Traveling to Calgary, Pequot Lakes to Swift Current
Our first night, we camped at free pull-off site from Highway 1 we found on freecampsites.net. There were no amenities, but it was near water and had a great view of the sunset. In the morning, we continued to Medicine Hat, where we stopped at a coffee shop called The Station, decent coffee and bomb-looking fresh baked pastries from nearby bakery.
Driving into Calgary is reminiscent to driving into Denver: a cityscape in front of mountains. Once we got into town, we parked on 17th Avenue in the Belt Line neighborhood and stopped for Philosofy Coffee and then saVeg, a vegan restaurant, for lunch. Instead of saying “for here or to go,” Canadians “to stay or to go.” Sam picked up on that. After that, we walked around Kensington Village.
Something to note: Stampede was July 4-14 and everything was much more expensive during this time, specifically lodging. On that note, watch out for residence halls that become pseudo-hotels. When it came time to check into our “hotel,” we discovered, it was a straight up college dorm converted to hotel in the summer. Luckily Sam has a gift with customer service, and we were able to cancel for free and find a wonderful Econolodge. For dinner, we checked out another vegetarian spot called The Coup and then stopped at the Royal for a drink and got tips about Banff and Jasper.
Backpacking in Banff National Park
We left Calgary around 8:30 a.m. to head into Banff for our two-night, three-day trip. We entered at the Mount Shark trailhead (the trail actually starts to the left of the information kiosk). Definitely worth bringing a map opposed to just screenshots.
Day 1: Mount Shark to Allenby Junction, 17.8 kilometers
This hike was a lot of greenery with a couple mountain view spots. It was relatively flat and crosses lots of water sources. A visual highlight was the warden’s cabin, which had an open field with horses in the background against the mountains. Our site, Allenby Junction, was extremely buggy with poorly situated sites; on the way you pass Marvel Lake and McBride sites...either one would have been better. Something to note: all sites have bear lockers and designation cooking areas, which were great.
Day 2: Allenby Junction to Marvel Lake, 20.2 k
The beginning of this hike was forested and uphill. After the first 5 kilometers, the trail leads to an intersections that is confusing. We had to continue uphill to the left (not the hikers sign). After that, we reached Assiniboine Pass, which leads to an open valley view, followed by Assiniboine lodge and Magog Lake. The lodge serves beer, wine, tea, lemonade and cake for one hour each day. The “niblet” and the “nublet” are an off-shoot from the main trail with supposedly breathtaking panoramic views.
We made our way to Wonder Pass, which was a highlight for both of us. The views were stunning in every direction. On the way down, there is a spur to the left; this is not the trail but does offer an amazing view. The way down to Marvel Lake was truly all downhill and the bright blue lake quickly disappeared behind trees in between the trail and the water. Marvel Lake campground was awesome (rushing water nearby, picnic tables for cooking) and spacious and much fuller than Allenby.
Day 3: Marvel Lake to Mount Shark, 13.8 k
This section was a repeat of the first day.
Later this day, we went into Canmore, stopped at Good Earth coffee and looked for a nearby spot to disperse camp or “boondock.” Alberta rules are really confusing, but we figured out it’s possible that what is known as crown land, equivalent of BLM in U.S., and PLUZ zones, but didn’t get much further on that front. The best advice is to ask locals for spots in the area.
Also, beware that Canmore is pretty busy- somewhat overwhelming after backpacking for a few days. One highlight was we discovered Save On Foods (a grocery store), which has tons of bulk items.
This town is busy. On July 14, we went to Banff Upper Hot Springs and camped at the Lake Louise overflow parking ($10.80 to sleep in your car) so we could get up early to get a parking spot at the Lake Louise trailhead and then do the Plain of the Six Glaciers hike. The parking lot was totally full on a Monday by 6:30 a.m.
The hike was awesome, and the tea house is worth stopping at!