Rocky Mountain Road Trip: Hitting the Trails in the Foothills

A mother-daughter hiking adventure becomes a defining journey of self-discovery.

By Claudia Mazzei   |   June 16, 2021

  Jeff Bartlett @photojbartlett
A quick paddle opens up the whole view of the surrounding mountains on Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.

I’m not your average teenager, that’s for sure.

I’m part of the LGBTQ2IA+ community, and while I’m fortunate and proud to have recognized that from an early age, I have struggled with expressing myself. But thanks to the support of my 150,000 TikTok followers who accept me for who I am, I have discovered my true self and spread positivity with no judgment to anyone who wants to listen.

Last year was a big year for me—my Sweet 16! And before the world turned to shit, my mom promised to take me on a trip of my choice. When travel restrictions narrowed that down to Canada, we booked everything within three days and fled Ontario for a six-day adventure in the Rocky Mountains to see what the big fuss was about. As it turns out, there is something about standing at the top of a 1,000-metre-high mountain that can help you define what living really means.

On our first day in Calgary, we did typical tourist things, exploring the city, eating at fantastic restaurants (we’re both true foodies) and stopping at Shaw Millennium Park, one of Canada’s biggest skate parks. This massive park has everything you need and more, including an amazing group of skateboarders. I met this 12-year-old boy, Dylan, who dropped in on an 18-foot vertical ramp like a mini version of Tony Hawk. Age was definitely just a number for him, proof that the only one who defines your limits is you. (Yes, I chickened out on the ramp.)

Calgary is a very accepting place for the LGBTQ2IA+ community, with lots of Pride flags and an environment that made it more comfortable for me to be who I am in front of my mom. Although I had already come out to her, I seemed to feel more confident just being myself.

Hot Stuff
Banff and Lake Louise is noted for the hiking, biking, scrambling and skiing. The region was actually settled in the 1880s with tourism in mind, after railway workers came across the natural hot springs.

Our first stop in the Rockies was the town of Canmore, where we pulled up in the parking lot of the Ha Ling Peak trailhead. This will be a piece of cake, we thought—we walk elevation 30 on the treadmill all the time. But little did we know that we would be hiking for four hours and ascending to an elevation of more than 900 metres. Mom always says that you have to enjoy your moments, because before you know it that moment will be gone, and you’ll look back on it and wish you’d been fully present with yourself. I can assure you that I was present for every moment from then on. This hike lit a fire in me.

Next on the itinerary was the famous Johnston Canyon—but a road closure meant we would have to walk or bike five kilometres to the trailhead and back, and of course you still have to hike the trail. What does a virus have to do with the roads?! We hadn’t rented bikes and, clearly, arguing with the park ranger was going nowhere.

We decided to do what turned out to be a terrific hike in nearby Marble Canyon instead—before returning to Johnston to try one more time to convince the guard to let us drive in. Nope—so we walked it! Five kilometres in, the five-kilometre trail, and five out, but not before fuelling up on the best burger ever at Black Swift Bistro. Did I mention this was August and it was 30°C that day? But what a walk it was! Every view was a perfect example of Mother Nature at her finest.

With no connection to the outside world, I felt free—no stress, no pressure, only me and my thoughts.


Next, our adventure took us to one of the most famous places in Banff. I’d seen pictures of Lake Louise before, but the images don’t come close to the real thing. The lake didn’t seem real, the water was so crystal-clear blue. We hiked the Lake Agnes Trail, which loops around Lake Louise, delivering a fantastic view from above. After yet another long hike, we came across the Lake Agnes Tea House—to discover it has no electricity! Workers have to hike supplies up the trail in the morning and take the garbage down at the end of the day. Some of them sleep in the cabins beside the teahouse. With no connection to the crazy outside world, I felt free—no stress, no pressure, only me and my present thoughts.

Our last hike of the trip was along the shoreline of Moraine Lake, which is not as well-known as Lake Louise but is just as admirable. After that, we spent one hour in heaven as we paddled on the lake’s clear glacial water. And I would say that you haven’t lived until you’ve had a swim in glacial water. I felt so rejuvenated and energized. All the soreness from the physical demands of the last couple of days were gone. But I also felt like I had let go of past regrets. It was as if any mistakes or events that had been haunting me were washed away.

By letting go of the past, I was allowing myself to grow into the future. In the end, this trip was full of achievement: expanding my comfort zone, taking risks, being present in the moment and, most importantly, being me.

Claudia Mazzei

Claudia is an adventurous young TikTok influencer who has chalked-up over more than one million Likes. She loves exploring new places and pushing her limits—even if they are a bit insane.

Look for Travelier in print soon.