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Banff/Lake Louise in 5 days...

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I'm planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies with my four mostly teenage kids (17, 15, 13 & 10). I've never been there and am so excited.

While we're arriving Friday August 21st, our first day of touring will be Sunday the 23rd. (we'll be sleeping in Banff -no hotel booked yet- from that Friday).

We have from that Sunday until Thursday afternoon-evening when we have head to Calgary for the night to make a morning flight to Toronto. I figure that leaves 4 1/2-5 days for touring.

How can I make an itinerary that won't involve a lot of driving but will still allow us to see the breathtaking sights that I've been reading about? My interests are seeing the incredible scenery, doing really fun, unique activities, and hiking. I really want this to be an awesome trip for my kids.

I don't know if I should drive up to Jasper considering the distance although from what I read I understand it's a stunning must-see. I don't want the trip to be too choppy, considering that I am travelling alone with four kids, and while they're good travellers, I don't want it to be too much moving from hotel to hotel.

Originally, I was thinking of just Banff and Lake Louise, but now I'm considering the icefields/Jasper, etc.

I'd appreciate any advice on how to plan and divide it up, even if it's just Banff and Lake Louise.

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    Welcome!

    Sounds like a great trip in the making. Just to help figure out the best plans/avoid overlap with whatever activity you might have planned - what are you doing between Friday and Sunday?

    I would certainly suggest heading to Jasper for a couple of nights. The drive along the Icefields Parkway is absolutely spectacular - I drove part of it yesterday and was once again just amazed by the panorama of mountains, waterfalls and lakes.

    What time is your flight on Friday? The Calgary airport is only 1.5 hrs from Banff and you don't need to be there super early for a domestic flight. I think if your flight isn't any earlier than 9am, I'd stay in Banff that last night. Might be an early morning, but far better to extend your time in the mountains (Calgary isn't bad, but there's nothing really unique from any other city of a similar size).

    It might also help to have some idea of your budget. Hotel rooms are going to run around $200-250 per night and you will need 2 rooms or a suite. In Jasper, you can find better rates via Private Home Accommodations (B&Bs more or less). There are no private rentals in Banff or Jasper (due to regulations), but in Banff some hotels have condo or townhouse style options. Also, with 4 kids the cost for some activities/tours is going to add up. You will want to book accommodation ASAP as you are visiting during peak summer season.

    A suggested itinerary:

    Sunday - Banff area (townsite), local hiking, stay in Banff
    Monday - drive to Jasper, stops along the way, stay in Jasper
    Tuesday - Jasper area stay in Jasper
    Wednesday - leave Jasper early, afternoon in Lake Louise/Moraine Lake, stay in Banff
    Thursday - spare day in case of bad weather another day, can do YoHo NP if you have time

    If you really don't want to change locations, you can do a drive part way up the Icefields Parkway:

    Sunday - Banff area (can do this via foot, bike, Roam bus)
    Monday - Lake Louise/Moraine Lake
    Tuesday - Icefields Parkway
    Wednesday - Yoho NP and/or more Banff area stuff
    Thursday - spare day for more hiking, whatever you didn't already do

    Activities
    Hiking - LOTS of options. If you are reasonably fit, I'd definitely suggest hiking to one or both teahouses at Lake Louise. Pack your own lunch, but grab a sweet treat at one of the teahouses.

    Gondolas - if the weather is good, you can take sightseeing trips in Banff, Jasper or Lake Louise. Check or family deals or coupons to keep costs down.

    Glacier tours - you can do the regular snocoach tour (~50-60 per person) or the IceWalks. The latter are led by certified guides and you get 2-3 hrs of walking on the glacier/moraine in a safe fashion. The snocoach tours just stop for ~10 minutes in a tiny, roped off section of the glacier.

    You can also head to hotsprings in Banff or near Jasper - usually about $5-7 per person. Shopping in Jasper or Banff, good food etc.

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    Wow kgsneds, thank you for your prompt and informative reply!

    Re Saturday, it's going to be a pure chill day. I'm looking for things to do that are not vehicle-related as it is our Sabbath and we don't drive, shop, etc. Hiking in the area - wherever we can get to from the hotel we're at- is good. Any suggestions would be welcome. But I also want a day to relax after a hectic previous week.

