Monday, September 13, 2010


This blog describes how to spend one week in the Canadian Rockies. It is based on a real trip by our family in August 2010. The week actually consisted of 7 days and 6 nights. It included air travel and car rental, and had a budget in mind, which meant no ultra fancy hotels or extravagances.

The family consists of a couple in their 40s, and two kids, a 14-year old girl and an 11-year old boy, all fairly fit (important for all the hiking!).

There are individual posts for each day, as well as other infomational posts o costs, books, etc.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Parks Canada Pass

In order to enter Banff, Jasper national parks you need to have a pass.

Since we were staying at the parks for about 5 days, we bought the annual pass. The cost was about $130 and was very close as the cost of buying 5 daily passes. However, this pass is valid for a full year and is valid in all national parks and historic sites (27 of Canada's world-renown national parks and 77 of Canada's national historic sites.).

In addition, you do not need to waste time buying daily passes. You are just waived through at the several gates you will go through. Saves time and will save money if you go to another park within 1 year!

Visit Parks Canada site.

Car Rental

We rented a car about 3 months in advanced, for one week. We checked the prices online with several rental companies (Hertz, National, Discount, Enterprise, etc.). We ended up choosing Budget because it was the cheapest, and we had used it before. It was cheaper compared with others by only by a few dollars, so shop around. However, some other companies were twice as expensive.

For a one week trip with a  family of four we rented a mid size sedan. We did not want to spend one week cramped in a small car, and the differences was only $10 or $20 for the week. The car was described a a "Ford Fusion" or similar. We ended up getting a Chevrolet Impala. This may have been an upgrade as it is a fairly large car.

The price was $286 for the whole week, at the airport. You can get it cheaper, for a total of around $200, or about $80/$90 cheaper,  if you do not rent at the airport, but rather, at any other location in town as they do not charge airport concession fees. However, we decided against this because then we would have to pay for taxi or transportation to the airport. On top of the expense, you will end up having to waste time arranging and having to wait for this transportation. If your time is limited just get the car at the airport.

When it got closer to the travel date, about a month and again 2 weeks before, I checked the prices again, and they had nearly doubled. Book early! The prices were so much higher than I got scared that Budget would not honor the prices they had given us. But it was fine.

Travelling outside Alberta

Our travel plans included short visits to some locations in B.C. make sure you mention this when you pick up your car as Budget charges an extra $10 each day you cross outside the province and it is written (and was highlighted) in the contract. These days car are equipped with tracking GPS, so the companies may know where you have been.

The painful part of this process is that before crossing into B.C, you have to call the Budget Airport office, for each day you intend to do it. For some reason you cannot do it several days ahead of time. Depending on where you are in your trip, this can be a real pain as you will incur roaming cell-phone charges. In our case we crosses twice into B.C. The first time it was fine and it only took one phone call. The 2nd time, we were in Jasper and it took me about 25 calls to get through (I estimate this cost me $30 to $50 in cell phone charges). Shame on Budget. Tip: Call into the local number at the Calgary airport, do not call the general Budget number, the call ends up somewhere in the U.S. and they don't have a clue what you are talking about.


The price above is based on declining insurances. We were covered by both our credit-card and by our own car insurance. I had written proof of this with me nobody asked for it).


Bring your own GPS! Rental companies will charge you $100 to $200 per week. Our Garmin Nuvi 255 cost $100 and worked wonders. This is a great thing to have.


The Impala was a 2010 model with 35,000Km on it. It has great size, lots of trunk and interior space, very comfortable ride. The negatives: The engine has the usual American car lack of power; The 12V outlet for our GPS would work intermittently, coming on and ff at random times. Most bizarre and annoying. The brakes were weird too, pulsating in some cases (on dry pavement). Leaving Calgary there is a very long downhill stretch on the old trans Canada highway. It was quite scary to have the brakes pulsating.

Fuel economy was great, on average for the trip, about 8L per 100Km..

