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sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Gold Coast...
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sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Hi, we are a family of 2A/3C going to Canada in January. We have booked a skiing week at Whistler and then want to sightsee the Rockies. Are we mad or is this feasible and is Banff (Douglas Fir?)the most central town to stay in and do day trips? We thought of flying return to Calgary from Vancouver and hiring a 4wd. We only have 5 nights to do the Rockies. Any advice would be appreciated. KT

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1. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

What are you expecting to do in the Rockies? There are two good ski areas in Banff National Park (Sunshine, Lake Louise), and one a short drive (60 min?) outside of the park boundaries (Nakiska).

A four-wheel drive vehicle isn't what most people need to drive in the Rockies in the winter; it's more important to have a vehicle with ABS brakes, and some good winter driving skills; driving across the Rockies, from Vancouver to Banff, is one of the more intimidating driving tasks that Canadians undertake. See Inside Banff National Park: Driving in the Mountains for more information.

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g154910-c5999/Banff-N…

If you're planning to fly from Vancouver to Calgary, you won't need a 4WD, unless you really want to drive the Icefields Parkway; the Hwy 1 from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise is almost always in excellent winter driving condition; again, see Driving in the Mountains for details.

Banff is definitely the most central place to stay; however, Canmore is only a 15-20 min drive from the town of Banff, so don't rule it out.

A lot of summer tourist attractions are not available in winter; the scenic Bow Valley Parkway is closed in winter, for wildlife, as is the Highwood Pass section of Kananaskis Country's Hwy 40 route. The lakes will all be frozen, and Johnston Canyon will be hard to access (although if you have luck with the weather, it might still be possible). Bow Falls will have lots of snow and ice; the road to spectacular Takkakaw Falls may be inaccessible, I would definitely ask Parks Canada about that before even *thinking* of going there, since it's quite a long drive from Banff (about 90 mins or more).

However, you might enjoy driving Hwy 40 in Kananaskis Country; the road is kept in very good winter driving condition, and there a number of areas where you can pull over and admire the mountains.

Douglas Fir seems to be an okay place to stay in Banff (I can't say more, because I haven't actually stayed there), but it is on Tunnel Mountain. That means that it is not within easy walking distance of the main services within the townsite, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping.

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2. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Great info, Country_Wife.

Just a point of clarification about the following:

>>>>>>However, you might enjoy driving Hwy 40 in Kananaskis Country; the road is kept in very good winter driving condition, and there a number of areas where you can pull over and admire the mountains.<<<<<<

While a long section of Hwy 40 is open through the winter, as C_W indicated, the section from Kananaskis Lakes southwards through the Highwood Pass is closed to motorized traffic during the winter.

But I don't even know why I'm responding to a relatively minor detail, Wattlebird5, when I think your plan is fundamentally crazy.

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3. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Now now, Judy... not everyone shares your opinion! Granted, winter sight-seeing in the Rockies is more limited (well, the sight-seeing is not limited, but access to many areas is, because of seasonal road closures, and the number of paid attractions that are open is less...) but the Rockies are *gorgeous* any time of the year. Daylight hours are much shorter than the summertime - approximately 830 or 9 am to about 4 pm in January. And January can be very cold at times.

Wattlebird, I am guessing that you have no winter driving skills because of where you are from (in January, most Canadians would be dreaming of visiting YOUR area, not coming to the Rockies in winter lol), and you don't say what the ages of your children are.... but if they are on the younger side, I would recommend against planning on doing a lot of winter touring by car. (Actually I would advise against a lot of car touring with young kids no matter what the season! It's just no fun being cooped up in a car hearing "are we there yet" and "she's poking me" lol... the subtleties of scenery are usually lost on younger kids.) You don't really need a 4WD most of the time in the Rockies - road conditions are usually fine unless there has been a snowstorm - and generally what happens, imo, with 4WD drivers is that they wind up driving faster than they should for the conditions, because they think the 4WD will keep them safe. But it might be nice to have if conditions are dicey - and to have a larger vehicle, more comfort for the five of you and your gear.