    Re budget for hotels, well...my dream was always to go to the Chateau Lake Louise - until I checked out the prices! I will need two rooms, as you mention, and the least pricey one runs about $700.00! Then I have to multiply that by two.. So it's hard to say. On one hand, this is a long - needed trip (my kids and I have had a very rough year after losing my husband) and I want it to be spectacular. On the other, I don't want to splurge on something that we won't be using, since we'll hopefully be spending our days outside. I'm open. I do like a nicer hotel in a gorgeous setting. That's a big plus for me, and worth it.

    Re the flight on Friday - it's at 11:10 a.m. I figure we have to be at the airport at 9 a.m., so I was going to try to avoid having to leave very early (7 a.m.?) from Banff. I'm wondering whether it's worth staying for the night in Banff when we'd probably be at the hotel in the evening anyways.

    I love that you're definitive about Jasper because I keep on changing my mind. I know the drive is extremely long and I keep thinking it's better just to focus on Banff/Lake Louise. You don't think it's too much of a drive in such a short time?

    In your first itinerary, where were you suggesting to stay over for that Thursday night? Also, is an afternoon in Lake Louise/Moraine Lake enough?

    In your second itinerary, do I understand that it's staying in Banff for the whole time? How long would it take to get to the Icefields Parkway? Would it be enough if I didn't go to Jasper? Also, if I stay in one spot and go from there, isn't there a lot of backtracking?

    Also, and I'm sorry for the million questions...I'll be driving. But I'm thinking, should I get transfers instead so that I'll be able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery? I'm thinking on the long Jasper leg for instance, would it be too exhausting and too stressful to be driving and trying to enjoy the scenery? My kids and I are so not into buses with dozens of people - we much prefer our independence. But in this case, I'm wondering (possibly concerned!) about that.

    Thanks so much for your help.

    Any other thoughts from any others re the staying in one spot vs. moving around dilemma given the relatively short amount of time we have?

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    To answer your questions...

    Banff townsite is totally walkable, so you should have no issues finding things to do on the sabbath. There are plenty of hikes/walks in the area, plus some museums etc.

    Depending on how strict you are in regards to the sabbath and kosher food, you may want to do some research in advance as there are somewhat limited supermarket options in Banff. Around here, you're probably more likely to find halal options rather than kosher options. If shopping is out, you will need to have your food already purchased or be OK with eating out. If you book well ahead, getting a place with a kitchenette shouldn't be an issue, but you'd need to be OK with at least heating something up on Saturday.

    If your flight is until 11:10, stay in Banff. It's a bit of an early morning, but much nicer to stay out in the mountains rather than a cramped airport hotel out in the middle of pretty much nowhere. Why would you be in the hotel in the evenings - things stay open late during the summer, so plenty of things to do after dinner. You probably only need to be there 1.5 hrs early for a domestic flight especially if you check in ahead of time.

    The drive to Jasper is not long by any means (3.5 hrs flat out) - and the drive IS the whole point of the trip. The Icefields Parkway is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in North America, if not the world. To come this far and not see any of it would a be a huge shame.

    The idea is to spend a whole day on the drive, with plenty of stops to see the views, waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and do short walks/hikes. Have a nice picnic lunch at a scenic spot. With all that, the driving is broken up - not tiring at all. And you would have a day to relax in Jasper. it's not a tricky road to drive and the speed limits are relatively slow, so I can't imagine it being a stressful drive.

    If you aren't going to do any hiking, an afternoon would be OK for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

    The Icefields Parkway starts in Lake Louise, and that's about 45 minutes from Banff. If you aren't going to Jasper, most folks would drive to about the Athabasca Glacier and back - about 5 hrs driving. As above, you do this over a full day so you can stop at all the various viewpoints and enjoy it. Yes your are backtracking, but it's worth every moment and it's totally the done thing.

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    kgsneds, thanks again. I'm convinced - Jasper it is! You are so helping me with the debates going on in my head (including staying over in Banff the last night).

    Do you mean the drive to Jasper from Banff is 3.5 hours (obviously without stops)?

    Re Lake Louise and Moraine Lake - aren't there some must-see or rather, must-do hikes around there? Put it this way, we do love hiking, so which must-see hikes would you fit in to the full itinerary you suggested?

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    More great advice from kgsneds, who helped me plan my trip last September.

    Jasper is a definite must, and the drive up the Icefields Parkway is spectacular. As mentioned, the drive is a destination in itself.

    There are some nice hikes right around Moraine lake and lake Louise, and I enjoyed the hike up to Takakwaw (sp?) Falls in Yoho.

    On the drive up to Jasper, there are a lot of stop off points, so you should plan on its taking a good part of the day. I drove by myself and had no problem enjoying the beautiful scenery. It's everywhere, and it's almost exhausting!!

