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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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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Lake Minnewanka and Mount Inglismaldie at night

There are some things you can't imagine ever needing to say and "we're not going to be eaten by wolves" is a phrase I certainly never imagined myself saying. That said, I did have to tell my sister and various people we work with that we weren't going to be eaten by bears while camping.

Daz and I are both flappers. We don't seem to get stressed about the same things at the same time, which is great because while I'm convinced we're gonna die in a kayaking accident 10 feet from the shore, he's says "no we're not, I got this." Which is great because I believe him over the voices in my head that try to tell me everything is dangerous.

Last August, we were booking campsites for our trip and we really wanted to stay at Two Jack Lakeside. We'd looked at all the other Parks Canada sites in the Banff area and Two Jack was easily the most beautiful and quietest looking. We tried to book and were halted by a message saying that due to a "wolf problem" the site wasn't accepting bookings at that time.

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Cloud over Lake Minnewanka

We soon discovered that some idiots had left food out at the site, which had attracted wolves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you provide a wild animal with a really easy source of food, they'll come back to find it again. Not only does that cause them problems by making them dependent on humans, but I think you'll agree a tent is probably next to useless in protecting you against a hungry wolf. You may as well wear Lady Gaga's meat dress and offer yourself to them. On a more serious note, a wolf had to be destroyed because of someone's thoughtless actions. The campsite re-opened and that was where we ended up staying for the last couple of nights of our trip. It totally surpassed our expectations and we're going back there again this summer, so it is definitely worth a visit if you're planning to stay in the Banff area.

It had been cloudy our entire trip and on the last night we finally had some clear sky, so I wanted to try a bit of nighttime photography. We drove to a little jetty (if that's what you call it) at Lake Minnewanka and I started faffing about with my camera.

This time, it was Daz's turn to stress. It was pretty much pitch black and we were the only people about. We'd been told to be vigilant for wolves (we didn't see any), had seen signs up about wolf sightings on trails in the area, and for some reason I'd seen fit to park at almost the furthest point away on the car park, which was surrounded by forest. This is how horror movies start.

It's one of those situations you look back on and wonder what on earth you were thinking. Especially given childhood nightmares about being eaten by a black demon dog / wolf. If I ever see a horror film again, I won't ask "what were they thinking?!" because I now understand that they were probably just trying to take some awesome nighttime shots.

Clearly, we did not get eaten by wolves, which I guess is pretty anti-climatic if you were expecting my title to be famous last words. I can't look at these photos of Lake Minnewanka without laughing to myself about the wolf incident.

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Snow clouds at Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is easily one of the most photographed lakes in Canada and it's easy to see why; it's shaped a little like a wolf, is a beautiful milky blue colour, and is right off the Icefields Parkway.

Because of all the reasons above, it was high on our list of places to visit and was one of the first (if not the first) stop we made on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper.

It probably takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk from the car to the first lookout over Peyto Lake, depending on how fit you are because boy it is a steep hill. I was incredibly unfit and Daz would not give me a piggyback. The panting, groaning and pain is worth it to see Peyto Lake with your own eyes and try to fathom that colour, and get a few photos that will probably be an instant Instagram hit (unless you got hit by the sucky new algorithm, yes, I'm bitter) because who doesn't love a lake the colour of the Night King's eyes?

While we were stood here it started to snow and a blanket of cloud descended on us. We had planned to keep walking up the trail to Bow Summit Lookout but wussed out because of the snow. If you decide to do that trail it's a 6km return hike, so it's easily doable in a morning or afternoon.

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit are high up our list for our return trip this summer and we're hoping not to experience snow in June, but who knows?

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake

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7 days in Banff and Jasper, an intinerary
7 days is no where near enough time to discover all that Banff and Jasper have to offer but we found that we got a surprising amount done in a week.

When we arrived at Canadian border control, the chap behind the desk did seem a bit befuzzled about us visiting Canada for just seven days but hey, you do what you can with your holidays.

In reflection, the way we planned our time in Banff and Jasper could have been a little better as we spent a couple of nights in Canmore, before driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days and then coming back down to spend some time in Banff. I'm not suggesting this is the perfect itinerary but I think it gives you a good idea of what things to try and see on the same days.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Day one: Emerald Lake & Takakkaw Falls

Emerald Lake is about an hour and a half drive from Canmore (and a bit less if you're staying in Banff) and boy is it worth the drive. You will no doubt have seen photos like this (to the right) on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest because it is just so beautiful and shareworthy.

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the lake, gawking in absolutely awe of the crazy blue colour of the water which makes it look like photoshop in real life. You can also hire kayaks to go out on the lake as well; we didn't do this but it would certainly be worth it. The price for kayak hire is pretty much the same at all the lakes we went to. We didn't really consider it to be cheap but it is worth it for the memories and experience of getting to kayak on a lake that looks like someone dropped some huge blue bath bombs into.

Pick up a snack from the little hut next to Emerald Lake Lodge and then head down the road to visit Takkakkaw Falls. The road up to the falls is well paved but can be quite windy and tight at times but do not let that deter you because it is stunning. The falls are about a 10-15 minute walk from the car.

If you want to find out more about Emerald Lake, I did a whole blog post about it.

We stayed at: Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

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The Icefields Parkway

Day two: explore the Icefields Parkway

We were camping for the rest of our trip so we picked up our camping equipment from Rent-a-Tent in Canmore. If you are thinking about camping go for it because these guys were amazing and we're hiring from them again this summer.

