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Help with independent trip around Canada and beyond

Help with independent trip around Canada and beyond

Jun 24th, 2019, 04:00 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2011
Posts: 252
Help with independent trip around Canada and beyond

Although a member since 2011 this is my first post outside the Europe Forum! My wife and I have long considered a visit to the Vancouver, The Rockies and an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise high on our bucket list.
Our transport preference around Europe has always been trains where possible, but we have heard that the best way to see Canada is via self-drive.
Unfortunately we are newbies with regard to what to see and do in Canada. In a nutshell, the extent of our knowledge surrounds seeing the "usual suspects":
  • Vancouver
  • Victoria
  • Whistler
  • Jasper
  • Banff
  • Kamloops
  • Lake Louise
  • Athabasca Glacier and Falls
  • Icefields Parkway and
  • Moraine Lake
Also, we planned to take an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise and would also like to then head east to visit (at least):
  • Toronto and Niagara Falls
  • New York City
  • Washington D.C.
But as I have already explained, we really have no idea what is entailed in planning this type of trip - or whether we are way off the mark with regards to what we should and shouldn't see.
We need help with must-see sights and a planned route for seeing those sights. We don't even know how many days to allow for our intended trip. Fortunately, we can plan for around 40 nights or so to do what we can without pushing ourselves. We like to have the odd day to enjoy a coffee and people-watch as well.

One last question. There are many varied views regarding the addition of travelling on the Rocky Mountaineer - the main two opposing view are: Expensive, but absolutely worth it! and A total waste of money and pointless. We would be interested to hear your thoughts.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jun 24th, 2019, 05:41 AM
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Hi Steve! Sounds like a great trip! This board is pretty quiet - suggest you post a link to this thread in the Lounge as there are several Canadians over there (if you can't access the Lounge I can post it for you).

Here's a rough stab at an overall order of itinerary:

- Arrive Vancouver; spend a few days; board cruise (likely 7-10 nights)
- upon return to Vancouver, pick up rental car
- ferry to Vancouver Island
- Victoria - I would also consider adding somewhere else on the Island - the west coast is very dramatic (Ucluelet/Tofino) or north to Campbell River.
- ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay - short drive to Whistler
- Whistler to Jasper via Kamloops
- Jasper to Banff via Icefield Parkway; Athabasca Glacier en route
- Banff/Lake Louise (Moraine Lake is near Lake Louise)
- drive to Calgary; drop off car and fly to Toronto
- visit Toronto, NYC and DC (I'd consider adding Montreal too)

I can quickly get to 40-ish nights - first two weeks are Vancouver/Cruise; next two weeks are rental car period Victoria to Calgary and final 2 weeks are Toronto/NYC/DC.

A friend just did the Royal Canadian - I'll ask her your question.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Jun 24th, 2019, 06:10 PM
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Posts: 252
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks very much for the prompt response. Your itinerary sounds great. Can you confirm that driving is the best way to get around Canada? Bear in mind that we are from Down Under so are used to driving on the other side
I am unsure what the Lounge is, so if you are able to post my thread on my behalf I would appreciate it. You mention that I would have access to some Canadians there, so could you explain the difference between this board and the lounge - and where you are from? You seem to know a lot about Canada.
Oh, one other question I forgot to ask - when would be the best time of year to make this trip? We usually travel during May and June, but I'm not sure what the weather is like in Canada that time of year.
Thanks again for your all your helpful suggestions.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 01:24 AM
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I live in Toronto (originally from Vancouver). We spent 6 weeks in Australia a few years ago and had a rental for most of that time. Canada is like Australia - huge and not much in the way of passenger rail infrastructure. I think you're best to rent a car.

May/June is a good time to come - Jasper and Banff are very busy in the high summer months. The one consideration is when the Alaska cruises start - I think early May (and bearing in mind the weather will be cooler in Alaska at that time). You could flip the entire itinerary - start in Toronto/NYC/DC and finish with the cruise which would make the cruise timing perhaps better weather wise.

The Lounge is Fodor's forum for non-travel discussions (a LOT of politics!). There are a number of Canadians who participate there ..... I'll post a link to this thread to give them a heads up to check the Canada forum. Not everyone can access the Lounge - but if you've been here since 2011 I think you can. It's in the main forum menu - towards the bottom.

Oh and also you may want to post on the US Forum for the NYC/DC part. Or just search there as there is a lot of info on those destinations.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 04:57 AM
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Hi steve, your trip sounds wonderful, and Elizabeth has mapped out a great route for you.

I can’t really add anything, other than we were in Banff and went to Athabaska in October, and it was extremely busy and crowded, even then. Be sure to book your accommodation well in advance.

