I Backpack Canada » Blog http://ibackpackcanada.com A backpackers travel guide to Canada Thu, 20 Nov 2014 18:45:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Mountains and Stunning Adventure in the Columbia Valley [Photo Essay]http://ibackpackcanada.com/mountains-stunning-adventure-in-the-columbia-valley/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/mountains-stunning-adventure-in-the-columbia-valley/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:21:00 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5748 Mountains and Stunning Adventure in the Columbia Valley [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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It’s feeling colder and colder each day. As winter fast approaches, I’ve decided to head into my archives and find something winter related to share. Something to remind me that while this burst of cold is kind of not fun, in another month or two, we’ll be knee deep in snow. My last trip to BC seems like a good fit!

I sometimes find weekend trips to be too short. I suppose it all depends on the time allotted for what you want out of the trip. In this particular trip, I wanted to relive my love affair with snowboarding, and truly capture what it means to snowboard in Canada. Bruises, sore muscles, and that burning desire to do “one more run”. After 3 days in BC last winter, it was safe to say I relived it all. And I have the photos to prove it.

Columbia Valley Mountains BC

British Columbia is known across the world for its stunning panoramic views the snowy mountains. A mecca for all things ski and snowboard, it’s hard to keep your camera down.

chairlift-ski-panorama

A skier prepares for a downhill decent as snowboarders prepare to disembark from the chairlift.

Chairlift-snowboarder

This is me. Just headin’ up the mountain, I’m surprised my beard isn’t frosty yet.

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Keeping warm as I snowboard. Despite taking a few years off of snowboarding, no nasty falls were had.

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Where trees meet the top of mountains. I love comparing mountains, and seeing which mountains have trees all of the way to the top, and which are higher than the tree line. This fellow is a bit smaller. But still breathtaking!

ski-resort-fire

After a few hours on the slopes, warming up by a fire while sipping on a hot coffee provides just enough relaxation to push through the rest of the afternoon.

snowboard-chick

Kristian coming to a safe stop. It might be her 4th time snowboarding, but she’s getting the hang of it!

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Snow covered fir trees provide some fresh blasts of powder that are always fun riding through.

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There’s something sweet about this photo. Seeing a father and daughter head downhill. I assume his daughter is beat.

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Sun rays, snowflakes, and one hell of a moustache. This is the Canada I love to see!

fairmont-chalet

Beautiful chalet in Columbia Valley. Their bar is superb and the fireplace lounge chairs are very much worth a sit. I get excited about comfy chairs, so what? 

Mountains and Stunning Adventure in the Columbia Valley [Photo Essay] is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Dogsledding days at Banff National Parkhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/dogsledding-days-at-banff-national-park/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/dogsledding-days-at-banff-national-park/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 22:35:03 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5697 Dogsledding days at Banff National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Dog sledding is truly unique winter activity and there’s honestly no better way to see the Banff National Park than with a musher and a team of dogs. I love an adventure and I’ll never pass up the opportunity to explore somewhere in an unconventional way, so that’s how I found myself tucked into a sled, being driven through the snow by a pack of Huskies.

Rockies Winter Wonderland

Banff National Park in Alberta, west of Calgary is nestled amongst the Canadian Rockies and covers a whopping 6,64km2 of mountainous region. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Banff is absolutely beautiful and the vast, unspoiled wilderness, massive lakes and colossal mountains took my breath away- and so did the cold. Fortunately the sled is big enough for two and it’s quite cosy once you’re in, I even joked that it was snug enough to make me want to relax and catch up on emails or play some games at MobileCasino.mobi but the dogs had other ideas.

A 10 mile adventure

We chose the 10 mile trip which is the longest of all sledding tours and we travelled from Banff National Park to Yoho National Park through the Kicking Horse Pass at the Continental Divide. The Parks are nothing short of spectacular and the crisp, white snowy landscape backed by the jagged Rocky Mountains is awe inspiring. The untouched beauty of the region is undeniable and it’s hard to believe that the nearby town of Banff is home to almost 10,000 inhabitants. Travelling over Kicking Horse Pass in a sled was definitely one of my highlights and I have never felt more exhilarated and more alive as we came careening down the side of Divide Creek.

Stunning snow-capped scenery

Our tour took us on a 3 hour ride through the wilderness and our guide even allowed us to mush the last mile home. That last mile made it feel even more rugged and reminded me that sledding is Canada’s oldest form of transport and it’s not only a unique way to sightsee, it also an activity with a very rich history.

If you fancy yourself an adventurer then a sledding tour in Banff will deliver. Being pulled through the snow by a powerful team of Huskies is a simply astounding experience and the pristine beauty of this raw landscape is definitely best enjoyed from a sled.

