Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Recommended Itinerary for Banff and Jasper


Starting on the fringe of the Great Plains and climbing through the incomparable mountain scenery of Banff and Jasper National Parks, this magnificent drive is one of the crown jewels of western Canada which combines exhilarating vistas of forest, crag, and glacier.

The route begins near Calgary, heads west 84 miles (135 kilometers) to the border of Banff, then goes 36 miles (58 kilometers) to the northwest through the heart of Banff to Lake Louise. For 144 miles (232 kilometers), the route follows the Icefields Parkway, one of the world's most stunning roadways, farther north to Jasper. Along the way, look for elk, bears, and other wild creatures; stop to take guided hikes, tour historic buildings, and attend a campfire chat.

One could spend entire life enjoying beauty in these rocky mountains. This blog is based on my own trip with family. i am sharing this to give you a flavour or what you could do during a week long trip. If you have even less time in Banff and Jasper then you can focus on the best spotsWith unpredictable mother nature, you will be bound to adjust as you go but if you are aware of your route than you can quickly adjust and get the most out of your trip. I hope you will find this blog useful. 

Be prepared to experience what I experienced when it was least expected. 

Here are answers to some of the common questions people ask me about planning their trip. Check these before you review detailed itinerary:

  • How long was this trip? 
1 week. I wished I had more time but I could spend months here. 1 week is reasonable amount of time for this trip.
  • Where to stay in Banff and Jasper?
We stayed on route so that we could spend longer time at attractions on the way. This requires you to travel light as you will have to keep changing hotels. If you prefer to stay few nights at the same hotels, you could try the following. 

  • Jasper: Try places listed here. Jasper has very limited accomodations so book several weeks in advance. Jasper is an amazing town. Don't miss the opportunity to stay here and feel the beauty. Accommodations will be costly in summer though.
  • Banff and Lake Louise: Banff has plenty of accomodation. We stayed in Rimrock and it was amazing. We also stayed in Lake Louise on the way to Jasper. You can find a lot of options here.
  • I booked my flight but I can't find hotels esp in Jasper? Do I need to cancel my trip? 
Hopefully not. If you try to look for multiple days hotel in one search then chances are less likely that you will not see any hotel in search results. Jasper is too busy in summers. If you search for hotel 1 day at a time, you will have better luck finding hotels right in Banff and Jasper. You may have to switch hotels but that's probably not that bad as you will be able to get different views from your rooms. Also, many people do multiple bookings and do cancellations 2-3 weeks before their trip, hence, don't loose your heart and keep trying.
  • How is weather in summers? Do I need jackets? 
Weather is very unpredictable, hence, be prepared for lots of rain which makes morning and evening bit cold (10-15 C). Also, if you plan to go to glaciers then you can expect freezing temperatures. You may need rain, spring and light winter jackets. You could manage with just one decent spring jacket and umbrella though. Plan more carefully if you have young kids though. Afternoons are pretty nice most of the days in summer.
  • I am a vegetarian. What options do I have for food? Do I need to pack some food?
There are not many options for food when you are not at the major attractions. Keeping some snacks esp if you have kids is highly suggested as you may not find any food joint for 2-3 hours sometimes. Trail mix from costco was very handy. My family is vegetarian, hence, we booked hotels with kitchen option wherever possible. We carried some easy to cook items. Generally, I was surprised with good quality of food even at the remote places. You should be fine even if you are vegetarian and fine to manage with limited options.
  • Any other thing to consider?
Expect lots of mosquitos so keep mosquito repellent handy. Also,  you could see bears and other wildlife multiple times. If you are with many people and cars around then probably there is less risk but if you are planing to explore in less visited areas then using bear spray may be a good idea. Please do some due diligence to get yourself prepared to deal with wild life. Respect wild life and don't underestimate their power. Visit here for more details. 
  • Do you have more questions?
Please post your comments in this blog or on my video on youtube. I will try my best to help you. I will keep refining this blog to make it even more useful, hence, your feedback is welcomed.

