TL;DR: This is one of the most beautiful places both of us have ever been, and Moraine – rather than Louise – stole the show with its deep blue water and rock-pile vantage point.
It was no surprise that the drive from Glacier to Banff was stunning, but what was a surprise was getting pulled over by a police officer almost immediately upon crossing the Canadian border. While we were going a good 25 kilometres over the speed limit, the friendly officer wrote up a ticket for $196, then crossed it out and gave us a warning, asking kindly that we go “just a bit slower.” Welcome to Canada.
We had left Kintla Lake, but only after making yet another stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for pastries. There was an additional 2.5 hours of backtracking added to our drive to Banff due to our campsite choice at Kintla Lake; we didn't mind, the place was worth it.
After a gorgeous drive through the Canadian Rockies, we arrived in Banff, which was what we thought Big Sky would be like: bustling, lots of shops and restaurants, and clearly a coveted vacation spot even in the summer. We had dinner at The Block, then sampled some of what Canada claims is “the best ice cream in the world” from Cows. It was tasty, but definitely not the best.
Our campsite, Two Jack Main, was only a ten minute drive from the town center. When we arrived we were told a tent ban had just been lifted for a particularly tenacious female wolf who’d been eating everyone's food, and a bear warning had just come in ten minutes prior. Old news, we’d survived Glacier! We were unfortunately located directly next to the bathroom, which, also unfortunately, had one of those super intense jet air-dryers for your hands. The whole night was punctuated by the sound of that horrible machine, and by the morning we decided we would not be spending much time on site.
That morning we grabbed breakfast and coffee from Whitebark Cafe, posted a bit, then headed to Lake Louise where we planned to hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse.
Lake Louise is stunning, as the throngs of tourists will tell you as you approach. It is a turquoise lake, fed by glacial melt water, situated at the bottom of Victoria Glacier. See below for pictures, but it is really a special place. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and the teahouse closes at 5pm, so we raced the 2+ miles and over 1000 feet of ascension in a mere 35 minutes versus the advertised 1-2 hours. When we reached Lake Agnes the teahouse seemed to have everything we wanted: a cozy log cabin offering tea, beer, sandwiches, and sweets. The view overlooking the Canadian Rockies was simply stunning. We sat down inside, and then proceeded to wait. And wait for longer. We are really not ones to care much about “quality service” but in this case it definitely impacted the experience. They took orders from everyone around us and by the time we requested two sandwiches they were entirely out of bread -- which was weird because we saw them continue to serve them to other tables, and we could see multiple loaves available in the kitchen. Call us hangry, but the lack of service hurt our otherwise zen, mountain-top experience.
Despite the sub-par meal, the view was beautiful, and in heading down you caught glimpses of jewel bright patches of Lake Louise coming through the trees. After returning to the lake, we considered renting a canoe from the very popular stand—it looked lovely, paddling around the foot of a glacier, enjoying that unbelievable water up close. But not for $85 per hour (or $75 for ½ hour).
We instead headed to Lake Moraine, a 20 minute drive to what is arguably an even more beautiful body of water. It is a deeper shade of blue-green, ringed by multiple peaks and glaciers. It also has a massive rock pile at its head upon which one can climb and enjoy the view. Lots of people climbed the rock-pile to view the sunset, and we watched person after person navigate not only the steep rocks but also the floating log crossing between the dry land and the rock-pile. Many visitors chose the wrong logs to walk across, which promptly sank under their weight and caused quite the commotion and many a wet leg. With a cooler packed with bread, cheese, and wine, we successfully forded the gap and watched the sunset from high up on the rocks. It was quite perfect.
We did go see the new Star Trek movie in Banff, which seems like an odd choice amidst all the natural beauty. As we went to a 10pm showing we felt it didn't interfere too much with our day. Mixed reviews on the film. Also, sitting in the movie theater gave us a strange sensation of being back on the East Coast.
The next morning instead of the sounds of the hand dryers we had two obscenely loud crows squawking at each other on top of our tent. They continued at this for some time. We eventually just got up, as we had a nine hour drive ahead of us, but the scenery from the prior day and the promise of Vancouver at the end of the road lifted us up and helped us to complete our first leg of the drive… all the way to the West Coast.