3 days for Jasper/Banff with family
Replies: 18 - Last Post: Feb 7, 2013 12:50 PM Last Post By: Geer37
Jan 29, 2013 2:10 PM
3 days for Jasper/Banff with familyHi, I'm an American with very little vacation time at work, so my family tries to squeeze in trips when we can. We will be attending a wedding in Edmonton at the end of May, so I was considering taking three days to drive through Jasper and Banff.
My plan would be to rent a car and leave Edmonton early Saturday. Drive 4 hours to Jasper. Spend the day and night there. Then drive to Banff, stopping along the way at Lake Louise and other spots. Spend the night in Banff. Then drive to Calgary the next day to fly home.
We have a 2 year old and a baby, so although our normal pre-children activities would include day long hikes, we'll probably just be enjoying the scenery with picnics and leisurely strolls.
First question: is it ridiculous to try this in only three days? It's probably our only chance to make it up there, so in my opinion, even a whirwind few days is better than never seeing it. But I'd like to hear others' opinions. My kids are very good in the car, and hubby and I have enjoyed many whirlwind road trips in the past (like New Zealand's south island in 11 days, Iceland in 7 days).
Second question: can anyone recommend some fun places to stay in Jasper and Banff? Price range around $200/night. We'd like a place near some nature since that's what we are trying to experience, with maybe some easy hiking trails near by. Also, any kid-friendly restaurants for some nice meals?
Third question: Any must-sees aside from the obvious ones that will be mentioned on the Parks Canada websites?
Thanks as always for the helpful advice.
Jan 29, 2013 2:59 PM
1a little confused. are you flying into edmonton and out of calgary? is that booked? i ask because if you rent a car in one city and drop it off in another city...the drop off fee can be a fare amount.
but, i'll go with what you said. the drive from edmonton to jasper is really easy. i would get up really early and take off so that you are in jasper mid morning. hopefully your kids will sleep on the way there. that will give you most of the day to enjoy jasper. driving to banff the next day, again, get up as soon as the sun comes up and take off. pack drinks and food so that you can picnic along the way. go see lake louise on your way to banff. take hwy 1A from lake louise to banff - not the main highway. more chance of seeing animals and johnsons canyon is worth a stop. two nights in banff. do one of the gondola rides. an easy walk on the edge of banff is along the bow river down to the falls.
personally, i'd recommend picking either banff or jasper to spend all three nights. i know you want to see alot but there is PLENTY too see in either area over 3 days and changing hotels and all the driving with young children doesn't sound fun to me. while you and your wife will love the icefield parkway, the kids are too young to know anything except they are in the car again.
Jan 29, 2013 7:41 PM
2May is not a very good month in the mountains, so what you propose is actually not such a bad pace. Too late for winter activities and too early for summer activities. Most attractions/stops will be closed.
Keep in mind that May 20th is the long weekend, which is the start of the camping season and the roads are usually busy around that weekend.
Jan 29, 2013 7:42 PM
3Hi Erika. I say it's definitely doable. Please find inspiration below in my trip report for a budget weekend in Banff and Jasper.
How to use TIME and MONEY efficiently: Banff and Jasper from California
This report is about a trip I did in April to Banff and Jasper from the SF Bay Area. The challenge was to travel over a weekend and spend as little money as possible. Hopefully, this should give you some ideas on how to utilize time and money efficiently on your weekend getaways! First, a summary of all the costs:
I found the cheapest ticket from San Jose to Spokane (~7h driving from Banff): $247. A ticket to Calgary was $450. Seattle was slightly cheaper but much farther away. I bought the two tickets separately through Priceline, flight out with Horizon Air and back with Delta.
I chose tickets that maximized my time in Canada and still allowed me to leave work in decent time on Friday and get to work around 10am on Monday.
SJC-GEG Fri 6.15pm-9.25pm $127
GEG-SJC Mon 5.00am-9.40am $120
Put the car in a residential area two blocks from Santa Clara Caltrain and took the free airport shuttle. Price paid: $0.