Day 1: Calgary to Banff 

Hwy 1 (alternatively take Hwy 1 a.k.a. Vow Valley Parkway) —> Lanke Minnewanka Scenic Drive
  • Cascade Ponds: Cascade Pond is a day use area that has fire pits, picnic tables and toilets. There is usually wood for a fire, but this is not always the case. You can walk around the pond and have a little picnic with your friends and family. There are 2 shelters in the event of rain, but they are first come, first serve.
  • Johnson Lake: Walking in a counter-clockwise direction, the trail winds through a lush montane forest before emerging at the far end of Johnson Lake. From this point, views extend across the water to the distinctive profile of Cascade Mountain. To complete the circuit around the lake, the trail crosses open slopes, passes some of Alberta’s oldest Douglas fir trees, and detours around a shallow bay where waterfowl are often sighted.
  • Two Jack Lake: Located 15 minutes north of the Town of Banff and close to Lake Minnewanka, this rustic, no-service campground is beautifully situated on the shores of Two Jack Lake. It is perfect for tents or small RVs and offers lakefront sites, mountain views, wildlife viewing and access to the lake for fishing and non-motorized boating. Evening interpretive programs are offered during the summer season.
  • Lake Minnewanka (opportunity to take a cruise)
  • Bankhead: Bankhead, Alberta was a small coal mining town that existed in the early twentieth century, in Banff National Park, near the town of Banff, Alberta. The mine was located at Cascade Mountain, which contains high grade anthracite coal deposits. The Bankhead coal mine was operated by the Pacific Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which needed the coalto fuel its steam engines. The mine began operations in 1903 and was the first anthracite mine in Canada.

Mount Norquay (rd): Mt. Norquay is a mountain and ski resort in Banff National ParkCanada that lies directly northwest of the Town of Banff. The regular ski season starts early December and ends mid-April. Mount Norquay is one of three major ski resorts located in the Banff National Park. To access the Green Spot, follow the signs from town for the Mount Norquay ski area and then watch for a rock wall on your right-hand side as you ascend the winding road towards the ski hill.  If you make it as far as the ski area parking lots, you`ve gone about half a kilometer too far.

Vermilion Lakes: A special place where centuries ago aboriginal people hunted bighorn sheep and bison. 5 minutes west of the Banff townsite on the Vermilion Lakes drive. This year-round 4.3 kilometre scenic road, offers wildlife viewing opportunities and breathtaking scenery. Sit back, relax on the docks and benches, and soak up the sun as you gaze at the impressive Mount Rundle - one of Banff's most recognizeable mountains. Take some time to learn about the natural wonders and cultural richness of the area through self guided interpretive panels. Vermilion Lakes Drive is also part of the 26 km Banff Legacy Trail.

Day 2: Banff to Lake Louise (via Bow Valley Parkway a.k.a Hwy 1A)

Sunshine Meadows - The Sunshine Meadows are known by many as the most stunning alpine setting in the Canadian Rockies. Situated at an average elevation of 2220m (7,300'), the meadows straddle the Continental Divide and the boundary between Alberta and British Columbia. Surrounded by some of the Rockies' highest peaks, the unobstructed views are beyond compare. Wildlife abound in the meadows, and the brilliance of the summer flowers and autumn larches guarantees spectacular scenery on every visit.

Johnston Canyon - The trail to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon has to be the busiest in the Canadian Rockies. Nearly every day throughout the summer, hundreds of hikers follow its canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases to the gorge’s Lower and Upper Falls. While the canyon and its unique trail are certainly worthy of a visit, you’ll have to do the hike in the evening or very early in the morning to avoid the hordes.

Morant’s Curve - Morant’s Curve is located on the western end of the Bow Valley Parkway near Lake Louise. It’s a beautiful spot that the railway passes through. The location was made famous by Nicholas Morant, a staff photographer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He took photographs for the company during the middle of the 20th century.

