Help with trip to Canadian Rockies

Old Oct 30th, 2004, 08:56 AM
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Help with trip to Canadian Rockies

My wife and kids (they?ll be almost 9 and 11 then) and I are planning to spend about 14 ? 15 days in the Canadian Rockies around June 1, 2005. We will fly in and out of Calgary and rent a car. We want to spend most of our time in the mountains and maybe a day or 2 in Calgary. We know we want to spend time in Banff/Lake Louise and Jasper and possibly some of the following: Kootenay, Yoho, Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park, and Kananaskis and Glacier.

Because of the kids and the amount of stuff we are likely to have with us, we don?t want to be on the move every day but wouldn?t have a problem staying in 5 ? 6 different places, if necessary. We hope to do a lot of hiking (but not camping) and maybe some whitewater rafting and horseback riding. We plan to do A LOT of photography.

I would love to hear your suggestions for how to divide our time in different parks/cities, which to see or not see, including any areas that you think we shouldn?t miss, based on the time we have. Thank you so much for your suggestions!

Steve
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Old Oct 30th, 2004, 10:07 AM
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Hello Steve,

Here's a suggested itinerary:

1 - Arrive in Calgary.

2 - Look around Calgary.

3 - Day trip to Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller from your base in Calgary.

4 - Drive to Jasper. Stop to look at Peyto Lake, Columbia Icefields, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. There are many beautiful lookout spots on this drive, and you could save some of them for the return journey.

5 - Explore Jasper's surroundings. Take the Skytram up Whistler Mountain; do the Angel Glacier Hike at Mount Edith Cavell; walk in Maligne Canyon.

6 - Visit Mt Robson Provincial Park from your base in Jasper.

7 - Return along the Icefields Parkway to Lake Louise. Visit some of the lookout spots that you missed on the way to Jasper. I suggest spending nights #7 through #13 in or near Lake Louise.

8 - Explore Moraine Lake / Lake Louise area. You could go horseback riding at Lake Louise. (Mind you this is not the only place that horseback riding is availalble. It also is available elsewhere, e.g., Jasper.)

9 - Kootenay National Park.

10 - Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park.

11 - Yoho National Park (Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake, etc. You could do the long version of the Emerald Lake lakeshore path, or you could go on another hike in Yoho.)

12 - Go whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River in Yoho.

13 - Explore Glacier National Park. (I'm assuming you meant the GNP that's in British Columbia. If you actually meant the GNP that's in Montana, this itinerary will have to go back to the drawing boards.)

14 - Drive to Canmore, stopping on the way to visit Johnston Canyon and the town of Banff. The advantage of your timing is that the Johnston Canyon parking lot will not yet be overflowing.

15 - Fly home.

The section of Hwy #40 that goes over the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country is closed every year from Dec 1 to June 15.

You might also want to read other Fodorites' trip reports if you haven't done so already. I particularly recommend:

Hibiscushouse's review of Beaverfoot Lodge in Golden, B.C.:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p;tid=34519462

Laurafromtexas's Banff / Jasper trip report:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p;tid=34521144

Although other posters have written good trip reports too, I do recall that Hibiscushouse and Laura travelled with children, so I thought their experiences might be especially relevant to you.
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Old Oct 30th, 2004, 10:52 AM
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By the way, Steve, you can order free maps and travel guides from

Travel Alberta

http://www1.travelalberta.com/cfforms/freestuff/

and

Tourism British Columbia

http://www.hellobc.com/bcescapes/req....asp?ct=y&
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Old Oct 30th, 2004, 01:42 PM
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We have also traveled around the Rockies with our children, who were the same age as yours will be.

Our trip was in mid-July, so more trails were accessible for hiking, but I am sure the locals on this board can help you more. At Lake Luise we enjoyed going up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, then over to the Big Beehive, then across to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, finishing off back at the chateau. A full day, but lots of fun!

Also, at Johnston Canyon go past the falls on up to the Ink Pots. Once you hit the real trail you will be hiking with much fewer people. Very pretty up there!

The Columbia Icefields was another great place.

We spent one day enjoying the hot springs in Banff and then continuing up the gondola to the top of the mountain.

The cabin we stayed at was at Baker Creek Chalets, just outside of Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway. We have stayed there twice and really like it. There are cabins with two bedrooms as well as cabins with a loft with twin beds, so works great for kids. Full kitchens, wood stove, no tv, great location, great staff...just really a perfect place for us.
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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 08:11 AM
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Judy and MMS:

Thanks for the great advice. Judy, for days 7 - 13, does it make sense to stay in one place or do we need to base in more than one place? How far are Kootenay and Yoho from Lake Louise? Would we be trying to do too much in the time we have? Thank you again.

Steve
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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 09:42 AM
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if your kids like waterslides, you may want to consider a chalet at the douglas fur resort. great location and if you get a kitchen unit, you'll save some money on meals.
while in calgary, visit the olympic park and try the mountain biking or if you have money, the bobsled run is great.
if you kids like dinosaurs, you might want to consider a side trip to drumheller.
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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 10:55 AM
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Steve, Yoho National Park is really close to the village of Lake Louise. The boundary of Banff National Park and Yoho National Park is about 6 miles from Lake Louise village.

