Life in British Columbia

My life in Vancouver since moving to BC in 2014

Howe Sound Crest Trail: Part I

I finally hiked the Howe Sound Crest Trail!

Seriously, I’ve been trying to hike this trail since 2017. We couldn’t do it as planned in 2017 because there was too much snow on the trail, in 2018 it was too smoky, and in 2019 there was an issue with re-routing the trail. But the stars finally aligned and I hiked it in mid August with Carolyn and Emily. It was not at all what I expected – I knew it would be a tough trail, but the topography was so much more challenging than I anticipated. That said, we had amazing weather for it and still had a great time!

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The Howe Sound Crest Trail is a 29km trail that runs from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove. It passes by several iconic peaks and is popular among trail runners. The window for hiking the trail is short, which is why we had so much trouble with it – there’s generally still snow up there in June, which is very dangerous because of snow bridges and snow wells. But what makes the hike so challenging is water access. Once you leave Cypress, there’s no water access for 14km, so you either have to bring a lot of water with you, or hike the most challenging part of the trail in a single day. 14km doesn’t really sound like that much, but there’s a lot of elevation gain and it involves crossing many challenging peaks. It can definitely be done, but I think it would make the trail less enjoyable as there’d be less time to appreciate the views. Plus the most challenging part of the 14km is the last 4km, so it’s easy to think you’re making a good pace and then get hung up at the end.

So long story short, we opted to bring extra water. I think this was definitely the right choice for us, but it was a 30 degree weekend and we drank more than we thought and ended up having to conserve at the end, so in future I would bring even more. But let’s start at the beginning. Because we were planning to do the trail over 3 days, we took Friday off work to get a head start on the trail. Generally there is no pass needed to hike the HSCT, but BC Parks has the new day pass system, so I got up at 6am to get passes for us. I managed to snag 3 passes, but they sold out by 6:01am, so you definitely have to be on the ball.

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We arrived at Cypress around 9am and there were a ton of people hanging out in the parking lot. The first stop on the HSCT is St. Mark’s Summit, which is super popular among day hikers, so we think that’s who was taking up most of the day passes. After St. Mark’s the traffic on the trail was drastically reduced. Seth dropped us off and I believe we started hiking sometime around 9:30am. I figured this would give us lots of time, but it was still almost 6pm by the time we rolled into our campsite at the 11km mark, so definitely give yourself lots of time.

Thanks to the early start we were able to hike at a pretty leisurely pace. It didn’t take long at all to get to St. Mark’s, mostly I think because me and Carolyn hadn’t seen each other in a while and we were gabbing the whole way there. We stopped at St. Mark’s for a snack break and then got lost trying to get back on the trail. Overall the trail isn’t too hard to follow, but there were definitely several sections where we ended up off course, so I was glad me and Carolyn both had GPS as we used it more than once to find the trail.

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The second stop on the trail is Unnecessary Mountain – I found this one a little confusing because there were two unnecessary mountains showing up on my GPS, the first of which was marked South. We were getting pretty hungry for lunch, so we stopped to eat when we hit the ridge, before reaching Unnecessary Mountains. Like I said, it was a hot day. We thought it would be cooler up in the mountains, but most of the trail is exposed, so it was definitely hot the whole weekend. I had a large iced tea before starting the trail to hydrate, but Emily forgot and was pretty dehydrated starting out, so she drank her water a lot faster.

The view of Howe Sound and the Lions from Unnecessary Mountain is gorgeous, but after that the trail gets a lot harder. It’s a pretty technical trail, with lots of rope sections, climbing, and steep ascents and descents. It’s a through trail (rather than a loop), so you can hike from either direction, but almost everyone goes from Cypress to Porteau Cove because you’re basically hiking from Cypress Mountain down to the highway and people want to avoid all the elevation gain.

