The Inkpots, Johnston Canyon, Banff

By far, the hardest hike of our Canadian adventure was from Upper Johnston Canyon to the Inkpots. It was a punishingly steep hike, but the beauty of the inkpots and the alpine meadow they're in more than made up for it.

Johnston Canyon is one of the busiest places in Banff, and it's evident by how quickly the carpark fills up in the morning. The first time we visited Banff, we thought we'd rock up to Johnston Canyon about 1 pm - ha, no. While we did find parking spaces at an overflow carpark, the place was so busy there'd have been no point trying. 

This time, we turned up nice and early and enjoyed the lower and upper falls while it was relatively quiet. If you want to avoid the crowds, arrive for 9 am - especially during the summer. Very few people actually go further to the Inkpots, so that trail being busy isn't really an issue.

Johnston Canyon, Banff

Rainbow at Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon, Banff

It quickly becomes apparent why Johnston Canyon is so popular. The falls and the canyon are stunning, and walkways allow the whole family to get up close to them, and a little soggy. It's impressive walking through a canyon and trying to comprehend how water created something so incredible. I mean, we all get how erosion works but standing in somewhere like that and trying to comprehend it frazzles my brain.

 

Most visitors don't bother hiking the extra 3km/1.9 miles to the Inkpots, which is simultaneously ridiculous (it's so beautiful) and understandable (it's steeeeep). While Johnston Canyon is definitely something special, the Inkpots are even better.

 

That said, I can understand why so many people don't go; it's not a particularly family friendly trail (though we did see a couple of kids on the trail). We both found it the hardest hike of our trip; it was bloody steep, it was definitely leg day, and there isn't a huge amount to look at because the forest is so thick you only get the occasional glimpse of the mountains around you.

Alpine meadow, Johnston canyon and the inkpots

The inkpots, Banff

The inkpots, Johnston Canyon

It took us just over an hour to reach the inkpots , and my complaining and leg burn went away as soon as I saw the alpine meadow coming into view. (Don't let my complaining put you off, plenty of people seemed to storm past us so perhaps I'm just unfit?)

 

When you reach the meadow, you're rewarded with a stunning view of a few vibrant-coloured ponds you associate with Canada nestled inside an awe-inspiring alpine meadow. A couple of trails take you around the inkpots and there are a few benches too, making it the perfect place for a picnic.

Alpine meadow - Johnston Canyon and the Inkpots

The inkpots, Banff

Alpine meadow at the inkpots

The inkpots

Alpine meadow, johnston canyon and the inkpots

I don't think I'd ever been in an alpine meadow before this hike, and it was everything I wanted it to be - it reminded me of Heidi. It was so serene and neither of us wanted to leave and head back down the trail.

If you do fancy further hiking in this area, there are a couple of overnight trails into the backcountry along Mystic Pass, and Johnston Creek. If you're thinking about doing any backcountry trails, make sure you know your safety stuff; we read plenty of information saying bears use both of those trails regularly to get to drinking spots.

Tips for hiking Johnston Canyon & the Inkpots

• Give yourself at least four hours to enjoy the trip there and back
• Return distance: 10.8km/6.7miles
• Be there at 9 am if you want to see Johnston Canyon in relative silence
• Wear good, supportive footwear
• Take layers - you might be hot hiking but it'll be cool when you stop 
• Take plenty of water and snacks
• There are no toilets after the car park
• Enjoy a picnic when you reach the Inkpots
• Know how to behave responsibly in an area that's home to wild animals; make noise, keep dogs on a leash, never leave any food or food packaging, and keep your distance.

The inkpots, Banff, Johnston Canyon.

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rosie_baillie Instagram top 9

I don’t know about you but I love finding out about the stories behind people’s Instagram Top 9; I kinda feel like they’re nice, heartwarming, fuzzy, reads. So, I bring you the stories behind my Instagram top 9. 

