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Canada

Itinerary: 7 Days in Banff

on January 25, 2017

So once again, I won’t bombard you with photos in this post because I know you’re most likely here because you honestly just want itinerary ideas. I’ll keep photos to a minimum, just a few to highlight the itinerary items, but for those of you wanting to peruse my the rest of the photos from this trip, here’s the link.


Day 1: Arrival in Calgary

We flew in to Calgary at 8pm, so we didn’t do much other than picking up our rental car and heading to the Airbnb.

Our Airbnb was very close to the airport and also close to the downtown area. Our host was friendly and the house was cozy and cute. As always, if you’d like me to send you the link for the accommodation, just shoot me a message!

We tried to get dinner at a trendy pizza place we found online, but they were still closed for Christmas holiday, so we just ended up eating at a pub called Rose & Crown downtown. It was there that I ate the best sandwich ever (turkey, strawberry, and brie yummmm). Downtown Calgary was also pretty cool to see at night when it’s all lit up.

Day 2: Calgary to Canmore for check in, then exploring downtown Banff

We woke up early to get breakfast at Tim Horton’s and head out west to Banff.

The highway was well maintained and the drive was easy, even in the middle of the winter. We arrived in Canmore and checked in to our Airbnb before heading on towards the national park.

We took the afternoon to explore downtown Banff, walked along the Bow River, poked around the Banff Fairmont Springs, and went souvenir shopping on Banff Avenue.

Day 3: Skiing at Mount Norquay

If you’ve read my post about all the snags we had on this trip, you’ll know that this is where our plans started to fall apart. If not here’s the TL;DR version: I have really muscular calves, couldn’t fit in ski boots, had to switch to snowboarding.

Anyways, this was a day that was [supposed to be] dedicated to skiing. Pretty self explanatory.

Norquay was a quaint ski resort. It’s where the locals go, since it’s the closest resort to the actual town of Banff. It has the most limited amount of runs and lifts compared to the other resorts, but the prices are also cheaper for lift passes as well as lessons.

Day 4: Ice skating at Lake Minnewanka, hiking at Johnston Canyon

Here’s where life started to deviate from our planned itinerary. We were supposed to spend this day on the slopes at Sunshine Village, but life had other plans.

We ended up trading in our ski and snowboard gear for ice skates and heading out to Lake Minnewanka. The drive out to the lake is magnificent! The scenery is picture perfect. And the lake itself is just amazing to behold. It’s framed by mountains all around, and the ice is a dark blue color with lots of frozen methane bubbles trapped in it. It was the coolest thing we did on this trip.

After skating we headed up to Johnston Canyon to do some hiking. We only made it to the lower falls before the sun started going down and we decided to head back to the car because it was getting dark and too cold for us.

For dinner we chose a spot in Canmore called The Grizzly Paw Pub & Brewing Co. We tried poutine for the first time (10/10 would recommend) and got a beer flight to try out some of the local brews. You’ll notice that half of the flight is dark (mine) and half is light (his), we obviously have different tastes in beer. The food at Grizzly Paw was just as amazing as the beer. It was my favorite restaurant on this trip.

Day 5: Snowshoeing and ice skating at Lake Louise

This was the day that we were supposed to spend on the slopes at Lake Louise Ski Resort.

We still headed up to Lake Louise, but rented ice skates and snow shoes from Wilson Mountain Sports when we arrived, and then headed for the lake.

We snowshoed to the scenic overlook to get the best view of the Chateau Lake Louise. And also just to cross snowshoeing off our bucket list…

Then we headed down to check out the Chateau, as well as grab lunch before going out to explore the frozen lake and ice skate as the sun set behind the mountains.

Day 6: Exploring the town of Banff

We chose to spend New Year’s Eve exploring the town of Banff a little more. We visited Cave & Basin National Historic Park in the morning, which I really enjoyed. I learned a lot about the history of Banff, the Canadian Rockies, and the Canadian National Parks at the museum, and I got to explore the cave and hot spring system. And it was super cheap to get in, about $4 per person! We missed the whole free national parks thing by a few hours, but for that price I can’t really complain.

