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Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Auckland Central...
posts: 12
reviews: 1
Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar


A friend and I are travelling to the Rockies in a few days and thought it would be a cheaper option to hire a small RV (20 feet) and drive from Vancouver to Banff and up to Jasper.

Unfortuntately we have discovered that this is not such an easy feat as we originally thought, and we are now stuck (having paid $1200 nonrefundable to Traveland RV in Vancouver) with an RV in the height of winter with no experience driving or RVing in -30 degrees.

We are trying to make the best of a bad situation. We know we can't use the tanks at all. I'm trying to get advice on driving safely with such a large vehicle (I doubt it will have snow tires), making sure we can start it in the morning (it may not have a block heater), and making sure we don't freeze overnight if we don't have access to a campground. Our insurance will not cover any 'damage due to freezing of any vehicle system'.

Any advice would be hugely appreciated. We arrive on Thursday the 24th of Feb.


Canmore, Alberta
Destination Expert
for Canmore
posts: 1,057
reviews: 6
1. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

I hate to give more bad news, but I would not want to be driving an RV in some of the areas, such as the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper at this time of year. We live here and we avoid going on it in the winter.

The winter driving through the mountains to come to the Rockies is not recommended for someone who does not have experience with it, adding the fact you don't have RV driving experience either is just magnifying the situation.

You're really going to have to do your research on what campgrounds are going to be open and available for you to use. In the parks there are not going to be a lot of options.

Is there any option of just using the RV around Vancouver and area, including Vancouver Island, etc.? I'm not sure what other advice or help to offer you. I'm surprised the RV company didn't say anything if they knew what your plans were.

Hope you are able to work something out,


Edited: 8:48 pm, February 20, 2011
Auckland Central...
posts: 12
reviews: 1
2. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Thanks for your advice.

Unfortunately we don't have a choice at this stage. We either use the RV to drive on it or we lose $1200 plus having to pay a further $800 for a car. The alternative of sticking around Vancouver is hardly an option either - we are flying halfway around the world to get there, and I've already been to Vancouver, and have no interest in spending my holiday in a city.

I've talked to enough people now to know that this isn't a completely stupid idea, so what I'm most interested in now is advice on how we can go about this without endangering ourselves, others, or the camper. e.g., what kind of speeds should we drive at, what road conditions should we look out for, when to use chains, etc, practical tips for people who are taking a bit of a risk, but want to make it as risk-free as possible.


Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 23,438
reviews: 66
3. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Welcome to TripAdvisor, NZKiwi! I am in complete agreement with Travelbug.Contributors to this forum routinely recommend against extensive highway driving, particularly from Vancouver to Banff, in the winter time. Winter driving involves a completely different skill set from summer driving and when you're driving through the mountains, that complicates the situation further. To add driving an unfamiliar vehicle type (an RV) to that is really setting the scene for a possible disaster. Also, due to their length and weight distribution, RVs are more susceptible to fishtailing and skidding on slippery roads, and it isextremely unlikely that the RV will have winter tires.

For more information on winter driving, check out this TripAdvisor Traveller Article:


And this Traveller Article has information on driving in the mountains:


TripAdvisor Traveller Articles are written by TA members like you and me in response to questions like yours.

Like Travelbug, I'd recommend staying in Vancouver and Vancouver Island, where the climate is so warm they rarely see snow, and many campgrounds and RV parks are open year-round. If you're interested in skiing, then Whistler is a relatively short drive from Vancouver via the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, and I believe Grouse Mountain has skiing even closer to the city.

West Grey, Ontario
Destination Expert
for Toronto, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 56,749
reviews: 70
4. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Hi NZKiwi1185;

Driving in the winter takes genuine experience, and through the Rockies, even more so. Without considerable winter driving experience I would NOT suggest starting to learn how to drive in winter conditions, in an unfamiliar oversized vehicle, in the Rocky Mountains !

You are not only taking a risk, but you will be a hazzard to other drivers. Please change your plans, and have a safe, stress free vacation.

Best Regards

Calgary, Canada
Destination Expert
for Calgary, TripAdvisor Support
posts: 23,438
reviews: 66
5. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Sorry, I see you posted a reply while I was in the middle of writing mine.

I'm sorry to be blunt, but it *is* a pretty stupid idea, and those who are advising you to the contrary haven't thought it through. There are just too many negatives for me to recommend that you go through with this:

- ZERO experience with winter driving. Just reading about how to do it is only the first step; you will have to also learn an entirely new set of reflexes. Have you every driven heavy trucks? Then you will know all about learning to always use a *much* longer stopping distance. But you still will not have learned about how to deal with slippery road conditions, black (invisible) ice, and limited visibility.

