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How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

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Houston, Tx
posts: 366
reviews: 19
How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

With your previous helps, our group secured accommodation for 4 nights in Canmore and 4 nights in Jasper & 1 night in Calgary. I have searched the posts and have an outline of what we plan to do/see. Would appreciate your help to maximize our sightseeing and minimize driving time.

• There are 8 in our group, adults and college students

• Time frame is first week of August

• Moderate hikers, one person has knee issue

• A must - see wildflower

• Essential - like to take picture. Where are the best spots for photos? time to avoid the crowd?

Below is our itinerary, we don't have a specific day what to do/see. Seeking for your help of the best way to arrange it and welcome any new suggestions and any direction to avoid backtracking is greatly appreciated.

• Day 1 - arrive Calgary at noon. Will settle into our condo in Canmore around late afternoon. We just plan spending the evening exploring the town.

• Day 2 - 4 - we will have 3 full days - under our radar are: Sunshine meadows, Johnston Caynon. Walk along the Bow River to the Fairmont Banff Springs. Lake Minnewanka, Moraine Lake , Lake Louise, Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls

Which lake should we rent a canoe or kayak and explore the shoreline at a more leisurely pace?

• Day 5 - Head north along the Icefields Parkway, stopping at the Crowfoot Glacier overlook, Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Weeping Fall. Settle into our accommodation in Jasper late evening

• Day 6 - 8. We will have 3 full days to explore: Maligne Canyon & Lake, Athabasca Falls, Angle Glacier, Mt. Edith Cavell if it is accessible

• Day 9 - Columbia Icefield is left for the return trip. Ice Explorer tour onto the glacier, hike to Wilcox Pass, for a sweeping view of the glacier-filled valley. Continue south to Calgary for an overnight stay.

• Day 10 - We will have until afternoon to explore Calgary. Our flight departs at 5 pm.

If time is allowed, we would like to ride Gondola or Tram, white water rafting and horse back riding. But don't know when and where is the best fit to do this activities. Based on our itinerary, would you suggest to do these in Banff or Jasper?

Thanks for your time.

Albi

9 replies to this topic
Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 21,287
reviews: 64
1. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

Just in case nobody has mentioned this yet, the first weekend in August (Aug 3-5) is a holiday long weekend. That means that all accommodations (from campsites and hostels to luxury hotel rooms) in the national parks is likely to be fully booked. If you're going to be here then, make your reservations ASAP and reconfirm them shortly before your departure. This is not a good time to be a walk-up guest!

Sunshine Meadows - the shuttle bus takes reservations, and it's a good idea to book in advance so you don't miss out.

Canoe rentals at Lake Louise get great reviews but cost about $40/hour. I thought rentals at Lake Minnewanka might be less, but their website says $55 for the first hour. Also, for safety reasons, you must stay in sight of the Lake Minnewanka dock. If you go too far, they will cancel your rental and send a boat out to bring you back. I wouldn't be surprised if a similar rule is in place for canoe rentals at the other lakes. The water in these mountain lakes is extremely cold and if you tip your canoe, hypothermia will occur in minutes. (I once capsized my sailboat in early May on Calgary's Glenmore Reservoir, just a few weeks after the ice went out. It was a very educational experience. I was extremely glad that I had my wetsuit on.) Moraine Lake Lodge gives their guests priority with their canoes, so you might want to contact them to find out the best (or worst) times to rent.

To avoid crowds, get out early. Most visitors are enjoying a leisurely vacation, which means that the bulk of visitors are active between 10 a.m. and 2 or 3 p.m. Make sure to get to the most popular destinations (Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, Banff gondola) before or after that window.

For the Icefields Parkway, I strongly recommend topping up your fuel the night before your departure, and arranging some kind of picnic lunch to take with you. There is only one gas station and 4 dining spots along the whole of the IP. You wouldn't enjoy waiting for an expensive but unremarkable lunch, or - even worse - lining up to get very expensive gas, and it's easy to avoid that with a little planning.

Jasper is probably best for white water rafting; the Bow River through Banff is quite tame (except for Bow Falls, which is not runnable!), so to get white water while staying in Banff, you would need to drive about 30 minutes east (to the Kananaskis River) or an hour west (to the Kicking Horse River). But in Jasper you can access white water rafting from right in town.

The Banff gondola is the only one that will take you right to the top of a mountain ridge, with views in all directions. The Lake Louise gondola will take you high up the mountainside, and there is no ridge top in easy walking distance. In fact, since the main attraction at Lake Louise is the bear population, walking is not (in general) a good idea once you're at the top. They do offer guided walks, though. If I understand correctly, the Jasper tram takes you near the top of a ridge, but there is a bit of a walk yet to get to the best views.

