Help with Jasper/Banff/Golden Itinerary

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Apr 16th, 2018, 10:27 AM
  #1
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Help with Jasper/Banff/Golden Itinerary

My husband and I and two kids, ages 8 and 11 are flying into Calgary, arriving around 9pm on Saturday, July 21. We then have to meet the rest of our family in Revelstoke on Friday, July 27. So, we have 6 nights and 5 full days to explore the area. We like to maximize nights at one location, so I am trying to figure out the best order to travel. Maybe the first two nights in Banff/Lake Louise area, 3 nights in Jasper, 1 in Golden (or somewhere in between)? Or 3 in Banff, 3 in Jasper and just drive from Jasper to Revelstoke the last day.

Another option is to stay near the airport the first night, drive to Jasper the first full day, stay 3 nights, then 2 in Banff, drive from Banff to Revelstoke the last day. Lodging is available at Tekarra Lodge in Jasper since I know that area is hard to find availability this time of year.

My kids aren't big fans of hiking, but they will go on a few "forced marches" when they have to. For that reason, we like to do a lot of car sight-seeing with an occasional high-reward hike (easy to find in this area I'm sure). I was looking at some activities and think a river float on the Athabasca River would be nice, stargazing at Maligne Canyon, possibly an icewalk on the glacier (if my 8-year old is old enough), white-water rafting (but probably not if we do the float trip), gondola at Lake Louise (or Banff?). On the way to Revelstoke - walk the Burgess Shale, maybe visit Emerald lake.

Any suggestions on lodging in Lake Louise/Banff? Our budget is $200-350/night (preferably on the low end since Jasper will be $340/night plus tax). I don't look at a place to stay as just somewhere to sleep at night. I think a nice hotel/property adds to the overall experience. One of my favorite places we have stayed recently was Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park. Our room was very minimal, but the Lodge/view was fantastic. I don't really want an individual rental property unless the location is ideal. I would rather stay on a property with multiple rooms/cabins or a Hotel/Inn where you aren't as isolated from other people.
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Apr 16th, 2018, 11:54 AM
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Your first priority needs to be to book accommodation. At this point, availability for summer dates is very limited in Jasper and becoming harder to find - especially on a budget - in Banff/Canmore/Lake Louise. Most likely your itinerary will depend on when you can find a place to stay in Jasper.

For Jasper, hotels are filled or nearly filled, so your best bet is likely to be Private Home Accommodations (www.stayinjasper.com). These are licensed, inspected accommodations within a private home. They are usually a much better deal than hotels - cheaper and more space. Tekkara Lodge is nice, but it's a just a bit outside the townsite, so you'd be driving to any restaurants/shopping etc. Jasper townsite is quite compact, but with limited parking, so it's nice to be able to walk within the townsite.

For Banff or Canmore, expect a regular hotel room to easily be $300-350 per night. More for a suite. All legal accommodations in Banff and Lake Louise are listed at www.banfflakelouise.com -- generally third party sites are not good for finding accommodation in the Rockies. Demand is high, so places don't need to list many or any of their rooms on sites that charge a fee/commission. In Banff, Douglas Fir seems to be great for families, but any of the hotels will be fine.

I'd likely suggest doing one night in Banff or Canmore (maybe Canmore as it's closer to the airport) - arriving that late, you'll likely want a hotel where you can have late check in. Then two or three nights in Jasper, followed by the rest of your nights in Banff or Lake Louise. Banff or Lake Louise is an easy drive - you can do Yoho NP on the way. No need to stay in Golden.

In Jasper, Maligne Canyon is not a good star-gazing location. For one, it's a canyon and it's also mostly in the trees. The best places for star gazing are Whistlers Campground or Old Fort Point area. Or any other open area.

Around Banff, if you're going to do one gondolas, it depends on what your goals are in terms of viewing. Lake Louise gondola goes part way up the mountain, so not so good for panoramic views. But one of the better places for wildlife spotting. The Banff Gondola has a very nice top station and panoramic views, plus a short hike to an old weather station at the top (via boardwalks). Either way, while Banff Gondola, in particular, pushes advance tickets, you are best not to book in advance or wait until the day before -- you don't want to be stuck with expensive tickets if it's cloudy/rainy/foggy.

