Travel

Question re Banff vacation

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  • Sep 13th, 2023 10:25 am
[OP]
Member
Aug 23, 2014
461 posts
239 upvotes
Mississauga, ON

Question re Banff vacation

My wife and I are planning to vacation in Banff next month. We’re planning to stay there 5 days, 4 nights. We prefer to have a more “relaxed” vacation and we don’t feel the need to see or visit as many places as we can.

Many people recommend driving all the way to Jasper and spending at least a night there. We prefer though to just stay in one hotel (Banff) for the entire duration. My question is if we drive on the Ice Fields Parkway just HALFWAY up to Jasper for a few hours then turn back to Banff making it an easy day trip, are we going to miss out a lot on the nice views and places to see?
36 replies
Deal Expert
Aug 2, 2001
18506 posts
9885 upvotes
If you only have 5 days / 4 nights spend it in either Banff or Jasper, not both. They are both beautiful and much around them that is beautiful, and that's why it's best to see just one and avoid the travel time. Especially since going to Jasper might add hours on to your return path if you are flying from Calgary or driving through BC. Because you already mention you want to take it easy I think it's that much more realistic to pick Banff and it's surrounding areas.

Lake Louise is also fairly close to Banff (under an hour depending on traffic). I think Jasper is a minimum of 3.5 hours, but with the stops you make along the way you'll take much more than that.


Remember by going in August you will be hitting the peak season for the area. You may find you have to leave early to get access to the popular tourist spots (and least during COVID they were heavily enforcing the no parking on highway rules). This means if you want to drive several hours north of Banff, you may have to leave a little earlier than you would like to get there before the parking lot fills up.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
25639 posts
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Eastern Ontario
Good info here from @TrevorK

I will just add …

Book your vehicle rental ASAP

There is a real rental car shortage happening … due to rental vehicle sell offs during Covid … and it’s gonna be pretty difficult … and EXPENSIVE … to find rental cars the rest of the summer in these highly visited areas (Alberta & BC ) cuz tons of Cdns are planning to see Canada this summer vs leave the country
Sr. Member
User avatar
Jun 14, 2006
751 posts
95 upvotes
GTA
Honestly - don't worry about missing out, etc.

I did the drive from Banff to the Glacier and straight to Jasper and back to Banff (I am totally fine with the driving).
At the end of it, all I can say is, no matter what you do, there will always be something you will be missing out on.
So just go and enjoy yourselves :-)

Also, as others have said, it will be packed so plan ahead for the lakes (Louise, Emerald, etc). They have their own system with the parking wardens, who dictate which cars get to park (even if spaces are there lol).
One of them flat out told me, you havent waited long enough (so go make more circles).

Lastly +1 on the rental - prices are creeping up slowly, so if you have costco membership, just book it (no cancellation fees).

Enjoy - if you have never been, you are in for a trip of a life time.
Sr. Member
Sep 13, 2007
750 posts
336 upvotes
Toronto
Allocate one whole day to drive to Jasper, and one whole day back. So that's two days.

The drive in Jasper can be stressful at times, esp considering there's no cell service there and the roads are a bit rough.

That said, it's a very beautiful scenery

Jasper scenary >>> Banff
Deal Addict
Nov 21, 2004
1702 posts
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Banff is fantastic.... what all are you hoping to do?

If it's hiking, Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise are all amazing and you could go weeks without duplicating a hike....

If you want to "see" the mountains.... you should head north at least as far as the Columbia Icefields and do the glacier thing.... you could go up and back in one day

If you want to see everything, stop at the icefields on your way up to Jasper and spend a day or two up there. I would not drive all the way to Jasper and back in a day from Banff....
[OP]
Member
Aug 23, 2014
461 posts
239 upvotes
Mississauga, ON
Thank you all for your input. Here’s my planned itinerary for my “relaxed” (mostly sightseeing, minimal hiking) vacation:

Day 1- travel day, yyz Toronto to yyc Calgary, rent car, check in @ Moose Hotel (Banff), unwind
Day 2 - Lake Louise/Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon
Day 3- Icefields Parkway - stops at Bow Summit, Columbia Icefields, drive back to Banff
Day 4 - Lake Minnewanka boat cruise
Day 5 - Travel back to Toronto

I would appreciate your feedback on my itinerary.
Deal Fanatic
Feb 15, 2006
9162 posts
3838 upvotes
Toronto
Did you book hotel and rental car yet? It can be difficult in peak season if you haven't booked early enough.

Pre-Covid, Lake Louise / Moraine Lake had traffic control, and often by early morning Moraine Lake access road is blocked off. With re-opening and a surge of traveling coming, traffic control may come back. Instead of trying to visit in early morning, might need to go in the evening instead.

