Enjoy these amazing travel tips for a Canadian Adventure!
by Flitter-Flutter’s Yorkshire Lass GUEST BLOGGER!
Imagine the best environment you ever explored as a child, one where your imagination was at it’s most alive, meaning that you were totally immersed in your surroundings…….got it? If so, you are about half way to picturing how incredible the Canadian Rockies are for children! Children both young and old!
I’ll do my best to paint the picture of the other half, but I fear that even the best descriptive skills will fall short of doing Canada any real justice. My overriding message is JUST GO! If you have the means and want your children to experience the natural world at it’s best, Canada deserves to be at the top of the hit list.
The three places we were lucky enough to visit were Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise, all situated along the Icefields Parkway, which basically stretches 230 kilometres from Banff to Jasper National Park. We hired a car which gave us great flexibility and freedom to explore at our own leisure.
Banff was a great place to start the vacation, it is a small, quaint town with many shops, bars and restaurants. However, it’s nestled between beautiful mountains and very close to amazing lakes, rivers and hikes, making it the perfect place to ease you into adventurer mode. As we arrived from London, Banff really was a great stepping stone from city to wilderness! (Our group of city slickers had 3 children, two boys, aged 12 and 5, one girl aged 10).
We knew the jet lag would be a bit tricky for the first few days so we ensured that we had activities booked that would A, keep us awake and B, be fun for us to do whilst feeling like we’d rather curl up in our PJs and settle down for a movie marathon!
First thing on the agenda, canoeing down the Bow river, just WOW! It was incredible! It started off with a fun talk about the local wildlife, this was really interactive and totally captured all three children! They answered questions and asked our guide things too which definitely excited them and geared them up for the activity. I naively got in the canoe pretty certain that by the time we’d reached the halfway point we’d have seen Beavers, Moose, Elk and even befriended the resident Grizzly!……we got off the canoe however, having only seen a few floating bear shaped logs. BUT this did not diminish our experience in any way, shape or form! The whole group loved it and I couldn’t recommend a first activity more than this one. We used The Banff Canoe Club and I’d definitely head back to those guys if the need for a canoe down Bow river ever presents itself.
Our first night was just about staying awake for as long as possible, before falling into a very deep, (yet short) coma! My advice would be to really take advantage of the early wake ups! Unsurprisingly, we weren’t the only people excited to go bear hunting and visit the most beautiful sights nature has to offer, so get to these beauty spots EARLY! The parking, the crowds and general enjoyment will be hindered if you choose to arrive somewhere after 11am. Seriously, just get up and go!
Sticking with the water theme, my next recommendation is White Water Rafting, yep, you read right! We took three children on a huge dinghy, shoved a paddle in their hands and off we went down the river! Even though, at certain parts of the river, we were clinging on for dear life or letting out the odd squeal AND disembarked the dinghy looking like something the cat had dragged in (from a rain storm)!…..We can all say it was one of the most exhilarating experiences we’ve ever had! It was just so much fun! At first though, the attire was a little off putting for us city slickers. Trying to squeeze ourselves into the wetsuits that we were given, with assurances they’d fit, was almost as frantic as battling some of the waves along the river! It was so funny though, luckily! If I hadn’t have found it funny, I’d have perhaps decided that the children didn’t need this level of immersion into the wilderness, but I’m so pleased we pushed through our boundaries! On the drive to the rafting place the adults were saying things like “I’m not wearing a wet suit” or “We’ll be FINE without a wetsuit” well just hold it there! Just because you know how to handle a northernly breeze blowing in from Scotland, does not mean you know how to handle a river in the Canadian Rockies primarily made up of glacial melt! YOU NEED THE WETSUIT!
In order to successfully guide the boat down the river we needed to listen, communicate, follow various instructions and rely on team work, so as well as great fun, it was a great education for the children also. Add it to the ‘must do’ list. From back within the comfort of the skyscrapers and city vibes, if someone offered me the chance to ride the white waves of a beautiful river right now, I’d be in that wet suit quicker than you could shout “Canada rules!”
Whilst still in Banff we also took advantage of a local ranch which housed around 300 horses! The staff were great, the horses were so stunning and it offered us another chance to not only see the scenery but to almost be a part of it. We’d booked something called the ‘Cowboy Cookout’ which was basically a horse ride to a smaller ranch/pit stop in the forest, where we ate barbecued steak, jacket potatoes and beans, cowboy style. Then rode back to the main ranch. The older children were able to ride the horses but the 5 year old wasn’t quite big enough so I sat with him on a horse drawn wagon. It was a great idea and although we enjoyed the experience for the most part, the area where the cookout was held, is what I truly believe to be a Mecca for mosquitoes! I’ve never seen so many and even after at least 5 layers of repellent I came away with more bites than I could count! Which, whilst relevant, leads me to my next piece of advise. Pack insect repellents! Strong ones! The herbal, eco friendly ones are a great idea but they just don’t work under these conditions, mosquitoes in Canada mean business so you need a fully stocked armoury of defence and sting relief creams for the odd, inevitable bite!
Anyway, briefly, going back to the horse riding. I’d recommend that you just book the trail ride. Riding the horses is a great experience in its self, the food stop, (for your family and the mosquitoes) isn’t necessary.
Banff really has so much more to offer, I’ve tried to keep it as short as I can, which is tricky for someone so newly passionate about the place. Next stop Jasper……..
