Over the past few days we had passed by the Cascade Gardens, acres of stunningly maintained flower gardens surrounding the large stone-made Park Administration building. We parked inside the gates and began our self guided tour, spending well over an hour meandering down the paved walkway through trellises, over bridges, and winding around the manmade waterfalls and ponds. The sunshine was brilliant and the skies blue with interspersed clouds, making the colors of the flowers pop against the green manicured lawns. I snapped the obligatory photos of the garden and Cascade grounds, then we made our way back to the car and down the road a few minutes to visit the nearby Bow Falls. The parking lot was overflowing with cars and the waterfront packed with people, but we lingered for a few minutes overlooking Bow River, the falls, and a few rafts out in the water for rent. Horses made their way past with riders atop as we walked back to the car and began speaking aloud about lunch.
Our first day in Banff we’d eaten by Two Jack Lake but had been rained out before any real exploration of the area was possible. Dani thought it’d be great to return to that area and drive around a bit more to get our bearings and see if there was anywhere fun or scenic we could eat. The drive back towards Two Jack Lake didn’t take long at all, and I decided we should approach counterclockwise to get a different view from the day before. We arrived at the shore of Lake Minnewanka as a pack of Elk made their way up the middle of the road, stopping traffic in both directions. Enjoying watching their movement from our vantage point in the Jeep on the side of the road, we eventually hopped out and explored the rocky path along the waterline of Minnewanka. The lake itself was the same brilliant hue of blue I remembered from the photos I had seen in photos leading up to our trip, expansive beyond description to our left and right, and stretching out for miles ahead of us. It’s the only lake in Banff National Park that allows motorized boats, and there were more than a few out and about in the heat of the afternoon. After fifteen or so minutes of checking out the area we concluded there was nowhere ideal to set up and cook lunch, so we got back in the car and continued along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive road past the immensely busy beaches and boat docks, and on a few miles further to a small day-hike parking lot with picnic benches.
We cooked a rice dish with turkey sausage patties and avocado, doing our best to keep the trash reigned in as occasional gusts of wind blew. A few minutes after we set up the stove and began cooking we were joined by a small and exceptionally annoying chipmunk who wanted in on our meal. Despite doing our best to shoo him away as we ate, by the time we were packing up he was actually following us to the Jeep and back as we packed up our gear. I was almost expecting him to hop right in the truck with us and come to wherever we were going next, though thankfully he didn’t. Turning back onto the road, Dani did some research on the iPad and found the nearby Mt. Norquay, a ski mountain a few miles outside downtown Banff with a winding scenic road that climbed three quarters of the way up the mountain to an open vista look-out. We began ascending the mountain as a light rain began to fall, the Jeep navigating the hairpin turns well as I kept an occasional eye on our strapped-down cargo gear in the back to make sure it wasn’t shifting as we went along. The drive to the top of the road was enjoyable as the mountain gave us a more and more scenic view as we continued climbing. By the time we reached the top the rain was coming down heavier, clouds having begun moving in over the mountains, so we sat in the car and enjoyed the view for what it was. We drove up to the “base” of the ski mountain itself, located some 6,000’ above sea level, and I showed Dani the motorized mats that are provided for the bunny hill slopes, as well as the snow-cat grooming machines that were parked in the lot.
We turned around and headed back down the road towards Banff as the sky got darker and the rain eased up, making a brief pit-stop at the famous “BANFF” sign on the town’s main road to take a photo in front of it. Parked on the side of the road with another half-dozen cars all with hazard lights on, we waited a few minutes before quickly setting up the tripod and snapping a picture of ourselves. It was a one-and-done kind of photo, with no time for a re-do as more and more people arrived to take the same snapshot. By the time we turned back towards Tunnel Mountain Campground it was nearly 19h30, late enough that we decided to call it a day. We sat in our camp chairs, hers a recent birthday gift I’d given with a large Florida State Seminoles logo on the back, and each worked on our computers. With an extension cord running into the Jeep for our laptop power supplies, we were truly the epitome of 21st century camping as she answered work e-mails and I edited countless photos and jotted notes about our adventures. It wasn’t the most abundantly thrilling day, but with all the non-stop effort put into the last few weeks, it was nice to have another relaxing day in gorgeous weather to explore this small town in the Canadian Rockies.