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iteniary for making western canada (particularly rockies) memorable (need a car)

Jun 28, 2008  extension of the skeena discovery tour on a one months scale with emphasis on the rockies
5.0 of 5 stars based on 6 votes

my list was compiled with careful research over a one year period, including research into the best places to go, where to stay whilst keeping a tab on costs of the trip. for travellers who enjoy self touring at a 4* level and are planning to hire a car during their time in the rockies to take them around (rest of trip was done without car)

for those who are relatively not fit, who wants to enjoy not too strenuous walks on most days

WILL UPDATE ALL ITEMS AS I HAVE FURTHER TIME UNTIL I FINISH ALL ITEMS

  • Category: Recent trip
  • Traveler type: Sightseeing, Never been before
  • Appeals to: Tourists
  • Seasons: Summer
  • 1. iteniary done in excel

    i have done an excel spreadsheet of a detailed iteniary in excel. please contact me if you want a copy by providing me with your e-mail address when you message me (i cannot attach attachments to messages in tripadvisor messages). more than happy to send to you.

    if someone can tell me how to put it on the website without me having a url, please let me know

    basic run down is:
    - 11 days in calgary (seeing relations/attractions)
    - 12 days in rockies (scenery)
    - 2 days on skeena (viarail train)
    - 2 days in prince rupert
    - 1 day on inside passage ferry
    - 1 day on vancouver island
    - 1 day in victoria
    - 3 days in vancouver
    iteniary has been planned with details of time on it for each activity for each day (including allowing for driving time). has not been updated for actual time based on actual trip, but happy to answer questions about this if required.

  • 2. tips for organising trip from overseas - booking and planning before you go

    Here are some tips for booking/organising the trip:

    1. I booked the rental car (through Avis) from Banff to Jasper around 9 months before the trip. By doing so, I was able to get the guaranteed rate on the website at that time locked in. In my case, I managed to save around C$400 on my car hire (the amount quoted on the final invoice was C$1,140, but I paid around C$760 for the car hire). Also, best to try to book it with at least a 7 day hire because CDW (collision damage waiver) is included in rental price once your car hire exceeds 7 days (I had a 10 day car hire in the iteniary I put together)

    2. The next thing I booked was the accommodation in the Rockies. I booked the Mountainhome B & B and the Alpine Guesthouse in early December (7 months before the trip).
    At that time, I also tried booking the accommodation in Canmore on the Canada Day long weekend (Mountain Creekside Inn), but it was fully booked at that time

    I also booked the berth in the inside passage ferry around this time as well by calling the phone number for BC Ferries. If you get motion sick, I would strongly recommend that you should book a berth on the ferry on the inside passage.

    3. In mid January, I decided to book the following accommodation:
    - Jasper
    - Port Hardy
    - Prince Rupert
    For those planning to stay in Port Hardy, you will need to book earlier than January. I was fortunate at the time that I booked to get the last twin bed room in Glen Lyon Inn.
    For those wanting to stay at Quarterdeck Inn, you will need to book a lot earlier - as it was fully booked out. Quarterdeck Inn has a waitlist which you can put yourself on, but there is no guarantee you'll get a room.

    In Jasper, I contact Patricia Lakes accommodation (excluding the Grove) and it was fully booked already. A number of B & B establishments were also fully booked as well. I finally found Juniper Inn (which ended up being a fantastic choice). One of the two rooms it had was already booked when we went to book it in January.

    Prince Rupert - no problems with booking. For your information, I found out during the trip that if you were really desperate and wanted to pay more, you could have booked into Inn on the Harbour about 2 days before arriving.

    I next booked the viarail train. I had no problems in booking and paying - I did this over the phone, where you can ask the girl for an allocated seat. best side to sit is the left hand side on day 2 and right hand side on day 1. For your information, I went in mid-July and on day 1, there was only 16 people in the Totem Deluxe carriage of the train (ie: 1/4 full), but the next day, there was a tour group and the carriage ended up being 85% full (the leg from Prince George to Prince Rupert)

    I also booked the accommodation in Prince George as well. I stayed at the Ramada Prince George. The cheapest price was at their website. I forgotten what the final rate was - probably around C$102 mark, inclusive of taxes.

