Trip to the Rockies – questions

Mar 14th, 2007, 07:20 AM
  #1  
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Trip to the Rockies – questions

I am in the early stages of planning a 3 month trip in North America including some time in the Canadian Rockies. We are a young NZ couple (now in London) that travel fast, enjoy photography, scenery, history and music.

I want to know whether there are any major flaws in my tentative plan at the moment.

We had planned to hire a car and drive (wrong side of road) but then I saw some trip reports of a woman being eaten by a bear and people seeing a cougar and a snake! In my lovely home country there are no native mammals (only birds, insects and a couple of reptiles – no snakes!!) + the introduced animals (sheep, cows). Pretty much no animal can kill you (unless you do something stupid like sit under a horse). So I feel pretty comfortable going tramping (hiking).

But frankly if I saw a snake or even a moose right close I am not sure what I would do (sheep I am fine with). And a bear.... So we thought we might wimp out and have a canned trip of the Rockies in Sep 2007br />
Train in to Jasper (from Toronto – 2 nights)
3 nights Jasper – including up the tramway. Shuttle or Tour to Maligne Lake – cruise and maybe canoeing. And some relaxing time as we have just spent 2 days on a train. Last day take Brewster Trip via Columbia Icefields along Parkway to Lake Louise

2 nights Lake Louise – Tour into Yoho National Park + plenty of photos on the Lake. Last day shuttle to Banff.

2 nights Banff – mainly hanging around the town taking photos of nearby sights perhaps another tour or day trip somewhere.

Rocky Mountaineer through to Vancouver.

Now for some more stupid questions
1. So I am going to be depending on the day tours to see the main sights – is this a silly idea? We would not see as much as our own car but will be able to learn a bit more from the guide and feel a bit safer.

2. Are we travelling too fast? Should I put more time in somewhere (after all I have 3 months). But the Rockies are very expensive in September.

3. I was looking at Patricia Lake Bungalows near Jasper – is that walking distance to Jasper? Or do I need to be closer into town?

4. Please confirm that I am not going to see a bear in the main street Lake Louise. If we walk from the Lake to the township will we be fine? (I wasn’t even concerned until I started reading the trip reports on this site!!!)

I realise these are some newbie questions but you have to start somewhere!!
wilees is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 09:32 AM
  #2  
LJ
 
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Wow, willes, this is a BIG question. I will start you off with something and hope that others, more your age, chime in.

But first, I have no idea what on this Forum or in the media, has made you so skittish, but there are literally thousands of hikers, let alone, drivers, in the areas of Alberta and BC you describe who have never had an unpleasant moment with a bear, moose, snake or whatever. You MAY see elk, cougars, deer, mountain sheep, at a distance, and/or evidence of bears, but they are not marauding in the streets, leaping out in front of every car they see. As a well-traveled "young NZ couple" with experience living overseas, there is NO way you should be limiting yourself to some sort of bus trip/guided tour only visit to this fantastic area.

My family has lived in the Rockies for 30 years and have only seen a bear up-too-close once. And truly they are only dangerous if you get between them and food/a cub. Get a good guide book for the area and read up to allay your fears further.

Map our your route and plan to rent a car. Lake Louise is lovely, and there are a lot of hikes in the Alberta, foothills and Rockies, beforeyou even get into BC. You should aim for Shuswap and the Okanagon Valley before heading to Vancouver.

I don't quite get why, if you have 3 months, you are getting into the details of 2 days here and there. And I also don't quite understand why you want to take a train from Toronto to Jasper( why not fly into Calgary). But I trust your judgement with regard to plotting out your time.

As to expense, I am not sure that October/November is THAT much less expensive than September. (I am guessing I have picked the correct 3 months). And by November your weather would not be great. I don't honestly think I could spend three months simply touring (perhaps you will be working part of that time?) However, I think you will find that there are less expensive hotels on offer and there are B&B's.

Sorry I know nothing of this bungalow near Lake Louise...

Best of luck!
LJ is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 10:06 AM
  #3  
 
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LJ has given you good info. If you are young, P-L-E-A-S-E don't do a canned trip of the Rockies. You'll really be shortchanging yourselves.

If you M-U-S-T catch a bus or train, then at least use Moose Travel Network, which aims its services at an adventurous, young and young-at-heart clientele. It operates hop-on / hop-off buses, and includes things like whitewater rafting.

