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May 22 - June 2 Trip to Banff/Jasper and Seattle

So here is what we are beating around as a proposed vacation this year.

We are thinking to fly into Banff from Detroit on the 22nd, renting a car and visiting Banff and Jasper areas for 4-5 days.

Either driving or flying into either Vancouver or Seattle and spending the remainder of our time exploring this area.

Question are:

  1. the drive seems long...what would we be missing as far as things to see/do if we fly instead of drive from Banff to Seattle/Vancouver (price dependent we will fly into one or the other)? Pros and cons of both.

  2. is the first part of June going to be good to try to do a whale watch in the Vancouver/Seattle area? We've done a whale watch in Nova Scotia (Brier Island) that was EXCEPTIONAL in a zodiak boat and would prefer to do that type again as opposed to a big party boat.

  3. Must see's for a couple late 50, early 60 types in Jasper and Banff. Seattle and Vancouver.

I'm getting ready to go read up on some of this...hoping for some guidance and a nice gentle shove in the right direction of which would be the best route for us on some of these things.

THANK YOU

Posted by
6258 posts

Although I am not an expert on either area, I do have experience traveling the US National Parks in the upper west this time of year. May can still be wintry in the Northern US Rockies so, same for Banff area. Even in N. Idaho there is usually too much snow to do any hiking in the mountains in May. I'd flip your trip so you are doing the mountain area the latest you can and do the city areas first.

Posted by
3931 posts

You mean flying out from Banff, or Calgary which is a couple hours away?

Chateau Lake Louise is worth the stop, for at least lunch or dinner.

Posted by
1769 posts

Banff Airport is operated by the park and is not an international one. Closest is Calgary.
Early May may have some snow clear paths for park hiking or may not.
The drive to Vancouver is considered one of the great drives of the country. The Canadian Rockies are younger and bigger than the American sections. If you don't want to drive it, take the train.
I am sure there are several posts here about Banff travels. See what a search brings up.
Not sure I would call west coast whale whatchjng as exceptional as east coast, however, starting in May Victoria whale watching improves a lot. I expect similar for Vancouver or Seattle (if it offers it). Geography plays a bigger role in this area of the country.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all for your thoughts. I believe we will take the advice about flipping the trip to heart. I appreciate that thought.

The train is too rich for our blood. When we looked it is like 1200 a person. Looks great but I don't want to spend that much money on a train ride for two days...is that the only train available and I just missed the others in my quick google search?

Posted by
2572 posts

We did a wonderful trip to Vancouver and prior to our cruise to Alaska a bus tour to the Canadian Rockies, included Banff/Jasper and Lake Louise.

If interested check out Key West Tours.

Posted by
382 posts

Considering the drive between Banff and Seattle is 600 miles of mountain road you need to be good with that, and hope the weather is too. So, basically you're going to spend 4-5 days in Banff, 2 days on the road, and 4-5 days in Vancouver or Seattle. Add to that the problem of getting a rental vehicle in Banff that you can drop in either of those cities, and I'll suggest flying will be a better idea.

Both Seattle and Vancouver are destination cities for travelers, there's more to do and see than can fill a book. Figure out what you'd be interested in and then ask for suggestions.

Posted by
432 posts

Living in the NW now since 1982 - seems to me May-June is too early weather-wise. The drive from Banff to Seattle is quite beautiful. Could you fly into Edmonton and out of Seattle or Vancouver

Posted by
213 posts

I may be biased living here, but I think the roads will be fine at the end of May. You may get snow. But you might get that in August too. If you are from Detroit you have driven in snow.

Personally I love the drive from Calgary to Vancouver. There is something nice about leaving the prairies, driving through mountains and hitting the ocean. I would do 2 nights in Banff, then take the Parkway up to Jasper, taking the time to stop along it ( Athabasca falls, Sunwapta falls, maybe Peyto lake) and have a couple of nights in Jasper too. You can then drive direct to Vancouver about 9 hours I think. I've not actually driven the section from Jasper to Kamloops, so don't know if it is as scenic as going through Golden and Revelstoke. But I really don't think it is worth driving back to Calgary or Edmonton to fly there.

