Banff in May?

Old Mar 19th, 2005, 08:26 AM
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lmv
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Banff in May?

I am planning a family vacation for my husband, myself and 2 adult sons. The time is settled - last 2 weeks in May - but the location is not. We had planned on Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper (3 nights, 2 nights, 3 nights) but recent info I've found suggests there will be little hiking due to the lingering snow and the lakes will likely still be frozen. Is it worth going to the Canadian Rockies in May?
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Old Mar 19th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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It's a complicated answer. The short answer, if your main objective is hiking, is, "No," at least in my opinion.

There are others here who undoubtedly will disagree with me. I want to emphasize that I'm specifically addressing your stated interest in hiking.

The scenery in the Rockies is beautiful any day of the year. If it's just scenery you want, then the Rockies surely must be up there on anyone's list.

But hiking is another matter. I well remember the hike and picnic we went on near Lake Louise on June 17th one year. Our trail had some snow on it. I remember sitting on the mountainside, munching my picnic lunch, looking down on the lake and being astonished that, although it was past the middle of June, the lake still wasn't thawed.

The 9-mile side road to Moraine Lake typically opens at the beginning of June, but there have been years in which it has stayed closed until the middle of June. Park wardens monitor snow conditions and the probability of avalanches, and they open the road when they believe it is safe to do so.

I went to Moraine Lake during the first week of June in 2000. The road was open, but there still was some snow on the trails, and the lake was about half full and about one third iced over. It wasn't the turquoise jewel it certainly would have been a couple of weeks later.

That said, spring has arrived earlier in recent years. The last two springs, in particular, have been early. Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park was thawed by the Victoria Day long weekend(May 22 - 24) in 2004. To my surprise, they opened the road to Moraine Lake in time for that weekend. Lake Louise was thawed by the beginning of June.

I don't know if I'm correct, but I'm putting this trend down to global warming.

So far we've had a pretty mild winter, and there is less snow than usual around Lake Louise. If the trend continues, we'll be in for another early spring.

If you decide to come to the Canadian Rockies in the second half of May, you can concentrate your hiking in the "Front Ranges" (i.e., towards the eastern end of the Rockies). There is less snow in Kananaskis Country than there is further west, around Lake Louise and in Yoho National Park. The snow starts disappearing from trails at lower elevations in Kananaskis Country and those on the south faces of mountains as early as mid-April.

Just one caveat about Kananaskis Country. Hwy #40 is closed from Kananaskis Lakes southwards over the Highwood Pass until the middle of June. This is to ensure that certain wildlife species are left in peace while they care for their young in the spring. You are allowed to walk or ride a bicycle on the closed section of Hwy #40, however. Even with this closure, there is enough of Hwy #40 left open that you would be able to access some good hikes.

Although I have not been to Jasper, I suspect it too would offer you some hiking in the latter half of May. Jasper is at a lower elevation than Banff and Lake Louise. As I understand it, Maligne Lake near Jasper thaws out around the middle of May.

So, what can I say? If you come to the Canadian Rockies in the second half of May, you have a reasonable chance of encountering an early spring, such as we've had the last couple of years. Even with a normal spring, you should be able to find some places in which you can hike. But it's unlikely that you would encounter good trail conditions on what I consider to be the premium hiking routes (from Moraine Lake to Larch Valley, from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Teahouse, and so on).

There is another thing to consider. Hiking too early, when the snow on a given trail is just starting to thaw, is damaging to the terrain. It is better for the health of the trails if they are given a chance to dry out a little before hikers start tramping on them. If you do come to the Canadian Rockies, it would be good to visit the tourist information offices in Banff and Jasper to get park wardens' advice on which trails are suitable for hiking during the period that you're here.

In summary, if you want a guarantee that you'll have certain conditions during your visit and if your only window of opportunity is the second half of May, I don't think anyone can assure you that the mountains will provide you with the conditions you are seeking.

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Old Mar 20th, 2005, 05:28 AM
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Thanks, Judy in Calgary, for all that info. It raises a follow-up question that I should have included in my original post - if there is only minimal hiking in May, are there enough other things to see and do for the 3 nights, 2 nights, 3 nights (Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper) itinerary we are considering? Having some down/relaxing time is good, but having too much of it would drive my husband crazy. I recognize it's hard for others to know what constitutes "enough other things" for us but we appreciate any input and suggestions. Thanks.
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Old Mar 20th, 2005, 09:14 AM
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>>>if there is only minimal hiking in May, are there enough other things to see and do for the 3 nights, 2 nights, 3 nights (Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper) itinerary we are considering?<<<

That itinerary is a perfect one for a summer trip, but I don't think it's the right mix for a spring trip.

