Okie dokie, I've posted some reviews before but this is my first time doing a trip report; hope I am doing it correctly via this forum...if not, please let me know!
I'm going to be as brief as possible, covering mostly the places we visited and how long we took. If you need details, just ask me and I'll try my best to respond to them.
Food: You can buy food and bring it in (as in, fly it in if you're from the States) but that would mean you'll have to declare them and therefore more troublesome, or you can just buy it in Calgary/Canmore/Banff. Best to get wraps, canned salmon/tuna etc (they have different flavours and therefore it won't be boring), there's canned chicken/chicken slices as well that last quite a few days. Bring along a small foldable cooler bag just in case, will be good especially when you buy fruits (nectarines, peaches, avocados, grape tomatoes etc).
Clothing: Bring for all 4 seasons! At night it can go below 5 degree celcius, in the day (when I went), it went up to 28 degree celcius!
Equipment: Camera, tripod, binoculars and hiking poles
Day 1 (4 Sep, Wed)
We flew in from NYC. Flight was at 8am from Newark with Air Cananda. We hopped onto cab at 515am and arrived at airport (from Manhattan) by 545am; morning traffic was very light, no worries at all.
We touched down at 1105am in Calgary, sorted out the luggage and the car (with Alamo, only 1 guy at the counter so once you collect your luggage, speed there!) and left the airport at 12noon.
We had purchased all 6 GyPSy guides (YYC to Banff, Icefield Pkwy, Jasper, Banff to Yoho etc) beforehand and loaded them onto my iPhone. These proved very helpful as the instructions were very clear and they provide commentary (of history and geology) in between to fill the periods of silence/boredom. We took the Stoney Trail West Hwy 201, very smooth traffic.
Note: we tried to find places that sell SIM cards but none at the airport, we eventually got one at the Cascade Mall (basement) with Rogers. They gave us a discount for card activation since we were only going to use it for 2 weeks (usually it's around $30-$35 but he charged us $20). Total was $52.50 and that was for 400MB of data and $5 reserve for calls/messages; definitely more than enough! We bought this mainly to use the maps and find good food in Banff and Jasper and emergency cases. Rogers was the best (IMHO) compared to Bell and Telus.
We got to Banff townsite at 140pm (no stops, ~1h 40min drive). We had lunch at Nourish Bistro (recommended!). The address we had was at 215 Banff Ave @ Sundance Mall but it actually shifted since July 2013 to 211 Bear St (which is just across the back of Sundance Mall). Park at the carpark behind the Mall (free, max for 3hours between 8am - 9pm). Lunch was great and portions were huge (proper review will be given under the restaurant section).
Walked to the Banff Visitor Info Center to collect brochures, ask about any closures (e.g. Sunshine Meadows), necessity for bear spray (please note that we didn't get it. Andy from the Visitor Center said it really wasn't all that necessary. What really made us decide not to get it is because there's no way to recycle it. When you buy, you should open and test it, once opened, it cannot be resold and for proper disposal, you could pass it to the fire dept but they don't recycle it. You could pass it to another traveler but IMHO, it'll eventually go to the bin).
Checked in At Wit's End at 415pm, for 2 nights (highly recommended! breakfast was WOOOHOO!).
Left the B&B at 5pm to do our driving tour (with the GyPSy guide), sun was strong and light was harsh though, no way to take good pictures.
First was Surprise Corner, then 540pm for the Hoodoos hike. Total time spent here ~35min with lots of phototaking. It's very nice to do the walk up.
Next was the Lake Minnewanka Loop but the side to the 2 Jacks was closed due to the flooding. So we had to drive all the way in and then back out the same way. At 2 Jacks, we saw 3 people swimming across the lake. It was mad cold I have no idea how they could do it even with their wet suits!
715pm, there was still sufficient light; we drove towards Mt Norquay and visited the "green spot" that overlooks Banff townsite. It was a very quick drive up and down. You get to see the entire town of Banff but the sky was a little hazy so nothing much to see beyond that.
We didn't have dinner because we were extremely jet lagged (arrived in NYC 3 days ago from Singapore, that's a 12 hr time diff, plus this additional 2 hrs in Alberta, so 14 hrs in total)!
