Banff and Jasper in May

Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 05:34 PM
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Banff and Jasper in May

Just found out my husband has to go to Banff on business May 14th. We decided to make it a family vacation with my two teenage children. We have never been there before.We plan on spending 10 days traveling around the area. We will have a rental car.
What type of weather should we plan on?
Will most hiking trails be open?
Do we need to make advance reservations or just plan as we go? Not knowing the area we really don't know how long we will want to spend between Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Ice Fields Parkway and perhaps, Yoho.
Any help would be appreciated!

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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 06:21 PM
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I have not been there in mid May, but my guess is that many trails will be covered in snow. My usual time for ging is late June/early July. Lodges in the backcountry don't usually open until mid June depending on snow depth.

Lakes about 4,500 feet high will likely be frozen until well into late May; with lakes around 6,000 feet solid ice. Lake Louise at 5,400 feet will be starting to thaw in late May, but chances are it will be heavily ice covered in mid May. (This week temperatures will not rise above 39F. Not much thawing for the next few days at those temperatures.)

None the less, there is plenty to see.
I seriously think you need to review what there is to be taken in along those routes. Kootenay National Park is there, too, as one of the four contiguous parks, and I have found my efforts rewarded to see what it has to offer. Yoho has a lot,too, including a nice lake and a waterfall.
The Icefields Parkway has many sights to see, including the SnoCoach trip onto the glacier at the Icefields Center.
Also, don't forget that Calgary is not that far away.
The plains of Alberta have some interesting features as well. So there is no need to confine yourself just to the mountains.
I think you will be early enough to find open motels in Banff and Jasper.
Lake Louise is a little more chancy because it has a smaller motel base, with the supply curve being sloped toward the expensive end. (More than $200 a night.)

To the west, on the other side of Golden, BC, is Glacier National Park. It is spectacular on a clear day. The Trans Canada traverses Rogers Pass and goes very near the visitor center, which is interesting to tour.
The sights from the pass are spectacular to say the least.

Could I find things to do to fill up 10 days? I think so. If the weather was bad, then I would head east to Drumheller and spend my time at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is a World Heritage site, and spend my time contemplating the land before us. And Calgary is an interesting city as well.

Why not make a big circle tour?
A little while in Calgary, Banff, over to Golden for the night to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (which is as beautiful), Yoho Park, and over to Glacier if the day is promising.
(Yoho and the spiral tunnels is neat. I just hope the road to the falls is open by the 3rd week in May.) Then spend one night at The Crossing Motel to be in position for a slow drive up the IceFields Parkway. Stop at the Icefields Center (or stay there if you want a high quality room). Take the snocoach onto the glacier for a real adventure. Then continue on up to Jasper. From Jasper drive to Edmonton and then back to Calgary via Drumheller and the museum. There will be no snow at the museum!!
That could eat up 10 days very fast.
Perhaps too fast. So don't go to Edmonton. Retrace your steps along the Parkway to Calgary.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 06:27 PM
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>>>>>>What type of weather should we plan on?<<<<<<

One website I looked up said the average high for Banff townsite in May was 14.3 deg C (about 58 deg F) and the average low was 0.7 deg C (33 deg F).

Those numbers are deceptive, though, because they're the averages for the month. In reality there's a spread across the month, with temperatures near the beginning of the month tending to be lower, and those towards the end of the month tending to be higher.

Also, keep in mind that Banff townsite is not the highest spot in the Rockies. Lake Louise, for example, is higher, so tends to be cooler, especially at night.

The weather in the mountains also tends to change dramatically from one locale to the next, and it also can change dramatically over the course of an hour. It can be raining in one valley and sunny in the neighbouring one.

Your best bet is to pack layers (short sleeved shirts, long sleeved shirts, sweaters, water-resistant, hooded jackets, scarves and gloves) so that you can add or subtract clothes in response to changing weather conditions.

Banff gets an average of 51.9 mm (2") of rain over the course of May.

>>>>>>Will most hiking trails be open?<<<<<<

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "open." Perhaps you mean whether or not you'll be permitted to hike them. I think you can hike pretty much wherever you like, but do expect the trails to have snow on them. When we've walked trails in the Lake Louise area in the first part of June there has been some snow on them. It hasn't been deep snow, and it hasn't stopped us from walking the trails. Do wear hiking boots, though.

>>>>>>Do we need to make advance reservations or just plan as we go?<<<<<<

May is the shoulder season when skiing has finished but the summer tourist season has not yet begun. I believe you would get away without making advanced reservations.

Whenever one travels without advanced reservations, however, one does need to be prepared for the fact that one may not get into the property that is one's first choice. One may need to settle for Plan B or Plan C. But there is enough of a variety of accommodation in Banff and Jasper townsites that I don't see this as being a problem.

Lake Louise village is much smaller and has a smaller variety of accommodation. The Lake Louise Inn is quite good for families in that it has loft rooms that are suitable for 4 people. It's a clean, comfortable, friendly and reasonably priced place.

If you can leave the mountains a day before your departure and drive to Drumheller, east of Calgary, I think you and your kids would enjoy the dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Turrell Museum. That night you could return to Calgary and overnight here prior to catching your outwardbound flight the next day.

I see Bob has been typing while I have been. Oh well, I'm going to post what I said anyway.

Hope you have a good trip.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 07:58 PM
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Banff Jasper and Lake Louise will most likely be very quiet in mid-May (except for the May long weekend, May 22 - 24, the first long weekend of "summer"), so you shouldn't have much problem with accommodation.

Take any weather predictions with a grain of salt. The weather varies a lot from year to year.
Although the average high temp for Banff in May is 14.5C (58F), it could be cooler or much much warmer than that. The temperature could range anywhere from 29C (85F) down to well below freezing (at night). You just never know what you are going to get.
Mind you, the past few years have been very dry (drought-like conditions), and this year has been no exception. When we were in Banff this past February, the snow pack seemed to be about half of "normal". March and the beginning of April were very very warm (temps up to 22C = 72F), so don't expect to see too much snow except in shady places and at high altitudes.

Visit the parks information centres (there's one in Jasper and one in Banff, easy to find, well marked and on the main street) to find out which trails are open and the trail conditions.

If you have 10 full days in the Rockies, spend 4 in the Banff-Lake Louise area, 1 driving up on the Icefield Parkway to Jasper, 2 additional nights in Jasper, then 1 day driving back to Lake Louise and Yoho, and 2 days in Yoho before returning to Banff.

These websites should give you some additional information to help you plan your trip:

Happy Trails!!!

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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 09:53 PM
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Between me and judy, you have all the world's wisdom. It is split 10 - 90.
You can guess who gets the 90.

I do know this much. Two years ago we were at lake McArthur in very early July. The lake was still 80% ice covered with signs of a thaw coming.
The water looked black. The effect was that of cold, bleak beauty beyond compare.

The trails were not snow bound, but we did stomp over some snow banks and slush through others. A trail with a southwestern exposure will clear out a lot faster than one with a northern exposure because the sun cannot get to it to do much melting.

Lake Louise should be beautiful anytime of the year under any conditions. I think it is at its most beautiful when there is a touch of ice on the lake, and Mount Victoria is laden with snow.

Moraine Lake is at its best when viewed from the rock formation near the outlet.
Sighting west in the Valley of Ten Peaks gives you the most memorable view of the lake, one that is enough to make you gasp the first time you see it.

Farther up the parkway, Peyto lake and Bow Lake should be open for business.
Peyto if ice free has a gorgeous emerald green shimmer to it.
Emerald Lake over in Yoho park is also another green gem. Jade, emerald? Take your pick.

Bow Lake is a beautiful glacial lake with the glacier itself looming to the south.

My son first saw that territory when he was 28. He had been to Glacier USA, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc. His reactions at first were silent. Then he began to realize that he was fully awake and that what he was seeing was real, and that it was really that eye popping.

You may not believe what I am telling you, but after you get back, let me know: do I speak the truth??
I think I do.

And wait until you get to Jasper and Mount Edith Cavell and catch that first view of the Angel Glacier spilling out of its cirque on the northeast flank of the mountain.

It is a dramatic sight.

bob_brown is offline  
Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 10:05 PM
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Unfortunately Angel Glacier has melted back a lot in the past 10 - 15 years (global warming??), and is nowhere near the awesome sight it once was. Same for the Columbia Icefields. It is a little sad to see it all melting away so quickly. If you park your car and walk to the toe of the glacier, the Columbia Icefields have markers showing the extent of the melting each year. An unexpected side effect of this melting is that the glaciers won't be able to provide enough water to the rivers flowing east of the Rockies, which threatens the water supply of major cities such as Calgary and Edmonton.

By the way, we travel to the Rockies very often, several times a year in every season (6 times just in the past year alone!!!). Luckily this is easy for us because we live so close - in fact close enough that we share the same weather systems as Jasper. This past winter has been DRY - much less snow than "normal".
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Old Apr 24th, 2004, 06:00 PM
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Thank you all sooo much for the very useful information. We are so looking forward to our adventure. Sounds like the weather should be warm enough for even for us Southern California folk. A little snow on the trails will make for a special treat for us. Have my map out and am excited to really take in all the beauty of God's creation. Thanks again.
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 03:17 PM
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if you are going to be there the 21-24, make sure you book accommodations now because as mentioned, that is a long weekend.
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 08:49 PM
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Hello Mazz Fam....
I live in Calgary, a 55 minute incredibly scenic drive from Banff. Actually you will arrive in Calgary if flying and the drive west to Banff. Getting through Calgary to Hwy #1 (TransCanada Hwy) can/will take upwards of an hour and then the beautiful drive to Banff, if you are arriving in the day. Sun will set past 10 pm closer to your arrival.
You should plan on every type of weather in Calgary all year round and especially in Banff as most weather comes from that direction. But don't worry though, no parkas should be needed

