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moneygirl Oct 11th, 2005 07:14 PM

Flying Into Edmonton and Out of Calgary Planning Help Needed
So I am continuing to plan our trip. Thinking of flying into Edmonton on December 26... friends will pick us up at the airport upon arrival and we'll stay 4 nights at the Fantasyland Hotel, watching hockey tournaments and doing all the kid stuff... plus shopping for Mom. On Friday, we will rent a car and drive to Banff (or Canmore, Jasper, Lake Louise) for a few nights and then on to Calgary to fly home on the 2nd of January.

Have any of you done this before? Is it easiest to rent a car near the mall, or should we do it at the airport? I expect it will be a bit more expensive to drop the car in a different city... if anyone has advice on that, I'd appreciate it.

Also, in driving from Edmonton to Banff how long realistically is that trip if we stop for lunch and photo taking? (Not excessive, but enough to get a feel for the area?)Also, where would be a good place to stop for a meal?

Once in Banff or Canmore, I'm looking at the Paintbox Inn, althogh it's a bit more than I want to pay. Is there anything still nice for around $300.00 per night Canadian?

Thanks so much for your thoughts!

ltt Oct 12th, 2005 07:03 AM

considering the time you have, and weather up here, i would drop jasper from your plans. i'm sure west edmonton mall could arrange the car rental but you may want to check around at the MANY car rental places as there will be a drop off fee for the different cities but i think my sister only paid about $30 extra with either enterprise or budget. it may be cheaper to pick it up at the edmonton airport (probably a $30 taxi ride from west edmonton mall) and drop off at calgary airport.
have you looked into the douglas fir resort in banff
i like that place and they are under $300
or check out best western siding
i would make my reservations as soon as possible. this is a busy time in banff.
there is really not much picture taking places worth stopping at until you enter banff national park. i would plan on stopping at red deer at "gasoline alley" for a quick break and just head on. when you enter calgary, take the country hills blvd exit - head west (first exit as you enter the city). drive about 25 minutes until you hit stoney trail. turn left (south) until you reach hwy 1 and turn right towards banff. this is the quickest way to get through calgary between edmonton & banff.
have fun.

Judy_in_Calgary Oct 12th, 2005 07:38 AM

Hello moneygirl,

>>>>>>Also, in driving from Edmonton to Banff how long realistically is that trip if we stop for lunch and photo taking? (Not excessive, but enough to get a feel for the area?)<<<<<< As ltt indicated, you won’t reach any scenery that is particularly photogenic until you get well to the west of Calgary. The drive from Edmonton to Calgary is relatively flat.

An alternative way of getting to Banff, if the weather and road conditions are good would be to drive Edmonton – Red Deer – Airdrie – Cochrane – Canmore – Banff. The back roads through Airdrie and Cochrane are paved, and they are a good way of bypassing Calgary altogether.

If the weather is cold, say below –25 deg C, I suggest sticking to the main highways and not using back roads. In that case, I second ltt’s directions from Edmonton to Calgary and then on to Banff. Note ltt’s recommendation to use Country Hills Blvd and Stoney Trail to escape most of Calgary’s traffic.

Drive south from Edmonton on Hwy #2 (Queen Elizabeth II Hwy). About 1.5 hours out of Edmonton you’ll bypass the fairly large town of Red Deer that ltt mentioned. On either side of the highway as it bypasses Red Deer there is a “gasoline alley” with gas stations and (mainly fast food) restaurants, as ltt has stated.

Keep going south as far as Airdrie. When you reach Airdrie you’re 20 miles north of Calgary. Airdrie too has a sort of “gasoline alley” area just off the highway, although it’s a smaller one than Red Deer’s.

At the southern edge of Airdrie there’s an east-west road called Big Hill Springs Road. If you go west on Big Hill Springs Road, you’ll totally bypass Calgary. Head west on Big Hill Springs Road until you reach Hwy #22 (also known as the Cowboy Trail). Turn south on Hwy #22.

Five miles after turning south onto Hwy #22, you’ll reach the town of Cochrane. By this time you’ll be 3.5 hours or 4 hours out of Edmonton, if you haven’t stopped and if you’ve encountered good road conditions. If you haven’t eaten yet, I’m sure you’ll be ready to eat by the time you reach Cochrane.

