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Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

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Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

I must admit it's been fascinating hanging out on this website the past couple of weeks and 'soaking up' all of the valuable information supplied by the Alberta travel experts on here...great stuff!

I've got an itinerary for a 2-week trip to Alberta/BC this October that I'd like to post here, so feel free to comment or critique if there is something I should change or add that would make the trip more rewarding. I also did quite a bit of research from the information tips listed on both sides of the pages here, so feel comfortable in setting up trips each day to the many impressive sights in each area...just wish I had more time.

I plan on heading up from northern Nevada on 10/03 and stay the night in Shelby, MT, which is close to the border, then on to Alberta the next day. Had thought about staying a night in Calgary but due to only having 2 weeks to do the trip, will probably push on through to Canmore or Banff that day, which according to Mapquest is supposedly doable in 6 hours or so, not counting stops, of course.

Would like to stay one night at Canmore and then the next two at Banff, but am still researching hotels in both areas, so not yet decided if that will be the plan or not. After 3 nights in Canmore/Banff, will head north to Jasper for 3 nights. After Jasper I head west to Vancouver with a stop en route, probably at Clearwater, BC, as I would like to see the waterfalls at nearby Wells Gray PP. And then on to Vancouver/Victoria for 6 more days before heading for home.

Wish I had more time to see eastern Alberta as I would like to get out to the Dinosaur PP for a couple of days, but don't have the time this trip, so will save that one for another journey. I'm obviously not going to have nearly enough time to see everything with just 3 nights (each) in Banff/Jasper, but that should be plenty for taking in a lot of sights, and hopefully I will be back that way in a few years.

Question: Is there a way I can bypass Calgary to head west towards Canmore after coming north from the border, or would it be too time-consuming taking another route? Looks like there are a couple of routes out of Lethbridge I can take, but don't know how fast they would be.

I realize that traveling to the Canadian Rockies in early October can sometimes be an 'iffy' propostion with the weather beginning to change, plus being able to see everything, as many of the tourist attractions have by then closed down for the season. The Maligne Lake cruise was one ride I was hoping to catch, but it looks like that one closes up for the season on 10/02, so will have to get it another time.

Really looking forward to this trip...

Appleton, Wisconsin
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1. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

I won't comment on your itinerary for the Rockies, but I wanted to comment on Shelby, MT. Despite being on an interstate, Shelby does not have a lot to offer visitors. If you are just planning to stop for night it's a great choice. If you need more than a Pizza Hut, Subway and the truck stop deli, you might be better off stopping in Great Falls which is 86 miles to the south or continuing on to Lethbridge.

On our way home from Banff we took Hwy 1 to Calgary, Hwy 2 south to Fort McLeod, Hwy 3 to Lethbridge and Hwy 4 south to the border. That route was pretty fast with a lot of 4 lane highway although it does take you through quite a few towns that slowed us down a bit. The terrain was flat and more prairie like. On our way up to Banff, we came from Waterton and took Hwy 22 to Hwy 40, coming out just outside of Canmore. This was very scenic(mountains, forests, rivers) and we enjoyed the drive quite a bit even if it was a little slower. The road was in very good shape and there was not a lot of traffic. If you are looking for something different that could be a good alternative. I guess you just need to decide if you want to see towns or scenery!

As for staying a night in Canmore and then moving to Banff I would probably just stay in Banff unless you need to stay in Canmore because it it less expensive or for hotel availability issues. The two towns are so close together that it doesn't make sense to stay in Canmore for one night and then pack up your stuff and move to Banff. I suspect most of the things you want to see will be closer to Banff anyways.

Calgary, Canada
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2. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

Only a few quick points, as I'm short on time at the moment:

Just a reminder that the weekend of Oct 8-10 is Canadian Thanksgiving, so book your accommodations for those days ASAP, and reconfirm them as it gets closer to your departure.

Yes, you can bypass Calgary - it's a slightly slower but much more scenic route to go via Hwy 22 (Cowboy Trail) and Hwy 40 (Kananaskis Trail) rather than taking Hwy 2 to Calgary. Here it is on Google Maps; note that this route bypasses Lethbridge entirely:


There aren't as many gas stations along this route, though. I'd suggest you top off your tanks at Shelby, MT and then again at Pincher Creek, just to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

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3. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

Country_Wife, your comments are most appreciated, and thanks. I may just try the Hwy 22 routing to bypass Calgary, even if it is a longer run. Maybe next time I'm up that way, will have time for eastern Alberta plus Calgary/Edmonton as well. Too much to see...too little time, or so it seems...

And to Irongrl, thanks for the informative updates as well. Will take that into consideration when looking at Shelby for the one night. And as mentioned above, Hwy 22 sounds like a good option, so will probably route that way.

Edited: 29 August 2011, 02:58
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4. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

We were in Banff National Park in mid July so travel still fresh, I would suggest staying in Banff for three nights, from there you can go to Lake Louise. its only 50 minutes away, all highway. Banff has the best infrascture re hotels, restaurants etc and is so spectacluar with mountains at either end of downtown, stay downtown area if you can as parking is tight particularly on weekends. When you enter the park you have to pay a fee, it depends on how many days and there are family and group passes, they will tape the pass in your windshield with the dates clearly visible, do not try to by pass there are checks everywhere. Lake Louise is breathtaking,go there in the morning right after breakfast, parking is tight. On the highway to Jasper you will see the icefields, large operation, bus to the icefield then special terrain bus to the glacier, its not cheap $52.00 for adults but how many times are you going to stand on a glacier. Near Jasper is the Athebasca Falls right off the highway well worth a visit and its free. Re Jasper I would suggest not stopping for more than two nights, small town not much around and its expensive. Keep to the lodges at the end of the village, more space and no rail noises.If you want to try the rapids remember the river is run off from glaciers, always very cold, they supply wetsuits but no gloves, hand go numb in minutes not for the faint of heart. The highway is just amazing, mountain views at every turn. Have a good trip.