Dogsledding days at Banff National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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What’s in my Backpack?http://ibackpackcanada.com/whats-in-my-backpack/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/whats-in-my-backpack/#comments Tue, 27 Aug 2013 14:46:21 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5182 What’s in my Backpack? is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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With a blog name like “I Backpack Canada”, it’s safe to say I’ve become somewhat of a pro at stuffing (or rolling carefully… when time permits) exactly what I need into my backpack. Throughout my travels, I’ve had many people ask me “What do you pack?”. While my packing list varies a bit depending on season, most of the things I take with me are things I’ll use everyday. With some upcoming trips planned, I figured I would take note of what exactly my process is and snap some photos along the way.

My Backpack(s)

Yes, you saw the “s” with the parenthesis’s around it. I am a two backpack type of traveler. Why you ask? Well one backpack is primarily for clothes, books, toiletries, and general “life” stuff. While the other is my daypack, perfect for camera gear, tripods, water, and a jacket.

Columbia Endura 50L Backpack

This is my big backpack. My 50 litre Columbia Endura is the perfect size for my extended travels. It allows me to carry everything I need for traveling for a handful of months at a time. It comes stock with waterproof hide-able sack, mesh infused shoulder straps, and an ergonomic and high tech spinal support system that allows you to carry your pack for hours without getting sore or a sweaty back. I tend to sweat with nearly every backpack I wear, but the folks in lab coats at Columbia have solved this dilemma. This backpack also comes camelback ready, and is fully adjustable to nearly all body shapes.

promaster-photography-backpack-w620

Promaster Photography Backpack

While Lowepro’s tend to be more famous amongst traveling photographers, as a travel blogger / writer, I am confined to bringing a laptop nearly everywhere I go. Unfortunately my 13″ Macbook Pro wasn’t able to fit in any of their models so I found myself in a photography store rather than an outdoor store. Sure enough, they had these Promaster backpacks in stock that fit all my needs.

I was completely sold on the incredible amount of pockets, the hip and chest buckles for long hikes, the tripod holder and two side pockets, perfect for water bottles or another small tripod. The insides of the backpack are great as well, as they allow you to rebuild the compartments to fit your camera needs using these thick velcro and plastic pads. Best of all, the Promaster backpack comes with a laptop sleeve that comfortably fits my Macbook.

Eureka! Whipporwice 100 Sleeping Bag

Whenever I’m going to be doing any amount of camping, a good sleeping bag is a must. While there are certainly countless better sleeping bags, what I love about this one is its size. You can literally compress this bag down to the size of a football. It’s also capable of keeping you warm at temperatures as low as -8 degrees celsius.

Camera Gear

Canon EOS 60d


If there is one thing I love, it’s my new baby. For the longest time I had been borrowing my friend/room mates DSLR on account of his disinterest in using it (Thanks Justin!). It was an entry level Nikon DSLR, and while it did the job, I wanted some extra punch. I finally found the courage (and the funds) to purchase my Canon EOS 60d and have yet to look back. I’ve managed to shoot some great video and photos with it, and I’m still learning new things about it everyday.

dslr-lens-w620

Canon EFS 18-200 Kit Lens


While it’s just a kit lens, I can’t say enough good things about the 18-200 for travel. A mix of wide angle and zoom makes it perfect for hauling around Canada.

Super-Takumar 1.8 55mm Lens


The hipster in me needed this lens after seeing what it was capable of doing with DSLR video. A retro lens from the 70′s, fully manual and made entirely of metal. It fits on my Canon60d with a cheap little adapter I bought off of eBay. I don’t use this lens nearly as much as the 18-200 Canon EFS, but it is incredibly fun when I do.

DSLR Accessories

I travel with a variety of DSLR accessories, including my remote switch, my Joby GorillaPod Zoom Tripod, my magnetized LCD Viewfinder Hood (great for shooting video), my charger, and of course my camera strap. I also carry around a portable hard drive to backup my photos & video to. I’ve learned the hard way that one should always backup, then backup, then backup some more. Digital files are great, but computers can’t be trusted.

macbook-pro-retina

13″ Macbook Pro Retina with Magic Mouse


Yes, I am a laptop traveler. No, I haven’t always been. But now that my job depends on my connection to the rest of the world, carrying around a laptop has sort of become part of me. While I crave days and weeks away from it, I have to admit that I’ve gotten pretty good at shutting it down. By about 5:30 pm I shut down the computer, stop opening emails, and just enjoy the time off. This “always on” feeling so many small business owners and techies have has been proven to cause burnout. I’m trying my best to avoid that.

iPhone 5


As an iPhone owner, I can honestly say this thing has saved my keister are several occasions. From getting lost (thanks Google Maps), to setting Calendar entries for meetups with friends, and most importantly, when there’s no wifi network, tethering is as simple as pie. Within no time I can have my Macbook connected to the web through my iPhone and I’m able to upload photos, post blogs, or just check emails and say hello to friends. A decent phone & plan with a few gigs of data is a must in Canada. You’d be surprised how many places don’t have public wifi, or how common it is to find wifi that is complete garbage.