The northern entry point into Kootenay National Park is on the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1), about 19 miles west of Banff townsite and about 18 miles east of Lake Louise village. The section of Hwy #93 South that runs west and south through Kootenay National Park is 66 miles long.

My own feeling is that you can see Calgary and the Canadian Rockies from just a handful of bases. You do not need to switch accommodation frequently. The bases I would recommend are:

(1) Calgary. This will allow you to see Calgary itself as well as the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller.

(2) Jasper townsite. I consider this base to be a "must." Jasper National Park is wonderful, and it is just too far north to be seen from a base in Banff townsite or Lake Louise village. I recommend a minimum of 3 nights here, but you would not go wrong extending that to 4 or 5 nights.

(3) Lake Louise (west end of Banff National Park) / Field, B.C. (Yoho National Park) / Kootenay National Park. I believe a single spot in this general area would serve as a suitable base for seeing the whole lot. I would recommend spending more time here than in any other single spot.

(4) Banff townsite / Canmore. Either of these towns could serve as a base for seeing the east end of Banff National Park. In my opinion, the east end of Banff National Park deserves a bit less time than the west end of Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks. Depending on what time your flight for home departs, you even could spend the last night of your vacation here. If you have a morning flight, however, you will need to spend your last night in Calgary.

Conditions in the mountains are extremely variable at any time of year. A path on which you want to hike may be closed owing to bear activity. It may be raining and the visibility may be poor in a certain spot in which you had hoped to hike.

Although this is true at any time, it is even more true in early June, when you want to visit the mountains. For example, it's just possible that the road to Moraine Lake may not yet be open. That's unlikely. The Moraine Lake Road opened towards the end of May 2004, and what looks to me like global warming makes it likely that that will be the case in future years. However, the Moraine Lake Road on occasion has opened as late as mid June, and one cannot entirely discount the possibility that that will happen again. That is only one example of a variable that cannot be controlled or foreseen in advance.

So I think you should go to each mountain base (Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff / Canmore) with a menu of possible activities that you may do while you're there. Then, once you're there, you can try your Plan A. If Plan A doesn't work, switch to Plan B. And so on down the list. For example, if you find yourself enveloped by low cloud, you could go for a walk in a canyon, as in that case visibility is less important than it is in the alpine meadows.

I strongly suggest that you send away for the free maps and travel guides that I recommended in a previous post. That will make your planning so much more effective.

If, in addition to that, you want to buy a guidebook, an excellent choice would be "Moon Handbooks Canadian Rockies: Including Banff and Jasper National Parks" by Andrew Hempstead. You can check out the very comprehensive table of contents on Amazon's website.

Another excellent author is Graeme Pole. He has written several books.

"Canadian Rockies Superguide" is a general guidebook. It includes some information on hiking, but doesn't go into that in detail.

"Walks and Easy Hikes in the Canadian Rockies" covers paths anywhere from those that can be done by occupants of wheelchairs all the way through to any hike that can be done in a day.

"Classic Hikes of the Canadian Rockies," which covers overnight hikes, probably is of no interest to you.

Pole's books are available from Amazon. They also are available at the bookstore in Calgary Airport and all of the bookstores in this general area.

Brian Patton and Bart Robinson's "The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide" is considered to be THE definitive book on hiking in the Canadian Rockies. However, it's extremely difficult to get hold of the book in the U.S. I occasionally have seen it on websites that sell used books. The mountains have changed little in decades, so earlier editions of the book are still useful. The most recent edition is available in Banff townsite. I believe, however, that Hempstead or Pole would address your family's needs.
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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 11:18 AM
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Steve, you can get driving directions, distances and times from

www.mapquest.com

and

www.freetrip.com

Map Quest provides route maps, which are useful, but many people find the time estimates too conservative (too slow).

Free Trip does not provide maps, but most people consider its time estimates to be realistic.

You can enquire about distances and times between two towns (say, Calgary and Jasper). You cannot use those websites to enquire about the distance and driving time to a scenic lookout point (e.g., Takakkaw Falls).
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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 12:11 PM
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Judy's advice is right-on. I want to add that the relatively short Parker's Ridge trail along the Icefield Parkway is quite spectacular {amazing glacier views, wildflowers, marmots}, but not often mentioned. We did some whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River near Yoho. While rightly considered by many to be the most fabulous river to raft,it would not be my choice with an 8 or 9 year old. The gentlest rafting seemed to me the river in Jasper.

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Old Nov 1st, 2004, 02:46 PM
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To Judy's excellent advice and book recommendations, I would add the following - this book is especially great for first time visitors to the Rockies - it is formatted like a travelogue (coil bound softcover) and gives mile by mile descriptions of sights to be seen and places to stop on the major roads through the mountain parks:

PARKWAYS OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES - A ROAD GUIDE (subtitled: Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks)

Author = Brian Patton

I have the 4th edition, but I believe that editions up to the 7th are available.
Used copies are available at Amazon.com for as little as $2.38 (USD) even though it has a five star rating!!
And brand new copies are available in bookshops in the mountain parks (for example, The Book Den on Banff Avenue in Banff).
This book is worth having before you plan your trip - it'll help in making decisions about what to see and where to stay and how much time to allow for different types of activities.

