The kids are back at school and holidays may seem a distant memory. Maybe thoughts are turning towards the winter, or perhaps you are hanging onto the summer. Often we return home, reminiscing about recent travels or thinking about our next getaway. So below, are some reflections from our recent family holiday to the Canadian Rockies including things I wish we had known before we set-off.
Crowds: the summer season in The Rockies is short – July and August – so there’s only 8 weeks for all the tourists who prefer to visit during the warmer weather. This is also perfect timing for people with children as it coincides with the summer holidays. Some top tips are:
- If you can travel outside the peak season, and you don’t mind the cooler temperatures, do so.
- Visit places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake either before 6am (yes, really) or after 8.30/9pm. The crowds thin out and parking is easier. At Moraine Lake, we queued at 8.30pm to get into the parking lot.
- Walk further away from parking areas and main trails to escape people. Most tour buses have limited time at each place, so the crowds tend to stay close to parked vehicles. Walking just one kilometre can make all the difference; we had a view of Lake Louise all to ourselves after walking for 30-40 minutes on a steep trail away from Fairmont Chateau.
- Visit less well-known places.
- Stay in Yoho or Glacier National Parks There is still magnificent, mountain scenery but less people.
Fact: Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest created in 1885 and has 3 million visitors each year.
Bears: avoiding an encounter is the best possible way to stay safe. You need to become ‘Bear Aware’ – what to do if you come across one – and carry bear spray ($40 CAD). Lots of places carry leaflets explaining what to do. If you do get out of your car, don’t wander too far from the vehicle. And leave at least 50 meters between yourself and the bear. Keep small children nearby – do not let them run off. Bears can come remarkably close to populated areas. We saw 4 bears in total, one of which was less than 100 meters out of Lake Louise Village. The possibility of viewing a bear when hiking added an extra dimension to the day; we sung, clapped hands and talked in loud voices, particularly when close to running water or dense vegetation.
Fact: Until 2017 it was legal to trophy hunt bears in British Columbia!
Mosquitos: these were a real nuisance, as were the horseflies, and they would bite all day long. Despite having insect repellent they still managed to bite us, even piercing my jodhpurs when horse riding. The wind will disperse the pesky devils, but get some industrial strength mozzie repellent.
Cost: this was the most expensive holiday, ever. The pound is weak at the moment but demand for accommodation is high and supply is low. The National Parks have strict rules about building and do not encourage Airbnb. However, some top tips:
- Avoid the tourist traps such as Lake Louise Village and Banff.
- Stay outside the Parks to avoid the Park fees. We stayed in Canmore rather than Banff. It had a really authentic feel and some great hiking.
- Stay in condos and use the cooking facilities and supermarkets to eat breakfast (most accommodation doesn’t include the first meal of the day). And eat-in rather than splash out in a restaurant.
- Book early to make use of hostels rather than hotels. We didn’t book until April (3 months before travelling) and there was no availability. Booking early will also help you get better deals and more choice.
- Take a cooler bag and re-usable water bottles for picnics.
- Remember, in Canada, tax is added at the till, so the price listed isn’t what you pay.
Variability in weather: we had hail, thunder, rain, sun and temperatures varied between 3 degrees and 28 degrees. You’ll need to take a varied wardrobe from coats to cut-offs, and wet weather gear is a must-pack item. Don’t forget your swimmers, either – there are lots of fresh water lakes for fun and cooling off.
Camping: wild camping is not permitted in the National Parks. You can only stay in designated campsites.
The Icefield Parkway: a must-see route and one of the most scenic drives in the world with mountains, lakes, the Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier. One of the highlights of the trip.
Fact: The Athabasca Glacier is the largest glacier, in North America, outside Alaska. It is so big that it creates its own weather system producing katabatic winds.
If you love the winter mountains, chances are you’ll love them in the summer, and The Canadian Rockies is a fabulous destination for a memorable family holiday; activities abound including white-water rafting, horse riding, kayaking, hiking, SUP, to name but a few, as well as world-famous sights such as Lake Louise. You can view wildlife, take guided tours and relax in natural hot springs. Putting in the effort now, to plan for next year’s holiday, is well worth the time and energy. Wherever, you decide to travel, bon voyage!
Ta ta for now,