1 Canada Moleskin Notebook


As a writer / blogger / photographer, keeping notes is essential in making a story that is filled with facts, correct names, and describing the atmosphere of the countless locations I visit. While the notes I leave within these books are ridiculously messy, the book that houses these thoughts is something of a beauty.

1 Canadian Lonely Planet


Despite what others may say, I personally think guidebooks are great! I take one with me nearly every time I travel. They can be a bit bulky, but if I’m ever feeling lost, or am in a place I know nearly nothing about, a quick flip through the pages of old LP fixes me up in a heartbeat. While I don’t recommend following any guidebook to a tee (after all, getting lost is half the fun), they are a great help when you’re in a bind.

Passport-Pocket-Underwear

1 Passport

I carry mine nearly everywhere I go. You never know when a seat sale is going to pop up, or maybe you met someone who wants to check out Alaska. Having your passport with you can save you loads of headaches. Plus it can act as a second form of ID should you ever be carded at the bar. Apparently Saskatchewan ID’s are most often faked in other provinces due to so few people knowing what they look like. This has led me to several games of “20 Questions” with Bouncers.

Backpacker Clothes

3 Pairs of Pants

Yes, I travel with three pairs of pants. No, I do not mean underwear… nice try European English Readers. I mean two legged, colder kind of day, roll ‘em up if you really need to, pants. One casual pair, good for a cold day of hiking, and one quasi-business casual pair, great for a night out. The last pair is usually just a normal pair of denim jeans. Because jeans are awesome.

Columbia Omnidry Rain Jacket


Staying dry and looking good in the rain is almost too easy with this fine piece of outerwear. The Columbia Omni Dry Rain jacket is packed full of futuristic materials that keep water off you. It’s ventilation is great for warm days, but it truly shines on the cold, wet days of Canada. Best of all, it’s incredibly light and packs away quite nicely. I’ll be using this well into the beginning of Canada’s winter.

Cheap Flip Flops

Hiking and outdoor adventures is great, but sometimes a guy’s just gotta relax on a beach with some friends. Queue the flip flops! They also serve another purpose, foot fungus! Hostels are normally quite clean, but start sharing showers with 6 – 8 dorm mates and you increase the chance of growing some serious grossness all over your feet. As they say, safety first, then team work.

Columbia Water / Hiking Shoes


When I travel anywhere, I tend to look for at least one good hike. That could be in a city park, a national park, or just outside in the great outdoors. Having a good pair of trusty shoes that are going to give you ample support, and keep you from slipping on wet rocks can be a lifesaver. My Columbia Water / Hiking shoes are superb for all of this, and they have the added bonus of being a water shoe. If a foot takes an accidental dip into water, the water immediately pours out of these expertly designed holes, leaving you with considerably less “squishy” feet.

1 Bunnyhug

What is a bunny hug? Only the comfiest form of clothing you can find, next to fresh-out-of-the-dryer underwear. A bunny hug is a hoodie. Just a run of the mill jumper with a hood attached. Why not call it a hoodie then? Because I’m from Saskatchewan, and for whatever reason, that is the name for a hoodie where I come from.

3 Pairs of Shorts

While Canada is known to many as a country that is in a constant state of frigid temperatures, that isn’t the case in the summer. Canadian summer temperatures can get up to 35 degrees celsius and even higher in some parts! Having something a little more suited for warm weather is a must. Ensure 1 of those pairs of shorts are of the swimming variety, as Canada is home to countless beaches, lakes, rivers, and ponds, perfect for cooling off.

3-4 Tee-shirts

Lounging around, warm days, or just to layer under clothes, a good plain Tee can set the tempo for the day.

2 Long Sleeves

A man’s got to have a collared shirt, in the off chance that you end up in a fancy unplanned situation. Perhaps it’s a hot date, or a random dinner with friends. The other long sleeve can just be a long-sleeve tee.

8-10 pairs of underwear

The longer I can go without having to do laundry the better, hence the large number of gitch. Boxers or briefs you may be wondering? I choose boxer briefs. Because support.

8-10 pairs of socks

If I could never wear socks again in my life, I would. Unfortunately, for the sake of all people within sniffing distance, socks inside of shoes is a must.

1 towel

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says: “Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.” Always pack a towel. I prefer the futuristic wicking towels because they pack great. Although I should mention they’re not the most comfy things to rub all over the bod. Sadly, sometimes space > comfort. So when given the option to use a hostel or hotels towel, I’d recommend taking a day off ol’ Scratchy McGee.

