Canadia Rockies

Old Mar 31st, 2005, 09:17 AM
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Canadia Rockies

How crowded is August in the National Parks like Banff and Jasper? How far in advance should hotels be booked (haven't done that yet unfortunately)? I am a HUGE wildlife buff and am looking for the best wildlife viewing and experiences in the Canadian Rockies (would love to find a "safari" type excursion Anyone have any ideas/suggestions?
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 01:01 PM
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hotels are usually almost 100% full in august so as soon as you have your dates, start looking. there is a wide variety so in order to get what you want, start early. the parks will be very busy but still worth the trip. the town of banff gets a little more conjested then jasper.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 04:47 PM
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Get hold of "Handbook of the Canadian Rockies" by Ben Gadd. It's a plant, animal, geology, history, trail guide and road map rolled into one.

SunDog Tour Company offers a 3.5 hour Maligne Valley Wildlife Tour out of Jasper townsite for CAD 49 per adult. But you'd have to be lame, blind and deaf not to be able to do on your own what they do for you. Well, that's probably unfair. However, all you have to do is drive out of Jasper townsite and point your car towards Maligne Lake. If you don't see some sort of wildlife along the way, I'll eat my hat.

An Australian friend of mine did use SunDog Tour Company's guide service, and she appreciated it a lot. I took her from Calgary to Lake Louise and Banff. Then she caught the Bewster's bus to Jasper.

Once she was in Jasper, she hired a personal guide through SunDog Tour Company, and he drove her around the area. She said he was great. I could understand why she wanted to go that route. She was on her own, she didn't want to drive on what felt to her like the wrong side of the road if she didn't have a navigator, etc. However, if there will be at least two of you, and if you're from North America, I can't see any reason to use a guide in the mountains.

Your best chance of seeing animals is early in the morning and late in the evening.

Even then the Rocky Mountains are not the Serengeti Plain. You won't see herds of the size that are to be found in Africa -- obviously.

Hope that helps.
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 06:14 AM
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Thanks for the info...would we be better off avoinding the crowds and booked hotels in late June/early July? Also, since we're flying into Calgary, where's the best central location that I should look for accomodations in? I was thinking we'll stay one night in Calgary, and then move to either Bannf or Lake Louis and maybe a night or 2 in Jasper...does that sound feasable for a week or so?
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 06:29 AM
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Hello jocalvin1969,

I didn't have time to respond as fully as I would have liked last night, but I have some more time now. I'll share with you the spots in which we've seen animals, and in which I've heard other visitors have seen them.

Well, supposing you access the mountain national parks from Calgary. You'll enter Banff National Park via that park's east gate, and soon afterwards you'll be in Banff townsite. There I have seen a herd of elk several times, both in summer and winter. Right in the town. Quite amazing. If you take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain, just outside of Banff townsite, you have an excellent chance of seeing mountain sheep.

A short distance outside of Banff townsite is Lake Minnewanka. There is a hiking trail that starts out at Lake Minnewanka and more or less follows the lake's western shore in a northerly direction. While we've hiked that trail we've come across deer and, to our astonishment, a fox. The fox crossed our hiking trail so close to us we felt we could almost reach out and touch him. It happened fast, and it was all over before we knew it. Afterwards I was half in awe at having seen a fox (which I subsequently discovered was a rare animal in these parts) and half shaking in case he/she might have hurt us. However, he/she seemed to be intent on another mission, because he/she seemed to ignore us.

Also just outside of Banff townsite, next to the TransCanada Highway, there used to be a large paddock where we always used to see bison. Now that I come to think about it, we haven't seen them in recent years. Maybe they're still there, but we've become so blase about them that we haven't noticed them. Or maybe they aren't there any more. I honestly don't know.

Moving moving west from Banff townsite, you get to Lake Louise. There are two ways of getting there, the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1) and the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy #1A).

If you take the main road, the TransCanada, there are several spots where the road has good views over the valley of the Bow River. There are a couple of lay byes (places where you can pull over and park). It is worth stopping briefly at one of them. Even if you don't see any wildlife, the view of imposing Castle Mountain, about half way between Banff and Lake Louise, is enjoyable. However, in addition to that, we quite often have seen wildlife down by the river when we have stopped at this spot. We have seen moose several times. We saw a grizzly bear once. In fact that has been our only sighting of a grizzly bear in almost 30 years of living in this area.

When we use Hwy #1A to get from Banff to Lake Louise, we invariably see mountain sheep and, more rarely, mountain goats.

In the Moraine Lake / Lake Louise area we have seen deer several times.