It’s also interesting to note that not one of these photos was posted to my account (@rosie_baillie if you’re not already following) in the past three months, showing how damn stupid the latest algorithm updates are. 

From first glance, we can definitely see my top 9 are all about blues, greens, water, and mountains. Oh, and Canada, duh. Because do I talk about anything else? No. At least it’s nice that I know I’m a broken record.

 

The first photo was taken when I saw the northern lights (obviously) in Iceland with my Mum. It was a dream come true, ticking it off the bucketlist, moment, and I seriously recommend it. If you want to know more, I did write a blog post about seeing the northern lights and the company I went with. 

 

This next photo is actually at least two years old, maybe three now. It was taken the first time I visited Edinburgh, and had a trip out to Loch Awe. Early last year, my sister planned a trip to Scotland and started asking me questions about it, so I started fangirling to her and just had to repost this. 

The third photo is one of my favourite photos of all time; Daz and I at Moraine Lake, our happy place. I love it because it shows off how darn stunning Moraine Lake is, how grand the peaks are, the shade of blue of the lake, the reflection, and it makes me feel something. We’ve got a print of it in our living room, which I can see right now, and every time I look at it I feel fuzzy inside and have to fight off the urge to head over to SkyScanner and book a flight for tomorrow. 

 

As I said in the caption, it just isn’t possible to have too many photos of Moraine Lake in an Instagram feed. Moraine Lake is a funny ol’ place because the weather is very changeable. On the same day this photo was taken, we also had blazing sunshine and snow (at the same time). 

 

Every time I see a photo of Peyto Lake looking beautifully clear and sunny I wonder if those people visited a Peyto Lake in a parallel universe, because this is what I saw. And it’s what happened each of the four times Daz and I tried to visit the lake. Nevertheless, it’s still beautiful, and moodier than me circa 2007. 

 

This is a quaint looking hostel just off the main road through Glen Coe in Scotland. It was one of the first outings Daz and I had since moving up here. I’ve loved Glen Coe since the moment I first set my eyes on it and it was SO nice to be able to show Daz it. 

This is another solid fave of mine from 2017, and it also features Moraine Lake in the background, so it has all the qualities of the best photo ever. I don’t even know what to say about this photo other than it was a perfect day, one of my favourite moments of my life, and there better be a photo appearing in a future ‘Instagram top 9’ of our wedding at the edge of that lake. 

 

I’m actually surprised this photo appeared in my top 9 because I really feel like I’ve taken photos that are a lot better. But, it was posted at the start of 2017, again, the algorithm. This was taken back in September 2016 when we attempted to kayak on a very windy Maligne Lake. I do not recommend it to kayaking noobs, and you can read more about that horror story here

 

I’m so happy that Vancouver made an appearance in my top 9, because that beautiful city worked hard to make us fall in love with it. And we really did. This was taken at the edge of Stanley Park and is a shot looking across the Lionsgate Bridge towards North Vancouver with the mountains in the background. I think it’s a pretty great summary of why we fell in love with Vancouver; all of those things in one view, perfect. 

And, to make it even better we saw our first raccoon a few minutes before we took this photo. Now, that might seem like a bizarre thing to get excited over but we don’t have racoons in the UK! They look so adorable and remind us of the kids cartoon, The Raccoons. 

If you shared the stories behind your Instagram top 9, link me because I wanna see them! 

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The view over the Bow Valley and Rundle Forebay from Grassi Lakes trail

Grassi Lakes is everything you’re looking for in a hike; two beautiful turquoise coloured lakes and panoramic views across Canmore and the mini Mount Rundle range.

The two lakes, called Upper and Lower Grassi Lakes, were named after Lawrence Grassi; an Italian-born climbing guide and trail blazer. He sounds like a fascinating person and was responsible for building many trails in the Canadian Rockies. Could you imagine having that job? I bet he had some amazing stories. 

