Canada encapsulates the world’s beauty and then some. It’s hard to describe without using a thousand adjectives and superlatives and none of them even begin to cover how it makes you feel when you’re there.
We explored parts of British Columbia and Alberta, travelling from Vancouver to Calgary, stopping at Whistler, Jasper and Banff along the way.
Day one: Travel to Vancouver
We travelled with BA from London Heathrow to Vancouver and, using our Avios point, flew in Club World. As BA is part of the One World alliance you are allowed to use other airlines club lounges and I would highly recommend the Cathay Pacific lounge at LHR. The bao buns are incredible! Although head to the Elemis spa at the BA lounge for a complimentary facial or massage first.
The following day we knew we were heading out of the city so rather than stay in the (expensive) downtown district, we booked an air bnb in North Vancouver.
Day two: Vancouver to Whistler
Making the most of waking up early with jetlag is something we always try to make the most of and it was certainly worth it at Capilano Suspension Bridge. Arriving at around 8am gave us some time to experience the tranquility with no one else around, as well as getting the perfect photo opportunity. As well as the suspension bridge, there is the cliff walk and tree tops adventure and it was a great introduction to some of the nature Canada has to offer. Tickets are $53.95 for adults.
After spending between two to three hours at the bridge we started to slowly make our way up to Whistler, with a few planned stops along the way.
A quick trip to Wholefoods to grab some lunch we set off for Horseshoe Bay which took about 20 minutes. Sitting by the sea is one of my favourite things to do and as the mountains fall away into the sea, watching the ferry’s and boats come and go was the picture-perfect spot for lunch.
Our next stop was Shannon Falls, an impressive waterfall and hiking spot. We didn’t explore too much here as we were travelling but if you have more time I’d recommend it.
Leaving the falls put us back on trail to Whistler, the famous ski town. The season was coming to an end, in fact it closed the day we left. The man made Disney like town is impressive and much larger than any ski resorts we’ve visited and because we were out of season (the Summer season is hugely popular too) we got a good rate at the Four Seasons.
Day three: Whistler
I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. We were lucky on our trip overall, end of May beginning of June can reward you with beautiful sunny days or quite the opposite so it was a slight gamble. We had one and a half days of rain – day three being the half day – but staying at this luxurious hotel was no hardship in this weather. We ventured out in the afternoon when the rain stopped to Brandywine Falls which was vast and impressive and then to the very unique Trainwreck trail.
After a train crash in 1956, to minimise disruption to the railway, the carriages were pulled off the track and left there. Now they’re used as a canvas for local artists and the urban graffiti alongside the natural beauty of the forest was spectacular.
Top Tip – head down to the bar at the Four Seasons where they hold wine tasting and s’mores kits.
Day four: Whistler to Jasper
Nine. Hours. Of. Driving. I know, it seems ridiculous but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds and with the scenery as beautiful as it is you can’t not enjoy it. We stopped in Kamloops for some lunch and made our way to Jasper. You even cross a time zone here. You will need to buy your National Parks pass, they cost $136.40 for the vehicle.
Day five: Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is indescribable. The Rocky Mountains towering above you, the expanse of the lakes and the purity of the air puts everything into perspective. We started our day at Maligne Lake and took the Moose Lake Loop trail (2.7km) which stays largely in the woods but skirts around a beautifully quiet part of the lake.
From here we further explored Maligne Lake and as it was still early the crowds were minimal. Light bathes the lake and creates an atmospheric view. The Maligne Lake Lodge here is beautiful and if the timing had been right we would have stayed for lunch. We also briefly stopped at Maligne Canyon to see how the sheer force and power of the water can cut through the rock.
Hiking to Lake Patricia followed by the beautiful Pyramid Lake was next on the agenda. It boasts its own little island where we spent some time being entertained by chipmunks and watching the birds dive for fish.
You can explore as much or as little as you like at the lakes, we wanted to fit quite a few in during the morning and headed back to Jasper for lunch.
We spent the afternoon relaxing in our picturesque log cabin, reading books by the river and enjoying a cold beer.