Odds & Ends

  • Lock
  • Headlamp
  • Tylenol + Vitamins
  • 1 Pack of Cards
  • Sunglasses
  • Batman USB
  • Pens
  • Pocket knife
  • Toiletries (tooth brush, tooth paste, pit stick, etc)

This is my backpack in a nutshell. It will vary quite a bit depending on seasons and what I’ve got planned, such as hosteling or camping. There are countless awesome products out there dedicated to backpackers, campers, hostellers, and yes, even the flashpackers. I tend to try to keep it all to a bare minimum. There’ll always be someone who can pack lighter, live with lesser. If I ever need to lighten my load, storage is usually readily available in any town or city. My reasoning for bringing what I feel is a good amount of stuff is that when I’m on the road for several weeks up to a few months, sometimes spoiling yourself can make you feel a bit more at home. Even when the bed is not yours, and you don’t know anybody in the city or area you’re visiting. Packing isn’t a science, but having a few loose ideas can help ensure you’re prepared for just about anything the world can throw at you.

What’s in my Backpack? is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Curious Mysteries at The Winnipeg Legislative Buildinghttp://ibackpackcanada.com/curious-mysteries-winnipeg-legislative-building/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/curious-mysteries-winnipeg-legislative-building/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 14:06:03 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5628 Curious Mysteries at The Winnipeg Legislative Building is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Dan Browns famous novel “The Da Vinci Code” mixes history, mystery, and a curious plot that keeps pages turning. Whether you love it or hate it, I personally remember putting that book down several times while reading it and thinking “Woah, it all makes sense!“. That feeling of “what the…” is hard to come by. Sometimes it shows up in a book, a movie, a well written blog post, but rarely does it happen in real life. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to experience this feeling out in the wild. Found right under your nose in downtown Winnipeg, the local Legislative Building has a strange history that has to be seen in order to fully believe.

Sphinx on Winnipeg Legislative

The Hermetic Code Tours

Dr. Frank Albo takes you on a tour through this historic landmark explaining such mysteries as “What the heck is a sphinx doing on top of a building in the middle of the prairies?“, “What’s with all of the freemason imagery, and what does it all mean?” and “How come all of this in Manitoba?“. This hour & a half tour through an architectural wonder is a breathtaking experience. A curiosity that makes you question history in Canada, and the prominence in Freemasons as late as the 1930′s.

Dome Ceiling
I would love to share more about this unique experience and tell you all of it’s wonders, but the delivery of this incredible information is best seen on the tours, surrounding by marble floors & stunning art & with the superb narration of Dr. Frank Albo. In short, you’re going to see some mind boggling things, hear some crazy stories, and be presented with answers to some mysteries you never knew existed.

Special thanks to Tourism Manitoba for blowing my mind by putting me on this tour.  

Curious Mysteries at The Winnipeg Legislative Building is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Parkhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/safari-saskatchewan-grasslands-national-park/#comments Fri, 16 Aug 2013 14:46:41 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5591 Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Finding wildlife in Saskatchewan isn’t particularly hard; however, one will note that cattle and horses often spot the prairie fields and pasture land more often than those more wild. Finding eagles, osprey, bison, moose, bears, and coyotes sometimes takes hours upon hours of driving, and usually quite a bit of luck. For the animal enthusiast, it can be slightly disheartening. Given the size of Saskatchewan (651,900 km²), it’s to be expected. With that being said, there is a clever way to guarantee seeing some unique wildlife.

grasslands-national-park-sunset

Grasslands National Park

Grasslands National Park is a Saskatchewan staple. While it does require some driving (it is Saskatchewan after all), it does mean you have a much higher chance of seeing something photo worthy. Four and a half hours south west of Regina, a stones throw from Montana, USA, Grasslands National Park is one of the truest forms of prairie landscape. This preservation is not only home to some beautifully unique flora, it’s also home to countless species of birds, wild bison, rattlesnakes, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, short-horned lizards, black footed ferrets, and many more.

grasslands-national-park-hills

Untouched Prairie Beauty

The drive south from Regina will lead you through some of the flattest lands, which evolve into gentle rolling hills, only to be suddenly changed into a grass valley carved out by ancient glaciers. Dry cliffs and rocky buttes poke out from the landscape, creating a beautiful view that many would describe as “non-saskatchewan”. What many people often forget is that before large scale agriculture was introduced to Saskatchewan in the late 1800′s, much of the Saskatchewan landscape was exactly what you see at Grasslands National Park. Raw, untouched prairie beauty. A topography that evolved hand in hand with the flora and fauna of the region.

Frenchman River

A Hiker’s Paradise

During the day, there are countless hikes for every skill level, from quick jaunts, such as the Rock Creek Trail (2km loop) to the more skilled trails, such as the Butte Creek / Red Buttes Trail (16km loop), or the Zahursky Point Route (11km loop). There’s also countless square kilometers of back country hiking for those interested on exploring the park without trails. Each hike offers a different view of this beautiful locale. From stretching landscapes of the badlands of Saskatchewan, to creek crossings and surreal views of the Frenchman River.

