Bruce Peninsula – Lion’s Head, Ontario

Summer is here, and I feel guilty for every second I spend that’s not outside, enjoying this gorgeous weather. Instead of hanging around Detroit this weekend, I decided to head off to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario.

The Bruce Peninsula is flanked by the Georgian Bay to the east, and Lake Huron to the west. It’s a designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and once you enter you can absolutely see why. The blue waters of the Georgian Bay make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean (the temperature quickly brings your mind back to Canada), and the forests and cliffs along the water feel like a whole other world.

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Admiring the blue waters of the Georgian Bay.

For accommodation, we decided to get an Airbnb in Wiarton, which is at the base of the Bruce Peninsula. From there, you can make your way up to the numerous National and Provincial Parks along the Peninsula. If I could do it again, I would stay somewhere in the middle. It takes around an hour to drive from Wiarton to the tip of the peninsula (Tobermory), which meant we couldn’t do as much as we wanted to on Sunday.

We decided to spend our Saturday up in Lion’s Head. This is a small town that has an access point to the Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail runs along the Georgian Bay all the way up the peninsula. Lion’s Head is a great place to get a feel for the trail with a 10-mile loop that goes along the coast, and comes back in through the forest.

The trail was absolutely beautiful. We started off going through the forest first. The trees were tall, and so wonderfully green. We started off this way so we could save the best for last. After about an hour in the forest, we broke out and were able to catch a first glimpse of the Georgian Bay. As we walked along the coast, the views kept getting better and better from the multitude of lookout points. Seriously, it felt like every 100 feet there was another cliff to stand on and admire the water. We walked for another few hours along the coast, and eventually made it back to the car.

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The start of our hike led us through this beautiful forest. Beware of the bugs, however!

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One of the many pit stops we took along the Bruce trail. It was hard to resist those views!

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Cliffs everywhere! 

The loop itself takes around 6 hours to finish, and the trail head is located on Moore street in Lion’s Head. It’s not very difficult (minimal elevation gain), but you definitely spend a lot of time admiring the views. The rocks can get slippery, so make sure to bring shoes with good grips! There were also so many bugs in the forest, and we instantly regretted not bringing bug spray. There’s nowhere to stop and refill water bottles along the way, so make sure you bring enough to last you the six hours. I would also recommend long pants, as there was so much poison ivy along the path.

Once you’re done, make sure to head over to Marydale’s Family Restaurant in Lion’s Head. The food is delicious, and the service is amazing!

If you want to spend some time exploring Lion’s Head, they have kayaks available for rent to go into the Georgian Bay, and  beach that you can relax on. They also have a lighthouse to see, and an observation deck. Lion’s Head is a dark sky reserve, so if you’re out at night and want to see the stars (including the Milky way), I would definitely check it out. We didn’t have the opportunity to go because it was cloudy, but we’ll be there next time!

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This lighthouse is in the town of Lion’s head. It’s a small town, but definitely worth it to explore!

I would highly recommend this trail in the Bruce Peninsula! It’s a beautiful way to spend the day, and so so so worth the drive.

-nina

 

 

Icefields Parkway Road Trip

After we had our fill of Banff (okay not our fill, but we figured we should make it up to Jasper at some point), we took the Icefields Parkway up to Canada’s largest national park. The Icefields Parkway is a road that will take you from Banff all the way to the town of Jasper (which is in Jasper national park… yes, it’s all very confusing). It also happens to be one of the most beautiful roads in the world. There’s tons of place to stop along the way, so definitely make a day out of it. You can take some hikes, look at icefields, admire mountains, and even jump into some freezing lakes. For our trip down the parkway, we took the following stops.

Herbert Lake

Distance from Banff: 62.4 km

Distance from Jasper: 226 km

This is the first stop along the parkway. Lonely Planet said you would be able to see the reflection of some mountain in it if the water is still enough. Unfortunately, the water was not still enough. Fortunately, there were bathrooms there so we could begin the never-ending stream of people saying they needed to pee.

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You can kind of see the reflection of the mountain!

Crowfoot Glacier

Distance from Banff: 91 km

Distance from Jasper: 198 km

After having just learned what a glacier was, I was intrigued in finding one that looked like the foot of a crow. The book said it was actually a two-toed crow because one of the glaciers had already melted (very sad, very sad). It was a nice stop off on the road, but we had to hurry back before the tour buses caught up and forced us to sit behind a caravan of cars desperately trying to pass.

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You can see the remnants of the third toe that melted away.

Bow Lake

Distance from Banff: 93.6 km

Distance from Jasper: 194 km

We knew bow lake would be amazing because there were approximately 6,087 tour buses parked alongside it. We wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. Turns out, the light mist we passed through made a rainbow right over the lake! We snapped a few pictures, but didn’t make it out before the tour buses. Fortunately, our next stop wasn’t too far away, so we could endure the slow pace of the buses as we went on the Peyto Summit.

