Invermere, British Columbia and the Via Ferrata in Banff
This is LONG! I have a lot of pictures at the end in a gallery and reference them throughout the text, you can click each photo in the gallery to advance through it. I apologize for the length of this in advance but I need to wrap it up and move on to posts about planning for my South America trip. The main photo is the sun setting near Invermere, British Columbia. The last two days of my trip consisted of a short overnight trip to Invermere and White Swan Provincial Park for Lussier Hot Springs and then back to Banff for the day and climbing Mt. Norquay on the Via Ferrata.
Before leaving Banff and heading west to BC though, we grabbed breakfast at Wild Flour Bakery in Banff, we'd stopped in the morning of the race so my friend could get a coffee and muffin, but I wanted to come back since everything looked delicious and there were so many options (and he didn't object)! I had a breakfast panini and he had a yogurt and granola bowl and both were delicious. Before starting the drive, went to the Fairmont Banff and explored the beautiful property, its views, the interior, and then took a short walk to the waterfall on the Bow River (featured in the photo gallery below). It was on my friend's list of places I needed to see and his favorite of the Fairmonts since he thinks it looks more like a castle than the Fairmont Lake Louise. You be the judge!
You can tell by the photos that the weather was comfortably warm and breezy. And as I've said before, the water in all of the lakes, rivers, and streams up there is just such a gorgeous aqua color. The Fairmont has a parking garage for visitors that is about $10 CAD for an hour or two, so we paid that fee and roamed the property. It was worth it.
The second order of business was a leisurely drive to leave Banff and head towards British Columbia and through the mountains. There are trailheads all along the highway where you can park and hike or just to stop and look or picnic. We found a particularly pretty one that promised a bridge and short walk and when we got there the trail was closed and the bridge washed out/destroyed. But we accessed it anyway for the river photos in the gallery below! SHHH
The drive to Radium Hot Springs (where you can visit their hot springs) was filled with pretty scenery along the way and is not that much farther to Invermere. We stopped for coffee and snacks at Bighorn Cafe in Radium. And then later ate dinner that night at one of the few choices in town, Leo Burrito. It is a TINY town, not much is open later than 8 or 9 and we had such a long day that we almost didn't realize we were cutting it so close when we started looking for a place to eat dinner. Leo Burrito was surprisingly good for a burrito stand in a small town in Canada. I was skeptical at first!
After the Radium coffee (and beer) stop, we drove on to Lussier Hot Springs. Fair warning, there are signs to get there but you should probably know that it is about 20 km of gravel logging roads, and switchbacks, that you must drive from the main highway to get to the very small parking lot. There is no attendant, entrance is free, and allegedly no alcohol, drugs, or nudity are allowed but we took beers that we'd picked up in Radium and drank during the day and all of those rules are ignored at night. Oh well! You can see from the photo in the gallery below that I was wedged into a tiny space, we'd been chilling in that warm spot for a good half hour and snapped a photo of it right before leaving. There were three pools total right next to a freezing cold river. The highest one is the warmest, and the only tolerable one in my humble opinion. The woman in my photo in the red swimsuit is sitting in a cold pool that I dipped a toe into and squealed. Too cold for me. It was just really relaxing and a great way to spend a few afternoon hours especially on the day after a challenging half-marathon.
After getting sufficiently shriveled in the hot springs at Lussier, we headed to Invermere to check into the Airbnb, clean up, and then head out for dinner, dinner location mentioned earlier. We'd had some long days but still wanted to sightsee a bit so we went for a peaceful and pretty drive up into the mountains above Invermere. We ended up driving up to a really cute ski village named Panorama, which was mostly empty in mid June, but seemed really nice and had some beautiful homes that made it seem like there were some permanent residents in the village. On the drive back to Invermere, about 20 km or so, we took some photos of the sunset and then actually walked down to Invermere Lake and got our bearings in the town.
The next morning we didn't have to check out until 11 so walked in to town for an early breakfast of pastries and donuts at Circle Cafe. Everything there looked delicious and the bakery/cafe had been in business since the early 1980's. I think the town only had 2 places total for breakfast and we were the youngest people in there by 30 years until some other vacationers came in with small children. But we had to be on our way back to Banff for the Via Ferrata!
As you can see from the photos of the VF, it is a way to climb a mountain that is a cross between hiking and actual rock climbing. We climbed up in harnesses and clipped to cables and with the assistance of planks, bridges, and rebar affixed to the mountain, and then hiked down. But it was a steep hike that is technically called scrambling (this is new info to me as well). We had to be clipped to cables for some of the downhill portions too. Overall, it took almost 4 hours to do the route we did. It was amazing, one of the best things I've ever done! My friend and I were the only people on our tour that day with a guide who was fantastic, friendly, and had a lot of stories and knowledge about his country, the province, the outdoors, skiing, and he was well-traveled. He was just a really interesting person and I can't say enough things about our guide, Robbie. He said he had a lot of fun too and felt like he was just climbing the mountain with two new friends and that is honestly what it felt like. Maybe he says that about every tour but I choose to believe he was genuine and meant it, the three of us were a great climbing group that day.
We booked our tour through Banff Norquay and did the 4 hour Ridgewalker tour, which is currently $199 CAD. I'd originally booked the 2 hour one but when my friend, Tero, said he wanted to join me, he recommended the 4 hour tour instead. I'm so glad we did that one! Robbie also said we were both capable of doing the 6 hour route and that next summer, they'd have an even longer one. I think the photos speak for themselves.
After the Via Ferrata, we thanked and tipped our guide, then headed back to Banff for dinner at Bear Street Tavern to share a beer and pizza (which was also my first meal in Banff). Then it was time to part ways and leave Banff in separate cars, which was sad. It had been a really great trip.
I had originally planned to spend one more night in Banff, but the day we drove to BC I decided to check out of Bow View and booked an Airbnb in Calgary for the last evening of my trip. I had a good recommendation for where to stay (Kensington neighborhood) and was close enough that night to walk to Hayden Block Smoke & Whiskey around 9 pm, another recommendation from my friend, which was passed along to him from a local friend. It was a 20 minute walk from my Airbnb, but since the sun doesn't set there until after 10 pm in June, I was comfortable walking. I had the smokey old fashioned (of course), then a Wild Rose Velvet Fog beer (AB beer) and a watermelon mint salad because I'd already eaten pizza earlier and just needed a small bite. When I headed back just before midnight, I took an Uber. The next morning I had a check in to see if I needed help picking out a breakfast place (yes!) and then headed to Vintage Caffeine, which hit the spot because it was down the street from me, quiet, had really great coffee, and a giant and delicious peanut butter toast option.
I didn't take any photos in Calgary, but it is a pretty city! I drove to the airport the next morning and the route took me through downtown Calgary and along the Bow River - which had a really pretty running/biking/pedestrian path. I was envious of the people starting their Wednesday morning that way since I was headed to the airport to go home.
If you made it this far, wow, congrats! I hope you are inspired to visit Banff, Calgary, or parts of British Columbia.