The park wardens usually close any one of the hiking trails near Moraine Lake and Lake Louise if bear have been sighted on the trail. Alternatively, if bear are not known to be on the trail itself, but are known to be in the general vicinity, there may be a sign stating that a hiking group has to consist of a minimum of six people. In that case, if there are fewer than six of you, you have to wait till more hikers arrive so that you can form a group of six or more.

The only time we've actually seen bear in the area was when we were driving towards Lake Louise, and we saw two black bears, an adult and a juvenile, on the banks of the Bow River (which at that point is just a stream), right next to the road. This was pretty darn close to Paradise Lodge and Bungalows, Deer Lodge and the Lake Louise parking lot. We were surprised that they were in a spot that was so close to the gazillion people who stop to look at Lake Louise, but they seemed oblivious to our presence.

Moving west from Lake Louise, we have seen black bears in Yoho National Park. Again they've been in groups of two. This has been between Lake Louise and the turn off to Takakkaw Falls, which is east of Field, BC.

Moving north from Lake Louise, we've seen quite a bit of wildlife on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy #93) on the way to Jasper. On different occasions we've seen mountain sheep, deer, elk, moose, and black bears (again mothers and cubs).

As is the case with Banff townsite, I've heard that animals sometimes walk into Jasper townsite. However, I have not witnessed this myself.

When we've visited Jasper, we've always stayed in the town. However, I've seen reports here that, if you stay in properties that are outside of the town (e.g., Becker's Chalets, Pyramid Lake Bungalows, Patricia Lake Bungalows, Pine Bungalows, etc.), it's quite common to wake up in the morning and find wild animals grazing next to your cabin or townhouse.

At the suggestion of our B&B hostess, we had a picnic supper on the beach at Pyramid Lake one evening. Although it was August and Jasper townsite was full of tourists, we had the beach to ourselves while we ate our dinner. A really magical experience for us was that a beaver swam up to us and looked at us for a long time before he/she swam away. Well I don't know if the beaver was actually looking at US. It's easy to anthropomorphise animals and incorrectly read human intentions into their actions. However, it seemed to us that that was what he/she was doing.

As I mentioned to you in my previous post, the road to Maligne Lake is particularly rich in wildlife. We have never failed to see animals when we've driven that road. We've seen elk, moose and pairs of black bears.

This list doesn't even cover smaller animals, like chipmunks, squirrels, marmots and it doesn't cover birds, including birds of prey and waterfowl. We've seen lots of them too.

This post is getting very long, so I'll mention a couple of additional thoughts in another post.
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 07:28 AM
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When you said in your original post that you would like to find a safari type excursion, I didn't know what you meant. I'm not being facetious. I genuinely don't understand.

I come from Africa originally, but a long time ago. Anyway, in Africa the term "safari" has a particular meaning. In South Africa there are national parks that tourists can visit on a self-drive basis. In that case, visitors have to stick to the roads, and there is a curfew. For safety's sake, they have to be inside an accommodation camp by a certain time in the evening.

At private safari lodges in South Africa and in other African countries, however, guides drive guests in open 4x4 vehicles. These vehicles take a maximum of 6 passengers, and they drive off-road. Different driver / guides are in radio communication with each other. The radio communication serves two purposes. One is safety. If one vehicle experiences a problem (puncture or whatever), it can call on another vehicle for assistance. The other purpose is to maximise guests' animal viewing experiences. For example, a guide who sees lions feasting on a carcass after a kill will alert other guides in the vicinity so that those guides' guests also can witness the event.

Game drives take place early in the morning and again in the evening. Dinner takes place rather late, after the evening game drive. Because guests retire late and rise early, they get only a short sleep at night. For that reason, and also because it's so hot at noon, there is a siesta period in the middle of the day.

That is what the word "safari" means to me. As far as I know, there is nothing quite like it in the Canadian Rockies. First of all, the concentration of wild animals in Canada is nothing like it is in Africa. Secondly, the mountainous terrain throws severe obstacles in the face of even a 4x4 vehicle. Thirdly, Canada's mountain national parks don't exist primarily for the enjoyment of humans. My understanding is that, while park managers try to accommodate humans and integrate their presence into the parks, the parks primarily are protected wilderness areas that are intended to provide a home for indigenous flora and fauna. Consequently intrusive machines (private motor boats, ATVs, etc.) are not allowed in the parks, to the best of my knowledge.