Air Travel

We traveled into Calgary, Alberta, flying on Air Canada.

Book Early

Air Canada regularly holds ticket sales, several times a year. The prices during these sales are indeed discounted, by 50% or more over regular economy fares. For example, regular fares from Ottawa are in the $400 range, each way. We bought our tickets in early March (for travel in August), and paid about $225 each way, plus the infamous taxes, security fees, etc. In total, each ticket was about $500, both ways.

Another big advantage of booking early is that you get to choose the best flights. I our case, it was a direct flight from Ottawa to Calgary, leaving at 8:45AM, and arriving in Calgary around 11:00AM. It is  about a 4 hour flight and there is a 2 hours timezone difference.

When it gets closer to your actual travel day, other sales will come up, but these don't included the best flights. You will have to do stop-overs, and the total flying time will be considerably longer.

Flight Food 

The fares were on Air Canada's "Tango". You pay for everything. If you want to eat, they charge for it, about $10 for a sandwich. They only offers juices and coffee free. We brought our own snacks with us (crackers, cheese, fruits, cookies, etc.). This is more than appropriate for this type of flight.

The drinks you have to buy after the airport check-in as you are not allowed any bottle of liquid over 100ml, which pretty much included any drink you can buy.


Arrive early and give yourself extra time. Passing over check-in is a real pain these days, body scanners, manual inspections, turning electronics on. Sigh.


Save time and do the check-in from your own home. Then at the airport it is a breeze and you just give them your luggage.

Park and Fly

For a 1 week trip, the Park and Fly parking lots are great. Cost was about $70. The shuttles that bring you to the airport are superb and run 24 hours a day.

Travel Books to Bring With You

I borrowed about 20 travel books from our library to check them out before the trip. I ended up buying The Guide to the Canadian Rockies, by Moon. It has great advice and descriptions of all locations we wanted to visit, including Alberta and B.C.

Tip: You can get the book at about half price by ordering from Amazon:

The book is just great, pretty much all you need, describing the attractions as you drive along the highway.

Other than books, a road map of Alberta and B.C will be of value as well, and a street map of Calgary (Amazon as well) if you go there.

Day 1: Calgary, Canmore, Banff

Calgary & Airport

We arrived in Calgary around 11:45AM, picked up our luggage an went to the car rental center, all very easy. There was a relatively long line-up at Budget, and it moves slowly, so it took about half an hour. Everything was fine with our Budget reservation. They tried to get us to buy insurance, as usual (declined).

We found our car and took some time to familiarize with it. I also asked directions o the Budget attendant on how to head for Canmore, which he explained nicely, except that there is lots of construction in Calgary and.. we missed our exit.

No problem, we have  a GPS, we thought! Then we found out the 2nd problem, the new roads in Calgary are not in the GPS maps yet. Our GPS kept telling us "recalculating" and showing us in the middle of fields. In other words, we got lost.

Eventually we found our way in the old TransCanada highway (highway 1A, "Crowchild Trail") , which ends up being Bow River Rd, which would take us straight to Canmore. Both 1 and 1A run parallel to each other. 1A is a nice road, quite scenic, but with lots of little turns by the end. This is the road with the really, really long downhill section. After about 1 hour of this we deicded we had had enough and took a exit to the real Highway 1.

Canmore Accomodations: Mystic Springs

Arrived in Canmore around 2PM. As check-in time is 4PM, our room was not ready, so we headed for "downtown" Canmore, had a light lunch at a Subway. By the way, our Subway points card does not work in Alberta.

Headed back to the hotel around 3:45PM and got into our room.

The room is actually a 2-bedroom townhouse, plus living room, dining room, kitchen, fully equipped, very nice. Mystic Springs also has a heated outdoor pool, which we took advantage of to relax.

Mystic Spring is rated 3.5 starts. I would actually give it 4 or 4.5 stars.


