Recent trip Calgary - Victoria

Old Jul 28th, 2007, 03:14 AM
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Recent trip Calgary - Victoria

Many thanks to all contributors over recent months and especially to “Judy in Calgary”.

I arrived Calgary with my wife and 15yo son on the evening of July 1st where we picked up a rental car. We found directions to be poor at the airport as we set off for Banff (take 1st left and then next left again) before travelling on Highway 1 straight to Banff (about 90 minutes). Our first surprise was having no choice but to pay to enter the national park. I hadn’t considered this but, while not complaining, it could have been signalled in advance, there is no choice when you get to the tollbooth and no way around it. We had booked the Red Carpet Inn in Banff and got worried when we passed its counterpart as we passed through Calgary but we could have had no complaints re its Banff hotel. The room had two large beds, we got an adequate buffet breakfast and they had inexpensive internet access.

On Day 2 we went just outside the town to see the Fairmont Hotel and Bow Falls before going up the Gondola for an introductory view of the mountains, expensive ($63-all our figures are CAN$) but the hike up would have been too taxing on such a warm day. After an early lunch we travelled up the old road to Lake Louise. It was very relaxing with beautiful roadside flowers especially the Indian paintbrushes. There was also some wildlife including close-ups of elk and deer, with plenty of warning as there were always plenty of cars stopped to capture the excitement. Johnson’s Canyon should not be missed, it was fabulous to walk along the base of the canyon up to the first waterfall, we didn’t make it up any further. At Morton’s curves there was a gathering of train enthusiasts and we were just on time to see a steam train on the way through. An enthusiast explained that trains cannot have more than 117 cars, almost all we saw over the following few days (and we must have seen about 60) had just under 100 cars. He said you could judge how big or full they might be by the number of engines, the biggest having two engines at the front plus one in the middle and one at the back. As we approached Lake Louise we turned left and travelled up to Moraine Lake first, maybe 20 mins drive, it certainly is worth the effort. What can one say about Lake Louise itself? The backdrop of the glacier covered mountains and the colour of the lake are unparalleled. It was overpowering, it was almost like an artificial backdrop on a film set. The Chateau was also worth visiting but that unfortunately was not where we were staying but rather close by in Deer Lodge. The only thing it had in common with the Chateau was its price! It was old, shabby, shoddy and very badly in need of a refit. Our room was up multiple windy staircases, the hotel doesn’t have lift, or a television it seems! Given the price of gas they probably can’t afford to burn it down! There is nothing whatsoever to the “village” of Lake Louise apart from four or five small shops, a gas station and a simple village grill.

Day 3 took us on the road to Takkakaw Falls, stopping off for 30 mins to watch two trains go through the Spiral Tunnels. Seeing a train with its engine coming towards you out of a tunnel with its tail at a level higher running at right angles to it into what appears to be a separate tunnel almost needs a suspension of reality! About a mile after the tunnels we turned right to Takkakaw Falls, passing a small field of still unmelted snow at the edge of the road on the way. Afterwards we went into Field – a tiny sleepy hamlet but with a pleasant coffee shop/supermarket on the main road. About 3 miles beyond Field is a sign for a natural stone bridge with a fast flow of water through it. Hardly worth going out of your way to see on its own but as it is so near the other attractions above it is worth the 15mins extra it takes. (This was the day we had planned a half-day whitewater rafting trip but unfortunately my son broke his arm quite badly a week before our departure so we had to cancel the rafting.) We then travelled back down the road to stay at Storm Mountain Lodge, a mile up the road to Vermilion Crossing from Castle Junction. This was a beautiful leg cabin with a fantastic healthy home made breakfast. Unfortunately, our 15yo wanted to go back into Banff that evening so we missed what looked like an excellent dinner. However, the meal we had in Melissa’s Restaurant in Banff was also quite good.

Day 4 was spent travelling up the Icefields Parkway, visiting the Columbia Glacier (very expensive at $90 but you probably won’t ever do it again). We visited the Athabasca Falls (just beside the road) and took the old road into town (slowly!). In Jasper we stayed at the Whistler Inn (again not cheap but no complaints about the room, though breakfast wasn’t included). Given the Fairmonts in Banff and Lake Louise we expected something similar when driving around their Jasper namesake but found no comparison. Got a look at the Rocky Mountaineer that was overnighting in town. There were a few nice restaurants including the L&W just off the opposite end of Cannaught Ave from the train station. Overall we found accommodation very expensive in the Banff to Jasper area but eating out was quite inexpensive; and don’t forget a visit to the Jasper Fudgerie.

Day 5 was a leisurely trip along Maligne Canyon to Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake. We were going to have one day of hard driving so decided to shorten the trip to Whistler by overnighting in Valemount, visiting Mount Robson on the way. We could and should have travelled further down to shorten the following days journey, possibly to Clearwater, but can have no complaints about an excellent and inexpensive B&B in Valemount – Mountain Reach, run by Sharon McColm, $115 including a full breakfast.

