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Family holiday in Canada ( winter)..accommodation in Montana and Idaho too!

Family holiday in Canada ( winter)..accommodation in Montana and Idaho too!

Old Oct 5th, 2014, 09:53 PM
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Family holiday in Canada ( winter)..accommodation in Montana and Idaho too!

Hi folks
Husband and I have done one holiday in Canada in winter but now it's time to plan a family vacation.
This will be my third visit to this beautiful land and umpteenth time for OH who grew up there and hasvisited many times to ski. We love history, nature and easy walks - no winter hiking...love wildlife, sanctuaries, zoos

This is what I'm thinking for a three week trip :
The four of us...(son will be 20 by then and daughter 22 )will fly from oz to Seattle stay two days and hire car and drive either to Vancouver and on to Banff ( or go through Washington and Idaho up to Banff )
Visit Banff area for five days
Maybe the boys can ski for three days at sunshine and lake Louise whilst my daughter and I ( we don't ski )explore Banff ..later the four of us can drive to jasper if we can or lake emerald and any other points of interest thaT my husband and I visited last trip
Then id like to drive to Vancouver through radium hot springs ,Nelson and Whistler or any other route anyone here can recommend
Stay in Vancouver for two nights or so and maybe cross over to Vancouver Island if we have time..we probably won't have time unless we decide not to drive one way..say fly to Calgary rather than drive ( OH reckons it's cheaper for us to fly to Seattle and hire a car )

I asked advice from the forum last time about driving in Canada in winter and upon your advice, I insisted that OH and not drive from Vancouver to Banff
Having been a passenger in the car that we did use to get from Calgary to Banff and then again all around that Banff area, I must say that the road conditions were fine... We didn't go as far as jasper ..only lake Louise and emerald that time.

SO my questions:
Any suggestions for accommodation? We would prefer a family suite or apartment along the way
In Banff we stayed at charleton cedar court ..close enough for me to walk into town so OH could take the car up to the slopes
I believe they have suites with a kitchenette
has anyone stayed with kids in Banff within walking distance of the town centre?
I don't really want to stay up in the Douglas mountain area cos I'd need the car or have to get a shuttle
I would consider it if it were amazingly good value but I've always preferred to stay central and parking in Banff isn't all that easy anyway...is it?
We'd also need family accommodation in Montana or Idaho ..somewhere along the route to Seattle ...then in Seattle itself and Vancouver so please chime in if you have some experience in that..and probably a night in Calgary, too

Don't really want to take two hotel rooms because of the expense but will consider for a night here and there

Any comments about the trip in general are very welcome
OH does have experience driving in icy conditions and we would ensure that the rental has snow tyres / tires
( rather than just all- weather tires)

Any suggestions for Montana would be great too
We'd only pass through but if there are any must sees id love to read your input
Thanks in advance !
lanejohann is offline  
Old Oct 6th, 2014, 07:20 AM
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Renting a car in the US and dropping it off in Canada will incur a significant surcharge. For comparison, you can look at the air prices to fly into Vancouver rather than US west coast gateways. Or consider public transit from Seattle north.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 09:20 AM
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When are you intending to take this trip?

I think we would very strongly suggest not driving the Icefields or across BC during the winter - or up from the US. You are dealing with serious winter driving conditions and have to remember that you will have 8 or less hours of daylight, and you don't want to be driving after dark in the winter.

The roads you drove on before were on the best maintained and least avalanche prone part of the highway system (other than Kicking Horse Pass)- past Lake Louise and going across BC, it's an entirely different ballgame. You are dealing with roads that may not be maintained during non-daylight hours, avalanche prone mountain passes and long stretches where you could potentially not see many other cards. And, you will be required to have snow (or M+S tires in BC) on the rental, which isn't standard and will cost extra.

