Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

For three years, we’ve driven from Calgary to our family reunion in British Columbia through one of the most famously beautiful places on earth: Banff National Park. And for three years, I’ve said, “We HAVE to spend some time here” but when you have an eight-hour drive, time is not on your side.

Following my glorious ski trip to Banff in March, I vowed this year would be different and it was. My childhood friends Kristine and Paul have a cabin in nearby Canmore and they generously hosted our family for a couple of days. I haven’t seen either of them since high school and they have quite the random history. Paul: We’ve been in school together from the very beginning. Super smart, amazing runner and the two of us would always dominate our school’s Run For Your Life (though he’d always dominate me). Kristine: Became good friends with her in high school. Sweet. Funny. Was the envy of all of her friends with her cool white Jeep.

We lost track of each other after high school and though Paul and Kris were friends, they didn’t date until years later. She was in pharmaceutical  school and he was applying to med schools. Today, they’re a successful doctor-pharmacist team and as cool and down-to-earth as ever. As a bonus, they have two awesome kiddos, Andrew and Sarah, who got along splendidly with our rugrats.

Banff National Park

Hadley, Bode and I picked Jamie up from the Calgary airport and drove directly to Banff with the plan to meet Kris and Paul later that evening after work. Normally, Banff doesn’t disappoint but this time it did because it was completely overrun by tourists. We’d planned to canoe at Moraine Lake but the road was closed due to excess traffic. We kept going to Lake Louise and the nearest parking was a mile down the road (any excuse to hike, right?). Shortly after we arrived at this world-famous teal lake, it started raining. Hard. We hunkered down in the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, ate overpriced ice cream and then headed back to Banff where we hung out on Banff Avenue.

Hiking to Lake Louise

Lake Louise


Banff National Park that day? Underwhelming.

Canmore, on the other hand? Completely overwhelming (in a good way) thanks to our awesome tour guides. I haven’t spent much time in this  expanse of provincial parks, wildland reserves, emerald green waterways and unspoiled wilderness near the southeast boundary of Banff National Park but I’m a convert.

Paul and Kristine’s cabin is tucked away in an idyllic neighborhood, a stone’s throw away from Quarry Lake (a haven for summer swims) and the Highline Trail’s extensive network of paths with crisp vistas as a backdrop.

Playing in Quarry Lake at dusk. Fully clothed, of course

Our gracious hosts decided a great way to acclimate us to The Canadian Way would be to kill us by hiking Ha Ling, a crazy-steep 8 km trek straight up to heaven. To put this beast into perspective, Hadley hiked her first 14er (14,000-foot peak) a month later and the pitch wasn’t remotely as challenging as Ha Ling (though the altitude was).

Bode is not known for his hiking chops but nobly pulled through. As my calves whimpered, I looked ahead to jackrabbit Paul who hadn’t broken a sweat despite already going on an early-morning run. As he left me in his dust, it was like our elementary school’s Run for Your Life all over again.

Side note: The next weekend, he participated in a 24-hour-long mountain biking relay (for fun?) while Kris had just completed her first marathon (not fun).

And then there was us.

The summit was a relief and a reward, all limestone, pine, restless aspens and the glacier-scoured mountaintops of Mount Rundle, Grotto Mountain, Lady McDonald and Mount Lawrence Grassi. Canmore loomed below, thickly upholstered in a deep green chenille.

But the adventure wasn’t over! We bulked back up that evening at Rocky Mountain Flatbread and the next morning, Paul took us mountain biking on the Highline Trail adjacent to the cabin. With Ha Ling’s rocky incline stretching skyward (the peak to the right in the picture below), we raced along single and doubletrack, crossed rivers, banked corners and had a blast attempting the terrain park. This moderate ride was one of my all-time favorites!

We could not have had a better time with our ageless, gracious hosts. They were the perfect travel companions and I only wish they lived closer so I extended an open invitation for them to visit us in Colorado.

We’ll have to make sure we’re in better shape in order to keep up with them.


In case you missed our other Canadian adventures this summer:

Oh Canada: The Lethbridge Edition

Oh Canada: The Canada Day in Raymond and Waterton Edition

Oh Canada: The Calgary Edition

Oh Canada: The Banff/Canmore Edition

Oh Canada: The Lakehouse Edition

Oh Canada: The Kettle Valley Railway Trail Edition

 Oh Canada: The Edition Not in Canada


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