    Read my TR for more info.

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    From Banff to Jasper would be closer to 4.5 hrs. It's 3.5 hrs from Lake Louise if you don't stop and there are delays. And they are repaving part of that highway this summer, so I'd probably add an extra 30 minutes in for delays/narrow lanes between Lake Louise and Saskatchewan River Crossing (about half way between Lake Louise and Jasper).

    As to hiking...

    In Jasper, you can hike around Maligne Canyon and up at Maligne Lake. About 30 minutes or less from the townsite, the Edith Cavell/Angel Glacier area is a must see. I've not been there yet, but am doing it next month. Great views of a hanging glacier and a pretty alpine meadow.

    If you have time along the Icefields Parkway, my favorite stops are Wilcox Pass and Bow Lake. Wilcox Pass is a beautiful alpine pass with a stunning view of the Athabasca Glacier. You can hike up to the first major viewpoint in 30-40 minutes or spend as long as a half day going all the way up the pass and exploring around. Bow Lake is pretty - you can just meander along the lake or do the full hike to Bow Glacier Falls.

    If you are hikers, I'd use Thursday for hikes in the area rather than just on the way back from Jasper. At Lake Louise, you can make a full day by doing a loop to the two teahouses and doing side trips up Little/Big Beehive. If you don't have time for it all, I'd prioritize the Plain of Six Glaciers trail - pretty impressive views of glaciers and glacial moraine.

    At Moraine Lake, you can head up the trails (with your kids, you have a big enough group that you won't need to find someone else to abide by the tight-group-of-4 restrictions). If you are in good shape, the hike up to Sentinel Pass is really pretty - even going as far as the Minnestema (sp?) Lakes is quite pretty.

    Yoho NP also has great hikes - the weather can be quite different there (other side of the continental divide), so that and Kootenay NP can be a good option to check out if Mother Nature gets grumpy in Alberta. Takkakaw Falls is only about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot, but if you are in shape, hiking to Laughing Falls or doing the Iceline is very worthwhile. The latter is a stiff hike, but stunning scenery. Emerald Lake also offers some less strenuous, but very pretty hikes.

    With regards to kosher food, this article on TripAdvisor might be of use. As I mentioned, there is very little kosher food around, so you may want to shop in Calgary before you head out to the mountains.

    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Travel-g154911-c14495/Banff:Alberta:Kosher.Food.html

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    Panecott, thank you - you're helping confirm kgsneds' unequivocal position on Jasper, which is a huge help, as mentioned above.

    Kgsneds, your advice is so useful and practical. You are obviously an expert and I thank you for your generosity in sharing your wisdom. It sounds like there are way too many choices though! It's overwhelming.

    The plan, with your excellent advice, will be as you suggested then, in the first itinerary: Banff Sunday, sleep there. Jasper Monday and Tuesday, sleep there Tuesday. Lake L on Wednesday, sleep in Banff. Thursday ? (sleep Banff). I wasn't sure about your Thursday according to your last post as you suggested Lake Louise for that day, I believe. But we're doing Lake Louise on Thursday, I thought (according to your first post). I might have misunderstood what you meant.

    Would you mind helping me arrange the itinerary to include the specific hikes/sites you have mentioned? I have no sense of distances or other variables and it's almost impossible for me to gage what is realistic and doable without exhausting ourselves. And of course, I'll be with four kids, who are awesome and love travelling, but still....kids!

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    One can spend a lifetime in the Rockies, and still not cover it all, so don't worry about being a bit overwhelmed for a short trip!

    Your plan for hiking is going to depend on weather, conditions and energy levels. No matter how much I like being in the mountains, there are some days when I have less energy/motivation. Some days are just meant for shorter hikes and longer time spent at a dinner table with a mountain view.

    Sunday - Banff area. If you will be wandering around Banff townsite on Saturday, I'd use this day to be a bit more adventurous. Might be a good day for the gondola if the weather is OK, or more local hikes. Perhaps Sunshine Meadows (though you have to pay for a bus up). I don't know as much about hikes in the Banff townsite areas as I always stay in Canmore or Lake Louise.

    If the weather is just perfect, you could always head to Lake Louise/Moraine Lake. If so, get to Moraine Lake very early to avoid parking issues. You could also use this day to head over to Yoho (Emerald Lake, Takkakaw Falls). That could be more fun - and a better option if the weather in Banff is a bit iffy.

