Tell me about the Canadian Rockies

I’m going to a wedding in Alberta next August, and am starting to plan what to do in the inevitable holiday that will be built around it - as are many other family members.
Basically, I’m thinking of renting a car with my sister, and heading off and camping & exploring & walking & stuff. Beyond that, we’ve little idea. And in the usual way, there’s so much information out there it’s hard to work out what’s really useful. So I turn to the usual source of wise advice…

The details: The wedding’s close-ish to Calgary (somewhere near Banff, IIRC), but open-jaw tickets to Vancouver or Edmonton are equal options. We’re hoping to keep costs fairly low (hence the camping :wink: ). We’d be keen on vaguely-active things (hiking and so on) but not on really-active things (rockclimbing etc).

The specific questions: If we were to spend a couple of days in a city, which would be the most worthwhile? What weather should we expect? What tourist-traps should we avoid (we’re both hypercynical, if that’s a good guide :stuck_out_tongue: )? Good guidebooks, maps, etc?
And the footnote: Any suggestions that don’t fit my criteria are still equally welcome, because there’s about fifty family members of all ages and interests all planning similar things…

By any chance, is the wedding in Canmore, Alberta? I lived there. I also lived in Lake Louise. If it is either place, flying to Calgary is your best bet.

For keeping costs down, there are camp grounds run by the federal government of Canada all through that area. There are also youth hostels in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise.

I am a Calgarian at heart, and will tell you to spend those extra few days in Calgary. However, I love Edmonton as well, and it’s well worth a day or two of vacation.

I’m sorry I’m not much more help at the moment. Check out for Banff National Park; for Travel Alberta (it links directly to my state, so perhaps Google “Provincial Parks Alberta”), for camping near Canmore, and

Have a wonderful time. If you would like any specific answers and think I may be able to help, please email me at the address in my profile. I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, but I have a newborn and won’t be looking at the boards.

While traveling from Boston to Vancouver by train (then to San Francisco by train and rented car)(and then back to Chicago by the Zephyr)(then by plane back to Boston), my rail buff traveling companion and I ran into a friend of mine and his wife who were traveling the same route but clockwise. We met in Jasper and all rented a car and drove the 100+ miles on the Jasper-Banff Highway to Banff and Lake Louise, and back. Stopped at the Columbia Icefields and rode out onto the glacier in a (big) snowmobile. I highly recommend it. We two also trained up to Prince Rupert, B.C. and then down the Fraser River Valley in Budd cars (self-propelled Diesels) to Vancouver on rails that were so rough that the meal trays was served on lap pillows to keep from spilling. This was in 1968 and much of the train parts cannot be done now, at least cheaply. Remember going thru Hornepayne on the train.

I did a 5 day lodge ride in the Rockies with this company a few years ago. They do anywhere from 1/2 day to week long horseback riding trips out of Banff…it was absolutely amazing (and reasonably priced, but the dollar was stronger then.)
Also, Banff is a great town, and the Banff hostel is very nice.

Give serious consideration to flying into Vancouver (a very neat city, beautiful setting, great restaurants, etc), and renting a car to drive up to Banff/Calgary (you could probably arrange you return flight from Calgary, and get a one-way rental for the car).

It will be the trip of a lifetime; you’ll go from the coastal forests up through incredible river valleys, through areas that are almost desertlike, with cactus. You can visit a real Gold Rush frontier town, now an historic site. You’ll go through the Okanagan Valley, home of the best wine in Canada (and hey–don’t laugh. We produce some excellent wine there, from French and German grapes!) In August, there will be family-run roadside fruitstands selling some of the biggest, juiciest apples, peaches, pears, plums etc. that you’ve ever had in your life.

Then you get to drive up through the Rocky Mountains. You’ll pass through 4 or 5 National Parks (depending on exactly which route you take); incredible unspoiled scenery. Mountain Sheep and Elk, maybe some Black Bears. (DON’T feed them, or get out of the car. We lose a few visitors that way every couple of years.)

You can buy a National Parks Pass that will cover your entry fees into all the parks that you’ll drive through and visit (it doesn’t cover camping fees, though–they’re extra, but still very reasonable).
Banff is pricey, but wonderful. You might consider staying in Jasper National Park (about 3 hours north of Banff), either camping or staying in a motel or cabin lodges. The Columbia Icefields are right between Banff and Jasper, along the highway–and it is a real experience to take one of the Explorers up on to the glacier.