I've seen a company called Banff Hummer Tours and Safaris on the Internet. I've never had any personal contact with them. However, they do advertise off-road day tours. Their descriptive blurb includes the following:

We will pick you up from your accommodation at the arranged time and take a short scenic drive to rugged front ranges of the Rockies where we can truly experience what a Hummer can do in extreme mountain terrain. We'll climb impossibly steep hills, drive along a fast and clear mountain river, drive through mud holes (what a hoot this is) and in generally go where no other 4 x 4 would dare to go, you'll be amazed and we guarantee that you'll have fun.

At some point we will find a pristine and isolated spot of beauty for a hearty lunch and soak up the scenery. You can have a short hike, haul out the camera or try your luck with the fish , the choice is yours.


Their mention of the "front ranges" leads me to believe that they probably take their guests outside of Banff National Park, to Kananaskis Country, which is to the east of BNP. I don't know that for a fact. I'm just guessing.

To be honest, their description of what they do horrifies me. We'll climb impossibly steep hills, drive along a fast and clear mountain river, drive through mud holes ...... and in generally go where no other 4 x 4 would dare to go ...... The ecosystem around here is quite delicate. All it needs is a Hummer tearing up the soil. However, if that's your idea of fun, there it is. But, oh yes, 6 - 7 hours of this will set you back CAD 330 per person plus 7% Goods and Services Tax. The good news is that the "hearty lunch" is included in the price.

Although, as my previous post indicated, it is entirely possible to see wildlife in the mountain national parks, even if you stay in the standard tourist towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, another thing for you to consider would be to stay in a somewhat more isolated lodge.

Places you might consider include Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis Country and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge next to Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. I have not stayed at them myself, but have read good reviews of them on the travel discussion boards. Oh yes, come to think of it, I have had lunch at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, but have not seen the rooms.

A wonderful place is Lake O'Hara Lodge. However, if you want to stay there, you need to be making your reservations now for August 2006.

Another place that sounds wonderful is Beaverfoot Lodge outside of Golden, BC. A poster called "hibiscushouse" wrote a detailed review of it after her stay there in the summer of 2004. What makes my skin crawl is that Beaverfoot Lodge is a hunting lodge in the fall. However, during the summer it sounds as if it is a very family-friendly eco lodge with horseback riding, etc. The thought of hunting is not attractive to me at all. However, I do sympathise with owners of remote Rocky Mountain properties. The summer tourist season is short, and I can well imagine it would be difficult to earn a living from that alone.

Something else that friends of mine have told me is fun, but that I have not done myself, is multi-day horseback riding and camping expeditions in the Canadian Rockies. Again, a Google search will bring up information.

If you do a Google search for ECOTOURISM + CANADIAN ROCKIES, you may find still more inspiration than I have been able to provide.

Hope you manage to create an enjoyable trip. I'm sure you will.
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 01:49 PM
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>>>Thanks for the info...<<<

You're most welcome.

>>>would we be better off avoinding the crowds and booked hotels in late June/early July?<<<

Although the crowds are building up in late June, they have not yet reached their height. By visiting the area in late June, you would avoid the busiest time.

Early July is too late if your agenda is to avoid the crowds. Canadian schools get out at the end of June. July 1st is the Canada Day public holiday, and that's when the full onslaught begins.

That said, it's surprising how little you have to deviate from the few popular icons to escape the crowds.

The example I have quoted here repeatedly is the picnic area next to Moraine Lake. It consists of tables tucked away amongst the trees, and spaced at generous distances from each other. Even in July and August, when the Moraine Lake parking lot has been filled to overflowing, we have not once experienced an occasion on which all of the picnic tables have been occupied.

The other example is the one that I quoted earlier in this thread -- our picnic supper at Pyramid Lake. It was at the height of the tourist season in early August, and we had the beach to ourselves. We found it amazing.

>>>Also, since we're flying into Calgary, where's the best central location that I should look for accomodations in? I was thinking we'll stay one night in Calgary, and then move to either Bannf or Lake Louis and maybe a night or 2 in Jasper...does that sound feasable for a week or so?<<<

With only a week in the area, and given the fact that you like wildlife, I would recommend that you get out of Calgary and into the mountains ASAP. Even if you'd flown all day, it would not be a strain for you to reach Canmore, which is the first town in the mountains, and which is only an hour's drive from Calgary's western city limits.

I then suggest you move on to Lake Louise. Then give yourselves at least 2 nights in Jasper.

If you are looking for a Calgary hotel where you can spend your last night before catching a morning flight home, I recommend the Greenwood Inn. It's in a commercial district that is not exactly charming. However, it's perfectly safe. There's a restaurant called Joey Tomato close by. It's a chain restaurant, but quite a nice chain. The reason for recommending the Greenwood is that it's in the NE quadrant of the city, conveniently located with respect to the airport. It's a clean, comfortable, friendly place.