    Monday - drive to Jasper, stayi n Jasper. I would get an early start. Your hiking will depend on the weather - I would prioritize Wilcox Pass and the Edith Cavell area. If you have time between the two drives, add in Bow Glacier Falls. People really seem to like Mistaya Canyon, and I'd stop at Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls.

    I'd allow plenty of time for stops, and a good picnic lunch. You can break up a hike with a nice lunch stop to rest and get more energy and enjoy the views. There would be nice places to eat & enjoy the view in Wilcox Pass and on Parker's Ridge (an alternative to Wilcox Pass).

    Tuesday - Maligne Canyone/Maligne Lake, if you want more hiking, either do the shorter trails up at Maligne Lake or the trails around Jasper townsite. Stay in Jasper

    Wednesday - drive back to Banff. See Monday - I would balance this out with what you didn't get to do on Monday. Perhaps more hiking if Monday's weather was less than fun. You can stop by Lake Louise and Moraine Lake if you want. Stay in Banff

    Thursday - yes, this should be Lake Louise. My planning got a bit garbled in my last post! I would take a whole day or Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Note that you could switch this with Sunday. Weekends will be a lot more crowded, but if Sunday is a perfect blue sky day, then take advantage of it!

    Distances:

    Banff to Lake Louise - about 45 minutes. I always allow extra time for the last 4km from the highway to the lake itself. There are no traffic lights, but the two four way stops seems to really baffle people and cause traffic back ups at peak times. There's nothing to do but be patient! It's another 20-25 minutes from Lake Louise up to Moraine Lake.

    Lake Louise to Jasper - 3.5 hrs if you made no stops. Probably 4hrs this summer as they are repaving sections of the highway between LL and Saskatchewan River Crossing and are indicating delays of up to 30 minutes Mon- Sat 7am to 7pm. I would allow 6-9 hours, depending on how much hiking you do. Wilcox Pass (and the Athabasca Glacier) are 1-1.5 hrs from Jasper and about 2-2.5 hrs from Banff.

    Yoho NP is about 1-1.25 hrs from Banff with 15-20 minute drives up to Emerald Lake and to Takkakaw Falls.

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    i haven't read all the notes above...sure it's all good advice. i'll just give you my initial reaction. whether or not to include jasper in such a short stay is always debatable. i was going to suggest no. i would just plan on staying put in banff for all your nights (get a two bedroom suite hotel). but do plan on one full day where you drive 1/2 of the icefield parkway. there is plenty to do in banff/lake louise and with that many people, changing hotels frequently is time consuming. it would also allow "mom" to relax more with less driving. if you choose to go to jasper, please check on hotel/PHA (private home accommodations) soon. many people are reporting having problems finding available accommodations in july. not sure about the end of august.

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    Another thing, I'm not sure if it was mentioned, but from Banff to Lake Louise make sure you take the Bow Valley Parkway (I think it's part of 1A and runs parallel to Route 1).

    It's the scenic route and very beautiful. (Of course, "scenic route" is redundant when talking about that part of Canada, b/c it's all scenic and then some, but it's a particularly pretty and relaxing drive).

    It's also where I saw my only bear on my trip.

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    Itt - thank you for weighing in on the Jasper issue. I know - my concern is being exhausted from all the driving, organizing and moving around when I'm the only adult in the mix. And I have read, as you write, that going halfway up the parkway is also good. (a question: is there an actual "halfway" mark?!" or how do you know it's halfway?) On the other hand, what I have read about Jasper is so persuasive that it's hard to resist.

    I have another new tidbit to throw in - I just read today about Lake O'Hara for the first time. Goodness - people say it's the most spectacular place on the planet! Now I have another must must - see. I understand that it's impossible to get tickets for the bus at this late date, but there is one other avenue I'm checking into (getting the private guide). If I do go there, then I'll probably have to redo things for the itinerary....in that case, it might be a little easier to forgo Jasper....

    Any thoughts on Lake O'Hara?

    Panecott, thank you for the tip - I will definitely take the even-more-scenic route. Is it much longer than the alternative?

    Thanks for all of your wonderful information and thoughts.

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    If you can get tickets for Lake O'Hara, I would certainly skip Jasper and stay in the Banff area for the full time. Either stay in Banff your whole time or splurge for a couple of nights in Lake Louise. Either way you need to get bookings done ASAP.

    Even booking a guided trip, be aware that you still probably will not be able to get tickets. The issue is the quota: there are only 11 bus seats per day for commercial (guided) day trip groups. 6 seats are released 3 months in advance and 5 are available 24 hrs in advance. Maximum groups size is 6.

