Calgary / Banff area questions

Jan 4th, 2004, 09:59 AM
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Calgary / Banff area questions

I've just begun planning a trip (June or July) for Calgary /Banff area. My parents will be accompanying us (late 60's). My first thought was to go to Vancouver first but now am thinking that might be too much to do in 8 days. I'd appreciate any recommendations on what sights we should see, where we should stay etc. I'm thinking flying in and out of Calgary and seeing Banff, Lake Louise and maybe Jasper. We like outdoor activities - but not too much hiking since my parents will be with us. I dont want the entire time to be "traveling" - another reason why I'm leaning toward "in and out" of Calgary. Looking forward to some beautiful sights!
Thanks for any guidance you might give!

LindyE is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 12:19 PM
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Hi LindyE,

Here's a proposed itinerary.

Day 1: Arrive, rent car, drive to Banff, about 1.5 hours west on the TransCanada Highway. Overnight in Banff. (Great variety of accommodation available.)

Day 2: Explore Banff area. Overnight in Banff.

Day 3: Drive to Lake Louise via Johnston Canyon. Stop and walk the Johnston Canyon path until the falls. It?s a bit of a rough path, but there are good handrails. Wear sensible walking shoes. Overnight in Lake Louise. Medium priced recommendation is the Lake Louise Inn. Upscale recommendations are Post Hotel and Deer Lodge (both of which also have excellent restaurants). If you choose Deer Lodge, be sure to get their large rooms, as the standard ones are too small. I do not recommend Chateau Lake Louise.

Day 4: Explore Lake Louise area, including Moraine Lake. Overnight in Lake Louise.

Day 5: Drive to Jasper, stopping on the way to see the Columbia Icefields and other sights. The road from lake Louise to Jasper is known as the Icefields Parkway. Overnight in Jasper. (Variety of accommodation available.)

Day 6: Go to Maligne Lake, take boat ride to Spirit Island. Then see Maligne Canyon. Overnight in Jasper.

Day 7: Spare day. (This day could be used in one of a number of ways. You could build a day in Calgary into the beginning of your trip, if you wish. You could use the spare day in the Lake Louise area by, for example, venturing into Yoho National Park in British Columbia. You could have an extra day in Jasper.)

Day 8: Drive to Edmonton or Calgary, whichever you prefer. If you don't stop to see the sights along the way, Jasper to Calgary in one day is very do-able. Either journey would give you different views from the ones you?d seen previously. Interestingly enough, the journey from Jasper to Lake Louise looks different than the journey from Lake Louise to Japser. The mountains look different when they're viewed from the other direction.

Day 9: Return home from Edmonton or Calgary, as the case may be.

As you can see, even without going to Vancouver, this itinerary involves quite a bit of driving. However, I've tried to make provision for two-night stops rather than one-night stops (except for the last night).

The weather in the mountains is unstable. It could be glorious and sunny, or it could turn rainy and cool. Bring a fall jacket just in case. I use a waterproof, fleece-lined jacked, the kind that's available from LL Bean, Lands' End or Eddie Bauer. Some of the mountain lakes, like Louise and Moraine, don't fully thaw until the middle of June.

Because people have to tramp around in walking shoes or hiking boots all day, they dress quite casually in the restaurants and dining rooms in the mountains, even at dinner time. Even in the most upscale mountain restaurant, smart casual dress is acceptable for dinner.

Good luck with your trip.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 12:36 PM
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Hi LindyE, I think that your plan to limit yourself to the Calgary area is smart - Vancouver would be a lot to cover in only 8 days. Banff/LL and back and forth via the Icefield Parkway would be my choice.

The Icefield Parkway connecting Banff to Jasper is spectacular. There are many opportunities for viewing scenery at pull-offs along the way that don't require long walks.

If your parents are up to some light hiking, there are many spectacular short treks along the route, like Peyto Lake. In the Jasper area,the drive and short hike to Athabasca Glacier is one of my favorites. My husband and I saw a bear and its cub along this route. Early morning and evening we found best for seeing wildlife and taking short hikes {cooler and less crowded}.

What class of lodging are you interested in? We stayed in a river-front cabin in Jasper and it was perfect.
Molly2 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 02:48 PM
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Lots of choices, and personalities play a part, as does budget.