Day 2 (5 Sep ,Thur)
Breakfast at 730am (AWESOME start to the day)
Left at 830am for Safeway grocery shopping. We bought enough stuff for our packed lunches over the next 4-5 days till we reach Jasper. You can apply for the Safeway club member card, doesn't matter where you're a resident of, gives you discount to the items there.
Onward to Bow Falls, just a 5min hike up. Very gorgeous, thundering falls that were pouring over the sides. Do go early before the tour buses come as that would mean a lot of people and thus difficult to enjoy the sight.
Our GyPSy guide also directed us to do the Banff Springs Golf Course drive. It was a very peaceful drive (I don't think many know about this!), took about 45 min.
Next, we did Vermillion Lakes drive (reflection shots here are good). Drive was short, but it's good to just sit around and enjoy the lakes if not too many people around.
Then Bow Valley Parkway Hwy 1A towards Johnston Canyon trailhead. Arrived at 1235pm. Carpark was crowded but not as bad (we drove by on a Sat and the parked cars stretched out on both sides of the road!), we found a lot immediately. We started at 1pm and got back around 5pm. It was a 4hr journey with 30min lunch stop. Please note we hiked all the way to the ink pots. 2 hours up, 1.5hrs back, very steep so bring hiking pole(s). 5 ink pots in total. They are pretty, but if you are short on time, don't do it. In our opinion, we found the paint pots at Yosemite to be 10 times better than this. These 5 ink pots were in hues of grey-blue-green, the spectrum of colors aren't as wide or vibrant/saturated as those found in Yosemite like the Morning Glory.
Walked Bow River Bridge along Banff Ave around 715pm as sun was setting. Absolutely gorgeous sky. Checked out Cascade Garden, very pretty flowers all around, but it's actually bigger than it looks as it keeps going upwards! We could only spend about 15min here but you could jolly well spend 45min or more looking and taking pics of the flowers/garden.
Dinner at Pad Thai @ Clock Tower Mall then an after-dinner stroll along Banff Ave which is very pretty at night with all the warm lights glowing in contrast to the dark sky.
Day 3 (6 Sep, Fri)
Headed for Safeway in the morning again to purchase 3 boxes of lip-smacking grape tomatoes (we love them!) $4/box.
Refueled at the gas station before driving the Bow Valley Parkway (again) to Lake Louise.
Left gas station at 845am, arrived in Lake Louise at 1035am (~2hr drive). Please note that if you took Hwy 1, you'd be much faster. It was very cloudy and foggy (forecasted to rain over next 3 days), and because the color of the lake is best seen under the sun, Lake Louise was definitely a disappointment at first sight. But the stillness of the lake was still a sight to behold with the mountains standing over guard.
1145am we arrived at Moraine Lake, took pics of the Rockpile (climb the Rockpile via stairs behind please, definitely able to see Pikas, just listen for the high pitch sound they make), had lunch in the car (outside was too cold and crowded despite the dreary weather). Started on the shoreline trail (total return ~1hr, it's not a loop, just head there and back the same way). By the time we got back, the sky was clearing and the sun was out, perfect for the canoe trip we planned to do! I researched beforehand and thought it was $45plus for an hour, but he charged us $50/hour + GST. Although he did say the hour was "loose", i.e. just come back before 530pm. We rowed all the way to the source of Moraine Lake and then hugged the outer shoreline (nearer the mountains) back to the boathouse. Took about 2.5hrs. Very pretty, would do it all over again but do bring layers and best to wear gloves because it can get really cold!
Left Moraine Lake at 430pm to check in at Mountaineer Lodge (recommend the Modern Day Mountaineer Package, we did 2 nights); was raining very heavily now. We were at the Main Lodge - good thing since rain was heavy, down side is it looks a little old, sink was yellowish, bathtub floods.
Had dinner at Bill Peyto cafe (recommended). We queued in line for 15min (at 645pm) and waited 40min for food to come (go early or very late, around 8pm, you could get seated almost immediately and wait for food was shorter).
Day 4 (7 Sep, Sat)
Weather looked great even though forecasted to rain the whole day.
Breakfast was simple - DIY waffle machine was fun though. I added yoghurt to my waffle, super yummy!