First thing to mention, along most of the Parkway, there’s no phone signal. So, before setting off, make sure you’ve made all the calls you need to, that you’ve sent those emails and most importantly, researched your journey and stop points etc. We listened to an incredible app called the GyPSy Guide. It was £5 and worth every penny! The app basically narrates your journey with a mixture of stories about the surrounding landscape, original explorers and the diverse wildlife you can potentially spot. The ‘story teller’ as the 5 year old city slicker fondly named him, will tell you all the must see places along the way and places you can take comfort breaks too. I would recommend you check these out online first as he is a bit of a keen bean and will have you hopping out of the car every 200 yards if you aren’t careful. Although this isn’t due to him enjoying a game of musical chairs, it’s purely because there REALLY is that much to see!
Ooh, speaking of music, ensure you make an entertaining, varied and LONG playlist. Ask each member of the group for a few of their favourite songs, just to help keep them going in the car. You could also make an animal bingo type game, or just keep a count of what you see along the way. We had such fun searching for the animals on our hit list. The animal we most hoped to see was a bear, I have to admit that for me, it became a bit of an obsession and I had a stiff neck to prove it! I couldn’t keep me eyes from scouring the forests and road sides, the neck pains paid off though! We spotted various black bears and even a mother bear with two cubs, needless to say, we were totally amazed! These are such precious moments for children growing up within a city, where the only chance at seeing these kind of animals is in a zoo…..who am I kidding!? It’s precious for anyone, adult or child, irrelevant of your own natural habitat!
As well as considering the entertainment side of things, I think we covered the practicalities pretty well too. Each member of the group, young or old, had their own rucksack. Within each rucksack was a change of clothes, dry socks, snacks, water bottle, hat and a raincoat. The weather can change without any warning and very quickly too, so having access to an extra outfit or raincoat is vital! (Throw a couple of towels in the boot too, there’s plenty of chances to dip brave toes into extremely cold, yet rewarding, crystal clear waters)! At the end of each day I then reorganised each rucksack to ensure we were good to go….. bright and early the next day!!
The stops we most enjoyed between Banff and Jasper were Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and the Glacier Skywalk. In an attempt to keep the size of this review of Canada to an extremely large blog, rather than an extremely large novel, I’ll not go into too much detail about these places. I’ll just ask you trust me as I promise you that you’ll not be disappointed!! Peyto Lake is the single most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.
Jasper was our favourite destination, after the hustle and bustle of Banff, we found it to be very peaceful and this gave us a true feeling of being in the Rockies. Here we chose to brave an early wake up, (which was a little tricky as the jet lag had just about worn off), in order to go on a nature drive. Our first stop was Pyramid Lake and as we walked over a beautiful wooden bridge, towards a small island we were shocked to see a female Elk enjoying her breakfast. This was a fabulous, up close encounter but it was important we didn’t get too caught up in the excitement as Elks are classed as one of the parks most dangerous creatures. They will stomp and kick in an attempt to scare you off, so we respected her space and left her to graze in peace. As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by this sight, we then found her baby laying down behind a nearby bush! We then knew for sure that it was time to carry on with our walk. Mother animals are particularly dangerous and will of course protect their offspring valiantly!
On our way back to the hotel we saw two giant bull Elks, I couldn’t quite grasp how large they were! They were so strong and muscular, yet somehow very graceful with it. Don’t picture a ballerina with Antlers here, they were clearly a wild animal built for one thing only and that is to impress the females, fight for the right of said females and reproduce. Thank goodness we saw them in August whilst they were happy to hangout and graze, we couldn’t have got so close if they were fighting. We all agreed that the early wake up was to totally worth it!
Another must see is a place called Maligne Lake, which is about an hours drive from Jasper. We saw bears on the way, a huge graveyard of trees as a result of a forest fire and much, much more. The amount of waterfalls, lakes, streams, mountains and meadows you see are incomparable to anywhere else on the planet!
Maligne Lake is host to an island that is one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies, it’s called Spirit Island and is just so beautiful. So beautiful in fact that Apple used an image of it to launch their iPad in 2014. We accessed it via a cruise which was really enjoyable, definitely recommend this! We all really enjoyed this day out and the icing on the cake was seeing a female moose on the way home! Animal bingo was coming along nicely!
Jasper was also a great place to sit back and relax a little, let’s not forget that we were on holiday and as beautiful as everything is, a little downtime is necessary here and there. If you do too much the children will become tired and possibly a little resentful of all the movement. We bought each group member a journal and found that this was the perfect way to reflect on each day, remember the amazing things we’d seen and practice their literacy skills…..shhhh! (That bit was not advertised!) We encouraged each child to collect postcards, stickers and mementoes that could be stuck within the pages. Reading the journals back in a couple of years will be incredible.
After Jasper we drove to Lake Louise and as beautiful as it is, I wouldn’t overly encourage anyone to stay there. It’s such a hot spot that getting anywhere near the lake is challenging, trying to dodge the tourists, cameras and general chaos is exhausting, especially after the peace and tranquility of Jasper. You can drive to all the amazing places close to Lake Louise from Banff, so don’t put yourself in the situation where you are trying to herd your children through a swarm of selfie sticks!
Check out Jasper and Banff on Instagram or Facebook, I followed a few places on the run up to our trip and this really wetted the appetite of what I was going to see. Yet, even though I was perfectly aware of the type of beauty spots I would see, no amount of hashtags like #CanadaIsSoBeautiful could have ever prepared me! I feel really privileged to have been able to see visit Canada and all that’s left to say is….JUST GO!