We spent our honeymoon in Alberta, Canada, flying into Calgary and then driving to Banff. Neither of us had been there so we had no idea what to expect. All we knew what that our elopement ceremony was on September 28th so the rest of our trip had to be planned around the big event.
(My new Away, Herschel, and Lululemon travel gear)
Calgary has the international airport closest to Banff, so we flew into the city and decided that instead of getting in and immediately renting a car to drive the hour and a half to Banff, we would explore Calgary for a few days. The flight from Seattle was quick, and once we got there our Air B&B was a short drive away. Immediately I noticed all the beautiful yellow and orange foliage I was excited to use in our wedding photos, but for the end of September (even by Canadian standards from what I heard) it was cold. I had done quite a bit of research and picked the end of September for our trip because according to pretty much everything, it was supposed to be slightly less touristy after the peak summer months, and the weather would be fairly mild, cooling off but not yet snowy. I’ll just foreshadow by saying that Canada, you lived up to your weather stereotype.
(The view from our Air B&B in Calgary, AB)
Our Air B&B was everything I hoped it would be. Downtown, the penthouse condo on the 29th floor of the highrise overlooked the city with gorgeous panoramic views. I love having our own kitchen, laundry, and privacy, so our own apartment was fabulous. A well-stocked grocery store with tons of healthy and vegan options called Sunterra Market was right downstairs so we shopped there for the three nights to get essentials. We had access to a nice, full gym downstairs so we could easily get workouts in every morning. And we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go from our Air B&B – the best part is that it cost about the same as a low to mid-level chain hotel in California.
Essentially for three days in Calgary we worked out, walked around, ate food, and relaxed at our condo.
*Vegan food suggestions in Calgary: Ten Foot Henry, SaVeg Cafe, The Coup (for dessert), Tandoori Grill
(Vegan S’mores Dessert from The Coup, Calgary)
After our stay in Calgary we took an Uber to the airport and rented a car, a small SUV that would prove to be beneficial as the trip progressed. We drove the beautiful hour and a half into the Rocky Mountains to Banff Springs. The Fairmont Hotel where we’d spend the next three days and take many of our wedding photos sits on top of a hill, with the town of Banff below. It was completely different in person than I thought it would be. It’s beautiful and castle-like, gigantic and spectacular, but completely crowded and surrounded by tourists. I don’t know why I expected something a bit more quiet, or in the mountains, or whimsical and fairy-tale like (probably because of all the photos and blogs that portray it this way). But it’s more of a beautiful piece of history that’s become overly commercialized. The hotel is considered an international destination, so tour buses abound. It reminded me a lot of Disneyland, which I love, but am typically prepared for. Downstairs in the lobby, there was always a long line for coffee at their independent version of a Starbucks. The check-in lines always going like you’re at a hotel in Vegas. It was an amazing experience – I have once in a lifetime memories from there, and the hotel made the perfect backdrop for many of our photos, but I doubt we’ll ever stay there again, opting for a hotel that’s closer to nature and less loud in the future.
(The Fairmont, Banff Springs Hotel)
Over the next three days we would eat at every restaurant in the hotel, relax, shop (again in the hotel… I can’t emphasize how massive it truly is. We’ll suffice it to say that I was bummed the Lululemon in our hotel was closed for refurbishment) and spend an entire day taking photos, eating wedding cake, and enjoying our elopement ceremony.
(Hike to Surprise Corner, Banff)
The day we checkout out of the Fairmont we drove down the hill into Banff Springs and checked in at the Moose Hotel & Suites, a well-appointed hotel decorated like a lodge, all wood, fireplaces and bears, in downtown Banff. We chose this place so that we could walk to all the shops and restaurants, and it was perfect for that. We spent our final three days in Banff walking around downtown, eating, and exploring many of the sites I had put on my list. Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise. Toward the end of our trip it started snowing off and on, so we took a couple spectacular hikes in the snow, one to Larch Valley, to see the beautiful Larch Trees in their golden glory, against the backdrop of snow. They only turn this color for a few weeks out of every year and we caught it.