Pro Tip

For more information on Hiking Trails at Cypress Hills, grab a copy of the Grasslands National Park Visitors Guide at Parks Canada.

Saskatchewan’s Darkest Dark Sky Preserve

Come nightfall, you’ll be in for one of the starriest nights of your life (clear skies depending of course). The Grasslands National Park is the Darkest Dark Sky Preserve in Canada. For astronomers & amateur stargazers, this is one of the best places to be on a clear night. The recently announced Dark Sky Preserve is not only good for bringing in additional tourists, it’s also good for the habitat of nocturnal species, such as the black footed ferret, which was recently re-introduced into the area.

Grasslands Macro

Snakes, Safety, and Friendly Park Staff

My girlfriend and I had the pleasure of camping in the Park a few weeks back. Park staff at Val Marie were immensely knowledgable and friendly, and ran through all the safety procedures before setting out to hike the Grassland trails. It’s made very clear once you’re this far south in Saskatchewan that you’re in rattlesnake country. My girlfriend, having never entered a land dominated by poisonous reptiles morbidly laughed, “Great, so this is the way I’m going to die!“. The Parks Canada staff laughed and reassured her that it’s fairly rare to come across them, and even if you do, giving the snakes their distance will ensure everyone leaves safe.

The Park Staff even went so far as to offer her snake garders, which are basically thick reinforced fabric leggings which they claim will protect you if one of the slithering fellows decide to strike. The Visitor Center at Val Marie offers anyone who’s going to be doing a lot of hiking the garders, but they’re strictly optional. We decided not to take the leggings, being risk takers & all.

Wild Plains Bison

Wild Plains Bison

After leaving the Parks Canada Visitor in Val Marie, we were fully supplied with maps, visitors guides, and a couple of safety brochures. We drove into the park, and without even trying, came across our first group of wild plains bison. Technically, it was just a pair; however, they seemed content to claim their part of the gravel road as their own. Our car approached them slowly, we both nervously laughed, “I hope they don’t charge the car“. Fortunately, they didn’t. Rather, they moved as slow as possible out of the way. During which time we managed to get a few photos. We high-fived over the first encounter. Success! 

History of the Bison in the Area

Back in December 2005 the Plains Bison were re-introduced to the park. Prior to European Settlement, Bison dominated this region. With millions upon millions of herds stampeding across the country. A significant animal in first nations history, it was one of the first to be effected by European Settlement. By the 1880′s, most of the Bison were gone, due to over hunting, and due to their natural habitat being transformed into agricultural land. What was once 71 re-introduced bison, have now become over 300 bison and 40 calves. Without a doubt, one of the most majestic creatures you can find in Saskatchewan. For more information on the Plains Bison, check out Parks Canada’s Bison Updates.

Camping Grasslands National Park - Tent Sunset

Camping in Grasslands National Park

We setup camp just before sunset in a small campground with a handful of lots. Located a kilometer or so from the Frenchman River, we opted to save the hiking for the next day. We were the only ones camping that weekend, and an eerie soundscape of prairie noises calmly sang to us. Waving grass, crickets, gentle blowing wind, soothed the often stressful time known as tent setup. Looking out from our campsite, a 360 degree view of grasslands and rolling hills surrounded us. Parks Canada had setup an in-ground binocular set to allow the viewing of animals slightly further than the eye could make out. In one spin of the metallic eyepiece, I spotted bison, antelope, and a group of kayakers who recently packed up from the Frenchman River.

Antelope Grasslands

Pro Tip: Ask Park Staff About Fire Regulations

Due to the dry nature of the grasslands, there is typically a fire ban in the area. Propane camping stoves are allowed, but open fire’s are not. Park’s Canada will advise you to be as careful as humanly possible. A handful of years back a large part of the park burned away due to fire, and they’d really like to prevent that from happening again.

Sunset Grasslands

Sun Setting Over Grasslands

As the sun dropped below the horizon, it’s remaining light shone through purple, pink, and orange clouds, covering the park in a warm orange glow. Our mosquito net was propped up, keeping the blood suckers out while we waited for stars to come out. Within an hour, the twilight exploded in a vivid starscape. The milky way spread across the sky. The grasslands began to erupt in activity. Panning my head, I noticed how completely alone we were in the park. There wasn’t a single light to be found. A band of coyotes began howling from the north east, not more than a handful of kilometers away. Their dog like calls echoed through the valley. Then like clockwork, another band of coyotes from the north west, joined in, howling for comfort, for territory, or just because it was a nice night out.