Stay – Jasper Alpine Village
Day six – Icefields Parkway – Jasper to Banff
Icefields Parkway, the road that links Jasper to Banff is where most people recommend seeing wildlife. It pains me to say we didn’t see any bears but we did see a moose, mountain goats, elk, caribou and chipmunks throughout our trip, a lot of them on this stretch.
We had bought, in advance, the Ultimate Explorer Pass, giving us access to four attractions in the Jasper/Banff area ($203.90 for adults). We started with the Glacier Adventure which was an amazing experience and one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Taking the huge Ice Explorer down to the glacier means you can walk directly on it, taking in the views, tasting the clearest water and even feeling it move as the ice cracks underneath you.
From there, the tour bus will take you to the Glacier Skywalk, make sure you have the correct ticket for this, we saw quite a few people turned away or asked to pay for this part of the experience. Saying that, whilst it was a nice thing to do it’s not on my must do list.
We stopped at Peyto Lake on our way through to Banff, viewing it from a high vantage point of Bow Summit, on Icefields Parkway. Still largely frozen, the lake gave us a different view of some of the vivid blue imagery we’d seen before we left but I enjoyed this perspective and much quieter than the crowded Summer months.
Following this we made our way to Banff, celebrating my birthday at the exquisite Chuck’s Steakhouse.
Day seven: Banff
The third part of our ticket included the Banff Gondola which we enjoyed more than we thought. Bringing back great memories of ski trips the gondola works much in the same way and offers incredible views of the town of Banff as well as the Rockies. The offering at the top is impressive, the viewing platforms, fire pits, seating and information centre is so well done. We had lunch up here at Sky Bistro which was a treat for a lunchtime but so worth it.
Tip – check the temperature at the top of the mountain, it’s much colder up at the top than the base!
The final attraction on the ticket was the Lake Minnewanka Cruise which was stunning. It was nice to be out on the water to truly feel part of nature. The guide was informative and funny but also gave us time to simply take in the breath taking views, appreciate the silence and be mindful of this unique place.
Day eight: Lake Louise
Arguably the most famous of the lakes in this area, this was a must see on my list before we went. We’d been forewarned that it would be busy and tourist heavy unless we went early in the morning so we set out to get there at 7am. We didn’t (thanks to me) but there were very few people there at 8.30am at that time of year and we had the gateway to the lake pretty much to ourselves.
This was the longest, and most treacherous hike we did but this was mostly due to the amount of snow and ice still on the ground. We made our way up to Lake Agnes Tea House which had opened that day for the season and after sharing my tea with a chipmunk made our way down to much larger crowds.
The things that will stay with me the most from Lake Louise is not the scar on my hand from where I fell, or the memory of the chipmunk stealing my tea (not over that really, not a fan of sharing) but the pure tranquility of the surroundings. The overarching Rocky Mountains coupled with the clear blue of the lake is breath taking. The air is the cleanest I’ve ever experienced and the water the freshest I’ve tasted. There’s something about this area that clears your mind, things are put into perspective and you really do feel connected to the earth beneath you.
Emerald Lake was next on the agenda and turned out to be my favourite. Aptly named the lake is part of Yoho National Park and once again, as soon as you move away from the entrance the crowds are non-existent. There is a beautiful 5km flat trail around the lake which, despite tired legs from the morning, was well worth it. We looked at canoeing here but it’s around $70 and we’d enjoyed our day so much we didn’t feel we needed to add to it. Gift shop here is excellent..!
Day nine – Banff to Calgary
We used the day to slowly make our way from Banff to Calgary to ultimately fly to Vancouver. Stopping for lunch at The Range Canmore along which a stroll around this pretty unspoiled town, we eventually made our way to airport to leave behind the national parks and head back into the city.
Our time in Canada was undeniably special, it’s truly unique in its vast and breath taking views around every turn and the people are quite rightly so proud of where they’re from. It’s easy to see why so many people want to live here and share in this experience. To say I’d recommend visiting is an understatement the attack on the senses are like no other.