Adventure travel specialist Meghan J. Ward lives in one of the best locations on the planet for outdoors enthusiasts: Banff National Park. The content specialist for Banff Lake Louise Tourism, editor of Canadian Rockies culture publication Highline Magazine, and freelance writer for Parks Canada, Travel Alberta and numerous outdoors publications, Meghan is someone you want to listen to if you’re planning a trip to Canada’s adventure capital. You can also read her musings on everything from waterproof sneakers to climbing Mt. Everest at her blog, The Campsite.
Born in Calgary and raised in Ottawa, Meghan headed back west for summer jobs in Banff during university and relocated to Banff for good in 2008. She travels extensively throughout Canada (to six provinces and Nunavut in the past two years alone!) and recently spent nine weeks in Nepal, where she hiked to Everest Base Camp and through Upper Mustang, among other adventures.
Her newest endeavour is Adventures in Parenthood Project, for adventurous travellers transitioning to travelling—still adventurously—with kids.
How did you get into adventure/outdoors writing? What’s your background in this area?
I had no background in creative writing when I decided to launch into a freelance writing career, only a lot of encouragement from family, friends and professors. I wanted to find some way to combine my passion for outdoor adventure with my job (i.e. do what I love for a living) and this was the answer.
What was the moment you realized that writing about adventure travel could be your job?
It’s a tough business and at times I’m still asking myself this question! I suppose the moment came back about four years ago when I started writing for Travel Alberta. The irony of it was that I was writing travel pieces based on my experience living and working in Banff. I didn’t have to go anywhere to write about a destination that millions of people travel to each year.
What might you do on any given day at work?
Seeing as I work from home, I often rise fairly early to knock off a few e-mails in my pajamas before heading out to a yoga class. The rest of the day I work on contracts, research, updating social media and editing articles for Highline Magazine. I have the privilege of eating lunch each day with my husband, photographer Paul Zizka, who also works from home.
Which places in Canada do you think should be on every adventurous soul’s “life list” and why?
Canada is an incredibly diverse country and I think each province and territory has something to offer the adventurer. Out of the things I’ve done already? Getting into the backcountry of the mountain parks of Alberta/BC, ski touring in Nunavut, and canoeing in the Temagami region of Ontario. On my own list is kayaking along the BC coastline, paddling the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories and visiting Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park.
What are a few things that first-time visitors to the Rockies should know?
Bring clothing for all kinds of weather and learn how to layer your clothing when you head outdoors. This example is pretty extreme, but I remember one August day when I started off hiking in shorts and a t-shirt and ended up pitching a tent in an emergency when a brutal snowstorm suddenly rolled in.
Are there any common misconceptions about the Rockies region that you’d like to dispel?
I often hear that Banff, in particular, is too busy and commercialized. But the park is 6,641 square kilometres and very few people truly get off the beaten track. The area has some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and probably less than ten per cent of visitors take the time to get away from the highway. There is plenty of information out there to help you plan a trip that provides the true backcountry experience.
In the Rockies, what is one of your favourite:
…challenging single-day hikes?
The Alpine Circuit at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. You spend the whole day above tree line and have beautiful views of the mountains lakes and surrounding peaks.
I’ll be honest and say I haven’t ever stayed there, but the lakeside campground at Two Jack Lake looks like a gem. It is just outside of the Town of Banff, so you could come in for a nice meal at a restaurant and be back at the campground to enjoy the serenity of the lake at night. An equally good choice but more remote is the campground at Waterfowl Lakes on the Icefields Parkway.
Any of the campgrounds in the Skoki region of Banff National Park are beautiful and offer superb access to backcountry scrambles and hikes. I often make good use of the Alpine Club of Canada’s alpine hut system as well, which are accessible via hike or ski and offer a superb shelter in some wild locations.
..places to spot wildlife?
Just take a drive up the Icefields Parkway in the summertime. Just last week I was driving it and saw two black bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and a wolf.
As one of those rare (lucky) folks who actually live in Banff, could you name some of your favourite places in the village for:
…a luxurious post-adventure “splurge” dinner?
By far the best choice is the Grizzly House. You’ll be treated to a four-course meal, including traditional cheese fondue, your choice of meat you cook on “hot rocks” and a Toblerone chocolate fondue to finish. For the vegetarians out there, Nourish Bistro will knock your socks off.
…a quick breakfast or lunch to take on the trail?
Wild Flour, a bakery/café on Bear Street, has great treats to take on the trail, including scones, muffins, cookies, grilled panini, fresh baguettes, bottled drinks and juice boxes.
…organic, gluten free and vegan options?
Again, Wild Flour is my top choice. They have organic, vegan and gluten-free breakfast, lunch and snack options that taste so good, you’ll enjoy them even if you do eat meat and gluten.
…a night out on the town for grown-ups (i.e. post-university set)?
Not being one for clubs or pubs, I’d check to see if there are any performances or live shows at the Banff Centre and pair that with a great dinner at one of Banff’s great restaurants, such as The Bison or the Balkan, a Greek restaurant. Get to the Balkan on Tuesday or Thursday for Greek Night, which features live belly dancing and plate smashing.
What do you think is one of the most underrated places in the national parks in the Rockies?
In Banff National Park, the Bow Lake area on the Icefields Parkway is often overlooked, or at least sits under the shadow of much more famous places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. But, in my opinion it is equally, if not more, beautiful. Many people just aren’t willing to drive the extra half an hour from Lake Louise to see it.
What gear do you always travel with, no matter what the destination?
I always carry a camera (Canon EOS Rebel XTi), notepad, pen, digital voice recorder, waterproof jacket, hiking boots, and warm layers. I want to be ready for anything and any story and don’t want to be a chicken if bad weather moves in!