The night before our final full day in Banff, I found myself stressing out about the hike I’d planned for the following day. A dark, needling feeling of doubt had inserted itself into my mind, and that feeling grew stronger as the hike grew nearer.
I worried that the hike was going to be too far for us, and that I wasn’t fit enough to make it to the end. I worried that the kids would hate it, and I worried that I would hate it. I worried about bears. Actually, I worried quite a lot about bears.
But mostly, I worried that I wasn’t capable.
I kept these fears to myself. I didn’t want the kids to know that I had any doubts. I didn’t want them to have any reason to whine and complain any more than usual. If they started in on me about not going, I knew that I might back out. And I had no intention of backing out of this hike. As nervous as I was about it, I was committed to completing it.
There are two hikes in Banff, both out of the Lake Louise area, that lead to historic tea houses. The most popular one is to the Lake Agnes Tea House, a tea house has been serving customers since 1905, and it is a 4.5 mile round trip hike. Our guide book recommended it as an excellent hike for families. The other tea house hike is to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, built in 1924, and a 7 mile round trip hike.
Somehow, I underestimated the size of Banff during my vacation planning. It looks relatively compact on a map, but the reality is that Banff National Park is 2,564 square miles, and it is filled with so many amazing places to explore. I thought we would have time to explore more of it, but we were only able to get a taste of the park during our short time there.
On our first full day in Banff, we explored Lake Louise and Moraine Lake – two must-see highlights that will show up in any guidebook on the area. The numbers of tour buses in both areas confirmed their popularity. The concierge at our hotel had advised us to head to Moraine Lake first, since there is little parking and it tends to fill up. I was so glad we had this piece of advice. The park service closed off access to the road to Moraine Lake by about 12:30 on the day we explored due to the crowds.
Whether it was because the lake is so visually stunning, or because it was our first alpine lake of the trip, or simply because we had such a great morning there, Moraine Lake was one of our favorite places during our time in Banff.
We climbed to the top of the aptly-named Rock Pile for our first views of Moraine Lake, then we walked the lakeshore trail, a 1.5 mile roundtrip to the south end of the lake. As we neared the southern end of the lakeshore trail, we were able to see more clearly the glaciers in the surrounding peaks.
Plain of Six Glaciers trail, in Banff.
“We love the Tetons and Yellowstone, but Glacier is our favorite national park.”
We heard this sentence, or a variation on it, at least two or three times last summer while we were in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. I couldn’t imagine loving another park even more than I did either Grand Tetons or Yellowstone. I had fallen hard for both places and for different reasons. How could Glacier be even better?
But the sentiment stayed with me, even after we returned home. So I began my research. Within 2 weeks of arriving home from Jackson Hole, I had booked hotel rooms in the Many Glacier Hotel, on the east side of Glacier National Park, for one year later, in July 2015.
As the months went by, my plans for our summer trip evolved, expanded, and solidified. In my research, I learned that one of the major airports near Glacier was in Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. And not terribly far from Calgary was Banff, in the Canadian Rockies. Hmm.