Cochrane has quite a cute, quaint little “downtown” area. In the summer, Calgarians like making the trip out to Cochrane to get an ice cream from MacKay’s. However, if you just want a place that is easily accessible from Hwy #22, Smitty’s is convenient. Smitty’s is a chain of family diners. Many people won’t darken the doorway of a chain restaurant. But the Smitty’s in Cochrane is not just any old Smitty’s. The owner lavishes TLC on it.

After Cochrane continue south on Hwy #22 until you reach the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1). Then turn west and keep going until you reach Canmore (if that’s where you’ll be staying). If you’re staying west of Canmore (in Banff or Lake Louise), drive a couple of minutes past the Canmore turn off and stop at the east gates to Banff National Park, where you will have to pay a national park entry fee. Here is an explanation of the national park entry fee:

Banff townsite is about 15 minutes west of Canmore (over and above the initial stop to pay the national park entry fee), and Lake Louise is about another 50 minutes west of Banff townsite.

Distances and driving times for the back roads route (assuming good road conditions) are:

Edmonton – Red Deer : 96 miles (1 hr 45 min)

Red Deer – Airdrie : 72 miles (1 hr 15 min)

Airdrie – Cochrane : 28 miles (45 minutes)

Cochrane – Canmore : 53 miles (1 hour)

Canmore – Banff : 17 miles (15 – 20 minutes, not counting initial stop to by national park pass)

Banff – Lake Louise : 38 miles (50 – 60 minutes)

The speed limit on most Alberta highways (outside of the national parks) is 110 km/h or 68 MPH. The speed limit on the major roads in the mountain national parks is 90 km/hr or 56 MPH. On some side roads, like the road from Jasper townsite to Maligne Lake, the speed limit is 60 km/h or 38 MPH.

Judy_in_Calgary Oct 12th, 2005 07:56 AM

I think there is merit in ltt’s advice to skip Jasper. Keep in mind that there are no services on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy #93) in winter. That is, no restaurants, gas stations or flush toilets on a drive that takes about 3 hours when driving conditions are good. Keep in mind also that cell phones don’t work on the Icefields Parkway.

If you are flying out of Calgary, you need to leave Jasper 9 hours before your flight.

Jasper – Calgary : 5 hours without stops

Stop for lunch in Lake Louise or Banff : 1 hour

Extra time for contingencies : 1 hour

Check-in time for U.S.-bound flight : 2 hours (you need that amount of time because you clear U.S. immigration and customs at Calgary Airport – keep in mind also that many other people will be returning home from holiday trips, and the airport will be busy – you need the 2 hours even under normal circumstances, so don’t skimp on it in this instance)

If you’ll be leaving from Lake Louise, you need to leave a good 6 hours before your flight.

If you’ll be leaving from Banff / Canmore, you need to leave 5 hours before your flight.


I don’t know where you live and how familiar you are with winter driving conditions. Here are a couple of web sites:

In addition to that, some recent threads here on the Fodor’s Canada forum have dealt with winter driving. It’s even more critical to pay attention to the suggested precautions if you are going to drive on the Icefields Parkway on which there are no services in winter.

moneygirl Oct 12th, 2005 08:35 AM

You answered my questions, thanks so much! I was up until 2:00 AM this morning making hotel and flight reservations! (A bit obsessed!) This wil be our first "big" family vacation taking all three boys along!

I believe I've decided to stay in Canmore... either at The Paintbox Lodge or Lady MacDonalds Inn. Is one in a better location than the other? Both have suites available... still haven't ruled out Banff either. I'm just inclined to think that it will be best to do the "big drive" on the 30th and then rather than breaking up the nights along the road... just stay put for the remainder of nights.

The reasons I'm leaning towards Canmore are the following: please tell me if I'm being realistic.

It seems that it will be less crowded than Banff proper but still charming and beautiful. Howling Dog Tours offers a sled dog ride for $125 for adults and $16 for kids. My boys (husband included) would LOVE that activity! There seem to be ice skating , sleigh rides and other activities we could enjoy as a family... without skiing. Also, it seems like the restaurants and shops are fairly walkable with a stroller.