If your flight departs at noon or later, you can actually spend your last night in Banff or Canmore. However, you need to leave the mountains about 5 hours before your flight's departure time.

At the risk of boring everyone else who has heard this from me before, I'm partial to Lady Macdonald Country Inn and Georgetown Inn in Canmore. But Canmore has quite a large stock of accommodation, and I'm not suggesting that those are the only places to consider.

Since you like wildlife, I think you would enjoy Baker Creek Chalets outside of Lake Louise village and Becker's Chalets outside of Jasper townsite. In both cases the properties are located in the forest. But they are popular and they book up fast. When you make reservations in Lake Louise and Jasper, be on the lookout for minimum reservation periods (2 or 3 nights are not uncommon) and also be careful about cancellation periods (they vary from 48 hours through 72 hours through 7 days up to 14 days).
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Old Apr 2nd, 2005, 09:52 AM
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Wow! Thanks Judy for all the helpful info! I never expected to get such great feedback! I'll be making the reservations by the end of the week, and your advice will definately help make the decisions easier! There is one thing I am still unsure of...with only 8 full days in the area is a trek to Jasper NP overscheduling ourselves? I've heard different estimates at how long the drive is from LL, but they all seem to consistently mention to allow the entire day to get there, would you agree with that? Would only a full day to explore Jasper be worth driving all that way? As for my description of a "safari" in an earlier post, I had in mind something similar to what they offer in Custer Park, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They have guides available to take you in a 4WD for a few hours to remote locations where wildlife is more abundant. It was a real thrill for me, and I was just curious to know if something similar was offered in the Rockies. I think I'll wait until we get there and if the wildlife is hard to find, then we'll look into a tour. Hopefully that won't be necessary
Thanks again for the great info! It was a big help!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2005, 12:57 PM
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You're very welcome, jocalvin1969.

Yes, it does take the better part of a day to travel from LL to Jasper if you stop at the scenic lookout points and do justice to the route.

But yes, even with only 8 days in the area, it is still worth spending at least a couple of nights in Jasper. You need the first day just to reach Jasper. Then you need at least a day to explore Jasper's environs.

If you could spend 2 full days in the Jasper area, it would be better still. This is all the more true in your case, since you are interested in wildlife.

I am absolutely sure that you would not regret going to Jasper.
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Old Apr 4th, 2005, 06:54 PM
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Hello Jo Calvin
We recommend all travellers to avoid the crowded areas like Jasper and Banff and stay on the western side of the Rockies. On the way to Golden youy'll find all the wildlife you wish to see, later on the way to Revelstoke you'll have all the beauty of the Rockies without the crowd! Revelstoke - often only used as an overnight - offers all the beauty of the Rockies without the hassle of Banff and Jasper. Check us out at www.mulvehillcreek.com. You'l find a place where the editor of Frommer's stayed: One of the most superlative inns in all of BC ... the highlight of your trip! Here you can drive into the Alpine Meadows. Trips with guides bring you to birds and other wildlife without queuing up!
See you soon!
Rene Hueppi, Hon. D. phil.
Mulvehill Creek Wilderness Inn
south of Revelstoke (only quiet place in hundreds of miles)
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Old Apr 5th, 2005, 12:41 AM
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I would say August is not such a good wildlife viewing month in the Rockies.

The bears are feeding in higher elivations. Theey will come down into the mountains end of Sepetmber. The rutting season for the elks will start also End of September.

The commercial guided wildlife tours are waste of time and money. I recommend to take a hiking guide, if you are interested in wildlife viewing. He will know the best places. It will require some multi-day hiking effort, if you are interested in whatching bears at this time of the year, as you will not reach the interesting areas in a one day-hike.

The NP has restricted the access to some areas (Lake Louise) in July & August (to protect wildlife) and only larger goups (more than 6) are allowed to enter this areas. Therefore it is also wise to form a group with a hiking guide.
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Old Apr 8th, 2005, 03:18 AM
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What a palette of meanings you got! Another" Try to avoid the crowded areas and check out the western end of the Rockies, such as Revelstoke (Cariboo, Moose, Whitetail in front of our window, 125 species of birds, bear on the Golf Course). Yoho, Glacier and Mt. Revelstoke National Parks offers the same scenery (see Frommer's Guide or webpage) without the tourist massas. Check us out at www.mulvehillcreek.com and believe Frommer's ... may well be the highlight of your trip!
Bon Voyage!
Rene J Hueppi, Hon.D.phil. and Innkepper
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