National Park Adventure
For the past few years, I've been dragging my friends to go with me on various summer trips to celebrate my birthday (which lands on the 1st week of summer). I'm lucky enough to be part of a small circle of adventurous friends – it's almost effortless to convince them to join me each time. Last year, we rented a beach house in Aruba. The year before that, we went on a hiking trip to Colorado. This year, we were supposed to go to Puerto Rico but a lot of people couldn't make it so I was pretty content with just going on a quiet getaway with my girlfriend. A week before my flight, I got a call from my sister inviting me to join her hiking trip to Banff. I hung up the phone and immediately switched our flights from San Jose to Calgary. I've been wanting to visit the Canadian Rockies and I knew that the best time to visit is the beginning of summer. PR can wait.
The Master Plan
I devised a plan to join this Banff hiking trip then rent a car and drive south to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone National Park. At this point, my sister has already planned everything including getting a rental car and arranging accommodations for Banff. It was such a relief not to have to worry about planning for that part of the trip. I still had to do a lot of research on Yellowstone. I somehow managed to secure a campsite at Grant Village a few days before the trip. There was a last minute reservation cancellation. I also decided to visit Glacier National Park (in Montana) on the way to to Yellowstone. It would have added an hour to the drive which was fine with me. Here's a map of the entire itinerary.
My high school teacher from the Philippines (I attended freshman/sophomore year over there) graciously invited my friends and I to stay at his house in Calgary. I haven't seen him in 17 years so it was nice of him to practically hand me over the keys to his house for our entire stay. It felt great to catch up with an old friend. We talked about our lives and our past experiences in Ateneo de Manila. The following morning we headed to Canmore — a small picturesque Canadian town 30 minutes east of Banff. This was our base camp and a much cheaper alternative to finding accommodations at Banff (city proper).
Banff/Yoho National Park
These nature preserves are pretty much a piece of paradise for any avid hiker like me. As expected, I spent the whole time hiking and observing nature. There are plenty of lakes that are easily accessible to the public. Most of them do not require a hike. Two of the most popular ones are Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. There is a small trail that starts at Farimont Chateau (Lake Louise) which leads to Lake Agnes Tea House. It's a popular short hike which ends in a cafe and a lake that is less popular but charming in it's own unique way. We eventually drove to Yoho National Park to also see Emerald Lake.
My personal favorite out of all the lakes we visited would probably be Moraine Lake. It has the deepest turquoise blue hue out of all of them. It's distinctly situated in between a valley, a pine forest, and a rock pile that naturally dams the lake. This rock pile (heap of stones) in front of the lake not only adds to its distinct character but also provides a good vantage point for unlimited photo opportunities with the entire lake in the background.
I hiked for 2 straight weeks. That sounds pretty intense but considering I went to see 4 different national parks that's actually not a lot. We started off with a gentle downhill hike to Lake Chephren which is about 40 minutes northwest of the main lakes. We drove down to Johnston Canyon and hiked to the lower and upper falls. This place is too crowded and the trails are overdeveloped — not my favorite. The best hike for me was the Bow Glacier Falls trail. It's a fairly moderate hike which includes a dramatic view of Bow Lake with the mountains in the background, a melting glacier, and a waterfall. It wraps around one corner of the lake before going through a pebbled creek and over a small pine covered hill eventually leading to a large cascade of a melting glacier.
Glacier National Park
After Banff, my girlfriend and I drove to Montana (3 hours south of Calgary) and crossed the Canada/U.S. border to visit Glacier National Park. As if we haven't seen enough beautiful lakes in one trip, I made plans to check out Lake McDonald and Hidden Lake. This plan was ruined by Logan Pass being under maintenance for the week. We were forced to take a different route and explore another side of the park before spending the night in East Glacier Park Village.
It was sad to see the remains all the wild fires that have plagued the park over the years. There are certain parts of the park where endless miles of burnt pine trees are clearly visible which is a huge contrast to the lush pine forests of the Canadian Rockies. It was a disappointing eye opener of how we, humans, need to be more responsible in taking care of our environment as there are plenty of ways we could have prevented these type of horrible situations from happening. As I'm writing this article, there is currently another historic wildfire, ignited by natural causes, devastating the same national park (Sprague Fire).
Yellowstone National Park
We drove another 6 hours southeast to Wyoming before reaching Yellowstone National Park. We stopped by Great Falls (roughly halfway to Yellowstone) to rest and buy camping gear from a local Walmart. We also stopped by West Yellowstone to buy food before entering the park through the west entrance. It's difficult to describe Yellowstone. It's almost like a "Jurassic Park" themed park where people are free to drive around and stop to observe wildlife as they please. These different varieties of animals are naturally segregated by valleys surrounded by viewpoints located all over the park. There are plenty of hiking trails and waterfalls. The entire park is pretty much sitting on top of a massive active super volcano connected to the surface by hot springs and geysers constantly shooting out jets of water and steam into the air. It's such an incredible place.
Compared to my recent PNW Road Trip, this was actually not as tiring and lengthy (distance-wise). This road trip is easily the most scenic and relaxing drive I've had. Everyone knows how beautiful and dazzling the Canadian Rockies are with its alpine meadows, turquoise lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. It's been a major tourist destination for quite some time now. The same goes for Yellowstone. People flock to see the nation's first National Park for obvious reasons such as its unique ecosystem, biodiversity, and geological features. Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park may not be as popular as the other two but also deserve a closer look from outdoor/nature enthusiasts.
The drive from Calgary to Montana all the way down to Wyoming is unique and stunning in its own way. It was a winding road filled with local livestock, crop fields, and miles of rolling prairie. I was a little disappointed that I missed the opportunity to see Jasper (Canada) and Grand Teton (U.S.) due to time constraints. This gives me a really good reason to come back soon. Overall, I drove around 1,000 miles, hiked for 2 weeks straight, saw at least 10 different waterfalls, visited 4 National Parks in 2 different countries, and enjoyed 1 grand tour of a part of North America I've never seen before.