Grassi Lakes trail more difficult or easy trails

There are two trails up to Grassi Lakes; the “more difficult” route and the “easy” route. Of course, we took the “more difficult” route, because why wouldn’t we? Turns out we ended up making it “even more difficult” because we channeled our inner Lawrence Grassi and blazed our own trail.

View over Canmore and Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes

View over Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes trail

The Bow Valley and Rundle Forebay from Grassi Lakes Trail

It all started well. We followed the trail and were floored by the beautiful views over Canmore and the Bow Valley. And then we came across the waterfall. We took in the views and then tried to figure out where the trail went. It wasn’t immediately obvious but we eventually spotted what we thought was the trail; it was a kind of worn path, in our defence.

After a couple of minutes of pulling ourselves up a bank we realised there was a solid chance we were not on the trail at all. Thankfully, Daz had looked at the trail map at the trail head and knew that if we kept going up we would reach the easier route.

He was right. We did reach the service road, but not after some serious climbing up a very muddy bank, and grabbing onto trees. At some point on the way up, I managed to lose my sunglasses as well.

The view from the top was absolutely worth it, and the colour of the lakes in these photos do not do them justice at all.

Grassi Lakes

Upper Grassi Lakes

Thankfully we found the trail to head back down on and discovered where we’d gone wrong. From the waterfall, the trail went up some steps which blended in to the trees and foliage. While they were a little camouflaged, I have no idea how we missed the steps.

At 3.8km there and back, the trip up to Grassi Lakes can easily be done in a couple of hours. And the harder route really isn’t that hard at all – unless you decide to blaze your own trail.

Have you ever got lost on a trail?

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View over the Bow Valley from Grassi Lakes

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Sunset from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

When we were in Canada, one of our goals was to see an amazing sunset, and Canmore finally provided us with one from the Bow River Loop trail.

We tried hard to chase sunsets but the sky was just not in our favour, over and over again. The sky would either go a darker shade of blue, completely cloud over, or it would rain torrentially.

On our first day in Canmore, we discovered the Bow River Loop, a 20-minute flat walk around the Bow River on the edge of town. As we were sat in our hotel room one evening, we spotted colour creeping into the sky and dashed out to the car and down to the trail.

Red and orange clouds over Mount Rundle, Canmore

Pink clouds at sunset over Mount Rundle

Canmore Engine Bridge

Golden light bathed the mountains and forests surrounding the town and we almost ran down to Canmore Engine Bridge to set up the camera. It wasn’t long until we were treated to a pink, red, and orange display lighting up Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. I loved the way streams of light seemed to shoot out of the top of the mountain and paint patterns in the sky.

We stood there for a while, taking photos and trying to take in the awe-inspiring sunset, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who started conversations with us. Considering both of us hate small talk, we loved the way people talk to each other on the street.

Everyone has heard the stereotype that Canadians are friendly, and it was true of the majority of Canadians we spoke to. Canadian hospitality has got to rival Southern hospitality because we felt welcomed and at home everywhere we went.

Sunset over Cascade Mountain from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

Canmore is one of our favourite places in Canada. The locals say that Banff is where you go to visit and Canmore is where you live. It’s a fairly quiet little town, about 20 minutes from Banff, on the Bow River with plenty activities to choose from, such as; hiking, kayaking, stand up kayaking, climbing, snowsports, and more.

If you’re ever in the Canmore or Banff area, it is well worth taking a stroll around the Bow River Loop at sunset. The trail in general is well worth a visit in general, whether you’ve got half an hour spare to take in some spectacular views, a few hours, or the whole day; the Bow River Loop connects to other walking and cycling trails, so you aren’t going to be short of things to do.

Sunset over the Three Sisters, Canmore

Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sun set?

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Do not walk off the path at Moraine Lake

One of the joys of photography is getting to share a place, or a feeling, that you love with everyone else; that comes at a cost though when you contribute to destroying that place.

I am not tarring everyone with the same brush at all, but I am fed up of watching photographers, or anyone for that matter, hop over “please stay on the marked trails” signs to get “the best Instagram shot” or one without trees, or plants blocking the view. 

