We happily redid the drive through Kootenays on highway 93 to get to Banff. It was just as scenic the second time around. To get to the campground, we took the Lake Minnewanka Loop Road, which I vaguely remember from 2003. That was the time when we booked a 10th anniversary bicycle tour package through this area. We flew into Calgary, and they bussed us to Banff, where they set us up with rental bikes and hotel accommodations every 30-60 miles, all the way up to Jasper. I wasn’t much of a biker, but I was fit back then, so it seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t, actually. But despite the challenges I had with pedaling the miles, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the area. For the record, I far prefer doing the Minnewanka Road in my Honda Passport, thanks.
Who’s a good backer? 😀
The “Main” campground is on the other side of the road from the lake and has only four sites with hookups. The rest are arranged in tight little circles amidst numerous trees. Backing into the site was nothing short of a trailer backing final exam. The site was lined with tree trunks that came within a couple of feet of Dory on either side. I am proud to say I passed and did not hit a single tree. Extra credit for doing it in one pass.
Top of Mt. Norquay
We’d gotten a good early start, so the next order of business after unhitching was to get our bearings down in town. Richard had his eyes on a ride up to the top of Mt. Norquay and our plan was to meet back in town. One attempt at driving through town taught me that driving is not the way to get around Banff. It was really packed and there is a whole central area that is blocked to cars. I immediately pushed the ABORT button and just tried to make my way back out of town. I was extremely glad not to have been towing. I ended up accidentally finding the beginning of the climb Richard was looking for, and he found me not long after. So, I just parked in the shade and blogged while he rode up and down the mountain.
On a side note, before he rode up, I ferried him across a “Texas gate” (aka cattle grate). They are really dangerous for bicycles here. Normally cattle grates are just annoying, but these are meant to keep large wildlife, like moose and elk, off the highways. The grates are round and the spacing between them is enough for a hoofed leg to fall through. For a bicycle going downhill, you can just clutch the handlebars and hope for the best, but if you are going uphill without enough speed, you are looking at wipeout potential.
View of town in the distance from the Cascade of Time Gardens
We then regrouped and decided to make another foray, only this time we parked at the train station on the outskirts of town. There we found an information center with maps, free parking for up to 9 hours, and an e-bike rental place. Now we were rocking it, like smart campers. We walked into the central part of town to check out the market and get some dinner. I can recommend Saffron Indian Bistro, which has excellent curry with the flavor of lemon grass infused in the rich sauce. For our ice cream course, we had to wait in a long line at a place called Cow’s. It was good ice cream, so I’ll call it worth the wait. I still think Shannon’s remains undefeated though.
Now with a better understanding of the lay of the land, we returned to Dory for the first of our four-night stay. We were struck by how many people were there and how full all of the parking areas were, but it was the first Saturday of summer with “hot” (74º F) weather, and really the rest of our time was not as jam packed.
What a view!
On our first full day, I got a parking spot by 11am right on the shores of Two Jack Lake so I could put my boat in. That might be one of my favorite boating experiences. The water was the most beautiful shade of aqua, and the five-star view is snowcapped mountain peaks everywhere you look. There are no motorized boats on the water, so it is just you and all the other paddlers.
Canmore is like a dialed down version of Banff.
While I did that, Richard rode the Legacy Trail, which is a paved multiuse path from Banff to Canmore. He needed to be somewhere with good service for a work call and it worked out well to combine work with pleasure. Once I was done, I packed up my boat, hopped in the car, and drove out to meet him. We walked around Canmore and had dinner in a place called The Thai House for Pad Thai, satay, and spring rolls.
That was a full day, so we headed back, driving the other side of the Lake Minnewanka Loop where we were amused by a herd of goat butts. We also checked out the Two Jack Lakeside campground and now I understand why it is so hard to reserve. There are only 13 sites that are trailerable, but they sure would be close to the lake and would make launching easier, in that you wouldn’t need to worry about finding parking.
That’s what I’m talkin bout.