Now, I've become the expert on this all online (ha1 ha!) and I really have no clue so set me straight if you think I should turn my attention to Banff or should make other considerations!

Our flight leaves around 6:00 Pm so we'll have plenty of time after check out to get to Calgary, return the car, go through customs etc...

I've already printed out the driving threads and I've read all the threads here about the area and on tripadvisor. Thanks for your cautious optimism!

Borealis Oct 12th, 2005 12:15 PM

I'm with Judy in taking the Airdrie turn-off and then highway #22 as a Calgary by-pass - it's the one we take all the time when heading to the mountains - summer, winter, spring or fall!!! Note that it is really hilly, so if the roads seem at all slippery, and if you are not used to winter driving, go through Calgary instead.

Canmore is so close to Banff that there really isn't much difference whether you stay in one place or the other. We have stayed in both, and like both. Canmore tends to be less "touristy" (so far!! - but it's a booming mountain town so who knows how long that'll be the case) than Banff, and it's only a 10 to 15 minute drive between the two places, so you can explore both while staying in one. We use Canmore as a base even when we are planning to explore the Lake Louise area (another 45 to 50 minute drive "west" of Banff).
While staying in Canmore we usually walk everywhere (restaurants, shopping, the trail by the Bow River etc.), but you are travelling with three small children so it might not be as easy for you as it is for two adults who are used to walking and hiking.
If the temperatures are really cold, driving will be a better option. I haven't noticed any problems with finding a place to park in Canmore (which can sometimes happen in Banff, especially in the summertime).

Leave Jasper for another trip to the Rockies - you really won't have time to visit it with your current itinerary, and it's a long way from both Edmonton and Calgary. It'll be a significantly less hectic trip if you concentrate on just the Canmore-Banff-Lake Louise area (not to mention that you'll have much less driving!!).

Photo-taking along the way?? In the winter you probably won't want to do too much of that while you are in transit. The highway between Edmonton and Calgary is across gently rolling prairie, it's an agricultural area, and although scenic in its own way, isn't easy to photograph in a brief "beside the highway" stop (there are pull-outs along the highway, but not in particularly attractive places).

If you are driving on a sunny clear day, watch the western horizon from just north of Red Deer, and you just might see the shining Rocky Mountains in the distance!! Unless it is very cloudy, you will notice the mountains in the distance once you drive over the "big hill" at Innisfail.

Red Deer is a good stop along the way - it's about 1.5 hours from Edmonton, you can either stop at the fast food places at "Gasoline Alley" (well marked on the highway), or you could drive in to Red Deer and find a few restaurants. There is a "big box store" area just north of Gasoline Alley - I think it's called South-something, it's fairly new and it has quite a few restaurants that will be family friendly.

If you'd rather drive further, Calgary is a good stop for lunch, and being a big city, there are a wide array of choices.

As you are leaving Edmonton, stop at the tourist information centre by the oil derrick (on the Queen Elizabeth highway #2) and pick up maps, guides and information on travel in Alberta. There are dining guides available too. (hmmm. . . . I should check to see if they will be open between Christmas and New Year's - I'll get back to you on that).

Your best bet for photography is to save it for once you are in Canmore and Banff. If it's really cold keep your camera inside your jacket to keep the batteries warm (nothing like a "dead" camera when you are ready to take that perfect shot!!).


bob_brown Oct 12th, 2005 12:57 PM

Driving the "usual route" from Edmonton to Banff, even if you use the Airdrie route, is rather boring. Why not go through Rocky Mountain House, follow the David Thompson Highway to the entrance to Banff Park, and continue on to the Icefields Parkway and then turn south to Lake Louise and Banff town. Near the park entrance, the scenery becomes good and changes to excellent near the junction of the two highways. The intersection is referred to as The Crossing and there is facility there with gasoline, food, various tourist knick knacks, and motel rooms.

It is not much longer to go that way and at least you have something spectacular to look it for about half the trip.

I have done it that way a couple of times on my way back to Calgary from Jasper, and found it a very pleasant drive.

As for returning a car in Calgary, there is little problem. In previous years we have rented from one of the companies with offices in the airport building.
This past August we rented from Enterprise.

