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Help plan my vacation- Banff to Jasper from an outsider's viewpoint.

My wife and I are resigned to the fact that our vacations this year will be local and so we've booked a week to go to Banff and Jasper, Alberta. Banff is a 75 minute drive from my house and we usually make the trip twice a year. We visit Jasper much less often but love the drive between Lake Louise and Jasper which in my opinion, is one of the 3 most spectacular drives in the world.

Honestly, I 'm pretty familiar with my home province and the things to see, but I thought it might be fun to get an outsider's opinion on the must-see sites, places to stay, eat, etc. that I take for granted.

  • We'll be driving to Banff on Monday June 14th and driving home from Jasper on June 20th.
  • Budget for hotel is up to $350/night (sadly in the summer around here that's only slightly above average). And we're not campers, so it will be hotels.
  • Food is an open budget. I'm perfectly happy with a pub and my wife is perfectly happy spending $100 per person at a fancy place.
  • We're not into all-day hikes but have no problem hitting the trails for a 2-3 hour walk.
  • Love history-one result of my European travels is that its gotten me more interested in local history; something else that I've always taken for granted.

Pretend that I'm not a local. I'd love to hear your suggestions based on your experiences in the region and what you loved?

Posted by
4459 posts

Years ago we stayed a few nights at Patricia Lake Bungalows near Jasper, very nice and I think in your price range. We took a tram, I believe, at Marmot Basin ski area for great views over the valley. I try never to miss a boat ride and there was a good one on Maligne Lake. On an earlier trip I hiked up a trail off Highway 16 toward Mt. Robson, I don't think it took long to reach some good views of the mountain and lake.

Farther south, I love the Columbia Icefield and Lake Louise. Have been in that area four times, I think, always enjoyed it. The first time was a horse trip out of Banff to Assiniboine National Park, way back in the 1970s. No longer a preferred means of travel for me but I'm glad I got to do it.

Posted by
173 posts

If you can adjust your dates the Ponoka Stampede is June 28-July 4, 2021. It is a small town rodeo and stampede. We stumbled upon it 15 years ago. The last stampede before Calgary. If you are golfers all the little Alberta towns have great little courses. Drive up to the beautiful tourquoise lakes and hike short trails. I would spend as little time as possible in Banff. It is Super touristy. Definitely tour the ice field. It is a beautiful part of North America.

Posted by
4615 posts

We did a four day bus tour of the Canadian Rockies from Vancouver a few years ago. It was fantastic. The tour company was Key West Tours. We visited so many scenic places and loved every minute of it.

Posted by
456 posts

We really like the Tekarra Lodge, https://tekarralodge.com in Jasper. The Athabasca cabins overlook the Athabasca River and it's lovely to sip your morning coffee or evening cocktail and watch the river rush by. The cabins have been refurbished recently. The associated restaurant is excellent. You can also order a prepared but uncooked meal which you can then grill. The grill is also provided and prepared for you - no dirty hands from the charcoal. One of my favorite hotels in the world is the Post Hotel at Lake Louise. Very luxurious in an understated fashion. We couldn't get reservations at the restaurant but we did eat at the pub which was enjoyable. Despite Lake Louise getting all the attention I think Peyto Lake is more beautiful. It's certainly less crowded.

Posted by
5609 posts

The Banff-Jasper Icefields Parkway is a spectacular route.

Banff is a bit too touristy for me but the Fairmont Banff Springs a glamorous place for a drink and snack after a soak in the Banff Hot Springs. (COVID closure?) Canmore is more down to earth.

Lake Louise Visitors Center is a nice educational stop and we've enjoyed coffee and cake at Chateau Lake Louise after a winter ski/summer hike. (We enjoyed a "fine dining" experience at the Lake Louse Post Hotel restaurant but it looks like the restaurant is being limited to overnight guest during the COVID situational.)

A good overnight detour off the Icefields at the Lake Louise junction would be a side trip to Yoho NP with an overnight stop at Emerald Lake Lodge.

The Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at Bow Lake is an interesting place to overnight and is reported to be reopening May 21st.