The Burgess Shale is high reward, but the hikes are not easy and you cannot go on your own. You must book a guided hike (sell out quickly), they are full day (7+ hr hikes) that are fairly strenuous and include steep sections of scree. You must be fit, not have issues with heights/exposure & be able to complete the hike -- you can't hike without the guide, so there's no turning back other than for emergencies. It's also best to stay in Field or Lake Louise as they start early (7am).

For the glacier, I don't think there's any age limit on the snocoach tours. For the IceWalks, the shorter walks have a minimum age of 7 and the longer walk, a minimum age of 10. I suspect that kids, especialy if they have small feet, would need to have their own hiking boots. The walks are not strenuous, but you need to be reasonably fit as you can't turn back. You also need to book well in advance as numbers are strictly limited and not all walks run every day.

Last edited by kgsneds; Apr 16th, 2018 at 11:57 AM.
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Apr 16th, 2018, 04:42 PM
  #3
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Thanks - all this info is great!

I will check into the other stargazing options. I was just getting general itinerary ideas from the Abercrombie & Kent tour - a bit high end for our family trip, but great for ideas. They listed the Maligne Canyon Stargazing as an activity.

Are the IceWalks different than the SkyWalk? Someone said that the SkyWalk was a bit overrated.

I think I will still plan on staying at Tekkara Lodge since it is available for the 2nd and 3rd nights (and no other dates) and looks really nice. We don't mind driving and there is a restaurant on site as well. It might be different if we were staying longer than two nights. I prefer to stay at a larger property and not a rental. I feel a bit disconnected if staying at a private rental. I checked stayinjasper.com already as well. I hate that you have to contact many of the properties individually and there is no online reservation system. I have contacted a few of the hotels/inns/cabins in Jasper and there is no availability.
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Apr 16th, 2018, 09:17 PM
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Also, we will be celebrating my daughter’s 12th birthday while in Banff/Canmore. Any ideas for a special activity?
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Apr 17th, 2018, 10:46 AM
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With PHAs you have to contact the properties individually because they are all individually run. Each has a separate business license and is individually inspected. I think they've been working towards a more unified availability system, but it's a really challenging process because each property is so unique and run on separate schedules. The issue is that because of the strict residency laws in Jasper, people cannot run a PHA as a primary business (they or their spouse must have a job in Jasper NP or have retired after a number of years residency). Which means PHA schedules are done around work/school/kids schedules -- some operate very regularly, others may only offer rooms occasionally. An online reservation system that would allow for 100+ different businesses would not be cheap - and then you'd have the issue of how each business would contribute. Most probably would not want to have additional costs -- they have no trouble filling rooms with the current system.

PHAs are not rentals - they are just like B&Bs in that you are booking a room. Just like you book a room at a hotel. Personally, I tend to feel more connected at a PHA. You have a host who is local and can give you great local tips, sometime get you local discounts and know the various tour operators/taxi copmanies etc. Hotels in Jasper, for the most part, tend to be staffed by seasonal workers who are more likely to be from Australia or the UK or Germany than anywhere in Canada, let alone from the Jasper area. Some become very knowledgeable about the area, but more often don't know much more than the average tourist.

But certainly everyone has their own preferences. Nothing in Jasper will be large. Just worth being aware that you will be a bit out of normal walking distance.

IceWalk and SkyWalk are two totally different things. The SkyWalk is a glass walkway that gets very mixed reviews, and is bundled in with the SnoCoach tours offered by Brewsters/Pursuit/whatever they are called now. Despite the advertising, it's nowhere near a glacier and, in fact, hangs out over a creek and rubble from the decades ago construction of the road. Scenery is not bad, but you can see the same for free. IceWalks are 3 to 6 hr walks on the actual glacier led by certified mountain/alpine/ski guides. You get to see glacial features and learn a fair bit about glaciers in the process. They get great reviews, though are more expensive and must be book well in advance.

As to the birthday, what are your daughter's interests? For food, Rocky Mountain Flatbread in Canmore is great, though does not take reservations. The name escapes me, but in Banff there's a place that does fondue which seems to be popular for kids. For activities, you could go indoor climbing at Elevation Place in Canmore -- you can climb on the autobelays after a short orientation. Or see if you could book someone to belay. You can also book a guide for outdoor climbing - half or full day. Or do one of the many tours - river rafting or float trip or day hiking. Or rent bikes for a cycle in the area. Or rent canoes at Lake Louise/Moraine Lake or canoes/kayaks on the Bow River in Banff.
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Apr 18th, 2018, 05:53 PM
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We're going to do a helicopter ride out of Canmore for her birthday!!! Trying to decide between the 12-minute and 25-minute trip offered by Alpine Helicopters.

