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Will Norton

Travelled to 5 countries / regions

Written 4 briefs
Visited Canadian Rockies in August 2018 for 8 days

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Americas > Canada > Canadian Rockies > Trip Briefs
Updated on Aug 27, 2018 Trip Brief

A week in the Canadian Rockies

I did a week-long trip to Banff National Park a few weeks ago. It's easily the most beautiful place I've ever been to. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the haze that lasted on the 2nd half my trip, from the wildfire that's been raging on for in the area


Overview of the trip

  • My trip to the Rockies consisted driving, hiking and camping. Starting point was Calgary, ending point was Jasper. This is the classic route through the Canadian Rockies that covers many of the top sights
  • Hiking and camping was done in Banff National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, two giant parks in the Rockies and containing a lot of trails of various length, ranging from day hikes to multi-day treks
  • Driving was from the town of Banff to the town of Jasper, going north along Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway) then along Route 93 after Lake Louise (called Icefields Parkway) and checking out the sights along the highway
  • Note that June-August are the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies, but they're also the busiest seasons. September is the last "nice" month of the year you can do this area
  • Overview on map:

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies


Transportation

  • Hands down the best way to see the Canadian Rockies is by car
  • I believe there are some shuttle bus options but it's really not that great of an option if you want to do explorations beyond some of the super commercialized spots like Lake Louise
  • I rented my car from the Calgary International Airport for 7 days
  • Gas stations are only available in these areas: Banff, Lake Louise, Saskatchewan River Crossing, and Jasper. This website shows all the gas prices at these areas


Lodging reservations

  • I booked my hotels in Banff, Saskatchewan River Crossing and Jasper 6 months in advance as recommended by many travellers. There are a lot of options for hotels and Airbnb in Banff and Jasper, but not a lot in between. If you aren't able to get a room between these two towns, it's not the end of the world as Banff and Jasper are only 3-4 apart hours by car. If you aren't able to get rooms in Banff, you can look into Canmore as there are more availabilities there and it's not that far
  • In addition to hotels, I also had to reserve camping sites in the parks. My trek was technically through Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia
  • Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park camp sites are reserved through this website run by the British Columbia government (can be done 4 months in advance)
  • Banff National Park camp sites are reserved through this website run by Parks Canada. Or this page is for Jasper, also run by Parks Canada


What to prepare before the trip

  • Car rental: from Calgary
  • Hotel booking: it's recommended that you book ~6 months in advance
  • Camping gear: if you plan to do multi-day treks like I did; if not, there are tons of day-hikes and won't require camping gear. You can rent the gear in the town of Banff. I used these guys
  • National Park Pass: if you plan to use any parking spot, restrooms, hiking, or any other facilities in the area, you'll need to buy this park daily passes. You can buy them online from the official park pass online vendor, or you can buy them in person from the visitor centre in Banff. The pass is cheap, $9.80 per day per person
  • Camp ground reservation: if you plan to hike, chances are you'll need to reserve camping sites as well. Again, this is the official site to use to book camp grounds in Banff; this is the site for Jasper


Total cost of the trip ~ $2910

  • Flight: $430 (roundtrip from Saskatoon)
  • Car rental: $350
  • Gas: $200 (2 tanks)
  • Hotel: $900 (Banff and Saskatchewan River Crossing averaged $200 per night, Jasper was $100 per night)
  • National Park Pass: $80
  • Tours: $150
  • Camping gear rental: $150
  • Food: $500
  • Misc: $150


Itinerary

Day 1: Calgary to Banff

  • Nothing too exciting. Picked up my car at the Calgary airport, drove to Banff (~2 hours), checked into my hotel, and then walked around the town a bit. The town is fairly small and not much beyond the main street Banff Avenue
  • Bought my park pass at the Banff Visitors Centre for the Banff National Park
  • Rented camping gear from these guys located right here
  • Went to bed early by 9pm to get ready for my hike the next day