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It may be challenging, but the section of trail leading up and past the Lions is one of the most beautiful parts of the trail. We hiked along the ridge up towards the West Lion. It was a bit of a climb, so we continued to drink lots of water with the sun bearing down on us. You can summit the West Lion along the trail – we hadn’t decided whether we were going to attempt it or not – but once we got a look at it, me and Emily were firmly in the ‘no’ category. Carolyn is much more intrepid than us and I know she would have hiked it in a heartbeat, but it was now after 4pm and the trail started with two steep rope sections, so we all agreed it wasn’t really a wise choice.

Instead we had a break under the West Lion and then started the descent down and around it. For those not familiar with the Lions, they are two iconic mountains located just outside Vancouver. The familiar looking humps can easily be seen from the city and have become a bit of a symbol of Vancouver. I’ve seen them tons of times, from the city, from other trails, and even from helicopter, but I’ve definitely never been so close to them – it felt a little unreal. Both Lions are incredibly steep, I’m not sure if you can physically hike the East Lion or not, but either way, you’re not allowed to because it’s located in the watershed. Metro Vancouver has one of the best protected watersheds and absolutely no recreation is permitted inside it. The HSCT skirts right along the watershed and the trail unbelievably enough, goes right between the two Lions.

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Between the two lions there is another smaller peak called Thomas’ Peak. The scariest section of the trail was definitely traversing down the side of the West Lion to Thomas Peak. You go down a steep section, which isn’t too bad, but then you have to navigate a small ledge around the edge of the Lion and up to Thomas Peak. It’s not terrifying, but you definitely proceed with caution. From there though there’s an amazing view down into the watershed and Capilano Lake. Some of the best city views of the Lions are from Cap Lake, so the same can be said when you’re looking back the other way too.

As we went over Thomas Peak, we were starting to get pretty done with hiking. There’s 3 official campsites on the trail, and one unofficial, which is the one we were aiming for. I couldn’t find its location on any maps and had just seen it listed as “the ridge above Enchantment Lake”. I knew it was located around 11km, so we were planning to just look for anywhere good to camp along the trail once we passed the Lions (which are located around 10km). From Thomas Peak, you can see the trail as it winds over peak after peak, but we couldn’t really see anywhere that looked great to pitch a tent.

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As we started to come down, I noticed a ridge branching off the main trail that looked promising. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far away (less than a km, as we’ve established) and when we reached the branch, it quickly became evident this was the place. We were just confused because we assumed “the ridge” was on the trail, but it’s just off to the right of the trail as you come down Thomas Peak. There’s no easily accessible water source from the trail, but there are some flat spots to pitch a tent. If you’re desperate, you can hike down to Enchantment Lake, but it’s a bit of a trek. There’s also a small pond on the other side, but it’s located in the watershed, so this should not be part of your plan.

We had to do a bit of water assessment after we set up our tent. Emily had drained her 2 litre platypus around the West Lion, but me and Carolyn were still on our initial supply. We had each brought 4litres. It was enough, but only because we put a lot of effort into conserving towards the end. My logic had been 2L for the first day, 1L for overnight, and 1L for the 3km the next day. We had brought sandwiches for lunch to avoid needing water for cooking, but had forgotten to take into account water for our oatmeal (only 150ml a person, so not the end of the world), but we hadn’t taken enough for how hot it was. Also, the 3km the following day was SUPER challenging and ended up taking us 3 hours, so we really could have used more water for that as well. It’s not a great feeling having to conserve water, so if I did it again I would bring 5-6L. We might have had a different experience on a cool day, but always plan for the worst.

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Our campsite was amazing though! We shared it with one other group of 2 women, who we’d been passing back and forth on the trail all day. We were located right under the Lions and it was dreamy to watch the sun set over the Sound and then watch the stars come out around the Lions. I thought there would be too much ambient light for stars, but the stargazing was actually great – though there was still too much ambient light for star photography (at least for a notice like me). So overall, it was a challenging, but fun first day on the trail and we were thrilled with the location of our campsite! You definitely need nice weather to hike this trail though, I can only image how slippery and dangerous it would be in the rain – plus camping would be very exposed in any adverse conditions. But luckily for us, all we had to worry about was heat management.