    I also used hotwire.com to book the accommodation in Calgary. At that time (in early March 2007), the price for a 4* hotel was US$69/night, staying at the Westin Calgary - old wing. The old wing was renovated in the 2007 year, with new beds etc. Our room faced onto a vacant building lot with views to the ? shopping centre (can't remember the name). Just a word of note - prices went up around 3 weeks later (as this was booked the week before the stampede).

    The next lot of accommodation I booked (which was in mid-April) was for Victoria. For Victoria, I used priceline.com. For those who are living outside the US and Canada, at the time I booked, I was not able to use it because they do not accept foreign credit cards (your credit card must have a US or Canadian address). I was fortunate that I had resources to book this through a relative located in Canada. Anyway, I used the "name your own price" and slightly underbid what they required - eventually paid US$135 for the room (room was listed at US$205 (or about there).

    I booked the Lake O'Hara bus next. It is true what they say about booking the bus to go to Lake O'Hara. You MUST ring the first thing the booking line opens for the particular day that you want to go (9am Mountain time). I rang for 1 1/4 hours before I managed to get through - straight, no timeouts during redials. I got onto the 8:30am bus, which was good. FYI - they have 2 buses at that time. I do not know how easy/hard it was to get on, but the lines are engaged and you must keep on ringing until you get through. Once you get through, you get a message saying you have contacted the Lake O'Hara line and are put on hold for around 5 minutes (could be longer) (don't hang up, even when there is a silence!) until someone picks up the call.

    If you are planning to book the bus into Lake O'Hara, I would highly recommend that you ring Lake O'Hara 1 to 2 weeks before the date that you are planning to go. By chance, I had a few questions that I needed to ask and it was a good thing that I rang - the reason why was that on the 3 month anniversary of the date that I was planning to go to Lake O'Hara, the booking office was closed for that day and would only be open the following week. So I saved myself a LOT of heartache and pain (and international phone call costs) by finding out this tidbit. I'm really glad that I did.

    The last accommodation I booked was Vancouver. With Vancouver, I was monitoring this for a while. I noticed that the prices fluctuated on hotwire.com for a 4* hotel throughout the time I was monitoring it and the hotel kept changing - even if you looked within a 10 to 15 minute period. One week, you'd see the prices at $225 to $245 on hotwire, then a few days later, you'd see the prices drop. We waited until early June to book this - that's when we noticed the price had dropped a fair bit to the eventual price of US$159/night plus their handling fees. Due to the time differences, we booked it at 5:15am in the morning US time, so maybe that's why we got such a good deal! Just to let you know, for the price we paid, we got a room at the Westin Bayshore, on the 4th floor, overlooking the front entrance (directly above it). Was a bit noisy at times, but not too bad.
    (FYI - for those looking to book Century Plaza, could get 2 bedded room in January/February, but not in April)

    Other tips:
    - try using either www.hotwire.com, www.priceline.com. with hotwire.com, what I found was that the prices varied each week and the hotels varied each week (noticed that the description of the hotel changed each week).
    - read the descriptions for hotwire secret hotels very carefully - it can tell you a lot about the hotel that you are staying at. for example, with the westin bayshore inn in vancouver, the giveaway was the reference to the 2 swimming pools - one indoor and one outdoor. i don't believe that there are too many hotels in vancouver with this
    - if you don't like B & B's and are looking at hotel accommodation in Banff, I found that the best price was located at hotwire.com. However, a word of warning - if you are planning to stay in the summer period, make sure that you don't leave it until June because that's when you won't see any 4* accommodation anymore for accommodation until July (best to book earlier).
    - if you are keen to stay at either moraine lake lodge or cathedral mountain lodge, www.luxurylink.com have auctions where you can stay at these locations at more "reasonable" prices. note that with the packages available at luxurylink.com, you must stay a minimum of 3 CONSECUTIVE nights. that proved to be a nuisance for us (otherwise we would have bought a package and stayed there)
    - there is a big difference between priceline.com and priceline.co.hk (or priceline.com.sg). i found that some of the hotels which are ranked as 4* on the hk website were listed as 3* on the us website, so i suspect that you will get less value for money with their hotels if you use their secret hotels. also, their prices tend to be higher than the us website
    - for secret hotel bargain, need to look at both priceline and hotwire, depending on the city. for example, with vancouver, the area covered by the secret hotel is larger in priceline versus hotwire, so the chances of getting a hotel in the area that you want are slimmer. in that way, i personally find hotwire a lot better, as their areas for secret hotels tend to be smaller and therefore, you're more likely to get the place that you want