Columbia Ice fields triple divide walk on a glacier.

Posted by
149 posts

Definitely something involving Columbia Icefields to see how quickly the glaciers are melting. As you are interested in history the Lurton Museum in Banff would be a good stop for local history, closed at present. Drink on the terrace of the Banff Springs Hotel for the stunning view of the Bow River Valley and Cascade Mtn. Banff gondola ride if you have not done that before. Peyto Lake and the Columbia Icefields for the views and to see the rapidly vanishing glaciers. Been 15 years since I lived in Calgary but used to enjoy a Mexican/Southwest place just off the Main Street, probably long gone!

Quite a pleasant hike is to Grotto Canyon, off the highway between Banff and Lake Louise. I remember some faded Rick art on the walls there.

Stop along the highway for one of my favourite views of Mt Rundle and the lake in front of it. Often Mountain Sheep there licking salt off the road.

Maybe time to take a visit back to Alberta.......

Posted by
867 posts

I pulled off the Icefields Parkway at Buck Lake because the Gypsy app told me it was a place to stop on the way back to Jasper. I walked 5 minutes or so down to the lake through the trees. I was the only one around, secluded from the highway, and it was absolutely quiet and refreshing to stand amid the beauty and serenity. There were lots of highlight moments but that was an unexpected one.

I am very drawn to old historic places and have a one night reservation in June for the Prince of Wales hotel, which isn’t terribly far. I sadly know I am going to have to cancel. In a perfect world, I would be driving there from Glacier National Park.

Posted by
1837 posts

If you take Rte 1A, which meanders parallel to the Trans Canada Highway north out of Banff, you'll see lots of critters foraging near the road, especially if you start early in the AM.
Behind the Fairmont Chateau in Lake Louise is a very pretty (and relatively easy) hike along the lake that intersects with another one that goes steadily uphill to the 6 Glaciers Tea House - a great place for lunch and which, as the name suggests, features spectacular views of 6 glaciers in the mountains above. It's worth the moderate amount of effort to get there - the food is surprisingly good, the tea is hot, and the location can't be beat.
Further north is the trailhead for the Wilcox Pass hike. After about 30 minutes uphill it emerges onto an elevated tableland with spectacular views across to the Columbia Icefield. There's a resident herd of bighorn sheep that seems to be nearly tame - they walked by within 10 feet of us as we were having lunch one day. You'll occasionally see caribou up there too.
And I couldn't agree more - the Icefields Parkway truly is one of the world's great scenic drives.

Posted by
547 posts

I used to live in BC and went to Banff/Jasper often.

First recommendation is well-known, the Columbia Icefields (https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/columbia-icefield/). Interesting to learn about the hydrological tri-point where a cup of water dropped in a certain spot can end up 1/3 in the Pacific, 1/3 in the Atlantic and 1/3 in the Arctic. Also enjoy the big-wheeled ice Explorers (although I understand there was a fatal rollover of one of the vehicles last year, I judge that to be a pretty minor risk).

Second, less well-known is Maligne Canyon (https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/maligne-canyon/). Hike along the side of the Maligne River as it plunges through a deep canyon.

Third, everyone goes to Lake Louise, and its certainly worth a look. But nearby Moraine Lake (https://www.banfflakelouise.com/moraine-lake) is even prettier and much less crowded. Rent a canoe and paddle on the aquamarine blue water.

Enjoy!

