September 30, 2011


Labeled as one of the best world road travels, the drive through the Canadian Rockies, in the province of Alberta, from Banff Springs to Lake Louise to Jasper and back is scenic and panoramic. 

But it’s not free, if you plan to stop at any of the towns you have to pay an entry fee.  At the toll booth gates located along the stretch of Trans-Canada Highway 1, a single adult has to pay C$9.80 for the day or a C$67.70 annual Discovery Pass which is valid at most national historic sites and participating national parks.  If you are planning to stay in the Rockies for at least a week, it would be cost-effective to buy the national pass.  With your entry, you will be handed out a free Parks Canada Mountain Guide which is really all you need as to what to see and where to camp. 

The park guide has a clear listing of the numerous camping grounds.  Note that camping in Canada is more expensive than in the United States.  A tent ground with shower will cost you around C$27 a night whereas south of the border it averages C$15.  For online details, see

I started from Calgary where renting a car is easier and cheaper than the ones at Banff and Jasper. 

I took Highway 1 which is the old Crowfield Highway starting from Calgary.  Along the way, at Cochrane, I “sampled” delectable ice cream flavors at MacKay’s, so good even locals buy a cone at subzero during winter.  One of the sister owners travel a lot and often adapt flavors from abroad such as the superb Filipino–inspired concoctions Halo-Halo (a fruit medley) and Purple Yam (or “ube”).

From Cochrane, my first stop was the very touristy town of Banff.  Warning: During the summer when school is out, the Rockies can be very crowded, traffic congested along two-lane roads with waiting times of up to an hour for parking.  Plus all prices shoot through the roof.  Best time to go: April to early May and late August to October when the kids are back in the classrooms except when there is a long weekend such as Labor Day.  Then expect a deluge from the cities of Edmonton and Calgary.

There is a package deal for the Banff Gondola, Lake Minnewanka (also in Banff) boat cruise and Athabasca Ice Glacier tour (further north) but it’s not worth it. 

At Banff, to save money and if you have the time take the toll free moderate hike up and down Sulphur Mountain instead of taking the Gondola. 

There is also nothing outstanding about Lake Minnewanka.  Save your dollars for the more expensive bait, the 90 minute boat ride at Lake Maligne in Jasper at a whopping C$55 a head! 

At Athasbaca you can walk to the foot of the glacier.  The C$35 guided bus tour will take you to the top, which you can see anyway from a distance at the information centre. 

Back in Banff, walk along the Bow river trail, and soak yourself for a C$7 dip at the Hot Sulphur Springs, the original reason why the town became popular.  Do the easy trail on Tunnel Mountain.  There is no tunnel, there were plans for one, but it never materialized. 

To save money, buy at the local supermarkets and have a picnic.  There is also a breakfast buffet at Keg Steakhouse, Banff Caribou Lodge, 521 Banff Ave., Tel: 403.762.4442.  Don’t get too excited, the buffet is standard breakfast fare and does not serve steak.

Sometimes there is a lunch buffet at the iconic Banff Springs Hotel (see my post dated   ).   There is a Food Court at the Cascade Plaza Mall’s basement (most meals under C$10).   Parking can be a hassle.  For two hours, you can park at the Visitors Information Center or at Safeway supermarket.

After Banff, my next destination was Lake Louise.  Instead of using Trans-Canada Highway 1, take the older Highway 1A, also called Bow Valley Parkway, a two-lane road with more opportunities to stop and see the sights, such as the Castle Mountain along the way. 

At Lake Louise, there are really just two things to do, walk around the lake and walk a couple of hours up the hill to a Tea House (crowded and pricey).  Make sure you bring a bottle of water. 

Near Lake Louise, on another 20 mile road, are the ten jagged peaks of Lake Moraine.  A sight to behold especially in the worst of weather.  

Then we’re off to Jasper.  More peaks, more lakes along the 150 mile stretch.  A postcard view most people miss is right across the Saskatchewan River Crossing station.  This rest stop is famous for its exorbitant gas prices and $ 7 hot dogs! (which will cost you about a third at a 7-11).

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake
In Jasper, drive up to Mount Edith Cavell with a withering Angel wings shaped glacier.   But what’s really a must see are Medicine Lake and a few more miles up the road the truly panoramic Lake Maligne.  I took the plunge and paid for the overpriced C$55 cruise.  What to do?  There is only one company which runs the cruise and how many times will I be able to return to this place?

Medicine Lake, Jasper, Alberta
After Jasper, I drove back the same way to Banff then later to Calgary where I took the Greyhound bus, 18-hour ride return to Vancouver.

No comments:

Post a Comment