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dmpalena Aug 23rd, 2008 10:51 PM

Vancouver to Jasper/Banff--Is this itinerary doable??
My husband and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary next summer and wanted to plan a very special trip. After going back and forth a dozen times between Alaska and the Rockies, we have finally opted to go with the Rockies.

One of the things we were most looking forward to in the Alaskan vacation was whale watching. I understand that there are very good whale watch tours out of Vancouver. That started me thinking about including Vancouver in our plans. At first we thought we would have to do a roundtrip and realized that would be way too much driving. As luck would have it, tonight I came across a really good deal on a way one rental from Vancouver to Calgary. I also saw a proposed itinerary on Judy in Calgary's website, which after some tweaking on my part, seemed very appealing. It sounds good on paper but I would really appreciate all the input I can get on whether or not this is a good plan.

Our itinerary would be as follows:

Day 1 - Fly into Vancouver
Day 2-3-4 Spend in Vancouver
Day 5 - Follow Judy's proposal and stop somewhere 1/2 way (Kamloops or Kelowna-seeing the sights along that way)---or should we push through to Jasper and add that night on somewhere else? We wouldn't mind a long day of sightseeing and travel if the sights are worth seeing along the way
Day 6, 7, 8 - Spend in Jasper area
Day 9-10-11 Spend in Lake Louise/Banff area
Day 12 -Sightsee most of the day, then travel on to spend the night in Calgary before the flight out the next day

We have so many other places to see on our bucket list and who knows if and when we'll return to Canada. We'd really like to see as much as we can on this trip (without spending all our time in a car). We're not planning on doing any real hiking....we're more the "sightseeing" type (short hikes are fine).

Please tell me what you think. Am I crazy or is this a very "doable" itinerary??

Much thanks!!

bob_brown Aug 24th, 2008 11:50 AM

It is doable but I don't think you have considered the Icefields Parkway in enough detail. It can be an all day drive.

You also need to factor Yoho National Park into your planning.

I have done a similar route but only allowed 2 nights in Jasper.
After you do Maligne Lake, the Whistler, and Mount Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier, what's next?

Those 3 can be done in a long day, or 1.5 days.

I have seen people having fun on a raft trip down the Athabasca River.

dmpalena Aug 24th, 2008 04:43 PM

Bob, you are undoubtedly one of the resident experts on this forum and I value your input most highly!! I most definitely want to give a good deal of time to the Icefields Parkway. It is probably the very TOP destination we want to see!!!!

You were so kind to answer my other post regarding a scenic route from Vancouver to Jasper. May I ask you to suggest an itinerary for us? At least as far as how many days/nights to allot to each destination so we can be sure to see all the major highlights of each park.
When we leave Vancouver you suggested scenic routes via Fraser Canyon or Manning Provincial Park and then on to Golden or Field. Would this be the first stop to see all that is in the Yoho area ? It sounds as though we would also be able to visit the Lake Louise area from Field and/or Golden. We will be travelling with our two grown sons so we would prepare accommodations that would give us all our space and privacy.

Leaving Field and/or Golden should we drive over to catch the beginning of the Icefields Parkway heading north into Jasper? Everyone has commented how different the sights are from each direction so we would like to drive it both ways. We fly out of Calgary so I am assuming we would just work our way south through Banff at the end of the trip.

I thank you, once again, and look forward to your future posts!!

Tootsall Aug 26th, 2008 06:26 AM

I'll agree with Bob, the drive from Jasper to Banff can easily take all day (with or without a tent trailer in tow!). A "don't miss" (at least for me) would be the Columbia Icefields tour on the Glacier bus; that'll add a couple of hours to your trip but is a "once-in-a-lifetime" if you aren't relatively local! (Check out Brewster Transport for details).

dmpalena Aug 26th, 2008 06:35 AM

Tootsall, thanks for the heads up on the Columbia Icefields tour. We would definitely want to do this excursion. Would it be part of that same day we are driving the Icefields? Considering the scenery along the way, we certainly don't mind if it's a long day of driving. Just wondered how we guesstimate the reservation time for the glacier tour?

Tootsall Aug 26th, 2008 12:35 PM

You wouldn't need a reservation: just pull in to the Icefields interpretive center and buy a ticket. If the weather on the way up to Jasper is "questionable" (cloudy, rainy, foggy, snowing(?)), then wait until you are on the way back down to Banff; it (the weather) can't be any worse and could be much better!

Tootsall Aug 26th, 2008 12:37 PM

Oh, forgot to mention: you can easily do the icefields tour the same day that you drive from Jasper to Banff or from Field to Jasper (although staying overnight somewhere between the two would definitely give even more time for photographs, short walks, etc.)

Tootsall Aug 26th, 2008 12:49 PM

Two other things that I don't see mentioned yet: while in the Banff area I highly recommend a) riding the Gondola at Sunshine Peak (just north of Banff off the main highway) and take some photographs on the Continental Divide, and b) take a small sideroad (about 8 miles) from the road that connects the village of Lake Louise to the actual Lake to a place called "Morraine Lake". It's signed so you can't miss it.