Moraine Lake: Moraine Lake is only half the size of its nearby neighbour Lake Louise, but perhaps even more scenic. It’s a glacier-fed lake situated in the beautiful Valley Of The Ten Peaks in Banff National Park.
The Rockpile Trail Offers The Best View Of The Moraine Lake: The Rockpile is a short trail of less than half a kilometer with minimal elevation gain. The trail switchbacks along the back of the moraine bringing you to the top of the rocks where there are fantastic views overlooking the lake.
Moraine Lakeshore Trail Will Leave The Crowds Behind, Even On Busy Days. Starting near the canoe docks there is an easy walk that works its way along the shoreline to the back of the lake. As the trail weaves its way in and out of the trees there are views of the water and mountains. stunning views of the lake and mountains.
Length: 1.5 km one way 
Hiking time: 45 minute round trip
Elevation gain: minimal
Trailhead: Drive 14 km from Lake Louise along the Moraine Lake Road. Begin just beyond the Moraine Lake Lodge.
Description: This stroll allows visitors of all abilities to explore Moraine Lake. Along the trail you will gain a magnificent view of Mount Fay and the Fay Glacier.
Distance: 3 km return
Elevation Gain: 0 m
Time Required: 45 min
Difficulty: Easy
Trailhead: Moraine Lake Parking Lot
The hike around the Moraine Lake Shoreline is the easiest way to appreciate the beauty of this famous alpine lake. A flat, easy trail weaves its way through shoreline trees and offers extraordinary views of the Ten Peaks, a series of encircling summits all over 10,000 feet. Hike up the Rock Pile for an alternative view of these turquoise waters and the nearby Tower of Babel.
Lake Louise:
Distance: 6.8 km return
Elevation Gain: 385 m
Time Required: 2.5 - 3 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Trailhead: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
The hike to Lake Agnes and the historic teahouse on its shores is a relatively easy hike through forest. A beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes just below the teahouse, where you can enjoy a cup of tea and fresh piece of pie. Continue 1.6 km around the far end of Lake Agnes and up switchbacks to the shelter at the top of the Big Beehive for views of the Bow Valley and Lake Louise.
Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail
Length: 2 km one way
Hiking time: 1 hour
Elevation gain: minimal
Trailhead: Upper Lake Louise parking area, 4 km from the village of Lake Louise.
Description: This accessible stroll allows visitors of all abilities to explore Lake Louise. At the end of the lake you’ll discover the milky creek that gives the lake its magical colour.
Fairview Lookout
Length: 1 km one way
Hiking time: 45 minute round trip
Elevation gain: 100 m
Trailhead: Upper Lake Louise parking area, 4 km from the village of Lake Louise.
Description: Leaving from the boathouse on Lake Louise, this short, uphill hike offers you a unique look at both the lake and the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Day 3: Lake Louise to Jasper (via Icefileds Parkway a.k.a. Hwy 93)

Peyto Lake - Peyto Lake is a glacier-fed lake located in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The lake itself is easily accessed from the Icefields Parkway.

Bow Summit (close to Peyto lake): Bow Summit is the highest point on the parkway, at 2088 m above sea level. You are near treeline here, surrounded by alpine meadow. A short walk from the parking area leads to a viewpoint overlooking the blue-green Peyto Lake and, in July and August, an astonishing array of alpine flowers. 

Bow Lake and Num-ti-jah Lodge. 

The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre (try to reach by 11am)This once-in-a-lifetime excursion will leave you feeling exhilarated and inspired, with an amazing ride on a massive Ice Explorer to trek onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. Then, take a jaw-dropping walk along the glass-floored Glacier Skywalk at the cliff’s edge.

Day 4: Jasper 

Jasper Down town:
Pyramid Lake 
Time:5-7 hrs Distance: 17.4 km (11 miles) Elevation Gain: 70m (217 feet) Difficulty: Moderate 
Starting Points:Jasper Activity Centre parking lot (in town, near start of Pyramid Lake Road), Cottonwood Slough parking lot (2 km up Pyramid Lake Road), Pyramid Stables (3.5 km) or Pyramid Lake (end of road). 
Trail Description:The Pyramid Lake Loop offers one of the most beautiful views of the Athabasca Valley. Every footstep is worth the view from Pyramid Bench, the destination of many hikers in Jasper National Park.
Patricia Lake
Jasper SkyTram —> The Whistlers (open 8am–9pm Jun - Sep)

Maligne Canyon: The Maligne River plunges 23 m into a steep-walled gorge of limestone bedrock. A self-guiding trail takes you over six different footbridges, providing spectacular views of the canyon en route. teahouse is located adjacent to the parking area.
Time: 3 hours Distance: 7 km (return) Elevation Gain: 110 m (328 feet) Difficulty: Easy 
Starting Point:Sixth Bridge, 10 km east of Jasper via Highway 16 and the Maligne Road. 
Trail Decscription:From the Sixth Bridge, cross the bridge over the Maligne River and turn right onto the trail, which runs upstream along the Maligne River towards the canyon. Once you arrive at the fifth bridge stay on your left, and keep going straight ahead up the canyon trail. From this point the sharp canyon walls start to form and the trail now has a steel guard rail. Keep working your way up the canyon and cross the lookout bridges 4, 3, 2 and 1. The upper trail offers outstanding views of crystal clear pools that have eroded into the rock, several waterfalls, canyon walls and the canyon bottom.

