In celebration of the 150th year of Confederation, we are trying to visit every Canadian National Park that we can drive to. This is the western portion of that tour.
It never ceases to amaze me how warm it can get inside the tent when we are all piled inside. I knew that it was cool outside but it wasn’t until I felt the blast when I opened the fly that I realized just how much of a difference there was between inside and outside. I left the dogs in the tent for as long as I could and when they turned up their noses at breakfast, I put them all in the car to keep them warm rather than lying on the cold ground. Piper was sore and favouring her one back leg so keeping her warm was the priority. Thankfully, breaking camp is something I can do really quickly and we were soon back on the road.
The first order of business was coffee and I stopped at the Whitebark Cafe in Banff. The americano was really good with a robust flavour but the slice of maple pecan sweet potato bread I got to go with it was so dry it was disappointing. As I alternated between bites of bread and coffee, I drove to the dog park. The problem was that I could not remember where the dog park was. I mean, I knew it was on the outskirts of town and near the works yard but that is not the sort of thing that has signs, although I would have expected signs for the park but nope. I finally stumbled back onto the park and let the dogs out for a play, keeping Piper on leash with me again. Oh the looks I got from the diva. I imagine it’s the same look I give the doctor when they try and tell me pretty much anything. What can I say? Piper comes by it honestly; she is my dog after all.
After everyone had finished their business, I loaded them back into the car and as we were heading out of town, I saw a sign for a waterfall. Yes we stopped. The falls were next to the parking lot so it was a very quick jump out of the car before we continued out of town, pausing for a photo at the Banff sign. Of course we did.
We drove back north and then turned east to follow Highway 93. After a short drive, we crossed into the neighbouring Kootenay National Park. The highway is the only road through the park and since it’s a relatively small park, everything is close to the road. The border between the two parks is marked with a large sign as it is on the Continental Divide: water from Banff flows to the Atlantic Ocean (eventually) and water from Kootenay flows to the Pacific Ocean. I remember learning about the Continental Divide in school but had given it nary a thought since.
The first stop I wanted to make in Kootenay were the Paint Pots: small ponds fed by water containing iron, manganese, lead, and zinc and soil that had been stained by iron oxide. The fact that ochre had been mined there sounded really interesting. Problem one: a sore Piper climbing up and down the hill to the pots. It was cool enough that I decided to leave the dogs in the car as the trail was only a kilometre. Problem two: I fell victim to marketing. I expected vibrant colours and obvious rock formations. I got thick red mud and a pale green pond. To be fair, it was exactly how it was described, I had just expected something different. Thinking aback, I should have realized that there was a reason why there weren’t any pictures of the pots in my “National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of Canada” book. I will say that it was interesting to read the signs along the interpretive trail about the process of mining the ochre and how significant it was economically and culturally.
Once I returned to the car, we drove a short distance to Numa Falls. It looked like a place where I would be able to get Piper’s legs into the water and it’s a waterfall so we had to stop. I wasn’t able to get a good look at the falls as the bridge that would have taken me there was closed for construction. Unfortunately, the rocks at the side of the river were too awkward for Piper to get to the water so I loaded them back into the car. There was a friendly crow, or raven I’m not sure how to tell them apart, in the parking lot and we watched him before we left. A short drive down the road and we found another spot where I was able to get her into the water for some chilling. Once they had all had a drink and shaken off, we were back in the car.
I was lost in my thoughts when I was caught off guard by a lake off to one side of the road and I promptly made a U-turn. After all of the lakes we had seen this one, Olive Lake, was stunning, not for towering mountains or scenery but because it was completely clear. I don’t even know what colour to call it but you could see everything in it. Wow. I made a note to stop on the way back and we continued to Radium Hot Springs at the end of the park.
I drove between towering walls of stone and into Radium Hot Springs and almost instantly I felt like I was in a small town in the Alps; it was such a neat little town. Before I turned around to go back up the highway, I needed to eat and when I saw a large patio outside Fire’D Up, I decided that was going to be the place. Unfortunately I could not sit on the patio with the dogs but I would be able to get food to go. I started to ask the gentleman what he would recommend and before I even finished speaking, he suggested the loaded burger. Well then, I shall have a loaded burger. I sat on a block in the lot, put out the dog blanket, and we dined al fresco. It was a damned fine burger: along with the usual patty and toppings, it also had bacon, cheese, and onion rings. It was almost too loaded with so many flavours competing against each other but still so good. Pleasantly full, we eased back into the car.
