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1 Week in the Canadian Rockies

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We are planning to take a 1 week trip to the Canadian Rockies the first week of July. We are driving in from Northern Montana (it is saying 4.5 hours from the city to Banff). We are avid hikers looking for great hikes but not overnight backpacking. We are in great/excellent shape/health and prefer the road less traveled. We would like to explore at least 2 separate areas/parks, perhaps 3. We have time for 6 full days of hiking/driving. What should we see/do?

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    Welcome!

    It will probably take longer than that by the time you factor in the border crossing, traffic and stops. From St Marys on the East Side of GNP, it took me a good 4+ hrs to Canmore. Add on 30+ minutes between Canmore and Banff etc. That is via the scenic route (Rt 22) rather than going straight up Hwy 2.

    It would be easier to let us know how many nights you would be spending on this trip. With 6 full days does that mean 8 nights, or do those 6 days include the drives to and from Montana.

    A week is going to barely scratch the hiking surface of the area. You will have to make some choices - more locations or more hiking. I think you will want to pick two locations or you will spend much of your time driving.

    First, be aware that July 1 is a holiday here. That long weekend will be very busy, so book well in advance and be prepared that the roads & borders will be busy as will trails (unless the weather is poor).

    At the south end of the parkway, you can stay in Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore or even Field. The latter is tiny and usually you need a minimum of 2 if not 3 nights for a booking there.

    What kind of accommodations are you looking for? There are hotels in all locations. Canmore will have more in the way of condos (no private rentals within the parks), and is a bit more off the main tourist path (as is the surrounding Kananaskis Country). There are also a number of excellent hostels that attract all ages - these range from big hostels with private rooms to basic wilderness hostels. The latter often have no running water (tank water for drinking), but are located in stunning scenery right by the hikes.

    If you could provide a bit more detail about the length of your trip and the kind of accommodations, we can start to flesh out some ideas.

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    We are currently planning on July 1-8, but that is not set in stone as I was unaware the 1st was a holiday. I am looking at lodging in private cabins on airbnb and vrbo since this is an anniversary trip but hotels would be acceptable. We would prefer to see a few amazing things than a bunch of little things and to stay off the main tourist path.

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    Where are you coming from to northern Montana? Be aware that if you rent a car in the US you can't drop it in Canada.
    Would it make more sense to fly to Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton and rent there?
    My favorite option is to take the ViaRail Canadiaan (3 days a week)to Jasper and then stay at the HI hostel about 4km SW of town near the north end of the Icefield Highway.
    I enjoyed a hike down the Maligne Canyon and a trip over the hill to Patricia Lake.

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    If you are looking at VRBO, be very careful - not going to be much help in the parks. As I mentioned, because of strict parks regulations, private 'by the night' rentals are forbidden in the parks. This includes Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise and Field. There are some legit B&Bs and condo style accommodations that do list on VRBO, but there are also illegal rentals.

    There is a huge problem regarding housing for workers in the park so they are very much cracking down on illegal rentals. So if you book something illegal, you risk losing your booking if/when they are busted. In anycase, Lake Louise has no residential area, so hotels, hostel or Paradise Cabins are your only choices.

    All legitimate accommodations in Banff and Lake Louise (and between) are listed here: http://www.banfflakelouise.com/Places-to-Stay/

    To find private rentals, you will need to go out to Canmore or beyond - and still make sure that the rental is legal.

    There are no close options for Jasper - the closest municipalities outside the park are a good 1hr away and Hinton (to the east) is not a desirable place to stay. BTW, I'm not sure which hostel Tom is referring to (and I can't see a hostel being honeymoon style), but do NOT like the Hi-Whistler - it's a dump. We all much prefer to camp or stay at any of the nearby wilderness hostels, and now there's a new private hostel right in town plus an existing tiny private hostel.

    A week later might be best - I think the 1st is a Friday, so between Canada and the US, anywhere from the 1st to the 4th could be very busy in terms of flights, traffic and tourists.

    There are one-way rentals between Montana and Alberta available - on another forum, someone has been able to find possibilities between Kalispell and Calgary. However, they are REALLY expensive and the rates shift to pay per km in Canada instead of unlimited.

    With only a week, I think it would be well worth your money (and the US dollar goes a lot farther here!) to fly to Calgary. Driving to and from Montana will cost you at least two full days (if not more, depending on the timing of flights/delay at the border/traffic) that you could be hiking - and a lot of that drive is not terribly scenic (mostly in the flat plains, not the mountains).

    You may also be finding much higher prices to Calgary because you are planning to arrive on a holiday. Especially with our low dollar, flights here shouldn't be that much cheaper - do some searching on different dates and different airlines. Look at the overall picture too - car rental might be cheaper here (gas will be with the exchange rate), and you can likely find packages for hotels that include bed & breakfast, or some offer packages that include picnic lunch and/or dinner. Those can save you a lot over a separate meal.

    You could something like this (using July 1 as a start, but suggesting you delay until after the 4th).

    July 1 - drive to Lake Louise, stay in Paradise Cabins
    July 2 - hike around Lake Louise/Moraine Lake
    July 3 - Lake O'Hara or Iceline
    July 4 - drive to Jasper, do Wilcox Pass or Parker's Ridge
    July 5 - Jasper area
    July 6 - Jasper area
    July 7 - back to Banff
    July 8 - drive back to Montana

    Or if you decide to skip Jasper

    July 1 - drive to Lake Louise, stay there
    July 2 - Lake Louise
    July 3 - Moraine Lake area
    July 4 - Lake O'Hara or Yoho NP (Iceline)
    July 5 - early morning to drive part way along the Icefields Parkway and hike (Bow Glacier Falls or Dolomite Area etc)
    July 6- flex day for other hikes, or Kananskis Country,s tay in Canmore
    July 7 - Kananaskis Country, stay in Canmore
    July 8 - drive home

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    As an addendum, flights vs. driving - total up the extra gas/food etc. for the drive up to Canada. I suspect you will spend at least $200 plus for the gas, so that may wipe out a good deal of the savings on flights.

    As I said, do your full research -check prices for flights on different days to Calgary and Montana. Then check car rental prices/deals, factoring in the exchange rate. As well as the cost of gas between Montana and Banff/Lake Louise return.

    Also figure out timing - can you actually fly to Montana and have enough time to drive to Banff. And, especially to get back to Montana in time to catch your flight. If you have to spend a night either way, you're giving up several days essentially of your holiday - is it really worth that much. If you're coming to see the Rockies, you might as well spend your time there. Not driving.

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