Happy Trails!!

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Old Nov 2nd, 2004, 09:05 AM
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Thanks Everybody!

I have ordered the maps and guides from Alberta and BC and have ordered several of the books recommended by Judy. I made a trip similar to this with a law school classmate in 1987 but am looking forward to going with my wife and kids. I think we will stay at least 3 days around Jasper and 7 - 8 days around Banff and Lake Louise (maybe divided between 2 -3 bases).

Do you have any suggestions for where to stay? I've heard good things about the Post Hotel and Buffalo Mountain Lodge and am thinking about spending a couple days in a hotel/lodge of this class, and other days in less expensive accomodations. Thanks again.

Steve
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Old Nov 2nd, 2004, 10:13 AM
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Hello Steve,

Both the Post and BML are local favourites.

Other perennial favourites are Beckers Chalets a short distance outside of Jasper townsite and Baker Creek Chalets a little way outside of Lake Louise village.

When it comes to Calgary, there are a variety of approaches you can take. You can stay downtown or in various areas outside of downtown.

A place that I think offers the best of all worlds is the Kensington Riverside Inn. It's just north of the Bow River from downtown. It's close to downtown, and has good access to downtown, yet is in a neighbourhood that is easier to get in and out of than downtown. The neighbourhood has many good restaurants and some funky shops. Also, I have a taste for smaller hotels, and this fits the bill.

When people are arriving in or departing from Calgary, and only spending a night in the city, they sometimes like to be located near the airport. In that case, I recommend the Greenwood Inn. It's a 3.5 star property, nothing like as fancy as the Post, but a clean, friendly, comfortable place.

For a really late arrival or very early departure, the Delta Calgary Airport is convenient, because it's in the airport complex. (Don't be fooled by names like Holiday Inn Calgary Airport. The Delta is the only hotel right INSIDE the airport complex.)

If you want to stay downtown, the Fairmont Palliser Hotel is Calgary's "grand old lady" and much better value for money, in my opinion, than the Fairmont hotels in the Rockies (Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise, etc.).

There are any number of other hotels downtown that are perfectly comfortable (Marriott, etc., etc.).

Hope that helps.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2004, 01:29 PM
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June 1 strikes me as being a bit early. High trails will be snowed in, and high lakes still frozen.

How do you plan on going to Assiniboine?
Helicopter? Ski and hike? I doubt if you can hike in only because the trails will be snowed or iced over.

Last year, the highline train to Lake McArthur, which gets above 6,500 feet, was still ice covered in mid June, and some of the trail was tricky even in early July.

Also, what are your plans for Mount Robson? The trail to Berg Lake will probably be skiable, but not hikeable.

I also recommend limited high altitude attempts for one good reason: avalanches. Before you attempt any trail, check the local conditions.
There is an old saying that when it is spring time in the Rockies, stay away!

I know the climate is getting warmer and all that good stuff, but on June 1, there is a very high chance that Lake Louise and Moraine Lake will be heavily ice covered!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2004, 06:14 PM
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Our alternative dates to travel would have to be after June 17. At this time,traveling between June 18 and beginning of July, are we likely to find these areas much more crowded? We were hoping to go before the busiest times so that we don't have to deal with heavy crowds.

Thanks.

Steve
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Old Nov 2nd, 2004, 06:23 PM
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Steve, I consider the second half of June to be an ideal time to visit the Canadian Rockies.

The most popular lakes (Louise, Moraine, Emerald, etc.) almost certainly will be thawed by then. Although tourist activity will have picked up compared with the first half of June, the full onslaught of July / August tourists will not yet have arrived.

We went to Moraine Lake for a picnic on Saturday, June 26, 2004. The parking lot was 2/3 or 3/4 occupied, whereas I can pretty much guarantee you, based on prior experience, it would have been overflowing just a week later.

We were the only family using the picnic tables that are tastefully dispersed in the forest.
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Old Nov 6th, 2004, 06:25 PM
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If you have the time consider spending part of a day in Kananaskis Park (just south of Canmore) on your way into the mountains from Calgary. It's less commercial and touristy than Banff so you'll avoid the crowds. Spray Lakes are great for photography but that road is gravel which may be a problem with your rental car.

One day pick up a picnic lunch in Banff and take it to Lake Minnewanka - it's a nice spot for a picnic and your kids will enjoy the wildlife.

You may be able to take your kids canoeing on Lake Louise - we did this when I was a kid and really enjoyed it! I'm not sure if June will be too early for this.

Late June shouldn't be too crowded and the weather will be a little more reliable - July 1st is usually when it starts to get busy. Keep in mind that July 1 to 3 will be the Canadian equivalent of the US 4th of July weekend (but if you book accomodation in advance you'll be fine).
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