By Tanya Koob
November 16, 2011
I don’t know about you but November has never been my favorite time of year to go to the mountains. This year however, we have discovered a whole new appreciation for the month of November normally referred to as shoulder season. We aren’t using it as down-time and we actually renewed our park pass so we could use it all month. We are enjoying the quiet streets in Banff, the empty trails, and the over-all solitude. We’ve gone to Banff the last two weekends and had very pleasant days with our toddler in tow. The early snow has made for lovely hiking and we got to participate in a November ritual for many Bow Valley residents that was unknown to us until just a week ago.
Two weeks ago we went out to Banff after church on Sunday for a half day fresh-air break. As is becoming the routine, Noah had his nap en route to Banff and we stopped at Tim Hortons for lunch. How exciting to find out that Timmies has added lasagne to their menu. Noah’s favorite food in a coffee shop setting made me practically dance. After lunch we took an enjoyable walk along the Fenland trail right in the town of Banff. It’s a beautiful trail through a quiet forest that follows along 40 Mile Creek and crosses a couple bridges. It’s short and makes for the perfect toddler hike. We even got our Halloween photos of Noah finally because his costume was really warm and we figured it made for a nice snow suit.
After our hike along the Fenland Trail, we took a drive around the Minnewanka Loop Road. The full loop closes sometime soon but it was still open for us. We stopped first at Cascade Ponds which I am horrified to admit I’d never visited before. What an amazing spot if you wanted to have a picnic! Write that down everybody for next summer. Much nicer than the famous Elbow Falls everybody seems to go to. There is a nice path that circumnavigates the pond area with cute little bridges for the kiddies. I’ve heard that you can swim there in the summer though I’d prepare for a very chilly dip. It also looks as if people have started sledding there so bring your sled if you take a trip over the next months.
After the Cascade Ponds visit we continued around the loop towards Lake Minnewanka. What a surprise to see this heavily visited tourist area extremely peaceful and almost deserted. Noah had a great time throwing rocks in the lake with Daddy. I’ve heard that you can skate on this lake in winter but it certainly wasn’t frozen yet when we were there.
This past weekend we returned to Banff again on Remembrance Day. This time our agenda was to hike and skate with a slight break in routine. We ate lunch between the two activities. And Noah napped en route to the skating lake. We started with a hike up Tunnel Mountain. Grandma stayed home this time so it was just the three of us for the cold windy venture. A snow storm was coming in and there was little to no visibility. Never the less, it was still good to get out and just be in the mountains. It’s a short hike up Tunnel Mountain right in the town of Banff and from the top you can look down over the whole valley. On a clear day there’s no place I’d rather be.
After the ascent of Mighty Tunnel Mountain and lunch we headed out to meet friends on Johnston Lake. To quote the Parks Canada website: “It doesn’t take much to find solitude in Banff National Park. Just a ten minute drive from the townsite, you can find natural gems like Quiet Pond. And if you time it just right, you can bring your skates and explore this magical November scene for yourself. “Skating Season”, as the locals refer to it, happens when cold temperatures arrive before the snowfall. It doesn’t happen every year, but when it does, be sure to get out to one of the lakes and ponds in the Bow Valley. It’s an activity steeped in canadiana, a surreal experience you will never forget. ”
Now, I don’t know where this “Quiet Pond” is so if anybody knows, please comment below. Johnston Lake however was absolutely perfect for our November skate and apparently the whole Bow Valley knew it was “skating season.” Johnston Lake is on the Minnewanka Loop Road just outside Banff and is very easy to find. We’ve hiked around the lake in summer before but never skated on it. To hike around the lake takes a good hour and a half. To skate across it takes maybe 15 minutes.
It was such an amazing experience to be able to skate clear across a mountain lake and share in a local’s paradise. I had never heard about November skating before until a couple friends who live in the Bow Valley started talking about it. Yay for inside information! To skate on Johnston Lake felt like I was gliding across an old Coca-cola bottle. It was perfectly smooth and green. Very very green! You could look down in some spots and see logs or air bubbles below you. It was a little freaky to be able to see clear to the bottom of the lake in spots but I always figure there’s safety in numbers. Given the number of people on the lake, I felt pretty confident it was well frozen.
Hopefully this has inspired you to get out to the mountains and enjoy shoulder season too. There are many hiking trails around Banff that are still great for hiking. The Banff National Park Website is a wealth of information. It is found at http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/activ1/a.aspx