Posted by
176 posts

Lucky you, living 75 minutes from Banff. I love the Canadian Rockies and the drive from Banff/Lake Louise to Jasper is so awe-inspiring, with a new view around every bend. Our first trip to the area was 40+ years ago, when Jasper was a sleepy little town with animals roaming the streets and hardly any shops.. Our last trip was in 2014 as campers, and the Jasper I remembered was now overtaken with tourists, cheap souvenir shops, and traffic. I was so disappointed.
So....I felt the need to get away from the populated areas. You mentioned 2-3 hour walks/hikes. In the Jasper area, a hike to Old Fort Point will reward you with a sweeping view of the town and the mountains beyond.
If you take the Maligne boat tour with the Spirit Island view at the end, you can reward yourselves later with High tea at the Maligne Tea House....and pretend you are somewhere in Europe.
Of course, I/we love the Lake Louise area. We took the Historical Tour of Lake Louise, learning the history of the area and the hotel.
And we love the hike to the Plain of 6 glaciers, but that might be longer than 2-3 hours. On our last trip we discovered the hike to Little Beehive, where you are rewarded with a view of three lakes: Louise, Agnes, and Mirror (My favorite hikes are ones which end with a rewarding view). You could reward yourselves with a snack at the Agnes Tea House on your way back down.
And lastly, in Banff we also took a guided tour to the Cave and Basin National Park Site. In Banff we enjoyed eating at the Wild Flour for breakfast and lunch.
And...close to your home is "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump." Wearing a t-shirt from that site is always a conversation starter.

Posted by
1616 posts

used to enjoy a Mexican/Southwest place just off the Main Street,
probably long gone!

lanlubber, was it The Magpie and Stump? Still there. I remember about 15 years ago taking my kids there when they were around 7-10 years old. While waiting for food the waiter would bring a bowl of peanuts still in the shell. You were allowed to throw the emptied shells onto the floor. My kids were shocked that they'd be allowed to throw something on the floor and were nervous about doing it until they realized it wasn't a trick and they wouldn't get into trouble.

Posted by
115 posts

We discovered Baker Creek Mountain Resort on the Bow Valley Parkway 10 years ago and won’t stay anywhere else now. We have stayed in both the lodge and the cabins, and were thrilled with both. The lodge was full, but we never heard a neighbor during our 4 night stay.
Our favorite rooms are in the lodge close to Baker Creek.
They have an excellent Bistro, also.
Here is the link.
bakercreekmointainresort,com

Posted by
1616 posts

And...close to your home is "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump." Wearing a
t-shirt from that site is always a conversation starter.

Carol, my Mom grew up on a farm near there. There were plenty of buffalo jumps in the area and I have memories growing up in the early 70's of playing with my cousins in the area during visits with my Grandparents. We go to the jumps and wouldn't have to look too hard to find bones and arrowheads.

Posted by
148 posts

Have you been to Rocky Mountain House National Historic site? Instead of your oft-travelled route directly to Banff, I suggest going North and driving in to the icefields parkway on Highway 11. There is interesting scenery through Nordegg and along Abraham Lake. You could still drive the full length of the parkway on your way home from Jasper.
I second the suggestion of a side trip to Yoho. I have only been to Emerald Lake in the winter but have plans to visit in July as we too are vacationing in Jasper and area this year. There’s also a downloadable historic walking tour of Field, BC on friendsofyoho.ca

Posted by
1616 posts

Maggie, we'll actually be taking Hwy 11 on the way home to visit friends with a cabin about a half hour south of Rocky Mountain House. Thanks for the suggestion about the Rocky Mountain House National Historic site. We considered heading into Yoho to visit the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds but will likely do that another time.

Posted by
1495 posts

if you haven't seen it already, a British chap named Michael Portillo does train trips all over the Commonwealth. His series on Canada is very informative and illuminating, starting in the Maritimes west to Vancouver. He does both Jasper and Banff. On the Youtubes.

Posted by
784 posts

We've done the Icefields parkway twice. It is spectacular. Here are some thoughts - random.
We stayed at Patricia Lake cabins our first trip. It was along time ago but they were ok.
I too think Banff is too touristy and really boring. LOVE Lake Louise though. We walked the lake trail then up to the Tea House. Plain of Six Glaciers hike
Stop at the Athabasca Glacier and take the tour (if they still offer it). It was worth the time and money.
I have a poster in my office from Mount Edith Cavell. Still one of my favorite hikes (bonus if you know her story)
Maligne Canyon awesome hike - pretty flat if I remember correctly
Maligne Lake & Spirit Island great little boat trip

If the border were open we would totally take this trip this summer.