But your best bet would be to do a self-drive trip from Calgary through the Rockies to Vancouver.

There are no poisonous snakes in Calgary and the Rocky Mountains. I have seen a couple of snakes in the 30 years that I've lived in Calgary, but have been comforted by the fact that they are not poisonous.

Bears can be lethal. But as LJ said, M-I-L-L-I-O-N-S of people hike in the Rockies every year, and only a M-I-N-I-S-C-U-L-E fraction of them have unpleasant encounters with bears. From a statiscal point of view, you have a F-A-R greater chance of being hit by a car when you cross a London street than you have of coming to grief in a bear encounter in the Rockies. Just follow the hiking precautions that you easily can find on the Internet and in guidebooks.

I strongly recommend that you stick with your original plan of visiting the Rockies in September. It's an ideal month in which to travel in the area. Certainly I would not recommend visiting the area any later than Canadian Thanksgiving (second Monday of October). Some side roads start closing for the winter from the beginning of October onwards, and by the end of the Thanksgiving long weekend the stuff that shuts down for the winter will have done so.

You may find my website helpful. It provides sample itineraries and lots of other tips.

http://groups.msn.com/CalgaryandCana...kiesTravelTips

Hope that helps.

Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 10:10 AM
  #4  
 
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By the way, cougars, being members of the cat family, are nocturnal animals, and it is rare to encounter them in daylight hours.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 10:16 AM
  #5  
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Thanks for the advice.

The trip report that particularly stuck out was something along the lines of "I was on the golf course when that poor woman from Canmore was eaten by a bear".

And I have a snake-phobia. Ugh.

I like trains. We have to see the Rockies in September as the Rocky Mountaineer Trains finsh early October.

I am on my way home for good - so no work. I have taken 3 months off work each year the last few years to travel around Europe.

3 months touring is fabulous but you have to plan down time. I am looking forward to travelling an English speaking country for a change.

The reason I am looking at this section of my travels is it seems to be one of the parts I will need to book well in advance to get trains cheaper and accommodation at all.

I may seem a bit neurotic (and I am) but tourists often underestimate dangers in the mountains and I don't want to be one of them.

And the guide book didn't help. It also talks about buying bear spray (what do you spray it on?) and what to do if bitten by a black widow spider or snake.
wilees is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 10:20 AM
  #6  
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Thanks Judy - I will look into Moose Travel.

I guess I will do a rethink - I am sure once I am there it will seem fine (just as pickpocketing in Europe is never as bad as these boards make out!). I'll see if hubby is game to drive. We are used to mountain roads. I do love trains though.

wilees is offline  
Mar 14th, 2007, 08:05 PM
  #7  
 
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Although I live about 2,500 miles from the Canadian Rockies, I have visited there many times in the last 20 years.

I fully agree with Judy: Please don't take a canned tour. Also allow time, lots of time because there is a lot to see and do.

I know you may have concerns about traveling on the wrong side of the road, just as I do when I think of New Zealand or the UK or Ireland, but driving in Canada, particularly along the Icefields Parkway, is relatively tame driving.

There are only a few steep climbs and they are relatively short. The road itself has a good surface on it.

There are so many places to stop along the way and so many places that a bus probably will not allow you time to see, that I think you would be more satisfied with the results of your trip if you do it yourself.

As for the animals, I have not seen a grizzly bear in Canada, but they are there. I have seen black bears, but that is not quite the same!!

As for cougars, they are shy animals and I have never seen one of those creatures either.

Snakes. Not likely.

I would be more afraid of running afoul a skunk than anything else!!

The bear spray might work, but I have no empirical evidence. The idea is to spray it at the bear. It is very noxious stuff. People in the know claim it works, but it certainly is no substitute for bear awareness.

I don't care how much of the stuff I have, I am not going to see if I can find a bear to test it on!!

If there is a grizzly working the area, as indicated by several tell-tale signs, I will strongly consider going elsewhere.

As for snakes, there are none in the Rockies that are dangerous to humans, unless you go beserk when you see one and bash your head into a tree or fall off a cliff.

I know, some people down here in Georgia, where we have several dangerous snakes (water moccasins, rattle snakes, copper heads), go spastic at the sight of any snake. I find that to be silly because not all snakes are dangerous; in fact, some are beneficial.

Also, I would not try to kiss a bull moose or a bull elk. Those guys are BIG, and have big antlers. Most of the time in the summer, they are busy feeding themselves, but in the fall, they will run you up a tree. They are not going to take any chances that some interloper might make off with one of their lady friends.