Minnewanka cruise is meh. Maybe ok for someone who hasn't seen the Rockies, but after a few days seeing the magnificent scenery of Banff/LL/Moraine Lake area, it won't feel anything special. The Maligne Lake cruise to Spirit Island is much better, but unless you go to Jasper for a day (e.g Day 3 add 1 hr drive to Jasper and stay for a day) that'll be for the next trip.

So instead of Minnewanka cruise, spend the day around Banff, gondola up Sulfur Mountain, drive/hike around Tunnel Mountain for nice views. Drive/hike around Bow Falls. You haven't allotted time to enjoy Banff itself, so that can be the day for it.
Jr. Member
Jun 23, 2005
104 posts
23 upvotes
From your itinerary, it looks like you really only have 3 days to explore the region plus two travel days. I would not go to Jasper National Park as it's just too far to do a return trip. I would only go to Jasper if you were driving one way and flying out of Edmonton. Staying in Banff area the entire time would be a good idea including the Icefields Parkway. You will see enough beautiful sights from Banff to Icefields. By cutting out Jasper, it will give you more time to do various stops for photo taking.

Some people like Banff more than Jasper and others the other way around. I would say most people like Banff more because it is more built up for the tourist. Jasper is more "rugged" looking and has less developed trails than those in Banff. I personally liked Jasper slightly more than Banff but I also like to go where fewer tourists are. I also visited the other National Parks connected to Banff and Jasper as well.
Deal Expert
Aug 2, 2001
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Jedi14 wrote: Thank you all for your input. Here’s my planned itinerary for my “relaxed” (mostly sightseeing, minimal hiking) vacation:

Day 1- travel day, yyz Toronto to yyc Calgary, rent car, check in @ Moose Hotel (Banff), unwind
Day 2 - Lake Louise/Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon
Day 3- Icefields Parkway - stops at Bow Summit, Columbia Icefields, drive back to Banff
Day 4 - Lake Minnewanka boat cruise
Day 5 - Travel back to Toronto

I would appreciate your feedback on my itinerary.
I usually visit the attractions early in the day but I am under the impression that some of them will fill up and you are not allowed to park in them. They (the popular ones) will actually have enforcement at the gates. When I was there last, albeit during the pandemic, they were actively ticketing people parking on the highways. When I see Day 2 which has three top attractions I wonder how hectic it will be during peak season in August.

Perhaps it would be worth looking further into whether it's realistic to do these attractions when you will likely be there during the busy times during the day.
Sr. Member
User avatar
Jun 14, 2006
751 posts
95 upvotes
GTA
Jedi14 wrote: Thank you all for your input. Here’s my planned itinerary for my “relaxed” (mostly sightseeing, minimal hiking) vacation:

Day 1- travel day, yyz Toronto to yyc Calgary, rent car, check in @ Moose Hotel (Banff), unwind
Day 2 - Lake Louise/Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon
Day 3- Icefields Parkway - stops at Bow Summit, Columbia Icefields, drive back to Banff
Day 4 - Lake Minnewanka boat cruise
Day 5 - Travel back to Toronto

I would appreciate your feedback on my itinerary.
Johnston Canyon - is it open? Last summer it wasnt.

Seems you are checking out from Banff and heading to catch a flight to Calgary?
Only caution I would throw, personally I have a rule to be in the city from which my flights leaves the night before.
Too much stress of missing a flight and you never know with traffic, car trouble, etc.
But its also not that far from your hotel to the airport, so i get your plan.
Deal Addict
Aug 29, 2005
1537 posts
174 upvotes
Ontario
I was thinking of going to Banff at the end of Aug, sorry to hijack.

Any concerns with the air quality and visibility with the wildfires going on in BC and area?
Newbie
Jul 19, 2021
3 posts
3 upvotes
Johnston Canyon is open now. Highway 1A is closed from Banff to Johnston Canyon but is open from the other direction. There are new parking lots which make it more accessible but also make it busier; plan accordingly. Was there last Thursday and there was a long lineup to check out the lower falls cave. Upper trail was not very busy.
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Oct 13, 2007
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Edmonton
Jedi14 wrote: My wife and I are planning to vacation in Banff next month. We’re planning to stay there 5 days, 4 nights. We prefer to have a more “relaxed” vacation and we don’t feel the need to see or visit as many places as we can.

Many people recommend driving all the way to Jasper and spending at least a night there. We prefer though to just stay in one hotel (Banff) for the entire duration. My question is if we drive on the Ice Fields Parkway just HALFWAY up to Jasper for a few hours then turn back to Banff making it an easy day trip, are we going to miss out a lot on the nice views and places to see?
I have just been recently returned from a road trip on the Icefields Parkway. Due to the (international) travel restrictions, the highway was virtually empty. Since you are from the East and likely this is a trip that you will not re-take at least for a long while, I would recommend driving to Jasper as well and spending at least one night there, two for a more relaxed journey. The Icefields Parkway is rated as one of the most scenic drives so why would you want to do only half and then turn back? The roads are beautiful as well.

