Another great trip to places we've never been!!
When I started to plan this trip for my wife and I it was supposed to be the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, Victoria & Seattle). Eventually Banff NP came into the picture and Seattle moved out.
We used AA air miles to go from Ft Lauderdale to Calgary (thru Dallas/Ft Worth), Westjet from Calgary to Victoria, Pacific Coach (bus, ferry, bus) from Victoria to Vancouver and AA from Vancouver back to FLL.
About a month before the trip our 9PM arrival in Calgary became 10:30. The original plan was to pick up a rental, drive to the outskirts of Calgary and sleep over arriving in Banff the next morning.
Following the airline schedule change I moved the departure one day earlier leaving late in the afternoon. We slept at the Grand Hyatt directly over terminal D in DFW. This worked out great as we were right at the AA counter the next morning and only needed 5 minutes after leaving our room. No shuttles each way and only $30. more for the night. Well worth it. Thanks to the Fodorites who suggested this.
Smartest thing I did
All of the selected lodging worked out very well. Nice places, in great locations at reasonable (mostly) prices.
Dumbest thing I did
Not bringing my telephoto lens (Canon 55-250). I figured that since I'd be with my wife I wouldn't be searching for wildlife. Wrong!!!
I was out very early and late several times. Once I saw a mother black bear and 3 cubs. I might have one or two salvageable images of the cubs. Dim and far make it difficult with a lens that's way too short.
Grand Hyatt in DFW. This worked out very well as written above. The hotel is very nice. I would definitely do this again if the schedule worked out that way.
Charleton's Cedar Court in Banff Townsite
A couple of minutes from the "downtown area" as well as the highway in the other direction. Motel style. Nice rooms and full buffet breakfast included.
Paradise Lodge in Lake Louise
Located on Lake Louise Road between the Moraine Lake cutoff and Lake Louise. Nice cabins with kitchen facilities. A little expensive but that's Lake Louise.
Magnolia Hotel & Spa in Victoria
Beautiful hotel and rooms. Great location - around the corner from the harbor. Breakfast included.
Listel Hotel in Vancouver
Very nice hotel and rooms. Located on Robson Street right at the beginning of the West End. A ten-minute walk to downtown going east and Stanley Park to the west.
It was a little cooler than we expected (considering the rest of North America was having a heat wave) though after the first evening was quite pleasant. Although we had very few days with deep blue skies, the fast changing mountain weather provided us with ample sun. We were mostly rained out one day in Vancouver but still made the best of it in Chinatown. Our last day in Vancouver was mostly sunny.
Except for the racoon and swan I saw in Vancouver's Stanley Park all wildlife (except one big bear) was seen in the Banff Townsite area.
Mount Norquay prooved to be a good location for wildlife both very early and just before dark. One morning I came across a black bear on the side of the road. Eventually it walked across the road in front of my car.
I also saw a mother black bear and three cubs late in the evening. They were a bit far and I didn't have a long enough lens to photograph anything good. But I tried.
We also saw a gigantic black bear just off the highway between Lake Louise and Bow Summit. A lot of people were way too close to this one.
At the start of the Lake Minnewanka Road loop at the Cascade Pond turnoff. There were about a dozen checking out the visitors to their area.
I saw some elk just beside the parking lot at Bow Falls early in the morning. Also saw a deer on the Mt Norquay Road early.
Big Horn Sheep
We saw a group of Big Horn twice in the middle of the day just past the bridge on the Lake Minnewanka Road loop.
Racoon and Swan
In Stanley Park in Vancouver.
Banff National Park
The town is packed with people and is very touristy (this is not a negative as I'm a tourist as well). However, there are some fairly quiet areas quite close.
The Mt Norquay road goes up to a viewpoint with excellent morning and evening views of Mount Rundle.
The Lake Minnewanka Loop road passes Cascade Pond, Lake Minnewanka and Johnson Lake. All provided excellent scenic views and a variety of hikes.
The Vermillion Lakes Road is very peacful with very good morning views and several hiking trails.
I didn't find the Tunnel Mountain / Surprise Corner road as exciting as advertised.
Bow Falls. Located in Banff Townsite. While little more than rapids, the site of the sun glistenning off the water with snow-capped mountains in the distance behind is first class.
The Tunnel Mountain hike to the top of Banff Townsite's own mountain is just the right length for most people to complete. The views along the trail and of the town from the summit are excellent.
Look down Banff Avenue in either direction for a great mountain view.
The town has a reasonable variety of restaurants.
The village of Lake Louise is basically a strip mall with one very utility restaurant. The only other restaurants are part of hotels. If we had it to do over we would have picked up food at a supermarket in Banff and eaten in.
While Lake Louise is a worthy main attraction it doesn't compare to the view of Moraine Lake and its turquoise water from the top of the rock pile.
For some unknown reason I expected the rock pile to be about ten feet high. Actually it's quite a bit higher with a path and stairs leading to several viewpoints at the top.
There's a reason this is the view on the old Canadian twenty-dollar bill. Absolutely spectacular!!!
Located about 20 miles north of Lake Louise. After a relatively short, uphill hike (in elevation) the Peyto Lake viewpoint appears. This is the only sight that rivalled spectacular Moraine Lake. Turquoise water backed by snow-capped mountains. What a sight!!!
A quaint and relatively small city. The main attractions are the Inner Harbor and the Government buildings area. There are a few other sights (Buchart Gardens, etc) but most people aren't there for more than a night. We stayed two nights arriving late in the day.
Early in the morning I walked around the old town and Chinatown and in the afternoon we walked over to Beacon Hill Park located down Douglas Street a few minutes past the government buildings.
Vancouver is a much larger, interesting city and with a lot more activity than I expected.
We toured the regular sights that included:
Renting bikes and riding in Stanley Park. I could easily spend more time in this very large and beautiful park. It's larger than Central Park and has walking and biking paths all around the seashore perimeter and thru the park.
Spending an evening and eating dinner in Gastown.
Wandering the downtown and West End areas.
Walking along the marina.
Wandering through Chinatown (Sun Yat Sen Park is somewhat secluded but quite beautiful) in the rain.
Going to Granville Island. It's not really much more than a market and several stores but we stopped at a rooftop restaurant for mid-afternoon mussels and spectacular views of Vancouver.
Special thanks to those who provided input during the planning stage of this trip.
Photos of the trip can be seen at:
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Trip Report - Banff NP, Victoria & Vancouver - Sept 7 - 19, 2011
Another great trip to places we've never been!!