After that we headed up to Surprise Corner to get the best view of the Banff Fairmont Springs. You can either hike there from downtown or drive up the mountain then walk down a much shorter distance to get there. We tried to hike there, but it was a cold, windy, snowy day, so we gave up and did the scenic drive.

We also visited the Vermilion Lakes and did some sightseeing there. There are also lots of beautiful trails to hike around the lakes and enjoy their beauty. You can also walk out onto the lake in some spots and ice skate, but we didn’t see any people when we were out there.

We ate dinner at the Grizzly Paw once more before heading out to Lake Minnewanka to try catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. It was too overcast, but the experience was definitely interesting. That’s a story for another post though.

To celebrate the New Year we went downtown to check out the festivities. Banff Avenue was closed off to traffic and there were lots of tents and activities set up. We listened to the bands that were playing music to the crowds, we test rode some fat tire bikes, we learned about Japanese New Year traditions, got to hang out in a giant teepee, danced in the street, and nearly froze because it was so cold. I was excited to count down to the New Year, but there was no actual count. Just a bunch of fireworks going off and everyone screaming “Happy New Year” in whatever the opposite of unison is. It was still a great way to celebrate 2017!

Day 7: Canmore to Calgary, exploring the city

Once again, we had different plans for this day but they changed. This time it was due to the weather. Tubing at Mount Norquay and an ice walk at Grotto Canyon were on the itinerary for the day, but it was a windy day with lots of snow flurries, so we knew we would be miserable spending a few hours outside. We decided to hit the road earlier than planned and find a museum or something in which to seek sanctuary from the cold.

After checking back into the Airbnb from our first night in Canada, we did a little research into a good place to visit.

We decided to visit the Calgary Tower. I was very pleasantly surprised by this attraction!

We chose to do the audio tour that comes free with regular admission, and it taught us a lot about the city of Calgary’s history and urban geography.

Day 8: Depart Calgary to go home

We woke up to the coldest weather since we had arrived in Canada over a week prior.

Luckily all we had to do was throw our suitcases in the car and drive to the airport. We enjoyed our trip but we were happy to leave the -11 cold for the 78 degree warmth at home in Houston!


Changed Plans and Such

A few things we wanted to do but weren’t able to…

  • Ski at Sunshine Village and Lake Louise Ski Resorts: Y’all know all about this by now.
  • Tubing at Mount Norquay: We wanted to do this on New Year’s Day, but it was just too cold. It’s also kind of pricey. We knew that if we did pay to do it, there was a big chance we would just get so cold that we would give it like 30 minutes before giving up and going inside to get warm. It didn’t seem like the best use of our money.
  • Grotto Canyon: We really wanted to do an ice walk here, but the day we planned to do it was so cold, snowy, and windy. We knew it would be miserably cold to us, so we decided not to go.
  • Jasper National Park: I wish we could have gone a little further north to visit another one of Canada’s most famous national parks.
  • Columbia Icefields: I would have also loved to see a glacier in Canada, since glacier hiking is kinda my thing…

Happy adventuring, friends!

4 Things No One Tells You About Visiting Banff

on January 16, 2017

I did a lot of research for our trip to Banff, but there were still some pretty important things I never found online and had to learn for myself the hard way. These are four things I think are important for anyone planning a winter trip to Banff.


1. You have to buy a park pass to visit.

The town of Banff and pretty much everything you’ll want to do and see, even the ski resorts, are in the National Park. Which means that you’ll need a park pass. Luckily, you’ll pass through an entrance station where you’ll be prompted to purchase one before you officially enter the park. But the prices are pretty steep if you plan on making a week long trip out of it. For one person it costs about $10 per day, and for two or more it’s about $20 per day. Definitely factor this in when you’re budgeting for your trip because it’s a sizeable chunk of change.