- ZERO experience with driving a longer vehicle. When I first started driving a pickup truck, I had to learn to take much wider turns. But first I drove over a few curbs and had some very tight squeezes when parking.

- ZERO experience with driving a longer vehicle IN WINTER ROAD CONDITIONS. Pickup trucks, vans, and motorhomes all tend to be light in the rear end, which means that they are much more prone to fishtailing (rear end swinging out when on a slippery surface).

- ZERO experience with driving through the mountains in a longer vehicle in winter road conditions.

- And no winter tires to help mitigate this. Indeed, this may be a show stopper right there, as winter tires or chains are required BY LAW to go through certain sections of BC highway in the winter. I'm positive that your RV will not have winter tires, and I'm willing to bet money that the terms of your rental will not permit you to fix chains. (Chains can caus a lot of damage to a vehicle if you put them on incorrectly.) SOf course, the rental company doesn't care; it's no skin off their noses if you're turned back and/or ticketed at a vehicle check in the Rogers Pass. Here's a BC Highways document on selecting and installing chains and BC laws regarding their use: …gov.bc.ca/seasonaldriving/winter/documents/…

If you're determined to go through with this, make sure that you have the rental contract changed (if necessary) to allow you to fix chains on your tires. And really read and study the article on winter driving that I linked earlier.

But Vancouver Island, across the Georgia Strait from the city of Vancouver, is a world-class destination in itself. I know that there are many interesting things to do there in the winter months, and I'm sure the folks on the BC forums would love to help out.

Edited: 9:54 pm, February 20, 2011
SW Ontario, Canada
posts: 57
reviews: 9
6. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Q - How are you going to keep warm inside a 20 foot long, semi-insulated aluminum can, and ensure that it will start each morning?

A - You’ll need to leave the engine running all night long with the heater on, along with the propane heater built in to the RV section.

Have you even found any campgrounds that are open at this time of the year? You can just park wherever you like and set-up camp.

I have to agree with the others – change your plans.

Auckland Central...
posts: 12
reviews: 1
7. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Hi all,

Thanks for the replies.

Thankfully I do have some mountain driving experience - I live in NZ, and have also driven in several national parks in the U.S. I have also driven a 15-seater van a number of times for work, which is about 4.5 metres long and requires some rather wide turning! I guess the issue is combining lack of snow/ice driving experience (only driven in those conditions once on a mountain with no chains) / heavy vehicle with other tricky variables - like several of you said causes issues with fishtailing and sliding.

Thanks so much for the links to the winter driving advice - I was aware of the BC chains regulations so we'll be hiring chains before we leave, but that brochure is really helpful.

I guess we will have to make the decision once we get there. If we choose to go ahead with it (which we probably will given the financial situation - thankfully our insurance deductible is low though), my plan is to drive slow, anticipate, and only drive in good visibility (most definitely not in a big snow storm!). My biggest concern is black ice - I'm not quite sure how we would look out for it, so if any of you have advice for this, that would be great.

Once again, thanks!!

Auckland Central...
posts: 12
reviews: 1
8. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Hi Nananine,

We have the propane heater to warm up the inside, plus we will be prepared with clothing warm enough to deal with -40deg, hot water bottles, candles, flashlights, shovel, scraper, extra food etc. The engine is what worries me - if we have a block heater, then no worries. If not, then I'm guessing we won't be able to start it until midday/early afternoon or so when it warms up to -10??

There is one winter campground in each national park with full hook-ups. If we can't get to one of those we might park at a backpackers.

Thanks for all the questions/issues you're all raising - it's good to know what we need to be prepared for.


Greater Sydney...
posts: 9,111
reviews: 33
9. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Fair crack of the whip, Kiwi. You have been given VERY good advice above by all, but in particular by Country_Wife who IS an experience RV'er. Your mountain, minibus and snow driving experience to date just does not cut it. There is no comparison between the NZ South Island conditions and the Rockies in winter.

Give up on the idea and tour Vancouver Island instead.

Auckland Central...
posts: 12
reviews: 1
10. Re: Campervan/RV Travel in Rockies from End Feb to Mid-Mar

Country_wife - I checked the terms of our rental, and chains are not mentioned which means we should be allowed to put them on. I have also already asked about chains and they didn't mention anything about not being allowed to use them.

If they don't allow us to fix chains we'll finally have a reason to be able to demand our money back, but until then we're still stuck with the $1200 (NZ$1700!) bill :-(