Jasper had snow this week, so it might be prudent to consider Elizabeth’s always good suggestions, and flip the trip if you can.
sugarmaple is online now  
Jun 25th, 2019, 11:01 AM
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If you want to see a bit of the country between BC/Rockies and Toronto consider taking The Canadian (train) from Toronto to Jasper OR from Jasper to Toronto. It will take a couple of days but you will get a taste of the prairie provinces and Northern Ontario

semiramis is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 01:39 PM
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Bear in mind that we are from Down Under so are used to driving on the other side
I may be alone here but if you fly into Toronto I would personally not rent a car at the airport unless your days out west have made you feel comfortable driving on our side. Everytime I leave Pearson airport (Toronto) I mumble to anyone nearby that I am so thankful I am not a tourist used to the other side. It can be a maze.
xcountry is offline  
Jun 25th, 2019, 04:19 PM
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Leaving Pearson and hitting the always busy, always under construction 12 lane 401 is not for the faint of heart.
sugarmaple is online now  
Jun 25th, 2019, 10:03 PM
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You are planning a great trip! We got snowed in at Chateau Lake Louise during the last week of May one year. A pretty great place to get snowed in, but I agree that moving your trip to the high elevations to later in the trip would be a good idea. This was on a trip where we flew into Seattle, took the ferry over to Victoria BC (loved it!), back to the mainland to Vancouver and then drove cross-country to Calgary. I do think reversing the order (moving east to west) may be a good idea, especially if you plan to start the trip in May.
starrs is offline  
Jun 26th, 2019, 12:38 AM
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Thank you all very much for your suggestions. Sugarmaple, yes, we are definitely planning the option of flipping the direction. We haven't booked anything yet so it will be an easy switch. Also, we like the idea of ending the trip on a relaxing cruise
The only question we might have is "how is NYC and Washington D.C. during May?

Xcountry, no problems about the car from Toronto - our plan for driving was always limited to the West Coast of Canada. We are hoping we can get public transport (trains or buses) to Toronto from the US.

Semiramis - that is a good suggestion. We will look at the cost/number of nights logistics to hopefully include the train from Toronto to Jasper.

Wow, Elizabeth - it seems you are the perfect resource for our planned trip. Native of Vancouver and now living in Toronto - perfect! Perhaps you could give us an indication of how best to get from Toronto --> Niagrara Falls --> NYC via public transport?

I will post a cut-down version of this thread to the United States Forum for info about NYC and Washington D.C. legs.
Thank you all very much once again.

Last edited by steve_Australia; Jun 26th, 2019 at 12:55 AM.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jun 26th, 2019, 03:38 PM
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Hi Steve,
Below is a link to my Trip Report about a voyage that my wife and I took to Vancouver Isle a few years back. Maybe it'll give you a feel for the area? IMHO that isle’s west coast is a must-see.

As well, an attraction across from Lk. Louise over in BC's Yoho park is Lake O'Hara, perhaps Canada's best-kept secret and worth every effort. One cannot just show up to visit, there are strict government restrictions.
I am done. The end.

zebec is online now  
Jun 26th, 2019, 05:19 PM
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Thanks for the link zebec - I will read it with interest.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jun 27th, 2019, 05:52 AM
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Re Toronto to Niagara Falls/NYC.

Thoughts off the top of my head - subject to revision after I look into it in more detail.

I'd be tempted to do the Falls as a day trip from Toronto (lots of operators by bus or you could easily rent a car for a day - my preference).

Then I'd simply fly to NYC from Toronto - again lots of options. There is a downtown airport - Porter Airlines flies frequently to Newark everyday and you can get a pretty good deal by signing up for their alerts.

Alternatively there is a bus from Toronto to NYC (12 hours ugh) that can be very cheap (Megabus) --- they might have an option where you can stop at the Falls and reboard to go on to NYC. But again. Ugh.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Jun 27th, 2019, 02:30 PM
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I may be alone here but if you fly into Toronto I would personally not rent a car at the airport unless your days out west have made you feel comfortable driving on our side. Everytime I leave Pearson airport (Toronto) I mumble to anyone nearby that I am so thankful I am not a tourist used to the other side. It can be a maze.>>

I can second that. When I was green and in my prime, we decided to take our 1 year old daughter with us on holiday to North America, starting and ending in Toronto. Our itinerary had us landing in Toronto after a 6-7 hour flight from London, immediately picking up our hire car and driving up to Kingston for 3 nights. Why did no one tell us not to do it? We exited the airport at about 5pm onto an 18 lane highway in the middle of rush hour with everyone including us driving the wrong way. Arrggh. Actually the only good news was that our DD was good as gold. The journey up the side of the lake took about 4 hours and we all slept for all night and most of the next day. Utter lunacy.

