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Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Pittsburgh
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Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

In planning the last few days of our 17 day trip this August to Calgary, Waterton, Glacier, Fernie, Radium Hot springs; we find ourselves with only 3 days and 2 nights left for Banff. My wife and I are traveling w/ our 3 boys ages 20, 19 & 14. We'll be camping in tents these 2 nights and we'll be coming from Radium Hot Springs (staying at Chalet Europe 2 nights), so the commute won't take much of our travel day to the Banff area. I thought about camping at the Park Service campgrounds just north of Lake Louise area, or closer to town of Banff. Would like to hear pros / cons of each option...or other opinions as to where to spend these 2 nights.

Our overall itinerary starts and ends in Calgary (flights from and to Pittsburgh). We are staying in a Holiday Inn near the airport our 1st and last nights. Night #2 will be spent in 1 of the campgrounds in Waterton Lakes. Nights 3 & 4 will be spent in the Many Glacier area of GNP. We then head back to Canada for 8 days and 7 nights in a Chalet in the Fernie area. Will use this as "base camp" for activities in the Waterton / Fernie / Kootenay / Elk River areas. After that we'll head to the Chalet in Radium Hot Springs.

Will welcome any and all feedback on the Banff questions and the trip overall. Suggestions on "what not to miss" and where to rent canoes in either Fernie area or Radium area.

Thanks

Calgary, Alberta...
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1. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

So, let me see, cantwate, if I’ve understood you correctly. At the moment your itinerary looks like this:

1 – Land in Calgary and overnight there (in a hotel).

2 – Waterton Lakes National Park (in a campground).

3, 4 – Many Glacier

5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 – Fernie (in a chalet)

12, 13 – Radium Hot Springs (in a chalet)

14, 15 – Lake Louise / Banff area (in a campground)

16 – Overnight in Calgary (in a hotel).

17 – Fly home.

It sounds from your questions as if you have not been to the area before. Therefore I commend you on the itinerary you have mapped out. It is pretty good for someone who has not been to Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. That said, I feel your itinerary could use some tweaks.

WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK

It’s a bit of a shame that you can’t spend 2 nights in Waterton when you initially camp there. You say you’re going to visit Waterton from Fernie, but it’s not really THAT close. The two places are 100 miles from each other, and the distance takes 2 hours to drive in one direction. It IS possible to do Waterton as a day trip from Fernie, but it would involve 4 hours of driving. So why not explore Waterton while you’re camping there?

FERNIE

I also think you’re spending a bit too long in Fernie. I would say 4 nights would be a better allocation of time. Don’t get me wrong. Fernie is a nice place. But there are a lot of other nice places on your route, and you’re going to short change some of them because you’re devoting that amount of time to Fernie. I’m guessing that, since you’ll be spending 7 nights in Fernie, you may be renting a property that rents by the week. If that is the case, you may be locked into the 7-night stay.

RADIUM HOT SPRINGS

If you’re locked into the 7-night stay in Fernie, the only other thing you could do to “rescue” your vacation, in my opinion, is to omit the stay at Radium Hot Springs and devote those 2 nights to the Lake Louise / Banff area, thus brining your Lake Louise – Banff stay up to 4 nights.

Radium Hot Springs is a nice area. I don’t want to knock it. But I’m sorry, spending 2 nights in the Lake Louise – Banff area out of a 16-night vacation is ridiculous (that is, too short). Sorry, perhaps I’m not being sufficiently tactful. I’m aware that I have strong feelings about these things, and I don’t hesitate to express them.

Okay, so I’m opinionated, but then isn’t that what you come to a travel forum discussion to get? My attitude is that, if you want to read bland descriptions that lavish equal praise on unequally beautiful places, you can go to commercial sources that have something to sell.

I have nothing to sell. I have no connections with the hospitality industry. I’ve lived in Calgary for 30 years, I love the Rockies, and that is the basis of my opinion. The 4 most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies -- at least the ones that can be reached without extensive hiking or other major effort – are within a half-hour driving radius of Lake Louise. The turquoise lakes, in turn, are the crown jewels of the mountains.