Vancouver, Canada
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5. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

Looks like a pretty solid itinerary so far. We had three nights in Jasper and didn't regret it, but we had one day in town to do laundry and shop. You need a day like that on a trip. I also think it gives you some flexibility to revisit the northern end of the Icefields Parkway if you either run out of time on the drive up or if the weather was less than perfect.

Have you considered going to Vancouver from Jasper by heading south again on the Icefields Parkway and then west on highway 1 through Golden and Revelstoke? You will miss Wells Grey on this route, so that's a trade off, but I suggest this for two main reasons.

1. Because the Icefields Parkway is spectacular, and if you don't have good weather, you've missed it. By giving yourself a second chance at it, then you improve your odds. Most people also feel its so spectacular that its worth doing twice, and the views are different heading in the other direction anyway.

2. Because the highway between Lake Louise and Revelstoke is, IMO, more spectacular and more scenic than the road from Jasper to Clearwater. Revelstoke is a great tourist town with lots to offer, and you can add a couple of stops in Glacier and Mt. Revelstoke National parks, making it worth your while to buy the annual Parks pass rather than the daily passes.

Just something to consider. There's nothing to fault with the original plan.

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6. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

Fotoman/Vancouverite6, thanks for the added updates. Been real busy with the job as of late so not much time to post on here, but wanted to get back on tonight and respond to the updates.

Yes, I had originally thought about just two nights in Jasper, but am still looking at my options there. And with the lodges starting to fill up for that week, I'd better get busy tomorrow and get some dates reserved, otherwise I'll be sleeping in my car. Ok, I'm joking of course, but I do need to get some rooms reserved this week, especially in the Banff/Jasper areas.

As far as driving back south on the IP and west to Revelstoke, looks to be a long ways out of the way as far as getting to Vancouver, but I'll take a look and decide if I would have the time to do it. Looks like it might be fun to do, if I can fit it into the schedule.

Reason I was looking at a night in Canmore then two in Banff was because it seemed like a lot of the travel advice on here was mixed as to which place was better for lodging. Obviously Banff would be closer to the action, however it sounds like Canmore is a little more laid-back and low-key, which I also like, and the extra driving wouldn't bother me that much anyway, so will decide tomorrow how I'm going to book the rooms and go from there.

I've also pondered whether or not I should just break the journey up into two separate trips and do BC this October and Alberta next June, or still try to do them both in two weeks, which is going to be pushing it, especially with five more nights in Vancouver/Victoria on top of everything else. But I think I'll just stick to the plan and see what I can in two weeks and leave it at that. I'm sure I'll be traveling back to both areas in the near future anyway, so this will be a good sampler trip to see what areas I like.

I've decided I'm not going to be in such a rush driving north from Nevada and will instead take 3 days getting to Canmore/Banff. The plan now will be to drive to Butte, MT for one night then north to Lethbridge, AB before heading to the Banff area on Wednesday. It may mean I'll have to cut out a night somewhere else on the trip but I'll work something out with that.

Thanks again for the informative updates...

Edited: 31 August 2011, 05:03
Banff, Canada
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7. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

The easiest most direct route to Calgary is I-15, through Lethbridge connecting with Highway 2. If you want the by-pass around Calgary, it's highway 22x via Priddis and Bragg Creek. It''s a quick, easy, direct by-pass to Highway 1 and Banff.

Certainly, if you're feeling up for a more scenic all day drive to Banff - Country Wife has given you a great idea. You could continue past Highway 2 and connect with Higway 22. From there, it's Highway 22 to the town of Longview, where you connect with Highway 40. It's a special drive. It won't take you that much longer and you will be spending most of your day in the car - so why not?

As far a your itinerary, 3 days in Banff and Lake Louise will give you a nice taste of our region. One day in and around Banff, one day for Lake Louise - and the 3rd day as a "flex day" for possibility of an activivity, a hike, or a trip to Yoho National Park. You won't be able to do it all, so decide if there's something that you really don't want to miss. I wouldn't want to miss the chance to go up the Banff or Lake Louise Gondola, a hike in Lake Louise and possibly a half day at Lake Minnewanka and a half day at Johnson Canyon. If you are looking for more amazing National Park scenery, you might be able squeeze in a trip to Yoho, I highly recommend visiting Takakkaw Falls and Emerald Lake.

You may also think about picking up a GyPSy Guide for a few days of auto touring through the Canadian Rockies. It's a GPS activated tour that gives you a fun and interesting audio commentary as you drive along.


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8. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

I've got everything booked now except for Vancouver, so will take care of that one this weekend. Wish I could have done the trip a week earlier in order to do the Maligne boat cruise, but will look at that one next time up that way.

Banff/LakeLouise, thanks for the added comments to my post, and thanks to all who responded. Will try and update after I return. Should be a fun trip.

Edited: 03 September 2011, 01:30
9. Re: Beginner's Guide to the Canadian Rockies

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