I do prefer Jasper as Banff has become a sort of Niagra Falls style tourist Mecca. No doubt, some may prefer this.

If this is is a one-shot type trip, you should really do the recently opened Icefields Skywalk.
Moderator
User avatar
Sep 21, 2004
11277 posts
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Calgary
Jedi14 wrote: Thank you all for your input. Here’s my planned itinerary for my “relaxed” (mostly sightseeing, minimal hiking) vacation:

Day 1- travel day, yyz Toronto to yyc Calgary, rent car, check in @ Moose Hotel (Banff), unwind
Day 2 - Lake Louise/Lake Louise Gondola, Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon
Day 3- Icefields Parkway - stops at Bow Summit, Columbia Icefields, drive back to Banff
Day 4 - Lake Minnewanka boat cruise
Day 5 - Travel back to Toronto

I would appreciate your feedback on my itinerary.
You really only have three days.

Day 4, don't go to Minnewanka as it will be a disappointment after the spectacular scenery in Lake Louise / Moraine Lake / Bow Lake / Icefield Parkway. Of all the major Brewster attraction, Minnewanka Cruise is the least impressive. If you want to cruise on a giant lake, Lake Ontario and Thousand Islands cruise will do.

Instead, go to Emerald Lake and Takakkaw Falls in Yoho in the morning, and spend the rest of the day around Banff town. Tunnel Mountain is a short moderate hike with great view. If you can, also go to Banff Gondola in the evening.

As others said, you do not have time to go to Jasper townsite and back. Save that for next trip.
[OP]
Member
Aug 23, 2014
461 posts
239 upvotes
Mississauga, ON
Thank you all again for your input. I've revised my itinerary based on the feedback I've received here, feedback from friends as well as based on my research on traveladvisor as well as the Banff and Jasper facebook group.

I've booked my hotel, flight and car rental. I've decided to spend one night in Jasper as I've read really great reviews about the Maligne Lake cruise and I might later on regret not doing it.

Here's my revised *relaxed* itinerary (mostly sightseeing and minimal hiking):

Monday- Travel from yyz to yyc. Arrive at Calgary airport 11:30am, Check-in at Moose Hotel at Banff, In the afternoon, head to Lake Louise, Lake Louise gondola (if clear views), dinner at Lake Louise.

Tuesday- Icefield Parkway, Bow Lake, Columbia Icefields, Athabasca Glacier, Athabasca falls, Overnight at Jasper, Mount Robson Inn.

Wednesday-Maligne lake cruise, Medicine lake, drive back to Banff/Icefields Parkway, stop at sites missed on Tuesday

Thursday- 6am@Moraine Lake, Banff Gondola (if clear views), Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls

Friday- travel back yyc to yyz.

I would appreciate any additional feedback.
Newbie
Jan 7, 2012
92 posts
490 upvotes
Calgary
You've got some extra/unnecessary driving in there. Monday would not be relaxing after that flight.

Monday - replace Lake Louise stuff with Johnston Canyon, Banff Gondola, dinner in Banff (way more options).
Tuesday/Wednesday - fine.
Thursday - Lake Louise stuff in place of Banff Gondola. You drive to LL in order to get to Moraine...
Sr. Member
Sep 13, 2007
750 posts
336 upvotes
Toronto
iEyeCaptain wrote: I recommend Emerald Lake.
i wanted to go there :( not enough time, plus i was stuck in a heat wave
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Oct 13, 2007
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Jedi14 wrote: Thank you all again for your input. I've revised my itinerary based on the feedback I've received here, feedback from friends as well as based on my research on traveladvisor as well as the Banff and Jasper facebook group.

I've booked my hotel, flight and car rental. I've decided to spend one night in Jasper as I've read really great reviews about the Maligne Lake cruise and I might later on regret not doing it.

Here's my revised *relaxed* itinerary (mostly sightseeing and minimal hiking):

Monday- Travel from yyz to yyc. Arrive at Calgary airport 11:30am, Check-in at Moose Hotel at Banff, In the afternoon, head to Lake Louise, Lake Louise gondola (if clear views), dinner at Lake Louise.

Tuesday- Icefield Parkway, Bow Lake, Columbia Icefields, Athabasca Glacier, Athabasca falls, Overnight at Jasper, Mount Robson Inn.

Wednesday-Maligne lake cruise, Medicine lake, drive back to Banff/Icefields Parkway, stop at sites missed on Tuesday

Thursday- 6am@Moraine Lake, Banff Gondola (if clear views), Emerald Lake, Takakkaw Falls

Friday- travel back yyc to yyz.

I would appreciate any additional feedback.
Doesn’t seem to make sense to backtrack to Takakkaw Falls from Banff. It’s a long way and a slow and winding trip up. Great if you are camping or hiking there but somewhat of a waste just to view the falls.

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