3 day rental. Published price was $164. I "named my own price" through Priceline at $9/day. Total including taxes: $54.
1127 miles driven. Gas was 30% more expensive in Canada. Had I known I would have filled up before crossing the border. Cost: $102.
I ate out three times and bought food and drinks at supermarkets other times. I also brought some energy bars from home. Total price: $52.
"Car camping". Price paid: $0.
Banff national park entrance fee: $10.
TOTAL PAID: $465
What follows next is a trip report.
Leave work at 4pm, arrive at San Jose airport at 5.15pm. Flight makes TWO unscheduled stops and lands 2h late. Pick up Toyota Corolla rental car at 11.30pm and start driving north.
Enter Canada uneventfully at around 3am. After stopping a few times for breakfast, sightseeing and rest, I arrive Banff at around 1pm. Quick sightseeing of Banff, I then go to the foot of Sulphur Mountain. There's a trail there that leads to the top of the mountain. It's 5.5 km with 2300 foot altitude gain and takes me 1h 10min to get to the top. Lots of snow and ice on the trail. Nice panorama restaurant at the top, I have some coffee and relax and an hour later I take the gondola back down. There's a sign saying you need to pay $30 to ride it down, but no-one cares or checks tickets so it's free.
I continue to famous Lake Louise, only to conclude that it's probably better to be here in summer/fall than in spring. The lake is frozen solid with a thick layer of snow. Not much to do here except walking over the lake or hike/ski the surrounding trail system. Disappointed, I have dinner in the town of Lake Louise and continue up north on the Icefields Parkway.
Night comes and it's unfortunately too cold for me to camp outside (-10c/15f). I don't feel like paying $319 to stay at the only hotel nearby, so I decide to camp in the car. What I do is drive with maximum heat in the car for around 10 minutes, then turn the engine off and wear every single piece of clothing I have. This way I get around 45 minutes of quality sleep before the temperature drops enough for me to wake up with a shiver. I repeat this a couple of times. I realize that I should have brought more clothes.
Early early am, I visit Athabasca Falls close to Jasper -- the most powerful waterfalls in this region. I have breakfast as I watch the sun rise over a melting river just south of Jasper. Fantastic. Then I head to Maligne Canyon. It's a narrow gorge with up to 50m high walls, where the ground is solid ice and waterfalls have frozen solid. It's magical, I haven't seen anything like it before. Tourists in Jasper pay $50 to come here on a tour, where a guide leads them into the gorge. But it's possible to climb the fence and venture onto the ice by yourself. Crampons would have been very useful. I didn't have any, and it was slippery.
Lunch in Jasper, then I head south along Icefields Parkway, doing several stops on the way to see glaciers and frozen lakes before deciding it's time to turn back. I drive back via Montana and Idaho.
Arrive Spokane airport at 2.32am, with plenty of time left for my flight. Unfortunately, my cell phone battery is dead so I can't put an alarm so that I can take a nap. I sleep very well on the flights back home though. All in all I get a total of around 9h of sleep during the three nights I've been gone. The flight arrives San Jose on time and I get to work at around 10.30am.
Jan 30, 2013 10:28 AM
Jan 30, 2013 10:12 PM
Jan 30, 2013 11:27 PM
Eh? It was not a ridiculed trip. The thread is unavailable at the moment, but I remember there was much envy and inspiration among other posters. If they are two drivers, they could take turns and drive through the night, keeping the car warm so the little ones could sleep. Or they could just find a hotel, $200 should be plenty. My trip report contains invaluable tips about Maligne Canyon, Athabasca Falls, Lake Louise, and other hidden gems.
Jan 31, 2013 11:35 AM
7I thought they moderated these forums these days? I guess not.
Your trip while busy will be fine. The weather in May can be tricky but you should be good. I have had snow in June on the Ice Fields Parkway (road between Lake Louise and Jasper) but you would be unlucky.