  • 3. airfares to canada and within canada

    I found that the cheapest for booking airfares was as follows:

    1. For direct flights from LA to Calgary, if I recall, only Air Canada services the route (codeshare with United Airlines) together with Westjet (if I recall, Alaska Air also flies the route, but on limited days). I booked my LA-Calgary leg initially in November 2006. By chance, I noticed that the price had dropped for that particular day for flights. I booked initially for one and went to book for the second ticket, but it wouldn't give me the second ticket (so it was a once-off thing).

    I then booked the other LA-Calgary ticket in March 2007. Unfortunately, I paid full price for this ticket. The other thing was that 2 weeks after I purchased the ticket, the prices dropped. So, you're best to wait around Easter to book - I think that they have a sale around then (should start checking from 1st week of March onwards for flights until 30 June).

    2. I booked the tickets for Alaska Air (Vancouver to LA) through their website during their "sale". In 2007, the sale occurred in the last week of March. I managed to save a bit of money doing this. Probably around US$50 per ticket.

    3. For flights from Australia to LA, I looked at lastminute.com.au. What I ended up doing is getting the cheapest price over the web, going to flight centre and asking them to match it, which they did. I booked this in around May (I can't recall exact date details). The same is true for airfares - the prices fluctuate a lot and probably only get cheaper around 90 days before the flight. Until I booked, the flight was going to cost me in excess of $3,000, but because I waited, I saved myself around A$250/ticket. I learnt a big lesson from the Australia-LA leg - don't book more than 6 months in advance, because the prices don't come down!

  • 4. other tips to do before you go

    1. I found it very difficult to get a map of Prince Rupert on the internet. Contact the Prince Rupert Tourist Centre - I e-mailed them and they sent me a map of the area, together with a brochure of the local tourist attractions via post (if you provide them with your mailing address). This is the best thing that I did for myself

    2. Make sure that you bring bug spray/insect repellent with you and cream in case you get bitten! The mosquitoes are quite ferocious and are persistent biters.

    3. Beware of stairs - with all of the B & Bs that we stayed in, there were stairs and these are not that wide and there were a number of them, so you should pack as light as possible.....

    4. for those living outside of Canada, one of the "must do" places in the Rockies that I read was the paint pots and marble canyon in Kootenay National Park. Apparently, there was an tragic accident in 2005 and this area became closed to the public after that. If you want to go and see it, make sure that it is open and you can visit it!

    5. Three things about toilets in the Rockies:
    a) Make sure that you bring your own toilet paper/tissues in case they run out and you have nothing! That happened to us on the Canada Day long weekend!
    b) The toilets in the Rockies are not "flush" toilets as we know them with running water - most do not have water and you sit on a can that looks like a toilet, so to speak.
    c) There are very few places where you have running water to wash your hands after going to toilet. Basically, they have soap dispensers, which dispenses this foamy liquid into your hands, rub your hands and presto, you've washed your hands!

    6. We were fortunate that we had a car and relatives to take us around. For those that don't and if you are basing yourself out of Calgary and need to do things on the "cheap", consider the following:

    - Moose Travel Network (they have tours on the cheap)
    - Greyhound Bus (to get from point A to B)

  • 5. alternative places to stay in the rockies and why these were not selected in my final iteniary (which you may wish to consider to change iteniary to suit your situation)

    In putting my iteniary together, I also considered alternative locations to stay and will touch on these

    Alternatives to Banff

    a) Harvey Heights
    The reason why I did not book at Harvey Heights was because I was told that it was in a "dip/trough" in the road. At night, when the long-haul trucks come through and have to brake as they slow down and go through the area, the sound carries and it is very noisy. If you are going to stay in Harvey Heights, make sure that you book as far away from the main road as possible!