For our second day, we had a do over of the Bow Valley Parkway. All I remember from nineteen years ago biking this road was that I thought I was going to die. I was not adjusted properly on the rental bike (my doing, not theirs) and it was way too many miles for the first day. I remember seeing a bear on the road and all that registered was that I would have been ok if he’d eaten me to put me out of my misery. This time we did a full cheat, and I rented an e-bike. Oh my god that was fun. I zipped along so fast that Richard had a hard time keeping up with me. Any time we got to a hill, I cranked up the power and cackled exuberantly as I left him in my dust.
Who’s an adorable potential killer? 😀
That’s the way to do this. I enjoyed every inch and this time when we saw a bear, I could not have been more excited. It was a black bear, so it came across as “cute” and “fuzzy,” as opposed to Grizzlies, which are “huge” and “the last thing I’ll see before I die.”
We biked all the way out to Johnston Canyon where we hiked up to see the falls. There were a lot of other people on the trail, but that was ok with me because they say you are less likely to get eaten in a crowd. The hike crosses over a lot of elevated boardwalks, which are not Richard’s favorite, but they were sturdy. There was a bit of rain on the hike, and you’ll be excited to hear that the rain kilt came out! He looked slightly less ridiculous than the plastic bag poncho people, at least in my opinion. We came down and had ice cream, like we do, and then pedaled on back to town. All told, that was about thirty miles, and I was good with calling it a day. What an amazingly fun day that was!
Storm’s a’comin, Pa!
We topped it off with another dinner out at a place called Coyote’s Southwestern Grill I had the best blue corn chicken enchiladas and sweet potato and corn chowder. We made it back to the car just in time to avoid getting caught by a sudden downpour. There was lightning and thunder, so it was nice and dramatic, but it passed quickly and even produced a partial double rainbow.
If you’re going to spend that much money on an 8 minute ride, you’re gonna get the cheesy photoshopped picture.
Finally, we come to our last day, and we decided to go Full Tourist mode. Richard worried about rain, but I kicked him out on his bike, and he rode the whole Minnewanka loop while I found cell service and hung out at Johnson Lake. There was a wedding happening there, which looked pretty, but cold. Richard texted “WLB,” which told me he was enjoying his ride and that he needs to stop worrying so much about getting rained on. We took a drive through town and up to the hot springs and gondola area. We were unified in not being terribly interested in getting into the hot springs pool with a bunch of other people, but we diverged on the gondola. Richard was a solid NOPE on that one, but I enjoy those things. It was so expensive that it became difficult to refrain from doing a dollars per fun-minutes analysis, but we both agreed that FOMO is more expensive in the long run.
At that point, it was getting late, and we had pretty much done all of the things on our various checklists. We took a quick drive over to Bow Falls, just to see what that was about. The river looked high to me, but I have nothing to compare that with. Our last dinner out was at Silver Dragon Chinese restaurant on the outskirts, and therefore less crowded. It gets mixed reviews, but we thought the Hot and Sour Soup and Ginger Beef was delicious. And with that, we returned to our last night of this stop.
The money shot
Because this was a four-night stay with no hookups and minimal solar, we were conservation conscious with water and with power. I am happy to report that both were fine. The batteries were holding steady at or above 13.0V. By the time we pulled out to dump, we were at 84% on the grey tank and 88% on black. I think we could have even held that lower if we hadn’t ‘lived it up’ on the last showers. One thing that was frustrating was the water temperature. For reasons unknown, Dory2’s shower valves are ridiculously sensitive. Like, if you move your hand close to the cold-water valve, you go from freezing to scalding or vice versa. Perhaps an exaggeration, but we both struggled with keeping the water temperature reasonable.
Bear on chair (zoom in; it’s a bear picture)
This was one of those perfect stays, where we didn’t feel rushed or bored. I loved all the things we did and really enjoyed the e-bike experience. I still don’t think it makes sense to have my own e-bike because of charging and storing logistics. I think the perfect thing for me is to just rent one when we are in places where it makes sense. We loved our anniversary re-do in Banff and there is still so much more to see in the area as we head north!
Total miles from Radium Hot Springs: 91.3,18.4 mpg, 2 hours 37 min. Site 10 B, no hookups, minimal solar, minimal cell. Verizon got some service sometimes. Good dump and potable water. Communal covered area with sink and wood stove and tables. Nice bathrooms, which we used sometimes to manage the black tank.