If it was me, because I like to get a feel for how people live, in addition to seeing scenery ...

(and it depends on when you arrive, what you count as a day, etc.)
Day 1:
Arrive in Vancouver, rent a car, check into a scenic downtown hotel (there are lots by the waterfront; Bayshore, pan Pacific, others)and go for a serious downtown Vancouver walk, including Robson Street, Gastown, and maybe even Granville Island.

Good dinner somewhere, back to the car, drive across the Lions Gate Bridge and up Grouse Mountan to the aprking lot at the bottom of the cable car, go to the top, look over Vancouver at night, return to the car, drive along the north shore to the Secobnd Narrows brdige, back to the main part fo the city, and so to bed.

Day 2: Drive back to West Vancouver over the Lions Gate Bridge, follow the lower road to Horseshoe Bay looking at the houses and scenery, back on the high level highway to the SEcond Narrows Bridge and back to the Trans=-Canda highway, and drive to Penticton or Kelowna.

Day 3: Drive through the mountains to Lake Louise or Banff. In summer, it stays light well into the evening, by the way.

Day 4: Stay put, in Banff or Lake Louise, of if you ar ein lake Louise, drive downt o Banff for a while and then come back to lake louise.

Day 5:

Drive up the Icefields Highway to The Columbia Icefieled, enjoy the wscenery both up and back (there's an earlier message abouthow different it looks on the return -- it's as good as driving twice as far)

Day 6:
Hang around the neighhborhood for the morning, and for lunch. Drive into Calgary in the afternoon, taking back roads eitehr to the north or south or the direct route, looking at cowboy country. If you come in from the south, stop at Smuggler's Restaurant for roast beef. If you come via Cochrane, Airdrie, Olds, check into the hotel, and then drive downt o Smuggler's.

Day 7: Enjoy Calgary, visit the zoo and/or Heritage Park and/or Glenbow Museum, anbd do some shopping, and depending on where you come from, vist one of the cowboy clothing stores and buy some gifts for boys and girls you know back home.

Day 8: Time to go home. Drop the car at the airport, ....

BAK is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 04:26 PM
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LindyE, BAK's suggested itinerary is a valid one too.

BAK, by the way, I took the liberty of looking at a couple of LindyE's other messages at Fodors to try to figure out where she would be coming from. I gather she lives in Florida, which means she might have a fairly lengthy day of flying to Vancouver, supposing she acted on your suggestion. I don't know that she would have enough time left over that day to do justice to Vancouver.

LindyE, if you decide to go to Vancouver and feel the itinerary is tight, then if necessary shave off the one day in Calgary and devote it to Vancouver instead. At least that's what I would do. Calgary is fine. There's nothing wrong with it. Well not NOTHING wrong with it, but you know what I mean. Vancouver, on the other hand, is really special, IMO.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 05:52 PM
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WOW! Thanks for the wonderful insight!
I wish I could make the trip a little longer so we had a bit more time in each place - but that can't happen.
I'm still thinking of saving Vancouver for another trip. It sounds like there is enough to do and enjoy there for several days.
Judy in Calgary and BAK - how nice of both of you to come up with a suggested schedule. I've read several times now and have pulled out a map to get my bearings!
Yep - I live in Central Florida - so will have a fairly long flight to and from. The good news is on the arrivial day - we'll get extra hours since we'll be traveling west.
Molly2 - Thanks for your ideas. I bet seeing a bear and her cub was very exciting!
Judy in Calgary - thanks for the hotel suggestions. I'm flexible on hotel price ranges. Mostly looking for nice with a good restaurant. Often, we try to find something with a special "memory making" feel to it!
I'll look into Deer Lodge and Post Hotel in Lake Lousie. Do you have any suggestions for Banff or Jasper?
Molly2- What is the name of the place you stayed on the river in Jasper?

BAK - my husband usually likes to select a location and travel from there. You suggested staying in Banff or LL -- what is the drive between the two? It doesn't look that far on the map but I have no concept of mountain travel in relationship to time.

