Chance Cove Coastal Trail

I recently made my annual summer trip home to Newfoundland for 10 days in early June and had the best time exploring some new trails! I wasn’t thrilled about going home in June because it’s not the nicest weather in Newfoundland at that time, but I ended up having to eat my words because I had really good luck while I was home! I got such fine weather I ended up doing 55km worth of hikes in just 7 days – the first of which was Chance Cove Coastal Trail.

IMG-20220613-WA0016

Chance Cove is located about an hour and half outside of St. John’s on the far end of the Avalon peninsula on the isthmus. Chance Cove has definitely been trending on Newfoundland social media throughout the pandemic and I was starting to feel like everyone I knew on the island had been there over the past year. It looks incredibly scenic in photos, so I admit to being drawn to this hike by Instagram and I was determined to check it out for myself.

We got nice weather on our first weekend home and I convinced both mine and Seth’s families to do the hike with us. It’s only ~4km round trip and is fairly easy terrain, but it’s so scenic it ended up taking us 2.5 hours to do the whole thing!

20220612_124701

What makes this hike especially nice is that it’s a double loop hike (kind of like a figure 8), so you get different topography along the entire hike. We started by climbing up into the woods until we reached Chance Cove Beach, which extends across the cove to the main road, then we switched back to the coastal route up towards Green Head. It was overcast and extremely windy when we started, with Green Head being the most blustery part of the trail. We hiked up to the head, but didn’t stay long because it was so cold, though it was cool to watch the wind swirl erratic patterns through the water.

20220612_124910

From Green Head, you continue along the headland past Chance Cove Island to Island Cove Beach, where fortunately, the headland shelters you from the worst of the wind. There’s a newly constructed set of stairs going down to Island Cove Beach, so we took a long break on the beach to eat our snacks and enjoy the warmer (less windy) weather. As we continued on, the clouds started breaking up and pretty soon the sun was shining down on us!

20220612_131238

The next attraction is Patrick’s Cove (also known as Big Cove), but first you can hike up to a series of viewpoints between the two coves. With the sun shining, it completely transforms the landscape and the water turned the most vibrant shade of blue! You could almost be tricked into thinking you were somewhere tropical, if not for the wind.

20220612_133325

You can also hike down to Big Cove, which has a huge sea stack that is centered in most of the photos I’ve seen on social media. Unfortunately, there are no stairs going to Big Cove, just a large rope guiding you down the bank. I really wanted to see it, so I climbed down, but it’s still really steep and not for the faint of heart. The rope is positioned pretty awkwardly and some of my family members had some trouble, so I wouldn’t go down there if you’re not confident in your abilities. Definitely use caution.

PSX_20220612_182515
20220612_134748

If you do decide to climb down to beach, it is very lovely and would make a great place for a swim. Me and Emily toyed briefly with the idea of going for a dip, but we didn’t have swimsuits and it was a bit too breezy to air dry. We opted instead to wade out up to our knees. It wasn’t quite as cold as I was expecting at first, but it quickly starts to numb your feet and I had to stumble back to the beach to defrost!

PSX_20220615_101406

From there we hiked back up the bank to get what I’d call the “money shot” of the hike. A view from above of the curved beach and sea stack. It was no longer sunny when we got there, but no less scenic! After that it’s a pretty easy walk back to the parking lot. There’s a small climb and then you head back down towards Chance Cove. You can cross the beach if you prefer, but given the wind, we decided to just hike back along the water instead.

20220612_141428

We concluded our day with a visit to Baccalieu Trail Brewing Co. in Bay Roberts to sample some of their beer and “legendary” cod chowder. The sun returned while we sipped our beers on the patio and we congratulated ourselves on a very successful day. Chance Cove Coastal Trail definitely lives up to the hype and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. Use caution if climbing down to the beach, but otherwise it’s a fairly easy hike that’s great for beginners! We had a great time.

20220612_155122

Skating in Banff

As much as I loved skiing in Banff National Park, I can’t deny that one of the real highlights of the trip for me was when we went skating on Lake Minnewanka. Lake skating is such an iconic Canadian activity, yet I get so few opportunities to do it living in Vancouver. I was super keen to go skating while we were in the Rockies, so I crammed my skates into my checked luggage.