Medicine Lake: A most peculiar lake. The Maligne River flows in but there is no surface outlet. Instead, the water flows underground for many kilometres, emerging in such places as Maligne Canyon and Lac Beauvert. Look for an interpretive plaque describing this phenomenon at the first lakeshore viewpoint on your way up the Maligne Valley.

Maligne Lake: Largest Jasper lake (22 km long) and the deepest (97 m). Renowned for its scenery and its fishing, the area also offers exceptional hiking opportunities. A concession provides cruises on the lake, rowboat rentals, fish guiding and restaurant service. 

Miette Hotsprings: A winding mountain road leads you up the scenic Fiddle Valley to the hottest mineral springs in the Canadian Rockies! Along the way, stop at the Pocahontas Interpretive. Trail just off Highway 16 on the Miette Road to learn about the history of coal mining in thearea. Pocahontas Campground is 3 km up the road. Further along, look for a viewpoint facing the impressive limestone slabs of Ashlar Ridge. Facilities at the springs include: Parks Canada soaking pools, a cool pool, a food concession, an interpretive trail, a picnic area, some outstanding day hikes and a privately-owned facilities are open mid-May to mid-October. 

Day 5: Jasper to Banff

Parkway 93A (7 km From Jasper): An a lternate r oute between J asper town site a nd A thabasca Fa lls, following the old highway. Several scenic picnic areas with names like Otto’s Cache and Meeting of the Waters are found along the way. The Mt. Edith Cave ll road be gins at km 2.5 . Wabasso Campground is located at km 4.5. Access the Moab Lake fire road at km 10.

Mount Edith Cavell (29 km from Jasper): Edith Cavell was a heroine of World Wa r I. A switchback road (no vehicles >7m) climbs 14.5 km to a picnic area under the mountain’s spectacular north face. Exce llent views of the Angel Glacier and a self-guidi ng trail. A busy place with limited parking, try to visit before 10 am or after Road is open June 25 to October 15 (snow dependent).

Time:1.5-3 hrs Distance: 4.3 km return Elevation Gain: 80 metres (262 feet) Difficulty: Easy Map 
Starting Point:Along the Icefields Parkway, 9 km south of the traffic lights at Jasper. 
Trail Description:This popular hike begins in a forest of lodgepole pine and crosses a footbridge over Wabasso Creek. Beyond, the trail climbs across a flowery meadow to a junction. The trail has markers leading to each of the five small lakes, which are the highlights of this outing, each a different depth and thus a different hue of blue and jade. This is a popular area to spot wildlife.

Athabasca Falls (30 km from Jasper): The Athabasca River pours into a narrow canyon cut in a very hard, quartz-rich rock. A thundering spectacle with a bridge and platforms at the better vantage points. Picnicking. Junction with parkway 93A.

Sunwapta Falls (55 km from Jasper) : A short access road next to the motel takes you to the parking area. The falls tumble into a limestone gorge rather like Maligne Canyon. open May to October.

Parker Ridge: Enjoy this ideal opportunity to experience the alpine zone. Sweeping mountain vistas, an outstanding view of the Saskatchewan Glacier, alpine flowers, and the chance to see ptarmigan and goats, are some of the attractions for those who take this steep (250 m elevation gain), but short (2.4 km round trip) hike. Please stay on the trail, and bring along warm clothing.
Mistaya Canyon: Only ten minutes by trail from the road, the Mistaya River narrows into a twisting canyon. Look for rounded potholes and a natural arch on the canyon sides.

Bow Lake and Num-ti-jah Lodge 

Crowfoot Glacier

The Sunshine Meadows are known by many as the most stunning alpine setting in the Canadian Rockies. Situated at an average elevation of 2220m (7,300'), the meadows straddle the Continental Divide and the boundary between Alberta and British Columbia. Surrounded by some of the Rockies' highest peaks, the unobstructed views are beyond compare. Wildlife abound in the meadows, and the brilliance of the summer flowers and autumn larches guarantees spectacular scenery on every visit.

Day 6: Banff to Calgary

  • Banff Gondola (open 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM during the summer season)
  • Upper Hot Springs (open 9 am to 11 pm during the summer season)
  • Bow Falls
  • Surprise Corner
  • Back to Calgary