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Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

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Orlando, Florida
posts: 84
reviews: 5
Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Hi! My family is renting a condo in Canmore for the first week in August this summer. I know that is probably one of the busiest weeks of the year for the national parks, but we have to go when we get the time off from work. There are six of us, ranging in age from 14 to 50.

I keep seeing advice to get to the most popular trails (i.e. Johnston Canyon or Lake Louise) early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. My question is this: How early is early and how late is late? We are coming from the eastern time zone so in theory, we could easily stay on our Florida "clocks" and be out and about before 6am. Is that a bad idea for hiking purposes? I don't want to get eaten by a bear or mountain lion (or mosquitoes for that matter). I also don't know what the park regulations are in this regard.

Can anyone define what they mean when the advise to get to the trails "early"?



Jasper, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jasper, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies
posts: 13,287
reviews: 87
1. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

I am not an early bird, so not speaking from personal experience ;-) but I would think that if you hit the trail between 6 and 8 am, you will enjoy a much quieter experience (and be assured of a parking spot), at least on the way out On your way back, you will be meeting a lot more people. Last year on Aug. 6 when we were heading to Canmore to visit someone there, we drove past the Johnston Canyon parking lot mid-afternoon. The parking lot was completely full, and there were cars parked out on the edge of the road on both sides, for quite a stretch on either side of the parking lot.

The Lake Louise parking lot is very large; I don't know if it fills to capacity or not (haven't visited there in peak season in many years), but the one at Moraine Lake is not large enough for the number of visitors. I have heard of cars parked along the road for a kilometre or two. So you will definitely want to arrive early there.

Orlando, Florida
posts: 84
reviews: 5
2. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Thanks for the feedback krp329! Your feedback really helps with my planning.

If 6am isn't "too" early for park rules or safety purposes, then we will plan on trying to hit the popular trails early in the morning and then driving somewhere that isn't as crowded in the afternoons. On to more trip reports to find those places!

Edmonton, Canada
Destination Expert
for Canadian Rockies
posts: 1,986
reviews: 3
3. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

You're probably fine later than that...

I think I got to the trailhead for Wilcox Pass around 9:30 and didn't have much company until several hours later when a lot more people started hiking up. Don't think the average tourist is an early bird either :o)

I've generally stayed in Lake Louise so not parked in the lot, but my impression is that there's plenty of parking either in the main lot or the overflow lot. The big groups tend to come on the buses, so the bigger challenge is trying to avoid the buses turning around and the hordes of semi oblivious bus tourists who don't always watch out for cars.

I like to try and get out by 8am at Lake Louise so I can hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse for breakfast. Or a bit earlier to go all the way out to Plain of Six Glaciers.


Orlando, Florida
posts: 156
4. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Hey tamaracg

I am from Longwood & going to same pls on June 19 to June 30th.


Banff, Canada
Destination Expert
for Banff, Lake Louise
posts: 2,689
5. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Places like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Johnston Canyon are the "big three" in terms of crowds and parking concerns. All three are best visited either before 9 am, or after 6 pm. These areas are typically well visited, so animal concerns are lower than other areas.

That being said, its still important to take precautions especially if you are on less populated trails. Parks Canada has a good bulletin outlining proper behavior to minimize negative animal encounters, which you can read here: pc.gc.ca/eng/…ours-humains-bears-people.aspx

There is also a shuttle that operates between the village of Lake Louise and Moraine lake during August if you end up visiting during peak time. This summer's schedule is not yet available, but if you are interested, check in with the Lake Louise information centre when you arrive. They will have it on hand for you.

Most other trail heads, as mentioned above will not see the same sort of crowds, so you shouldn`t be too worried about getting an "Alpine start"

Orlando, Florida
posts: 84
reviews: 5
6. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Thanks very much for the feedback. It seems as if early is best, but I don't have to shake everybody out of bed at 4AM! Getting to the trails before 8 or so won't be a problem for us at all. So I am thinking hiking in the morning. Picnicking at a slightly less crowded place at lunch and then maybe a short hike in the late afternoon when the crowds thin out -- depending on how tired we are.

Sunny8088 -- please post a report back when you return. I'm particularly concerned how us "sea levelers" will fare at higher altitudes!

posts: 16
reviews: 87
7. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

If you are visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on the same day, I would go to Moraine Lake first. That parking lot and the access road can be closed completely on afternoons due to high traffic and parking volumes. Some friends of mine never got to see it because of traffic and they didn't feel like walking an hour down the road through said traffic simply to get to the lakeshore. Further, Moraine Lake in the early morning is one of the most sublime experiences on the planet.

Orlando, Florida
posts: 84
reviews: 5
8. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Ah -- thanks Sekaitraveller -- I'm happy that you posted because I would have done it opposite -- Lake Louise first thing and then, if I still had energy, Moraine. However, now we've got to see Moraine Lake in the early morning!

Kamloops, Canada
posts: 531
9. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

FYI August 4th is a holiday day so will be BUSY in the park. We tend to visit Jasper more as I find that Banff can be very busy. Parking at trail heads can be a chore and hiking on single file trails with parts can have two side by side. Yes Banff is VERY popular and on the main tourist route between Calgary and Vancouver as well as quite close to a large city (Calgary). That being said it is a great place to visit and be prepared to see tourists from all corners of the world!!

Enjoy your stay :0)

Woodstock, Illinois
posts: 177
reviews: 3
10. Re: Get to the popular trails early -- what does that mean?

Just chiming in with the locals (we've been hiking Canadian Rockies for 40 years, but we're from Chicago area). The popular trails, especially around Lake Louise, are 'nuts' by 9:00 (in summer). I would agree with other postings, based on my experience, that 8:00 am, at the trailhead, will give you more peace on the trails.

'Bad' news' about early hiking are views. It's really common to have the low-hanging clouds in the early morning obscuring the peaks. You often have to lose the views in the fog to get more solitude on the trail, at least, on the uphill.

As far as altitude, can't say. Canadian Rockies are 'relatively' low and for most people, you should not experience altitude issues. Wife and I have never had altitude problems, and we live 300 feet above sea level. Most people are not affected until they get past 6500 feet+. The American Rockies are significantly higher than Canada and you routinely start hikes in the 8000 foot range --- that you might feel.

We'll be coming out again this year, in a few months. We'll have to check on the bear warnings. We've not hiked some trails as there were 4-person minimums on some of them. You may want to check that out, unless you want to ignore the rules (if they are still applicable). We've encountered bears any number of times over the decades, without incident, but we follow the rules.

Edited: 10:43 am, March 28, 2014