I’ll end the post there for now – check back in for my next post on the second half of the trail!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Banff National Park

Banff was our second stop on a weeklong holiday in August. Check out my post about our first stop in the Okanagan.

Compared to some of BC Parks campgrounds, I wasn’t overly impressed with the campgrounds in Banff. That said, Banff is really a tourist town and I think the campgrounds were more about quantity than quality. We stayed at Tunnel Mountain Village II, which has over 600 sites. Coupled with Tunnel Mountain Village I and the trailer park, that’s a lot of camping just outside Banff (and there’s still loads more campgrounds throughout the rest of the National Park). The benefit to Tunnel Mountain though is that is super close to Banff town and there’s even a shuttle bus that runs between the campground and the town.

We had 3 full days in Banff National Park, so we were planning to do two hikes, spend some time at the lake, and explore the town. Banff really has the look of a ski town, but I’ve only ever travelled there in summer – hopefully one day I’ll make it over there to go skiing as well. Fortunately, the weather in Banff was a lot more comfortable than the weather in the Okanagan. It was still hot in the day, but it properly cools off in the night, making it much easier to sleep. One of the cool things about the National Park is that they provide firewood! There’s a lot of education about not transporting firewood because you can introduce invasive bugs to new areas, so I suspect that’s one of the reasons why it’s provided. You can just drive to the wood lot, take as much as you want, and just make sure to leave behind whatever you don’t use.

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On our first day, we decided to go hiking. It’s unreal how many trail options there are in the Rockies. There are tons in Banff alone, without including all the trails in the neighbouring parks. The top two trails on my list were Plain of 6 Glaciers and Sentinel Pass. The problem is that both are super popular and involve getting up early. 6 Glaciers leaves from the Lake Louise parking lot, which I’d heard filled up my 8am, and Sentinel Pass leaves from the Moraine Lake parking lot, which is really small and I’d heard filled up by 6am! The drive from our campsite was about 45 minutes, so we weren’t willing to get up quite that early. We figured things might be a little less busy since it was a Tuesday, so our plan was to aim for Lake Louise for 8am, but to turn up to Lake Moraine if that lot was still open when we passed (Parks closes the lot once it’s full and limits traffic access). When we passed Moraine Lake at 7:45am, the sign said lot full, but we could still see some cars being let up the access road, so we decided to try and were thrilled to be admitted up to the lake! We grabbed the first parking spot we saw and then got ready for the hike. In retrospect, a good idea would be to make your breakfast once you’ve parked to save a bit of time in the morning.

Moraine Lake is a dream. It was my first time there and it was absolutely gorgeous. You can visit the lake from the parking lot, but Sentinel Pass trail continues on from the lake. I think I will write separate posts about Sentinel Pass and Plain of 6 Glaciers, but Sentinel Pass was by far the highlight of the trip to Banff for me. We had gorgeous weather for it and the meadows at the top were filled with wildflowers! You get the most amazing view from the pass and the entire hike was really a joy. Sadie did really well on the hike, though she’d been having some tummy issues over the past few days and Seth was getting a little concerned about her. We ended up calling the animal hospital in Canmore because she’d had diarrhea for 3 days and Seth was concerned about parvo. They said to try feeding her a bland diet of chicken and rice, so our first stop after the hike was to the grocery story to pick up chicken breasts for Sadie. I boiled them, which was a new experience and pretty much the grossest way I can think of to eat chicken. It worked like a charm though and the next day she didn’t poop at all! (TMI?)

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Our second day was intended as a relaxing day between the two hikes. We slept in and then went into Banff town to do a bit of shopping. We’d been dismayed throughout the trip by the lack of people wearing masks. Whenever we stopped anywhere we would wear our masks, even just using the bathroom at gas stations, but very few people seemed to be doing the same. So it was nice to see some pretty strict rules about masks in Banff. I assume it’s because it’s mostly a tourist town, but they’d converted the main street into a pedestrian road and masks were required everywhere along the stretch. We got some new gear at the Smartwool and North Face stores and me and Emily had a lot of fun tea shopping at Banff Tea Co. We’re both tea addicts, so we picked up a few new flavours.

