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Crossing the border in a rental car

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Good day all you knowledgeable travellers; I wonder if you can help us again, please.

We're planning a trip from the UK in July, flying into Calgary and intending to tour the NPs - Banff, Yoho, Jasper and so on. A traveller we met in Yellowstone told us that Glacier NP (north Montana) was even more beautiful (than Yellowstone) so we'd like to include Waterton Lakes (Can)/Glacier NP (US) in the tour too.

The question is, can we cross the border into the US and back again (same day) in a rental car, or do rental companies impose restrictions on this? The answer to the question dictates how we plan the itinerary.

If anyone can also recommend reasonably priced and located accommodation suitable for exploring Jasper NP for a couple of days, that would be a real bonus.

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    Hello Driver,

    As Kate_W indicated, you can take a car from one country to the other country and back to the original country.

    However, you do need to check that your car rental company allows this, as not all of them do.

    Above all, you need a written document that authorises you to do that. Border officials in either direction may demand to see that document. Usually that permission consists of a note added to your car rental agreement.

    I know you didn't ask about this, but I'll mention that taking a car across the international border in only one direction is a much more complex procedure. I've never tried it, but from what I've read it's next to impossible. If it can be done at all, it's very expensive. I'm talking about picking up a car and dropping it off in the USA or vice versa.

    You can cross over into Montana's Glacier National Park for a day. (I specify Montana's GNP because there is a lesser known national park of the same name in British Columbia, oddly enough.)

    However, whether you can do it and whether you should do it are two different questions.

    I think you should give very serious consideration to spending at least one night (and maybe more) in Montana. The Going to the Sun Road through GNP is like the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Lake Louise in the sense that the nominal driving time is very different from the actual driving time if you do the route any kind of justice. There are many scenic lookout points that are worthy of stops. Also, if you like hiking, there's lots of that too.

    Something you could consider doing is leaving Banff, driving south on Hwy #40 through Kananaskis Country, and then down Hwy #22 (also known as the Cowboy Trail) to Waterton Lakes National Park in the southwest corner of Alberta.

    Waterton deserves at least a night, ideally two.

    Then you could drive to Saint Mary, Montana, turn west, drive the Going to the Sun Road, and overnight in West Glacier or Whitefish, Montana.

    Thereafter you could turn north, return to Canada, and head up through Cranbrook and Fairmont to Radium, BC. From Radium you could drive northwest along the Columbia River Valley to Golden and then east through Yoho National Park to Lake Louise.

    Another alternative from Radium is to drive northeast through Kootenay National Park and from there to Lake Louise or Banff.

    I've given you the route in a clockwise direction. It can just as easily be done in a counter clockwise direction.

    I feel the route I've suggested requires an absolute minimum of 2 overnight stops, one in or near Waterton Lakes National Park, the other at the west end of Glacier National Park or just beyond.

    I'll address Jasper accommodation in another post......

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    About accommodation in Jasper ...... There are many options. There are a number of chalet-style accommodations just outside the townsite. Popular ones include Alpine Village, Beckers Chalets, Jasper House Bungalows, Patricia Lake Bungalows and Pine Bungalows. Pyramid Lake Resort, which provides self-catering condos, is popular too. If you want a conventional hotel in town, I've seen favourable comments about the Sawridge and Jasper Inn.

    Jasper also has some conventional B&Bs and some "home accommodations." Home accommodations are like B&Bs, but they don't serve breakfast. Many of them compensate for that, however, by providing kitchens. Two home accommodations that have received favourable reviews on this forum are Crayston's and 105 Patricia Street. They're both within walking distance of Jasper's small town centre. While Crayston's is reputed to be very comfortable indeed, it apparently is like a large studio apartment / bachelor flat. 105 Patricia Street, on the other hand, has two 1-bedroomed apartments. The larger of the two also has an extra alcove off the living room in which there are two single beds.

    If you do an Internet search for accommodation in Jasper, you'll find links to accommodation in Jasper East and Hinton. In my opinion neither of those locations is central enough to be a convenient base for sight seeing in Jasper National Park.

    More coming ......

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    I don't know when you'll be coming to this area, how long you'll be staying, and how many details your research already has unearthed.

    Something I'll draw your attention to, in case you haven't come across a reference to it yet, is the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, between 1.5 hours and 2 hours east of Calgary.

    The word "awesome" is over-used these days, but it well describes the dinosaur skeletons.

    Alas the museum is very full on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in July and August, and that really does detract from the experience. If you visit in either of those months, it's better to do so between Monday and Thursday. If you are forced to go on a weekend, it's best to arrive as the doors open in the morning or else go between 6 pm and 9 pm.