Bull moose have been known to attack locomotives, head on. Unfortunately, the moose usually loses the encounter.

I really think the most dangerous animal in the Rockies is a hominid that customarily walks on its hind legs. But this creature is rarely seen in unmarked areas. This species is dangerous when intoxicated by alcohol.

(The above analysis is a paraphrase of a more thorough analysis by Ben Gadd, author of the best book on the Rockies: Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, 2nd edition. There is nothing else like that has ever come to my attention.

Mr. Gadd has written a fantastic summary of the geology, flora, fauna, climate, and weather of the Canadian Rocies.

Also, an invaluable hiking guide is The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson. It is as good a hiker's guide as any you will ever use. I have a copy of the 7th edition. I do not know if there is an 8th edition or not. The 7th edition was well nigh definitive. If Brian and Bart decided to improve on it, I am not sure what they would need to do.

Both books are in my personal library, and I give both my best professorial endorsement!
bob_brown is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 12:33 AM
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It's been so long since I've seen a moose that I would be happy to do so. In all my time living in the Canadian west, I've only seen one cougar. This isn't to say horrors can't happen but for the most part, animals try to avoid us. I'm with Bob - people make me more nervous.
April is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 07:23 AM
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The first time we drove the Icefields Parkway was in 1987. Our adult son made the trip with us. We were north of the Icefields Center when we saw the tell-tale signs of a major animal sighting: Dozens of cars parked on the side of the road.

We soon spotted a bull moose feeding below the roadbed in a swampy area. My son got his camera and began getting into position to take a picture. The moose sensed that something was up and started moving rather rapidly through the bog.

I thought my son was going to chase the critter all the way to Jasper if need be. We finally picked him up more than half a mile up the road from where he got out of the car.

He got his picture.
bob_brown is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 09:27 AM
  #10  
 
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I hope people still aren't getting out of their cars and creeping up to bears to take pictures. Or, worse, feed them.
April is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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April, that reminds me of all the people gleefully feeding the raccoons junk food at Stanley Park while standing in front of a sign that not only says, "please don't feed the wildlife".
Carmanah is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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... but has an illustration of a raccoon, for emphasis.
Carmanah is offline  
Mar 15th, 2007, 09:24 PM
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Racoons are crafty rascals. They are very accomplished when it comes to getting into mischief. My uncle claims they could pick locks with their claws.

But, he was known to exaggerate upon occasion.

The other dangerous animal in the Rockies is a porcupine. Not only will you get stuck with the quills if you mess with them, they also like to eat brake linings on cars and buses.

However, I fear the south end of a north bound skunk the most, particularly if it is heisted and pointed at me. When that happens, run like the devil was about to get you. He is.

We were camping once and I kept hearing a rustling in the bushes. I got my flashlight and, in the beam, I saw very close to us a little black creature with a white stripe. As my wife said, "Sit still. Don't breathe; don't move."

I am sure this critter was habituated to people around camp fires because s/he did not bother us. But had someone thrown something at him (or her) or taken some other hostile action, I am reasonably sure something stinky would have resulted.

Adult skunks have a squirt range of about 15-18 feet with fairly good accuracy, particularly when the target is within 12 feet.

If your meet a skunk, my advice is simple: Leave them be and retreat very quietly if you can. Otherwise, sit very, very still and quiet.
bob_brown is offline  
Mar 16th, 2007, 09:35 AM
  #14  
 
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In answer to one of your questions, Patricia Lake Bungalows is NOT within easy walking distance of Jasper. But if you change your plans, and have a car, it is a very nice place to stay - we have stayed there 2 different times, and enjoyed it both times.

Enjoy your trip, no matter which approach you take to transportation! It is a wonderful place to tour.
newretiree is offline  
Mar 21st, 2007, 04:47 AM
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wilees,
My wife and I spent 6 months backpacking through NZ & Southeast Asia when we got married. In New Zealand we bought a used car (Mini Cooper) for about $600 U.S. We drove that car all over both the North & South Island and then sold it at a youth hostel in Auckland 2 days before we left. Why not buy a used car, load it w/ some used camping gear and drive cross-country? Just a thought....
Plus, I would imagine, that the cost of all those train & bus tickets will pay for at least half your car.