    So you'd be too large a group (5 of you plus a guide) for the day-of tickets. For the other tickets, you'd have to find a tour that has all their pre-booked spots available or a guide who has booked seats for that day and not filled any of them. I could be wrong, but strongly suspect that whichever guide or company booked tickets for those days, they won't have 5 spots left. Note also that when booking a private guide, payment is generally expected at the time of booking and there are no refunds (once you book, the guide's time - and thus paycheck - is committed).

    There is no official half way point on the parkway - generally people doing a day trip from Banff go either to Saskatchewan River Crossing or to the Columbia Icefields -- about 5 hrs round trip.

    And yes - forgot to mention the Bow Valley Parkway. Definitely worth driving it between Lake Louise and Banff - quite slow speed limit and good place for wildlife spotting. Probably add 20-30 minutes to your trip to Lake Louise depending on the weather, wildlife and other vehicles on the road.

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    Julbilada - Thanks for the recommendation - can you tell me about it please? The prices are so expensive - is it worth it?

    kgsneds - I'm working on the Lake O'Hara front - I hope it works. Obviously, I'll post as soon as I know, but if we can go, I'll have to rearrange everything...

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    Hi everyone,

    I just wanted to report that I did get the guide for Lake O'Hara!! (He confirmed that he has 5 tickets on the bus for us plus one for himself). I'm thrilled beyond words and feel as though I've won the jackpot! For the last few days, I'm just looking at pictures of the location....

    So now, my itinerary has to be redone, and looks something like this:

    Friday August 21- Tuesday August 25 - stay in Lake Louise:

    Friday Aug. 21 - arrive LL

    Sat. Aug. 22 - LL, chill, walk around lake and vicinity. (I did call Chateau LL where I (temporarily) booked - ouch, it's insane - and they said I could go up to the teahouses and pay on the following day, which is incredibly nice).

    Sunday Aug. 23rd - don't know

    Monday Aug. 24th - Lake O'Hara!!!!

    Tuesday August 25th - Icefields, and then to Banff

    Tuesday August 25th-Friday morning August 28 - stay in Banff

    Wednesday August 26th - don't know

    Thursday August 27th - don't know

    Friday - get up super early to drive to Calgary to make flight to Toronto!

    I'd love to hear what you think about this (so-far basic outline) itinerary and about the undetermined days.

    Thanks a million.

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    "they said I could go up to the teahouses and pay on the following day"

    Huh? Not sure what this means. The teahouses only take cash, so have CAN $$ for any purchases. Chateau LL would expect payment when you arrive - or at least a credit card on which they'd put a fairly hefty hold for incidentals.

    Congrats on Lake O'Hara. Very intrigued that a guide would be hanging on to tickets this long - wonder if he/she had a cancellation. I'm not clear on whether this 'guide' is a tour company person (i.e. just accompanying you up there) or whether they have some sort of ACMG certifications (required if they'd be guiding you beyond the very basic trails).

    As a note, for a private guide, unless they are a total disaster, I'd factor in a cash tip into your budget. No reputable guide should ever, ever mention a tip, but it's common practice and very much appreciated by guides who tend to living on fairly low incomes in high cost areas. Since there are 5 of you (i.e. the full group), I'd be looking at $50-100 for the day, especially if the guide is with you for the entire day and has already spend time booking the tickets.

    On the 25th, rather than backtracking, why not continue on to Jasper. Spend two night there, then back to Banff or Canmore on the 27th. You have plenty of time already to do Lake Louise area/Banff.

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    kgsneds, what I meant re teahouses, is that Chateau LL said that on Sunday, we could make the payment to the hotel for anything we had at the tea house on Saturday (our Sabbath).

    re the guide - he told me that guides are allowed to go in to Lake O'Hara up to 10 times per month and that a certain number of seats on the bus are allocated just for the guides. So for instance, if there were 6 seats on a bus and the maximum number have been already allocated to private people, those 6 seats will not go to any more private people, but rather to the guides.

    I agree about the tip. I know that his guide work is only part time. (plus, he is a certified guide and I read good reviews about him).

    What would you do on the Sunday (August 23rd)?

    Re Jasper...it's so tempting. I'm just concerned about trying to do too much on my own - too much driving and too much moving and organizing. I don't feel I have enough time in Banff and Lake Louise with the many many hikes/lakes and fun things to do in the area. I want to do activities aside from hiking - maybe white water rafting and fun things ike that. In fact, I'm worried about not having enough time in those areas with all the hikes and lakes to get in - I don't have that many days!

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