While you do have a lot more freedom to set your own schedule when you bring your own skates, it’s definitely not necessary. Emily didn’t bring it any, so we still had to rent them while we were there. We assumed we’d get the opportunity to skate on Lake Louise, but I was still keen to find a less commercial skating experience. The hardest part about free skating on natural ice is timing. You want the ice to be thick enough, but if you wait to late in the season, the ice will likely be covered in snow, resulting in a lot of work to shovel the skating surface. How the ice freezes will also play a large role in how easy the skating will be.

20220227_132016

Since we were visiting in March, I figured our odds of getting to go lake skating were pretty slim. But it had been really cold and sunny the week before we visited, so I was hoping some lakes might be clear. It was calling for snow most of the week we visited, so the first thing we did was search for some ice before it got covered again in the following days.

There are several places to rent adventure equipment in Banff – we rented from Banff Adventures for $15. I was told Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake were good places to try, but the rental place told Emily the surface wouldn’t be good, so we decided to try the outdoor rinks first (I think the rentals are hesitant to recommend lake skating for liability reasons, so do your own research).

20220227_133259

If you’re nervous about lake skating, there are a few options in Banff, there’s a small natural rink by the train station and a bigger one behind the curling arena. Driving by the train station rink first (and seeing how small it was), we opted for the arena. I’m glad we went here first because it had been several years since either of us had been on skates and it was a comfortable place to get used to it again. There were a few people around with hockey sticks, but it wasn’t overly busy, so we had a good time doing laps.

But I was still really keen to at least check out the lakes while we had the rentals, so we decided to go to Minnewanka anyways, figuring if we couldn’t skate we could at least go for a little hike. You have to drive by Two Jack Lake on the way to Minnewanka, so we scoped it out, but it was a mix of very bumpy ice and snow, so we kept going to Minnewanka. Likewise, Minnewanka was a bit of a mix of ice and snow, but there were much larger ice patches and lots of people out exploring around on the ice, so we figured it was worth a try.

20220227_151609

Minnewanka is a huge lake, extending 28km up through the mountains. It’s absolutely wild to me that such a large lake is able to completely freeze in the winter. The shallow part of the lake was completely covered in snow, so you have to walk about 500-1000m to get to the parts where you can skate. Always be cautious if you are going out of the ice. It had been -20 degrees the entire week before we got there and we’d read up that people had been out skating all the previous week before visiting. It is somewhat risky going out on the snow to get to the ice because it provides a relative feeling of safety, but you can’t see the ice quality until you’re further out.

It was jarring when we did finally reach the ice. The ice in Newfoundland generally doesn’t freeze very evenly and is usually completely opaque, but the ice in Minnewanka is clear and we could quickly see that we weren’t going to have any concerns about ice depth. From the ridges in the ice, you can easily see that it’s at least 1.5-2 feet thick. 6 inches is the safe depth for skating, so we weren’t worried about ice depth at all, just freaked out by how scary it is to be able to see right down through the ice!

PSX_20220227_162739

It was very cool though. When we got to the edge of the snow we laced up our skates and put our boots in our backpack to go for a skate. The ice was bumpy in places, but it was a much smoother surface than I was expecting and there was tons of room to skate all over the lake. You can see all the air bubbles frozen in the ice as they tried to rise to the surface and we kept skating around looking for interesting features. It was pretty windy skating on the lake, but I think that’s why more of the snow was gone. Pretty much every other lake we saw was snow covered, but I think the wind blows it off Minnewanka since it’s so large. It’s such a fun experience and frankly, I’ve never felt more Canadian then when ice skating on a frozen lake.

Fortunately, if you’re still a bit nervous about the idea of finding your own ice, you can skate on Lake Louise. It’s still not a totally risk free activity as the ice isn’t managed by anyone, but so many people skate there and it’s very close to shore, so I think it’s more manageable risk. Lake Louise does get covered in snow though, so you can’t skate on the entire lake, just the section at the end near the chateau where people keep in shoveled.

PSX_20220227_163106

Later in the week we wanted to make a go for Lake Louise as well. It’s such an iconic place, so we figured it was worth skating there too. Unfortunately the day we visited was the worst weather we had on the trip. It was overcast most days, but on the day we went to Lake Louise it snowed pretty heavily and the clouds and visibility were really low. The rink wasn’t shoveled when we got there, so we decided to snowshoe across the lake instead. Cross country skiers traverse across the lake and walkers go up and down the edge to the back of the lake where there are some ice climbing opportunities.

Unfortunately we didn’t catch much of the views with the poor visibility, but we have been there in the summer, so we just tried to enjoy the snow on the trees instead. There were some people starting to clear the ice when we got back, but it was a relatively small surface and a lot of people, so we decided to skip it since we’d had so much success at Minnewanka already.

