As if on cue, (or so it seemed), over the last few months, a number of resources just fell in my purview, as I worked towards planning an itinerary for the trip. The first was the blog called The Globetrotting Teacher (TGT). Jackie from TGT has several posts on Banff and Jasper travel, in both summer and winter seasons.
One day, while browsing the Amateur Traveler, I came across a podcast on the Jasper area. It was just what I had been looking for. I also listened to the ones from Chris Christensen himself on this area (Calgary/Banff and Jasper/Edmonton) from a couple of his early podcasts.
One of the recommendations was for a Gypsy audio guide to Jasper. This, we found, was one of the best resources for the trip. Gypsy has at least five different audio guides for this area: Calgary to Banff, Banff townsite, Lake Louise/ Yoho, Icefields Parkway and Jasper National Park (NP). The app costs about $4.99 per guide. I used the hotel WiFi to download them but what I liked best was that the app could be used without WiFi or mobile network. The guides provide a ton of good information along the driving route based on GPS. Interestingly, the kids really enjoyed these guides a lot, absorbing a lot of information along the way, making the drives fun as well as educational.
I found the Banff Lake Louise Tourism website very useful for several different itineraries. And used it to hone my own. This website also has good information on the Parks pass and has a link to buy the passes.
And then three days before our trip, I came across a website, written by a local couple, called BanffandBeyond.com. This, seriously, is one of the most comprehensive travel websites that I have ever come across. There is a mountain of great information, like the best times to visit a place, what to pack, how to get to an alternate viewpoint, etc, and coming from a local makes it all the more reliable and important. Plus, it has a lot of great photographs. I would highly recommend using this website to plan your trip.
Since the towns are located inside the Banff and Jasper National Parks, one has to buy and display the Parks Pass to access them. These passes are valid until 4 pm of the following day. The pass for Banff NP is also valid for Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. The website automatically calculates the cheapest option for a day pass based on number of adults (over 18 yrs) and number of seniors over 65 in the group. For us, that ended up being a family day pass (valid for max 7 people) at 19.60 CAD per day. Of course, these passes can be purchased in person at the entrance to the parks as well.
The other two resources I used were the Ultimate Explorer ticket which gave us access to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola in Banff, the Lake Minnewanka Cruise and the Columbia Icefields Glacier adventure and Skywalk. Jasper has a similar one with the Maligne Lake cruise and the Jasper Tramway but with such limited time, we decided to forego that one and create our own itinerary.
The very last one was the Via Ferrata mountain climbing/ hiking on Mt. Norquay. This is a ski resort during the winter months, but provides the perfect spot for mountain climbing in the summer months. Via Ferrata offers a variety of tours and we chose the shortest session (2.5 hrs) as this was our very first experience mountain climbing.
Both Missy and Sonny JJ were very active in putting together the final itinerary for our trip.
Day 1: Land in Calgary at noon and drive 1.5 hours to Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Tour the Whyte Museum and then attend the Banfftastic Show at the Banff Park Museum for an hour of outdoor fun and music.
Day 2: Drive the Bow Valley Parkway to visit part of the Icefields Parkway up to Peyto Lake then stop by Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. We knew this was going to be a busy day.
Day 3: Mountain Climbing at Via Ferrata on Mt. Norquay, Lake Minnewanka cruise and in the evening take the Gondola to Sulphur Mountain for a good dinner. We hoped to get to the Banff Upper Hot springs to soak and relax sometime during the course of the day.
Day 4: Johnston Canyon and then onwards to Yoho National Park to see the spiral tunnels, Takakkaw Falls, Emerald Lake and the Natural bridge.
Day 5: Drive the Icefields Parkway and finish the rest of the sights along the way including Saskatchewan river crossing, Columbia Icefields discovery center including the Glacier walk and skywalk, Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls before heading to Jasper for the night.
Day 6: Our plans here were quite fluid. We had Maligne Lake and surroundings including the canyon, Medicine Lake and nearby beaches on our list. We weren’t sure about the Jasper Tramway since we had committed to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola in Banff. Miette Hot springs was also on our itinerary but a distant third since it lay in an entirely different direction. We thought the trails at the Valley of Five Lakes would be very much doable for us.
Day 7: Drive back to Calgary after completing any left over sightseeing, drop off car by 10 pm
Day 8: Flights back to Dallas
After all the research and planning, did we get to all the places we wished to go?
Join us over the next few days to see how it all played out.