Western Canada: Arriving in Banff National Park

Continued from Off to Western Canada

First off, if you’re going to rent a car for driving through Canada’s Banff National Park, learn from our mistake:  Make sure you get a car with power windows.

The landscapes are so incredible that you’ll be rolling your windows down every five minutes.  Having a power button could be the difference between nabbing a photo of a quick-moving bear…or not.

The road in from Calgary, the Trans-Canada Highway (or the 1), is dotted with archly-stated signs that immediately let you know you’re no longer in the States.  For instance, wearing your seatbelt is “Compulsory According to Provincial Law.” 

The first scenery along the way is heavy on cows in wheaty fields, gray, weathered barns circled by pine trees, tiny ducks floating in farm marshes, and pale green hills rolling away to high plains and a rocky range.  We happened to arrive during a flood scare (late May 2008) when every pond threatened to become a lake, but it’s easy to see how in drier times this place could, as it often does in Hollywood, stand in for the Old West.

When you’re just about lulled to sleep, the landscape suddenly bursts into drop dead enormous mountains.  They’re so big, so sharp, so pristinely webbed with snow, it seems like the Paramount logo should just shimmer and spew an arc of stars over everything in sight.  These are Canada’s version of the fabled Rockies, and they’re what you come here to, quite literally, gorge yourself on.

Entrance to Banff, the first park along the 1, costs about $10 per adult, per day.  Don’t lose your park entrance receipt, because it’s also your ticket into all the other parks within the Rockies system.  It can also get you a nice little discount here and there.

The 1 forks at the 1A, a quieter route into the village of Lake Louise.  It’s here, 15 minutes into the park, that we saw our first Canadian bear

All I could do was squeak, “Bear!” while Adam tried to stop the car as fast as possible.  As for this (albeit fuzzy) photo, you’re welcome.

This was a juvenile black bear, chubby and furry and sniffy, out of the protective woods on a quick roadside adventure.  As Adam said, “You’d just want to give it a big hug…if it wouldn’t rip your face clean off.”

 We stayed a safe distance away — as recommended in the way helpful Parks pamphlet you receive at the entrance gate — and congratulated each other on a great idea for a vacation.


Continued in The Post Hotel


  1. That is so great that you got to see a bear AND snap the photo!

    Andy and I didn’t see any while we were in Banff. Perhaps one of the reasons might be that we wore bear bells on some of our hikes. Did I mention that I’m part scaredy cat? 🙂

  2. Great post! The pictures were equally amazing. This would be a perfect travel adventure for Jet Setters who are looking for a more thrilling summer. Thanks for the information.


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