It was getting progressively hotter, so we went out to Lake Minnewanka in the afternoon. It was super busy at the lake and we had to circle the parking lot for a bit, but eventually we did find a spot. The lake is really interesting. It’s a huge reservoir and you can rent motorboats and canoes. There’s a trail that goes along the edge of the lake and instead of one big beach, there are lots of little beaches along the lake where you can hang out for the day. We found a spot to set up in the shade of the trees and finally decided to blow up the rubber dinghy we’d brought on the trip. It was a good time for the dinghy because Minnewanka was a lot colder than Okanagan Lake. We went for one little swim, but as gorgeous as the lake was, it wasn’t really a swimming lake. So instead we took the boat out for a little spin and marveled at the gorgeous mountains surrounding the lake.

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We returned to the campsite for dinner, but after that Seth and I decided to take Sadie for a walk. There’s a nice trail running all along the campsite and we walked to what was labelled as the “hoodoo viewpoint”. We didn’t know what a hoodoo was, but learned it’s basically just a name for a weird rock feature. The viewpoint was gorgeous! It looked out at Rundle Mountain and from it we could look down at the Bow River, see the hoodoos, and even glimpse the fancy Banff Springs Hotel. It’s just off the main road, which is one of the things I love about the Rockies, you don’t even really have to hike anywhere to get amazing views.

On our last full day in Banff we headed back to Lake Louise to do the Plain of 6 Glaciers hike. Lake Louise is gorgeous, but a little overwhelming. We came back at 8am again and had no trouble finding parking in the massive lots. The crowds were a lot though. Moraine Lake is busy, but because of the size of the parking lot, it didn’t feel too busy (usually there’s shuttles that run up there, but not this year because of Covid). Lake Louise had a very different feel and I didn’t want to hang out for too long because of all the people.

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Both mornings had been chill when we started hiking, but while Sentinel had gotten really hot later in the day, 6 Glaciers remained cool throughout. I’m glad we got up early for the hike though because we finally saw a bit of rain for the first time on the trip. It was gorgeous blue skies when we started, but as we continued to hike, the clouds started to move in. Again, I think I will write a second post about the particulars of the trail, but the highlight for me was that there’s a tea house located at the top, so we were able to each get a cup of tea at the top and shared a scone. It was also a gorgeous hike, but I’d still give Sentinel the edge over 6 Glaciers. The glacier hike is a lot more barren, whereas I liked all the meadows and wildflowers at Sentinel. It started raining on our way back, but fortunately it was after we’d seen the view, so we couldn’t complain about it.

Though it rained in Lake Louise, there was no evidence of rain at our campsite and we enjoyed one last lazy night and campfire. Sadie was beat after the hike and took it easy for the rest of the night. In the morning we packed up again and started to head home. It was too far to drive all the way home in one day, so we had a hotel booked in Salmon Arm. The main motivation for getting a hotel was that all the shower houses in the National Park were closed because of Covid. I get it… but like, also you should want people to be bathing themselves. We made a stop at Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park on the way home (another park I’d like to explore more), but we ran into some trouble in Glacier National Park. We’d planned to stop there again for lunch, but it poured when we passed through, so we held out until the end of the park, when we saw a rest stop with covered picnic tables.

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After that we drove straight to Salmon Arm and had a lazy night swimming in the pool and ordering take-out. On the final day, we made a stop in the morning in Kamloops where we took Sadie to this awesome dog park. It’s located right on the river and she had a great time running around the beach and in the water. We’d intended to stop at Falls Lake for a walk when passing through the Coquihalla, but the lot was closed, so we pushed through to Hope. After that it was just a quick lunch before heading home. It was a great trip, but it’s always nice to arrive home again. I really loved hiking in the Rockies and I think I might have to try and make it an annual thing since there’s just so much to explore! We only visited a small part of the Rockies and I can’t wait to go back for more!

