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Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper

Ok, so I think we will do the Canadian Rockies next summer for our anniversary. We are flexible with how many days. I was thinking maybe stay 3-4 nights in Banff then one night Lake Louise then 3-4 nights Jasper, then maybe 1 night in Calgary before our flight home. I'd like to keep it to 7-9 nights. I have no idea where the majority of our time should be spent. Any suggestions?

Posted by
6635 posts

S&M, I will be interested in what others have to say. We spent our whole 8 nights in Banff with day trips to LL and Jasper. Never ran out of things to do or see in or near Banff. We enjoyed the hot springs there in town. Not sure if any of the ski resorts run their lifts in summer for hiking above treelike, but that would be one thing to do

Posted by
1839 posts

What about staying in Canmore? Too far from sites?

I guess I'm thinking 3 nights Banff- 1 Lake Louise- 3 nights Jasper and 1 Calgary. But, maybe like Stan we could stay put and do all the areas nicely from one place?

Posted by
3663 posts

We did a camping trip here about 6 years ago. For me the highlights were the Icefields Parkway, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Takakkaw Falls (actually over the pass in Yoho NP). We hiked to the top of the Big Beehive above Lake Louise which was spectacular but very crowded.

Lake Louise was pretty but not a highlight (it's got a lot of competition). We did not care for the town of Banff. While a national park in the US is a sanctuary with very limited in-park concessions (a stray hotel or restaurant) the Canadian national park model is quite different and there are some very large towns inside the parks, for example the town of Banff is a couple dozen city blocks of tract housing, schools, churches, stores, bars-- not what we were expecting to find so far inside the park boundaries. There are also golf courses, ski areas, and a freeway inside the park boundaries. Nothing like this exists inside a US national park. The town of Jasper is smaller but also a real town right in the middle of the park. All these facilities bring in the tourist hordes but I suppose are perfect for an anniversary when roughing it is not on the agenda. I wonder if US national parks still ban TVs from the in-park hotel rooms? Not going to be a problem in Banff.

This far north the tourist season is compressed into about 8 weeks, and Banff is an international destination, so areas like Lake Louise on a July afternoon can be as crowded as a rock concert. So I would limit the time spend in Banff looking to the other 3 adjacent national parks. Daylight stretches toward 11 pm in July due to the fact that the parks are way on the western edge of Mtn time. So it's easy to do an after dinner hike with fewer crowds.

As an aside, also in Banff is the site of one of the relocation camps used to imprison Ukrainian immigrants during WW1, quite a startling discovery. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Mountain_Internment_Camp

Posted by
1839 posts

Wow! Thanks for the input Tom. It is hard to imagine what it is like when you haven't been somewhere. Crowds are not what we envision, yet I guess a beautiful area is bound to attract. I'd rather get off the beaten path, but not sure where that is exactly- we don't need fancy, but something decent and quiet for our anniversary trip. Sounds like quiet might not be possible!

Posted by
16793 posts

Only been there for skiing in Winter, but Banff is quite nice, think Whitefish, Montana (chime in anytime Bruce).
We stayed in the Ptarmigan Inn downtown, very nice. It has a restaurant, bar, and shuttle bus to the ski areas right at the front door. I believe staying there gives a bus pass if you don't want to drive. Chateau Lake Louise is spectacular, worth a night. Can't speak for Jasper.

Posted by
5785 posts

Recent discussions on alternatives to the Alps included the Canadian Rockies:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/beyond-europe/closest-thing-to-the-swiss-alps

Consider Canmore as a lodging alternative to Banff town. It's just outside the park with many lodging options.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canmore,_Alberta

Also consider Yolo NP, Emerald Lake Lodge:
https://www.crmr.com/emerald/

And back country lodges like Skoki and Shadoiw Lake if you want to get away from crowds:
http://www.skoki.com
http://www.shadowlakelodge.com

Posted by
14911 posts

I've only been in early June and late September. I imagine the crowds in summer (if that's the only time you can go) will be similar to the crowds in the U.S. parks in summer. The Banff golf course is one of the most beautiful and the elk come at sunset to graze (maybe sunrise too - I'm hardly an early riser). The museum in Banff is also worth a visit.