However, none of that matters if the view is obscured by clouds. Remember, if you can't see the upper gondola station from the base, then the views from the top down are also likely to be poor. Since you can't control the weather, you may simply decide to take the first gondola that you get to when the viewing weather is good. We've all had that vacation where the first day or two had beautiful weather and then the weather went to pot for the rest of the trip...

For horseback riding, Banff offers the most variety: Holiday on Horseback near the Banff townsite, and Brewster Adventures and Timberline Tours are based at Lake Louise. I believe that Jasper only has Pyramid Stables. They're all novice-friendly nose-to-tail rides, unless you opt for an overnight trip. Again, I would strongly recommend letting the weather be your guide. Whitewater rafting is a great rainy day activity, and so is viewing waterfalls, but you don't want to be on horseback in the rain and mud.

Edited: 10:52 am, May 04, 2013
Jasper, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jasper, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
posts: 11,257
reviews: 80
2. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

Day 6 to 8 - Parks Canada has announced that the Cavell day-use area will be open this year. The "Path of the Glacier" trail will no longer be a loop though - the lower part of the loop was washed out in the ice fall & flooding event that happened last August. But the upper part of that trail, and the Cavell Meadows trail, will be accessible.

Day 9 will be a very long day. Driving time from Jasper to Calgary is about five hours. The sno-coach tour is 90 minutes, and if you do the Wilcox Pass hike to the pass, that's an 8 km hike, probably 2.5 to 3 hours. Hiking partway is also an option - about 4 km, round trip, will get you up to a viewpoint looking out over the Athabasca Glacier.

What is the "must see" wildflower? ... I'm asking out of curiosity, but also because some of us may be able to suggest locations.

Regarding canoe rentals here in Jasper on Maligne Lake - there are no restrictions on where you canoe or kayak on this glacial lake, even with rentals. In fact, there are two wilderness campsites down the lake, one almost at the very end. Conditions on the lake can be very changeable - I have been on a couple of trips on it, where we had everything from blazing hot sunny weather to snow/sleet/hail to winds that made us put in to shore and wait out the storm - all in the same day! As mentioned, you don't want to "dump" in a glacial lake. Maligne's water never gets warmer than a couple of degrees above freezing.

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 21,287
reviews: 64
3. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

I'm also curious about the "must see" wildflower.

Vancouver, Canada
posts: 12,930
reviews: 35
4. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

An additional possibility from Jasper - depending on how you go for time - is to head west into British Columbia and visit Mt. Robson Provincial Park, the highest peak in the Rockies.

SE Ontario
posts: 4,944
reviews: 7
5. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

I think the OP is saying they consider seeing wildflowers a "must see" activity.

Houston, Tx
posts: 366
reviews: 19
6. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

From my understanding July - Aug is peak season for subalpine wildflowers. We love to find trails where it leads to be area where there will be a lot of wildflowers.

Would it be better to switch the activity on day #9 to day #5?

Thanks

Jasper, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jasper, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
posts: 11,257
reviews: 80
7. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

Yes, mid-July to mid-August is the peak time for subalpine and alpine wildflowers; after mid-August, there are still lots of flowers, but frost starts to hit in the high country on some colder nights and some die off (but so also do the mosquitoes!) Cavell Meadows is one of the best trails for subalpine wildflowers here in the Jasper area. The Bald Hills at Maligne Lake is also very good, especially if you continue beyond the look-out into the meadows. For alpine wildflowers, the ridge above the Opal Hills loop trail is great. These are all "moderate" hikes - approx. 8 to 10 km long with about 400 meters of elevation gain (5 to 6 miles, 1200 - 1500 feet in elevation gain).

You will see some flowers on the Wilcox Pass hike too, especially once you get closer to the pass almost at tree line where the forest opens up into meadows. The forest through which you will ascend is old growth ... the trees may not be large compared to more temperate climates, but when you consider that the growing season at that elevation is not much more than a few months a year, you may begin to appreciate the size and age of the bigger trees there.

Re: day 5/9 - I'm not sure which activity you are thinking of switching, but depending on how many other stops you make, it might work best to put either the sno-coach tour or the hike on day 5 (depending on weather?) However, it's not that day 9 is un-doable; it will just be a long day ... but you don't need to be in Calgary until later anyway, right?

8. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

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Houston, Tx
posts: 366
reviews: 19
9. Re: How to make best use of our time in Banff & Jasper?

Thank you for all inputs!

It depends on how time and weather go, we are not hurry to get from destination to other.

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