The last week we’ve largely spent revisiting a lot of our favorite summer spots to see them in the winter. I’ve loved the quiet nature time, but it also makes me long for summer and the first couple months of our trip. I miss the long hikes, being totally alone in the mountains, and feeling warm outside. The Tetons, Glacier, and Banff are certainly gorgeous in the winter and there is a quietness that is unique to the snow, but to me winter feels limiting. I think David feels just the opposite, as he loves winter and snow brings him a joy I can’t quite understand.
The Tetons were one of my favorite summer spots and I can still so clearly remember the backpacking trip we did to Paintbrush Divide. In the winter, much of the road through the Tetons is still open with lots of places to snowshoe or ski. We stopped at a few places for photos, a short snowshoe, and a winter walk. I think what is toughest for me about the winter is I want to get farther and higher into the mountains than I can safely do so, scared by the cold and avalanche risk. In the winter we are typically viewing the mountains from afar, versus the feeling of being immersed in the mountains we got in the summer.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is largely closed in the winter, at least from the east side. We were very grateful that one campground, St. Mary’s, is open in the winter and, as far as we could tell, free. You have to bring your own water and only a pit toilet is available, but it was plowed and completely empty. We enjoyed an incredible night sky and woke up for sunrise.
Given Glacier’s popularity in the summer, it felt like a completely different place. In the summer vehicles line-up early in the morning to get a spot at the first-come, first-serve campgrounds and the roads and trails are busy. Now the place feels deserted, with the nearby hotels, gas stations, and restaurants all boarded up. We saw a single other vehicle in the park, leaving us to wonder where its driver went.
We spent a couple days in Banff and Yoho, visiting several new places we hadn’t seen in the winter. We also revisited Lake Louise, which is significantly easier in the winter. I couldn’t find any statistics of visitors to Lake Louise or Banff by month, but based on the ease of finding winter parking right next to the lake, I have to guess the winter visitors are a small fraction of the summer visitors. The lake is still beautiful, although the distinct color and reflection of the mountains are a big part of the appeal to me. It is pretty cool to walk on the lake and stand right in the middle of it.
Before visiting Lake Louise, we stopped in Banff for a night and did a hike through Johnston Canyon. The canyon is one of the more popular winter spots and a was a bit crowded, but we didn’t mind. We decided our crampons were overkill and enjoyed sliding along the path, which fortunately has a railing for most of it.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is just west of Banff and on the drive between Lake Louise and Golden, but we didn’t visit it in the summer (we took a more roundabout route to the south). We hardly saw anyone here and especially enjoyed hiking to Wapta Falls.
While it doesn’t fit with the theme of my post, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Big Sky, given it is one of David’s favorite places. His family went on a weekly ski trip here almost every year while he was growing up and he still talks of the place with awe. I couldn’t believe how much he remembered, as he seemed to know every run and maintain a clear mental map of the place. I was able to view the place more objectively and still agreed it was one of my favorite ski resorts we visited. The views were probably the best and it wasn’t too crowded, even on a Sunday. We enjoyed skiing a few runs and having dinner with some of David’s family friends from Cleveland who own a condo next to the mountain and visit yearly. We spent our evenings relaxing by the fire in the Huntley, the hotel David’s family would stay in. While David was excited to see that things hadn’t changed a bit, we did learn it would be undergoing renovations next year. I expect David is likely the only person bummed by this news.