Do you think I'm making the right choice for Banff /LL area as our first trip to western Canada OR should we consider heading to Vancouver first and save Banff for another trip? We enjoy cities as much as countryside. Just looking for a point of view.
LindyE is offline  
Jan 4th, 2004, 06:59 PM
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>>>>>>I'm still thinking of saving Vancouver for another trip. It sounds like there is enough to do and enjoy there for several days.<<<<<<

LindyE, f you could turn this into two separate trips, that would be ideal, IMO.

>>>>>>BAK - my husband usually likes to select a location and travel from there. You suggested staying in Banff or LL -- what is the drive between the two? It doesn't look that far on the map but I have no concept of mountain travel in relationship to time.<<<<<<

The distance from Lake Louise to Banff is 40 miles, and the speed limit is 55 mph (lower than normal highways, because it?s in the National Park). When we take first time visitors, it takes an hour, because we stop at a spot about half way so we can get out and look at the view of Castle Mountain and the Bow River. Repeat drives are a bit quicker.

If you take the alternate route from Lake Louise to Banff, the Bow Valley Parkway or #1A Highway, in order to see Johnston Canyon, the speed limit is 35 mph, and the drive takes 1.5 hours without stops. If you get out to walk the Johnston Canyon path, figure on an hour to 1.5 hours extra.

>>>>>>Do you think I'm making the right choice for Banff /LL area as our first trip to western Canada OR should we consider heading to Vancouver first and save Banff for another trip? We enjoy cities as much as countryside.<<<<<<

Arghhhhh! That is SUCH a tough question to answer. It kind of depends on what you?ve already seen in your lifetime, e.g., Swiss Alps, etc. It also depends on what the interests of all four people in the party are. Vancouver is one of those fortunate cities that?s wedged between mountains and ocean, so you look out your window and you see both mountains AND water. It?s a beautiful combination. Vancouver is a lively city, with a great variety of restaurants and shops, a good Chinatown, and many of the other amenities of a large city.

But then the Rockies are stunning in their own way too. They?re wilder than the Swiss Alps. If you want to experience the environment that is most different from your home, then maybe the Rockies are most different.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 04:14 AM
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Lindy, I haven't been to Vancouver, but hear it's great. Still, I am hard-pressed to imagine an experience more rewarding than traveling through the spectacular Rockies.

In Jasper, we stayed at Pine Bungalows. We reserved EARLY for a river-side cabin. It was simple and rustic, yet very clean and comfortable, with kitchen facilities, a fireplace {which we didn't get to use because of a fire-ban}, and wildlife {deer and elk}occasionally right outside our door. There are individual picnic tables, and benches set up to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Very peaceful and removed, yet a short drive into town. Hope this helps.
Molly2 is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 06:31 AM
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LindyE, it occurs to me to alert you that the Calgary Stampede will be on July 9th through July 18th. It's an annual rodeo festival, and it is very ... well ... festive. You might want to time your visit so you can take in the rodeo events for a day or so, or alternatively you might want to avoid visiting at that time. It all depends how you feel about C&W music and cowboy culture. If you do come then, be warned that hotels are fully booked. You would need to make your reservations very soon.

The most charming hotel in downtown Calgary is the FAIRMONT PALLISER, but it is expensive. Just across the Bow River from downtown (really close to downtown, but not IN downtown) is the KENSINGTON RIVERSIDE INN. It's a smaller, more intimate, 4 star hotel. The advantage of it is that, in order to reach it, you wouldn't need to figure out the one-way streets downtown. Either of those hotels would feel special.

In the medium price range (clean and comfortable, but not what I would describe as special), are:

* Hawthorn Suites (downtown)
* Best Western Village Park Inn (in an area nicknamed "Motel Village", a cluster of motels outside of, but close to, downtown)
* Greenwood Inn (in a commercial district near the airport)
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 05:24 PM
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Thanks goodness half the fun of travel is making plans!
We have seen the Alps and the US Rockies but haven't made it to the Canadian Rockies yet.
We've decided - Calgary, Banff, LL, Jasper. We'll hold Vancouver til the next trip.
Judy in Cagary - Interesting you mention the Stampede. I stumbled on some internet info on it. It sounds like it might be fun. We can handle country music and the whole country theme (for a day or two). I'm wondering if the crowds are worth coming to the Stampede? Is it something you'd recommend attending - just to do it once, or would it be best to come before or after and perhaps avoid some heavier crowds? Having no real concept of the event - it's difficult to know.
I've reviewed a couple of the hotels you mentioned. Both the Post and Deer Lodge look very nice and seem like they are in wonderful settings. I havent checked into any others yet - but will over the next day or so.
Again - thanks so much for your help.
LindyE is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 06:36 PM
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>>>>>>I'm wondering if the crowds are worth coming to the Stampede? Is it something you'd recommend attending - just to do it once, or would it be best to come before or after and perhaps avoid some heavier crowds?<<<<<<