Set off for Lake Louise; started trail (Teahouses hike) at 940am. Arrived at Lake Agnes Teahouse at 1040am, not that many people. (You'll see Mirror Lake and Big Beehive towering it before arriving at Lake Agnes). Ordered hot choc $4 each, came topped with marshmallows. Found it wayyyy too sweet and diluted (BECAUSE, all the choc powder was stuck at the bottom! We realized it only towards the end). Do ask for a spoon! We asked for hot water top up and they gracefully did it for us. Thank you!
Next we did Little Beehive (its a detour from the teahouses route), steep, bring hiking poles. Took about 1hr. At top of Little Beehive, directly across, you can see a hut that sits atop Big Beehive, that's our next destination!
It gets a bit rocky here as you have to go around the Lake to the base of Big Beehive. It has rather steep switchbacks here so hiking poles are good to have! We took about 30min to get to the lookout hut and had lunch there. The view from the area around the hut is amazing. Unfortunately, it's also very fleeting on that day because of the clouds/fog obscuring everything 97% of the time. But if clear, you could see the beautiful color of Lake Louise stretched out before you and the tiny castle of Fairmont at the left end.
Plain of 6 Glaciers teahouse was next. We had choc cake here (too sweet especially the icing on top) and mocha coffee (awesome!). Towards the lookout of the 6 glaciers, you could actually hike further on, depending on how comfortable you are. You would have to walk across a narrow ridge, of which if you lost your balance, you'll go the way of the avalanche on the left towards the glaciers that had huge crevasses. Just look on ahead and you'll be fine (kidding, it wasn't that bad). As you move on, you can climb towards your right and the glaciers in front of you get bigger with each step forward. You could see a hut on the top right side of the mountain, and Death's pass is there too I think. If you were brave enough, you could continue up the rocks but do be careful when coming down.
Back at the carpark at 620pm ready for dinner at Outpost Pub @ Post Hotel.
Day 5 (8 Sep, Sun)
Cloudy, foggy day.
Made our way to Yoho @ 810am. Visited Takakkaw Falls and the Natural Bridge. Set off Emerald Lake Shoreline hike at 1140am, completed it at 115pm (~1.5hr). We started from the left side of the lake and wanted to have lunch along the way but once you're past the half way point, the scenery changes and there's no way you could stop for lunch. Essentially, the left side of the lake gets the sun so the grounds are dry and there're occasional benches for you to sit and enjoy the view of the lake. The halfway point (where all the silt is filling the grounds), is where you'll see the last of the benches. If you want lunch or snack, have it here. Once you continue, it'll be inland and marshy grounds.
Wapta Falls was next ~1.5hours hike (pretty flat terrain, saw a ptarmigan & a mouse that was oblivious to our presence as it chewed on something right in front of us till we got bored and left). Wapta Falls was nice but not jaw-dropping.
Hoodoos hike ~2.5hrs (4 - 630pm). From carpark to trailhead abou 10-15min walk away. Please bring hiking poles because this has steep switchbacks. This hike, at the switchbacks area, is pretty quiet with the blackened tree trunks all around you and the new growth sprouting, plus the fall colors appearing amongst whatever new green there was. Then after rounding the corner, the path is slightly easier. It grows steeper again once you near the Hoodoos, which, IMHO can't compare to the ones we saw at Bryce with the colored layering of the rocks. We were the last people on this hike! Very few come here.
Checked in at Emerald Lake Lodge (highly recommended) - park at the overnight area, call their reception and someone will come get you in a shuttle.
Dinner was at Mount Burgess Dining Room @8pm (recommended, long wait though).
Day 6 (9 Sep, Mon)
Woke at 6am, left the lodge at 7am, wanted to refuel at Field but the gas station wasn't opened yet. So we went to Lake Louise for gas. On the way there, saw some elk grazing by the side of the highway (hwy 1).
Icefields Parkway was the plan for the whole of today. Hector Lake - very good reflection shots here. Missed Herbert Lake turnout (we revisited it on the way back). Mistaya Canyon was great. ~45min return trip. Skipped Weeping Wall (saw it on the way back), stopped by Bridal Veil Falls, had lunch at Coleman Creek and spotted some Mountain Goats on the mountains in front of us (just beside the hwy). We used our binoculars and could see them clearly, else it was actually difficult to spot with the naked eye. They're just these white specks of which some were rocks. They were all lying down and not really moving (it was a hot day!).