The Icefields Parkway is a 232 mile (144 km) road connecting Banff and Jasper that features in a lot of "best roads to drive" lists, and for good reasons too. The views from the road are absolutely stunning and there are no shortages of places to stop off; whether it's a lake that is just at the edge of the road or the start of a hiking trail.

We made a few stop offs on the way up, including Peyto Lake and the Athabasca Glacier. It is possible to drive the entire length of the Icefields Parkway but as we stopped off a few times it took us about six hours.

In the evening, take a stroll around Jasper and find somewhere to eat. We found that some of the restaurants stopped serving food about 20:00 - 20:30, I'm not sure if that's normal in Canada but do keep it in mind.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground, a few minutes drive outside Jasper. You can find out more about it and reserve a pitch through Parks Canada.

Maligne Lake boat house and kayak rental

Medicine Lake, just outside Jasper

Day three: Medicine Lake & Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake can be very busy during the high season, so it's worth getting up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, if you get up early you are more likely to see wildlife; we saw a huge elk stood on the bank at the side of the road, looking out across his kingdom. We also saw a bear just outside Jasper early in the morning too.

On the way to Maligne Lake, it's worth stopping off at Medicine Lake and to see some of the eerie looking prescribed burn sites. Interestingly, Medicine Lake isn't really a lake and is actually a part of the Maligne River and it fills up to become a lake when the melt water can't drain away fast enough.

Once you're at Maligne Lake, there are a few trails you can follow, or you can take a boat tour around the lake, or go kayaking. We followed the shortest trail around the edge of the lake and into the forest before deciding to hire a kayak. Let me tell you that I do not recommend you do that if it's a windy day because it was pretty tough and was not entirely relaxing. You can read more about our windy kayaking experience on Maligne Lake here.

On the way back to Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon and had a walk around for about 45 minutes. Heights don't usually bother me, but looking down into the canyon was a little mind-bending.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground again.

Athabasca Falls, just outside Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

A canyon at Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Day four: Around Jasper & Icefields Parkway

In the morning, we explored some of the stops on the Icefields Parkway closest to Jasper. The first one we went to was Athabasca Falls, which is about half an hour out of Jasper, as we decided we'd drive to the furthest point and then start coming back on ourselves. It was basically like a grander and fancier version of the canyon we visited the day before. It had longer trails, a roaring waterfall and the drops seemed even deeper.

The next stop was just a few minutes up the road; Horseshoe Lake and it was a real hidden gem. To get to the other side of the lake you have to follow this trail, which feels quite overgrown in comparison to pretty much all the other trails we saw. It was the only time in Canada where I felt like I might get snook up on by bears. The water looked so inviting and I had to stop myself from jumping in.

After that, we headed back through Jasper and stopped off a Pyramid Lake. When you see Pyramid Mountain from Jasper and the sun hits it at the right angle, it seems to glow a little and reminded us of a dragon's egg, so we took to calling it Dragon Mountain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Edith and Annette Lake. The two lakes are really close together and you can easily walk between the two in a couple of minutes. In between the lakes are loads of picnic areas and you can just imagine how packed it must be come a nice summer day.

 

Snow on the icefields parkway

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Day five: around Banff

We left Jasper just before 11am and only stopped off a couple of times on the way back down the Icefields Parkway to make the most of our time in Banff. It took us about three hours to drive from Jasper to Banff and we headed straight to Two Jack Lakeside campsite to set up our tent.

After being in the car for so long we took a walk around Banff, explored Vermillion Lakes, and Lake Minnewanka. Vermillion Lakes is on the edge of Banff and is a nice little route that takes you past the lakes, that have a distinctive sulphur smell.

There is a loop road around Lake Minnewanka called Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, and there are a couple of trails which start off the loop as well.

Where we stayed: Two Jack Lakeside campsite. Again, this can be reserved through the Parks Canada website.

 

Kayaking on Lake Louise

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Day six: Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

Our sixth day was a seriously jam-packed one. We drove up to Lake Louise to see what all the hype was about; yes, it's very touristy but it is for a good reason because it is beautiful. We followed the Lake Agnes teahouse trail up the mountain to the teahouse, where we enjoyed a spot of well-deserved lunch. It probably took us about 40 - 50 minutes to reach the teahouse and it is possible to go onto do another tea house, called the Big Beehive, but we were not feeling fit enough at all.

When we returned to Lake Louise we decided to hire a kayak for an hour (read more about that here), which was more than enough time because it doesn't take that long to explore the lake.

Afterwards, we drove to Moraine Lake as we'd seen it on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and there were buses, camper vans, and cars parked everywhere. Despite that, it wasn't that crowded and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as crowded as Lake Louise.

I think we both wished we had kayaked on Moraine Lake instead, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For both of us, Moraine Lake was an absolute highlight of the trip so if there is one thing I recommend you do, out of everything listed here or anything you see in guidebooks, it's Moraine Lake. Photos do not do it justice at all.

Kayaks at Moraine Lake, Alberta

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Morning reflection in Two Jack Lake

Day seven: Banff

If you are staying at Two Jack Lakeside, or even in the Banff area, I recommend getting up early and visiting Two Jack Lake as the sun rises. I am not a morning person at all but Daz managed to drag me out of the tent at 7am and I was rewarded with this stunning view. If you're hunting for all the red chairs, there are two on the banks of the lake.

After packing up our tent we went into Banff to get a couple of souvenirs, headed back to Canmore to return the camping equipment, and then went to the airport.

If your flight is later on in the day there are loads more things you could do around Banff, like visit the Cave & Basin museum, take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visit Banff Hot Springs, go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary on the way to the airport, and so much more.

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