Friday, August 05, 2016

Western Canada Diaries - 2. Planning

[ Continued from Part 1 - Overview ]

It's very important to plan in detail for a trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks. It's not like a trip to a beach resort where you just show up. That's a lot to see and do, and if you want to get your money's worth you have to put in the proper planning.

June, July and August are peak times for hotels in Banff and Jasper, and they fill up fast. Banff and Jasper are small towns (located inside the respective national parks) so there's not a lot of hotels and accommodations. Some places fill up to a year ahead, while others are fully booked by April or May. If you want a block of dates, it's best to book ahead.

But what about the weather? Sure, it would be nice to be able to wait until the last moment and book according to sunny weather, but that's something you can't control.

Renting a car?
Well, you will need to rent a car. There's hardly any public transit between the sites in the park. In the city of Banff itself there's public transit that's small and inadequate, so most people rent cars. This is where I find Tripadvisor and Google Maps extremely useful. I use TripAdvisor (particularly the forums) to make a list of attractions I want to see, and how long I need to budget for attractions. I then plot the points on Google Map.

This gives me an idea of the distances which help in itinerary planning.

How many days?
This of course depends on what you want to do exactly. At the very minimum, I would recommend booking for three days in Banff and two in Jasper. If you are doing other activities such as hiking or biking along trails, or taking time off to canoe, you might need more time.

Where to book?
To see Banff National Park, most people book in the city of Banff itself. Some also book in nearby Canmore (which is about 30 minutes away). Calgary is about 90 minutes away from Banff National Park.

For Jasper, the choices are further limited. You can book in the town of Jasper, or Hinton (about an hour away). Another option (if your itinerary is well planned out) is to book in lodges or hotels along the Icefield Parkway (which we did). More on that in a later post.

You need to be prepared for all types of weather. This is mountain territory, and the joke is if you don't like the weather - wait ten minutes and it will change. If you don't like the change, wait ten minutes again.

The mountains are gorgeous but make for unpredictable weather.

It could be sunny and hot, then it could rain, and then a mist can come in with temperatures dropping, and so on. I wouldn't take winter coats for June, July and August, but rain coats, a light jacket etc. are a must. As are T-shirts and shorts. And full pants. You get the picture. If you have kids, this means you need all types of dresses, and backup dresses.

Do you need a park pass?
Well, yes. To enter and partake in any activity in a national park you need to purchase a pass. The question is weather you need to purchase a Discovery Pass (valid for a group in a vehicle for two years - 2016 and 2017).

If you are going to rent a vehicle for your group and be in the parks for a week or more, it's well worth it. Daily entrances are $20 for a group. It's valid for all parks across Canada.

Cell Phone Coverage
It is important to remember that there is NO CELL COVERAGE past Lake Louise through the Icefield Parkway up until you are in the town of Jasper. Absolute nada. You are literally in the middle of nowhere.

Next post: Calgary.

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