Parker Ridge Trail: 2hrs. You can actually spend as much time as you want up there and explore as far out and wide as you want. Steep and tiring! It's very windy up there especially when you can see the glacier stretched out in front of you. Someone had built 2 semi-circular rock piles for people to take refuge because when I say windy, I really mean EXTREMELY windy you can hardly stand/walk straight (I'm 108pounds, ~49kg).
Icefield Center to see the Athabasca Glacier. You hike up about 15min and walk around (you can't get onto the glacier because its dangerous), nothing much really (best to do the icewalk or the ice explorer). According to someone, they visited this place decades back and you were allowed on the glacier on this hike, not anymore!
We managed to get onto the last (or second last) bus @ 430pm that will bring you up the sides of the glacier, behind the lateral moraine, to the ice explorers (each costing $1.25m) that will bring you onto the Athabasca Glacier itself. Tickets at $55 (incl tax). They have commentaries along the way so it was quite good. The bus is heated but do dress warmly because it IS cold on the glacier! You get to spend some time on the glacier and we saw people coming back on board shivering. Total time: ~1hr 20min (incl bus ride there and back to center)
Note: Some distance further from the Icefield Center, they're constructing this Skywalk that would be ready in 2014.
Skipped Sunwapta Falls for now, stopped by Athabasca Falls (didn't hike down to lower canyon).
Jasper. Had dinner at Athabasca Hotel (meh-ok place). By the time we were done, it was 915pm. All grocery shops were closed - Super A Foods & Robinsons, closed by 9pm. Checked into Pine Bungalows (for next 4 nights). If you're staying here, please check in earlier because this place is DARK at night, if you're here the first time, it's difficult to find your way around.
Day 7 (10 Sep, Tue)
Check the heater when you check in @ Pine Bungalows because ours didn't work and we froze the entire night, extremely bad night!
We left the place at 9am, headed for Jasper townsite as we had a Fraser River rafting trip booked at 10am (was a package with Spirit Island cruise all for $143/pax, with Maligne Tours).
We parked along Hazel Ave (residential area) for full day free parking (this trip was around 5 hours). Had breakfast at Cafe Mondo (highly recommend!!!), packed some lunch from here as well.
Reported to the rafting office at 950am, saw a whole bunch of school kids (29 of them to be precise), heart sunk. Fortunately, there was another group of 4 on their own, so we paired up for the rafting. Drive was 1 hr to Mount Robson area. They provide wet suits, splash jackets and rafting shoes. All ladies change in 1 big room, all men in another big room. All your belongings to be in that room and they'll lock it before we leave so good thing not to bring anything valuable. Today was an extremely clear day - we could see the peak of Mt Robson clearly. Apparently this only happens 20-25 days a year! Lucky us! The rafting trip was awesome fun, choose the front seat, it's the best seat! The wet suit kept you reasonably warm. And if you follow instructions, you won't get thrown overboard. That day, water level was low, so I can't imagine how much more fun it would be during summer when it's higher! Your rafting guide would also explain and point things out when there are no rapids and so it makes for a really great trip. There's a class 5 rapid somewhere along the river so we had to portage around it. You got to be able to carry that raft (which was HEAVY) up a short steep slope, but our guide was SUPERman, he probably carried like 50% of the weight from the back of the raft! 'Nuff said about the rafting, verdict, GO for it! We left at 1015am, and we got back to Jasper around 4+pm (supposed to be 3pm, but they were blasting some rocks and therefore there was a jam there and back).
Had dinner at Sayuri Jap restaurant (recommended).
Day 8 (11 Sep, Wed)
Valley of the 5 Lakes. Started at 850am, Returned at 11am. 2hr 10min.
We got lost a little and did a route twice hence we took longer.
You just have to do the 9a route and turn off at 9b and head back to see all 5 lakes.
At the 9a/9b split, take the right to 9a. Then climb upwards about twice & you'll find yourselves at a fork - left is a slight incline & right is steep long downward hike - we made a mistake here and took the left and ended up at the 9a/9b split! You should take the right. Always look out for the Park Canada signs, if no signs, means you're on the wrong route! If you do it right, you'll be able to see all 5 lakes. Oh, but there's this small 6th lake you'll come upon before any of the others though. And for 1st lake is only a look from the corner if you don't intend to do the entire 9b loop trail.