The Icefields Parkway is not maintained like you saw on the TransCanada. It is scraped down to 3-5cm of snow when possible, not plowed. It's also not maintained or patrolled at all between 4pm and 8am, nor is there ANY gas, facilities or stores between Lake Louise and Jasper in the winter. Plus the cell reception is spotty to none, and most, if not all pullovers are not going to be plowed most of the time. So if something happens, you have to be prepared for a long, cold wait for help. And be comfortable driving on snow/ice/slush covered roads - the plowing stops at 4pm, not matter what the conditions.

I've been on the Icefields Parkway when it was sort of half plowed in one direction and not plowed in the other direction. Fortunately I had only to get from Bow Lake to Lake Louise, but it was a long, white knuckle drive with up to 4-6 inches of snow on the road. And that was in mid-March. It's been better other times, but I am used to winter driving around here, and drive my own car with solid snow tires. I've also driven in near whiteout conditions between Canmore and Lake Louise - even when it's not snowing hard, the transport trucks can kick up a lot of snow.

The drive to Vancouver would also be dealing with roads that may or may not be maintained as you would expect, and would go through a number of high mountain passes that can be very snowy and potentially shut due to weather or avalanches or avalanche control measures. If that happens, you have to find accommodation until the road reopens or you are comfortable with the driving conditions. It could be fine for your whole trip or nasty conditions - and you won't know that until that day.

I also think you would be courting trouble trying to drive up from the US - coming from Montana and Idaho and Washington, you are also going through mountainous and/or not heavily populated areas. With short days, and the potential for bad weather, I think the driving would be more stressful than scenic or enjoyable.

My suggestion would be to fly to your first destination - either Seattle or Vancouver, then fly to Calgary. You can rent a car to do the Banff area in Calgary or Banff, and head over to Yoho if the weather is good. There is shuttle to all three resorts from multiple locations in Banff, so the guys don't need a car.

Then, return the car in Banff and take the SunDogs shuttle to and from Jasper. That way you don't have to deal with driving on the Icefields and can all enjoy the scenery. As a note, if you don't all ski and you don't want to do winter hiking (walking - most real hikes are off limits due to avalanche risks/snow), options in Jasper may be limited to a range of winter activities, conditions depending, tend to include snowshoeing, ice skating, xc skiing, dog sledding (mostly in the Banff area, I think) and short walks around the townsite.

Winter won't be much of a time for wildlife spotting - bears and others are hibernating, the sheep & goats seem to stay hidden. About the only wildlife I tend to see regularly in the winter are the elk, and they always seem to be in the middle of the road.

As to housing - with two 20-somethings, I think two hotel rooms or a suite/apartment will suit you best. There are no short term rental allowed in Banff, so the types of set ups you've seen are the best options. I wouldn't worry about being slightly away from the downtown - with a car and the Roam buses, getting around isn't a problem. It can be very crowded in the summer, but the winter is a lot less problematic in terms of parking & driving around in town. If you can't find decent options in Banff, you might do better with a condo rental in Canmore. It's really not any farther from the ski resorts and there are also shuttles.

All legit options for accommodation in Banff are listed here: http://www.banfflakelouise.com/

Anyway, I think I'd first sit down and figure out a itinerary that is realistic and lean heavily towards flying for the long distances. It will be a lot less stressful and a lot less chance of getting into bad conditions or stuck somewhere.

Given your interests, I think you also probably may want to look into areas that can cater to them. In winter, zoos/sanctuaries & wildlife aren't going to be easy to do or even option in some places. You might look to see if anyone runs winter wildlife walks, though that would require good outdoor clothes/boots, and maybe do a dog sled ride or sleigh ride?

Walks will be limited to the townsites, and those could be snowy if it's snowing or there's been recent snow. Certainly there is history in the Rockies, but many of the sites are best visited in the summer. I think you find the same across Idaho/Montana/Washinton/BC - the area you intend to cover gets pretty winter and in the winter, you go to the mountains to be outside.

