It’s hard to know where to start for this trip. Because honestly, it is going down as one of my favorite trips of all time. But it’s not without reason… so I suppose I should explain the short backstory.
When we returned home from Iceland in 2015, I discovered some photos of this place called Banff. I immediately fell in love. And when I did some further research, I saw it’s in some pretty dark sky territory. Especially in comparison to the skies you see in Ohio.
The trip sort of went on the back burner for a someday opportunity in my mind. We just had Leo after all and Paul’s own ambitions were more important these last couple years (rightfully so). As well as a total focus on establishing my business as a full time gig.
But for my birthday, Paul decided to surprise me with tickets to this beautiful little place. (omgomgomg) And so, in January, we flew from Cincinnati to Calgary, rented a car, and went on another little adventure just the two of us. 🙂
It’s about an hour and a half’s drive to Banff from Calgary. So with all the flying/driving to get there, we didn’t arrive into Banff until just before sunset. And it put a beautiful little light across the entire town for our arrival.
If I’m being honest, we were EXHAUSTED by the time we arrived in Banff since our day started at 3:30am. And when we are so tired, it always makes it hard to pick a place to eat for us. So we just checked into our hotel, threw all our stuff down, and went for a short walk in the town until we found somewhere that was good. Which was pretty much anywhere for me. But we quickly found the cutest little pub called Tommy’s and made ourselves comfortable.
Now, I didn’t talk about the best part of this trip. Paul specifically picked the dates of the 15-17 because it happened to not only be a week we were both free, but also the week of a new moon. Which is an essential for night sky photography if you are going to even attempt taking photos.
So while chompin on our fish n chips and Shepard’s pie, we checked the weather and saw that we were about to get super lucky with a clear night. Which, is pretty rare there in the winter.
No moon. No clouds. Winter time. And the darkest sky territory I had ever been surrounded in.
The stars were literally aligning for this.
And so, after dinner, we headed back to our hotel, grabbed my gear, and headed out the door to witness this sky.
We drove on this little road right off the entrance into Banff that took us to the Vermillion Lakes. Within just a 5 minutes drive away from the town, we looked up out our car windows and saw more stars than either of us had ever seen before. Needless to say, it both made us so excited we forgot about how tired our bodies were.
I kept having to remind myself to stop photographing the sky and let myself look at it with my own eyes. To really feel it and connect to it. And to let myself be able to remember it with my own mind instead of just with my images. So in-between these constant reminders and personal breaks, I did manage a few images that really stand out to me. And gave us our first real taste of Banff National Park.
We stayed out there for nearly 2 hours. And I’m so glad we did. Although it made us even more tired for the rest of our trip, these images are some of my favorite I’ve ever taken. And when I was editing them, I’m not even kidding, they made me so teary eyed with happiness I could barely see them.
When we finally made it back, we both crashed pretty quick. But because of the 2 hour time change, we were up at 6am naturally so we decided to use it to our advantage and get an early start on the day. Which meant breakfast, packin up the gear, and hittin the road toward Ice Fields Parkway to start the day off at Peyto Lake when the sun officially made it’s debut.
We actually stopped quite a few times along the Ice Fields Parkway to take in the views and explore a little. There seemed to be so many random hiking trails to mountain tops, along lakes/rivers, and just overall beauty. It makes me want to come back so badly again in the summer time to see this place in a whole new way.
One stop we did make though was near Hector Lake. I spotted a little pine tree cove off the side of the road that I wanted to see if we could get some cute photos in. Within just a few minutes, we quickly discovered that the snow was waist deep in some places!
After we climbed our way out of that little cove, we hit the road headed toward Peyto Lake. The trees amongst the whole area were swept with snow and made the entire area look like a real winter wonderland.
Next we headed up Bow mountain for a lookout over Peyto Lake. But I feel like the hike up there was the best part because we walked among the “Snow Forest” – a forest of mountain pine trees that have snow over them almost everyday of the year – and that forest felt like absolute magic to me.
After that magical little hike, we finally headed back down south and stopped at Lake Louise for some lunch. Paul discovered this cute little corner deli called Laggan’s and we got a mini shmorgishborg of food. But only a little bit later, we drove up to Lake Louise and actually was able to take a walk across the lake since it was frozen completely through.
After Lake Louise, we were absolutely frozen to the bone! We got coffee/hot chocolate, and warmed up with a drive to Johnston Canyon to end the day with one last hike. It ended up being pretty slippery for me, so if you take this walk in the winter, make sure to wear boots with grippy/ice grips on the bottom! It’ll be worth it ❤
By the time we hiked to the lower falls of Johnston Canyon, we started to run out of daylight. So we hiked back to the parking lot and returned to Banff to end the night with dinner and a visit to the hot springs.
With Paul being English, he is always on the lookout for a good pub. We found one right around the corner from our hotel that was reasonably priced and had SUPER fresh tasting meat. So. Good.
We then retreated to the Banff Upper Hot Springs for a long soak. Which ended up being much needed after such a long day of exploring! And it felt sooooo good to heat up our bones.
Poor Paul though got super sick. I think with the exhaustion of the trip, and the days leading up to it, he actually experienced heat exhaustion which then broke his immune system down and he got sick with the flu for the rest of the trip. On day 3 of being in Banff, we were supposed to check out of our hotel at 11am, explore the town, and then head to Calgary around dinner time and hang out there until our flight back home at midnight.
But we actually ended up paying for another night at the hotel. And Paul slept the entire day until we had to leave for our flight. I did however take some time to explore the town a little bit on my own, get some snapshots, and also a cute little book for Leo to read to him 🙂
Paul, I guess this just means we’ll HAVE to go back here
so you can take a really good look around for yourself…
Needless to say, Banff National Park has turned into my new favorite place. I was able to enjoy myself so much. But I am so bummed that Paul got so sick, so we just HAAAAAVE to go back again I guess…
I imagine this place is a whole different world in the summertime. So we will have to bring Leo on our next trip to this magical little corner of North America 🙂
Press play for our Banff home video ❤