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We had some amazing luck to see this rainbow! It only lasted for a few minutes.

Bow Lake / Peyto Summit

Distance from Banff: ~94 km

Distance from Jasper: 195 km

The summit was a short uphill walk from the parking lot (which was so full). It was a nice chance to stretch our legs. It was fairly steep, and I was pretty excited to see what was on top. The pictures mentioned beautiful mountains, but what I got was a sea of selfie sticks. Sure, if you can manage to find a higher vantage point, the view is absolutely amazing, but honestly it was just too crowded. There were people in the dirt part under the platform, so we ventured down there to get some space. A few minutes later, a park ranger yelled at everyone saying there were signs saying to not go off the main path. Woops (I really didn’t see any signs I swear!). We meandered back to the car, and someone pee’d in the bushes because it had been 10 minutes and that is apparently the theme of our trip.

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The view is absolutely amazing. Not pictured: A sea of selfie sticks.

Parker Ridge

Distance from Banff: 173.4 km

Distance from Jasper: 115 km

Parker Ridge is a hike off the side of the parkway. It takes around 2 hours, and has an elevation gain of 250m. It’s definitely a great way to stretch your legs after a long day in the car. When we went, it was sort of drizzling by the parking lot. It wasn’t too bad, so we decided to zip up our raincoats and go for it, in the hopes of finding the dramatic glacier views we were promised.

Luck was not with us that day. The higher we went, the colder it got. It started to snow! The fog rolled in and we saw some hints of a glacier. Oh well, at least I burned off some of those granola bars I was eating in the car…

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You can see a hint of glacier behind me…

Horseshoe Lake

Distance from Banff: 260 km

Distance from Jasper: 28 km

Okay, so we actually went here on the way back down to Banff from Jasper, but I just had to mention it. Horseshoe lake is full with beautiful blue/green/clear water. The sign for it isn’t too big, and many people just drive right by it. We stopped in, and decided to take a walk before making our way back. Much to our surprise, we saw some kids cliff jumping! I had never cliff jumped before, so couldn’t say no to the opportunity. I quickly changed into my bathing suit, stood on the edge, and dove right in. The water was FREEZING. Like knock the breath out of you freezing (it’s glacier water, this totally makes sense). It was a struggle to swim back, but absolutely worth it.

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You can see people lined up along the cliff edge, ready to jump into the ice water.

The ice fields parkway is something you definitely want to take a day to explore. This is one of those things that feels more about the journey than the destination. There are so many amazing stops to make. It makes it so difficult to choose just a few!

-nina

 

 

Lake Louise – a fantastic Canada day

On our second day in Banff, we decided to spend the day around the Lake Louise area. We arrived at around 6:30am, again, to make sure that we had some sort of solitude before the masses showed up. We pulled up to the parking lot, and were greeted with a huge, ice blue lake surrounded by mountains. There were only about 15 people, so we had plenty of room to be super basic and take awesome photos by the lake.

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This rock was quite the photo spot when we came back in the afternoon. There was a line of people waiting to take a photo!

That day we planned on doing the hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house and the hike to the Lake Agnes tea house. It’s pretty common to do both in a day because you can just hop on the trail to the other one about halfway through backtracking back to Lake Louise. The Plain of Six Glaciers hike was supposed to be the easier one, and still exhausted from the day before, we decided to ease into the day by doing this one first.

It started off with a stroll along the lake. The path was very easy to walk on, and you could appreciate the blueness of the lake. Once you get to the other side, it starts to become more uphill, and you walk higher and higher into the mountains. Snowfields covered parts of the trail, but it wasn’t anything too difficult as long as you were wearing the right shoes (hiking boots, people!). The path follows a ridge along a valley, and Lake Louise is always in view behind you. The trail gets considerably steeper towards the end, and just about when you’re ready to quit, you arrive at the tea house!

The tea house is a log cabin with prayer flags hung around and a resident Irish wolfhound ready to play. We arrived around 9:30am, and were able to find a seat on the balcony for the four of us. We ordered tea, soup, and chili. Kind of an early lunch, but we couldn’t resist!

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Our delicious meal at the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house. Everything was vegetarian!

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Oh how I love tea…

After we finished our lunch (breakfast? brunch? who knows), we made our way to the Plain of Six Glaciers viewpoint. This viewpoint is only 1.5km from the tea house. It’s a crowded trail, so make sure to get all that tea out of your system BEFORE you start walking. There’s like zero privacy for those of us with small bladders. Zero.

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The viewpoint takes about 20 minutes to get to from the tea house. You can see mountains and glacier paths off to the side, and Lake Louise in the front!