Banff to Jasper is nearly 200 miles. Driving times per Google, which seem reasonable to me:
Calgary - Canmore 1.25 hours
Canmore - Banff .50 hour
Banff - Lake Louise 2 hours
Lake Louise - Columbia Icefields (Athabasca Glacier) .75 hour
Athabasca - Jasper 1.5 hours

These times are based on using the main road, a 4-lane divided highway. Take into account that the drives are very scenic and there are lots of pull-outs along the way, so you are going to be tempted to drive below the speed limit and to stop several times. So, unless you want to concentrate on only one part of the area, you should split your time as you originally suggested. Of course, you could stay in one part - there is enough to enjoy for a week in Banff or Jasper if you plan to do a lot of hiking. Jasper is probably less crowded because it's more remote and not as "touristy." I didn't eat in restaurants so I don't remember what's available there. There are plenty of choices in Banff. Staying in Canmore means adding an hour of driving time each day.

Posted by
314 posts

Thought I'd put in my two cents as this is "my backyard". I think your basic idea of 3-4 nights in Banff and Jasper is a good guideline.

Lake Louise itself is definitely full of tourists ( my kids have actually never seen the lake, just skied the resort) but it is a good site to start the Icefield Parkway from.
Banff is definitely more touristy than Jasper. I would book early for Jasper, as the weekends and summer fill up early. Canmore is not a bad option instead of Banff, and is right on the edge of the Banff National park. Yes it is 20-30 minutes to get into the Banff townsite, but you can access the rest of the park pretty quickly. I'd say I prefer the restaurants in Canmore, but actually prefer to stay in Banff.

The Icefield Parkway is a beautiful drive, with a lot of nice spots to stop. My favourites are Peyto Lake, Athabasca and Sunwapta falls.

The Banff townsite is busy on weekends. If you can, I'd try to be there midweek, then its not that busy. There are plenty of spots to get away from the crowds. The Spray Lakes area behind Canmore is full of great hiking areas, and there are mountain lodges that are picturesque and more what you might be thinking of.

Posted by
1839 posts

Thank you all so much for the feedback!

I'm thinking of staying in residential part of Banff so hopefully it will be quieter. Then maybe one night at Emerald Lake or we may have enough credit card points to stay at the Fairmont at Lake Louise. Then, rustic cabins at Alpine Village in Jasper. Any thoughts on that? Ideally, we want quiet and beautiful. I know we won't get quiet at the Fairmont. Any other suggestions for lodging in a quiet area, but decent - it is our anniversary. We are not picky, but clean and private is what we are looking for. Due to health issues we don't want to hike into a place (as great as that would be) and would like decent food, again no need for fancy.

It is sure looking expensive!!

Posted by
272 posts

Instead of staying at the chateau lake Louise you could go for brunch. We did that and got a great table overlooking the lake. Can't remember where I stayed. I loved Lake Louise was so much more peaceful than Banff

Posted by
1839 posts

Would it be better to forget Banff and just stay nearer to Lake Louise area? Then from there access areas around Banff too? Or, stick to the plan and try to sleep away from crowds in Banff for 3 nights and Lake Louise area 1 night?

Unfortunately, we will have to leave on Friday or Saturday, so that will put us in Banff on the weekend.

Cost and quietness are concerns for us. BUT....I'm ALWAYS over-thinking everything!!

Posted by
5785 posts

Cost and quietness are concerns for us.

Canmore has been the cheaper less crowded option in my experience. Much of the Canmore lodging is on Highway 1A with easy access to Highway 1 and a short distance into Canmore's town center.