It has a big lot at the Port O Call motel and runs a shuttle bus frequently to the airport. Enterprise had the best prices by a lot and we had a very nice car to drive. The shuttle service was very prompt. I do not recall if Enterprise will let you drop in a different city from the pickup point.

I suggest you price the difference in prices. In previous years, the drop fee for a pickup in Calgary and a drop in Vancouver was so large that it was actually cheaper to fly from Calgary to Vancouver and rent another car.

Judy_in_Calgary Oct 12th, 2005 02:14 PM

>>>>>>The intersection is referred to as The Crossing and there is facility there with gasoline, food, various tourist knick knacks, and motel rooms.<<<<<<

LOL, Bob, that's one of the appeals of summer. If you rock up to The Crossing in winter, you'll be out of luck.:)

Borealis Oct 12th, 2005 06:17 PM

To add to Judy's comment that The Crossing is closed in winter, the highway #11 (the David Thompson) that Bob mentions is just a two lane undivided road, not nearly as easy a drive during winter as the highway between Edmonton and Calgary - which is four lane divided (six lane divided in some sections), and heavily travelled, which means that services are nearby for most of the way (not so on the David Thompson - which has some very "remote" stretches).

moneygirl Oct 12th, 2005 07:25 PM

Okay... skipping Jasper... driving from Edmonton to Banff/Canmore and will have the car stocked with snacks etc...

Good to know that the drive between Edmonton and Calgary is really prairie/flat and not so scenic. I was envisioning that drive taking a long time if necessary to pull off to take photos.(Think the drive from Carmel, CA down the coast to Cambria.)

Any advice about Banff vs. Canmore for a family with three small kids?


Borealis Oct 12th, 2005 08:31 PM

Hello again moneygirl,

Banff townsite is in Banff National Park and is geared towards tourists and travellers of all ages.
Canmore is a town just outside of Banff National Park (at the eastern gates) and has recently developed into quite the upscale touristy place (before that it was an artist's community and before that it was a mining town - when the coal mines closed down several decades ago (in the early 1970's if I remember my facts correctly), the artists moved in because of the lovely scenery, the low cost of housing, and the fact that there are no restrictions on development that exist in the National Parks & Banff.
Canmore was a quaint and quiet little town for about 20 years, and then it was "discovered" and the development took off, the cost of housing soared and artists moved out.

Now Canmore is an alternate place to stay when visiting Banff. It has restaurants, shops, the Nordic Centre (cross-country skiing), walking trails along the Bow River, hiking trails, access to Kananskis (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park).

I prefer Canmore to Banff because it is quieter. Canmore also has a better selection of "suite" accommodation (one or two bedrooms plus living room and full kitchen etc.) - you can even rent a townhouse or home, which might make life a bit more comfortable and easier when travelling with children.

As for the rates, because you are travelling at one of the busiest times of the year (the Christmas season, which extends to January 6th), the accommodation will cost almost as much as it does during the high summer tourist season.

It is really tough to decide whether to stay in Canmore or Banff!! Both are lovely and I'm sure that you won't be disappointed whatever your choice is - so my recommendation would be to go for whichever location gives you the accommodation that you want at the price that you like.

Happy trails!!

bob_brown Oct 13th, 2005 07:20 AM

OOPS My summer only visits to Alberta showed up. I failed to pick up on the December date. Yep The Crossing is not open in December.

I presume the David Thompson highway is maintained in winter with snow removal equipment. Even in the summer, the route is not heavily traveled.

moneygirl Oct 14th, 2005 05:51 AM

Bob, I appreciate you trying to give me a better route (LOL) and Judy- thanks for saving me from Bob! :)

Borealis, I haven't made that final lodging decision yet because I'm still booking flights. I'm narrowing down my choices though! Having so much fun anticipating this trip!

Thanks to each of you for your good guidance!

chris_m Oct 24th, 2005 01:57 AM

Flying into BC! from Oz :>)
Stumbled across this thread which I found very enlightening.

Can you advise on an interesting route from Calgary to Vancouver Island where we have friends. We will be travelling in May/June, and I am looking for interesting places. Banff and Canmore are obviously a must to visit. I am aiming to rent a car at Calgary and go through the Rockies. Have been in the US but not Canada. What suggestions can you give me.

I'd apprecieate any comments and information.

Thanks so much.

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