Around 6PM we headed for Banff, which is about 15-20 minutes away, stopping first at the park gate to buy the annual pass.
 Save time and money: Buy an annual pass and you are waived through at parks' entrances

We parked the car fairly easily in downtown Banff (free parking) and explored the beautiful Cascade gardens, and just walked around main street, where all the tourists are. Weather was fine, sunny about +18C.

View from Cascade gardens towards downtown Banff.

We also visited the Bow River falls, just a short walk or drive from the gardens..

 View opposite the falls.

We headed back for Canmore around 7:30PM, bought our groceries at the Safeway supermarket. This included the night's supper, breakfast for the following two days, as well as supper for the next day.

View from highway, Canmore to Banff


Prices at the supermarket are about 20-30% higher than in Ottawa. There is also an eco fee for quite a few times such as bottles and a lot of other stuff. Supposedly you an get these fees back at some depot on "industrial" road.  Forget it, no time...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day 2: Banff, Canmore

Nordic Mountain

We had an early 7AM breakfast and drove to Banff before 8AM. It was a gorgeous blue sky day. Just at the point where the highway arrives to banff, we took the exit to the right and drove up Nordic Mountain, a skill hill in winter. The road provides great views of Banff and supposedly it is usual to see Mountain goats. We did not see, but it is worth the 5 minute drive, easy uphill climb.

View from Nordic Mountain (click to enlarge)

Fairmont Springs Hotel

Around 8:30AM we went to visit this famous and very beautiful hotel. There is fee on street parking just down the road. Then you can walk to the hotel, and go in. Go upstairs from the exception, and enjoy the nice public rooms and decoration. You can also go outside to a patio area that oversees the swimming pool and provides great views.

Fairmont Springs Hotel

Banff Sulphur Montain  TOP 5 ATTRACTION

This was one of the top 5 attractions of our trip.

Next, follow the road and stop at the Sulphur mountain gondola. You can hike up the nearly 500m vertical climb, or take the gondola up. The New Zealander that was selling tickets told us that it was a 1.5 hour hike and he had done in 1 hour. This was hard to believe as it is about 5Km uphill. Since our time was limited we deciced to take the gondola up. it is pricey, about $90 for the family. The heights during the ride are impressive, and a bit scary.

The gondola ride: it can be a little scary!

Once you get up the mountain, you can explore the observation deck, go up another 3 floors, and simply enjoy the 360 degree views. There is another short hike here to an old weather station, about 500m away. Remember you are now at around 2,200 m height, so oxygen is getting rare. The kids enjoyed taking little runs and getting short of breath.

The views from the weather station are spectacular. At the top I placed a cell phone call to my mom, about 10,000Km away and described the scenery: simply fantastic.

We then hiked back to the top of the gondola. This time we decided to hike all the way down instead of taking the gondola. It took us about 1h15min, stopping once for snacks by a water fall just off the trail. This is a spectacular trail, and something we will remember forever. If you have an ok level of fitness, take it! Downhill it's easy. Be careful with loose rocks.

Going down it's easier!

Banff Hot Springs

Arriving at the bottom of the hill, we went next door to the Banff Hot Springs. The water of the springs is about +40C, quite hot. it is nice and relaxing but we were expecting a wilder setting. The way they did it, it is just a hot swimming pool. Quite disappointing in this regard.

The time was about 2PM and we decided we had enough of Banff.


We drove back to Canmore, had lunch, went for another swimm at the heated pool. With time left in the afternoon, we decided to do some hiking in Canmore. There are many trails, most take too long for the few hours we had left. We decided to go for the Grotto Canyon, a short drive away. Finding the trail entrance was tricky, just after an industrial facility and close to grotto lake. We were never quite sure we were in the right trail, and there is nobody around. Anyway, we were, and found the canyon. Being August, there was no water, so you get to walk at the bottom of the Canyon. We followed it for about 500m or so, never finding some pictograms that are supposed to be there.

The canyon walls

Coming back, we saw people arriving with fishing rods so we decided to follow them to Grotto lake. This was quite nice, lake, families fishing. We saw an eagle or falcon (?) fly by, dive and pick up a fish!