So that’s my advice on skating in Banff National Park. Definitely go for it because it is a super fun activity, but stick to your comfort level and always make sure the ice is safe before going out onto it!

20220227_151645

Hiking the Plain of 6 Glaciers

Our second hike in Banff National Park in August was The Plain of 6 Glaciers (our first hike was Sentinel Pass). Both hikes are located in the Lake Louise area and I feel like maybe I should have branched out a little more, but they were both so incredibly scenic it’s hard to regret.

As I explained in my last post, with Lake Louise being so popular, it’s best to get there early if you want to be assured parking. I’ve heard the lot generally fills up by 8am, but I think that’s only on weekends because there was still lots of space when we got there at 8am on a Thursday. The Plain of 6 Glaciers starts right at the lake and hikes the length of the lake and up into the backcountry. I’d been to Lake Louise once before as a teenager with my parents and the lake was just as scenic as I remembered, but there were so many people so we didn’t want to linger.

DSC07357

There are tons of trails from the lake; you can hike up immediately to the Big Agnes Teahouse and a ton of hiking options, or you can hike up the near side of the lake to some viewpoints, but of course, we opted to hike towards the back of the lake. Despite the early hour, there were still a lot of people on the lake trail, though the traffic thinned out considerably once we reached the back of the lake. I think a lot of tourists just hike to the back of the lake and then return to the chateau – also on the day we went, there were a lot of climbers, and they all quit at the back of the lake to climb the sheer cliff wall. So we felt much more at home once we left the lake, as beautiful as it was.

DSC07367

The weather was really nice. It was chilly, but the sun was out, so we slowly started ditching layers after leaving the lake. From there the trail is mostly uphill and continues through the woods and then into what I like to call the barren alpine. The entire valley was once covered in glaciers, so there’s not a whole lot growing there and it’s mostly rock left behind from the glaciers. There are beautiful views looking back at the lake as you ascend, as well as equally beautiful views looking ahead at the glaciers. It’s hard to count them to confirm if there actually are 6 glaciers, but they’re each slowly revealed to you as you hike up the valley.

DSC07379

My favourite part of the hike is that there’s a cute little tea house located about a kilometre before the viewpoint. There’s a flatish area and they’ve constructed the teahouse and put some picnic tables along the river. We hadn’t really planned ahead properly for the teahouse because I thought I’d read somewhere that it was closed because of Covid, but it was open and fortunately Seth had $20 cash on hand. So we each had a cup of tea and shared a delicious jammy scone. We were thrilled to discover all the teas are from Banff Tea Co, which we had visited the day before, so me and Emily both had the “Plain of 6 Glaciers” tea in honour of the occasion. It’s an herbal tea with a little bit of mint and it was very yummy!

DSC07383

The weather started to change a bit while we were enjoying our teas. It had clouded in and while it wasn’t raining, the sky was starting to look a little foreboding, so we decided to continue on. It’s just 1 more kilometre, the last part of which goes along the ridgeline and reveals the final glacier right at the back of the valley. It’s not really obvious where the trail ends, eventually it comes to a scree slope and I think you can continue on a little further, but we opted to stop there for our lunch. It did start to drizzle a little as we were eating, but nothing too bad. It just made us glad we had left early again because the weather did get worse and the crowds got larger, but for the most part we had enjoyed a scenic and empty hike up to the top.

DSC07386

The rain picked up on the way down, making it colder, and the clouds quickly moved in to obscure some of the glaciers. I always find it amazing how quickly the weather can change in the backcountry and its a good reminder to always be prepared. Fortunately we had our rain jackets and merino wool sweaters, but we saw a lot of hikers coming up looking pretty wet and ill-prepared.

DSC07404

We beelined down the trail pretty fast because of the rain and made pretty good time coming down. It rained on and off for the rest of the hike, stopping for periods of time, but often starting up again. You can go back to Lake Louise via a different route that would take you to Agnes Lake and the other hiking trails, but similar to Sentinel Pass, Sadie was tired and we weren’t really interested in exploring too much more in the rain, so we opted to skip it. It was even more busy at the bottom of the lake as it was now mid afternoon, so we hightailed it out of there and back to our campsite to relax for the rest of the day. So overall, I didn’t like the hike as much as Sentinel Pass, but still very beautiful and I’d definitely go back and explore some of the many other hiking options in the area!

DSC07430