She does not like hiking, but loves thrills - any kind of roller coaster, just did ziplining and waterfall rappelling in Costa Rica over Spring Break.

We decided to stay at Mount Engadine Lodge for 3 nights following the previous two nights in Jasper at Tekarra Lodge (first night in Calgary after late arrival).

While in Jasper, we want to take a rafting trip. It looks like there are options on the Athabasca River, Fraser River, and Sunwapta River. The latter two are Class III rapids, while the Athabasca is just Class II. However, I wonder which offers the best scenery and wildlife viewing? Even though our kids are just 8 and 11, we have been on week-long rafting trips on both the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho and the Rogue River in Oregon (both Class III-IV).

After staying with family in Revelstoke, I will be driving back to Calgary alone (while my husband and kids drive to Oregon for a week, in-laws have a cabin there) and leaving the next day to come home. So, I will have a full day to drive, stay the night, then my flight leaves early afternoon the next day. Any suggestions on where to stay or what to do to relax, unwind on my own? Nothing too adventurous. Maybe a little bit of pampering, but not too expensive.
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Apr 19th, 2018, 12:58 PM
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Great birthday gift. I'd be inclined to go for the longer ride if you have the budget - 12 minutes is basically a very fast loop to Yamnuska and back. Nice, but it's essentially the last mountain as you go east to Calgary. 25 minutes would likely get you into Kananaskis Country proper so you'd see a lot more and maybe distant views of glaciers/snow capped peaks. Be aware that Mount Engadine Lodge is a fair drive from Canmore. And the "shorter" way is via the Smith-Dorrian Highway - it's a numbered highway, so legal for most rental contracts. But mostly unpaved with lots of loose rock/gravel - infamous for leaving permanent reminders on windshields! Be sure to drive carefully and leave plenty of space between vehicles. Or go the long way around.

There is no zip lining allowed in the national parks. There is ropes course at the Nakoda Lodge (near Kananaskis Country). Yamnuska runs group trips there (minimum 5 people) - don't know if there's a way to book in pairs or individuals. https://yamnuska.com/group-corporate...-and-zip-line/ Revelstoke has a new Pipe Mountain Coaster which sounds like something your daughter might like: The Pipe Mountain Coaster | Revelstoke Mountain Resort | British Columbia, Canada

There's also the via ferrata at Norquay - supposed to be excellent: https://summer.banffnorquay.com/adventures/via-ferrata/ You can also book private guided rock climbing days/half days or do one of Yamnuska's half day intro sessions in Banff. I don't see the Banff sessions listed yet, so don't know their plans for this summer, but you can contact Yam if interested: https://yamnuska.com/rock-climbing/b...uides-lessons/

FYI, if you kids and husband are crossing the border without you, ensure that he has a letter (preferably notarized) giving him permission to take the kids across the border without you present. They can get very cautious about minors crossing the border without both parents/guardians present.

I haven't done any rafting in Jasper - did the Middle Fork of the Salmon many years ago. Don't think the actual rapids will compare to Idaho, but the scenery might, albeit very different. TThe Fraser River is over in BC in the provincial park there, so a longer drive. I suspect Athabasca might be more scenic, but it really depends where on the river they raft. The Sunwapta and the Athabasca actually join together, so pretty much in the same area. And you'd probably not get that far from the road, though you'd be in canyons some of the time. I'd contact the companies to get more details.

Honestly, if you are going to Revy, I'd raft in BC. Better options and I think you'd want to use your one full day in Jasper to see things there. Rafting will eat up a good chunk of that day and the sites in Jasper tend to be spread out, so you need time to get around. The Kicking Horse River in BC is great for rafting and will be more interesting than anything in Jasper.

As your 'me' time, Revy to Calgary is about 4.5 hrs, plus additional time for construction and traffic. Perhaps break it up with some spa time in Lake Louise, Banff or Canmore? Maybe stop in Lake Louise or Field for a break, then stay in Canmore for the night where you can do some pampering. It has some nice spas that aren't too expensive, good eats and close enough to the airport for easy travel to an early afternoon flight.
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