Something was different the morning we packed up to leave Radium. Looking up through the trees, we could see past their tops and to our amazement, gaze at the topography around us. Released from the grips of smoke, Radium had finally spread its wings and displayed for us its true colors. Unfortunately our itinerary reminded us very quickly that there was no time to spare, Radium’s charm would have to wait for and only if there was a next time.
With a new but cautious lease on this trip we started our journey, heading North up through Kootenay National Park. Having a quick glance at the map, most visitors would be forgiven for not paying much lip service to this park. Other than gawking out the window at the ridiculously stunning scenery, the 105 kilometer stretch of highway winding through the park’s slender corridor provides time strapped travellers quick passage to its more famous neighbour, Banff. We however wanted to make the best of what the weather gods had bestowed upon us and stopped off at the first view point we came across. Five steps outside of the RV and one wasp sting later, my panache for panoramas ceased, in turn gesturing to the rest that it was time to get back on the road.
Not ones to pass up on anything interpretive and, as a way of paying final homage to this sliver of a national park, we followed our guidebook’s non-descriptive suggestion and stopped off at Marble Canyon. Following the trail from the parking lot as it zigzagged back and forth over the forested gorge, informative signs inundated us with canyon features and their naturalistic processes. In very little time we reached the hike’s culmination, a cascading waterfall made all the more impressive by its mountain flanked valley backdrop. Still a few million years away from attracting the steady streams of canyonphiles, our short saunter seemed a very fitting end to the limited time spent here in the Kootenay’s quaint drive thru.
Crossing over one park boundary and into another I must admit that there was an air of expectancy. If you’ve ever browsed through pictures of Canada, there is always a hint of favouritism towards Banff National Park, and for good reason. As Canada’s first national park it protects some impressively majestic real estate that, since its inception, has been at the forefront as ambassador to Canada’s natural beauty and unspoiled wilderness. Even with the smoke advisories in place weeks before our visit, it was evident when we entered the bustling townsite that this same depiction was not lost amongst all visitors enjoying the luxuries that Banff proper had to offer.
Having safely nestled our toy of an RV amongst the tour bus sized motor homes on the campground, we wasted no time in heading to the source of truth for all our Banff related questions. Both vibrant and chaotic, the information centre was a hive of activity, the millennial approach of digital trail reports and flash imagery jostled for dominance with the old school metholodology of detailed maps and wall-to-wall brochures. Wanting less of a frenzy and something more friendly, we joined the inexplicably short line of refined vagabonds waiting to speak to one of many Parks Canada guides. Within no time we were spewing our likes and dislikes at our unfortunate guide and, in a not my first rodeo-esque like fashion, she effortlessly put together a number of proposals each of which came with the warning to “get there early”.
Over the coming days we would heed the advice of the helpful Parks Canada guide, foregoing hot breakfasts for early morning hikes. In some cases, like Johnston Canyon, the early morning rewarded us with a trail that was almost near empty. In other cases, like Moraine Lake, Parks Canada staff turned us away at every opportunity, leaving us wondering how early it takes to get in there. In most cases however we pushed that bit further, through the masses, past the point of guidebook recommendations and were immediately rewarded with blue-green natural pools, tranquil alpine meadows or the distinctly thunderous sound of calving glaciers. Banff certainly drove me to frustration at times but that is the cost of having expectations, just like popularity being the cost of all this beauty. Through it all there is a silver lining, you just need to get there early to find it...
Except for Moraine Lake, you’re on your own for that one.
Next stop Jasper.