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Canadian Rockies | Weekend Warrior Itinerary

December 22, 2017

 

First off, let me just say that 3 days in the Canadian Rockies, specifically near Banff, is not anywhere near long enough. But who has a months worth of vacation time built up so they can escape into the mountains for weeks at a time? Probably not many of us. This itinerary is geared towards the weekend warrior in us all, who can manage to get away for a quick camping trip and see some incredible places along the way. 

 

Personally, my favorite way to travel and explore new places is via car camping. As an avid photographer, with lots of extra gear, this style of camping seems to be the most efficient, reliable and enjoyable for me. I also prefer setting up a base camp, preferably in an established campground and doing day hikes from there. The main reasons I prefer this type of camping are:

  1. At the very least, you know you have a safe, dry place to sleep at night.

  2. You are very mobile and have the ability to change plans quickly incase of emergencies or inclement weather.

  3. Ability to pack extra accessories/gear you otherwise would not be able to bring if you were flying to your destination or backcountry camping for multiple days at a time. (stove, extra photography gear, extra food, large sleeping bags etc.

Now that you know and understand how I enjoy to travel and explore the outdoors, here is my 3 day camping itinerary for Banff, Alberta and the surrounding area. There are numerous other places to visit while there, but from experience, these are the places I would recommend visiting if you are limited to just a few days. 

 

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT PRIOR TO TRIP...

  • A park pass will be needed to get into Banff National Park. If you will be visiting multiple parks on multiple different occations over the course of the next two years, or have a family - I would recommend purchasing the Discovery Pass (which is actually free for the 2017 season right now)

  • If you are from the USA - Canada does not use our currency. Most major credit card companies/banks work but there will be extra fee's. Just call your bank if you have specific questions. 

  • Verizon Wireless has international service available to Canada for a small price per day (I think it was $2/per day)

  • Wildlife: Chances of seeing a Grizzly, Black Bear, Wolf, Moose, Elk, Great Horned Sheep, and lots of Marmots are high. Close Encounters with these animals may happen but not highly likely to happen if you take the proper precautions. Hence the bells to decrease the risk of startling a bear or other animal, and bear spray to deter any animal that gets to close. 

  • It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. A outdoorsman should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings. Black bear droppings are smaller and contain lots of berries and fur. Grizzly bear droppings have little bells in it and smell like pepper. :)

 

Day 1

Activities: 

  • Watch sunrise at Two Jack Lake

    • ​Get here early so you scope out the area and find the best place for your sunrise photos. Some of the best photos can be taken just a stone throw away from the parking lot.

  • Get a quick breakfast in one of Banff's many downtown restaurants 

  • After breakfast drive to Johnston Canyon to hike to the Upper Falls.

  • Upper Falls Hike - Johnston Canyon

    • ​Distance: 4.8 km return

    • Elevation Gain: 120 m

    • Time Required: 1.5 hours

    • Difficulty: Easy

    • Trailhead: Johnston Canyon Parking Lot 

  • Hike to the upper falls area.

  • Don’t hike up to ink pots (not worth the time - IMO)

Night 1

Campsite Options: http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/camping

  1. Two Jack Lakeside Campground (Reservable May 25 to Sept.17)

    • If all reserved sites are full there are some first come first serve sites available but it fills up quickly.

  2. Lake Louise Campground (Reservable Jun. 20 to Sept. 14)

    • First come first serve prior to reservable dates, usually multiple camp sites open.

    • Campsite has electric fence around entire campground to keep bears/wildlife away. (Really nice for piece of mind if not used to camping in bear country)

  3. Johnston Canyon Campground (Reservable May 25 to Sept. 24)

  4. Tunnel Mountain Village Campground (Reservable May 11 to Oct. 2)

*THERE ARE MANY OTHER CAMPGROUND - THESE ARE THE ONES I'D RECOMMEND CHECKING OUT FIRST.