We were still in town when I looked to my left and saw three bighorn sheep in the parking lot of a motel. It took me a while to figure out that they were picking apples from the large tree in the lot. The largest actually seemed to be doing most of the picking while the two smaller ones ate whatever fell. I watched them for a while before we drove on.
I stopped at Olive Lake again for a few more pictures and to bring the dogs out. I was happy to see that Piper seemed to be less sore each time she got out of the car so all the little breaks and icing seemed to be doing some good.
I drove back to Highway 1 in Banff and followed the highway when it turned west into Yoho National Park. Yoho shares borders with both Banff and Kootenay and I’m not sure why they don’t just combine these three parks with Jasper to make one super park since they are all managed by Parks Canada.
The first stop I wanted to make was Takakkaw Falls and we took the first road off the Trans-Canada Highway. When we had driven out west two years ago, we had camped across the falls and they truly are a sight to behold. A word of warning: the road to the falls has some really tricky switchbacks so be prepared if you have a large vehicle and don’t even think about driving up with an RV or trailer.
I found a shady spot for the car and went to check out the falls. I hadn’t walked this way before and thought that the path may be steep or difficult to walk. It wasn’t. The path was paved and relatively level right to the base of the falls. I didn’t go that close although I did see some people walking next to the water. The falls were as impressive as I remembered them, falling approximately 380 m (1250 ft), about two-thirds of that distance in free fall. From what I was able to gather, “Takakkaw” is a Cree exclamation for “Magnificent”. I’d say that was about right.
Returning to the car, I brought the dogs out and took them to the water. As much as they all like to swim, they were not too keen to jump in; that water was COLD. Piper had a quick soak before we got back into the car. There was a scary moment as we rounded one of the switchbacks and were almost grill to grill with a bus. I’m not sure why the driver thought that bringing a big yellow bus would be a good idea and after some careful maneuvering they somehow managed to get themselves back down the road. I was worried about getting rear-ended while I waited for the road to clear as I was just around the bend in the road and partially hidden by rocks. It was a tense few minutes for sure.
Our next stop was Emerald Lake. It was so busy I almost didn’t stop when I saw how far the cars were parked along the side of the road. Fortunately I was able to find a spot that was a short walk from the lake. WOW. No wonder it was so busy. I was blown away by how beautiful the lake was. I was able to find a quiet place where we could sit together and enjoy the moment. And find a place for the night as the temperature was supposed to drop again and I wanted make sure everyone was warm and comfortable (namely Miss Piper). Our accommodation was ahead of us in Golden so we continued along the Trans-Canada.
I was happily following the directions from my phone when I realized that we were going pretty deep into the middle of nowhere when the cabin we were staying in was supposed to be right outside Golden. For some reason, my phone was sending me to a hunting camp and not my cabin. Crud. I turned back around and was creeping along the dirt road when I stopped just after crossing one of the scariest bridges ever to get a great shot of a river far below. I know it’s not that bad as far as bridges go, but seeing how low the sides were and how far the river is, I shuffled up to the side as carefully as I dared.
I missed my turn (yet again) and when I was back in Golden, I decided that it was time to eat and give my road weary brain a rest. When I saw Fire Pit BBQ, it seemed like a sign. It even had a patio out front. I got out of the car to see if the dogs would be allowed on the patio and I saw a little dog walking around the front door. He was not on a leash and there was no one near him so I was a little confused. I went inside and was eventually helped by the waitress. Yes I would be allowed to bring dogs on the patio and when I mentioned the dog wandering around out front, she told me that the dog belonged to a gentleman sitting at the bar.
This gentleman then chastised me for using the term “wandering around” and that I should choose my words more carefully as his dog was waiting for him. I explained to him that I was just not used to seeing a dog not on a leash and he told me that most people don’t know how to train their dogs and it’s the owner’s fault for the dogs not being well-behaved.
