Old Dec 17th, 2016, 01:16 PM
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I'm planning a trip to Banff Feb 13- 17 and wondering if someone could help me out with an itinerary - what should I see, where should I go? Ive heard of the hot springs, lake louise, jasper, what do I have time for, we don't ski. Can't climb mountains if this is of any help. This will probably be our first and only trip to the area and id hate to miss something extraordinary! Please help!
wandaspencer is offline  
Old Dec 17th, 2016, 10:51 PM
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Hello Wanderspencer

13 to 17 Feb is long and more than enough time for you to have a memorable trip. This is what I can recommend for you.

13th Feb - spend your day in Banff. You can walk locally, visit Banff Hot Springs if possible go to Mt. Norquay for views.

14th Feb - you can spend your day in Canmore. Here is my article.

15th Feb - you can go to Lake Louise and weather permitting Columbia Icefields and on to Jasper the same day.

Here is my article

My game plan is to stop at all the tourist points on the right side of the highway while going to Jasper. And left-hand side spots on our way back. That way we are not missing any tourist spot and we don't have to cross over the highway in busy traffic or bad weather.

Chances are on the 15th evening you will be too tired to go out and enjoy. So rest on 15th.

16th - Read my Jasper article and decide on which places and tourist attractions would you like to enjoy.

Depending upon what your plan is for 17th, you can either return on 16th evening or 17th anytime depending upon what your schedule is for the day.

Let me share with you, I don't ski and I am not a hiker as well. The Canmore hike was not a big hike. You can easily do it. But if you can't then you can still go to Canmore and spend majority of the day there.

Hopefully this helps. If not, message me. Good luck and happy travelling.
TravelFolio is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2016, 09:57 AM
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What has not been addressed yet is that February is the middle of winter in the Rockies. There will be no mountain climbing or hiking or turquoise lakes. Everything will be frozen and covered in snow. Some lakes will not even be accessible because the roads leading to them are not serviced in the winter. Winter driving will be crucial. Are you anticipating a full winter experience?
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Old Dec 19th, 2016, 11:59 AM
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I'd remove Jasper from that itinerary. Driving the Icefields Parkway in February just isn't a good idea. There are no services (gas, food, etc.) open, and driving can be hazardous.

If it's your first and only trip, is there any possibility of doing it in summer or fall?
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Old Dec 19th, 2016, 12:10 PM
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+1 to BC_Robyn

TravekFolio's itinerary would be good for the summer, but is not at all realistic in the winter. Scratch Jasper.

Understand that while there's lots to do & see in the Rockies in the winter, it's a very different experience from the summer. There will be places you can't see, and the lakes will be solidly frozen - no blue/green hues like in the brochure pics.

We do not suggest driving between Lake Louise and Jasper unless you have plenty of winter driving experience, lots of flexibility and a car with full snow tires (required). The Icefields Parkway is not maintained like other roads, there are no stores/gas stations/hotels along the way and pretty much no cell service. The glacier tours & centre are closed in the winter, and most pull overs are not (or minimally plowed). So it's not going to be a time to stop & see things. If road and weather conditions are good & your rental has winter tires, going as far as Bow Lake is doable. I would not go as far as the Columbia Icefields - very long drive in the winter, and that area often has the worst road conditions. Strong wind with lots of drifting snow yesterday.

If you have 5 days, I'd spend them in Banff/Canmore/Lake Louise. With more time you could take the SunDogs shuttle to Jasper, but with just 4 nights, it would be a stretch. Especially since you would want to return back from Jasper at least two days before your flight - the parkway can occasionally be shut, and the shuttle runs only once per day. So you need enough leeway to account for a delay.

But book as soon as you can - your trip is just before a holiday weekend here, so it could be fairly busy.

I'd probably base yourself in one location - Lake Louise is nice, but more limited in terms of food, shops and accommodation. Banff is probably the best base - with a car, you can easily get to Lake Louise and Canmore.

As mentioned, seasonal roads will be shut, so no access to Moraine Lake or Takkakaw Falls. No hiking, other than walks in the townsite areas if the snow conditions are good (i.e. packed down). But lots of winter activities to try - skiing, xc skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, dog sled rides, sleigh rides and winter wildlife tours. Lake Louise Ski Resort runs daily snowshoe tours at the ski hill - good if you have little or no experience. There's also a company that does snowshoeing tours in other area locations.

I would allow one day in Lake Louise, one day for Banff area and perhaps one day for Canmore. Or if you have a rental car with at least M+S tires, you could go over to Emerald Lake in Yoho NP. Head to Banff Hot Springs after dinner one evening.
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Old Dec 19th, 2016, 12:29 PM
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We went a couple of years ago (early 2014), also in winter and not to ski. This is only one tourist's itinerary, but this is what we did:

Car: rented from Hertz in Calgary airport, and requested snow tires. It was an extra $10 a day.

The drive to Banff took about 2 hours, or maybe less than that. The Trans-Canada highway was well maintained and not scary at all, except for a few areas of high cross-winds. I ordered the national park pass online ahead of time so I could breeze through the entrance to the park (but there were hardly any cars in line to purchase tickets, so I don’t think it made much of a difference).

Hotel: Stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, about 1 mile across the river from the main Banff town area. The resident mule deer was spotted most mornings, right outside the hotel. I didn’t use the spa, so can’t say what it was like, although my sisters spoke highly of it. The outdoor heated pool was nice.