    b) Canmore
    Canmore is a lovely town and is a good alternative to staying in Banff, particularly if you are on a budget. However, the reason why we chose not to stay in Canmore was firstly, we didn't have a car when we were staying in Banff and secondly, the drive from Banff to Canmore takes at least 1/2 hour one way. I recall that when we went over the Canada long weekend and left after 11pm, we didn't get back to close to midnight. If you intend to make most of the late nights over the summer months, be warned!
    There isn't the same choice of food in Canmore than Banff, but is more quiet and "restful" for want of a better word - probably less touristy is the better way to describe it

    2. Field - exploring lake louise/yoho national park (explore east of lake louise)
    a) Lake Louise/Cathedral Mountain Lodge/Moraine Lake Lodge
    Generally, we found the prices at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Lodge quite expensive. In terms of location, it is well placed. I would say that if I had an unlimited budget, I would have picked the Moraine Lake Lodge, Fairmont Lake Louise Chateau or the Pocohontas (?) Cabins.
    The reason why we did not stay in Lake Louise proper was also because of the concern with the train line. The train line runs behind the township of Lake Louise and would presume that it would get noisy in the evenings. It was in our price range when we looked at it, but the train factor really put us off.

    The other place that I would definitely consider is the Cathedral Range lodges. It is in a good location - between Lake Louise and Field (where we eventually ended up staying). You wouldn't be too far from anywhere by staying there.

    b) West Lake Louise Lodge
    West Lake Louise Lodge is right off the Highway 1 (there is a service lane which takes you there). It is typical motel style accommodation and is not flash. Do not expect a lot when you look at it. It is not in a dip or at the top of a hill (so you don't have that sort of noise problem). I think that it would be an issue if there were a lot of trucks going past (quite a few do). Because it is right off the highway (the rooms face onto the highway), I can imagine that it would be noisy.

    c) Moraine Lake
    Moraine Lake would be a good spot to stay. It is far from the trains and is on the right hand side of the lake. However, it is not cheap and it is right on the lake (which would make for spectacular views).
    Other than that, I cannot really comment as I did not stay there.

    d) Castle Mountain

    e) Baker Creek
    Baker Creek Chalets is between Banff and Lake Louise. If you look closely at the map, you will see that the train line runs behind the lodge. This is the thing that put me off booking this place. It would have been restful otherwise.

    f) Golden
    If you want to go to Yoho National Park, then Golden might be an alternative. At the time that I went last year, there was a major rebuilding project for Highway 1 between Golden and Lake Louise. This was to continue to 2009 (if my memory serves me correctly). Consequently, there was a lot of "go slow" sections, which slowed you right down and it made any trip from Golden to Lake Louise take at least an hour (maybe more - depending on the time of the day that you travelled). We drove into Golden from Field and it took us 1 hour one way. The distance is short, but once the roadworks are finished, would anticipate that the travelling from Golden into Yoho National Park and Lake Louise would be considerably shorter.

    One of the good things about Golden is that it is a decent size town. There are 2 supermarkets in Golden. One is the IGA and there was another one (can't remember the name). We were recommended to go to the non-IGA supermarket. The IGA supermarket is located near the centre of Golden, whilst the other one that we went to was not. They are supposedly to have better quality food (or so that is what the person that we stayed with said to us)

    Field - explore west of lake louise
    a) The Crossings
    The Crossings is located right at the border between the Jasper and Banff National Park in the Crossings. The accommodation looks like your typical Australian motel accommodation (it is not flash and it looks like 3 to 3 1/2 star) and on the outside, it looks quite drab. It is slightly offset from the road, but not much. Right in front of the accommodation is the convenience centre and a petrol station. Because it is not too far from the road, it wouldn't be quiet at night. You might be able to negotiate to stay towards the back of the accommodation units at the Crossings, which would be quieter. Based from my recollection of the rates, the rates are reasonable given the location.

    b) Num Ti Jah lodge

    c) Columbia Icefields lodge
    There is accommodation at the Columbia Icefields, but it is not cheap (though it is not in the same league as Moraine Lake Lodge and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise). It overlooks the Columbia Icefields, although it is set a fair way back from the road. I don't expect that the noise would be a huge issue with the place.
    Jasper

    a) East Jasper

    b) Pocahontas Cabins
    Pocahontas Cabins is outside of Jasper. It is further than you think from Jasper (close to 1/2 an hour away). We did not want to have to keep driving in from the cabins into Jasper. I would say that it is not a good base to explore Jasper National Park. However, if you want to go to the natural springs (can't remember the name) and spend the day around there, you might want to then stay the night there. It might be an alternatively, particularly if it is going to be your last stop before heading out of Jasper towards the east.