Definitely not a good idea.
annhig is offline  
Jun 30th, 2019, 06:12 PM
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Thank you both for the car hire suggestion - you don't need to tell me twice. As I mentioned, my wife and I really enjoy our train travel around Europe so we are reluctant to drive if unavoidable. However, many have mentioned that hiring a car for the Rockies portion of the trip is a very good option.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jul 1st, 2019, 06:17 PM
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Okay. We are reasonably sure we will be flying into NYC, then train to DC, then fly to Toronto. As well as staying there for a few days, we will take a day trip to Niagara Falls. It has been suggested to then train to Montreal and spend a few days there. From there we will fly to the west coast and our last leg will be on the Inside Passage cruise. However, with regard to the flight from Montreal, what are the suggestions for our road trip around the Rockies? Should we fly into Vancouver or Calgary? What would be the best itinerary prior to taking our cruise?
Finally, we haven't heard any comments about whether or not the Rocky Mountaineer is worth the money or not. Do you see any more from the train that you can't from driving? Is the Rocky Mountaineer more about the luxury of the carriages, the food and the wine - or is it most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed?
steve_Australia is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2019, 02:01 PM
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Still waiting to hear back from my friend re her recent RM trip. I surmise she enjoyed it but it is very expensive. And if the weather was lousy it would be a bust IMO.

I'd fly to Calgary and do the itinerary in reverse as described above. Banff/Lake Louise to Jasper to Revelstoke to Whistler to the Island via Horseshoe Bay and end up in Vancouver (like via Schwarz Bay Ferry) and drop off the car. Then either your Vancouver time or immediately on the boat and Vancouver time after.
Elizabeth_S is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2019, 11:59 PM
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Oh that's great Elizabeth. I had sketched out a reverse plan and it is very close to yours (I didn't include Revelstoke ?) but I even found Schwarz Bay Ferry. Woo hoo.
Yes, I checked out the prices on the RM site and did a double take when I saw the prices. Just for the entry level 2 day, 1 night stay in an average hotel in Silver Leaf, the cost was mind-boggling.
steve_Australia is offline  
Jul 6th, 2019, 09:23 PM
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OK, so we are down to just needing a specific itinerary for Western Canada.
Elizabeth, based on recommendations from you, we have come up with this first draft plan:
  • Fly into Calgary, stay 2 nights
  • Pick up car and drive to Banff
  • Banff, stay ? nights
  • Drive to Jasper via Icefields Parkway, stay ? nights
  • Drive to Lake Louise (via Icefields Parkway) stay in Lake Louise for ? nights
  • Drive to Revelstoke?
  • Drive from Revelstoke to Whistler?
  • Catch a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo
  • Drive to west coast (Ucluelet/Tofino) or north to Campbell River and stay for ? nights
  • Drive to Victoria, stay for ? nights
  • Catch ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen, Vancouver
  • Drop off hire car then stay in Vancouver for 3 or 4 nights
  • Embark on Cruise ship
Apart from number of nights recommendations, I have a few other questions for the above itinerary:
  1. Our research has mentioned Icefields Parkway often and in many various aspects. The drive itself is about 230km. On that drive there is mention of the Columbia Icefield; a stop at Athabasca Glacier for an Ice Explorer ride; visit the Athabasca Falls. Where on that 230km stretch are all of those interesting stops and is there enough time in the day to complete them in addition to the drive itself?
  2. I mentioned leaving Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for a return trip from Jasper because several posters on TA suggest that the Icefields Parkway should be travelled in both directions to fully appreciate it, plus taking in Lake Louise on the trip from Banff to Jasper would IMHO be very rushed. What are your thoughts?
  3. A few posters have mentioned staying in Revelstoke, but I am not sure what there is there to see. Is it worth more than a nightís stay?
  4. Travelling from Revelstoke to Whistler seems a long drive for us not being Canadian natives. Is Kamloops worth a visit or can you recommend another stop to break up the Revelstoke to Whistler leg?
  5. We have also seen several mentions of visiting Hope, particularly, the Hellís Gate AirTram. Can this be incorporated somehow?
  6. With regards to visiting Ucluelet/Tofino or Campbell River, what are the main attractions for each? Is whale watching better in CR than in Victoria?
Oh, BTW, we are happy to add several days to our original 40 night plan to allow for a more leisurely visit to the Rockies and BC
Thanks again in advance for any help you can give!
steve_Australia is offline  
Jul 7th, 2019, 02:08 AM
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From the POV of someone who has never been there it sounds great. Will be interested to see the views of others who do know what they are talking about
annhig is offline  

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