And don’t try to get away with not buying one thinking no one will check. In the parking lots of the ski resorts and around town you can see officials checking windshields and writing tickets for cars without passes.

If you’re visiting in 2017 you don’t have to worry about this since Canada is waiving national park fees in celebration of their sesquicentennial!


2. There’s not much to do after dark.

img_7419At least in the winter, once the sun goes down there’s nothing to do. I feel like a good portion of our trip was kind of wasted because we couldn’t find activities to fill our time at night. We would go eat dinner and then wander around aimlessly before giving up and going back to our room to hang out. We really struggled to kill time until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The shops on Banff Ave are open decently late so if you need to do some souvenir shopping, you can do it at night. And there are lots of places to grab some drinks if that’s your thing.

I think this is really just a symptom of being a winter visitor. I’m here for all outdoors activities, and once the sun goes down I can’t really do anything. I’m sure in the summer, since the days are longer and the night temperatures are much nicer this wouldn’t be a problem.


3. The ski resorts are BUSY.

This is partly our fault for [apparently] visiting during the busiest week of the year, but Lake Louise and Sunshine Village were insane. Like traffic backed up 10 km down the entry road to the highway exit ramp and beyond.

If you are interested in Banff as a ski trip destination, plan for February or March. Not for the week in winter when basically everyone in Canada has holiday break. Oops…

I couldn’t capture the craziness of the crowds at Sunshine, so this picture doesn’t do it justice. But just take my word for it. There were hundreds of people lined up to take the gondolas up to the ski area. It was a madhouse.


4. Stay in Canmore.

Don’t be afraid to stay outside the park!

Accommodations in Canmore are much more affordable and there’s a better selection for food, hotels, etc. The town also has a charm that’s very similar to Banff. It’s not far from the entrance to the National Park, so the drive to the town of Banff isn’t bad at all! It’s actually shorter than my daily commute to work in Houston.

We saved hundreds on our trip by staying in an Airbnb in Canmore. The neighborhood had the best views! Actually, I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a spot in the whole town that doesn’t have an amazing view like this one.


Happy travels, friends!

25 Photos to Inspire Your Banff Wanderlust

on January 8, 2017

Last year, Canada was named the place to visit in 2017. And in celebration of their sesquicentennial, entry to Canada’s national parks will be free all year! The result? Visitors are flocking to this beautiful country in unprecedented numbers.

We planned our visit before all of this went down, and were able to ring in the New Year and “golden age” of Canadian tourism in Banff National Park last week. It’s easy to see why people are falling in love with Banff, and with Canada in general. See it through our eyes here, with 25 photos to inspire your Banff wanderlust.


Explore the charming little town in the middle of Canada’s first National Park.

 

Check out the amazing views of the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Hit the slopes.

Take a hike.

Chase [frozen] waterfalls.

Ice skate on a frozen lake.

Find the coolest cluster of frozen methane bubbles in the ice.

Watch the Canadian sunset colors take over the sky.

Adventure out into the middle of frozen Lake Louise.

Snowshoe up the mountain to get the best view of the Chateau Lake Louise.

Get really cold while enjoying the mountain scenery…

…then warm up by some hot springs…

…or in some hot springs.

Practice your panorama skills on the beautiful snowy landscapes.


To see the rest of the photos from our trip to Banff, you can view my album here.

Happy Wanderlusting, friends!

When Travel Plans Go Wrong

on January 4, 2017

I’m pretty free spirited. But when it comes to my travels, I’m a type A planner.

I monitor airfare prices for months before I buy to make sure I get the lowest fare possible. I budget. I plan each day’s activities on an Excel spreadsheet, along with details of our accommodations, and places to eat. All of which requires extensive research. I probably spent more time planning our honeymoon to Iceland than planning for our actual wedding. #priorities right?

But what happens when life throws you unexpected circumstances that force you to change and abandon your plans?