    If you do the Tyrrell as a day trip from Calgary, it pretty much consumes a whole day (but is well worth it, IMO).

    My web site has more information about the Canadian Rockies and Calgary:

    http://groups.msn.com/CalgaryandCanadianRockiesTravelTips

    Hope you have a great trip.

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    In my experience, I have had several unpleasant experiences as an American driving a rental car from Calgary into the USA.

    If you plan to cross the border, make sure you have in writing that you have permission to drive the car out of Canada.

    Some companies prohibit you from crossing the border, or they impose a milage cap if you leave Canada.

    Last summer, my best rental rate was from Enterprise. It was so much less than the on-airport companies that I chose Enterprise which is perhaps 4 miles off airport.

    For us, getting to the Enterprise office was an easy transfer. The shuttle bus met us just outside of bagge claim and took us directly to the Enterprise rental office. We soon had our car and we were under way.

    Returning the car was equally as easy. After check in, the shuttle bus took us almost immediately to the airport.

    The rental contract with Enterprise specified that if we drove the car into the US, we would be charged by the kilometer. We also would have had a rider added to our rental contract which granted us permission to leave Canada.

    I elected not to visit Glacier US last summer. Instead, we went Waterton from Banff and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

    Perhaps as an citizen of the UK, the US border patrol might not be as ugly.
    The last two times I have driven a Canadian rental car from Calgary into the US, I got a thorough grilling.

    What really irritated me was when I handed the agent my passport and he then asked me what my name is. I knew then that this was going to be an unpleasant experience.

    As for accommodations in Jasper, some of the better cabin locations, like Patricia Lake Bungalows, have a 3 night minimum. I like Jasper House Bungalows and Becker's Chalets.

    Both establishments are a few k south of the main townsite right on the Athabasca River. Some of the units have kitchen nooks.

    If you are budget minded, you can find accommodations in private homes at a cheaper price. We have tried that twice with indifferent results.

    The catch phrase is "Parks Approved". I am not sure what that means.

    As for Glacier NP in the US being more beautiful than Yellowstone, my retort is that is like saying that a rose is prettier than a hamburger. Well, not if you are starving!!!

    They are two entirely different kinds of parks. The geologic formation processes are totally different, and both have been subjected to totally different erosional forces.

    Both parks have highly unique attributes. Yellowstone has more varied wildlife, geysers, large waterfalls, and many thermal features of volcanic origin.

    Volcanism per se had very little to do with the formations of Glacier, and the terrain was sculpted by ice age glaciers. There is one sill of volcanic origin that runs the length of the Garden Wall, but that formation was injected into the rock before the faulting and folding of the Lewis Overthrust Belt pushed older formations over much younger rock.

    When you drive from Waterton to Many Glacier, look for Chief Mountain. It is pre Cambrian rock lying on top of Cretacious age formations.

    If you drive down to the Many Glacier parking area, you will see the main spine of Glacier with a dark streak of rock. That is the sill of igneous rock that runs for miles along the glacial arrete known as the Garden Wall.

    The band is also prominent when you view the Garden Wall from Logan Pass.

    I think it is an absurd statement.

    If you want to get into a beauty contest debate, my own personal feeling is that the main range of the Canadian Rockies, from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park all the way to Mt. Robson has more to offer than Glacier, USA. But here we are comparing mountains that were pushed up by the same geologic forces, i.e. the North American tectonic plate banging into terraines in the ocean.



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    Thanks to all for the wealth of information of all sorts. Not only are you helpful and authoritative, but psychic too! I would have liked to ask in my original post all those questions you've answered, but was afraid to be so pesky.

    Judy_in_Calgary, thanks too for the link to your very helpful website. Much of it is common sense and yet more is useful and insightful. You've given us many ideas to consider.

    By the way, we are planning to arrive on 6 July and to spend 2/3 nights in Calgary to take in some of the Stampede before collecting the rental car and touring the National Parks. And we too experienced snow in July - that was in Breckenridge, CO. Having arrived on 3 July, 2 inches fell overnight and the weather was so bad on 4 July it spoiled the firework display over Lake Dillon.

    Thanks again to all. We're looking forward to our trip in 6 months.

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    You're welcome, Driver. If you're going to spend 3 nights in Calgary, this is how you might consider using your time:

    Thu, July 6 - Land in Calgary. Most flights from the UK arrive mid-afternoon. All you'll really be able to do on the evening of this day is find your sea legs, so to speak. You'll probably want an early night.

    Fri, July 7 - This will be the morning of the parade that kicks off the Stampede. It has floats, marching bands, cowboys, etc., in it, and it's quite a fun parade to watch. It starts at 9 am and runs till about 12 noon.