ICEFIELDS PARKWAY

Another advantage of the Lake Louise area is that it is a jumping off point from which you can drive up the Icefields Parkway, the gorgeous road that connects Lake Louise and Jasper. I don’t recommend that you drive all the way to Jasper and back in a day. Technically you can do it, but if you do you won’t have enough time to stop at the scenic lookout points along the way. It is better to go only as far as Sunwapta Falls or so, and have time to see Peyto Lake and check out the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields. That is another thing you will not have time to do if you spend only 2 nights in the Lake Louise / Banff area.

TOP ATTRACTIONS IN LAKE LOUISE / BANFF AREA

The things you should be sure to see while you’re in the Lake Louise area are:

• Moraine Lake (9 miles from Lake Louise)

• Peyto Lake (just off the Icefields Parkway, 30 minutes’ drive north of Lake Louise)

• Lake Louise

• Emerald Lake (in Yoho National Park, to the west of Lake Louise)

• Takakkaw Falls (in Yoho National Park)

• Johnston Canyon (on the Bow Valley Parkway or Hwy #1A, between Lake Louise and Banff townsite)

CAMPGROUNDS

I don’t know which campground to suggest in the Lake Louise / Banff area. If you stay in the Lake Louise area you’ll be more centrally located with respect to prime hiking territory. If you stay close to Banff townsite, you’ll be closer to decently sized supermarkets from which you can buy groceries.

CANOES

I don’t know where in the Fernie or Radium areas you can rent canoes. In the Lake Louise / Banff area you can rent them at Emerald Lake, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise. One or two of the lakes near Lake Minnewanka (near Banff townsite) also have canoes for rent. If memory serves me correctly, there are canoes for rent at Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake.

FIRST AND LAST NIGHTS’ ACCOMMODATION

Your choice of a hotel near Calgary Airport is a good one for your last night, all the more so if you have a morning flight out of Calgary. I think that location is a poor choice for your first night (unless you get in really late, like midnight). If you get into Calgary in daylight hours, it would be better to drive at least as far as the first town to the south of Calgary, which is Okotoks. There are at least a couple of reasons for that. First of all, Okotoks is a more attractive location than the commercial zone around the airport. Secondly, it means you’ll be clear of Calgary’s rush hour traffic the next morning, and you’ll be well place to start your journey towards Waterton Lakes National Park.

ROUTE FROM CALGARY TO WATERTON

When you drive from Calgary or Okotoks to Waterton, I recommend that you do not take the main highway (Hwy #2), but rather take Hwy #22 (also known as the Cowboy Trail). Hwy #22 is further west than Hwy #2. It takes you through the rolling foothills on the east side of the Rockies. The scenery is pretty. In fairness, I should qualify that by saying that the scenery from Hwy #2 is not ugly. Although Hwy #2 itself takes you over flat terrain, you do get views of the Rockies on the western horizon while you’re driving down Hwy #2. But Hwy #22 is so close to the Rockies that there are spots where you feel you can almost reach out and touch them.

Hope that helps. Over and out.

Calgary, Alberta...
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2. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

By the way, if you have not already discovered it, the Inside Banff National Park section here at TripAdvisor has heaps of information, not only about Banff National Park but also about the Canadian Rockies in general:

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g154910-s1/Banff-Nati…

See also Inside Waterton Lakes National Park:

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g184841-s1/Waterton-L…

If you are not thoroughly familiar with mountains and how quirky the weather in them can be, I recommend that you read Inside Banff National Park : Clothing (the temperature can get down to freezing, even in summer -- something to keep in mind under any circumstances but especially if you're camping):

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g154910-c13644/Banff-…

Calgary, Canada
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3. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Cantwate,

If you are camping, I would strongly advise you to avoid Lake Louise. The entire campground is not only next to the railway tracks, but is also close to a level crossing. That means that you will have trains blowing their whistles as they go through the level crossing at any time, day or night. Unless you are already used to that, you are far better off camping in the Banff area.