From Banff, you can visit Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, however it is a little too far to use as a base for visiting the Jasper area, especially in the winter. The Icefields Parkway (highway between LL and Jasper) is a spectacular drive at any time of the year, but it is unpatrolled and unmaintained after 4:30 pm (when it is already dark anyway). I *always* plan for daytime driving on the parkway.

If you plan to come up to Jasper, I would do it early in your five days, so that IF there is a storm or adverse highway conditions after you arrive in Jasper, you will have time to either drive back the long way around (Edmonton, Calgary), or wait a day or two for conditions to improve. (just being ultra cautious here)

As mentioned, there are more ski areas in the Alberta Rockies, so you could continue your ski vacation if you did not get enough at Whistler. They are Mt. Norquay, and Sunshine Village (Banff), Lake Louise (LL), and Marmot Basin (Jasper). None of them are as big as Whistler though - but they are plenty big enough. You can google to find their websites if you want more info.

You could try dog-sledding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, tobagganing. One activity in Jasper that I would HIGHLY recommend is "canyon crawling" - there are tour companies that equip you with warm boots and crampons (spikes for better footing on ice) and take you *into* Maligne Canyon on the frozen river, a rare opportunity to see the canyon from the inside-out, frozen waterfalls etc. Outside of the national parks, there are tour companies that offer snowmobile excursions.

We Canadians tend to be "down" on winter, dreaming more of a holiday escape to a warmer climate, but for you Aussies who do not have to live with five months or more of winter each year, a winter vacation may be a totally memorable and enjoyable family vacation!

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4. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

FABULOUS information, krp329.

However ............

>>>>>>Now now, Judy... not everyone shares your opinion!<<<<<<

Wattlebird5 said, "We only have 5 nights to do the Rockies. " I take it that means 5 nights to drive from Whistler to the Rockies and then explore the Rockies themselves.

There is a small, but nevertheless finite, chance that the wattlebird5 family could get held up for a day or two by a road closure en route from Whistler to the Rockies or by a one-day or two-day closure of the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Lake Louise.

Five nights to cover that territory does not leave any wiggle room.

Gold Coast...
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5. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

great info, thanks. I get the idea i may be a bit nieve in expecting there to be enough non-skiing related activities from Banff without having

the family cooped up in the car for a long time. Can you suggest what areas on the east are good at this time of the year ...our kids are 10, 12 and 2 but the 2year old fits in with whatever the older two and us oldies are happy to do. We will have spent 4 days in YVR with family on arrival, 7 nts Whistler and still have 8 nts altogether before flying out. Kt

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6. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Oops, sorry I mean west.KT

Wales, UK
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7. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Hi Wattlebird5, if you don't go to the Rockies and head West instead, I would definitely recommend Vancouver Island!

I've not been yet but it looks amazing... Will be a completely different experience to Whistler for sure! You can explore the beaches and rainforests and go whale and bearwatching.

Jasper, Canada
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8. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

Judy, I agree with you - if they were driving from Whistler, five days would not be enough, but the way I read it was that they were flying from Vancouver to Calgary, picking up a vehicle, then driving from there.

It does seem a shame to come all the way from Australia and miss the Rockies!

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9. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

One thing which hasn't yet been mentioned is the *indoor* activities in Banff. For info on that, you can read Inside Banff: Rainy Day Activities (tripadvisor.com/Travel-g154911-c14480/Banff:…) and Inside Banff: Museums and Attractions (tripadvisor.com/Travel-g154911-s410/Banff:Al…).

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10. Re: sightseeing holiday from Banff in january...are we mad?

>>>>>>the way I read it was that they were flying from Vancouver to Calgary, picking up a vehicle, then driving from there.<<<<<<

I thought they wanted to drive from Whistler to the Rockies. However, I have re-read the original post, and I now see that they wanted to fly from Vancouver to Calgary and back again. That does change the equation.

>>>>>>It does seem a shame to come all the way from Australia and miss the Rockies!<<<<<<

I agree. :-)