Caught you!

On the way back to the hotel we again stopped at the supermarket for more groceries for next day's road trip towards the Crossing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day 3: Banff, Lake Louise, Takakkaw Falls (B.C.), The Crossing

Note Remember to fill up your gas tank in Canmore, it is cheaper and will give you enough gas to reach Jasper, with lots left..

Early on day 3 we left Canmore and headed for lake Louise on the old highway, not the parkway. We were told the old road was more scenic. Soon after passing by Banff, we saw a deer by the side of the road totally oblivious to us:

Johnston Canyon

Next stop was Johnston Canyon. This is a canyon with a real river, lots of water. You take a trail to the lower falls, about 20 minute walk, and can continue to upper falls further upstream. We only did the lower falls. It is well worth it. As it was early morning (9AM), temperatures were chilly (about 10C), so dress accordingly.

Lake Louise

Next major stop is the world renowned Lake Louise. It is deservedly renowned, and a must stop. You will be directed to one of the parking lots (free).

The mountains provide a majestic backdrop to the lake:

Note: After Lake Louise you could go to Moraine Lake, about 20-30 minutes drive. We decided not to do this, but to do it on the way back instead. Moraine Lake is another must stop.

Spiral Tunnels, B.C.

Next after Lake Louise we took the highway to British Columbia. Soon after crossing the provincial border we stopped at a viewing point for the spiral tunnels. We were not expecting much, however, we lucked out and a train came by. These trains are huge, probably over 2Km long. They are so long that you can see them exiting a tunnel, while the rear is still entering the tunnel on a another side of the mountain. You can see the same train in 3 different spots.

Takkakaw Falls, B.C.   TOP 5 ATTRACTION

These falls are the highest or 2nd highest in Canada, depending on the point of view.

Takkakaw Falls is about 20-30 minutes away, on a gorgeous little side road. Beware the hair pin, near 180 degree turn, uphill. If the road is wet, be careful. Park near the falls at the parking lot, and follow the trail. You can continue climbing the mountain up a little but further for more spectacular views. You may get a little wet. When the sun comes up you will see spectacular colors, a mixture of green for the trees, white for the snow capped mountains, and blue for sky. Kids collected stones by the river.


Field, B.C.

We went for a mid afternoon lunch at a restaurant in Field. This is fast food, ok for that, service was very slow. From our table we could see the highway. Because of the service lateness and traffic on the highway was very heavy, we decided not to go to Emerald lake, our intended destination further into B.C. So we went back to Alberta, but first we put in a post card in the Field post office.

Crowfoot Glacier

Back to the Parkway, we headed north towards the Crossing. First stop was to admire the Crowfoot glacier:

Bow Lake

Bow lake is another stop, and also very, very beautiful:

Peyto Lake

How many hikes do you want to d in one day? Peyto lake was highly recommended by our guide book. It is another 20-30 minutes beautiful hike from the parking lot. The water is of gorgeous color, but it appeared that nearly half the lake had been emptied, so it was a bit dissapointed. In our case, it was not worth it.

The 3 River Crossing

It was now late in the afternoon. This place was named as such because it it at the crossing of three rivers. There is  a viewing point just north of it.

The Crossing Resort.

This was our stop for the night, a one room at this "resort". The pictures on their web site are quite nice, but the place is simply a motel, with a fitness room, and a very expensive restaurant, and expensive gas station (last one before Jasper). The room was small, one double bed, one single bed and a sofa bad. It is rated 2.5 stars. I would rate it only 2 stars. But the room is decent and clean, but just a very overpriced motel. It just happens to be at a very convenient spot to stop for the night, for our plans.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 4, The Crossing to Jasper, Via Columbia Icefields

Early morning we headed for breakfast at the Crossing's restaurant. They have an all you can eat package, quite expensive (around $25/$30 for adults), or you can order individual items. We ended up choosing a good combination: the kids got the all-you-can eat buffet at a lower price, and the adults order a couple of items. It worked out quite nicely as the kids could not eat all their food.

