Is the first week of May still a pretty good time to photograph and see the area?
Is the first week of May still a pretty good time to photograph and see the area?
One of the major ski areas (Sunshine Village) operates until the third week in May. That should give you a good idea of the situation at the higher elevations. The road to Moraine Lake will be closed until late May, Lake Louise is frozen solid until early June. However, Vermilion Lakes should be thawed or thawing, and the lower elevations (Tunnel Mountain, Mt Norquay, Lake Minnewanka) will be mostly snow-free (barring a late-season dump of snow). For photography, mid-June would be a better choice. There will be a nice dusting of snow on the mountain tops, which really shows their shapes nicely. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake will both be thawed or thawing.
Thanks so much for the response. Looks like we are locked in to the week of April 12th. Have read some of your other posts to questions about the area around our dates. We were at Yellowstone last November and just enjoy the scenery and lack of crowds. We for sure know how to dress for the weather. So anything you can tell me about a few things that should not be missed will be great. I don't care much about skiing, just seeing the sights. We will fly into Calgary and plan to rent a four wheel drive vehicle for the week. Our base is Banff at the Rocky Mt Resort. If we drove to Jasper where should we stay for the night?
April is not springtime in the Rockies, it is still late winter. You don't want to drive long distances on highways such as the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93N from Lake Louise to Jasper) in winter driving conditions, whether you have a four wheel drive vehicle or not. 4x4s can get into trouble just as easily as two-wheel drives; I know because I drive one. In the winter, the Icefields Parkway is pretty deserted. There are no hotels open, no gas stations, and (as always) no cell phone service. Highway maintenance crews are only active during the daylight hours, and the road is maintained to a much lower standard than other roads, with the plows just clearing the road to a packed snow state rather than to bare pavement.
This doesn't mean that you can't visit Jasper; there are shuttle buses operated by Sun Dog Tours that regularly go up and down the Icefields Parkway, and that is the safest way for you to travel to Jasper.
In the Banff area, there is still lots to see and do at this time of year. You can put traction aids on your shoes/winter boots and walk up Johnston Canyon to see the frozen waterfalls, you can drive to Lake Minnewanka (the Minnewanka Loop is closed in winter, so you can't go to Johnson Lake but you can see Upper Bankhead and Lower Bankhead), you can take the Banff gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, you can see Vermilion Lakes, Bow Falls, and Lake Louise, you can go to the Mt Norquay viewpoint. If you don't want to ski, you can enjoy the tube park at the Mt Norquay ski area; there is also a smaller tube park at the Lake Louise ski area.
Anytime is a good time to photograph the area; the mountains are always beautiful. Mid-April can mean that the townsites are fairly clear of snow (depending on how much late season snowfall there has been ... especially here in Jasper (townsite), which is lower (3500 ft) than Banff (4500 ft). This year, though, the Banff area got a HUGE late season dump and winter hung on through April even at the lower elevations. Spring comes later anyway to Lake Louise, being at higher elevation, so you can visit there for winter activities, such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and I believe there is also one operator doing dog sledding there (although I am not sure whether they are still operating in mid-April - some years, snow cover can be getting a bit "iffy" by then).
Just to give you another idea of timing and season, the Lake Louise ski area typically operates until the end of the first week in May, and the base of the ski area is lower than the lake. Other than walking the lakeside trail, there is no hiking to be had there in April; in fact, many of the summer trails have avalanche risk; this past winter saw several tragic deaths of people who didn't realize this.
Here is a link to the Lake Louise web cam - the ice will be off the lake any day now: http://cams.skilouise.com/cam9.jpg It typically comes off in the last week of May or the first week of June, so it is on the late side of the spectrum this year.
April road conditions on the Icefields Parkway would be completely dependent on the weather. If there hasn't been a snowfall for a few days, the road surface could be completely bare and dry .... great driving conditions. However, it could also be full-on winter driving, and unfortunately, most rental cars do not come equipped with winter tires. As mentioned, 4WD is not a replacement for winter tires or slowing down in slippery conditions, and it often gives drivers too much confidence. When road conditions on the highway from Edmonton to Jasper are not great (mentioning this because it's where I have most experience with highway winter driving), I have always noticed that the vehicles that you will see in the ditch are usually 4WD pick-up trucks and SUVs .... usually top-heavy vehicles that are prone to skidding, and the same vehicles that went zipping by traffic moving at a slower and safer pace.
So you might want to "play it by ear" in terms of planning a trip to Jasper, and wait for good weather and driving conditions.
Jasper has plenty of accommodations - you can find them listed and reviewed here on TripAdvisor, or find the hotels at www.jasper.travel and B&Bs and private home accommodations (PHA) at www.stayinjasper.com In April, weekends are the busy time, with regional visitors coming up to ski; if you were to come mid-week (Sunday through Thursday), you would have no trouble finding accommodation at all - every hotel would be mostly vacant. If you wanted to stay in a PHA, there is a last minute availability report on the website given above, which makes it super easy to find and book one. If you were planning to come on weekend nights (Friday and Saturday), I would suggest booking in advance (even a couple of days) because April is prime spring skiing season.
There is at least one dog-sled operator that operates in the Lake Louise area. I think they use the Great Divide trail - certainly not down by the lake. I seem to remember seeing one of their trucks out near Lake Louise at some point in April, but this was not a typical year. Dog sledding require a fairly solid snowpack, so I don't know if they would still be operating in more typical April.
Likewise, you could certainly do an ice walk in Johnston Canyon this April, but I'm not sure it's always an option in April. The canyon is fairly shaded, but when daytime temps started warming up, it may or may not be safe or pleasant to walk through due to falling ice and slush. You'd probably have to keep an eye on conditions much closer to the date.
Kingmik does the Lake Louise dogsledding.
Okay, message well receive and will heed your advice on the Icefields Parkway. We will definitely keep a better ear tuned to the weather to plan our trip to Jasper and to the area as a whole. I do like the idea of leaving the driving to the Sun Dog Tour Company. Believe me we are not extreme sport folks. The first vehicle I ever owned was a Jeep, so I do understand about over confidence just because you have a 4 wheel drive. We will use all the means at hand to stay safe and will enjoy the all the area has to offer due to your comments.
The dog sledding and tubing sounds really fun. For the hikes and walks do we rent crampons and snowshoes locally? I did read about the Banff Gondala, looks like a great way to experience the stunning views. Is the restaurant worth booking up top, the food good? How about the springs I have been reading about, which is the best or more senic, or just relaxing? Do you guys see the northern lights from Jasper at that time of year? I did read about Jasper being a dark sky preserve, I love stargazing. Thanks for all the info it will be a fun year planning this trip to your beautiful land.
For the icewalks, the tour companies provide you with instep crampons or spikes.
As to snowshoeing - there are several ski shops in Lake Louise and Banff that rent snowshoes (and boots if you need them). However, please get advice from a Parks Canada Centre and heed all avalanche warnings when setting out on snowshoes. Some of the avalanche fatalities referred to were snowshoers. Just because you can showshoe somewhere does not mean it is safe.
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