As to going beyond Emerald Lake - in Yoho, many of the areas are not accessible in winter other than if you are ice climbing or backcountry skiing. The roads to Lake O'Hara and Takkakaw Falls are shut. Emerald Lake is accessible, but the activities there other than having a warm meal at the lodge are xc skiing (conditions permitting) and very short walks in safe areas.

Also, I'm not sure I'd put Whistler high on your list. It will pale in comparison to the Rockies and is not going to be cheap. If you intend to ski in the Rockies, that might be something to skip.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 12:07 PM
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That last response was a touch more alarming than is necessary. Indeed THE WEATHER could be constricting, but as life goes on in all areas, the weather will necessitate only temporary delays at times.

The trick is to retain some flexibility in your schedule.

As it will be winter, c-c-c-c-cold is already among the expectations, so you just expect it, and plan accordingly.

You should have almost zero trouble arriving in Seattle, and then, perhaps even booking accommodations downtown and not renting a vehicle until it is time to depart Seattle. (saving money on overnight parking fees in the center of town, and getting a prime hotel right in the middle of everything - and, even, potentially saving money on airport taxes and fees relating to the car bill). The "Link Light Rail" runs directly from Seattle's airport to the center of town, and it is extremely easy, while all of the major rental car companies have rental counters downtown.

Seattle to Vancouver is another passage you can make fairly comfortably with limited (but by no means "impossible") threat of delay. Of course, by then, if/when you stay in central Vancouver, huge car-parking fees will be the norm.

BY the way, were it me, I would use Priceline.com for many of your accommodations in the cities on your trip. Low winter demand will likely have the prices such that you really could book two rooms and be comfortable and economic.

And if you are willing to wait and book as-needed, during your trip, you will retain the flexibility that is so important for navigating the northern winters.

Re-reading your post, I am hesitant about endorsing too many paths off of the main thoroughfares, given the potential for snow and ice.

SO lets see... I can't really tell how far north you are contemplating, but even I kinda doubt that you really will get to Jasper. Though IF I found myself in Jasper, and then needing to go south to Montana before going west to Seattle, I'm sure I'd try to work Edmonton into the mix, if only for the huge shopping mall www.wem.ca and perhaps the Muttart Conservatory. (both places where you can leave the harsh winter behind for a while - especially the Mall, which is huge)

In the way of Montana, and given the possibility of severe weather, I sorta think you should anticipate taking the major roads through Great Falls, Helena, maybe Butte, Missoula, and Spokane, Washington.

Then, IF upon arrival in those areas you see opportunity to take shortcuts which are not rendered impassable, then you do so, and save hours of time.

All of the cities just mentioned are neat little wide spots in the roads of western America. Helena, Montana is especially unique, and is the state capitol as well.

There is plenty of scenery amid the hills and valleys of western Montana and no doubt snow will enhance much of it.

You still owe it to yourselves to remain flexible, and thus not committed to overnight stays in any of those towns, yet willing to stay in any of them when necessity demands it.

I sense you can make something of your plans despite the obvious winter happening all around you, and the tones of the locals varying depending upon how much 'winter' there is, and how far you are from the ocean. (just a little winter will terrify those who live near to the ocean, while the inlanders ...are used to it....

Hope this makes sense.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 03:32 PM
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I am not trying to be alarmist, but giving a touch of reality. It could be great weather with clear roads, but all it takes is one day of bad weather or closed roads to start playing havoc with a holiday plan.

Driving up from the US is probably OK and I agree about Seattle to Vancouver, but I would be very cautious in the Rockies. Jasper is a great winter destination, but I would never attempt the full Icefields Parkway drive in the winter. The weather changes too darn fast, and I'd rather be somewhere I have a safer place to pull off and/or stay for the night.