We had a long Day 6 drive from Valemount to Whistler (480 miles). We left early and had travelled without delay or difficulty to Cache Creek by lunchtime but the roads just got narrower, rougher and windier from there on, especially after Lillooet. However, we were saved by our only sighting of a bear: - just beyond Pemberton with no traffic on the road but ourselves a grizzly walked across the road in front of us, he wasn’t yet fully grown but it still gave us a fantastic thrill, after all our journeys through national parks we thought we had missed our chance! Whistler itself exceeded our expectations. We had superb accommodation in the Whistler Village Inn; not least as they had run out of hotel rooms they put us in a two storey apartment! A good breakfast buffet was included all for $130. We had an excellent dinner in the attached Keg restaurant for $65. The town is very well laid out with a Fairmont reminiscent of its Lake Louise counterpart and there was enough to do even if we had a week to spend there!

We had planned to do the Ziptrek Ecotour on Day 7 but had to settle for the Treetrek alternative due to my son’s injury. It was very well conducted and informative and not in any way taxing. However it is overpriced at $113 for the three of us and I believe that the Ziptrek tour, though more expensive, would have been better value. In the afternoon we drove on to Vancouver, construction works all the way on a narrow road, in preparation for the 2010 winter Olympics. In Vancouver we stayed at the Quality Inn on Howe St for two nights, again a very comfortable room in a very pleasant hotel with welcoming staff and at a reasonable price. Given our limited time we decided to take a bus tour of the city – very expensive at $75 and if you just picked up there map you could have walked the main parts yourself. Overall we were quite disappointed with the city; there is very little history in the place and few buildings of note.

Day 9 brought us to Horseshoe Bay to get the ferry to Nanaimo. We had pre-booked a space and had no difficulty getting on. The crossing took an hour and three quarters ($91) on a very comfortable and uncrowded ferry. In Victoria we stayed at the Marriott (good value, booked via Priceline) and this was luxurious. Victoria itself was very relaxing, very clean, plenty of street entertainment along the seafront with a good variety of shops and a huge supply of excellent restaurants. It also had some historical buildings and while we visited the gardens at the Governors House we decided against Butchart Gardens. However, we did visit the Titanic Exhibition at the BC Museum – a must for any visitor to Victoria. It had over 200 artefacts from the sunken ship with excellent commentary from the “crew” of the ship. Don’t miss it if it ever comes your way. We stayed a second night in the Marriott before getting the ferry from Sydney (badly signposted) to Anacortes. Again a very comfortable crossing through the beautiful San Juan islands with some dolphins to accompany us but unfortunately no whales. We overnighted with friends in Anacortes, a small quaint, beautiful town with plenty to see in the immediate surrounding area.

Overall a trip of a lifetime, too many highlights to list, we had no problems with places being too crowded. What would I change - If I were to do it again I don’t know if it was worth the extra time and travel to go all the way up to Jasper as we had to come back down again. Also glad I only had a day and a half for Vancouver, I wouldn’t give it any more. Again many thanks to all contributors for their help in recent months and I hope the above may be of help to others.
Kerryman is offline  
Old Jul 28th, 2007, 09:37 AM
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Glad to hear you enjoyed the trip overall, Kerryman.

Sorry to hear there were some disappointing aspects, some of them due to miunderstanding.

Take Deer Lodge for example. I've lost count of the number of times I've stated here that it's a quirky little building with creeky stairs, no elevators, miniscule standards rooms that don't have phones much less television sets, etc., etc. For all that, my husband and I are fond of Deer Lodge. In this part of the world, where so much is brand spanking new, a little old building like that (well old by the standards of the Canadian Rockies) holds charm for us. But it has to be taken in context. It also depends where the visitor is from, what his/her expectations are, etc.

I'm sorry you did not know in advance that you had to pay an entry fee to get into Banff National Park. There have been numerous discussion threads about that in the past. I often point readers to the website that I created about the Canadian Rockies. In the TIPS section of that website, I have a page devoted to National Park Entry Fees:

http://tinyurl.com/2l8lqu

I just want to correct one statement you made that was not accurate. You said that, once you arrived at the entrance gates to Banff National Park, you had no option but to pay the entry fee.

Well, it is true that, if you want to leave the TransCanada Highway -- which of course you have to do if you want to stay in any of the accommodations in Banff National Park, go to restaurants, fill your car with gasoline and visit the scenic lookout points -- you do have to pay the national park entry fee.

But, if you are travelling on the TransCanada Highway and traversing the national parks only as a way of getting from Point A to Point B, you do not have to pay the national park entry fee. In fact there is no toll booth adjacent to the far right lane. Travellers who are only passing through on their way to some other destination use that drive-through lane on the far right. They don't even stop at the entrance gate to Banff National Park.

Now I grant you they could do a better job of sign posting all of this so that travellers can understand it more clearly. But I'm just setting the record straight here.