I was there in early June this year with a friend who had come up from Arizona for a conference in Banff and he was, as our British cousins would say, "gobsmacked". (The fact that he had come from Phoenix where it was over 100 deg. and we drove through a snow squall didn't hurt.)

vanillabean Sep 1st, 2008 04:36 PM

Hi, Dmpalena,

Have you finalized your itinerary from Vancouver to Banff?

I planned to make the same trip with my friend in mid Sep. My friend backed out so I have to travel by myself.

Here is my itinerary:
09/15 - fly into Vancouver
09/17 - start driving toward Banff
09/17 - stay somewhere for the night
09/18 - arrive Banff
09/19 - 09/21 - tour Banff, Lake Louise, Icefield Nat'l park, etc.

I have two questions:
1. Where should I stay for the night of 09/17?

2. Shoud I drive to Jasper first then to Banff, or, vice versa?

Your recommendation is highly appreciated.

dmpalena Sep 5th, 2008 08:49 AM

Hi vanillabean,

Sorry for the delay in answering your post, but we've been away for a few days. I do think we finally have our itinerary set. This is how we plan to make this trip:

July 25 - fly into Vancouver, spend 3 nights
July 28 - Drive east as far as Golden, spend 3 nights
July 31 - Drive through Lake Louise area and up Icefields Parkway to Jasper
August 3 - Drive to Banff/Canmore and spend 3 nights
August 6 - Fly out of Calgary to home

Originally I considered stopping somewhere overnight from Vancouver to Banff area. Other posters on this website had suggested a stop in either Kamloops or Kelowna. If you check out some of my other posts, they were kind enough to suggest several very scenic drives from Vancouver to Banff. Many of the places I have looked into in the Banff/Jasper area require three nights so eliminating that stopover night gives us a three night stay in each Lake Louise area, Jasper and Canmore. Of course due to the driving times, the first day in Golden is actually spent on the road. The first days in to Jasper and Banff are spent driving the Icefields.

One of the concerns I have with my itinerary is whether I am spending too much time in any one area? As proposed, we will have 2 1/2 days in Vancouver (one of which will definitely be a whale watching tour), 2 days around Golden (one of which will definitely be a white water rafting trip down the Kicking Horse river), 2 full days in Jasper (but is this too much time if we are not hikers?) and 2 full days in Canmore to see Banff.

I'm sure you could easily spend more time in each of these areas and not see "everything", but we are looking to see the major sights in each location...Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Maligne Lake, Icefields, etc. As this is going to be an expensive trip, we want to also make it most cost effective and if we are spending too much time in any one area, would rather cut that time and save the expense.

As far as going to Jasper first or Banff, you didn't mention what airport you will be using to return home. Will you be flying out of Calgary or Edmonton? Also, where do you plan to stay once in Banff? Are you staying in one place doing daytrips or are you staying both in Banff and in Jasper? From what I've read you can do a drive from Banff up the Icefields, but going as far as Jasper would be too much. Everyone seems to advise to do the stretch of the Icefields at least as far as the Columbia Icefields and back. It would be a long day of driving, but the scenery I'm sure will be worth it. If you are splitting your nights between Banff and Jasper then I would make my decision on which to do first based on what airport I planned to fly out of? Jasper is closer to Edmonton, Banff if closer to Calgary?

Thanks for the confidence in my input, but I'm a novice when it comes to the Rockies...have never been there. Thank goodness for all the experts on this forum who have helped me immeasurably with all my travel plans.

Good luck with your plans and do let me know what you decide to do.

vanillabean Sep 10th, 2008 01:42 PM

Thank you for sharing your itinerary.

Originally, a friend of mine was going to meet me at Vancouver but backed out. I will have to drive from Vancouver to Banff by myself I have a resort to stay outside of Banff and will fly home from Calgary. My major concern is where to stay overnight on the way to Banff, I may stay at Golden as your itinerary mentioned.

I will tour around leisurely once I reach Banff.

limazulu Sep 10th, 2008 03:23 PM


What a great trip you have planned! Banff, Jasper and the Canadian Rockies are breathtaking. I would like to make a few recommendations to help you? Vancouver is a big city and the harbor is full of freighters, cruise ships, sea planes, and the whales don't normally go through the channel near Vancouver. I would go to one of the Gulf Islands (Saltspring Island is easily accessible by ferry), Victoria (whale-watching right out of the downtown Inner Harbor area) or to the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Whistler is a great destination and deserves a 2-3 days - it will host alpine events in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Lots of nice condos, vacation homes, upscale hotels and wonderful hiking, mountain-biking, zipline treks.

The drive from Vancouver to Banff can be made in 1 long day. The Trans-Canada is a first-rate interstate, and while it is very scenic, there isn't a whole lot to see as far as sightseeing. If you enjoy wine country excursions, you would enjoy a leisurely trip, otherwise driving will be sufficient. If you decide to stop, Kamloops is fine, Kelowna and Penticton are out of the way, but fine. If you get all the way to Golden, keep driving to Banff! I always stop around Three Valley Gap.

Have a great day!