In Banff I would look at the Douglas Fir Resort. Right on the edge of town and if you get the right room the view of Mt Rundle is amazing. Walking trails right at your door and they often have deer and elk hanging around.
Jan 31, 2013 8:33 PM
8Bring warm clothing.
Having spent significantly more time in the area than Max, I have to suggest -- with respect -- that you take his recommendations with a grain of salt. He might have enjoyed a rather hare-brained escapade, but it does not sound as if that is your intention.
The drive from Edmonton to Jasper is pretty unremarkable until you reach the Park boundary -- but then things change quickly. There is a good chance you will see grazing elk or sheep at the roadside even before you reach Jasper. They should not be mistaken for tame animals, though they have diminished fear of humans, not having been hunted.
There is no sense rushing the drive at any point. It makes no sense at all to drive at night and miss the stunningly spectacular landscape. As Max suggested, Maligne Canyon (accessed just before you reach the Jasper townsite) is an interesting sight that does not take a great deal of time to reach.
Bring warm clothing. If you can bundle up nicely, the aerial tram ride to Whistlers Mountain outside Jasper will give you fine views of the Athabasca valley and surrounding mountains. You can google "Jasper Tramway:" it's a sight that takes relatively little time.
The drive down the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff (or Lake Louise) is a visual delight mile after mile. You drive up to an altitude over 6'000 feet and every curve in the road reveals another gorgeous vista. It is a wonderful day, with lots of time for a stop at the Athabasca Glacier. You can walk up to the toe — but listen to the warnings about crevasses.
Driving the spine of the Rocky Mountains in a frenzy at night as hinted at by Max_M would not reveal the breathtaking majesty of that mountain space. There are a few viewpoints along the way well worth a 20-minute or half hour stop.
Lake Louise has the lake and hotel and tea house. Banff is another wonderful Mountain Park town with elk grazing green spaces in town, a world-famous fine arts school and lots of places to eat and stay. It's a fun town to walk around in and explore on foot for a few hours.
I can't help out with lodging, since we normally tent. But we bring lots and lots of warm clothes.
Three days should do it for a relatively leisurely drive as long as you don't linger too long anywhere.
Jan 31, 2013 9:48 PM
Harebrained (hârbrnd) adj. with no more sense than a hare
A hare has an approximate IQ of 20. This is quite an insult, but I will let it slide this time.
I have not been up the Jasper tramway, but my understanding is that the Banff one is considered offering better views. Perhaps you can compare if you've been to both.
Well, that was on the way up. On the way down I drove it in daytime, and yes it is spectacular. I did do many stops on the way to check out sights, and I did see elk as well. Unfortunately, all lakes were frozen over with snow, so I will have to come back one day to see that. End of May, all lakes at high elevation (like Lake Louise) will still be frozen, so OP needs to be prepared for that.