Banff is a bit like your Queenstown. And Canadians are very much like Kiwi's; So friendliness & helpfulness come naturally! Plus, there are hostels and campgrounds everywhere to keep your expenses down.
Cheers!
Pete & Wendy


Pete1222 is offline  
Mar 21st, 2007, 09:49 AM
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Hi Pete & Wendy,

Do you know how a foreign visitor could buy a car in Canada, register it, and insure it?

I am not trying to throw cold water on your suggestion. I am genuinely interested in a solution.

On the British Expats forum ( www.britishexpats.com ), where I also participate, a British person asked how he could buy a car at one end of Canada, drive it across the country, and sell it at the other end of the country.

No one seemed to know the answer. In Canada vehicle registration is handled by the provinces. Most provinces require proof of residence when you go to register a vehicle.

Some BE forum members suggested work-arounds, all of which looked dodgy to me.

I would love to know a legitimate solution to be able to suggest to people in that position.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Mar 21st, 2007, 05:38 PM
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Hi Judy,

In NZ & Australia (I've done it in both) it seemed pretty straight forward. Perhaps there were certain time constraints or inspections that had to be completed; i really don't remember all the specifics. But in both cases I knew that I would be out of the country in 60 or 70 days and did not concern myself with those details. I do know foreigners who have bought cars in the U.S. and done pretty much the same thing.
"Legitimate"---maybe.
Affordable----definitely.
Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.
Regards,
Pete
PS: Thank you for your advice concerning Western Canada---I see that you and my wife are swapping e-mails.
Pete1222 is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 11:26 AM
  #18  
 
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Wilees,

I implore you not to do a 'canned' tour of our National Parks for fear of Bears, snakes or cougars!! You will truly short change your visit. You will be hearded on and off for quick phot ops and will run to someone elses schedule. They have their very useful place but not for a couple such as you have described.

While there have been some unfortunate encounters with bears and cougars they are rare and unlikely. Use common sense: don't feed the wildlife, obey warning signs, make noise while hiking (I take a whistle) and better yet try to hike with a group.

While I don't want to add to your already considerable list of animal concerns, one encounter I can virtually garauntee you will have in Jasper and Banff is Elk. Give them a wide berth...at this time of year the males are very agressive and the females will get most upset if you get between them and their calfs. I mention this because these mammals are very common in both townsites. Again, it's all about using common sense and not getting too close.

If you like to hike...look into Twin Falls Lodge in Yoho National Park. It is quite rustic, but charming and the hiking is superb. You might also look into booking a hike with a palentologist and go into the Burgess Shales...the most important fossil bed find in the world. You cannot go in without a guide and they book up months in advance. This is also in Yoho.

Have fun!!!








keen2travel is offline  
Mar 22nd, 2007, 06:13 PM
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the canadian rockies are fantastic .me and my wife have taken the train ride across the rockies from vancover. people get attacket by animals becouse they do stupped things .wiled animals are wiled .give them their space thay are as afraid of you as you are afraid of them .more people get heart in their bath tub than by animals.
blackwell is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2007, 03:53 AM
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In traveling around the US and Canada, I have seen several bears and snakes. Of those snakes I've seen, only 2 that I can remember were of a poisonous variety and neither of those were in Canada. Most snakes are intent in getting away from you and will do so quickly if you let them.

I have seen only one cougar in my life and that was very near my home and was crossing the road in front of me to get away as quick as it could.

I seem to be more fortunate than many of the Canadian travelers in that I have seen several bears, both black bears (which can also be brown or cinnamon in color) and grizzly bears. The black bears are common across North America. most of these would rather be someplace else than where you are. When they see a human, they leave unless threatened, or their young is threatened, or if you have a specially desirable food. Most bad encounters with bears occur when people have been feeding them and they become accustomed to being around people. Sleeping in a tent with food inside the tent is a bad idea because the bear will try to get the food and may attack you to try to get it. If you tent camp, keep food out of the tent.

Grizzly bears are very rare. I consider myself fortunate to have seen several of these in the wild. Most of the time I needed binoculars to tell that they were grizzly bears since they were so far away. The only times they were close to me I was safely inside my car.

You hear of bear attack because they are so rare that they make the news. Have you heard about a fender-bender car accident in Vancouver? Of course not, because they are far more common and therefore not newsworthy. Even accidents involving a fatality won't make international news because they aren't particularly rare. Please don't forgo any trip to Canada because of the wild animals. Respect them, and they will cause you no harm.
rm_mn is offline  
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