Cruiseryyc Sep 11th, 2008 09:25 AM

Vanillabean - as you will be driving alone, I would suggest stopping in Kamloops or Sicamous for the night (recommend the Best Western in Sicamous). That way you can take your time and stop along the way. It's a long haul from Vancouver to Golden - I did it once and nearly fell asleep, and I had someone with me to talk to.

dmpalena Sep 11th, 2008 01:57 PM

Hi Julia,

Thanks for the great suggestions. Yes, I have heard that the whale watching tours are better from Victoria (don't have to travel as far to see the whales). We are planning a three night stay in the Vancouver area. Are you suggesting that we stay in Victoria, or just take a day trip over on a ferry to do the whale watching tour? Do people do day trips to Victoria or is it too far or too long a trip to do in a day? We are renting a car in Vancouver, but wondered if it would be worth it to take the car as the ferry rates are high to travel with your car.

The whale trip is the highlight of our visit to the Vancouver area. With that in mind, where should we spend our time? Any suggestions on how we can do that and also see the Vancouver highlights too?


Tootsall Sep 12th, 2008 05:51 AM

re: whale watching:

Just be very realistic when planning a trip around whale watching; no tour operator will ever, EVER guarantee that you will see the whales. I was sitting in a restaurant in Tofino (west coast of Vancouver Island) and some whales cruised through the harbour right outside the restaurant windows. Two ladies from the UK at the next table commented on how many thousands of dollars they had spent on fruitless trips to see the whales and "here they are right beside our dinner table"! Sometimes you'll even see the whales when travelling by ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay.

All you are doing on these (whale watching) trips is improving the odds that you might see the whales. Concentrate on enjoying yourself even if you don't see them.

dmpalena Sep 12th, 2008 02:55 PM


Thank you for your response. I must admit I was under the assumption that going in late July we would almost "definitely" see some be honest that reason alone is why we decided to include Vancouver in our itinerary. We originally went back and forth about Alaska vs. Canadian Rockies and finally opted for the Rockies. One of the highlights of the Alaska trip would have been to see the whales, so when we learned that they are also in the Vancouver area during the summer, we thought we would extend the visit to include Vancouver.

If the odds are not strongly in our favor to see whales in Vancouver/Victoria in July, then I probably would put off a visit to that area for another time (though I must admit I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing my first humpback or orca!).

Tootsall Sep 15th, 2008 08:37 AM

Well, the odds are going to be in your favour, but the whales don't necessarily check (nor publish) daily timetables(!) Tour operators generally have a pretty good idea when whales are in which areas and naturally they'll take their tours to those spots: your odds WILL be improved significantly but there won't be an iron-clad guarantee.

Also, if you are looking for humpback whales in particular their migratory route is down the west side of Vancouver Island and you'll be unlikely to see any out of the City of Vancouver; you'd have to go with a tour out of Victoria or Tofino area for them. Orcas can be spotted all around the Island; since there are several "local" family groups as well as trasients that may be going through or browsing in the region.

Supercilious Sep 17th, 2008 05:23 PM

For seeing whales, go on an Alaska cruise out of Vancouver. Every port of call offers whale watching or wildlife tours. Not sure if you can add on another week but if you can, you could kill two birds with one vacation.

Or come down here to the San Francisco Bay area and take a whale watching tour out to the Farallon Islands. Late summer and Fall are best and you might see Grays, Humpbacks and maybe even a Blue.

MegaL41 Dec 15th, 2008 03:23 PM

I can appreciate the significance of an anniversary.
Whale watching from Victoria in July is your best chance. The southern resident killer whale community (82 orca-3 pods) live in and around the pacific northwest. Yes, this a large area & understand that these animals travel about 150 miles per day.
June, July, & August is the peak season for seeing whales. Overall success in sightings is over 90%-->depending on the company. Here is what I know...make sure that you book with an honest company, someone who will volunteer information anytime on where the whales were the day before and the day of your booking. A lot of companies will 'skirt' around the issue. Make sure you go with a company that offers ample travel time and a fast enough boat (has the appropriate equipment) to access the whales if they happen to be far away. The companies that go above and beyond, extending the tour time to make it happen are the ones you want, not the ones that have to be back on time every time.
Most companies will invite you back if you were not successful (early morning trips only), but there are a few that put a guarantee in matter what time you go out: morning, noon, or night.
Check out the following companies:
You will pay a little more with these companies, but you get more time on the water, they stay out longer if they have to, great boats with tremendous range, family businesses & ultimatley you do get what you pay for...if you try to save a few bucks you run the risk of not full filling a lifelong, humbling experience.
My two cents informed, also, check out for unbiased reviews on some of the local whale watching companies from Victoria.
Good luck!

almcd Dec 16th, 2008 10:14 AM

It would be remiss of me not to suggest the Rocky Mountaineer train trip through the Rockies. They do the Icefields and the gondola trip as part of their itineraries. Go to the web site and give it some consideration. It is not cheap but since this is to be a special occasion and since the C$ is down against the US$ (I am assuming you are American) the cost is reduced.

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