The Tunnel Mountain campground is just a 20-minute walk from downtown Banff, or you can catch a Banff Transit bus instead. It has lots of elk and wooded sites, and fairly decent washrooms and showers (especially in the tent area, IIRC). The Johnson Lake campground is located along Johnson Lake, about 2/3 of the way between Banff and Lake Minnewanka. I haven't camped there (I have an RV, so I prefer Tunnel Mountain, which has full hookups), but it looks very lovely. It's about a 15 minute drive from Johnson Lake to the town of Banff.

Wherever you decide to camp, make sure to get a reservation as soon as you can; use the online reservation site.

Pittsburgh
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4. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Thank-you very much County Wife. What about the Mosquito Creek campground? I don't mind traveling north of Lake Louise for a night if

Pittsburgh
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5. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

OOPS! Let me try again...

I'm new to this area and appreciate the good advice about the train noise. Would I experience the same at the Mosquito Creek campground to the north? It appears to be a very small campground. We could put-up w/ the lack of ammentities for a night or two. But the train noise would be most troubling.

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6. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Judy in Calgary ( & others),

Thanks for your honest feedback and advice.

You're right; I've not been to the Canadian Rockies. I have spent time in Glacier N.P. and have always wanted to see what was to the north. While we're anxious to show Glacier to our boys, we're just as anxious to spend the majority of our trip north of the border. We got a very attractive rate for booking the Fernie property for a 7 night stay, in an area that sounds like a wonderful spot to base ourselves. We are hoping to spend a couple of days paddling and fishing in the many options of creeks and rivers in the Fernie area and hang-out in town a day or two, and yes, make the drive to Waterton once or twice and maybe even camp there one night while we're booked at Fernie.

Your suggestion of skipping the 2 night stay at Radium is one I'll consider. Again, I jumped on the chance to reserve a very attractive rate at a Chalet that appears to be extremely scenic. It is just on the S.W. edge of Kootenay N.P. I've read the hiking here is outstanding (in the mountains inside the park).

You've convinced me to get out of Calgary on our arrival date. What do you think of a stay-over that 1st night in a hotel near Canmore, rather than heading directly south of Calgary right away. We could rise early the next morning and head south on 742 to route 40 south. Could we still get to Waterton by 3:00 or 4:00 pm? Your thoughts?

Anxious to read any and all comments.

Thanks

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7. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

I looked up Mosquito Creek; it's on the Icefields Parkway, 24 km north of Lake Louise, correct? In that case, no problem--the train tracks parallel the Hwy 1 (Trans-Canada), and there are no train tracks along the Icefields Parkway. You may still here whistles all the way from Lake Louise, though, if you are having a still night with a very light wind in just the right direction; my house is about 20 km (or more) from the same CPR main line that goes through Banff and Lake Louise, but some nights I can still hear the train whistle blow. It's not loud enough to wake anyone, though!

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8. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Taking the 742 from Canmore to Waterton is not the world's most direct route. The Hwy 742 (like all triple-digit numbered highways in Alberta) is a secondary road. It also has two other names: the Smith-Dorrien Highway, or the Spray Lakes Trail. It's a good *gravel* road. Not everyone feels comfortable driving on gravel, that's why I wanted to be sure to mention it. Also, Canmore is a little out of your way to the west; if you're going to take the Hwy 40 in any case, you might consider spending the night at Dead Man's Flats, 10 minutes east of Canmore. The Big Horn Motel, which TripAdvisor puts in the Canmore section, is actually at Dead Man's Flats; so is the Kiska Inn B&B and the Pigeon Mountain Motel.

The other alternative, of course, is to spend the night at Kananaskis Village, which might actually be the same driving distance as Canmore. I'll have to dig out my paper maps, though, to be sure.

The website for reservations for campsites in the national parks is www.pccamping.ca .

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9. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

Hi,

I second Country Wife's suggestions on the Lake Louise campground, as well as the Tunnel Mountain campground. We have enjoyed camping at Tunnel Mountain (Village 1 and 2) in our tent in the past.