(Lake Louise, Banff National Park)
(Little Beehive Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse)
I will say that each location we went to was also quite crowded with tourists – people getting married and people setting up tripods for perfect travel photos. We did find that the earlier in the morning you start your hike, and the farther and higher up you go, the people get very scarce. It seemed like most people just wanted to hop out of the bus, take a quick look around, take photos and leave. So as soon as you distance yourself from the crowd, it gets extra beautiful. At one point we hiked for a long while without seeing anybody aside from one other couple every once and a while and the prospect of running into a Grizzly started to really freak me out. So pack bear spray if you distance yourself from crowds anywhere in the Canadian Rockies.
(Peyto Lake Lookout, Banff National Park)
(Moraine Lake, Banff National Park)
(Hike from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley)
(Larch Valley, Banff National Park)
*Vegan food suggestions in Banff: The Fairmont made most meals special for me since they didn’t have many vegan options. But they were fairly accommodating. Downtown Banff lacked good vegan food and I ate a lot of things from the local version of Safeway. The only meals I really remember being good were at the Indian Curry House (Indian food is always a go-to because it is often times inherently vegan), I had moderately good tacos at Magpie & Stump, and the Wildflour Bakery & Cafe offered several vegan treat options which were delicious. Sometimes good vegan food is still hard to find- you gotta just go with it.
I will say that up until this point, our travel had gone smoothly, and we hadn’t had any significant issues or problems on our entire vacation OR with our elopement ceremony and vendors. So that’s remarkable. But as it does, the universe had to throw us a curve ball there at the end. We checked out out of the Moose Hotel & Suites early in the morning with plenty of time to drive the hour and a half to Calgary, return our car at the airport and catch our flight back to Seattle. It had been steadily snowing off and on with temperatures reaching lows (in the teens) I had never experienced before (I totally get the jokes about being from California now, even though it does get fairly cold… not Canada cold).
Since we had packed appropriately, rented the right car, and had been hiking around in the snow and cold for several days, it didn’t phase us that it was snowing when we left. We just figured it was a normal Canadian fall. Nope. Apparently it was a freak snowstorm that no one was prepared for. If we would’ve turned on the news we would’ve known to tack a day or two on to our vacation and stay put. But we didn’t. We ended up completely stopped on the highway about half way between Banff and Calgary for over three hours with several other cars because a semi truck had refused to go up the hill in the storm and blocked traffic. We didn’t know this, and had assumed it was a bad accident, until the authorities eventually showed up and started giving people the go ahead to drive over the pass. Being stopped in a legitimate blizzard, on the highway in another country watching inches and inches of snow pile up around you… is stressful to say the least. I’m positive I saw more snow in those hours than I’ve seen in the rest of my life combined.
(The road driving from Banff to Calgary. There are two lanes each way under there.)
Since we had four wheel drive they said we’d be fine, so we drove the rest of the way to the airport going extremely slow, passing countless accidents, almost running out of gas, and listening to the radio telling everyone to stay inside because the wait on a tow truck was about six hours. Kanan got us through it. I would’ve probably passed out from fear trying to drive in those conditions.
*Neat Canadian Moment: As we’re driving through what looks like a trail through the snow (really four lanes) I see these black dots moving closer and closer to the road from out in the distance. At first I think they’re cows, then horses, then I notice they’re black dogs. Beautiful against the completely white backdrop – miles of wilderness covered in snow. My immediate thought is that these poor dogs are out in the cold and what kind of owner would let that happen. Then I realize it’s a pack of wolves, running in unison along the highway.
Luckily we made it to the airport in one piece, but had missed our flight home and had to rearrange our travel plans. Apparently flying in that kind of weather isn’t a problem? And once we were in Seattle an hour later I was happy to be back to somewhat predictable non-Canadian weather, and then eventually, home with my husband.