My husband, Rob and I had been wanting to explore Banff National Park since we discovered this magical land existed, which wasn't until we moved to Seattle about 2 1/2 years ago. If you know us, then you also know that we love to explore via camper vans. From Hawaii to New Zealand, and now Banff, Jasper, and Mt Robson National Parks it's our favorite way to explore to see as much as possible!
With Rob turning 30 we decided to make this road trip one for the books and booked our flights for June, just after his birthday. June-August/September is the best time of the year to go weather wise, but it is also CROWDED. So you may want to consider off season if you are trying to avoid the crowds and are okay with a little bit of snow and colder weather. With that said, I do have some tips to avoid the crowds and see just as much beauty if you want the warm weather and blue skies, so continue to read on.
We took a late flight after work on a Friday into Calgary, Alberta and when we arrived we spent the night close to the airport (where I made friends with the only cat I will ever like). The next morning, we took it slow after a long work week, went for a short run (the elevation got to us), picked up some coffee, showered (because who knows when we get our next shower) and headed out to pick up one of the coolest (decor wise) vans we have rented thus far from Karma Camper Vans. They are a newer company and we were the first to take the van out, so this gave me all kinds of giddiness and feels.
After picking up our camper van, next stop was to a grocery store where we needed to stock up on food for the week! Cooking on the road is one my favorite parts. I can't really explain why. I think it's because we take it back to the basics and who doesn't like to cook outside? There is something freeing and liberating about it, no distractions, just connecting with the outdoors and paying full attention to the food you are preparing and putting into your body. There is no better way to reconnect to our most basic needs than being outside exploring and camping. After we picked up groceries, we headed off towards Banff, which is about an hour and half west. Since we took our morning slow and spent a decent amount of time learning about the van before we headed off, we didn't have much daylight left, so once we got into Banff we decided to find a campground close by to settle in, make dinner, relax, and plan the rest of our trip.
After cooking up some dinner, we decided to hit the hay early so we could venture to the famous Lake Louis a 50 minute drive NW in the morning.
Day 2: Lake Louis and The Plain of Six Glaciers Hike. The drive was beautiful, but when we arrived to the town of Lake Louis, we soon realized we were not the only ones with this idea. Since it is a huge tourist attraction, we were re-rerouted to shuttles, with over an hour and a half wait, which would then take you from the parking lot (11KM away from Lake Louis) to the Lake, should have done a little more research on this ourselves! This is not the way Lake Louis was marketed to us through the instagramsss... AnyWHO once we got to the shuttles, I asked one of the rangers if there was any way to walk up to Lake Louis, rather than waiting over an hour. He suggested we park in the town of Lake Louis which was only 5KM away from the lake and walk from there rather than the shuttle parking lot. This was genius, because there was a hiking trail we found along the way that took us from the town to the lake, but “OH SNAP!” once we arrived, DISNEY LAND on steroids once again. Tourist, selfie sticks, Instagram models ERRYYWHERE. My recommendation is to go early (like 6AM early) we got there around 10AM and this most certainly was not early enough.
To our relief, the further you trekked down the lake path, the more dispersed the people were and the less crowded it became. There are a few hikes you can take around the lake, but I would recommend doing one of the tea house hikes, which start at Lake Louis.
We did The Plain of Six Glaciers hike to the Teahouse, a 13.8 km out and back hike. This hike was incredible! Not only were the views breath taking, with views of Lake Louis from behind and Glaciers in your face, but you also get to enjoy a treat at the painfully charming tea house, tucked in the Glacier Valley. Fill your belly mid hike with your choice of freshly baked scones, pies, cakes, hummus, breads, and of course TEA- which will be at 3.7 miles in! Everything is made from scratch and all of the ingredients are either hiked in or flown in by helicopter. The servers hike in themselves and spend a few days up in the valley. This sounds like an epic summer job to me for college/high school students! If only I could go back in time. We stopped prior to heading to the top of the trail. There are also out houses available, if an emergency arises!
After stopping at the tea house, we trekked to our destination, which is where we found the most solitude. We hiked atop the ridges of old moraines on the north edge of the Victoria Glacier, where you eventually end up at a dead end on steep rocks, over looking the glacier and for us, a waterfall.
Since we hiked from our car, this ended up being close to an 11 mile day for us so we were pretty pooped by the end. We hiked our way down, which was just as breathtaking, met a friend from Australia, relaxed a little at Lake Louis, and headed to our next campsite for the evening. Although we wanted to explore more in the Banff area, we also wanted to get away from the crowds, so Jasper was our next destination. If you can, Lake Moraine is another destination in Banff close by. The next three days of our trip into Jasper and Mt Robson will be posted soon!