Agree completely about flexibility - this isn't the time to go for the well ahead of time, no changes allowed hotel booking. If the weather or road closures messes you up, you'll want to be able to shift things around. You will have lots of options - the only times I might book ahead are weekends in the Rockies (lots of skiers) and for Jasper. In Jasper, your best bet are private home accommodations - you could find a place with two or three rooms. However, there are some places that are shut in the winter, so booking a week or two in advance will give you better variety and ensure you aren't stuck in the cold looking for a place to stay.

Honestly, I'd skip Edmonton. Great place to live, but the WEM isn't worth the long, and often unpleasant winter drive on Rt. 16 and the Muttart isn't enough to make it worth the drive either. There's a nice indoor garden in downtown Calgary - closer to your other destinations and not an extra drive.

BTW, for skiing, definitely look to buy lift tickets ahead of time. The much better deals are usually for multi-day passes, and you can get ones that are good for various time periods and/or for multiple resorts. There are some pretty good deals, especially in January when there are no holidays so resorts are trying to attract folks. Check around as many hotels do ski & stay deals, as well as some of the hostels.
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Old Oct 6th, 2014, 03:37 PM
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Oh, and given that January is not a bad time for deals, I'd try to get deals directly from the hotels first, rather than using Priceline.

Priceline has some good deals, but it costs the hotels and if you need to rebook/change dates, it's much easier to do that when you've booked directly with the hotel. Also, hotels will tend to give their least desirable rooms for bookings made through third party sites, and be much less likely to give you perks like upgrades or other freebies.

So, check out the accommodations websites first, and see what they will offer (ask!). Often they will be happy to match any deal seen online because they make more money by booking directly than if they have to pay a commission for a booking via a third party site.
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Old Oct 7th, 2014, 05:48 AM
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Thank you so much for the fulsome responses
I was very worried about our first trip to wintery canada and did exactly what the Fodorites suggested/ insisted:
Asked OH to purchase flights from Vancouver to Calgary and we only had the rental vehicle around Banff and as far as Golden
We then drove back to Calgary flew to Vancouver and hired another vehicle to explore Vancouver island

I think I may have got my confidence up to too lofty a level having been driven to Banff and around where it wasn't in the slightest bit scary

I have travelled by car during summer from jasper to Banff and then through Idaho to Seattle and I've done Vancouver to Banff on that same trip too
That was back in 2005 and of course daylight went on til 930 pm almost and apart from the occasional sheep and elk on roads we had no bother with anything

I will have to look at my photos to refresh my memory of the roads..I do remember some long stretches of flat lands round Nelson I think

Ok back to the drawing board for a bit
We were keen to save on air fares cos there are four of us this time but I'm not keen on white- knuckling it anywhere lol

Kgsned.... I don't remember accommodation prices being all that low round Banff and yes I do now recall that they have building restrictions which limit the type of accommodation that's available

If we did get a rental in Seattle we'd return it to Seattle but it might just be more sensible to get a car in Seattle, explore that area or even venture south for a bit and then fly to Calgary and hire a car to explore Banff and whatever surrounds that are accessible
Jasper will probably not figure
I don't remember even bus tours going out that far in winter either

Thanks again for all the info
Appreciate your suggestions!
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Old Oct 7th, 2014, 11:23 PM
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when in banff, one thing i love to do for a non-ski day is a 90 minute full body massage and then sitting in the hot springs at pleiades spa. if you can get it on the internet...watch an episode or two of "highway through hell". it will show you some of the worse conditions driving through bc. i'm a confident driver who grew up in alberta. i wouldn't really hesitate doing the banff/jasper highway as long as conditions had been good for a few days before driving and i was well prepared with extra gas, candles, blankets etc. just because it's a relatively short distance. driving from banff to vancouver is a long distance and i would not look forward to the drive. would not want to do the "coquihalla hwy" or "hwy 3" in january.
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Old Oct 19th, 2014, 08:16 PM
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Lol watched highway to hell!
It doesn't look too bad sitting here in my lounge room but I see what you mean!
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