Medicine Lake - everyone pulls off at the roadside but if you drive further up, there'll be a pullout just after the bend!
Maligne Lake. Spirit Island Cruise. Our 1pm cruise (it's a small boat) was pretty packed - all benches filled. We arrived back at 240pm. Takes about 40min to get there (depending on number of kayakers around since they have to slow the boat). You spend about 10min on the area near the island (not allowed ON the island), and then they hustle you back. In my opinion, yes, it is nice, but I don't think the ride was worth it. They did have some commentaries on the way there but for full price of $62, I don't think it's worth it.
We had a snack at the canteen area here. They had this cheeseburger soup that sounded interesting but I didn't try.
Maligne Canyon. From the parking lot, you'll likely visit the 2nd bridge first then head to the left to visit the 3rd and 4th bridge. 5th bridge is closed but I think you can still hike past it. 1st bridge would be the last to see...depending on how you do the loop. A warning though, after you return from the 4th bridge, there'll be a fork, one upwards (on the left), another almost parallel to the route that leads from the 3rd bridge (i.e. where you came from) on the right. Just walk back where you came from, the one on the left is used for horses, there's no view whatsoever and the hike is steep and boring! The canyon was disappointing, the water levels are so low we could hardly see anything. But you could see the smooth surfaces of the rocks that have been moulded by the water in the past.
Dinner at Cassios Italian restaurant along Connaught Dr (highly recommended!!!).
Day 9 (12 Sep, Thur)
Relaxing day! Left only at 830am.
Visited Bear Paw Bakery (the pastries on display took my breath away!) & Cafe Mondo (again!)
We left close to 10am for Mt Edith Cavell/Angel Glacier. We decided to take it easy today so no Mt Edith Cavell hike! Just to check out the Angel Glacier and we'll be done.
Sat on the rocks facing the glacier for some time, and you could hear the clap of the breaking glacier (although you won't know where it came from) once in a while. There was a park ranger around to answer questions.
Tonquin Valley to check out Lake Cavell but this wasn't spectacular and I suggest skipping this if no time.
Jasper Tramway. Runs every 9min from 10am to 5pm. Last tram down at 530pm. Only 2 trams so they have to go at the same speed and when 1 goes up, the other has to come down. The tram can pack up to 30people in there. Fortunately we met with <10people.
Lunched at Treeline Restaurant up there. Limited drinking water at the top so they won't serve you water. Bring your own!
After lunch, we headed up to the top of Whistlers. It's a very steep trail but you can take your time and rest in between. Not many will hike to the summit but I highly recommend that you do so. It's got a very jaw-dropping 360 degree view (and we saw the peak of Mt Robson again!). Very rewarding and you could just find a space to lounge and admire the view. It wasn't cold/windy. Perfect. You can see the valley of 5 lakes, lake edith, annett and beauvert. You can see the entire length of the trains with more than 50 carriages in tow. It took us about 1.5 - 2hrs to the top, photo taking and back down to the tram station.
As we were queuing to take the tram down to ground level, boy, the previous tram was PACKED with people. That's why they do warn you when you come up, to head down earlier else there'll be a crowd. It was about 430pm and yet we saw a full load of people in the tram up, I discourage you from coming up at such a timing because there's no time for you to hike up to the summit and enjoy the views! Come earlier!
Next, we tried to visit Fort Point. But the bridge was under repair and you couldn't drive to the original carpark. They got you to park 600m away along hwy 16 instead. We decided against it and drove towards Jasper Park Lodge and unknowingly drove the entire trail to the part where it meets up with the Fort Point carpark! Thereafter we turned back out because we couldn't leave our car at a service road and head to Fort Point, that didn't sound right! On the way in to Jasper Park Lodge, we saw some elk grazing with its calves but there was no where to stop so onward drive! When we turned back, they were gone!
Visited Robinsons but fruits selection not much. Instead, we went back to Pine Bungalows and did a stroll along the Athabasca River.