Calgary is a great city; hospitable, fun, some good restaurants (and I hope you like steak; Alberta is ranch country).

Don’t buy film for your camera in the UK; it’s much, much cheaper here–and so is the processing and printing. Take your film to “London Drugs” in Calgary and get it back before you return to the UK. You’ll save bucks.

You’ll find prices here pretty good next to the UK; petrol is currently about 90 cents a litre in British Columbia. Restaurants are in general a lot cheaper than in the UK, and of course, you’ll get a big plate of food most places. Vancouver has excellent ethnic restaurants of all sorts–I saw Afghan, Somali, Thai, Vietnamese, Central American, etc., last time I was there.

Have a great trip!

Thanks for the suggestions so far, and keep them coming, they’re what I want :slight_smile:

You’ve already got me hooked on the icefield - I’d just presumed that even that far north was all a-glowing in summer (yes, I’m joking)…
Oh, and yeah, we know that just about everything will be cheaper :wink: - that’s why we Brits travel so light… :dubious: …

And for the resident railway buff Ignatz :wink: …there’s various people attending the wedding who I think would far prefer a day or two travelling scenic railways than hours in a car. Are there good options for this around the western area? (everything marketed in the UK is a full-holiday Montreal-Vancouver type thing).

Some more suggestions for fans of history and the military:

If any children are attending the wedding, they will be fascinated by the Royal Tyrell Museum, in Drumheller, Alberta. It has an astonishing collection of dinosaur bones and reconstructed skeletons, and very good displays. Drumheller is about an hour and a half’s drive NE of Calgary.

Also in the Drumheller Valley is the Atlas Coal Mine Museum, the largely intact remnants of a drift mine that operated until the 1970s. The tipple, wash house, administrators house and several other buildings are still standing and can be visited. A museum filled with mining artifacts is also on site. Nearby are the Hoodoos, alien looking columns of sandstone topped with limestone, formed by erosion over centuries.

Further north, about another 45 minutes drive, is the Reynolds Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin. The museum has a huge collection of vintage cars and farming vehicles and implements, and an aviation annex with a good collection of civil and military aircraft.

About 40 minutes south of Calgary is the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum. The Prairies hosted several bases of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan during WW2, and the museum houses several WW2 bomber and trainer aircraft, including a (non-flying) mighty Lancaster, an Avro Anson, and bits of a Blenheim bomber.

In Calgary itself, there are several good aviation and military museums (can you guess what my hobbies are yet). The Calgary Aerospace Museum, near the Airport, is home to a good collection of military planes and helicopters, including another Lancaster, a CF-100 Canuck, a CF-101 Voodoo, and many more. The Museum of the Regiments, near the former site of CFB Calgary, showcases the proud history of the Canadian Army, including storied Regiments like Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and Lord Strathcona’s Horse, in wars from the Boer War to Korea and Afghanistan. The Alberta Naval Museum - a lot of Prairie boys had heard stories about the trenches of Ypres from their fathers and chose to serve at sea in WW2 - has an interesting collection of artifacts and displays, including several carrier aircraft that served on Canada’s last aircraft carrier, HMCS Bonaventure. The museum also has several vintage naval guns, and a collection of ASW mortars.

Heritage Park, in Calgary, contains a variety of historic buildings that were moved to the site to be spared from destruction. There are several steam locomotives on display, and one working train that you can ride on. The park will give you some idea what life was like for the homesteaders and ranchers who settled the West in Canada.

One offbeat site that many Albertans don’t even know about is the Brooks Aqueduct, in Brooks, Alberta. About an hour and a halfs drive from Calgary, the aqueduct is the remains of an engineering project from the 1920s. A concrete aqueduct was built to carry water through a valley and irrigate the surrounding farmland. Never terribly successful, it was finally shut down in the 1970s and replaced by a canal. The site has many remaining artifacts, and makes a beautiful walk. The area directly underneath the aqueduct is fenced off, and has become a haven for native flora and fauna, including sagebrush and cave swallows.

