The Canadian Rockies, With a Baby on Board

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Julia Fu of Gaithersburg is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Our first family vacation with the newest addition.

WHO WENT? My husband Rob and I, and our 7-month-old supertrooper, Elliott.

WHERE? Banff, Yoho and Jasper national parks in the Canadian Rockies.

WHEN? August 2005

HOW LONG? Ten days.

GETTING THERE WAS . . . remarkably uneventful, considering we traveled eight-plus hours with an infant on a 6 a.m. flight from BWI to Calgary with a stopover.

IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . we hiked to the Opabin Plateau near Lake O'Hara in Yoho. At the Opabin Prospect lookout, we had a spectacular view of a pristine, emerald green-blue lake set among pine-covered mountains. It was a moving and joy-filled moment.

I GRITTED MY TEETH HARDEST WHEN . . . I changed my shivering baby out of his wet clothes. We had attempted a five-hour hike to Bourgeau Lake, a subalpine lake atop a forested mountain. About 30 minutes into the hike we heard thunder and turned back, but we got caught in the storm a few minutes later.

I CAN'T BELIEVE I . . . toted a 7-month-old baby on several three- to four-hour hikes and had a marvelous time. I am normally not an athletic person, averaging two annual visits to the gym, tops. But every place (minus Bourgeau) was worth the huffing and puffing. When we were not hiking, we pushed the baby in his stroller at the many wheelchair-accessible lakes, waterfalls, canyons and other attractions.

BEST THING ABOUT MY LODGINGS: We saved hundreds of dollars on food and lodging by staying at guesthouses in Field and Jasper. Field is a small town in Yoho National Park, only a 20-minute drive from Lake Louise and Banff National Park, where most hotels were charging at least twice the price. In Field, we stayed at the Waterfall Guesthouse, where our $95 garnered us a spacious one-bedroom apartment with a private entrance, full-size kitchen, living room and dining area. In Jasper, we stayed at the charming and aptly named Gingerbread House, where the owner even offered babysitting. We made good use of our kitchen for most of our meals.

FAVORITE MEAL: Wild salmon and orange brandy buffalo back ribs at the Truffle Pigs Cafe in Field. The small general store and restaurant has cheeky decor and casual waiters, but the food was divine.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: The wildlife. We saw two grizzlies, a black bear, numerous elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and deer.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: No moose. My husband was bent on sighting one, and we made a special trip to Mount Robson Provincial Park's Moose Marsh for this purpose.

THING I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Watching silly tourists get out of their cars to take close photos of wildlife -- even bears.

THING I WISH I'D BROUGHT WITH ME: A portable crib. The baby loved sleeping between Mommy and Daddy. After we arrived home, we had to endure a week of him standing in his crib crying for hours before falling asleep.

BIGGEST SPLURGE: A meal at Becker's Gourmet Restaurant, described by our guidebook as one of Jasper's best. Unfortunately, the venison entree was disappointing.

BIGGEST RIP-OFF: Overdone deer at $40.

BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: The low crime rate, or at least the lack of fear. Our guesthouse owners never locked their doors.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: Yelling "I LOVE YOU!" to my husband on top of a mountain when we thought we were the only ones there. A few minutes later, a group of hikers came around the bend.

FAVORITE SOUVENIR: A small stuffed moose dressed as a Mountie -- a good way to spend our last few Canadian dollars and commemorate our futile moose search.

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