I was faced with quite a few of those circumstances during our trip to Canada recently. It felt like one thing after another was going wrong and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

On Tuesday evening we went to pick up our ski rentals (for which reservations had been made two weeks in advance) and they didn’t have all the gear we needed ready. So we had to scramble to find a place that had ski rental equipment for us.

Then there was the issue of my calves. Oh, my calves… In my family we jokingly refer to this predicament as the “Grable Curse” because we all have big, muscular calves. They can cause issues, such as never being able to find ski boots that fit you comfortably. Well I had totally forgotten how many issues this caused me when I lived in Germany and was skiing on a regular basis. This combined with the whole busy season slim pickings rental situation ended in disaster. On Wednesday (our first day on the slopes) I didn’t even make it to the lift before I was on the ground, basically crying, because I was in pain from the boots and had lost feeling in my feet. It sucked.

So we went to return my ski gear and switch it out for snowboarding gear, since those boots sit lower on the calves and have much more room to accommodate my legs.

I didn’t want to ruin the trip for my husband, who had been so excited to hit the slopes and was extremely disappointed at prospect of not being able to do it. So I put on a smile, continued to be the eternal optimist that I am, and decided to re-learn how to snowboard. I spent a few hours on the slopes of Mount Norquay and ended up with a very sore bottom. Soreness aside, I knew I was making progress.
On Thursday, we woke up early and planned to get to Sunshine Village right as they opened in order to maximize our time there. As we approached the exit to Sunshine, we saw that traffic was backed up all the way onto the highway. All the cars were heading to the ski resort. There was a line of cars almost 9km long of people trying to get to up there to ski. We gave it about half an hour before we decided that we were going to ask for a refund on the lift passes and bail. After hearing that Lake Louise Ski Resort was even more crowded, we just decided that this trip was no longer a ski trip.
Feeling very disheartened, we went on our way to return our ski and snowboarding gear. Our trip was quickly becoming a huge disappointment. We were angry and discouraged. But I was still hopeful.

I had to remind myself that I was in a beautiful new place, surrounded by so many possibilities. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and starting to making back up plans.

Instead of simply returning our ski and snowboarding gear, we swapped it all for some ice skates. We headed to the outskirts of town where we found the most amazing frozen lake to skate on.

We went out to Johnston Canyon and hiked out to the ice falls. 

We snowshoed around Lake Louise.

We hung out in castles and chateaus.


There were plenty of awesome activities to fill our time!

Our Canada trip was very different from how I had been envisioning it for the months leading up to it, but does that mean I enjoyed it any less? No. I still got to spend a week in a beautiful national park with my favorite travel partner.

Travel won’t always be a smooth and easy journey. Your plane won’t always arrive or depart on time. The weather can’t always be perfect. No matter how well you plan, things can and will go wrong eventually. You can either learn how to make the most of a seemingly unfortunate situation, or be give up and be miserable and disappointed. This trip taught me the importance of being adaptable and open to possibilities, as well as the importance of having a back up plan (or two).

img_7220Sometimes it’s good when your plans go wrong. Because sometimes the unplanned turns out better than the planned.
When we were supposed to be on the slopes at Sunshine Village, we actually ended up ice skating on Lake Minnewanka. This was actually the coolest thing we did in Banff!

Be open to the possibilities. Sometimes things go wrong so they can go right.

Where to Next?

on August 31, 2016

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What’s my next big adventure?

Around the World in Katy Days is heading to Canada in December! We will be spending one week exploring Calgary and Banff after Christmas through the New Year. Tickets are booked and I’m researching to make our itinerary.

We got such an amazing deal on our tickets, thanks to Google Flights! The next time you plan a trip, or are even in the beginning stages of figuring out your next adventure, go on to Google Flights, search your dates/possible destinations, and set an alert! When the price is at the lowest point, you’ll get a notification via email. That’s how we nabbed two round trip tickets from Houston to Calgary for a total of less than $700!

Stay tuned for Canadian adventures! Till then, check out my other adventures in Iceland, Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico!