Banff area in 4.5 days - itinerary help?

May 19th, 2010, 02:44 PM
  #1  
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Banff area in 4.5 days - itinerary help?

My brother and I will be in the Banff area in early August. We will be coming from several days in Vancouver, flying into Calgary. Our plane should land about 12:30pm on a Thursday. We need to be back in Calgary to fly back to the States the next Tuesday evening. I'm struggling to plan the time in between - I know it's short!

I do know that we want to drive or tour the Icefields Parkway and do the snowcoach glacier tour - that is a must. I'd planned on driving the parkway, but spending 1.5 - 2 days driving up and back sounds like a lot of time. Any thoughts about one of the tours out of Banff? Other "really want tos" include Peyto Lake and/or Lake Moraine, easy/moderate hiking, maybe a lake cruise or something along those lines. We are both in our mid/late 20s and are amateur photographers. Any other specific suggestions of what to do would be very welcome - I've been reading lots of threads and web sites, but it's great to get personal recommendations.

Advice on where to stay would be extremely helpful! Our budget is under $150US if possible, definitely under $200US. I know this rules out a lot of often-recommended places. I'm not really sure which town to concentrate on, even. Ideally we'd like somewhere where we could walk to a few (moderately priced) restaurants after being in the car a lot of the day, driving to different places. It would be nice to stay in one central spot the whole time, but I know that's not realistic if we drive the Icefields Parkway. Lake Louise looks very central but also very expensive. I have a friend who stayed in Canmore a few years ago. Is Banff a good choice, or is it expensive/touristy? (We're from East Tennessee, so I have this image of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge in my head when I picture a popular mountain town! If you've never been, that involves a lot of tourist trap shops, laser tag, and outlet malls.)

If you have any experience with specific hotels at YYC, that would be great as well. I'll have to be at the airport at least by 6am to go home, so we need to stay close by, and I assume we'll need to return the rental car the night before. Thanks so much in advance for your suggestions!
jent103 is offline  
May 19th, 2010, 03:04 PM
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After I posted, I found a special at the Banff Aspen Lodge. It gets generally good reviews on TripAdvisor. Any experience with it? For an extra $200 we could get a package with tickets for the hot springs, the Icefield Glacier Experience, the gondola and Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise; a canoe rental for Moraine Lake; a "GySPy guide" (which just sounds intriguing); and $20 at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Does the extra cost sound worth it?
jent103 is offline  
May 20th, 2010, 05:56 AM
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Well at $50 ticket for the icefield tour you are 1/2 way there, The gondola at Lake Louise is superior to Banff, IMO. the Hot Springs are a must to do when in Banff. I am from Calgary and avoid Banff townsite proper as it is like your Pigeon Forge. I really enjoy Johnston Canyon and the hike there if I am taking people into the mountains for the first time. The stream and falls are great to take pictures. There are cabins at the start of the hike but I know nothing of the cost. There are also cabins at Castle Mountain Junction and Bakers Creek all outside Banff proper and will give you the mountains feel without the thousands of tourists. Again I don't know the cost but they look like they would be within your budget and I am sure you can google them. I believe there is also a place or 2 to stay at Bow Lake which is 1/2 way to the icefields. There are a lot of hotels near the airport and most offer shuttle service but I think you should be able to return a rental car to the airport at anytime, as you are flying in at 12:30 clear customs and pick-up bags rent car at 1:30 you would be charged for a full day anyhow if you returned it after supper so I would keep it. There are Best Westerns, Travel Lodge, Hilton, Holiday Inn Super 8's very close to the airport. Getting to Calgary Airport is very easy at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, no traffic so you could even stay in the downtown core and take 20 minutes to the airport.

Do a bunch of searches on the net Expedia, priceline, etc.

With the new ring road in Calgary you can be out of the city in about 30 minutes. 2-2:30 be in Banff/Canmore about 3:30- 4:00 probably the later as you will stop at Lac De Arc and want to take pictures. Then Johnston Canyon/Castle Mountain Junction 5-6 and depending on how long your day is you wouldn't want to go much beyond that. Then take off to the icefields stop and take a lot of pictures and stay back at Bow Lake the next day. You could take hwy 93 south the next day to Radium Hot Springs (not a tourist trap) and along the way stop at Marble Canyon (1 hOUR) and the Indian Paint Pots (1.5 hours) then on to Radium or Invermere which is a town with lots to offer. Then you could work your way back south to Calgary through the Crowsnest Pass( 6-7 hours??) or head to Calgary via the way you came (4 hours) and do the Banff tourist thing then on to Cowtown.
MrShort1 is offline  
May 20th, 2010, 09:22 AM
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A couple of thoughts:

1) We stayed at the Calgary airport Acclaim hotel in November and thought it was very good for an airport hotel - new, clean and comfortable. Free breakfast, but you might have to leave to early for that to be an issue.