We had originally planned to go to the Upper Hot Springs, but after reading that the springs dry up in the winter and the water in the pool is from the tap, we figured the hotel’s outdoor heated pool was basically the same thing, and free. However, after posting my report on Fodors, I was told the natural hot springs WERE running that year, so I missed out on the real deal.

The Fairmont wi-fi wasn't free (at least, at the time), but if you sign up for their free loyalty program ahead of time, then it's free.

Food: We ate breakfast either at the buffet (about $23/person at the time), or in the “castle pantry” which had lighter fare such as cereal, yogurt, cookies, coffee, pastries, and soup. For dinner, we mostly ate in the main town because everyone wanted to go to Cow’s for ice cream afterwards. The group’s favorite restaurant was the Maple Leaf, where everyone tried something different and we all loved what we had (mine was the Brome river duck).

Activities: Drove to Lake Louise to ice skate on the frozen lake. Only a small part of the lake was cleared for skating, although I saw people walking waaaay out beyond the warning markers. I would never dare to do that, I’m way too chicken.

We also visited Johnston’s canyon to view the frozen falls. The road to get there (Bow Valley Parkway) was much less maintained than the main highway. There was a lot of snow/ice on the road, and we even passed a car that had skidded out and was stuck down a slope (don't worry, two other cars stopped to help). I knew the $10/day extra we spent for snow tires was worth it. The canyon itself was a little dark in the afternoon, and the lighting may have been better if we had visited in the morning.

We also went dog-sledding in Canmore, with Snowy Owl tours. On the drive over, we passed a herd of elk on the side of the Trans-Canada Hwy, and also some big horn sheep that wandered onto one of the roads in Canmore. The sledding itself was a lot of fun, with the break at the half-way point on a frozen lake.

The next day I took my nephew to Mt. Norquay (which is really close, just outside of the Banff main town area) for the day of skiing he promised me. By lunchtime, he had complained so much that I bought 2 hours of tubing instead, and we spent the rest of the day doing that.

On another day we headed up to the Sulphur Mountain gondola because the weather was nice and clear, and we got some really nice pictures. We walked up to the cosmic ray station lookout point, where we saw the only wildlife of the day, some small green and orange birds that I didn’t recognize (some type of sparrow)? Then we spent the afternoon at the hotel pools, for some relaxation.

The next day, I took the nephew tobogganing on a slope behind the hotel (along the Spray River, next to the Waldhaus restaurant). A shop at the hotel rents plastic sleds ($10 for 2 hours, IIRC). We spent the day walking around Banff, checking out scenery (Spray and Bow rivers), trying our hand at Canadian bowling (smaller balls w/o finger holes, only 5 pins), and of course, curling! I must be very weak because I couldn’t push my rock very far. The hotel also offered curling lessons on Friday evenings.

On the last day, I drove all the way out to Golden to try snowmobiling. It is not allowed in the Banff park itself, so it was quite a drive to the tour companies. We went with White and Wild, mostly because they seemed relatively (!) close and we wouldn’t know the difference in quality between the companies anyway. The drive took me about 2 hours (although it should only be about 1-1/2 hours) because I’m a slow driver with a kid in the car; also, some parts of the road were narrow or hilly, with snow/ice. The minimum age to snowmobile is 16, but my nephew could ride as my passenger. It was more tiring than I expected, but it was fun. The only animals we saw were grey jays, probably because the noise scares other animals away.

Things I didn’t do: I didn’t get to relax in the spa, which isn’t my cup of tea anyway. And speaking of tea, I also didn’t spend the afternoon having tea in the hotel either. My sisters enjoyed doing both, although they both thought the view at tea was better than the food offerings. I also didn’t get around to snow-shoeing, which we probably should have done in lieu of snowmobiling, but you live and learn. Oh, and no sleigh rides - nephew vetoed that one, I don't know why other than he's just fickle.

Again, just our own choices when we visited for about 1 week.
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Old Dec 20th, 2016, 11:45 AM
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Udderly Hopeless - great report with lots of useful info!! Thanks for posting.

I don't think anything's changed much, so your observations and prices are probably pretty accurate. Hotel breakfasts are not cheap - often find that it's a much better deal to get a B&B package rather than pay for breakfast separately.

For Banff Hot Springs, if they do have to switch partially or fully to tap water, they will post on their website:

At Lake Louise, unless it's a really, really warm February, there's no issue in walking out beyond the cleared ice rink. Plenty of ice, and the xc trail actually goes across the lake. Even the sleigh rides go out on the ice to turn around - if the ice can support horses, sleigh and humans, it's quite thick! So you can walk or snowshoe - probably easiest to follow the edge of the lake. Just try to avoid any obvious xc tracks.

Curling is a lot more challenging than it looks - made me very sore! The 5 pin bowling, I believe, is skittles which is British (or possibly Scandinavian) in origin.

Driving to Golden is likely to take a bit longer this year because of road construction. Not clear whether they are trying to continue work over the winter, but I believe there are still lane restrictions in place.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 08:15 PM
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Hopeless has a great review. I love Johnson Canyon and the new Gondola to Sulphur Mountain, however a clear day is a must for the view. The tubing at Norquay is a blast.Melissas Steakhouse is my favourite restaurant in Banff for Steak dinners and also best breakfast in town. I never leave Banff without eating at the Waldhaus, we like the lounge.
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Old Jan 4th, 2017, 08:21 PM
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I would skip Jasper based on your timeline. You will find plenty to do in the Banff Lake Louise area to keep you busy.
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