Just make sure that if you don't like being cold that you bring a wind breaker to do what they do and something layered underneath. If it is warm you can peel layers, May 14th isn't too soon to be wearing bathing suits or shorts and tanks. Today was 24?C for example and there is a chance of rain and snow in two days. Sandles are ok but also bring a closed shoe like a sneaker. Hiking shoes are just good sense if you actually hike and equally helpful if you are hiking the urban jungle of innercity Calgary. Getting closer to summer (June 22 - 25) the chances of snow are more remote but it can snow and has. Everything is greening up nicely now and should be in full bloom when your family arrives. Calgary and area have the highest mean amount of sunshine in Canada and it is usually sunny here so I do strongly recommend sunglasses, especially as you will be driving into the sun going to Banff later in the day. If you haven't rented a car yet, there are always great deals when you arrive. National has a $14 a day rate CDN. Don't bring a lot of cash, there are bank machines and debit terminals everywhere giving you the best current exchange rate of the day using debit cards or a credit card. Travellers cheques are so 1980's in my view.

Not all hiking trail are open all the time. Parks Canada posts a schedule at their site. There is wildlife also that takes precendence over travellers as does avalanches if you are near the back country.

As for not knowing the area, getting around is pretty easy. Maps are everywhere and almost anyone will help you out should you become lost. Major US cell phone work well here or you can go to almost any major retailer and get a cheap pay as you go cell phone. Geographically if you stayed south of Calgary there are thousands of things to do.
Drumheller a 90 minute drive east of Calgary (3 hours from Banff). There you can see the Badlands or Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, called Dinosaur Provincial Park when I was a kid. One in the same but a little different and distinct also. They are all pretty cool and there is the Tyrell Museum of Paleantology there. World famous museums and interprative centre.

Continuing south you can see lots in the Rockies all the way to the US Border.

If you have 10 days you could travel quite a distance but my recommendation is if you need to remain hq'd in Banff or Calgary, keep your driving to not much more than 3 or 4 hours each way. You will want to see stuff and enjoy the sites and still make it back at a decent time. Vancouver is a 10-11 hour drive west of Calgary if you don't stop too much just so you understand the scale.

Another responder stated that Banff isn't busy in May. Banff is busy all the time and crazy in the summer and winter tourist seasons. Must see's are Lake Louise and maybe a picture at the Banff Springs. If you are skiers or want to try, Sunshine Village Ski Area, 20 mins from Banff is still open until the end of May. The Columbia Ice Fields are pretty cool if you haven't seen something like that. It is a massive glacier that you are driven to and then upon with a very special bus. Google any of the names I have mentioned and you will get a hockey sock full 'o info.

Jasper is also a beuatiful place and is 3 hours north of Banff and is arguably one of the most beautiful drives you can do. The only caveat I would add is this. Plan your route on a map when you get here, or before if you wish. Drivers here can range from agravating to annoying. The speed limits are high but my recommendation is the driver do one thing and that is drive. The passenger can act as navigator. It is illegal and simply stupid to stop to look at wildlife on a highway and there are enough examples of people being run over or their cars rammed or somthing tragic. There are a few places that have places to pull over, otherwise just be safe and keep moving. Elk in Banff will charge at you if they feel threatened and they do walk right through Banff.

Make sure you stop by my mom's coffee shop too. It is called Priddis View and Brew and is at the start or end of another scenic drive just a few km's south of Calgary and will take you through Bragg Creek, Cochrane and out to Banff if you want. Her food is fantastic.

If bringing a digital camera, bring rechargeable batteries as there is a lot to take pics of. There are Walmarts everywhere almost so you can print your pics to a CD for $5 and shoot more.

Check out the tabs at the top will give you lots of info

I have lived here all my life so if there are nay questions I can answer for you, email me and I can try and help......

ideaguy [at]
My name is Aaron. I know you will have a great time here.
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 05:34 AM
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As somebody else who is travelling to Calgary/Rockies in late May. That was a really interesting and informative reply.

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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 07:45 AM
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I find it hard to believe that someone who claims to be so informed about Calgary etc could make such an egregious mistake as the location of Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump.
Hey "ideaguy" - it's NOT in Drumheller, it's actually 165 km (103 miles) south of Calgary near Fort Macleod. Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum are of course northeast of Calgary. Take a look at a map!!!

By the way, Banff is not busy in May, although it could be busy on weekends when Calgarians drive there for the day. Monday to Friday is quiet, especially if the weather is cool and overcast.
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 08:19 AM
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Wow, I think Borealis got up on the wrong side of the bed today! Testy testy.
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 08:37 AM
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Atilla - just trying to provide visitors to our beautiful province of Alberta with accurate & useful information !!

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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 01:05 PM
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One interesting museum in Cardston, which is in the same area as the Buffalo Jump, is the Remington Carriage Museum. It has a fabulous collection of horsedrawn vehicles of all descriptions, from freight wagons to luxury "sedans".

Then from Cardston, Waterton Park is perhaps 30 miles down the road.

I live a few thousand miles away from Calgary, but we go there frequently just because we like it. Nothing quite beats it. The museum at Drumheller is a true classic in its area of concentration.
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