Sunwapta Pass

The road goes up through Sunwapta pass. There are actually a few stops along the way, with great views. The weather was not the best for us.

Columbia Icefields

A must stop for sure. You can drive nearly all the way there on the left side of the road, or you an go to toe Visitor centre and go on a bus that actually goes on top of the ice. We did not take the bus, but chose to to walk. Again, you are quite high here, so you will get out of breath, it is not for the not too fit. Also, it is quite cold and windy. Temperature was around 8C, with hard bone chilling wind.

After going near the ice, we went t the visitor centre to eat our snacks, in a heated place, as well as to use the washrooms. Had a nice espresso there.

Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls are very nice stops too:


We arrived in Jasper around 2PM and headed straight for our accomodations.

Accomodation: Pine Bungalows

We stayed at the Pine bungalows for 2 nights. This was the most expensive accommodation at $220 per night for a 2 room cabin with 2 Queen beds, plus kitchen and dining area, and bathroom of course. Kitchen is great, but it does not have a microwave, which was sorely missed. I commented about this at checkout and was told that they wanted to keep the "rustic" style, or something to that effect, which is non sense as the place is really nice. There are several types of cabins, some bigger, some smaller. Ours was number 69, close to the water. We met a nice family vacationing from England next door, they were staying there for a full week.

Check in and checkout were a breeze, no surprises. Staff was pleasant and helpful. Note: the coffee they give you has a built-in filter!

View from the Athabasca river at Pine Bungalows

Food market

Jasper has a couple of  food markets. We only went to Robinson's, right on Jasper's main street (you can't get lost in Jasper!). It has pretty much everything you need, including a deli counter,  a good (but not the best) variety of frozen foods.

Jasper is a nice little town. It does not have the tourist and fashionable feel of Banff, but neither does it have hoards of people that Banff has.

Patricia Lake

This is a small drive from downtown. There is a nice little island to walk to and around.

 Patricia Lake island

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 5: Jasper, Mt. Robson B.C., Maligne Lake


This was one of the highlights of our trip.

We had breakfast at our room, and early in the morning, we drove to Mt. Robson in B.C. Mt. Robson is the highest peak in the Rockies at nearly 4,000m high. It is about 1 hour away, on a spectacular highway. Along the way, we stopped at lake ...

Weather got worse and worse the further north we went. However, you can still enjoy it.

Go to the Visitor Center in Mt. Robson and they will explain what trails you can take. Because we had limited time, we only did the shortest hike, 1 hour up the mountain to Lake Keishan...


Jasper: Maligne Lake and Medicine Lake

Maligne lake is about 45 minute drive. You will pictures of this lake everywhere,and offers for a boat tour. The lake is very pretty, you can hike trails around it, take pictures, etc. Quite nice.

Medicine lake is on the way to Maligne Lake, so why not stop on the way in or out. It was called like that by the natives because the water changes levels throughout the summer.

 Maligne Lake

Medicine Lake

Maligne Canyon

Stop here on your way back. There are nice trails and bridges  that cross the canyon back and forth. The canyons is very deep and impressive.

Jasper: Lakes Edith and Annette

These lakes are ion the way back from Maligne canyon. These are the warmest lakes in Jasper, with beaches. If it is really warm, you can go in in these lakes. Easy parking.Don't get your hopes up as for water temperature. being the warmest lakes in a cold region is still... cold water. However, it is not absolutely freezing. My son went in up to his knees, water was ok.

Athabasca River and Elks

On e way back to Pine Bungalows cars were stopped on the highway as several elk were spotted:

It turns out, many elk could be seen from Pine bungalows:

At night we had nice chats with our bungalow neighbors, as well as went for walks along the river.

There is a  gondola in Jasper, we did not go. The weather was not the nicest and we had already been to the one in Banff, so we passed.