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Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Now that I’ve finally finished my 6-part mini-series about the North Coast Trail, I’m thrilled to write about something else! I feel like it was a bit of a slow start to summer this year. I didn’t get to go on my annual May Long weekend camping trip as BC Parks didn’t open until June, and it took forever for the weather to finally get nice, but I ended up having a pretty epic July and August. Despite all the restrictions from Covid, I was still able to get out hiking several times and did something I’ve been meaning to do since I moved to BC 6 years ago.

I finally went to the Rockies! It’s not my first time in the Rockies, but Seth and I have been intending to make a road trip to the Rockies for years. Since we had to cancel our plans to go home to Newfoundland, we decided it was the perfect time to finally do our own little BC road trip. We took a week off work, spending 3 nights in the Okanagan and 4 nights in Banff. Emily joined us and of course we took Sadie, so it made for an interesting packing experience. We’d been planning to get roof rails and a rack for the car, but of course, they were all sold out at our local store because everyone is road tripping this year, so we just had to get creative with the packing. We managed to fit all our camping gear for 3 people and a dog for a week in the car, though there was limited space in the backseat, so Emily and Sadie had to get pretty cozy.

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We took off right after work on Friday evening and drove straight to Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, where we’d be camping for 3 nights. We powered through the drive, stopping only once for gas and dinner, arriving with enough daylight to set up the tents. However, we couldn’t believe how hot it was when we stepped out of the car. We knew it was going to be hot – the temperatures in Penticton over the weekend were in the high 30’s! But we weren’t prepared for just how hot it would be overnight as well. We had a short campfire, but even that was too hot and we were all tired from the journey, so we decided to make it an early night.

The first night of the trip was by far the worst. Sadie had been camping with me twice before and both times had gone well, but the first night in the Okanagan was rough on everyone. We decided to sleep with the fly off because it’s like a sauna in the tent with it on, but that proved to be too challenging for Sadie. She’s a bit of a high strung dog most of the time, but usually settles down in the tent, but being able to see out of the tent was just too much stimulation and she barked at anything that passed our campsite throughout the night.

The campsites at Okanagan Lake North Campground are absolutely gorgeous. They’re massive sites with large green spaces between each site. It makes for a spacious and pretty site, but doesn’t provide much privacy, so Sadie was able to see into all our neighbouring campsites. She drove us nuts with the barking, and I’m sure the neighbours didn’t love it either. It probably didn’t help that she’d spent the last 4 hours in a car without a proper walk and she did a lot better on subsequent nights because she was tired from the day. I’m sure the heat didn’t help either. I slept the entire night in shorts and t-shirt ON TOP of my sleeping bag. I seriously didn’t put a blanket over me the entire night, which is something I’ve never experienced sleeping in a tent.

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The trip improved from there though. The main plan for the okanagan was to relax. We hadn’t planned any hikes (it was too hot) and the main goal was to just take it easy by the lake. On Saturday we drove into Penticton to hang out at the beach for the day. I was a little disappointed because it is a huge lake and beachfront, but the dog beach is really tiny. We hung around there for a few hours and Sadie finally went swimming for the first time. I think she liked it and it was a good way to cool down, but she won’t usually go swimming unless you are swimming too. I was surprised by how warm the water was though. Me and Seth visited Okanagan Lake once before during labour day weekend and I remembered the water being really cold, but it was heavenly on the super hot days we visited.

Eventually we moved on from the dog beach and decided to go for a little walk through the town. We got ice cream and iced tea, checking out one of the local bookstores. Then we found a patio at Slackwater Brewing and decided to hang out for a bit with some beers. It was nice, but the heat eventually drove us onwards and we returned to the campsite to go swimming in the lake again. We found a little beach near our campsite and went for another soak in the water before supper. It was a chill evening – we had a BBQ and relaxed by the campfire. We left the fly on this time, which was hot, but a lot better for Sadie and we all got a better night’s sleep.

