In September 2016 I flew into Edmonton, Alberta, and spent a week exploring the Canadian Rockies. The following details my itinerary, plus information on what I would change if I did it all again!
Thursday 22nd September
- Icelandair flight Birmingham 13:25 – Edmonton 17:25, with a short stopover in Reykjavík (7 hour time difference). Spectacular views over Greenland, although I have words for whoever named it “green”.
- Edmonton sky shuttle to HI Edmonton, featuring some lovely ladies who told me how to recognise a grizzly bear then escape from it.
- The plan was to go out and get some dinner. The plan failed. I was asleep by 7.30pm…
Friday 23rd September
- Unsurprisingly, I was awake exceedingly early. Fried breakfast and hot chocolate at the lovely Artisan Resto Cafe.
- #4 bus across town to West Edmonton Mall. Ice rink, roller coasters, swimming pool and so many shops in Disney-style themed streets.
- #52 bus from hostel down to the Edmonton South greyhound station. Greyhound bus to Banff, 18:25 – 00:10.
- Taxi to Samesun Banff Chalet for the night.
Saturday 24th September
- My pre-booked tour began! I joined Moose Bus Tours for their three day Athabasca loop of the Rockies starting and ending in Banff. About 15 of us, mostly in twenties but some older, were ferried around in a minibus. What follows is our itinerary as best I can remember it…
- Lake Minnewanka
- Natural Bridge
- Takkakaw Falls
- Lake Moraine. Watch out for the signs that warn you not to venture past unless you’re in a group of 4+ because grizzlies…
- Between all these places were even more amazing views out of the window – I’m glad I wasn’t driving because I really got to appreciate it all.
- HI Lake Louise, dinner cooked in the hostel followed by toasting marshmallows over a bonfire
Sunday 25th September
- 2.5 hour hike up Little Beehive route besides Lake Louise. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip – we got there early and missed a lot of the crowds, plus the views were amazing. My general attitude towards hiking is eager beforehand, why-did-I-do-this half an hour into the hike itself, and eventual accomplishment with lots of photography when I get to the top.
- Athabasca glacier, including walk onto the glacier. From what I’ve heard it doesn’t compare at all to those in Alaska or New Zealand as an experience, but if you’ve never been on a glacier before it’s worth it.
- Dinner in Jasper.
- HI Athabasca Falls. Totally off grid and self-sufficient – no wifi, solar-powered, drop toilets (these are much more common in the national park than you might expect).
Monday 26th September
- Just across the road from the hostel is Athabasca Falls and the most serene view of a river running past, with pools reflecting the mountains perfectly. In the early morning which no tourists around this is pure serenity.
- Tangle Falls
- Mistaya Canyon
- Peyto Lake – aka the best lunch spot in the world. The mountains go on forever in the distance and the lake is a deep turquoise far below with no way to reach the bottom (except for some VERY intrepid clambering). See the photo at the top of the page.
- Bow Lake – pebble beach alongside a crystal clear lake – a perfect reading spot
- Bow Glacier. So. Windy.
- Back to Samesun in Banff
- Rushed to catch the bus across town to get to the Banff Gondola before it got dark. Made it up in time for sunset and a couple of very vocal voles and chipmunks.
Tuesday 27th September
- Early pancake breakfast in the hostel then walked to greyhound station. Greyhound bus to Calgary, 08:30 – 10:10. Plenty of views still for a lot of that journey.
- Free tram across central Calgary to Calgary Tower for views over the city (and just about of the mountains in the distance).
- Fort Calgary – museum about the founding of Calgary and its development since the original Mounties fort. The buildings aren’t original but very informative.
- Wander along the river and through Chinatown, lunch, back to greyhound.
- Greyhound bus to Edmonton, 16:00 – 19:15.
- Rather confused about bus timetables and lacking the correct change (local buses will only accept exact amount), I ended up walking 45 minutes with my backpack back to HI Edmonton. Very exhausting, BUT I saw a rather large hare hopping around a car park. I am still uncertain why it was in a car park.
Wednesday 28th September
- Wandered around Old Strathcona district, spending an indecent amount of time in second hand bookshops.
- Lovely lunch of fish in pesto sauce at the Chianti Cafe and Restaurant, which also had the bonus of being astonishingly cheap.
- Sky shuttle back to airport around 14:30.
- Icelandair flight Edmonton 18:25 – Reykjavík 06:40. And onto the next adventures in Iceland, which is for another post…
- Flights: £420 (including 4 day stopover in Iceland on the return journey)
- Tour: £170
- Other transport: £100
- Other activities: £70
- Accommodation: ~£32 per night (all hostels)
- Food: ~£10 per day (mostly supermarket food, a couple of meals out)
What I would change
As an introduction to the Canadian Rockies and the surrounding cities while travelling solo, the trip was perfect. However I would have appreciated more downtime in some places such as Bow Lake and Athabasca Falls to really appreciate the beauty, rather than being rushed on to the next stop. In terms of timing it was also great – the leaves were starting to change providing some beautiful colours and the shoulder season meant it wasn’t too cold and also there weren’t the hordes of tourists like in summer. I do wish I had had another day in Banff. More than it just being an entrance to the Rockies, there is much more to see there and day trips that can be organised out.
However, to truly explore the Rockies and make your own discoveries of serenity you really need to have a car or campervan with a few people to share the driving over the space of a couple of weeks. Only then could you properly escape reality (and other tourists) and make your own adventure.