 

 Day 2

Activities:

  • Wake up early and drive to Lake Moraine to watch sunrise

    • The road to Lake Moraine closes during the winter months - check out road conditions prior to driving up the road.

  • Purchase campsite at Lake Louise Campground. Opens at 8am. 

  • Drive back to Lake Louise for day hikes

  • Pack a lunch/snacks and water. We're going hiking.

    • ​Hike Plain of Six Glaciers

      • Difficulty: Moderate

      • Time Required: 4 Hours

      • Elevation Gain: 365 m

      • ​Distance: 10.6 km return

      • Trailhead: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

        • ​There is a Tea House near the end of this trail. This is a great place for a much needed rest and maybe even a quick power nap.

        • This is a very scenic hike that will not disappoint

          • ​*Connect the Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers trails, via the Highline trail, to form a 14.6 km loop. 5 hour round trip.

    • Hike Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail (connect with Six Glacier Trail vis Highline trail, to form a 14.6 km loop. 5 hour round trip.)

      • ​Difficulty: Moderate

      • Time Required: 3 Hours

      • Elevation Gain: 385

      • Distance: 6.8 km return

      • Trailhead: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

        • Side-​hike to the Beehive (this is a must, with incredible viewpoints)

        • ​​Numerous switchbacks up to shelter at the top of the Beehive

        • As the trail name alludes, there is a Tea house on this trail. If you didn't get your fill of Tea earlier in the day, this is your chance.

        • The trail then heads back towards Lake Louise. On the way there you will hike by Mirror Lake. From this view point you can see why the "Beehive" got its name. 

  • Drive to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park for sunset, which is roughly a 30 minute drive there from Lake Louise.  

    • ​Shortly after exiting off the Trans-Canada Hwy onto Emerald Lake Rd there will be a pull out for "Natural Bridge" 

    • The Natural Bridge will take you 15 minutes. The photo's here are always so cool with the mountains in the background and that classic bluish/green water seen everywhere.

    • Emerald Lake itself is unreal. If you get lucky with a colorful sunset, have a good tripod and an empty SD card because chances are that one of your photos will be your screen saver for the rest of your life. 

 

 

 

Night 2

Campsite Options:

  1. Lake Louise Campground (Reservable Jun. 20 to Sept. 14)

  • ​​This is my favorite campsite in Banff National Park. Mainly because it is very centrally located within the park. Many tent sites within the campground. Gas station and grocery store nearby. It's quite overpriced, so don't be like me and forget a few of the essentials.

  • First come first serve prior to reservable dates, usually multiple camp sites open.

Day 3

*Just a warning - this day will be a lot of driving, but so worth it in the end. 

Activities:

  • Icefields Parkway: Simply put, this highway is by far the most beautiful drive I have ever experienced. It does close during certain months of the year so make sure you look research this prior to your excursion.

    • Peyto Lake (45 km - drive from Lake Louise Campground)

      • This will be your first stop in the morning. I highly advise waking up early enough to hike up to the overlook to watch the sunrise this pristine lake.

        • Bow Summit Lookout: From the highest point on the Icefields Parkway (2070 M), hike beyond the Peyto Lake Viewpoint on the upper self guided nature trail, then follow an old fire road to the lookout.

        • Distance: 2.9 km one way

        • Elevation Gain: 245 m

        • Time required: 1 - 2.5 hours

          • ​If you want to keep on schedule I would recommend not staying here for much longer after the sunrise. You have a lot more to see yet today!

    • Columbia Glacier: (85 km - drive from Peyto Lake) 

      • ​This is the largest glacier you will see along the parkway. 

      • The glacier is so large it is truely hard to put it into perspective. Once you focus really hard near the base of glacier you can see a few super tiny tour buses. But once you see how large these buses are up close, you will appreciate the true size of the glacier.

      • I would recommend taking a few photos from afar and get back on the road. If you have time on your way back, you could stop here again and pay for the tour to bring you out onto the glacier.