As with your Vancouver versus Rockies question, this is a tough one for me to answer. Calgary is packed with visitors during Stampede, no question about it.

On the other hand, there really is a festive, super friendly atmosphere in the city at that time. Throughout the city, stores, banks, etc., are decorated as corrals or barns (bales of hay propped up here and there, and that sort of thing). Most of the people who work in offices downtown, and certainly all store clerks, bank tellers, etc., dress in western gear for the duration. Local businesses (oil exploration companies, real estate companies, insurance companies, etc.) provide free breakfasts on the sidewalks. You might be walking down the street and pass a line of people having pancakes, sausages, eggs and orange juice served to them by the President and Vice Presidents of Shell Canada or some such company. If you like, you could join the line and have some yourself.

Having arrived in Calgary in the late 1970s, I'm now a bit jaded about the Stampede. When I've been subjected to it for ten days solid, C&W music is a bit much for me.

However, I remember my first Stampede, indeed my first few Stampedes. I was really tickled the first time I had this cultural experience.

If you do come, be prepared to accept that, yes, the airport will be full, trains will be full, bars and restaurants will be full. But you'll also find that people are so caught up in the festive atmosphere, you'll have total strangers striking up conversations with you while you wait in line for something. You may find yourself not caring whether or not you look like a dork, and you may jump up and join the other line dancers in the pub, or whatever.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 07:13 PM
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Well, now that you've decided on Calgary and the mountains, far be it for me to try to change your mind.

But ...

You could pretty much reverse my itinerary, and fly into Calgary and out of Vancouver. The main reason for my last ditch atempt to get you to Vancouver is so that you can get a good look at the other ocean.

I used to be in Florida a couple of times a year, I lived in Calgary, i worked by airliner-commute in Vancouver for a couple of years, and I think that you'd love a chance to see an ocean so very different from the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

You've got a pretty good LL- Banff driving description. If I was staying in one of the two for three or four nights, I'd pick Banff, because it's bigger and got more restaruants andmore places to walk to after dinner and more shops to go window shopping at.

About the Stampede. There's nothing like it in the world, and that may in fact be pretty close to the official slogan. Surrounding the rodeo events is what you'd think of as a really big state fair. The rodeo is as good as Cheyenne or Las Vegas, and if you're a rodeo fan, this is as good as it gets. But tickets are fairly expensive, and your seats would probably be pretty far away.

If you can find a small town rodeo in Olds, Airdrie, High River, Black Diamond or over in British Columbis, you'll get closer to the horses and bulls and cowboys. I like the smaller rodeos better myself, because of talking to the performers and actually being able to touch the animals.

Regardless of whether you stay in Alberta or go to Alberta and British Columbia (or just go to British Columbia; there's ocean and rivers and lakes and the Coast Mountains and the Rocky Mountains and ferry boats and fishing ...) I do think going to the west part of Canada is a great choice, and you'll have a wonderful time.

Hotels and restaurants change, so I can't be specific. As a general rule, the big old railroad hotels, which are the Palliser in Calgary, the Banff Springs in Banff, Chateau lake Louise in Lake Louise, and Jasper Park Lodge in Jasper, are places you'll remember forever. If budgets are tighter, go to these for a meal.


BAK is offline  
Jan 5th, 2004, 08:11 PM
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If I could just jump into this interesting conversation. . .

About accommodation in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper -
If you stay at Chateau Lake Louise and Banff Springs Hotel, you might be disappointed - both charge big bucks leading you to believe that they are much fancier than they really are. The best thing about both of these hotels is without a doubt their location.

