Banff Lodge to Lodge or Wilderness Camping
By Cheyenne Steffen
Summer vacation time is almost here. It’s nearly time to start wrapping up that last work project, take some time off and attempt to not think about e-mails, phone calls and deadlines. But how well did you do with “putting work behind you” during your last vacation?
In recent studies in Canada and the USA majorities of the people polled admit to being hooked on their cell phones for work and to keep up with social buzz. An AP-Ipsos poll reports that many people interrupt their time to unwind by checking in with the office, checking work e-mails or being inundated with social obligations.
Being “connected” is great for convenience and instant communication but not for quality rest and relaxation. However, there is a way to completely escape the trappings of our hectic lives and enter a world where an entirely new level of relaxation manifests. Last summer that’s exactly what 25-year-old Katie Long from Toronto came to Alberta to discover.
Her mom, Gail Marshall, agreed to be Long’s traveling companion and together they tucked away their beloved cell phones and lap tops in favour of cowboy hats and trail mix snacks. The pair headed to Banff, Alberta to begin their horseback adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
“My Blackberry is attached to my hip 24/7,” says Long, an account representative for a chemical firm. “It’s the first thing I touch in the morning and the last thing I touch at night. This trip is a chance to re-charge myself and put the Blackberry away for a while.”
The traveling mother and daughter booked a three-day trail ride with two nights staying in a log cabin lodge at one of Banff National Park’s historic sites. It’s a popular trip offered by Hidden Trails (www.hiddentrails.com).
The ride leaves from the stables in Banff where the first leg of the trip meanders at a leisurely pace through picturesque forest trails. The views, even in the early portion of the ride, are fabulous and include glorious mountain ranges, crystal clear flowing rivers and quite often a sighting of a herd of elk or two.
One of the best features of this excursion generally comes as a surprise to most travelers – it’s the air. The oxygen itself is delicious in this grand area of Banff Park. Your senses will thank you for the opportunity to breathe in the clean, crisp mountain air filled with the fresh aromas of forest foliage and rich dark soil.
“This is so much better than I thought,” said Marshall, 60-years-old. “I wasn’t sure about doing this at first but Katie was really insistent. Once I got here and took a deep breath… the air smells so good! I felt instantly relaxed.”
The first leg of the morning takes about 90 minutes at which point most guests are eager to stretch their newfound saddle-legs. The guides on these rides also double as cooks on the trail. They quickly whip together a portable cook stove, fire and all the fixing for a barbeque lunch. There is lengthy time to explore the area or even have a little nap before mounting back up and heading onto the trail for the remainder of the 10-mile ride to Sundance Lodge.
Completed in 1991, Sundance Lodge now sits on the original site of the horse corral for Ten-Mile cabin, built by Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1920s. The original cabin remains standing and was declared a historic site in 1990.
Sundance Lodge, built to accommodate vacationing guests, sits alongside a gentle curve on Brewster Creek with the Sundance mountain range as a backdrop. Built entirely with fir logs, the lodge has 10 sleeping rooms, a large country kitchen and a cozy living room area complete with a woodstove.
At the end of the afternoon ride travelers are rewarded by their arrival at the beautiful lodge. The accommodation is several levels above camping out in the open. It’s fairly luxurious and even offers electricity and hot showers. However, the lodge sits in Banff’s backcountry so don’t bother trying to use your cell phone because there’s no coverage. There’s also no television and no computer. What’s left? Just a flowing creek and resplendent mountain range to enjoy, not to mention a gourmet meal prepared by the lodge’s in-house cook.
“I’ve completely geared down already,” says a glowing Long at the end of the first day. “I love that there’s no way to check my e-mail or cell. The scenery here is amazing.”
There’s a fire pit and benches in the yard so several visitors gather in the evening for a bonfire and to be regaled by stories from the trail guides. The next day there’s a valley ride along Brewster Creek. You’ll spend about five hours in the saddle on day two but there’s another long lunch break and an entirely new mountain range to see.
Riders are mostly inexperienced or novices. You don’t need experience on horseback to enjoy these trail rides. The guides offer brief training and tips along the way and, of course, the horses are trained for the backcountry.
Traveling by horseback is generally the only way to access the backcountry in Banff National Park. The trails and area are secluded enough that you won’t see many, if any, other travelers outside of your group. This provides an optimal environment to spot wildlife of various species. It’s a photographer’s paradise and whether you’re a practiced photographer or not, the scenery itself will guarantee you’ll take spectacular shots.
“I haven’t thought about work at all during this trip,” said Long. “I’ve never been able to say that after a vacation before. I’ll be back next year, but I’ll book a longer trip next time!”
Hidden Trails offers various trail ride ‘escapes’.
In Banff you can chose between camping and lodge rides from 3 to 6 days: