Our reservations were made: two nights of peace and solitude sheltered by towering mountains and fragrant pines. We’d enjoy a king-size bed with full en suite, a kitchenette, dining area, TV, shaded patio, and heated seats. Our luxury hotel room on wheels rolled up to our front door mid-week, courtesy of Outdoorsy. The owner, Keren from Vannish Rentals, arrived with a shiny 23 foot, 2018 converted Mercedes RoadTrek van and Sherlock, her 130 pound/59 kg Newfoundland dog.
“I bought the RV because of Sherlock, really”, she told me. “There aren’t many hotels that will take large dogs, and I wanted to drive around and explore North America. Then I found out about Outdoorsy, and I’ve been renting my van through them ever since. I’ll take my vacation when you get back.”
Since 2014 when Canadian Jen Young and her husband Jeff Cavins started Outdoorsy, the company has raced ahead of the competition, becoming the only global RV (recreational vehicle) rental company. It operates in 14 countries, 4,800 cities and counting. In the new sharing economy, it makes perfect sense for owners like Keren to rent out vacation units that they were only using about two weeks a year. Renters are keen to try out the RV lifestyle, and we were curious about it too.
Learning Curve Ahead
First, we had to get acquainted with our new home away from home. Keren spent about an hour going over all the details of the van from top to taillights. There was an amazing amount of detail to take in, from how to set up the dining table to connecting with campground power, but Keren had thought of everything. She presented us with her own user’s manual with lots of big pictures and arrows. As an “RVs for Dummies” guide, it would be invaluable when we set up in Lake Louise.
The van was fully stocked with bedding, kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, camping chairs, and even an axe. It was scrupulously clean, and every surface from door handles to dishes had been washed and disinfected to comply with Outdoorsy’s Covid-19 policies. Around the time that Keren said, “And here’s a rolling pin, in case you want to, you know, bake anything”, I reached information overload. That was a bridge too far for a first time RV’er. Plus, I had no intention of cooking anything, if possible. This was a vacation, right?
Next Stop – Deliciousness
Avid campers and cooks, do not judge me. I’m positive that given the induction burner and microwave in our RV, you could prepare something delicious. I, however, am not blessed with your skills so we chose to take advantage of the many take out options available. But the people behind Park Distillery’s take out menu are genius, and as we swung through Banff, we made a quick contactless pick-up before arriving at Two Jack Lake at sunset. We had a table by the shore all to ourselves, and we opened our recyclable boxes to find tender prime rib, cooked to perfection, thin green stalks of broccolini tingling with pepper flakes, meaty ribs and golden chicken basted in a sweet BBQ sauce. Licking the chocolate off our fingers from a still-warm house-made S’more, we hopped back into the RV and headed for Lake Louise.
First Night Jitters
We arrived at our campsite just as a light rain started to fall. Following Keren’s guide, which we checked and double-checked, we were able to connect to shore power, as it’s called, and turn on the interior lights and the in-floor heating. A fire wasn’t in the cards for the first night. Not all campsites have fire pits, and the campgrounds are at half-capacity due to the pandemic, which made for a tranquil campground. After a slapstick struggle with the fitted sheet, we managed to make up the bed, find the reading lights and share a nightcap from Park Distillery’s cocktails on-call menu. I was pleased to see that the park’s washroom facilities were spotless. The showers at all parks are currently closed, but our little suite on wheels had both an interior and exterior hot water shower.
Just as we were ready to turn out the lights, the RV car alarm started bleating at maximum volume. A frantic search for keys ensued. The van was turned off, then on, then the alarm started up again. Keren had warned us about the motion sensor, but it took a couple of tries to find it and turn it off. Once we knew where it was, all was well, except that we wanted to apologize to all the other campers. Little things like this made us realize that longer-term rentals are the way to go, to get to know the vehicle and its options.
Over the River and Through the Woods
The next morning, after making sure everything was secure, we drove up to the Lake Louise Summer Gondola. It was a beautiful calm morning, so we decided to take the open chair lift. We glided through the piney air up to the 2101 meter (6893 ft) terminal past rushing streams and open meadows. The local grizzlies must have decided to turn in early this year, or maybe we were too late in the day, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing one chomping down on ripe buffalo berries, even though this is prime viewing territory. But from the Observation Deck, we could see the panorama of the Rockies jagged peaks for forty kilometres north and south, and there was Lake Louise below, shining like a sapphire. A switchback walk on the mountainside led to more beautiful views from the Whitehorn Bistro patio. We didn’t want to leave, but there was more to explore.
Alberta Lakes with Top Billing
We joined Rose Maunder from Discover Banff Tours just outside our campground. Our first stop was Morant’s Curve, named for the famous photographer, Nicholas Morant, whose work appeared on Canadian banknotes in the 1950s and ’60s. The river was milky with silty granite runoff from the rain the night before, and it was easy to imagine the train whistles of the many CPR engines that had passed this way.
We dropped into Lake Louise for a short lakeside stroll. Rose quoted Tom Wilson, the first mountain guide to see Lake Louise, “As God is my judge, I never in all my explorations saw such a matchless scene”. The many people lingering on the trail would probably have agreed. For a weekday, it was bustling.
“Our tours are mainly Canadians these days, as you would expect”, Rose said. “Although I enjoy showing our landscapes to people from other countries, it’s a privilege to introduce Canadians to their backyard. I love the way their jaws drop when they first see the lake.” My jaw indeed dropped at our next stop, Moraine Lake. Even though I’ve lived in Alberta for years, this was my first visit to this magical place. Rose led us to the top of the rockpile, the slide that created this turquoise gem of a lake centuries ago. This is another iconic Morant viewpoint, ringed by the Valley of the Ten Peaks, that used to be featured on the back of twenty-dollar bills. Without a guide, it’s doubtful that we could have found a place to park, let alone see this fantastic view.
Another Log on the Fire
As evening fell, we went online to order dinner from Lake Louise Ski Resort’s Bear’s Den Smokehouse. Our driver arrived within minutes with The Bear and the Flower Farms pulled pork and Bear’s Den Maplewood smoked chopped brisket sandwiches delivered right to our camping spot. They went well with a bottle of wine that had been chilling in the fridge.
Despite some damp firewood, a fire was eventually made, and we toasted our RV experience by the light of the full moon. Let’s say we’re converts. Breaking camp in the morning was a breeze and mostly a matter of putting things back where they belonged.
We made one last stop to fuel up in Banff at Farm & Fire with a classic breakfast and buttery fruit-topped pancakes. Their new take-out menu is in the works and will be ready to roll out for ski season.
There are still a few fall weekends left to enjoy. The Lake Louise Summer Gondola closes on September 20th, and their take out menu will start once skiing season opens. There’s time to see the larches glow and visit many other locations with Discover Banff Tours.