Posted by
6 posts

Lisa

> Lisa - I may be biased living here, but I think the roads will be fine at the end of May. You may get snow. But you might get that in August too. If you are from Detroit you have driven in snow.
Personally I love the drive from Calgary to Vancouver. There is something nice about leaving the prairies, driving through mountains and hitting the ocean. I would do 2 nights in Banff, then take the Parkway up to Jasper, taking the time to stop along it ( Athabasca falls, Sunwapta falls, maybe Peyto lake) and have a couple of nights in Jasper too. You can then drive direct to Vancouver about 9 hours I think. I've not actually driven the section from Jasper to Kamloops, so don't know if it is as scenic as going through Golden and Revelstoke. But I really don't think it is worth driving back to Calgary or Edmonton to fly there.
<

We are very used to snow, we don't actually live in Detroit, but more toward the middle of MI which gets socked with lake effect snow often. That bit made me smile.

So what do you make of the suggestion that we swap our trip, meaning we hit Seattle our first week, and Banff/Jasper/Calgary the second week? The thought was that it would perhaps give us one more week of warming up/better weather.

We only have two weeks for both so kind of worry about 2 days on the road, but several people keep telling us it is worth the drive...the only concern about driving is the time. We can fly in and out of wherever we need to to make the trip the best we can while there.

We are in our late 50's/early 60's with a few health issues that will keep us from making big hikes, but we'd like to perhaps do some of the shorter/easier trails, other than that, this trip is to see a part of the world we've never seen, enjoy nature and mountains (something only the UP has in MI) and enjoy each other away from every day stressors.

I appreciate you taking the time to add your input!

Posted by
1769 posts

I have visited Calgary in April for Easter and driven into Banff with enough thaw on lower trails to walk (albeit with some snow cover in shade). For 'townie' activities, you will be fine. Sure, there can be snow squalls into June, but they are short lasting.
I see there is the Rocky Mountaineer, train that is put on just for scenic viewing. I guess that is the 2 day train. There is a train from Edmonton to Vancouver. That would be the normal ViaRail train. It goes via Jasper and Kamloops, but in May leaves at Midnight and arrives in Vancouver at 8a.m the next day - so still 36 hours. You could try to figure out the Kamloops pick up, or from Jasper. Base price is under $200 Cdn each, but with an overnight or 2, a sleeper car or couchette is going to increase costs.

Posted by
6 posts

Donna,

Donna -

Living in the NW now since 1982 - seems to me May-June is too early weather-wise. The drive from Banff to Seattle is quite beautiful. Could you fly into Edmonton and out of Seattle or Vancouver
<

May-June is the only time we have available to go, so that is the time we will go. I work for a university and must take my off time on off time for work.

Yes, we could fly out of anywhere suggested that may be better for the trip.

As I told Lisa, we just look forward to seeing everything we can in the short time allotted for this trip (2 weeks).

Question, what is the benefit of flying into Edmonton over Calgary? I really have no idea on which is better or why, but your reply makes me want to know :)

We can, however, fly in and out of whatever works best.

Thank you for your kind reply! I appreciate all and any help I get, especially from those living near!

Posted by
6 posts

KGC -
Seattle, WA
01/09/19 12:26 PM
219 posts

Considering the drive between Banff and Seattle is 600 miles of mountain road you need to be good with that, and hope the weather is too. So, basically you're going to spend 4-5 days in Banff, 2 days on the road, and 4-5 days in Vancouver or Seattle. Add to that the problem of getting a rental vehicle in Banff that you can drop in either of those cities, and I'll suggest flying will be a better idea.
Both Seattle and Vancouver are destination cities for travelers, there's more to do and see than can fill a book. Figure out what you'd be interested in and then ask for suggestions
.<

KGC,
We've driven through the White Mountains and all through the Appalachians, granted not when they had snow, but living in the snow belt for 50+ years has us as pretty good snow drivers if that does become a concern.

I'd like to know more about car rental troubles if you can help. The thought is to spend 2 days in the Banff area, and a couple days spent in the Jasper area prior to heading home if we put this at the back end of the trip as suggested. We will have a couple floater days to do other things or lollygag should that be what happens if we fly into the area...should we drive that will be those two lollygag days.

Any thoughts you have on that section of our trip....

Fly into Calgary/Edmonton from Seattle/Vancouver

Drive from Seattle or Vancouver to the Banff area.

Posted by
6 posts

I have visited Calgary in April for Easter and driven into Banff with enough thaw on lower trails to walk (albeit with some snow cover in shade). For 'townie' activities, you will be fine. Sure, there can be snow squalls into June, but they are short lasting.
I see there is the Rocky Mountaineer, train that is put on just for scenic viewing. I guess that is the 2 day train. There is a train from Edmonton to Vancouver. That would be the normal ViaRail train. It goes via Jasper and Kamloops, but in May leaves at Midnight and arrives in Vancouver at 8a.m the next day - so still 36 hours. You could try to figure out the Kamloops pick up, or from Jasper. Base price is under $200 Cdn each, but with an overnight or 2, a sleeper car or couchette is going to increase costs.