Adventures can be found in any city. I have shared bits and pieces of my heritage on the blog and social interwebs. If you follow along on Instagram, I am sure you saw that my recent two-week vacation included some sweats with a view. I owe my favorite one to my husband. He wanted to find a unique activity for us during our time in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unlike the PNW, there is not a huge trails association in Bosnia. You can imagine my surprise when he suggested we change our plans for a ride on the new cable car in Sarajevo to a hike to the top of Trebević Mountain.
He found a few blogs through a quick google search that supplied limited information on hikes, including this one. The blog posts were fairly new and did not give the clearest directions on how to find the trail, but we took some screenshots before departing the safety of wifi! We drove to the Pino Nature Hotel, which is where the cable car ends its journey from Stari Grad (Old Town) Sarajevo, and spent a couple of hours exploring the old bobsled track that remains from the 1984 Winter Olympics. If you are in Sarajevo on Holiday, I would highly recommend walking through the track. It has deteriorated and is riddled with graffiti, but there is something stunning about the way it is shaped by the mountainous landscape.
After exploring the bobsled track remains, we decided to continue on with our planned hike. I will admit that we were a little confused by the prior blog directions and drove up to a second lodge that sits above the new Pino Hotel. We parked our car and argued about where the trail markers could be. We knew from a video that the trail should be marked by paint on the trees—a white circle with a red outline. Andy found a trail, but it was for one of the smaller, side hiking trails leading to the “Planinarski Dom.” We saw the appropriate markings and a screenshot of the trail map that I took by the Hotel confirmed that the side hiking trail would link up with the main trail. We were warmly greeted by a stray dog, who was unexpectedly friendly and decided to join us for the adventure. Meet “Smoki”, who I named after a nostalgic Bosnian snack of peanut flavored puffs that kids enjoy.
Andy, Smoki, and I set out on our adventure expecting the hike to take about 3 hours round trip based on previous reports. We had water, pretzels, dried apricots, and cashews in our pack and turned on Map My Run to log the hike. It had been raining in Sarajevo for the past few days, but our Seattle souls weren’t going to a let a little sprinkle stop us. UNTIL WE GOT LOST. Or disoriented might be a better description? The side hiking trail linked us up to a gravel road, but without wifi or google maps, it was difficult to discern which way to go. We looked at our screen shots and the satellite signal we were getting on our phones, and tried to sort out which way to go. Unfortunately, due to the recent rain the trail was muddy and turned into a slip and slide for Andy and I in our Nikes. Smoki did just fine. We eventually stumbled across the real, main route after a minor panic attack by me. For those of you that aren’t aware, the mountains surrounding Sarajevo is where numerous snipers and ammunition resided during the war. There were also mines planted throughout the mountains and for years I was warned about this. It was a little paralyzing, but my husband calmed me down with some logic and promised me we would stick to the trail and not off road it anymore. Continuing on despite this mental obstacle and our limited knowledge was the first summit of the day.
Once you are on the main trail, it is clearly marked and a steady climb with a 1079 meter elevation gain including some switchbacks to the top of Trebević Peak (sits at 1629 meters). The three of us did not encounter any other hikers and only crossed paths with a lone mountain biker. There was something therapeutic about hiking in my hometown, on an unknown trail, with no other souls. We entertained ourselves by teaching Andy more Bosnian (he can now proudly count to 10). When we got to the top we found a bulletin that shared details of the trail, including that the beginning of the work and end occurred in October and November of 2017, respectively. It was new! No wonder my family wasn’t aware of the trail and it was impossible to find blog posts or much info out there. The bulletin shared additional information, including the total length of the trail which is listed as 10 km roundtrip (6.2 miles). The total hike distance we tracked ended up being just about 7 miles and took under 3 hours round trip!
Andy and I enjoyed the views of stunning Sarajevo and Bosnia at the summit and shared our hiking snacks with Smoki, who was loyal to us throughout the whole adventure. We saw other towns in the distance, mountain peaks for kilmeters on end, and below us a sheep herder with his flock. I felt a different type of pride in accomplishing this peak with Andy. It was not the most challenging hike we have done together nor was it the most breathtaking view (Mount Rainier and Vesper still take the cake), but it was the most meaningful. In a way my two worlds collided –the little girl who was born in Sarajevo and returned to see her country and family and the younger woman I am today who loves chasing summits.
I wanted to make this hike simpler for anyone who chooses to visit Sarajevo and take a chance on adventure. Drive up to the Pino Nature Hotel and park in their lot. To the right of the café/restaurant you will see a children’s playground. Walk past that and you will see the trail markers for Vrh Trebevića (Trebević Peak). Follow the marked, painted trees that will take you to your destination. If it’s been raining, I would recommend hiking shoes in place of tennies, although it is doable albeit dirty. This trail is year-round and can be used for mountaineering in the winter. After you accomplish your summit, enjoy a treat at the Hotel. Word to the wise, it is a “dry” hotel so no alcohol on site. Hoping for more trails to conquer on future travels back to Bosnia.