Firstly thank you very much to all those who gave their time to help us with their excellent advice for our Canadian Rockies road trip. My husband and I along with 6 family and friends, had an amazing 6 days. We are all Australians (50+) and this was part of a 5 week holiday across the USA and Mexico. Here goes a brief summary of the Canadian Rockies sector leaving from Calgary with 4 nights Banff and 2 nights Jasper and back to Calgary which we did in 2 SUVs.
The night before we stayed at the Hampton Inn Suites in Calgary-Airport. This was a nice hotel and we chose it mainly because it was described as being at the airport. It is not actually at the airport. A taxi driver explained that it used to be but road changes altered its proximity to the airport. However apart from now being about 15-20 minutes from the airport (it cost at least $30 by taxi) we found it very comfortable and the staff very obliging. They have an airport shuttle but it was not large enough to fit all of us plus luggage so some of us caught a taxi. Breakfast was very nice and they also offer a “breakfast on the go” pack for those who don’t have time to eat breakfast.
Day 1 Friday 30 May: We set off from Calgary and first stopped at Canmore about 1 ½ hours out of Calgary to check it out. We loved this gem of a town. We spent a couple of hours looking around the quaint stores and buying up most of the town’s fudge and took advantage of the free wi-fi at Ricos restaurant where we had a nice lunch sitting out the back enjoying the sun with those glorious mountains in the background. We all voted to stop back in Canmore on our return to Calgary.
We set off on our merry way for beautiful Banff and arrived late in the afternoon at the Fox Suites. Our rooms were small and a bit dated but the shower was good, there was a bath and there was a small sofa. The front desk reception were very friendly and obliging, always wearing a smile. We had dinner that night at Wild Bills – nice ambience and casual. For good quality souvenirs we found Banff brilliant. Little stores line the streets selling fudge, ammonite, petrified wood carvings, jade, fossils, clothing etc. We were so pleased we were spending 4 nights here.
Day 2 Saturday 31 May: We went to the tourist office in Bear Street to book a Rocky Mountain Raft Tour on the Bow River on the outskirts of the town near the Banff Fairmont Resort. This was a beautiful spot and features the Bow Falls. The weather couldn’t have been better and this was a great way to spend an hour with the added bonus that we didn’t have to do any of the hard work and our friendly tour guide (who did all the work) made the trip very enjoyable. The cost was about $50 per person and when we asked about a group discount (you don’t ask – you don’t get) they gave us a group discount of 5%. When we got to the end of the tour a bus was waiting to drop us back to the car park. On the way back we saw our first elk which was very exciting!
We then drove along the Bow Valley Parkway to see Johnston Canyon. We spotted a beautiful male elk by the side of the road calmly munching on the grass. Eventually we arrived at the car park of the Johnston Canyon trail. It was packed so we had to park a fair way along the road. We all enjoyed the walk to the canyon but time was getting away and we decided just to walk to the lower falls and not the upper falls. It pays to get there earlier if your itinerary allows it, to avoid the crowds.
That night we went on the Banff gondola and enjoyed the Alpine Lights Dinner which I thoroughly recommend. This was good value costing about $50 pp and included an above average 3 course meal and gondola ride which Fox Suites booked for us the day before. There were two sittings, the first one at 5pm and the second at 7pm. We opted for the 7pm. Unfortunately we should have arrived much earlier than our 7pm booking to allow time to look around, as we were surprised to hear from the waitress at the restaurant that the last gondola left at 9pm, a shame since it remains daylight until much, much later. The views were amazing with 360 degree views all around the restaurant. Also Fox Suites gave us complimentary bus tickets for the return trip to the gondola and back to the hotel on the public bus.
