After a week of driving, we arrived in the Rocky Mountains! Seeing them felt like a big moment in our cross-country road trip. We knew we had driven so far! We spent some time in the Rockies on both the Canadian and American sides, starting with visits to Banff in Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana! Here’s a peek at what we did:
Banff & Lake Louise
We crossed the border into Canada (again!) for three wonderful nights in Banff. Banff Town is adorable; it’s filled with cute streets, quaint shops and restaurants, and has the Canadian Rockies acting as a perfect backdrop. We had a late dinner our first night and then walked around the town, marveling at how late the sun set this far north, before crashing at a hotel in town.
The following day we went to the visitors center to get some information about the best camping and hiking in the area. We grabbed a site at Tunnel Mountain Campground, about a 10 minute drive from downtown, before setting off to do what we came to do: HIKE! We also purchased some bear spray (think super intense pepper spray), just in case we had any close encounters. Side note – bear spray is meant to be used on approaching bears within close range (18 feet). We had to sign a waiver saying we understood we shouldn’t put the spray on ourselves, our clothes, or our tent… apparently people get confused and are in for an unpleasant surprise. Thankfully, we never had to use it!
We did two great hikes in Banff that we can recommend:
Tunnel Mountain Hike
Tunnel Mountain towers over Banff and offers stunning views of the town and surrounding mountain ranges. There is a gondola that takes visitors to the top, but we opted to hike. The trail winds up the mountain through a series of steep switchbacks for about 2 miles, which took us about an hour and a half. The ENTIRE way there is uphill, but the entire way back is downhill so it all works out. This was a well-marked and well-traveled trail and a great introduction to hiking in the area.
Johnston Canyon & Ink Pots
The following day we completed one of the only other hikes that was totally open and snow-free: Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots. The whole trip was about 12 miles. The first section to the “upper falls” is about 3 miles and follows a popular path that is a combination of dirt and pavement and runs along Johnston Creek past several waterfalls. It was definitely well-traveled with many other visitors! From the falls, most people turn around and head back to the parking lot. We continued on another 3 miles to the Ink Pots, an area with several small blueish greenish ponds. It was a relatively easy hike with minimal elevation gain. I was definitely scared about running into bears on this less-traveled path, but we encountered no wildlife! Phew!
While at Banff, we also drove about an hour to see Lake Louise. Because Lake Louise is at such a high elevation, we weren’t able to do much hiking here, even in early June! There is an easy trail that goes around the lake, but much of it was still closed so we just wandered along a bit of the shoreline. The views were amazing and we’d love to come back and see this place when it’s all melted and clear (although that leaves a very small window)!
Glacier National Park
We returned to the USA again to check out more of the Rocky Mountain range in Glacier National Park. Glacier is absolutely stunning! Think beautiful blue lakes, snow-capped mountains, lush green forests, and wildlife galore. It was quiet, peaceful, fresh, and just so scenic.
I will say, though, despite the park being amazing our timing was just a little bit off. As we encountered at Banff, lots of the park is still covered in snow in early June so we were limited in our hiking options and we weren’t able to drive the iconic Going to the Sun Road. We had also planned to camp here for two nights but I was so freezing after the first that we packed up a bit early. I’ll also admit – I was TERRIFIED of the bears. There were signs everywhere about bears and the ranger station had a list of bear sightings which were not all that uncommon. I know now it’s so unlikely to have an issue (and apparently bear spray is 98% effective!!!) but it was just freaking me out a little bit, much to John’s dismay. We would definitely love to return when it’s just a tad bit warmer later in the summer (although apparently the crowds are huge then, so I guess there are benefits to doing it the early way, too). I’m also feeling a little less terrified of the bears after a few additional weeks of camping so I think I could handle it a better now.
Anywhoo, we spent one day and one night exploring this beautiful park. We spent our first night at the Many Glacier campsite and did one small hike in the area on our first afternoon. The next day we drove over to the Two Medicine area and did another short hike before driving south to Bozeman.
With that, we continued south to even more National Parks. Can you guess where we went next??