Well my friends, let me just pause in this tale for a moment because I had two ways to address this: put on my big girl pants, tell him to get off his high horse, and cut the sanctimonious crap or be mature and walk away. I chose to walk away. Namely I chose to walk away and get my dogs to go sit on the patio.
So I brought the dogs out and they were a little wild and excited and pulling on their leashes. I was worried about Piper bracing herself with her sore back legs and putting more pressure on her joints so rather than rein her in, I slowly walked them up to the fence around the patio so that I could see what the little dog would do as he was still unrestrained. He was understandably not too impressed with my pack and started marking on the patio. Oh did I mention he wasn’t neutered? That was when the owner came out and said that he could see that his dog was nervous because he was backing away and mine weren’t under control and he didn’t want a dog fight. Let me tell you THAT was when I almost lost it on him. Because that’s what I do: I drive my dogs to far-off places and set them loose to tear apart random dogs. I walked the dogs to the farthest corner of the patio and once I had sat down and put the blanket out for them, the dogs quickly settled down. I told the owner that he could go inside since we were just going to sit there and he did eventually.
So while waiting for my order of the recommended brisket with corn and baked potato, I thought about what he had said about my dogs. Sure they aren’t always the best behaved. I should have waited until they calmed down before bringing them out of the car. Could I leave them outside unrestrained? I think I could but I don’t think that some people would appreciate a 70 lb boxer walking up to them and while Jack and Leo are small, they still scare some people. Then I thought about why the dog was alone outside while his owner inside. I think that’s disrespectful to the dog when you could just as easily sit outside with him. Or why not leave the dog at home where they would be comfortable?
While this whole commentary was playing through my head, I watched the little dog as he walked around the front door, sniffed a post, walked along the side of the building, then walked out of sight. Well the little not-wandering dog went and took himself for a wander. When the waitress came out with my food and looked around for him, I was tempted to tell her to tell the owner that the dog went for a wander. Yes I am using wander as much as I can. Figuring that he would blame it on me sitting with my bad dogs, I just let it go and started with my food. The dog did come back and the owner came out and they walked away. Now had the dog been in a proper heel position, it would have redeemed the owner a little. Nope. That dog was ahead, behind, beside, wherever. Oh was I ever steaming.
The verdict on Fire Pit BBQ: the service was seriously lacking but I think that was because there was only one waitress. My food came quite quick once I ordered but just placing the order was slow. The brisket was dry and needed a good dose of sauce although the sauce was quite tasty. I thought the price was a bit high but I’m not sure what the price point for food is in British Columbia. The dogs seemed to like the brisket and happily helped me clear my plate.
With everyone loaded back in the car, we made the very short drive to Mountain View Cabins. It turns out I drove by the road for the cabins a couple of times. Whoops. I checked in and found that we would be spending the night in a lovely, if spartan, cabin. There was no wifi, no satellite, and with an ongoing fire ban, no bonfire in the communal pit. That was all good for me since I just wanted to sleep.
With the dogs spread out between the two beds, sleep came quick for all of us.
1 406 sq km/347 430 acres
7556 Main St. E, Radium Hot Springs, BC (Visitor Centre)
Telephone: (250) 347-9595/E-Mail (Mid-May to Mid-October)
Telephone: 1 (866) 773-8888/E-Mail (Year-round)
1 313 sq km/324 449 acres
Trans-Canada 1, Field, BC (Visitor Centre)
Telephone: (250) 343-6783
HOW TO GET THERE
Highway 93 runs between the Trans-Canada in Banff and Highway 95 at the south end of the park.
The Trans-Canada Highway runs through Yoho and is the only way to access the park.
WHAT TO DO
Both small parks are bisected by one road which makes the park easy to visit. There are definitely plenty of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and fishing. Kootenay seems to have more opportunities for canoeing and kayaking and these can be rented.
Both parks have serviced, unserviced, and backcountry campsites. Yoho has some lodges in the park at Field and Emerald Lake. Kootenay does not have accommodations inside park boundaries.
WHERE TO EAT
Banff and Lake Louise are both a short drive from the parks and Kootenay has several offerings in Radium Hot Springs. Golden is close enough to the west boundary of Yoho to go for food.