Re Spray Lakes. Check out Kananaskis Country. A number of the scenic shots shown in the Brokeback Mountain cowboy movie featured the Spray Lakes area. Drive up the Smith Dorrien highway 742 to get to Spray Lakes and Kananaskis.
http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/Brokeback-Mountain.html#.VirVImjn9J9

The spectacular ‘Brokeback’ country seen in the film is the Kananaskis
Range around Canmore, on the Trans-Canada Highway southeast of Banff,
about 60 miles west of Calgary.

...Ennis meets up with Jack in the wilds away from friends and family,
with a striking shot of Mount Smuts and The Fist (which is exactly it
looks like) in the Spray Range, Spray Valley Provincial Park, south of
Spray Lakes Reservoir near Canmore.

Posted by
115 posts

Susan and Monte.. We did this trip for our anniversary 2 years ago. Stayed in a B&B in the residential section of Banff. We did lots of hiking all over the park. The visitors center in Banff was very helpful in planning hikes.
On our drive down the Bow Valley Parkway to the Ice Fields, we passed Baker Creek Mountain Resort and FELL IN LOVE. They have cabins or lodge rooms & we have stayed in both. We went back last October AND last New Years Eve. Please take a look at www.bakercreek.com It was a great location for exploring the Lake Louise Area and really the whole park. We are already planning another trip back.
Banff is fine if all you want is shopping and night life. Baker Creek is all about being in the middle of the serene, quiet and utterly gorgeous Canadian Rockies.

Posted by
1839 posts

We are not the night life or shopper type of people! Sounds like nature and quiet are calling us....

Posted by
14911 posts

I'm assuming that the prices you're seeing are Canadian dollars. Any chance you can prepay - right now the C$ is worth about US$0.75.

Posted by
1839 posts

Yes, I am doing the calculations with the exchange rate and most places want to be paid or at least a deposit, so I image we will pay now with the current exchange. We don't really do fancy, but on the other hand want something nice. I think I have found accommodations I like and with the exchange, it is coming in at just under $300 a night. Seems like the prices are all about the same. We could go cheaper, or more expensive. That is shocking to me. We've never paid that anywhere in the world we have stayed. But, I understand they can get those prices, so they do.

Now have to decide if we are willing to pay that, or go elsewhere? France is still calling out my name...... but I'm afraid that's out!

Posted by
2526 posts

Hey, you're taking a holiday in my area! So, if it were me, I'd catch an early morning flight into Glacier Park International Airport (code FCA), rent a car and check out Whitefish and Big Mountain. Spend the night in town. The next day, about the time the chickens are active, head to nearby Glacier National Park and the Going to the Sun Road. Stopping as you will for incredible pictures. Various hikes/animals await if so inclined for such. Proceed to Many Glacier Hotel. A nice hike, canoe paddle or just soak in the views in the following morning and then off to Waterton Lakes National Park (it's part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park ) and consider staying at the Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking the lake or camp in the lovely campground in the townsite. Take a boat ride and/or hike about. Then drive to Banff and stay in town. We typically camp at the large good campground on the edge of town (easy walk), but have also booked hotels and a lovely B&B a couple of blocks from the action. Banff is gorgeous and PACKED to the gills with tourists from everywhere. In addition to the sights in/around Banff, I'd just "do" day trips such as Lake Louise and skip Jasper as significantly adding travel time/distance and you're already amongst fantastic scenery. Two to three days in/around Banff more than fills my need to be around humanity. On your penultimate day, return to Whitefish and enjoy again. Fly home your last day. Advance apologies to my dear friends in Calgary (we were there last fall for a couple of days), but I'd skip the city as it's very large and has much auto traffic...and the reason you're in the region is primarily to see natural beauty, eh?

More?

Posted by
1839 posts

Ok, so we finally made a decision and booked at Bakers Creek. We have a cabin for 4 nights. It is located nearer to Lake Louise than Banff. It is located more out of the way, in the woods on Bow Valley parkway. More our style!

Question: Is the area so full of great sites we should just stay put for our full week? Or, should we go to Jasper for 3 nights too?