GM: Unfortunately, I was/am not the railfan. My coworker was and dragged me along, willingly. 9,000 miles in 16 days. I haven’t been on a train other than subways since then (1968).

I googled and found the following websites. I’m sure there are several related ones.

Try these websites:

and Canadian Rockies Travel Experts: Banff Jasper Hotels & Attractions

The link from the second one gives the current price as $32 per person to go onto the icefield.

Is the Post Office Tower still in London? I went up in it on my last trip there (1965) but don’t see it in any photos or movies of presente-day London. It is/was an aluminium cylindrical skyscraper with observation deck.

If you drive up to Edmonton, Ft. Edmonton is very well done. They have recreated various parts of the city from the time it was a trading fort through the 1920s. We wound up going back more than once in order to see it all.

I just want to second the Royal Tyrell Museum. The Museum is very good, you can watch paelientologists deal with the dinasaur bones through windows you can also talk to some while they work. Depending on your timing they offer day camps to go out to the digs to help dig.

Go to the Upper Hot springs out of Banff as a couple hours relaxation thing.

I have no idea what your finances are but the Banff Springs hotel is amazing. You may not want to pay the 1000$ per night fee but if you can get in to eat they have been four star dining for most of the last 100 years.

If you drive up to Lake Louise you can rent canoes and canoe around the lake. The water is an amazing color sort of turquoise green and so cold.

I am hoping we can get up there again this summer.

Just be ready for cold weather if you go hiking. Snow’s forecast for Banff later this week.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far, and keep 'em coming :slight_smile:

Yep, it’s still there, still in use for communications, and now a listed building. However, it’s no longer able to dominate the skyline in the way it did in the 60s.

Shirley, you jest, or missed the OP:

"Tell me about the Canadian Rockies

I’m going to a wedding in Alberta next August,"
Most of the snow should have melted by August, though it was visible on the mountaintops when I was there in July. I do wish I had had a sweater or heavier jacket on the icefield trip. :frowning:

Don’t call me Shirley! That’s another poster :wink:

But one should always be prepared for surprise inclement weather while hiking in the Rockies. Can’t tell you how many news stories I wrote in Vancouver when some fool went up in the mountains in shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt and ended up getting pulled out by a search and rescue team a few days later suffering from extreme hypothermia.

For your train request, check out Rocky Mountain Railtours
And since it will be August, some of the more adventurous in your group may want to try rafting -


More Rafting

And More Rafting
The suggestions about the Royal Tyrell and the various military museums are seconded, and if you are in a museum state of mind you could check out the Glenbow Museum Glenbow in Calgary
Another good link is Kananaskis Country

And as for the weather - although it has been known to snow in August, it doesn’t happen very often :slight_smile:

If you plan to camp, you will probably need to book your campsites in advance - the popular campgrounds can be full in August. And don’t expect to swim in the mountain lakes - I tolerate cold very well, and I can barely take a dip in them in August. As for the weather, basically dress in layers. You can expect anything from cold rain to blistering hot, and snow isn’t out of the question, as previously mentioned.

Radium Hot Springs is one of our favourite locations in the Rockies. It’s a tiny little tourist town with a very nice mineral hot pool. Not much to do there except soak in the hot pool, hike, and see Bighorn sheep. This is a very relaxing town.

You probably know this, but be prepared to drive long hours here. Canada is BIG. There’s a reason that Canadians measure distance in hours. For example, if you’re staying in Calgary, Banff is an hour and change away. Radium Hot Springs is about 2 1/2 hours away. Edmonton is about 3 hours from Calgary. Drumheller and the Royal Tyrrell Museum are about 2 hours from Calgary (and let me third that museum, by the way. It is spectacular.) I don’t know the figures on driving from Calgary to Vancouver, but most people stop overnight in the mountains, I believe.

Let us know when you’re coming, and perhaps we can plan an Albertadopefest.

I’ve done that trip before–if I recall correctly, it’s approximately 1400 km, so you’re looking at about 14 hours of driving. Of course, that’s straight driving, and doesn’t include stopping for fuel, washrooms, coffee, etc.

I’d imagine (heck, I’d expect) a tourist to take longer on that drive. The national parks through which the road goes have a number of interesting things close to the roads to see and do (giant cedar trees, Spiral Tunnels for the railfans, and so on) that I cannot imagine a tourist being able to get from Calgary to Vancouver without stopping to take in the scenery somewhere, as well as just stopping for the night.