Prairie Dogs

Saskatchewan Prairie Dogs

Day finally broke, and we drove to the Prairie Dog sanctuary. These cute little critters are often seen as enemies by farmers, due to their innate ability to turn a perfectly healthy field into a labyrinth of holes. With agriculture dominating Saskatchewan, there aren’t many places they can safely call home; however, in Grasslands National Park, they seem to have found a corner (or two) to call their own. As we pulled the car over and stepped out of the vehicle, we began to walk along the road. Prairie Dog’s barked, alerting their family & friends of our presence. We gave them their space, feeding into their apparent confidence. This was their land, and no camera touting tourist was going to take it from them. We smiled, snapped a few pictures, and left.

Bison Grazing

Plains Bison Grazing

As we packed up for the day, we went on one final hike, one of the quick 2 kilometer loops. We stepped off the trail in hopes of finding more bison, rather than a snake. As we hiked over a hill, making careful progress, a plains bison was grazing within thumb-covering distance (the scientific measurement of safety with wildlife). It’s surprising how easy they are to spot. We stopped, ensuring we wouldn’t spook him. The last thing we’d want is a charging buffalo coming out way. We snapped our pictures, stared on the open landscape, and began our travels back home. A superb weekend trip that will surely be done again.

Safari in Saskatchewan at Grasslands National Park is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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8 Reasons I Can’t Get Churchill Off My Mindhttp://ibackpackcanada.com/8-reasons-i-cant-get-churchill-off-my-mind/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/8-reasons-i-cant-get-churchill-off-my-mind/#comments Tue, 23 Oct 2012 13:00:13 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5375 8 Reasons I Can’t Get Churchill Off My Mind is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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This summer I had the opportunity to travel to the mecca of arctic adventures. Churchill, Manitoba – home of the polar bears, the belugas, tundra buggy’s, zodiac adventures, and some of the friendliest Canadians you’ll come to meet. In this small town of less than 1000 people, travellers from all over the world board VIA Rail in Winnipeg and take the 2 day northbound journey to the edge of the Hudson Bay to find out what goes on this far north. Little did I know I’d be aching to return. These are the 8 reasons I can’t get Churchill off my mind!

churchill-manitoba-flag

The Metis Infinity Flag

1. The Local People

On the northbound train from Winnipeg to Churchill, you’ll hear stories. People warn you to be careful up there. While you should be careful wherever you go, and avoid confrontation with everyone you meet while traveling, those warnings were completely blown out of the water after the first day in Churchill. Between the friendly staff, the locals walking by on the street, and yes, even the beer drinkers at the pub, I didn’t have a single run in with anyone I couldn’t shoot the poop with. The people of Churchill are a friendly bunch and happy to talk travel, wildlife, and adventures. With such a beautiful landscape surrounding the region, locals of every colour, culture, and creed tend to have something good to say about Churchill.

churchill-manitoba-polar-bear

2. The Danger

There’s something exciting, knowing that every time you step foot outside of a house or building, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Traipsing around without a care in the world, could lead you to be a tasty dinner for a full grown polar bear. While it’d be crazy for everyone to carry a gun wherever they went, the people of Churchill have devised a much simpler solution. They don’t lock their doors. Should you come across a big hungry polar bear, run to the nearest house and you’re almost guaranteed to be able to walk right in, and stay until the bear is dealt with. Tour companies like the Tundra Buggy Tours deal with this danger by using custom built giant bus’s tall enough to keep standing polar bears at bay.

churchill-manitoba-beluga-whales

3. The Wildlife

While there are no doubt some dangers when you visit a small town that is more or less surrounded by Polar Bears, fact is, they’re what bring most people up north. I’ll never forget, as I was on a zodiac in the middle of the Churchill River, less than a couple Miles from the Hudson Bay, seeing a Polar Bear enjoying a meal he’d caught at the edge of the water. While Polar Bears are the celebrities up here, the Belugas are a close second in the fame game. Since beluga’s were more friendly to me snapping photos, they win this reason! Be sure to have a good zoom lens if you plan on taking any photos of wildlife – or at the very least a decent set of binoculars. You’ll thank me later!

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4. The Adventures

If seeing wildlife from afar isn’t enough, the folks at Sea North Adventure Tours can get you closer than anyone to the belugas & polar bears. Between their Kayak Adventures, their Zodiac Tours, & their boat tours, they also offer snorkelling with Belugas, where you get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. In the small town of Churchill, there is no shortage of adventures to find yourself on. Go off-roading in the Tundra Buggy’s, custom built giant rovers that cruise over land and water in search of Polar Bears. Churchill isn’t just somewhere you can stop over for a day and say you saw it. In order to experience every bit of it, you need to get out of town and see what this place is really all about.

