bad"! Grrrr!

After I recovered from the donut loss tragedy, I quickly found myself growing tired and headed to bed, marking the official end of this road trip.

Selected Logbook Entries

Things to do on future trips

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