This time of year puts me in the mood to get outdoors, do a bit of hiking, paddle in the water … or at least thinking of those summertime activities. Warm weather gets me particularly itching to go camping. Raised as I was in pre-Hollywood Montana, when you could still taste a bit of frontier tang on the air, camping was my definition of “family vacation” until I was about 25. People might go to Disneyland or the Caribbean on TV, but in real life families went camping.
Living about an hour from Yellowstone National Park, and with an abundance of Rocky Mountain wilderness all around us, we never had a shortage of places to camp within easy driving distance. But for some reason — probably that wanderlust in my family’s blood — once a year or so we got a hankering to travel a bit further, to head north. With kids packed precariously in the back of a beat-up Suburban (seat belts scavenged from even older cars), my parents drove up to one of their favorite places on earth, Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.
With mountains wilder and far craggier than their slightly southern cousins, the Rockies of the Canadian West are manna for the escapist soul. The hikes are steep, the summer evenings cold, the lakes stupendously blue. Lake Louise, pictured above in its usual turquoise shade, attracts between one and two million people a year, despite its seemingly remote location. In high summer, or during peak travel in August, even the semi-strenuous 5-hour hike up around the lake and over the other side of a mountain is a pretty busy thoroughfare.
But that doesn’t affect its heart-stopping beauty, nor does the partway point marked by a tea house. Something akin to beer-and-sausage huts maintained for hardy hikers in the upper reaches of the Alps, Lake Louise’s tea house has got to be one of the cooler things I’ve seen in a lifetime of hiking. Been slogging and sweating for three hours? Cool your feet in a lake — we have plenty — and restore yourself with jasmine tea and a piece of cake before the journey down.
Here in my Hudson Valley home, it’s time to think about gardening and possible summer trips overseas. But in this mountain girl’s heart, the thoughts that preoccupy are of the open road, of chilly mountains, startling glacier-fed lakes, campfires, and waking up at dawn, in a cold tent, the Canadian Rockies brooding overhead.