Whether you’re in your home country, or abroad, it’s not uncommon to see signs asking you to stay on the marked trail to protect wildlife and vegetation. Some signs might even explain that it’s humans trampling everywhere which has damaged the area and it needs time to recover. Perhaps the signs need to be bigger because I watched countless people ignore them.

These signs are all over the place in Canada, and by far, the worst place for offenders was Moraine Lake. A few kilometers outside of Lake Louise, the beauty of Moraine Lake is beyond words. It is our favourite place, which makes it even harder to watch people contribute to damaging it.

If you’ve never been to Moraine Lake, let me explain the best view point to you. There is a huge pile of rocks which a path, steps and view points have been built into, which give you a beautiful elevated view of the lake. The problem some photographers seem to have is that there are trees growing in and along this rock pile, which “get in the way” of your view sometimes. So, what do they do? They step off the trail and clamber all down the banks. I saw so many people do it without even hesitating and it made my blood boil. 

It is absolutely possible to get a view of the lake without trees “blocking” the view by staying on the path, and the trees really are part of the environment and part of the view so why are we so into getting rid of them? 

As well as damaging the fragile environment, Daz brought up an excellent point; taking photos from viewpoints off the trail encourages others to do the same to replicate the shot.

Honestly, how many times have you seen a photo and thought, “wow, I’d love to see that view with my own eyes?” I’ve done it loads, and I am always so disappointed when I get somewhere and realise the photographer strayed off the trail to get that shot. That kind of disregard sends a message that it’s ok for others to do the same, whether the photographer realises it or not. We witnessed more than enough people show complete disregard for the protection of the places we visited so people honestly do not need the encouragement.

Our environment is fragile and one of the privileges of photography, for me and others, is that we get to share the beauty of our planet with others and highlight the importance of protecting it. But we’re nothing short of hypocrites if we are doing things as simple as straying the marked trail to get a “better” shot.

Please, stay on the fudging trail because protecting fragile places is more important than Instagram likes. 

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Why you shouldn't go camping in Canada

That's right, I am (sadly) back from Canada and geared up to start fangirling about it again; it never ends for you does it, my poor readers? Thanks to jetlag, my brain thought this post up at 3am in the morning and thought it would be hilarious to tell you why you shouldn't go camping in Canada. 

I like to indulge the weird sleep-deprived ideas I have sometimes, plus this post involves a reasonable amount of sarcasm, so here are 11 reasons why camping in Canada might not be for you.

 

...you hate awesome views while cooking

Perhaps you are blessed enough to have beautiful views from your kitchen, but the best views I've ever had while at the stove is while camping next to a lake. Who doesn't want to be cooking up some tasty nom, with a fire warming your back, while you look at a lake that looks photoshopped, thick forest, and jagged mountains?

Canada is pretty darn versatile, so you could also camp in the middle of a forest or even on a beach.

 

Panorama of Two Jack Lake, Banff

...you hate awesome views, period

Sure, you might get beautiful views from your hotel but when you're camping, you can open up your tent and be in that view in a matter of seconds. I will never forget waking up and unzipping the tent to see the sun coming up over Two Jack Lake. Daz was smart enough to bag site 44, which is apparently the "crown jewel of pitches in the Banff area", so prepare to feel smug because you've got the best view in Banff from your tent.

You don't need me to tell you that Canada is a beautiful country and the places you can camp are unreal. You can even do backcountry camping, which is like proper wilderness camping. We haven't done it yet but it's definitely on our list of things we want to experience.

 

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...you don't want to know what noise squirrels make

This might sound really dumb, depending on what part of the world you come from. In the UK, we have squirrels everywhere but I have never, ever heard them make a noise. While we were camping in Jasper last year, we were trying to figure out what this loud, squeaking noise was and eventually realised it was the squirrels. They are noisy little critters.

...you don't want to see loads of wildlife

While you really don't have to try that hard to see wildlife in Canada, camping is probably one of the best ways to see it. Two Jack Lakeside is a great place if you want to see elk; we saw a couple wandering around right on the edge of the site and a couple having a drink from the lake one morning.

Standing in Two Jack Lake

...you don't like fighting for festival tickets

I'm going to preface this by saying that not all campsites in Canada have as much demand as a Glastonbury ticket, but some do. We booked our spot for Two Jack Lakeside in Banff the day pitches were available, and we heard that it had completely sold out for the season in a matter of days. (Again, pitch 44 is what you really want!)

As a general rule, the better the view from the campsite, the more demand it is going to create. If you have your heart set on a site, try to book your spot as soon as pitches are available. You honestly will not find that every campsite sells out within days of going on sale, there will still be plenty of choice. Last year, we visited in September and only booked our pitches in August and we visited some great sites. We even got a pitch at Two Jack Lakeside, I think the demand this year is due Canada's 150th anniversary and free park passes.

Similarly, if you are interested in visiting Lake O'Hara, good luck trying to get tickets. They only allow a small amount of people in or to camp there each day, to protect the environment. We tried to get two bus tickets and they were sold out within a minute. I'm not sure how fast the entire season sold out, but I imagine it was within less than half an hour. Take that, Beyonce. 

Cooking on a campfire

...you think fires are lame

The unwritten laws of camping state that you must have at least one fire a day. Everyone seems to love fire and I'm sure that watching wood produce glorious orange and red warmth is the closest us muggles will ever get to magic. There are few better joys in life than toasting yourself too close to the fire and relaxing after a long day of adventuring.

Plus, you feel pretty Bear Grylls when you cast aside fire lighters and make a badass fire which cannot be doused by rain or pouring 2 litres of water on it. Just don't go too Bear Grylls and start stealing parachute cord and doing pressups wearing nothing but a coat. That's too far.

...you don't like saving money

I don't know about you, but I am all for saving money. I have only visited a relatively small part of Canada, so I will not speak for all of it, but hotels are not cheap in the parts I've been to. Air BnB is for sure cheaper than hotels, unless you can get a really cheap motel, but why would you want to when you can camp at the edge of a lake for $36 per pitch (that's £21 at the time of writing)?

Prices do vary between campsites (even Parks Canada owned ones) and some of the more luxurious, independently owned sites, such as Bella Pacifica in Tofino, are going to be more expensive than your basic unmanned sites. That said, it will still be cheaper than a hotel. While we were researching, we saw prices range from $12 - 60 CAD per pitch, per night. The most we paid was $36 per night, so above that is going to be some (definitely not all) of the privately owned sites with more amenities.

...you don't like forest toilets

On a campsite, you're either going to get toilets that resemble your standard public toilets or a shed with a pit toilet (I prefer to call them forest toilets). I have actually grown pretty fond of a forest loo. The first time I experienced one was in Yosemite and I was not prepared for it.

They really aren't as grim as you think (just don't look in) and my common sense says they're probably as clean as a normal toilet. In fact, they could even be cleaner because they don't produce an aerosol as a normal loo does when it flushes. Obviously I do not have the science to prove it, but give me some agar gel and I will.

All the campsites I went to had clean forest toilets and there's something kinda nice about hearing the birds and squirrels in the bathroom.

...you don't want to reset your sleeping pattern

Studies have shown that by camping for just one weekend, the natural light can help reset your circadian rhythm and your sleep pattern. The same study also found that people were going to sleep earlier and then waking up earlier than they would if they were at home.

We definitely experienced this. As anyone who has ever worked in hospitality will know, it is near impossible to have a good sleep pattern but we noticed a difference after just a couple of days of camping. We were going to sleep at about 22:30 (unheard of for us) and waking up between 7 - 8 in the morning. I wish we could keep it up now we're back, but we're already way out of step with the routine we had while camping. 