2) We stayed in Banff proper -- the place we stayed was nothing to write home about -- Banff is touristy, but not quite in the way you describe. The main street is full of t-shirt and ski-gear shops. The next street over is very quiet and lovely. Banff has loads of restaurants in all price ranges. I can recommend St. James Gate for a pub atmosphere (the asparagus/crab soup is fantastic), and the hot cereal at Wild Flour Bakery is the best I've every had (but my family thought their baked goods and waffles were too dry)

3) We drove through Canmore. It's just outside of Banff, has loads of stores and restaurants, and lots of condo developments. It's much cheaper than Banff, and I think would be a fine place to stay if you want to save a few $$.

4) We have friends who stayed at Moraine Lake Lodge -- that's probably out of your budget, but they said the area is spectacular. We're planning on visiting ourselves next year based on their recommendation.
sf7307 is offline  
May 20th, 2010, 11:44 AM
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Thanks so much to both of you - this is all extremely helpful! sf7307, I actually saw the Acclaim listed somewhere yesterday so I will check that out further. My flight home is at 8am, so I'm planning to be at the airport by 6ish. I think I'll be grabbing a muffin for breakfast after security. And that is great info about Banff and Canmore - my fear about Canmore was that it was too inconvenient to consider, but it sounds like it may be a viable option if we want to stay in one spot and drive a lot. Moraine Lake looks absolutely beautiful, and I had seen the lodge and felt sad that it wouldn't work for us! I do plan to see the lake itself, though.

MrShort, all those suggestions are so great. I'd definitely be interested in a cabin as long as there were grocery stores around, but I hadn't seen very many in my reading yet. So having specifics to search for is very helpful! Your itineraries are just what I was hoping for and give me lots of things to look at.
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May 21st, 2010, 11:07 AM
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You might want to consider an overnight in the Jasper area if the Icefields Galcier adventure is important--a leisurely drive from Canmore (stopping at Peyto Lake) would put you at the Icefields center well after noon. It is at least 3 hours from Canmore to Columbia Icefields without stopping, but I can't imagine anyone making that drive without multiple stops. There are a good many modest B&Bs in Jasper; many cabin facilities have a 3-day minimum.
kayd is offline  
May 21st, 2010, 12:48 PM
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Thanks, kayd! I actually found a great rate at the Glacier View Inn on hotels.com today for an overnight stay Saturday, so I went ahead and booked it. It's cancel-able if we decide to change plans, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I didn't want to rush that drive, and I wanted to be able to stop whenever we wanted to. I know the inn isn't known for luxury (though the reviews seem fine), but I have to say I'm pretty psyched about waking up to see a glacier!
jent103 is offline  
May 21st, 2010, 12:58 PM
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You'll walk up ON the glacier!
kayd is offline  
May 21st, 2010, 01:00 PM
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Oh, I meant we got a glacier view room. But I'm pretty dang excited about walking on the glacier too!
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May 21st, 2010, 01:10 PM
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Walking, waking -- I was having trouble with one of my contact lenses.
kayd is offline  
May 22nd, 2010, 12:25 PM
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The winter reviews for the Lake Louise Hostel are not very good because it is filled with lots of skiiers but the summer reviews seem to be very good. It has a great location in Lake Louise. Lake Louise is not really a town but it is closer to the trails we like to hike. Banff is a half hour away ( but a great place to go when it rains) We like to stay in Banff when we visit in the winter. It is much nicer than Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge--I wouldn't hesitate to stay there if I found a good rate.
LindainOhio is offline  
May 25th, 2010, 04:51 AM
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There is a small store at Castle Mountain Junction I know sells some supplies, and alcohol at Johnston canyon there is also a small store that sells something. You can contact both places and find out. On your way out of Calgary you will pass by many grocery stores and Liquor stores. I also forgot to mention Storm Mountain Lodge as it was closed for several years but I see that there is something happening there the last couple of years. It is in a real neat spot at the top of a pass on hwy 93 not far from Hwy #1 or Castle Mountain Junction you can see the back side of Sunshine Mountain. I did google Castle Mountain and they say the trains shake you about five times a night.
MrShort1 is offline  
May 25th, 2010, 06:24 AM
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Thanks for the suggestions, Linda and MrShort! Unfortunately the Storm Mountain Lodge doesn't have anything in our budget available while we're there. Linda, I confess that I'm kind of over hostels in general (I've stayed at plenty), but I'll take a look at the Lake Louise one! I did email the Aspen Lodge in Banff with a couple of questions, but haven't heard back from them yet.
jent103 is offline  
May 25th, 2010, 07:03 AM
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We did this last summer. Go to Chateau Lake Louise, and do the hike around the back of the lake, up into the glacier. It is about 6 km. up to the Tea House - spectacular views. Bring money for a drink and some cake when you get there - cash only.
Cally is offline  
May 25th, 2010, 07:52 AM
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Cally, I've heard about that Tea House hike - it sounds great! It's on my list for sure. Are the popular hiking trails very crowded in August? I know we'll be there in very high season.
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