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies


Day 2-4: Hiking and camping in Banff National Park

  • Woke up early the next day to do the hike, which was the most physically demanding part of my trip
  • There are lots of different hikes you can do in Banff. I used this website that lists a lot of trails organized by length when I was planning my trip
  • I did the Sunshine Village to Mount Shark trail, which takes 3-4 days (I did it in 3 days). The scenery was very Alpine, and the main highlight was Mount Assiniboine which is famous for looking like Matterhorn. I followed the instructions on this website
  • Logistics of the trail:
  • 1. Getting to the trail:
  • Starting point was in Sunshine Village, which was a short 30-min drive away from the town of Banff
  • After parking my car I took the gondola up 5km to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. This official website of Sunshine Meadows shows the dates, hours, and price of both the gondola and the shuttle (basically July and August)
  • From Sunshine Mountain Lodge, walk over a short distance to where the trail starts right here (coordinates 51.077098, -115.781963)
  • 2. Hiking to Og Lake Camp Ground (1st hiking day):
  • 22km from Sunshine Village trail starting point
  • Camp sites require reservation through this website ($10 per night per person)
  • 3. Hiking to Marvel Lake (2nd hiking day)
  • There are 2 camp sites in this area that you can settle in for the night: on the trail map that you'll get from the park it'll be labeled BR13 (Marvel Lake) and BR14 (McBride's Camp). See this map
  • These 2 camps are first-come-first-serve basis, no reservation required
  • This section of the trail is a bit steep
  • 4. Hiking to Mount Shark Trailhead (3rd and last hiking day)
  • Mount Shark Trailhead is the southern entrance/exit of the hike
  • From here, I used this shuttle service that has daily runs to get me from here back to Sunshine Village where I parked my car
  • It made a stop in Banff along the way. Now that I think about it, I could've just parked my car in Banff, and then took a free shuttle (check hours) from Banff to Sunshine Village to start the hike. Oh well, lesson learned

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian RockiesUser submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies


Day 5: Driving the surrounding area of the town of Banff

  • Trekking through Assiniboine was exhausting. So I took the next day easy and drove around to check out the sights not too far from Banff
  • Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive and Two Jack Lake area: right next to Banff on the northeast side. It's a circular road that takes you to the small Two Jack Lake and the larger Lake Minnewanka with some spectacular views along the way. It's also an easy drive that took me 1.5 hours including all the photo stops

User submitted photo of Canadian RockiesUser submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

  • Bow Valley Parkway: a road that runs parallel to Highway 1 for a while. There are a number of viewpoints you can pull over along the way with amazing vantage view points of the Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

  • Moraine Lake: I'm pretty sure this is the lake that appears on all the postcards and travel guides of Canada. It's stunning. Short walk from the parking lot. It got pretty hazy in the afternoon. I think it's all the smoke from the wildfire going on in BC

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian RockiesUser submitted photo of Canadian Rockies


Day 6: Driving from Banff to Saskatchewan River Crossing

  • Saskatchewan River Crossing is a 3-way highway intersection with a gas station and a hotel halfway between Banff and Jasper, where I stayed for the night at this hotel
  • Bow Lake: a lake located on Route 93. You can park in the parking lot and see the lake after a short walk from the lot

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

  • Peyto Lake: the lookout point over Peyto Lake is a short walk away from the parking lot, which is also located on the Route 93. Unlike the other lakes, the lookout point is high above the lake, giving a magnificent view like this

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Day 7: Driving from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Jasper

  • Athabasca Glacier: a massive glacier in the massive Columbia Icefield (the largest icefield in the Rockies). I did a tour on the "Ice Explorer" - a giant bus that travels on glacier. All tours start from the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre (where you can park) for $100. I didn't book ahead because I read that you should make sure the weather is nice and clear otherwise you can't really see much there (you can book here). I was there early but apparently the line up gets long after around 10am

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

  • Athabasca Falls: a little waterfall right on the route 93. There's a parking lot right next to it and you can walk and take pictures

User submitted photo of Canadian RockiesUser submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

  • Maligne Lookout, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake: it's a little bit beyond Jasper on highway 17 (Yellowhead Highway) towards Edmonton. There's a scenic road that turns off highway 17 here (coordinates 52.909874, -118.060428) that goes towards Maligne Lake. Malign Lookout and Medicine Lake are along the way

User submitted photo of Canadian RockiesUser submitted photo of Canadian Rockies

User submitted photo of Canadian Rockies


Day 8: Driving back to Calgary

  • Drove 6 hours straight from Jasper back to Calgary International Airport to catch my flight in the evening