After sprinting back to the tea house to use the bathroom, we made our way back to jump on the trail to the Lake Agnes tea house. On our way back, we passed hordes of people making their way up to the tea houses. Again, so glad we went up there early. There was no chance of getting a table any later than we got there.

We found the fork in the road that led to Lake Agnes, and started to make our way up there. That hike was considerably harder. It was a lot steeper, but nonetheless a beautiful hike through the forest. You were able to see Lake Louise peak through the trees, and you really started to feel like you earned your lunch. The rain started to drizzle on us, so we hurried our butts over to the tea house.

We were hoping that because it was a harder hike, there would be less people. Boy, were we wrong. It was even more crowded than the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house (we really need to do research beforehand…). Standing in the rain, we didn’t decide to hang around for long. We still had a long way to go down the mountain. We did stay just to take a few pictures. I stuck with taking some photos of the lake. Alex on the other hand… he thought it would be awesome to stand on this log in the middle of the lake and strike a pose. He did a little bit, but not before he fell and soaked his boots in the freezing water.

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A moody Lake Agnes. Pro tip: don’t stand on that tree in the lake unless you want your boots to get all soaked.

We hurried our way down (much to the dismay of our knees). The trail to get down was so so so crowded, so we wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. When we emerged from the trail, we saw swarms of people taking photos around the lake. We also saw people dressed in traditional Canadian wear (I think?). It was Canada day!

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Happy Canada day, eh!

I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate this country than by hiking around one of its most beautiful lakes and enjoy tea houses in the wilderness!

-nina

A day at Moraine lake

We spent our first day in Banff exploring the Moraine Lake area. This lake is one of Banff’s top attractions – for good reason. The ice blue water is part of the natural melting/freezing cycle of the glaciers, and the ten peaks surrounding the lake offer grand views that can make anyone feel tiny in comparison. Although smaller in comparison to its sister – Lake Louise, it offers beautiful (and difficult) hikes in the surrounding area that offer a bit of solitude, and the most astounding mountain views you’ll ever see.

To see the lake sans massive crowds and tour buses, and to also guarantee a parking spot, I suggest arriving very early in the morning. I arrived at around 6:30am to a half empty parking lot. There were only about ten others around the lake, and plenty of room to explore. When we walked by the lake as we were leaving, it was swarmed with tourists trying to take pictures of themselves in front of the water.

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If you arrive early, it’s incredibly quiet around Moraine lake. Definitely worth it to avoid the shuttle and all the tour buses!

After beating the tour buses and shuttles and getting your crowd-less fill of the lake, you have the opportunity to hike on various trails in the surrounding area. One of my favorite hikes of the entire trip was the Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass trail. The trail head is right along Moraine lake. As you walk up the fairly steep incline, you start to get some electric blue peaking in through the trees. Going higher, you begin to see the treeline thin out, and suddenly the ten peaks make an appearance within the Larch Valley. There’s no sign to indicate that you made it, but don’t worry. You’ll know.

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The ten peaks made an appearance! You can tell I’m really happy to see mountains!

This is a great place to stop and take a break, or in my case, eat an entire box of Wheat Thins. The climb to this point is strenuous, and your legs could definitely use the break (and you’re tummy could use the snack!). If you decide to continue onward, you’ll be faced with some incredibly steep and thin switchbacks to take you up the Sentinel Pass. It’s pretty daunting to look at, but the views are so so so worth it. It’s not uncommon for snowfields to cover parts of the trail, making climbing the pass technically challenging. Move slowly, and when you arrive, take in the amazing mountain and valley views to both sides of you.

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The ten peaks as seen from the top of the sentinel pass!

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The other side of the sentinel pass. Literally, mountains everywhere!

Getting down was a little tricky. The switchbacks are only wide enough for one person to go at a time, and the snowfields proved pretty daunting to go on downhill. We opted to slide down the gravel all the way to the bottom instead of taking the snow route again.

As you hike your way back down, there is a trail that splits off about halfway through that leads to Eiffel Lake. This trail is very long (5.4km one way), but if you walk about 20 minutes along the trail, you’ll be rewarded with some clear, birds-eye views of Moraine Lake. This trail is on the ridge, and offers dramatic views of the ten peaks as well. We made it about 45 minutes along what we thought was a short trail (it’s not, it’s 5.4km one way!), before admitting defeat and turning back (we didn’t do much research, haha). Tired, we trudged back, only to be surprised with this view!

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I’m not entirely sure how we missed this on the way out…

After you make your way back, make sure to take a seat and grab a cup of tea from the cafe near the lake. Your quads will feel like jello, and your knees will be exhausted from all the downhill walking. Revel in the fact that you just hiked about 10km and gained 750m in elevation. Those views were definitely worth it!

-nina