    The parade route, which goes through downtown Calgary, is closed to road traffic from quite early in the morning (something like 7 am if I recall correctly), but the C-Train continues to operate throughout the parade.

    You can buy seats on bleachers. If you are interested in doing that, here's a web site from which you can order them:

    http://www.calgarystampedeparade.com/bleachers.htm

    Something like 80% of the parade route is kept open for members of the public. But, to secure a good spot on the sidewalk (pavement), you have to arrive really early, about 7 am. Since you'd be there for about 5 hours, it would really help if you could bring folding lawn chairs from home (but it would be difficult to do that from the UK :) ).

    The Stampede Parade audience is really friendly. When I took my children to the parade when they were young, they invariably needed to go to the bathroom (Canadian for toilet) half way through the parade. Our neighbours on the sidewalk, who always were total strangers, would be good about saving the turf that we had staked out for ourselves, and they would watch our chairs for us. Then we would do the same for them.

    Something you could consider doing instead of taking in the parade, however, is visiting the Tyrrell Museum that morning. During your first couple of days, while your body clocks are on GMT, you in any case will wake up early. You could get dressed and leave Calgary just as soon as you woke up. You might even make it to the museum for its 9 am opening. However, even if you arrived a little later on that morning, I doubt that it would matter. While the museum usually is very full on July and August Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, I think the Stampede Parade is the one event that draws tourists away from the museum.

    If you were interested in taking in the evening chuckwagon races at Stampede Park, you might consider attending them after you got back from Drumheller on the 7th. They would make for a late night, and that would make for a long day. However, I think it would be even worse to go to the chuckwagon races on the following night (the 8th). If you were leaving Calgary on the morning of the 9th, it would not be pleasant to have had a late night on the 8th.

    Sat, July 8 - You could consider strolling through downtown in the morning and then visiting Stampede Park in the afternoon to take in the rodeo events.

    Sun, July 9 - Hit the road.

    Hope that helps.

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    I've crossed into the US from both Vancouver and Montreal using rental cars from AVIS. They have a clause in the contract that preapproves such a crossing, assuming you are going to cross back into Canada again. I have also crossed in the other direction using US AVIS cars many times from many locations and never have had a problem with AVIS.

    As others have noted, it would be substantially more difficult, maybe even impossible, to cross from one country to the other one-way.

    This also applies only to US-Canadian crossings. AVIS desk clerks go into immediate cardiac arrest if you even hint you may want to take one of their cars to Mexico.

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    A car rented in Canada can be driven into the US, by Canadians, Americans and foreign nationals, so long as this is allowed by your rental company and proper issurence is in hand.

    The only restriction I have ever heard is a Canadian citizen/resident cannot rent a car in the US and drive it into Canada. Something to do with Canadian import laws. Othere than that, our border is pretty open. I found this out when I wanted to do my Canadian north trip. I found it was cheaper to fly from Buffalo to Alaska, than Toronto to Yukon, so I was going to do that and rent a car, but I was told I couldn't do that. I'd have to drop off my American car at the border, walk across to Canada and rent another car. This of course was not possible as there are no rental agencies in the bush.

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    Many good replies here.

    I would like to add that my experience crossing the border with a rental car from the Canadian side or USA side is that there was no problem at the border. It is pretty much the same as driving your own car across, which I have also done. I think the question about asking your name after you have handed over your passport is routine.

    - Sharon

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    Many thanks again to all contributors.

    On rental cars, I guess it depends on the rental company. With my Fly/Drive arrangement I don't think I get a choice, but I'll clarify with the desk clerk when I collect the car and make local arrangements with them.

    On the additional information (Judy_in Calgary), how intuitive. On our annual north American trips we always try to stay up as late as possible but are flagging by 9/10 PM and we're always awake by 3/4 AM and looking for coffee to go and cinnamon buns (er.. that's the tasty bready stuff, not what the US call buns!)

    We're not averse to museums per se but we mostly prefer the outdoors for the nature, photography, and solitude we can usually find off the beaten track. So we'll go, er, to the Stampede!!! Oh well - at least it's outdoors.

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    You can usually rent a car in one country, take it to the other country and bring it back to where you started. The catch is the car company needs to know this so you have the necessary documents for Customs.(Sorry, If you are a Canadian in Montana trying to do this the answer is usually "NO"!)

    One way car rental they are difficult to obtain. The suggestion is to rent in one country and return it to the company's rental location in the same country. i.e. Northern Montana major locations are in Great Falls, East Glacier and Kalispell. In Canada they are in Calgary, Banff and Lethbridge Alberta.

    To get across the border check out Airport Shuttle Express of Calgary who provides trans-border service between Canada and the USA or the USA and Canada. See: http://airportshuttleexpress.com/waterton.htm

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