I think before we'd do the normal rail, we'd end up driving it to see more of it. The Rocky Mountaineer costs more than we are willing to pay at this time for this trip. It looks lovely though.

Has anyone posting on this thread traveled on the Rocky Mountaineer...is it worth the price?

Posted by
10575 posts

You cannot drive a rental car from Seattle to Banff and drop it in Calgary (at least Hertz will not let you, and I do not know of any company that will allow it). You "might" be able to rent a car in Seattle and drop it in Vancouver, but the train is best for that route.

You can rent a car in Vancouver and drop it in Calgary. Hertz says this will cost about $1000 CDN for a one -week rental. It is a nice drive, although I have only done the route starting in Seattle, and driving round-trip. The trip was in late July. We did not drive the whole way in one day; we spent the night in Lac La Jeune on the way east, and Revelstoke on the way back.

Depending on your cost to get to Banff, renting there may be your best option. Hertz price for a one-week rental at Banff Springs Hotel and returned there is $265 CDN. It would be more to return it to Calgary, like $775 CDN. But you could get different prices with a shorter rental and a different rental company. Roundtrip rental at Calgary is $415 CDN with Hertz.

Posted by
213 posts

Hi Kende
To answer your question regarding which whether to start or end with the Rockies. The weather is just too unpredictable to say. The few extra days make no difference. We have had blossoms blooming on mothers day, or not until June. In fact June is our rainiest month, so it could theoretically be worse. I would plan your trip on what you would enjoy more. Vancouver is a beautiful city and would be nice to end with. Also Banff is busy on weekends so trying to plan for weekdays is better.
I would personally pick Vancouver over Seattle, partly because it will decrease your driving time.
So in terms of driving distances:
Calgary to the Banff townsite is about 90 minutes. Edmonton to Jasper is nearly 4 hours, maybe more because the airport is south of the city quite a ways.

There are plenty of small walks, fairly flat hikes etc that I'm sure you would find easy. Banff townsite has a tourist booth where they could tell you which are open etc. Johnson's canyon comes to mind or even just a stroll at Lake Minnewanka. There is an interesting walk near there of the abandoned town of Bankhead, which was a coal mining town that was closed early in the 20th century. Also if you end up driving the transcanada through Revelstoke there is a nice spot to stretch your legs at a boardwalk called Giant Cedars that is old growth forest.

Posted by
382 posts

As Lola has detailed out the issues with rental cars I'll move on. First, let me be the first to say that the Rockies you are planning to drive thru are twice the height of the Appalachians. The passes you have to go thru are higher than the tallest peak back east.

Here's a good like that discusses the routes in depth. http://banffandbeyond.com/driving-routes-between-vancouver-and-banff-and-jasper/

I seriously think you should consider a trip to Vancouver/Victoria & the island/ Seattle and do Banff on another trip. I would. Or vice versa...

Posted by
5 posts

As for whale watching, you should check on the Seattle area before making plans.

The Orcas are so endangered now - WA is finally considering taking action - that the legislature may be banning whale tours in Puget Sound, as recommended by a panel convened by the governor. I don't know about the Vancouver tours.

Posted by
3588 posts

If this May-June timeframe is what you have to work with, I suggest flying from Detroit to Vancouver, doing your whale-watch and other sightseeing there (enough for several days), then renting a car and driving to either Banff or Jasper. That would be a long drive but you could do in a long day. It's about 500 miles to Jasper, a little farther to Banff (while Jasper is farther north, it's also farther west). I've driven between Jasper and Bellingham, just south of the border, in a day. It's great scenery and should be OK for snow unless there's a storm at the time. You'll have a dropoff charge for the car, of course.

Not to be unpatriotic, but I would try the mountains + Vancouver + Seattle in the time you have. Too much to see in both cities and too much moving around. With a rental car I wouldn't try crossing the border, you'd undoubtedly pay much more to drop it in another country.

You could very well run into a whole lot of snow up in the Canadian Rockies that early in the year. You might consider a northwest coastal trip instead, places like Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and the beautiful state of Washington. The previous poster is right about possible restrictions on whale watching here because we're down to 73 local orcas (one just born but survival uncertain). The whale watches go from multiple ports and can include other species like humpbacks and minkes.