  • 6. tips for during the trip

    If you are driving and holidaying in the Rockies, you need to buy a national park pass. We ended up buying a pass for a yearly period (as we were there for several weeks). It is cheaper. I managed to buy this at the National Parks office in downtown Calgary before we headed up to the Rockies. This saves you a lot of time because when you get to the entrance of the National Park, you don't have to queue in the paying queue and can go quickly through. There is an office in Calgary where you can go to the reception and ask/buy the pass. I got the address details from CAA (unfortunately, I don't know what it is, but I do know it is a 5 minute walk from CAA)
    (NOTE - you cannot buy it at the CAA as I discovered when I went there)
    If you are a member of the AAA equivalent in your country of residence, drop into the CAA to get maps. When I went last year, these were free and were invaluable for driving. The address is Suite 100, 530 8th Avenue, Calgary
    We did a hike to Grassi Lakes. There are 2 paths to the Grassi Lakes. One is the more "tricky" route, which involves scrambling over rocks etc, the other one, although longer, is a vehicle route which is like walking up a steep hill. You should take the longer (vehicle) route if you are unfit. It is not as scenic, but it is easier on your body.
    We went over the Canada Day long weekend and on the Monday of the weekend. The toilets were horrible and smelt bad. Also, it was a hot weekend, so that made things worse.
    For those travelling to Kananaskis, the Smith Dorrien Highway (Spray Trail) - route 742 is an unsealed gravel highway, despite what the name says. If you are thinking to have lunch along the route, you cannot have lunch at Mt Engadine Lodge. They do not do lunch at the lodge. We turned up and found out the hard way that they don't serve lunch (we asked the Westin Calgary to book it and they told us that they did, but we were wrong!)
    I would strongly recommend that if you are going to do a day trip from Canmore to explore the Kananaskis Country you should bring a packed lunch (or buy something in Canmore to take with you to eat for lunch). There are very few eating options in Kananaskis Country. We were fortunate not to starve because we got to a cafe within 10 minutes of their closing time to eat lunch.
    Sulphur Mountains/Gondola - make sure you go EARLY to get the gondola in the summer months. We got there before 10am and only had to wait 5 minutes to get a ticket. By the time that we left (after 11:30am), the queue was a lot longer than that and it was impossible to find a carparking spot. Note - we went on the Canada Day long weekend.
    Sunshine Meadows - we arrived into Banff after 7pm the night before we planned to go to Sunshine Meadows. What we did was we rang the bus company in the evening to book the bus for the first bus the next morning leaving Banff (at 8:30am) and got a message the next morning around 15 minutes before 8:30am to go and meet the bus. It's possible, but beware of the short notice to go and catch the bus!
    We went to Sunshine Meadows in the early part of the season (within the 1st 2 weeks of it being open). Because we went on a weekday, there wasn't many people and we were fortunate to have a guide (there was only 2 of us in the group). So we had a personal guide take us around for 1/2 a day around the meadows.
    There is a bit of snow on the ground and it is best that you bring some spare garbage bags with you in case you have shoes which cannot "grip" the ground to stop you from slipping in the snow. Also, I would recommend that you bring a coat, as it is quite windy up there as well. Because we were with a guide, she had a spare coat and that saved us a bit from the cold.
    Takkakaw Falls - if you happen to go during summer and it is a hot day, make sure that you go to the Takkakaw Falls in the afternoon. It really cools you down! Make sure that you bring something with you to keep you dry (light raincoat). As you get closer to the falls and if it is windy, you get sprayed with a lot of water. I couldn't get too close to the falls as it was so wet, I got soaked!
    Lake O'Hara - if you are fortunate to get onto the bus and go for a hike there, the best thing to do is the famous alpine circuit (if you are fit). If you are not fit (like me), then although it is a bit more strenuous, the best walk (I was told) was the Lake Osea walk (we did another one - opabin walk)
    Field - if you can afford to "splurge" one night, make sure that you go to Truffle Pig's Cafe. The food is wonderful and the best that we had in the Rockies.
    They have a marvellous selection of cakes available which are made on the premises. All of the cakes that we tried were beautiful (they had a Nanaimo Bar, Apple Struedel, Cherry and chocolate brownie). The groceries are expensive there - be warned!
    If you want to eat a meal there, go early. If you are happy to wait for a table, come after 6:45pm, otherwise, I would strongly recommend that you go before/around 6:30pm. They do sell wine as well - Canadian and non-Canadian (for those non-Canadian tourists like me). They also have specials of the day as well and they were very nice
    For those who are staying in Lake Louise (who don't want to pay the hotels to get their clothes washed), the nearest laundromat is located in Field. It is located in the basement of the Kicking Horse Lodge in Field. When you enter the lodge, there are stairs to the left and you need to go down the stairs into the basement. The laundry room is very hot and stuffy, but there is a ice machine (which I made full use of to cool myself down when I was there on a 30 degree day!). The Kicking Horse Lodge is pretty much opposite the Truffles Pig Cafe in Field. You will need to bring your own detergent to wash your clothes. I would suggest that you have the right change as well when using the machines.
    For those who are self-catering, if you had a choice of buying groceries in either Golden or Banff, buy them in Golden because it is cheaper there (not that either place is cheap, comparatively speaking!)

