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

South Higgins Lake State Park

If you’re looking for a party campground, you’ve found the right place! South Higgins Lake State Park is complete with campsites stacked almost on top of each other, fire pits, open container laws, and picnic tables. Many people pull up their RV’s, plug in their space heaters, and enjoy the comforts of home while surrounded by nature (kind of).

Camping at this state park isn’t a bad time. If you go with friends, food, and plenty of beer, you’ll have a great time. The scenery is also quite stunning. The first night we arrived, we were surprised with an absolutely beautiful sunset.

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Sunset on Higgins lake.

Many of my friends decided to swim, but I was put off by the freezing cold water and the abundant signs warning of swimmers itch. Those who went in seemed to have an excellent time, though!

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Some of the guys debating whether they should go into the water.

For those uninterested in taking a dip, there were some hiking trails across the road. If you’re looking for any solitude here, take a hike! There are 1, 3, and 5 miles loops that you can take around another lake in the area. There is minimal elevation gain, and tons of trees!

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There are few easy trails around the state park for those who want to get away from the crowds.

When taking these trails, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray! We were attacked by mosquitos, and had to cut the walk short. You should also bring some waterproof shoes. There was tons of mud!

The majority of the weekend consisted of cooking, hiking, and drinking beer. It wasn’t a solitary weekend in the woods, but it was fun nonetheless! Definitely a way to get away from the same bars in the same towns with your friends for the weekend!

-nina

P.S. Before you head out, make sure your car has a Michigan recreation passport. It’s a little sticker that goes on your windshield. If you don’t have one, you can purchase one at the campground for $16 that is valid for a year!

Smokey Mountains Getaway

As memorial day approached, the weather FINALLY started to get nicer. This has been the longest winter ever. Although pretty snow and skiing and winter wonderlands are beautiful, I was about ready to pack up my parka and bring out my hiking boots and tank tops. With a three-day weekend approaching, I thought this was the perfect time to make the drive down to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee.

Nine hours of driving seemed way shorter than it actually was. It also seemed shorter when you weren’t leaving after a full day of work, but oh well. Leaving Detroit at 3:30pm on a Friday meant getting in to Tennessee at 1am. Who needs sleep when there’s beautiful mountains to see in the morning?

The lack of sleep didn’t deter us from waking up bright and early to have a full day of hiking ahead. We showed up to the ranger station, and said we wanted VIEWS. Beautiful mountain views. That’s all I wanted, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned!

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Believe it or not, I did make it to the top of the mountain. Surrounded by fog!

The ranger suggested doing the hike to Charlie’s Bunion. I could only imagine how beautiful the mountains would look, but unfortunately we were in a cloud. It was white everywhere. Oh well, it had it’s own type of beauty. It kind of felt like we were on the edge of the world.

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Feeling like I’m on the edge of the world!

After a full day of hiking, we ventured into Gatlinburg. Everyone I knew said they hated it there. I must say, it was an incredibly touristy town. However, how could you not have fun going through mirror mazes and playing mini golf? I had a mediocre dinner of french fries and lettuce (yay, veganism in the South!), and walked around town. The sun started to peak out, so Gus thought it would be a great idea to rent some little zippy convertible car and drive around. In theory, it sounded great, but the weather in the Smokey’s is unpredictable. The start of the drive was really fun (for him, I thought I was going to die. It accelerated a bit faster than my Chevy Cruze haha). As we went further into the mountains, it started TO POUR. Now, I don’t mind the rain too much, but when it’s hitting you at 60mph, then it really starts to hurt! Not as much fun. You live and you learn, and it’s pretty funny to look back on.

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The amazing mirror maze!

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It’s soooo trippy in here.

The next day, we headed back to the same ranger station (Sugarlands visitor center if you’re curious). The forecast said rain was expected by 11am, so we had planned to do two shorter hikes so we wouldn’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere as it started pouring. We started off with another hike meant to produce views, so started the walk to the LeConte lodge. It’s this cute little lodge that you have to hike 5 miles up to, and ugh don’t I wish we had stayed there. The initial plan was to stop halfway, but the sun was shining so bright and we were finally seeing mountains, that we decided to go all the way up! Fast forward like four hours, and we finally made it to the peak! The peak was again, covered in white. We had apparently walked up too far and entered the cloud. The trail itself though was amazing. It made the foot pain and 6 hours of walking totally worth it (although I was pretty done about a mile from the end).

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This was just along the trail to the top. It was a beautiful hike!

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We walked all the way up to the clouds.

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Feeling some serious Lord of the Rings vibes up here.

With 10 miles of hiking and enough elevation to take us up into the clouds, we thought a few beers were very well deserved. Smoky Mountain Brewery in Gatlinburg was perfect for the occasion. We both got flights and tried basically every beer they brewed in house. They also had vegetarian/vegan options! It was a fantastic restaurant (especially compared to wherever else we were eating). It was a great way to end our short trip, and prepare for the long drive the next day.

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A well-deserved flight of beer from Smoky Mountain Brewery!

Our trip consisted of 18 miles of hiking, 18 hours in the car, and tons of memories. Was it worth the distance? Absolutely! I definitely can’t wait to go back!