Feb 1, 2013 5:03 AM
Feb 2, 2013 12:52 AM
11The kids might enjoy the miette hotprings between Hinton and Jasper (A much better hot spring option then Banff). There is a small resort beside the hot springs and prices should be fairly reasonable, less then 200$. They have a good restaurant as well. Might be a nice alternative to the Jasper townsite if you're looking for something a little more rustic and surrounded by pristine beauty. There is also Poco run by MPL on the highway at the bottom of the Miette road, generally MPL who operate 4 hotels in town are good sleeping options as is the Toquine. But I would certainly recommend staying at Miette. Nice short walks are available around the Miette hotsprings to the hotspring source and the ruins of the original hot springs pools along board walks. A lovely place to stay in the mountains. Just avoid the hot springs all together if it's the long weekend. Also lots of wildlife there, generally there is always a heard of bighorn sheep hanging around the area. As everywhere in the Rockies Be bear aware! But as far as know there have never been any incidents involving bears and I've never seen one there. There shouldn't be any grizzlies in the area. In Jasper town, grab a 'sticky bun' at 'the other bear paw'. A simple pleasure I miss everyday since I've left Jasper and Canada. A good treat for the kids if they've been good. Jasper also has a number of good restaurants, North Face was my favorite pizza in town and the Korean restaurant was hands down my favorite, though other may disagree! Lake Louise is certainly very nice but don't miss out on Moraine Lake! it's bliss. Lake Louise townsite has lots of accommodation available and might be a good place to spend the second night and break up the trip a little. You could also take a short drive into Yoho Park from Lake Louise to see the Takakkaw Falls. It's worth the trip. Also the glacier might be a cool activity to share with kis, though a little pricey. LL townsite has a few good restaurants but not much a grocery store. If you're looking into preparing your own food it might be worth stopping at Robinsons or Super 8 in Jasper to pick up a little food for the journey. Jasper Liquor store and wine cellar is a good place to pick up an exotic bottle of wine, beer or cider for the journey. Literally has thousands of options to chose from. The gondola in Banff is your best option to up a mountain. I prefer the views up there to the LL or Jasper gondola. Shop around Banff, they have dozens of hotels to choose from! Contrary to what one person may have said May is the best time to visit the Rockies. It's a shoulder season, everything will be nice and quiet, the hoards of tourists will not have arrived yet. Hotels will be slightly cheaper, service will be better and the highways much less crowed. The weather starts to get really good in May as well, although you may have to deal with lots of rain if you're unlucky and snow at Miette if you're lucky. Otherwise, the sun starts to warm up and the days are nice and long
Feb 2, 2013 6:21 PM
Wouldn't fall be better? I'm just thinking all the lakes (in high elevation) will be frozen over. And the lakes are arguably the highlight of the Rockies. Do a google image search for "canadian rockies"... about 90% of the results show the amazing lakes, which you would miss in May. I imagine at that time the ice will also be fragile, so you won't be able to walk or skate across the lakes either like you can do earlier in the year.
Feb 2, 2013 7:49 PM
13The thaw at the high altitude lakes should be in full gear late May, if not already thawed depending on how early spring comes, either way, still beautiful with chunks of ice floating around or a think layer of ice at Morraine. The person who asked the question has a short vacation at the end of May, not in the fall. End of May happens to be my one of my favorite times to be in Jasper. Mountain peaks are still snow covered and look stunning, roads are reopened, lakes are pretty well thawed, the spring run off kicks in and the days are long. Add to that, tourists haven't quite arrived yet in high numbers and the Jasper to Banff weekend trip is awesome in may. Granted weather is on your side, but that goes for anywhere in the world.
Feb 2, 2013 7:52 PM
14I'll second the earlier suggestion of Douglas Fir Resort in Banff. This is a family-oriented hotel on Tunnel Mountain, on the edge of the Banff townsite. Most of the rooms and suites have kitchenettes, and there is a waterslide and huge indoor playground which are free for guests. There is also a small outdoor playground on the property, if the weather is warm. Also, since they are on the edge of the townsite, there is a chance of spotting an elk right outside your window.
The Old Spaghetti Factory in Banff is a very popular budget- and family-friendly restaurant.
I'll also second the suggestion to get a boxed / picnic lunch (and top up your fuel) before heading along the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93) between Jasper and Lake Louise. The scenery is spectacular, but the opportunities to buy fuel and food are very limited and expensive.
However, with just 3 days, I'd strongly recommend focusing on Jasper and skipping Banff. It's a 4-hour drive from Edmonton to Jasper, 4 hours from Jasper to Banff, and then 8 hours back to Edmonton to Banff. Split the difference by making a day trip from Jasper to the Columbia Icefields and back, rather than going all the way to Banff. There isn't enough difference between Jasper and Banff to merit visiting both when your time is this limited.
And if you can, put off your trip until early or mid-June, which is when the high altitude lakes (Maligne Lake, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise) start to thaw. Springtime in the Rockies is pretty cold; in fact, they will still be skiing at Sunshine Village near the Banff townsite until May 20th.
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