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5. The Travellers

I’m not sure what it is. Maybe the cold air, the difficulty in getting this far north, or just the spirit of adventure that Churchill inspires within people, but the travellers / tourists that find themselves up here. They’re cut from a different cloth. They’re here for unique reasons. During my brief stay in Churchill I met multiple German backpackers, exploring all that Canada has to offer, I had beers with two women from Minnesota who spent over 2 months kayaking to Churchill, I met a French Canadian student protester who explained to me in his point of view what the big fuss was all about, and a korean student who came up to Churchill on a whim to find work. Those who find themselves up here tend be of the inspirational & interesting variety.

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6. The History

The Dorset, The Thule, The Dene, The Chipewyan and the Cree Natives had all inhabited this region. Their history, art, and culture can be absorbed at the Churchill Eskimo Museum, home to some knowledgeable staff, and a variety of carvings, and historical findings from the area. They say that it was the Dorset & Thule people who encountered the Vikings in the 11th century. Their people recount how large and strong the vikings were, but how easily they were scared off. If first nations history isn’t your cup, Churchill Fort is a must. Suspected to be built by the stone masons, and home to some incredible british and french colonialism history.

Tundra Pub Churchill Manitoba

7. The Food

Despite the fact that food is difficult to get up north, which in turn makes fresh goods tough to come by, the local Churchill restaurants do surprisingly well. Grab a hearty breakfast at the Seaport Hotel, then work up an apetite for lunch. Gypsy’s Bakery & Restaurant pump out high quality food that keeps everyone coming back. After getting a healthy dose of outdoors and wildlife, stop by The Tundra Inn Pub. This isn’t your average pub grub. Between the quality salads, the massive burgers, the superb pizzas, and their sushi Friday’s, they’ve got plenty to choose from. Hang around after for some live music, billiards, and some good old fashion drinking. A night or two at The Tundra Inn Pub will guarantee you at least a couple of stories to take home.

Tundra House Hostel

8. The Tundra House Hostel

While there are several great hotel deals in the area, I can’t say enough about my stay at the Tundra House Hostel. It’s really more of a house than a hostel, but I think I can speak for many, in saying that when you’re travelling, the revolving door of the “big chain hostels” can sometimes make it hard to meet people. The great thing about Tundra House Hostel is not only how cozy it is, but how easy it is to meet people. After all, the train is only in town a couple of times per week, so you’re guaranteed a few days with other travellers, which is plenty of time to make friendships that can last a lifetime. The beds are outstanding and clean, the kitchen, dining room, and living room are exactly what you’d expect to find in any ordinary house. After a long day of taking in Churchill, unwind in the living room and decompress to the sound of the ticking clock.

Churchill has a way of keeping people. You’ll meet countless locals with the same story. One visit, followed by a second, then they never really left, or at least keep finding themselves back in this unique part of Canada. It reminds me a lot of Dawson City in the Yukon. Slightly closed off from the rest of the world. While accessible to most, the difficulty of getting up there keeps the box stores and the chain restaurants away.  The locals seem truly grateful for each tourist or traveller they meet in their own slice of the tundra. It’s a beautiful thing to see a small town thrive.

8 Reasons I Can’t Get Churchill Off My Mind is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Grilled Cheese, Mill Street Beer, A Museum of Shoes, & a Heckuva Timehttp://ibackpackcanada.com/grilled-cheese-mill-street-beer-a-museum-of-shoes-a-heckuva-time/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/grilled-cheese-mill-street-beer-a-museum-of-shoes-a-heckuva-time/#comments Mon, 24 Sep 2012 15:54:42 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=4833 Grilled Cheese, Mill Street Beer, A Museum of Shoes, & a Heckuva Time is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Toronto! I somehow end up in this magnificent city at least a few times a year. Despite meandering through it occasionally, I’ve never been back and not found something unique and new to see, do, or try. The Cross-Canada Travel Blogger Tour, put on by the Canadian Tourism Commission, not only gave me the opportunity to meet a handful of other incredible writers and bloggers, but opened the doors to a few places in “The Big Smoke”, that I’d never got around to seeing.

In true rockstar fashion, I was swept up by a limo company as soon as I landed in Toronto, and brought to the Cambridge Suites in downtown Toronto. While I’m used to public transport and splitting cabs with fellow airportee’s, I have to admit, having your own driver is something I could get used to. After dropping off my backpack in these luxury Toronto Suites, I promptly grabbed the 505 Streetcar to Chinatown. Chinatown; however, wasn’t my destination. A short walk and I was back in one of my favourite neighbourhoods of Toronto. Kensington Market.

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Kensington Market

The streets of Kensington Market are filled with local produce, small restaurantes, patios, vintage shops, hand made crafts, and the occasional smell of incense. For those who’ve ever been to Australia, I like to compare this area of Toronto as “Byron Bay”, but without the beach. It’s a gathering place for free-spirits, hip young adults, and people interested in seeing a local side of Toronto.