However, there is a large variety of accommodation in the Rockies (after all, tourism is their number one industry), so you have a huge choice of anything from hotels, to cabins/chalets, to Bed and Breakfast places to "pensions" and hostels.

In Jasper Becker's Chalets are a well-priced alternative to Jasper Park Lodge; they are cabins/chalets by the Athabasca River (about 5 minutes south of Jasper townsite), there is a dining room on site, and from the river bank you can watch white-water rafters "float" by.

The way I see it, you could do your 8-day trip in one of three ways:

1. You could plan on seeing both the Rockies and Vancouver by flying into Calgary and driving Calgary - Banff - Lake Louise - Revelstoke - Kelowna - Vancouver (spending a day in Calgary, two in Banff National Park, one driving to Kelowna and then one visiting around Lake Okanagan - a pretty spot - and then the rest of the time in Vancouver before flying out)

2. Or you could concentrate on the Rockies, and see Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise and maybe even a bit of Yoho National Park.
-Fly into Calgary, during the Stampede it gets very friendly so spend one day there.
- Drive to Banff (actually we routinely drive the distance between Calgary's city limits and Banff in one hour !)
- Spend two days exploring the Banff-Lake Louise area.
- Drive Icefields Parkway to Jasper (one leisurely day of driving and stopping along the way for the sights along the way and the Athabasca Glacier/Columbia Icefields; take the "SnoCoach" onto the glacier)
- Spend one day in the Jasper area (take the gondola to the top of Whistler Mtn and see the incredible view, then drive to Mt Edith Cavell and stroll to Angel Glacier OR drive to Maligne Lake and take the rather expensive "cruise" down the length of the lake, one benefit of driving to Maligne Lake is that there is always a lot of wildlife along the way - you are almost guaranteed to see mountain sheep and black bears, maybe even moose and elk - depending on time of day).
- drive back to Lake Louise, spend a night there, see some more of the sights in the Lake Louise-Yoho National park area the next day.
- drive back to Calgary and fly home (Banff townsite to Calgary airport will be about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic once you hit Calgary city limits).

3. Or you could fly to Vancouver and visit Vancouver, than take the ferry over to Vancouver Island and visit Victoria, take your parents to Butchart Gardens, then maybe even squeeze in a side trip to Pacific Rim National Park (drive from Victoria to Tofino - about 5 to 6 hours - and spend a night there, return to Vancouver via the ferry at Nanaimo.)

Ah - choices, choices - sounds great!!!

P.S. - I live in Alberta and have been in the Rockies - one of my favourite places to relax - well over 100 times in the past 15 or so years, so if you have any other questions, please just ask.
Borealis is offline  
Jan 6th, 2004, 11:20 AM
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I'm going to jump into this conversation with a small itinerary change. Instead of taking the TransCanada from Calgary to Banff you might consider heading south and taking the route over the Highwood Pass. I've travelled a fare amount of the world and in my humble opinion this is one of the "great drives". The drive will take you about 3 hours (without stopping) to get to Banff.

I try to do the drive at least once a year (it is spetacular in the fall with the trees changing) and always enjoy it. The route passes through cattle country and the foothills of the Rockies. Always in front of you you have the mountains -- at one point of the drive it appears there is no way out.

Head south on the Number 2 highway and just outside of Calgary head west to Black Diamond/Bragg Creek and Priddis. Turn south when you see a sign for Millarville and Black Diamond/Turner valley. Suddenly you're in the foothills and cattle country. Just before Black Diamond you'll see a sign for "Kananaskis -- Highwood Pass" take that exit and you will begin entering the mountains. You'll gain in elevation to the top of the Highwood Pass (great place for a picnic lunch). On the other side of the pass you'll see spread out below you the Kananaskis Valley -- quite an amazing vista. Continue of this highway untill you meet up with the TransCanada highway east of Canmore.

You won't regret it. If you want specific Highway numbers post again and I will dig out my map.
hydra is offline  
Jan 7th, 2004, 04:48 PM
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Again - thank you all very much for the wonderful advice. You all are such a great help!
I haven't had a chance to digest all your suggestions yet. In a day or two I'll post again with a few more questions ...
I am getting excited with all the wonderful descriptions of the area.
Talk with you soon!
LindyE is offline  

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