a peek inside the fishbowl

31 Aug, 2018

The Fishbowl goes West: in which the family climbs a mountain

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

In the last chapter of our journey I wrote about our visit to Drumheller. I’ve been looking over our photos and they are simply not good enough. Honestly, the Badlands are so big and beautiful that no photo can do it proper justice.

Anyhoo… From our accommodations in Calgary we moved on to Banff. Banff is an interesting locale. It’s stuffed full of people and very touristy. It’s WILDERNESS without the WILD, if you know what I mean.

Banff is busy

Banff is in close proximity to lots of great outdoor spaces but there’s also a very busy Starbucks and all kinds of upscale shops.

I don’t remember Banff being this busy 20 years ago, but it might be my imagination. I DO remember the amount of elk that wandered around town. As we approached we regaled the girls with stories of animals stopping traffic and walking through public parks and backyards. THEY ARE AS PLENTIFUL AS SQUIRRELS, we said. Well, we saw neither hide nor hair of these majestic creatures. It wasn’t until afterwards that Mark did a bit of research to find out there was a major Elk Removal Program in the town of Banff the year after we visited. Oh well. There was still plenty of wilderness to go around. Well, the wilderness we could SEE anyway. Wildfires burning in BC were completely obscuring our views at times. (You’ll see what I mean later.)

Banff is a cute town to visit, but if I had to choose, I’d say that the highlight of Banff was Sulphur Mountain.

There is a gondola you can ride up to the top but we opted to hike up and then ride down. It’s cheaper than a return ticket and you get the full experience.

The trail is not particularly steep, in fact, it’s marked as “moderate.” I debated whether we were capable of doing it and then I read a review in which a family hiked up this trail with three kids. If kids could do it, we could do it!

The trail is really just a series of switchbacks which aren’t too difficult but the constant incline can feel grueling at times, especially near the end.

Hiking up Sulphur Mountain, Banff

Hiking up Sulphur Mountain, Banff

I thought I was in decent shape but it was death by a thousand steps!

The views were … different. When the views opened up from between the trees to the valley beyond we knew there was supposed to be something to see out there, but everything far away was hidden by smoke. The sun bathed everything we saw in a strange light. We saw ghosts of mountains, but no mountains:

Smokey views from the trail up Sulphur Mountain

According to my MapMyRun app, the trail to the top of Sulphur Mountain is 5.54 km long, and it took us 1hr, 23 minutes of active walking time. (There was a lot of active resting time during this process, believe me.)

I stopped to take this photo because I was trying to focus on something other than how much my legs were burrrrrrrning. (You can see that the trail goes underneath the gondola.)

Almost at the top!

It goes without saying that was definitely an Immense Feeling of Triumph when we arrived at the top. By that time, every step was a chore and I was DONE. Finished. Kaput. But there was more to see so there was no time to stop.

There is an impressive observation complex at the top complete with washrooms, lots of seating, restaurant(s), info boards and lookouts. That’s it, in the background:

Observation area at the top of Sulphur Mountain

… but there was essentially no view:

Our "view" at the top of Sulphur Mountain (!)

View from the top of Sulphur Mountain

I shouldn’t say there was NO view. There was a bit of a view. Here’s the view from the observation decks towards an old observatory:

At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was built here and you can still walk around the building and peer through a window to see its rustic interior. In 1956-1957, the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station was built to study cosmic rays as part of the “International Geophysical Year”. It is now a National Historic Site of Canada and a plaque marks its location. (Info via this site.) It’s worth seeing up close.

This was the view from there…

Top of Sulphur Mountain

"I think those are mountains!"

Pretty wild eh?

We rested, ate lunch, poked around a bit, and then bought our tickets for the ride down. The descent took about eight minutes and didn’t hurt nearly as much as the hike up. ;)

View from the Sulphur Mountain Gondola

I’m glad we hiked up and rode down. Our journey, and our arrival at the end, was that much sweeter when we knew we had to work hard at it, know what I mean?

I should mention that I snagged a coffee from the world’s highest Starbucks, just so I could say that I did:

Fueled up at the highest Starbucks in Canada

And as if that wasn’t enough walking (!) we also hit up the Cave & Basin historic site (totally worth a visit) and walked along the Bow River to see the falls. That night we walked (!) to Park Distillery and Restaurant for an amazing dinner and then soaked our weary bodies in an amazing hot tub at the Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, where we were staying. It was an utterly blissful way to end the day.


1 Response to "The Fishbowl goes West: in which the family climbs a mountain"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive The Fishbowl goes West: the best and worst day - a peek inside the fishbowl

September 4th, 2018 at 11:04 am

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[…] the previous post in this series, I wrote about our climb up Sulphur Mountain and the gondola ride down, which was very cool even though the views were obscured by wildfire smoke from […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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