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Boasting beauty



Published: Sun, September 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By LAURIE M. FISHER

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

Jagged mountains, aqua-colored alpine lakes and the sweet smell of pine forest of Banff National Park beckoned on a late summer morning. While the adults layered up eager to explore the great outdoors, our daughters sunk deeper under the covers.

Our children are reluctant hikers, with the frustrating exception of strolling through storefronts. Fortunately, we were able to cajole them through easy hikes around marshes, lakes, rivers and canyons to experience the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Park history: Banff National Park is located in Alberta, Canada, about a 90-mile drive from the Calgary airport. The park, established in 1885, was founded around the curative thermal springs on Sulphur Mountain. The town of Banff sits in a valley at an elevation of 4,500. It is named after Banffshire in Scotland, the birthplace of two major financiers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which first made the park accessible to the public.

With the help of the National Park Information Center rangers and several guidebooks, we found relatively flat, easy hikes within an hour's drive of our hotel near the town center.

The Marsh Trail is located near the center of Banff by the Cave and Basin Centennial Center. A flat trail, shared with guided horse excursions, loops through a marsh, which is partially covered by a boardwalk. Area hot springs create a unique environment for wildlife of the Canadian Rockies. It is home to birds like killdeer, snip, American mallard and duck. Coyote and elk frequent the flatlands in late spring.

Photo favorite: Plan to spend at least an hour taking in the scenery. Fisherman and visitors in canoes use the Bow River as a prime recreation spot. Photographers will love the foreground of violet- and tangerine-colored wildflowers and yellow grasses set against towering mountain ranges.

For a different perspective of the long, winding Bow River, drive up Tunnel Mountain Drive to hike the paved pathway to the Hoodoos. From the top of the trail hikers can see the Hoodoos, a grouping of resistant tall pillars of glacial till. The pointed peaks were sculpted from years of wind, snow melt and rainwater. According to Graeme Pole's "Walks and Easy Hikes in the Canadian Rockies" guidebook, Stoney Indians thought the Tunnel Mountain Hoodoos were giants turned to stone or tepees that housed "bad gods."

The Bow Falls trail follows the Bow River from downtown Banff to rushing waterfalls. The hike covers elevation changes and includes steps. The pathway surface varies from pavement to stairs to dirt. The Bow River Falls, along the longest river in the park, is another frequently photographed site. River rafting tours and fisherman expeditions begin downstream from the falls. Continuing past the picturesque Banff Springs Hotel to another hike along the Spray River, the path winds through open fields and into pine forests.

Lake legend: The Stoney Indians named Lake Minnewanka, just eight miles southeast of town, as "Lake of the Water Spirits." Legend explains that the lake belonged to a being, half-fish and half-human, that would move lake waters at will. Natives would neither swim nor canoe in the lake. But modern visitors haven't headed the warnings. The largest lake in Banff National Park is a popular destination, so an early hike is recommended.

In fact, the rugged rocky shoreline offered brave souls and a few crazed dogs the opportunity to jump from rocks into the ice cold waters. A partially paved path along the lake leads to Stewart Canyon, a 30-minute hike. The trail follows the lake's north shore through a mature lodge pole and Douglas Fir pines. After the hike, weary legs can rest on two-hour boat tour to the end of the lake.

While heading northwest on the scenic Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise, a local suggested exploring Johnston Canyon, named for a prospector from Silver City. A paved corridor and suspended walkway through the limestone canyon takes hikers along a river to impressive waterfalls. We walked about one mile to the first of seven waterfalls in the canyon before the predictable hunger and fatigue complaints began to surface.

Furry friends: Our youngest daughter perked up when dozens of ground squirrels begging for breakfast approached tourists. The ice cream stand and gift shop near the parking lot were added incentives to minimize whining.

The Lake Louise shoreline trail is reputed to be the most trafficked area of the Rockies. And beyond the crowded parking lots, it's easy to see why. Mount Victoria looms in the distance. Remnants from a glacier spill into the green waters. Wildflowers, rocky ledges and a pine forest produces picture postcard images.

The farther we walked from the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel near the entrance to the lake, the fewer crowds we encountered. When my family turned back for more snacks, I continued an additional 20 minutes around the lake's perimeter.

Ah, a solo stroll connects with nature. Maybe the next generation will discover the serenity -- after they finish that stick of rock candy.




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