I can do Calgary to Vancouver (on the Number 1 highway, then the Coquiahalla) in 10 hours, straight through.

Now, assuming you don’t drive like a maniac, a reasonable number is 12 hours- but if you are vacationing, you would absolutely want to stop somewhere in the middle.

Oh - and an Albertadopefest sounds like a fantastic idea.

Since it’s a wedding, you might also be interested in this:

VIA Rail: The Canadian, offering service from Vancouver to Jasper; the first class includes a sleeping car and access to the Park Car with a dome offering a 360-degree view of the scenery, and there’s also a special (though pricey) “romance by rail” package.

Hear Hear!

As always, the Dope is ever humbling in the scope of compiled knowledge it can display. I’ve learned more in this thread about the attractions around this city we’ve been calling home for the past 4 years than in any other guide or web page.

About scenic drives, we’ve done both the Vancouver-Calgary drive and the Banf-Jasper drive. I think you get a much greater bang for the buck driving that highway in the mountains between Banf & Jasper. Every turn offers a breathtaking view. It never stops. Although it can be done in only 4 hours, allow the whole day, as you will be stopping frequently to get out of the car, stare, and take pictures. And also to go on the Glacier in the Columbia Icefields about 2/3 of the way up.

Then stay in Jasper for a day or two, for great hiking (be sure to get a briefing from park rangers on bears & cougars and local/recent observations), mountain horse riding, and canoing, and then drive down again. It’s a new road coming the other way. Completely blew my mind when we did it. I suggest you do most of your non-free activities in Jasper, as prices in Banf can be astronomical by Canadian standards. (Still dirt cheap by Japanese standards, though :wink: )

Imho, the Vancouver drive was also nice, and the Okenagan was nice to visit, but it’s a lot more driving (12 hours total), with (although still great) fewer amazing sights.

Don’t buy any souvenirs in Banf, you can get the same things cheaper in Calgary, or even Canmore. If you’re into a bit of adrenaline, check out the “road-rocket”, a summer-time wheeled bobsled, at Canada Olympic Parc, site of the 86 winter games.

Let me know if you would like some restaurant recommendations for Calgary. Those I *do * know.

August is just about the best month to come, wheather wise. Bring a rain jacket, and a sweater / sweatshirt that can keep you warm if the mountain air chills down a bit. Something you would wear down to say 32F/0C is the most you are likely to need. We very rarely get more than a day or two of rain at a time. Also bring shorts & t-shirts & hat & sunscreen. Calgary is probably the most casually dressed larger city in Canada, compared to Montreal (*ha! order of magnitude!) * Ottawa or TO. Folks here won’t bat an eyelash if you walk into a seriously flossy restaurant in jeans & flannel shirt (personnal experience - boy that was strange for this Montreal native) . Downtown daytime business crowd still wears ties & jackets, but that’s about it. Khakis & golf shirts will be fine everywhere except maybe the wedding itself.

Calgary is not a shopping mecca, except perhaps for those living in the surrounding countryside. The malls are clones of just about any Canadian mall, although they service the local population well. Only possible exception is if you’re looking for “western” wear and comboy boots, which will be significantly cheaper than in the states. Ladies in your party would do better for a day with the girls to patronise a good spa, of which there are several in the area. I can give you some tips there if you want. If you’re in Canmore or near Banf, the spa at the Rimrock hotel is apparently quite amazing, according to my better half.

Do not hesitate to ask for help or directions. It astounds even other Canadians to see the extent to which Calgaryans will bend over backwards / go out of their way to help strangers. Big culture shock for us newcommers… Calgary is a very safe city, even by Canadian standards, with much lower crime rates than Montreal or Toronto. It’s safe to walk the streets even at night alone while tipsy.

Be patient on the roads. Most Calgarians are easygoing drivers. One thing to look out for is that many Calgary drivers are nervous about merging into oncoming traffic and can get stuck sitting at the end of the merger lane. Most fast drivers are likely new arrivals from the east, myself included. :stuck_out_tongue:

Well, that’s all I can think of. Hope you have a good time, and remember to book enough time to go visiting.