I agree with you about the signage when you emerge from Calgary Airport. It's bad. I've written to them about it. The signs they have now are better than the ones they had before, if you can believe it, but they're still not good enough.

Accommodation in the mountain national parks is expensive because the parks are supposed to exist primarily to protect the ecosystem and only secondarily to amuse human beings. Hence the federal government controls development of the mountain resort towns. Not just anyone can live there. For example, I couldn't decide tomorrow that I wanted a house in Banff and buy one there. Only park wardens, people who work in the hospitality industry, etc., are allowed to live there. Accommodation for workers is in limited supply, and workers have to be imported from elsewhere to handle the tourist traffic during the summer months.

There are no private houses at all in Lake Louise. The hotels have to provide dormitory accommodation for their employees, or else workers have to commute quite long distances from places like Canmore and Golden.

This year is more challenging than ever for business owners in the hospitality industry because there is an oil boom in Alberta. Workers are being attracted to better paying jobs in the oil industry, and it's a challenge to find people to work in the hospitality industry.

Anyway, kerryman, thanks for sharing your experiences. Your trip report will help other posters to know what not to miss and what to avoid.

I hope your son's arm recovers fully.
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 11:01 AM
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I was hoping you would respond, Judy. As a traveler and occasional visitor to this area, I do understand some of Kerryman's points. However, it takes one with your perspective and experience to share a valuable perspective.

Deer Lodge is one of my favorites as well. I really prefer to stay in the older rooms, with their creaky stairs and quirks, no phone or TV. That is part of the charm. The room is still immaculate, with cozy duvet and great bathroom toiletries. But it is not for everyone, that's for sure (I think my husband counts himself there, just because of the small bed).

Canada's National Park system is very different from the U.S. For one, Banff is along THE highway to cross east - west . When you are not intending a National Park trip, the tollbooth can be a surprise. However, as you said, there is the option to bypass the tolls -- I do love Canada's honor system! But if we were heading for lodging within a park (as the town of Banff is), there is no question that we would expect to pay the fee for park entrance en route.

We were in Vancouver in early June. For the first time, I felt we spent too much time there (but only 2 nights!) Reflecting back, I see that it was a combination of location and how we chose to spend our time. Vancouver is a wonderful place (and I grew up in the San Francisco area), but it does have its mundane aspects as well.

Kerryman -- if you don't mind my asking-- we are currently bidding on Priceline for a night in Victoria in mid September. The market seems tighter this year, and I have not seen any winning bids on biddingfortravel.com to help me gauge the situation. Could you comment on the winning bid price range and star level you found during your bidding process?

The wonderful thing about all this is the reminder that that we are all unique, and different people treasure different experiences. There is something for everybody. Given Kerryman's comments about Whistler vs. Lake Louise, I gather that his optimum experience is not as rustic, outdoorsy, and eco-friendly as mine might be. That's ok. Again, it refers back to your point of expectations.

We were also a little surprised at the humble aspects of the village of Lake Louise. Here again, it is an expectation, plus we did not take adequate time to explore it.

In general, we do not prefer Quality Inn, Red Carpet Inn, et al -- too much travel for business to cookie-cutter, bland lodging. I'll go for the Deer Lodges over the Red Carpets. Since that isn't for everyone, that is good.
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Old Jul 28th, 2007, 11:37 AM
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Can anyone share with me your experience with Jasper Inn? Most of the other popular lodges (like Beckers, Patricia Lake) are booked in late August.
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Old Jul 30th, 2007, 01:40 AM
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Many thanks again Judy for your eagle eye! I had no issue with paying the Park tax and applaud the reasoning behind it but it was unexpected and I certainly didn't see any way of avoiding it had I been travelling straight through. With regard to Deer Lodge well..................we'll agree to differ!

I am not complaining about anything on my trip (well, maybe apart from Deer Lodge!) but given the help I got from everyone on this page I wanted to tahnk you and maybe others might pick up a point or two.

Had I known Banff was so big and Lake Louise so small, in relation to each other, I would probably have stayed the 3 nights in Banff or else 2 at Storm Mountain. I booked the Red Carpet while being unfamiliar with the range of what was on offer in Banff but as I said it was quite good, presumably well above the average of its namesakes going by what Sludick says.

I do a lot of cycling and some hiking in our own National Park here in Killarney so I deliberately decided not to do that in Canada, plus I had a lot of ground to cover.

With regard to Priceline, I asked for a 4* or better and as I had plenty of time I started low and went up by $10 each day. Eventually I got a message saying my bid was again not accepted today but if I added $12 it probably would be, so I did. They also gave me $10 off my next booking. I can't recall the exact figure but I finally paid $360CAN for 2 nights in the Marriott, this included Priceline's fee which was a good percentage of the very reasonable Marriott fee.
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Old Jul 30th, 2007, 07:27 AM
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Kerryman -- thanks for the Priceline feedback. It is useful information for my bidding strategy.

Appreciate it!
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