Start: Norquay Parkway


  • Elk Lake
    • Distance: 11.5 km one way
    • Elev. gain: 610 m
  • Cascade Amphiteather
    • Distance: 6.6 km round trip
    • Elev. gain: 640 m

Wake up, cook some pancakes with maple syrup for the whole troop – which means the two of us, 4 kids and their dad – feed cats and dog, fill up the backpack, say hello to everybody and finally jump in the car. This is our typical weekend start.

More to that, we have a broken shock in our car, so the dad is kindly borrowind us his car, which has some problems with the radiator. Hey, not so lucky with cars, eh? – no more than a year ago we were having the right same problem on our first day of our Western Europe Road Trip with still 5.000 km to go in the heat of the european summer.

Some groceries to buy, really quick, then straight to the Banff Visitor Center, where we discover there is not a single free campsite in the backcountry, the ones lost int he woods, if not at the Elk Lake. So we book it, for the cheap price of 31 $ per one night – it’s 10 $ each plus a 11$ fee for the booking, compulsory no matter when you book.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

What an harsh start! But ust ten steps in the green and everything is forgotten

Really loaded – as always our backpacks are really full – we begin to walk on this really long path which starts from the parking lot of the Norquay Ski Area. Our loyal guide, The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide – authors Brian Patton and Bart Robinson – it let us know that we will walk for 11,5 km up to the campground and another 2 km up to the lake, with a total heightdrop of more or less 400 meters.

We have a first stop more or less one third of the way, once we overcome the bridge over the river, where we discover that winter boots, heavvy backpack and hot sun can be the perfect mix for blisters on the feet – for me at least, since Attilio don’t even know what that is, lucky him! The nice news is that they are not too painful, the bad one that I just have boots and flip-flops, so I have to put boots on again.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

The freezeing cold water of the river gives new energies all of a sudden!

ckcountry! Elk Lake and C

The trail, described as difficult to find, could not be easier. It is actually a highway in the middle of the woods. We get the wrong direction just once – and just because we totally decide not to follow the handwritten sign – and we walk more or less 50 meters down below to just say hello the the snow removals. Then we get along with the idea of walking back up and to follow the signs without getting lost again.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

A funny and greedy friend don’t even bother to give us a look while he crunch on his nut

Up and down, this path is never too hard or strenuous, but not even flat. We get to another river, more of a creek than not a river, with a little river – just two logs well fixed – and we got to have a moment of relax.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

One of the many creeks and one of the thousands of big and little bridges and catwalks

We begin to feel a little bit tired after the nth ascent and descent, but we are finally in the meadow signaled on our loyal guide as the end part of the trail, right before the campground. The thing is that this part is 6 km long and we are not really sure where it should have started, if right now or way before. The only sure thing is that we are in a big valley covered in thick short bushes – and we watched around a lot in search of bears and moose, since it seems the perfect place for both of them!

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

It doesn’t seem so, but the path is clear down there. And we are waiting for a bear to come out of the bush to eat us!

We have almost lost our hope and are prepared to walk another 6 kilometers when on our left suddenly appears a yellow sign with a tent on it: we are arrived!!!

First, we search for the six campsites hidden in the woods and well away from the cooking area and we say hello to the only two other people here around, a couple with a little dog. Then we go to leave our food on the food cable suspended in the trees – we have read and hear to talk about that and now we are really curious to understand what it really is.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

Our first food bag hang up in the trees, far away from the tend and out of reach for bears

Nothing more of a steel cable hang in the trees, way up, on pulley which arrive to the ground to hand the bags and then lift them. Another good news!

It is time to pitch the tent. We decide to show you the whole operation, now so easy for us since we have done it so many times:

There is even time to tie again our boots in the process and then it is time to walk again. The two and a half kilometers toward the lake, slightly upwards, but without the weight of the backpacks on our shoulders it’s really easy and it takes us just a little bit more than half an hour we are there, finally in Elk Lake.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

Elk Lake and its lonely isle, the perfect scenery for a romantic dinner

We enjoy a really good dinner with some canned soup on the lake shore, in the total silence of this place – stopped, sometimes, with the barking of the other couple’s dog, who are on the little isle too.

Once we are done with the dinner and greet our friend, we go too on the island with even some jumps between the rock – the blisters on my feet thanks for that.

Elk Lake, Banff National Park

“I can flyyyyy!”

After that, we go back to the campground and once there we enjoy a really good hot tea and some chat with our new two canadian friends, a lovely couple, Bret and Lora, who loves mountains like us. Then we go straight to bed, the almost 17 km walked today are getting their price on our legs and we are fast asleep in seconds.

The morning after we wake up late, after almost 12 hours of sleep. After the many nights spent at home, with the parrot screaming, the dog barking and the cats walking on us, sleeping in the total silence is amazing.

A good, long and nourishing breakfast with our new friends give us the energies required to walk the trail for the Cascade Amphiteather on our way back.

Cascade Mountain

Half the way back, we take the detour towards the top of Cascade Mountain

Now, such a decision after many kilometers walked with full backpacks, blisters on our feet and another 3,3 km to walk with more than a 500 meters heightdrop…we are not normal people.

We begin to walk the wide, long switchbacks slowly but steadily, Attilio behind me. All of a sudden, without telling me, he decides to take a shortcut straight to the top, cutting a switchback.

And we got lost! We cannot hear each other screaming and calling and we spend a good ten minutes running up and down the trail – which is always going up, against every law of the physics! – before finally founding each other. Losing each other in a dark, bear inhabitated wood is really not a nice experience to have.

And then we are almost done, the last switchback, some ten minutes walking in the bush getting less and less thick, and we are on the top.

Cascade Mountain

The view from Cascade Amphiteather is amazing, rock walls and an extensive valley covered in forests

We are pretty much done now. In the last 24 hours we have walked more than 27 km, all of them with an heavy backpack on our shoulders and none of them really flat. We surely have earned a good lunch and, guess what, we have some bagels and a potatoes salad waiting for us.

Cascade Mountain

The Cascade Amphiteather in all of its rocky glory

To be honest, there will still be a short, really steep trail on the rocks to reach a peak more forward, but we are pretty satisfied for today and we decide better not to. We begin the long way down to the end of this adventure, another two hours to walk to get to the end.

Cascade Mountain

Mountains in love!

Finally get to the Cascade Mountain detour, almost half the way back and the steep and rough part of the trail already walked, it is time for me to take off my boots and finally wear the flip-flops. It would not be the best shoe you can wear in the mountain, but my feet thanks a lot and the last three km, I walk with my boots in my hands, a pretty horrible scene!

Cascade Mountain

A shattered me…here I am! Shuffled feet, wearing flip-flops and boot in my hands 🙂

The last steps are really strenuous, we can see the Lodge in the parking lot, where the car is waiting for us, but we never arrived there. But in the end we got there and we enter the parking lot after more than 30 km walked in two days and almost 1.000 meters heightdrop climbed. Our adventure is finally ended.

There is a good dinner in Banff scheduled, a good fatty burger in some random pub, then the drive home.

Cascade Mountain

The sunset say hello to us, gifting us a golden glare all over the place

Along the drive back home, we have the luck to enjoy a beautiful sunset on fire, just behind us, the perfect end of this adventure, our first backcountry night, lonely in the woods, happy and cheerful!

See you next time.


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