Posted by
14911 posts

Maligne Lake is accessible from Jasper, the boat ride there was one of my most memorable times in the Rockies. I saw more wildlife around Jasper than anywhere else, especially when you get a few miles from the town. The Athabasca Falls are up that way too. Stop at the Icefields on the way, either there or back. You've got lots of time to plan. Stop in at AAA (you're a member?) and get the tour book and some maps. Around Jasper there won't be nearly as many tourists as around the Banff-to-Lake Louise area.

The Bow Valley Pkwy (Rt 1A) is 2-lane and can be slow if you end up behind gawking tourists or other slow vehicle. Hwy 1 is much faster and more scenic so you may not want to use 1A all the way from Banff but get on it at Castle Mountain (at least that's what my maps show).

Posted by
115 posts

Hi Susan and Monte - We did the very same trip last July except we started our journey in Glacier National Park then headed north to Banff and Jasper. Honestly, I have to agree with Bruce from Whitefish. The jaw-dropping beauty of Glacier surpassed anything we saw farther north. I'm not saying Banff and Jasper aren't amazing--they are! We just liked Glacier better. We stayed in Canmore instead of the Banff/Lake Louise area. Banff was very crowded, more expensive and Canmore had better food options. We were most disappointed with the crowds at Lake Louise. Worse than Disneyland and Yellowstone combined! We are avid hikers and it didn't take long to get away from most of the crowds by heading out on the many beautiful trails in the area. You won't find a lot of solitude on the trails either, but it's better than the mobs around the lake and hotel. The town of Jasper isn't much, but the surrounding area is great. We stayed at Patricia Lake Lodge and would highly recommend it. Saw a Grizzly bear coming out of a pond on our way back to the lodge after dinner. Lots of wildlife in the area. We also enjoyed an afternoon at Miette Hot Springs, surrounded by a herd of big horned sheep. We stayed 3 nights each in Glacier, Canmore and Jasper and another 2 in Vancouver on our way home. We're already planning another week in Glacier. Enjoy your trip--you'll love the Rockies! Jenny

Posted by
2526 posts

And if you have a bit of time for Whitefish, there's much to see and do: http://www.explorewhitefish.com/, hiking/biking/gondola rides on Big Mountain (officially Whitefish Mountain Resort and to non-locals), two breweries, two distilleries (opening in coming weeks), two theater companies, Festival Amadeus sponsored by the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, and tons of fun bars and great restaurants.

Posted by
1839 posts

Thanks so much for all the feedback. I'm still working on figuring it out. I appreciate you all taking the time to help me!

Posted by
3663 posts

I'm thinking the northern edge of Banff is prettier than the US Glacier Park but maybe that's me. I'm not sure where your resort is, but the Icefields parkway all the way to Jasper I remember being a couple hours one way, so I think it's best to spend some time in Jasper or it gets rushed. Tak Falls is also indeed amazing and the pass is a breeze to drive over so see that for sure.

Canadian National parks have amazing campgrounds if you are interested, HOT WATER in sinks and in the free showers, unlimited firewood, bathrooms are even heated! Note that while US national parks are a bargain at $20/week, Canadian parks charge that much PER DAY. So you need to know how long you are staying when you enter the park and buy the proper pass.

Posted by
430 posts

Hi there - also go to Jasper! This is our backyard and we love to visit here both summer/fall and winter. There are many 1/2 day hikes, beautiful vistas and lots to see and do in the area. We actually like the town of Jasper much better than Banff. More of a small town atmosphere then the "big" resort feel. Our opinion and style.

Drive to Mt Edith Cavell (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Edith_Cavell), It's also very close to Mt Robson Park, a BC Provincial Park - about an hour from Jasper. The drive to Mt Robson visitor's center is also spectacular. On a beautiful day you may be lucky enough to see the top of the mountain. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Robson_Provincial_Park)

Enjoy your holiday!!