I would take the 2 nights that you had planned for Lake Louise and 1 of the nights that you had planned for Jasper, and I would re-allocate them to Calgary. This would give you 2 full days in Calgary.

I would use 1 of the Calgary days to do a trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller. The dinosaur skeletons are very impressive.

I would use the 2nd Calgary day to visit Canada Olympic Park on the western edge of the city. There you can try your hand at the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton. That will keep the active members of your party meaningfully occupied. The COP website currently is showing its winter hours, which are in operation till March 28th. However, COP is open year-round.

http://www.canadaolympicpark.ca/

If COP uses only, say, half a day, you could spend the other half of the day in downtown Calgary. You could look through the stores that sell western gear and other such curiosities. You also could walk or jog on the path along the Bow River at the edge of downtown.

There is no need to switch between Banff and Lake Louise. They are only a 50 minute drive from each other. One can be used as a base for visiting the other.

In summer I prefer Lake Louise, because it is in the heart of a region that has some awesome lakes and hikes. This is not applicable in your case, however. As we've already discussed, the hikes around Lake Louise probably will not be accessible while you're in the area.

So I think you would be better off basing yourself in Canmore or Banff. This would give you easier access to Kananaskis Country, where you are likely to find some accessible hiking.

Banff itself might be good for half a day or perhaps even a whole day if you stretched it out by taking the gondola up Sulphur Mountain and bathing in the hot springs.

I think white water rafting would be available in Kananaskis Country and also on the Kicking Horse River in Yoho National Park, to the west of Lake Louise. This is something you would need to research further.

So Banff, together with its surroundings, might be good for 2 or 3 full days (so 3 or 4 nights).

It then would be good to spend a day driving from Banff to Jasper and stopping to see the scenic lookout points along the way, followed by a full day or 2 in the Jasper area itself. As I mentioned before, I would guess that Jasper would have some hiking trails that were accessible by that time. Jasper also has a tramway that goes up Whistler Mountain, it too has hot springs some distance away at Miette, and it also offers white water rafting.

Hope that helps.
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Old Mar 21st, 2005, 09:17 AM
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the bobsled ride at canadian olypic park is a blast although rather expensive but worth it for a treat.
might want to consider staying at the douglas fir resort in banff. they have nice chalets which would give the four of you enough space to enjoy yourself. sit on the balcony and enjoy the deers in the morning and evening. waterslide and hottub. there are several very nice short hikes that are doable in may and would take an hour or two - bow falls, johnson canyon. i would suggest 3-4 nights in banff and 3 nights in jasper. drumheller is cool if you are interested in dinosours. the end of may is a great time to do some white water rafting too if that interest you.
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Old Mar 21st, 2005, 04:56 PM
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Thanks for the suggestions Judy in Calgary and ltt. We'll hold a family council and see what we decide. I'm thinking since we've not been to the area before we'll give it a try and make the most of what happens to be available. Good to have the input.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2005, 07:18 PM
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Holy Cow - nobody suggested skiing!! Sunshine (just outside Banff) is open until May 22 with great skiing. They just got another 20 cm this week!
Try your luck at snowboarding - that'll keep the men busy!
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Old Mar 27th, 2005, 01:50 AM
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Dont give Jasper a miss either. There is lots to do in the area. Some of the hiking trails will likely be closed, but not all and there are other things to see and do.

Stop at Maligne Canyon and have a look around. Those trails will be open so you can take quite a walk/hike. Continue up the road to Maligne Lake. Again there are many trails here, some will likely be open at that time. Check out the cruise to the island. Also you can rent canoes and have a bit of fun.

I would also suggest you either skip staying at Lake Louise, or make it just one day. It is close enough to Banff to do a day trip.

Plan on taking most of the day to drive between Jasper and Banff on the day you plan that, there is much to see on the road between. There should be a number of waterfalls at that time of the year. You may see animals, you just never know with that one.

I would skip Calgary, it is a nice city, but nothing compared to the Rockies.
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