Calgary & Banff in Early December

Old Aug 10th, 2015, 06:03 AM
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Calgary & Banff in Early December

My husband's cousin is getting married the first weekend of December in Canmore. We are planning on flying into Calgary (from the US) on Thursday, arriving about lunch time (the wedding is Saturday) and flying back out on either Monday or Tuesday morning (depending on if we think planning an extra day is worth it). We don't ski and we are wondering what there would be to do in the Calgary and Banff areas at this time of year. We're not looking to spend a whole lot of money (we will not be staying at any Fairmonts no mater how beautiful they are), but we're not on a really strict budget either and would like to have reasonable comfort from the accommodations we choose. His cousin has reserved rooms at the Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore. We are thinking that might be a good option for the wedding night since it's in walking distance of the wedding venue, but we are set on it if there is somewhere else fabulous and we definitely don't want to spend all our time there. We would like to visit Calgary and Banff. Some things we've thought about doing are the Hot Springs, the Banff Gondola, maybe even hiking around Lake Louise if we have the time. From my research so far, I can't find anything in Calgary that seems very interesting. I would really like to visit the Tyrrell Museum, but it's kind of far on the opposite side of Calgary, so I'm not sure that we will get the chance. And to make it all the more difficult, my husband has celiacs and therefore has to eat gluten free. This will be our first trip together by ourselves since our son was born last year (he's staying with grandparents), so I would really like to take advantage of the opportunity to do adult things and explore & relax together!

So my questions are: What should we do? Where should we stay? And can anyone recommend good gluten free places to eat within the areas we will be? Suggested itineraries are appreciated!
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Old Aug 10th, 2015, 02:36 PM
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I travelled to Banff in December 2014 and absolutely loved it. Like you, I don't ski but there is still plenty to see and do.

Highlights for me was snow shoe hiking at Sunshine Village, Dog Sledding (not cheap, but worth it!, hiking Johnson's Canyon and ice skating on Lake Louise. My trip report can be found here: http://www.fodors.com/community/cana...-and-tours.cfm
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Old Aug 12th, 2015, 08:06 AM
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Down Under, I haven't read your report yet, but I was wondering what the roads are like? Are the scenic roads like 1A, Bow Valley Pkwy. and the IceFields Pkwy. well plowed in winter?

I'd love to go in winter but was just wondering about getting around by car.
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Old Aug 12th, 2015, 01:31 PM
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Coming from Australia I have no experience travelling in snow so I took tours.
The main freeway (Icefields Parkway) was well ploughed between Banff and Lake Louise. Up to Lake Louise and along Bow Valley Parkway had some snow on the roads. Locals should be able to give you a better indication. When I was visiting, they had remarkably little snow for that time of the year (I gather they received a lot of snow late November, but it had melted by the time I arrived!)
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Old Aug 12th, 2015, 06:41 PM
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Thanks, DownUnder.
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Old Aug 13th, 2015, 11:49 AM
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Early December is full on winter in the mountains. Depending on the weather, there could be no or lots of snow down in Calgary, but there will certainly be plenty of snow up at Lake Louise and along the Icefields Parkway. Even last December, Lake Louise was well blanketed by then.

Options for activities include snowshowing, dog sled rides, tobaggoning, sleigh rides, and ice skating. Canmore has a great rec centre with pool, hot tub, climbing wall and cafe. There is no hiking around Lake Louise in the winter - you can generally walk just a bit along the lake, but all the other trails have avalanche risk so are not safe. You can probably do longer walks around Canmore or Banff, but you need to ensure that you are not venturing into areas with avalanche risk. If you aren't sure, ask at one of the Parks Canada Centres. Better to be safe.

I would certainly opt for the longer visit - given the potential risk of weather delays and the very short days (think sun rising around 9am, dark by 4pm), you will want as much time as possible. I would probably not opt to visit Calgary from Canmore - it's a good hour drive, more if the weather isn't good - and I think you will want to maximize your time in the mountains. Remember that by the time you arrive, get luggage/car and get to the mountains, it will be sunset. So you really would have Friday and Sunday if you left on Monday.

As far as driving, the TransCanada from Calgary to Lake Louise (not the Icefields Parkway!) is a major, well-plowed highway. Conditions can get a bit hairy when it's actually snowing and until it's first plowed, but it's usually just fine as long as you drive for the conditions.

Bow Valley Parkway (1A) is much narrower & twistier, so conditions can be worse if there's snow on the road. Again, you need to slow down for conditions.

The Icefields Parkway (between Lake Louise and Jasper), however, is a different story. It is not maintained in the same way in the winter as other roads - scraped, not plowed and only during daylight hours (about 8am to 3:30pm). It is not patrolled outside those hours and there is no cell service. Also no gas, no stores/hotels and not patrolled at night. You are required to have snow tires - they are not standard on rentals so you need to request them specifically and expect to pay a surcharge.

If you have no snow driving experience, I would probably not venture on the Icefields Parkway or only go if the conditions are quite good (no snow in the forecast, and the road is in good condition). Since no attractions are open and pullovers are not plowed, you will likely just be seeing things from the car. Usually in the winter, you'd probably go as far as Bow/Peyto Lake and turn around.

I'm not sure if the Banff Gondolas operates in the winter - the one at Lake Louise certainly does.

As far as Canmore - I think the above hotel sounds fine and if it's convenient, go for it. You'll be driving around everywhere anyway, and parking is usually a non issue in Canmore in the winter.

There are plenty of gluten free options - I climb with a couple of folks who can't eat gluten, so am aware of places that have options. Just about anywhere in Canmore will have options - I know the Georgetown Inn does, as does the Iron Goat. Just ask - they may not show all options/variations on the menu, but can often provide gluten free options if you request. Same in Banff. Lake Louise is likely to be trickier - I know the cafe at the hostel is poor for gluten free options and the post hotel menu is probably not ideal.
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