With help again from Mark, here’s his last US/Canada post for the breath taking Moraine Lake, Canada.
When we first started planning for our US trip, Canada was barely on the long list. It made the shortlist only due to it’s proximity to Portland. And when the final list was decided and we were still hungry for the maple country, we had barely even considered what we might do once we arrived.
We knew however that our itinerary was tight, just four nights outside of Vancouver, and hence we decided to strike quickly at the country’s heart, heading for the mountains by way of Calgary, which lies at the southern end of the Icefield Parkway.
The parkway is actually a highway, but it’s got a lot of parks on it, so I guess that justifies the name change. Travelling up and down it takes you to some of the most breathtaking scenic lookouts in western Canada. The two most famous national parks along the road are Jasper, in the north, and Banff further south. Due to our short itinerary, we only got the chance to visit Banff.
When travelling by car out of Calgary the landscape is at first flat and unremarkable, fitting suspense for what’s to come. Around the 2 hour mark, mountains rise out the flat prairie land on either side of the road and you begin to get that tingly feeling that you’re entering a place of wonder. It’s not much further that the town of Banff pulls into view, marking the official start of the ‘Canadian rockies“.
Wearing it’s ‘tourist ski town’ badge proudly, Banff is a good first stop for refuelling and stocking up before heading into the larger Banff National Park (NP). From here on, eating along the parkway isn’t cheap, and options are limited. If you’re travelling on a budget, Banff is your last chance to fill the esky at reasonable prices.
While there are plenty of places to stay within Banff NP, and many different accommodation options, we really wanted a condensed ‘Canadian experience’. While we were initially dazzled by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, we were both really after something a bit more low key.
Moraine Lake Lodge is a smaller, more secluded option slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of Lake Louise. Where Lake Louise’s body of water is more epic in scale, Moraine has a kind of intimate grandeur with its close snowcapped mountains and postcard perfect pine trees. The reflective lake is almost too perfect to disturb, but guests have free use of canoes all day long.
As the lodge only caters for about 50 guests at once, it feels remote and exclusive in a way that the Fairmont Chateau isn’t, which by its size, suggests a maximum capacity of 2 billion. The rooms are small but undeniably cosy, with Pendleton rugs and deep soak tubs, and someone who builds your open fire every day and expects you to use it. And while the lake does get busy with tourists and walkers through the day, outside of the hours of 9-5 you have this remarkable slice of Canadian wilderness all to yourself.
From the lodge (sounds a bit fancy eh?) there are daily guided walks of varying degrees of difficulty and various probabilities of spotting bears. Consolation Lakes is an easy 1 hour walk with impressive views at the end which you can do in a morning, whilst Larch Valley is a good introduction to switchbacks and more worthy of an entire day. The wilderness is spectacular and rich with texture and life.
If we could afford it, we’d stay at Moraine for weeks, months perhaps. We would work there. Four days isn’t enough – but it was enough for our wallets.
Not to be outdone, Lake Louise itself has plenty to offer too if you can look past its forest of selfie sticks, including the selection of ‘tea house trails‘ which head off from the main carpark.
Isolated from mains electricity and accessible only by walking trail, the tea houses are a lasting remnant of a pioneering age with their soot stained wood fired kitchens and rustic interiors. Bucking the trend of the area, the tea houses retain their sense of charm and authenticity, and each offers an impressive selection of teas served by adventurous students who stay ‘up the mountain’ for weeks at a time.
We chose the Lake Agnes Tea House which takes about 3 hours return and offers incredible views back across Lake Louise. The house at the summit is a welcome site after 2 hours of walking up hill, and sitting by the window with a hot tea in hand as a fine mist like rain falls outside is a special Canadian experience that neither of us will forget.
Driving further up the parkway offers stops at a number of other lesser known but just as impressive parks such as Yoho, which has trails around Emerald Lake and the epic Takakkaw Falls. The proximity of attractions is quite impressive, allowing you to take in several spots in a single day.
In fact, the whole place screams ‘impressive’. We had more wow moments in our short five days in Banff NP than we had our entire trip. And now that I have seen Canada, visiting it makes a lot more sense than it did a few months ago.
And I’ve seen so little of it. Now when people ask me about travelling to the US, I ask “are you going to Canada?”
Written by Mark Welker. Photography by Mark and Monique Welker.