Pitch 44 at Two Jack Lakeside campground, Banff

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Marmot Limestone 4p tent

...you don't want someone else to deal with sorting your stuff for you

If you're flying to Canada, or even driving a very long way, it would be very expensive and a pain to take your own equipment with you. We don't own any camping equipment at all, so we wondered how we were going to do it. Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be a huge number of camping equipment rental companies, but we found Rent-A-Tent in Canmore. (They also have an office in Vancouver and I believe you can pick up from one office and drop off at another.)

We have used them twice now and they're great. You walk into their offices and they give you everything you need, and at the end of the trip you take it back to them and they sort out cleaning all the mud and pollen off it (oops). As well as giving you equipment, they're campers themselves and can tell you about places to stop, things to do, and have some great links with local tour operators as well. On top of that, they are really friendly guys; Canadian hospitality must surely rival Southern hospitality.

...you can't be bothered to clean up after yourself

This is actually a serious one. On every single campsite (and on most trails and day-use areas) in Canada you will be told and see signs regarding food, food waste and wildlife. All campsites operate the Bare campsite scheme which means you cannot leave anything out which has a food smell; this includes food, food waste, packaging, or even clean dishes or towels. It seems pretty overwhelming to begin with, but you just keep everything in your car or a food locker.

The problem with food smells is that they attract local wildlife, which can be dangerous for them and us because they might end up associating humans with food; they will stop hunting for their own food and will begin to enter campsites looking for food. This is not some kind of scare story either, it happens because of people's ignorance and stupidity.

Last year, we tried to book in at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff but couldn't because the campsite was shut due to a "wolf problem" and they weren't sure when it would reopen. We researched it and discovered that a wolf had been showing "bold behaviour" and entering the campsite frequently, attracted by food left out by campers. Unfortunately, that wolf had to be destroyed because you just can't risk a wolf attacking someone for food. The sad part is that it could have been entirely avoided and it was ignorant humans that cost that wolf it's life.

What's worse is we still saw people ignoring everything they've been told and leaving half-full cups out overnight or rubbish. If you can't be bothered to keep on top of the washing up or keep your campsite bare, don't go camping in Canada.

 

What do you think, think you would like camping in Canada?

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Why you shouldn't go camping in Canada

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Mwnt Beach, Cardigan

Mwnt beach has featured very close to the top of my ‘favourite places’ in the world list for years.

Last week, I was talking to an American couple who had been traveling around the UK for a few weeks and were headed to Wales next. They hadn’t got any solid plans yet and made the mistake of asking me for recommendations. I barely need an invitation to wax lyrical about Mwnt at the best of times, so I think they were a bit taken aback and soon regretted asking. I hope they went and saw it for themselves because it is such a wonderful place. I hope they went and tell all their friends about this beautiful little beach some crazy lady in their hotel told them about.

I first went there over ten years ago when my Nan took me, my sister, and my cousin on holiday. We stayed in a little cottage just up the road from the beach, and we would spend the day in the sea, building sand fortresses with moats and my cousin had an odd habit of collecting jellyfish in a bucket…There’s a hill on one side of the beach, which we used to climb up every night to call our parents. (If they thought they were escaping us by sending us on holiday, they were wrong. Not even rubbish O2 signal on a Welsh beach is going to stop me annoying my Mum.)

The second year my Nan took us away, I think she was expecting to go somewhere else but we loved the place so much we badgered her to go back. I’ve been back a handful of times since then, the last time being with Daz last summer. I would love to pop back before we head up to Edinburgh but it’s looking very unlikely at the moment.

For me, visiting Mwnt beach is almost like a pilgrimage. A lot has happened since my first trip there over a decade ago; I’ve passed exams, I’ve made friends, I’ve lost friends, I’ve had arguments, I’ve mustered the courage to stand up to people, I’ve quit uni, I’ve finished uni, I’ve worried a lot, but I’m still here.

Do you have anywhere like that in your life?

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