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Having not eaten in 7 hours, my gut was beyond grumbling. It was screaming at me to feed it. Everything looked so good though, and decision making has never been a skill I’ve excelled at. Mexican? A bakery? Burgers? Pub grub? Then, of the corner of my eye, I gazed upon The Grilled Cheese. I B-lined it there, and ordered the best Grilled Cheese sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

After inhaling a tremendous amount of cheese, I ran into a fellow Cross-Canada travel blogger, Frankie Bird of As the Bird Flies. As someone who’s been to Kensington Market a handful of times I was nominated as leader. In true Canadian fashion, I found beer. Mill Street beer, Steamwhistle & Tankhouse to be exact. The patio of The Last Temptation is one of my favourite spots to people watch in Toronto. The patio & window seating is just high enough to observe a bit of everything going on around you, and the food & drinks are surprisingly easy on the pocket.

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The Bata Shoe Museum

After intros and pitchers of beer, it was time to see some more of Toronto. While we discussed the possibility of the CN Tower, as well as the Royal Ontario Museum, it was the Bata Shoe Museum that won our attention. A museum dedicated to the history of footwear. Thousands of years of it! Hands down one of the most interesting and cute museums I’d ever been to. It also gave me a huge appreciation for the sneakers I wear, and added even more respect to women for putting up with some of the uncomfortable footwear they’ve endured in the past, and continue to occasionally wear today.

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Pimm’s, Gin, & a Filet Mignon

By 630pm the rest of the group had congrugated to the lobby of the Cambridge Suites, and we left as a group to Easy & Fifth. A trendy and unique restaurant located a short old-fashioned elevator ride above one of Toronto’s funnest clubs. It was there that I enjoyed Pimm’s & Gin, tackled a lovely salad, then finished it off with what might have been the tastiest and best cooked filet mignon I’d ever ordered.

For 24 hours in Toronto, we squeezed in a bunch, but we’d only just scratched the surface, and there was more TIFF & Toronto sights, sounds, and eats to take in. All in all, a great way to start off a superb trip catered to showing the world a slice of Toronto.

Grilled Cheese, Mill Street Beer, A Museum of Shoes, & a Heckuva Time is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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Cross-Canada Blogger Tour: Counting down to TIFF & POP Montreal!http://ibackpackcanada.com/cross-canada-blogger-tour-counting-down-to-tiff-pop-montreal/ http://ibackpackcanada.com/cross-canada-blogger-tour-counting-down-to-tiff-pop-montreal/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 13:15:11 +0000 http://ibackpackcanada.com/?p=5253 Cross-Canada Blogger Tour: Counting down to TIFF & POP Montreal! is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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If you’ve been following along on Twitter or Facebook, you may be aware of the fact that I’ve been invited by the Canadian Tourism Commission to check out the Toronto International Film Festival & POP Montreal, between September 15th & 20th! This is part of a huge campaign to bring travel bloggers from around the world to see & experience some of the unique things to see and do in Canada. There’s 19 travel bloggers in total that are being sent to almost every corner of Canada to see what makes Canada so awesome!

My Intro Video!

It’s pretty rare that I’ll ever jump in front of the camera, but I’m so excited for this opportunity to work with the CTC, and was encouraged by their social media team to just be myself and tell the world what I’ll be doing. Unfortunately for the internet, being myself includes being a bit of a scatterbrain with a extra dash of quirky and weird. Shortly after posting this video to youtube, one commenter informed me that I look a lot like Wil Wheaton. Personally I don’t see it, but there’s worse people to look alike. Who knows, maybe it’ll open up a few extra doors when I get to the Toronto International Film Festival. Ha!

What’s the Game Plan?

It’s going to be a busy week! I’ll be traveling with 4 other bloggers / online writers, exploring Toronto & Montreal. We’ll be landing in Toronto first to catch one of Canada’s most exciting events, the Toronto International Film Festival. After bumping shoulders with some of the worlds greatest filmmakers, we’ll be jumping on VIA Rail and heading to Montreal to catch POP Montreal, one of Quebec’s most popular fall events. POP Montreal includes symposium discussions, art exhibits, fashion shows, movie screenings, countless performances, and of course, a few all-night parties.

I’m crazy excited to take part in this huge travel blogger tour, and hope you’ll follow along. If you’ve ever been to TIFF or POP Montreal, I’d love to hear what I should expect? Any tips? Suggestions? Send me out a tweet @ibackpackcanada or follow my updates on Facebook or Instagram! Also be sure to check out the Keep Exploring Tumblr page, which will be syndicating the whole project!

Check Out Canada Keep Exploring!

Cross-Canada Blogger Tour: Counting down to TIFF & POP Montreal! is a post from: I Backpack Canada

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