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The next morning Emily made pancakes for breakfast and we decided to stay around the campground for the morning. We discovered a dog beach further up on the lake which was a lot nicer and decided to hang out there for a few hours. That was probably my favourite part of our stay in the Okanagan. We lounged around on the beach and had a great time chilling in our floaties in the water.

The afternoon was devoted to wineries. Of course, the Okanagan is famous for its wineries and you can’t go there without stopping by a few. Covid did make this a little more challenging. Normally you can just stop in where ever you want and sample some wines, but most of the wineries now have a reservation system even for tastings. I’d made reservations at 3 vineyards that were dog friendly and Emily agreed to be our DD since she doesn’t really like wine. Our first stop was Tightrope Winery, which had beautiful views of the lake and even let Sadie into the tasting room. Our second stop was Lakebreeze, which ended up being my favourite. They have an outdoor patio restaurant and I had pre-ordered meals for us. The venue was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and in my opinion they had the best wine as well. I regret not buying any wine from there. I’d already spent a lot on lunch, so we only sampled the wines, but they ended up being my favourite of the day. The last stop was Bench 1775. I think Bench had the best view of all three, a 180 degree view down to the lake, but it wasn’t my favourite atmosphere. I think they had overbooked themselves and there was a lot of waiting.

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The best part of the day was the evening. Emily had sent a snapchat to our cousin, Olivia, who lives in Edmonton earlier in the day. Liv’s fiance’s family lives in Kelowna and we couldn’t believe it when she responded to say she was also in the Okanagan! It’s been a year since we last saw her and didn’t expect to see her for a while, so we were thrilled that she was able to drive over to our campsite in the evening with her dog Avery. Sadie’s not great with other dogs because we weren’t able to socialize her properly in the pandemic, but after the initial shock she got on pretty well with Avery. We took them for a swim in the lake and then settled in for another campfire. It was only for a few hours, but it was so nice to see family.

Monday was our final day in the Okanagan and time to pack up the campsite. The showerhouse was open so we were all able to shower before leaving (foreshadowing) and took off around 10am to head towards Banff. It was a long drive and Sadie would definitely be needing breaks, so we knew it would take most of the day. It felt like it took forever to get out of Kelowna though. Traffic was really busy and we pushed through heading North. Because of Covid, we were cooking most of our meals, aside from the one at the winery. We had falafel in the cooler for lunch and decided to stop at a rest stop whenever we got hungry. We ended up stopping at this nice provincial park on Mara Lake. I’d never heard of it before, but it had picnic tables and lake views, so it made for a nice break.

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After that we drove through Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. Those were both firsts for me. We didn’t stop in Revelstoke, but we did make a stop in Glacier to take Sadie on a short walk. Glacier seems like a really cool park and I would definitely love to explore more. We only did a short 1km walk in the park, but the scenery was so quintessentially Canadian. I don’t know what it is about National Parks, but they just have this really wholesome feel to them. I love how the signage is the same in all parks and something about the rangers and the park programs just triggers memories of family camping in Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks growing up. We hiked along through the trees along this raging river with the glacier capped mountains towering around us. I just felt like I was in the middle of a tourism ad.

The drive continued through Roger Pass and the rest of the park, which had jaw dropping views, before finally heading into the Rocky Mountains. We drove through Field, passing Lake Louise before finally arriving in Banff. It was around 7pm when we arrived and we were dismayed to see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were also dismayed to remembered that we were now in Alberta and had lost an hour, meaning it was actually 8pm. It’s definitely lighter later in Banff, but it was a bit of a rush to set the tents up and get dinner on the go that evening. The campsite was also a bit of a disappointment after the gorgeous sites in the Okanagan. It was a tiny site and there was so much garbage and litter around, we had to clean before we could really settle in.

But we ended up having an AWESOME time in Banff, so more about that in my next post! I’m optimistic this series will be limited to just two posts, but I guess we’ll see!

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Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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