Day 3 Sunday 1 June: Today we set off for Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway. We stopped off first at the stunning Lake Minnewanka - a must see and a short distance from Banff. When we arrived at Lake Louise we were all blown away by the beauty of the still frozen lake and spent a long time taking it all in and enjoying the spectacle. Lake Louise certainly had the Wow factor! Us ladies were booked for a High Tea at the Fairmont Chateau in the afternoon which we thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards we made it in time for the Lake Louise Gondola before it closed. Amazing views but unfortunately no bears to be seen from above, though apparently this is one of the best locations to spot them.
Day 4 Monday 2 June: We had a quiet day mainly buying momentos etc and looking around Banff. Some of us took a look at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (rather poshy) and we attempted to go to the Cave and Basin however we found out it is closed Mondays. We took the advice of posters on this forum and stopped off at Nesters Supermarket to pick up food and filled up our petrol tanks as we were setting off for Jasper. Nesters also sold prepacked lunches which was very convenient.
Day 5 Tuesday 3 June: We left early at around 8am and bid farewell to beautiful Banff which we all had fallen in love with and set off for Jasper. We finally saw our first black bear along the Bow Valley Parkway and then finally we branched off to begin the drive along the famous Icefields Parkway which did not disappoint us. To cap it off we saw a mama bear and 2 cubs. We stopped off many times along the way to take in the sights, before reaching the Columbia Icefields.
We paid for both the Glacier Adventure and the Glacier Skywalk. I did not think this was a very well organized outfit. The queue was long and it took a long while for us to buy the expensive tickets. Though you can prepay we didn’t want to get caught out if the weather was poor. A great deal of time is spent simply waiting in line and this is why you need to allow at least 2 hours to do both. After the Glacier Adventure we then had to stand and wait 40 minutes for the bus to take us to the Glacier Skywalk, Given its name (Glacier Skywalk) we expected to be looking over the glacier which is not the case. Apart from this the views were quite spectacular. I class both these as a “glad to have done it but won’t do it again” experience.
We arrived in Jasper around 5pm and booked into the Great Western Jasper Inn and Suites. We were all upgraded and loved our rooms. We were very impressed. Our accommodation was a very lovely, spacious and comfortable 2 bedroom suite with 2 bathrooms and spa on the 2nd floor. The hotel’s restaurant had good service, pleasant ambience and good food.
Day 6 Wednesday 4 June. We took the short drive to the Pyramid Lake which was nice but nothing to rave about and on the way were fortunate enough to come across some mama elks with their babies, which we were careful to keep a very safe distance from, heeding advice that mama elks in particular, can be very aggressive. We then took a drive to the Maligne Canyon and gave our cameras another workout. We were glad to come across the Maligne Canyon Restaurant for a break. We decided we did not have time to drive to the Maligne Lake as we had booked a wildlife tour with Joe from The Jasper Tour Co. departing at 5pm and we wanted to look around the town beforehand. We found the actual town of Jasper itself quite underwhelming compared to Banff and I now regret not spending this time to see the Maligne Lake instead.
At 5pm Joe from The Jasper Tour Co. turned up in his van at our hotel. I am so glad we booked this tour. Joe was passionate about Jasper and certainly knew where to find wildlife and had a wealth of knowledge. It was amazing how he managed to spot so many different varieties of animals and birds. He went out of his way trying to find a grizzly for us but unfortunately rain had started to set in, possibly the reason that the grizzly did not want to be found on this occasion.
Day 7 Thursday 5 June:
We left Jasper and began our trip back to Calgary to catch our flight to Vancouver. Going back along the Icefields Parkway, we were able to stop off and walk the short distance to the Athabascar Falls. After leaving the Athabascar Falls, we were delighted to see snow falling and soon we found ourselves looking onto snow frosted pine trees. Some of us had never seen or felt snow so this was literally the icing on the cake to what was a fabulous 6 days. We stopped off again in Canmore knowing that we may not ever have an opportunity to visit again and then made our way to Calgary to drop off our SUVs and catch our flight to Vancouver.
Thanks again to Tripadvisor for the fabulous advice which we took on board and gave us the opportunity to get so much more out of our road trip and take home so many happy memories.