Posted by
12268 posts

I also think you're biting off too much to try Banff/Jasper and the Pacific Northwest in a week and a half.

How about a round-trip Seattle? There are beautiful mountain vistas in Olympic National Park, then ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, then ferry to Vancouver and drive back to Seattle.

Posted by
4150 posts

Weather in/around Seattle at that time of year is difficult to predict. Historically, that's part of the rainy season (the rains typically have ended on July 5th, like clockwork) but with climate change, in recent years things have been drying out earlier - it's a roll of the dice.

As a Seattle resident, I'd caution you to calibrate your expectations for whale watching around here, especially at that time of the year. There are generally 2 kinds of whales one can see here: California Grays (which are predictable, reliable and plentiful, but inconveniently located out off the coast, hours of driving from Seattle; they're also not here in large numbers when you will be - they drive by in the fall and spring, so you would be a couple months late for optimal viewing).

As noted above, the orca population is dwindling and everyone is freaking out and floating proposals for stern measures to save them, including banning all whale watch boats for years - my reading of the local tea leaves suggests this will happen but will probably take a couple years as everyone goes through the motions and the political theater known as "the Seattle Process".

So I would caution against high expectations for whale watching around here, especially on a trip where you have limited time. If you've previously had an awesome close encounter from a Zodiac then I think what you'll find here may disappoint.

About those mountains....the Canadian Rockies (even just the Washington Cascades) are serious mountains, not at all like the hills you've seen back east. Yes, you get real winter there in the upper midwest, but when you spread that ice across all those very, very steep mountains, it's a very different experience from driving I-75 through Saginaw, even when it's iced over. Be careful if you tackle the passes through the Canadian Rockies, even in late spring.

Honestly, I think you are trying to bite off too much for this trip. It's big out here. Need to pick and choose. You've got no more than 12 days, including travel - so after subtracting the flight days you've got 10 days - not enough for all the things on your list.

Pick either the coastal stuff (Seattle, Vancouver plus nearby places), or the Canadian Rockies including the long (but very pretty) drive to/from Vancouver.

Posted by
149 posts

Another Seattle local here. I've traveled a couple of routes from SEA/Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies national parks. The drive is long and scenic through inland BC, but it's not the same type of scenic like you get once you're in the Rockies proper. From Vancouver to Kamloops, there are deep canyons and gorges and in some places, it's dry, almost desert-like (no cactus, but lots of brown and rocks). The farther east you go, the more it starts looking like the iconic Canadian Rockies.

If you're dead-set on seeing BOTH the Rockies and getting to the west coast, then I'd suggest flying into Vancouver, seeing/doing the coastal city/maritime stuff you want to see/do there, then renting a car and driving to Jasper, spending at least two days there (more if you can), then take your time driving down the glacier parkway (which will be the highlight of your trip), go to Banff if you must (nice, but can be crowded and touristy, making it a bit over-rated if you ask me), and then return car and fly home from Calgary.

With all that driving, I'd suggest saving Seattle for another trip. Or, just combine Seattle and Vancouver (with some combo of the San Juans/Victoria, and/or the Olympics) for a proper two-week Cascadia vacation, saving inland BC/Rockies for another trip. Either way, lots to see and do!

Posted by
86 posts

As an Orcas Island local, I would definitely discourage you from taking a whale watching tour here in the islands or from Victoria. There may or may not be a moratorium by then, but it's the least we can do to protect the local Southern Residents by watching from shore only. Late May-early June is a great time to visit the San Juans and do some hiking, paddling and relaxing. We drove from Jasper to Vancouver a few years ago and while it's a pretty drive it is very long and sometimes boring in places. With your limited time I'd recommend flying into Seattle or even Everett or Bellingham and spending the rest of your time in and around Seattle.

Hi : )
I would strongly recommend coming over to Victoria ( Vancouver Island). It is a beautiful city. You can get on a Whale watching tour from the inner harbour. There are a few companies to choose from and usually have a discount coupon up on Groupon. Or you can go out to Sooke ( just outside of the city) and do a hike and sometimes see the whales from the trail or on the shore. Not gauranteed to see some whales but is worth doing.
Butchart Gardens is a beautiful world famous tourist attraction.
You can take the Clipper Ferry right from Victoria's Inner Harbour straight to downtown Seattle. It is an amazing ferry ride. Almost like being on a mini cruise with stunning views.

Posted by
9577 posts

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