Day 10 (13 Sep, Fri)
Icefields Parkway day! All the way to Field.
We left at 640am, hoping to see wildlife. Visit Goats & Glaciers (apparently goats come down to lick the mineral salts here), didn't see any.
Visited Sunwapta Falls, but we didn't hike to the lower falls since it was too cold.
Checked out Mushroom Peak, Tangle Ridge and Endless Chain. As the sun rose, it cast a red splash of paint horizontally across the peaks/mountain ranges. Absolutely breath-taking!
Drove on to Tangle Falls. Our research told us to watch for bighorn sheep here but we saw nothing even though we loitered around for 1.5 hours!
Icefields Center for toilet break. Move further down and did the Wilcox Pass hike. We started at 1125am, reached the end of the trail (just a pile of rocks with a signpost of a hiker) at 1230.
Along the way, we saw 2 bighorns and a woodpecker (not sure of the species/actual name). As we continued past the end of the trail up a ridge ahead of us, we scanned the plains ahead of us for signs of bighorn (with our binoc). I thought I saw a green and blue flag. On closer look, they were people! And they were staring at a HERD of bighorns! Needless to say, energy levels rocketing, we headed towards that herd - think it took us 20min to get there. We managed to get there and along the way met this couple who said they were following this herd for 2 hours! Boy, I could see that in her face! It was so red from the hot sun!
The herd had about 18 or so bighorns. Some of them had horns that made a full circle and they look mean and fierce! We took pictures from the trail (about 30-40meters away from them). The main guy kept looking up at us once in a while.
Had our lunch back at the trailend and started our descend at 220pm. Took 1hr to get down!
Stopped again at Coleman creek and spied a mountain goat through the binoculars.
Stopped at Numti Jah Lodge for photos of Bow Lake which was very pretty in blue.
Visited Hector Lake and Herbert Lake again.
Had dinner at Truffle Pigs Lodge in Field (highly recommended!)
Checked in at Coyote's Den (1 night).
Day 11 (14 Sep, Sat)
Free & Easy day!
Breakfast at Coyote's Den.
Checked out the cute little church behind Coyote's Den. Yup, you can walk right in.
Drove on to Lake Louise, passed by Spiral Tunnels and camped for the train to come. Waited for 10-15min before it showed up and boy was it cool to watch it! Mind-boggling too! It came around 1025-1030am.
Then we drove along Bow Valley Parkway towards Banff. I was obeying the speed limit at 60km/h, in fact, I was going slower than that and yet, when a squirrel suddenly bounded out from my right, I couldn't jam brakes in time and I killed it :( It safely ran between my front wheels but my right back wheel squashed it.
This incident killed my mood for the entire trip; it totally washed away all the happiness I had experienced in the Rockies for the past 10 days. I was so upset! I am so super sorry squirrel!
Lunch was at Melissa's Missteak. Hubby wasn't too satisfied he also visited Wild Flour Bakery for a cup of hot choc that was too milky.
We drove through Canmore a little then back out and moved on to Calgary.
Dropped by the Olympic Park, wanted to do the fastest Zipline but it was too windy and they closed it. They had a smaller zipline open but price was the same. Summer bobsleigh was closed too. So we opted for a 3 ride luge on a 1.8km track. This was fun. Some waiting involved but all negated by the ride down. We thought 3 rides was perfect ($21) as your hands can get a little shaky from gripping the wheel (vibrations that run from the ground up to your hands as the track isn't 100% smooth).
Night @ Sheraton (highly recommended!) & dinner at Carver's (highly recommended too! Especially for their steak).
Day 12 (15 Sep, Sun)
Time to head back to NYC!
Flight was at 1030am. The drive to the airport wasn't straightforward. There was some detour in place and in the time, we had to do an illegal left turn (opps!) to get to the airport, else we would have been going in circles! The green airplane sign isn't very easy to spot after some time and we totally lost it! Fortunately, we managed to find our way. Perhaps you can check on this beforehand so that you won't be as lost as we were.
OK! End of trip report!
Hope this helps to give you an idea of how much time is needed for each hike/attraction etc and plan your days effectively especially if you have limited time in the Rockies.
The trip has been rewarding and we liked it very much. The views are indeed stunning when the weather is perfect. Good luck in your planning! =)