    • Sunwapta Falls​: (50 km - drive from Columbia Glacier Discovery Center)

      • This place is a must stop just off of the parkway.

      • This is not even considered a hike. Just park your car in the parking lot and walk about 100ft, on the sidewalk to a bridge that overlooks these beautiful falls.  

    • Athabasca Falls: ( 25 km - drive from Sunwapta Falls)

      • Equally as beautiful and accessible as Sunwapta Falls.

      • See if you can spot the infamous rock ledge that everyone attempts to get a picture of while here.

      • This is the junction to take Scenic Byway 93A to Mt. Edith Cavell

    • Mt. Edith Cavell

      • ​Drive approximately 10 miles on 93A to a sign that points towards Mt. Edith Cavell

      • There is no actual name for the road, but it is a decent tar road that winds up the mountain side. This is just shy of 10 miles long one way. 

      • Take the Edith Cavell Trail to view the glacier 

      • Once you have hiked down to glacial lake head back towards Hwy 93A and towards the town of Jasper. 

    • Maligne Lake: 60km (36 mi) - drive from Mt. Edith Cavell

      • As you drive through Jasper and towards Maligne Lake there are a few great pull out areas for photos as well as quick hiking spots.

        • ​Maligne Canyon (photo above with bridge): A beautiful hike over and

          around the canyon as it cuts its way through rocks with multiple water fall features. There are also multiple unique springs that are gushing out of the walls of the canyon walls seemingly to come out of no where. Very interesting. This is a place I would recommend hiking, but do not go past the 6th bridge. You need to get to get back on the road so you can catch the sunset.

        • On your drive towards Maligne Lake you will likely see a few animals, we saw a couple bald eagles, a black bear sow and her cub cross the road in front of us and many other animals. Be alert and have your eyes peeled, especially as you are driving at dusk or at night.

        • Pass by Medicine Lake and about a mile or so past the lake will be a hill with a pull out at the top immediately before a turn. Be looking in your rear view mirrors, you'll know you have reached your POI when you see this (photo below). I recommend staying here to watch the sunset before you drive back to base camp.

        • Of course Maligne Lake is one of the most pristine lakes is Jasper NP but I could not find enough time to get there with this itinerary. I would suggest slotting enough to either kayak or take the paid ferry tour to Spirit Island. I have heard you only get 15 minutes at the island if you take the tour but it is also over an 8 mile kayak trip. There is a campsite nearby, so I would probably more inclined to make it a one night kayak/camping trip out of it.

Night 3

Campsite Options: Mainly depends on your individual time constraints. Both are reasonable options. 

  • Camping in Jasper NP: I recommend staying at Whistlers Campground. It has over 700 camping so you shouldn't have too much of a problem getting a site. 

    • Benefits of staying in Jasper NP on your last night:

      • Safer driving conditions in a relatively unknown area during the daylight

      • You could basically redo all of the sights and POI if you were unable to see something because you drove right past it without even knowing it (I have done this a few times), inclement weather conditions or you just want to lay eyes on these beautiful place again. 

      • You can see the Icefields Parkway in a completely  angle going back towards Banff.
         

    • Cons of staying in Jasper NP:

      • You would have to wake up super early the previous morning to pack up your camp at Lake Louise to get on the road before sunrise.

      • You would more than likely have to set up a new campsite in the dark (I realize for some people this is absolutely no problem but for some this might be quite difficult to do effectively and efficiently)

      • Of course you are multiple hours north of the Lake Louise Campsite  if you stay in Jasper NP and depending on your travel plans it might be worth driving during the night to be able to that much further south and closer to Calgary or wherever your end destination is.

Day 4

Activities: This is your chance to possible redo or revisit any sites within a close driving range before you leave the Canadian Rockies. On our specific trip using this itinerary, it started to snow as we were packing everything up so we decided to take an hour or so to go back up to Lake Louise and Lake Maligne to get some more photos.

 

 

 

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view."

 - Edward Abbey

 

 

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Tracy

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