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CindyW May 5th, 2005 09:24 AM

Banff, Jasper--Four Days
We'll be spending one night near Lake Louise, two nights in Jasper, and one night back near Lake Louise. I've been reading travel books, and am trying to figure out the best of the best. It looks like there are several gondolas/ski lifts and several boat trips. Also, rafting. And great hikes. But which ones?

We are a family of four, two adults, two boys, 9 and 14. We're good on hikes for about 3 hours round-trip max. Even better on shorter ones. I'm thinking we'll definitely want to do the Icefields tour (am I right?), and then maybe one boat and one gondola/ski lift. And maybe one hot spring soak. But which ones? We're having to watch our budget, so will appreciate your thoughts about that, too.

How would you suggest that I plan our time, arriving in Banff on the first day around 10:00, then with one night near Lake Louise, 2 in Jasper, and one more in Lake Louise, leaving that morning. (We'll also be going to Glacier and Yellowstone, just FYI). Oh, also, one thing that makes my boys happy is playgrounds. Any info about where to find them would be appreciated. (We found some of the COOLEST ones in San Francisco, but that's another site.)


tom22 May 5th, 2005 10:47 AM

I recommend to contact the park information centers in Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise as soon as you arrive. They hve the best knowledge about the trail conditions and they will advice you for the best trails and activties.

For me the icefield tours are a tourist trap. You can see a glacier everywhere else on the world and it does not make a big difference. You can hike free of charge to the mouth of the glacier. I recommend to visit Mt. Edith Cavell glacier in Jasper. The glacier view is more impressive there.

I tested the Jasper tramway last year. You will have a nice view, if you are lucky with the weather.

Judy_in_Calgary May 5th, 2005 10:57 AM

Hello CindyW,

If you get to Banff around 10 am, don't go Banff townsite initially. Rather go straight to Johnston Canyon. I say that because it's a popular spot, and its parking lot is notorious for filling up. Hopefully if you get there mid-morning, you'll get a parking spot.

Then return to Banff townsite and have lunch. After that you may want to take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain, bathe in the hot springs, and walk down Banff townsite's main shopping street.

Continue to Lake Louise, which is about three quarters of an hour away.

You won't have time to do a major hike in the Lake Louise area. However, your view of the lake will be enhanced if you do the one-mile, uphill walk to Fairview Lookout. The path starts close to the boat house from which they rent out canoes.

If time runs out on you and you get hungry, you could have dinner first and visit Lake Louise afterwards.


As soon as you hit the road, visit Moraine Lake, which is 9 miles from Lake Louise. This is another popular spot whose parking lot fills up, hence the advice, once again, to go there first.

At least walk to the top of the pile of rocks at the north end of Moraine Lake to get an excellent view of the lake and the surrounding peaks. Then walk the lakeshore path.

Then set out for Jasper. Stop on the way at Peyto Lake Lookout.

You should reach the Columbia Icefields around lunch time. Yes, I do recommend a ride in the Snocoach on the Athabasca Glacier. If you pay for only one ride while you're in the Canadian Rockies, that would be my choice.

As you continue to Jasper, stop also at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.

In the evening, consider visiting the beach at Pyramid Lake, which is a couple of miles outside of Jasper townsite.


Consider riding the tramway up Whistler's Mountain. The tramway does not go right to the top of the mountain, so you have the option of supplementing the tram ride with a nice hike.

Drive out of Jasper townsite on Hwy #93A, and take the Cavell Road turn-off. Once you're on Cavell Road, stop a couple of times to look at the Astoria River Valley below. Drive to the end of the road. The parking lot is close to Angel Glacier. Do as much of the Angel Glacier / Cavell Meadows hike as you feel like doing. The trail offers good views all the way, so it's a rewarding hike even if you do only part of it.

Drive to Maligne Canyon and walk into it as far as you feel like going. While both Johnston Canyon near Banff townsite and Maligne Canyon near Jasper townsite are good, my own, very subjective opinion is that Maligne Canyon is the better of the two.

I think that will be enough to keep you occupied for a day. However, if time permits, you could consider doing the hour-long drive to Maligne Lake and taking the cruise to Spirit Island. I personally like that cruise, but several people who post here say it's their least favourite paid activity in the area.

An alternative to the drive to Maligne Lake is the hour-long drive to Miette Hot Springs, which are nicer than the ones in Banff townsite.


Drive back down the Icefields Parkway (Hwy #93) to Lake Louise. You'll be retracing your steps along a route that you already will have driven on the way up. However, the scenery looks different when it's viewed from the other direction.

When Hwy #93 meets the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1), turn west and visit Yoho National Park. The prime things to see there are Takakkaw Falls, just east of the small town of Field, BC and Emerald Lake, just west of Field. On the way to Emerald Lake, you'll see the natural bridge over the Kicking Horse River. It's really worth doing the lakeshore walk at Emerald Lake, which takes a couple of hours if you do the full circuit.


Get out of Dodge.


If budget is a concern to you, I personally don't believe it's necessary to take any of the gondolas or boat rides or to bathe in any of the hot springs. That's just my very personal opinion. As I said, the one ride that I think is worth the splurge is the Snocoach.

If you DO want to ride a gondola, bathe in a hot pool and take a cruise, I think the Jasper tramway is the best gondola, Miette are the best hot springs, and Maligne Lake is the best cruise (well better than Lake Minnewanka just outside of Banff townsite, IMO).

The thing with many of these activities (except for the hot springs) is that they are weather-dependent. There is no point in doing them if clouds descend on you and visibility is 20 feet. When conditions are like that, one of the best things you can do is walk in a canyon, as you can still enjoy the beauty of a canyon even when visibility is not good. That said, the weather tends to change throughout the day, so if it's cloudy at one point, there's a good likelihood that it'll clear up later. Anyway, you have to play it by ear to some extent.

I'm hard pressed to figure out when you might fit in any rafting.

Rafting is available in Jasper, on the Kicking Horse River, near Golden, BC (about an hour west of Lake Louise) and also in Kananaskis Country, to the south-east of Banff.

Any of the rafting trips will occupy about half a day. If you want more exciting rafting, you pretty much need to do not the half day option but rather the full day option on the Kicking Horse River.

There may be playgrounds in Banff and Jasper townsites but, if there are, I don't remember them. I guess it's just not something I have noticed in the mountains. Even when our kids were little, when we took them to plenty of playgrounds in Calgary, there were so many nature-oriented activities whenever we went to the mountains that playgrounds simply weren't on our radar screens.

If you haven't already done so, do use the Weather Underground web site to find out the range of weather conditions you can expect in Banff. Basically you need to take summer as well as spring / fall clothing, as the weather varies so much. The answer to ever-changing weather is to bring layers. Also bring practical footwear (hiking boots or runners plus sturdy, supportive sandals).

Hope that helps.

Judy_in_Calgary May 5th, 2005 11:26 AM

I previewed my previous message before posting it. I thought I'd edited it in response to tom22's comments that I'd seen only after I'd typed my message. However, my edits appear not to have "taken," and my message came out as it originally had been typed.

I agree with tom22 that the Snocoach ride is not worth it if you've already seen a glacier elsewhere. However, if you have not already seen one, then I think the Snocoach ride is worth considering.

CindyW May 5th, 2005 05:51 PM

Thank you so much, Tom and Judy. This will really help as I plan our time. I've never seen a glacier, by the way, and am looking forward to it!

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