    Lake Louise and other lakes generally - for those wanting to capture pictures of the lakes with reflections of the mountains in them, you will need to be at the various lakes before 10am in the morning. Unfortunately, as we were never able to get to these destinations much before 10am, I don't have any experience about what time you'd need to reach there to enjoy the reflections.

    What I can tell you is that there are a lot of tourist buses after 9:45am at Lake Louise and at 10am at Peyto Lake.

    If you need to go to toilet, use the toilet at Chateau Lake Louise. You do not need to go through the main entrance of the hotel. There are many side entrances which face onto the lake side of the hotel and you can enter through one of the side doors and go to toilet.

    Moraine Lake - the walk to the Moraine Lake lookout is not very long. However, when you get there, the vantage point is huge. To get the famous view (particularly if you are pressed for time) you should stay/head to the left side
    Peyto Lake - there are 2 carparks, one at the bottom and one at the top/end of the road. There is a stoppage part between the bottom and top carparks for buses. The walk from the bottom carpark to the viewing platforms is steep. Best if you drop off your passengers and park the car Also, make sure you bring your insect/bug repellent - there are a lot of mosquitoes there in July - I got bitten quite a bit
    We got there at 10:15am and there was a busload of tourists. See if you can go before then. Parts of the reflection of the mountains on the lake was there at 10am, but disappeared after that.
    Booking for Maligne Lake Boat Tours - the booking office closes at 7pm each night during the summer months. It is BEST to book the day before and the best time to go is on the first boat cruise (which I believe leaves at 10am) - you get the calm waters without any "boat waves" and get the best reflections in the morning. We got up to Maligne Lake before the first boat cruise and had to wait until 11:30 before we could get onto a cruise - it was that booked!
    Maligne Canyon - there are 2 carparks - one at the first bridge and one at the 5th bridge. It is quite a hike from the 5th bridge carpark to the first bridge and it is all uphill. If you have time, the walk is pleasant. If you do not have the time, it is best that you go to the 1st bridge carpark and walk downhill through the canyon. The only bad thing is that it is all uphill on the way back (you do not need to walk down to the 5th bridge - there is a sizable distance between the 4th and 5th bridge).
    Mt Edith Cavell - this was one of my regrets......If you have the time and you go beyond the Angel Glacier and decide that you want to walk further, after you walk through the Cavell Meadows, you have a choice of going to 2 lookout points. One of these (called the upper lookout point) is a steeper hike/climb and longer walk. There is another one called the lower lookout point. This is where I went - because I had sore legs. I wish that I had perservered, bourne the pain and went to the upper lookout point. I do not know what you would have seen, but it would have been spectacular.