If you want to be even further from the crowds at Banff, I would suggest Two Jack or Johnston Canyon. I don't know if you have discovered this link yet, but it will give you a list of all Banff Campgrounds:

pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/visit9_E.asp

If you think you've found a nice spot to stay in Radium for a good price for a couple of nights, I say go for it. You are certainly close enough to Lake Louise to still be able to drive back and forth, if you're not opposed to doing some driving.

While in Fernie, you will be reasonably close to the Crowsnest Pass, along the #3 highway in Alberta. This is basically a line of 5 towns, which are each a mile or two apart along the highway. This area is rich in history (and coal!). You may be interested in touring the old mine in Bellevue, the Hillcrest Mining Disaster cemetary in Hillcrest (basically across the highway from Bellevue mine), you should definitely NOT miss the site of the Frank Slide and its interpretive centre, in Frank. There is a self-guided walking tour that you can take in Coleman which will take you past many historic buildings in town, past the old houses which were once owned by the mine, and even further down the trail that the miners once walked to get to work each day. Inquire at the visitor centre in Coleman for a map. I would estimate that the Crowsnest Pass is about an hour's drive from Fernie.

Further west of the Pass (about another hour) is Fort McLeod, which is home to the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. This is a Unesco World Heritage site, where native Indians once ran buffalo over the cliff to their deaths. The interpretive centre is really well-done. If you can work it into your travel schedule at all, I would definitely recommend it. Possibly on your way south to Waterton you could fit this in? I would allow 2 - 3 hours to tour the facility.

The town of Sparwood, just east of Fernie, is also rich in mining history, past and present. It is the site of the world's largest truck, an old ore hauling truck which now sits along the highway on the east side of town.

If you head west from Fernie towards Cranbrook, you can tour Fort Steele, which is a historic museum town just east and north of Cranbrook. You could easily spend half a day there. North of Fort Steele is Kimberley, a bavarian style town. I enjoy wandering through downtown Kimberley when we are in the area. There is often free entertainment at the band shell downtown on weekends.

I have been typing for so long that I have forgotten what your last questions were. lol. I will post this and re-read your reply, to see what I have forgotten.

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10. Re: Where to camp in Banff / trip feedback overall

To add to what Country_Wife has said ............

It would take you about 1.5 hours to get from Calgary Airport to Canmore if you were driving outside of Calgary's afternoon rush hour traffic. If you set out from the airport between, say, 4 pm and 6 pm, the 30 minutes or so to get out of Calgary might turn into a longer time, say an hour at the worst (bringing the total trip time up to 2 hours).

I would guess it would take you about 5 hours, not counting stops, to get from Canmore to Waterton Lakes National Park.

The first part of the journey would take you through Kananaskis Country, which is beautiful. As Country_Wife said, the Smith-Dorrien Road is a good gravel road. If you don't want to travel on a gravel road, you could go east on Hwy #1, south on Hwy #40 (which turns into Route #541 and swings eastwards in the vicinity of the Highwood Pass), and then south onto Hwy #22 at the small town of Longview. By the way, although Route #541 has 3 digits, it is paved.

Longview would be a good place to stop for lunch. For a town as small as it is, it is blessed with amazingly good restaurants. A friend of mine has a theory that, because quite a few movies are shot in that area and because the film crews require catering services, Longview has better restaurants than a town of its size could be expected to have. I don't know if that's true but, whatever the reason, I'm not complaining.

If you've been to Glacier National Park before, you could consider staying in Waterton National Park for the days that you otherwise might have spent in Glacier. Then, once you're in Waterton, you could see how you react to it. Either you could use all of your time there to explore Waterton more extensively. If you feel you've seen enough of Waterton, you could use it as a base for doing a day trip to Many Glacier. It would take you about 1.5 hours to drive from Waterton to Many Glacier, including the 15-minute or so stop at the Canada-USA border.

In the next post, I will provide some thoughts on how you could use Days 14, 15, and 16 if you retain your reservation at Radium Hot Springs. You are correct that Kootenay National Park has beautiful scenery.