Planning Your Time
If you are planning to visit western Canada, it is almost inevitable that your itinerary will include the Canadian Rockies, both for the many and varied outdoor attractions and for the central location between Vancouver and Calgary. The two main national parks can be anything you want them to be, depending on the time of year you visit and what your interests are.
The main population centers are the towns of Banff and Jasper, both with all the services of large towns, as well as landmark accommodations like the Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. North of the town of Banff is Lake Louise, an iconic body of water rivaled in beauty only by its immediate neighbor, Moraine Lake. Both are accessible by road, but to combine beauty with wilderness, you’ll need to strap on hiking boots are visit places like Sunshine Meadows or Larch Valley.
For the trip between Banff and Jasper, plan on spending a full day on the Icefields Parkway, including stops at Bow and Peyto Lakes and an Ice Explorer excursion at Columbia Icefield. If your time in Jasper is limited, Maligne Lake should be atop your list of priorities. Of all the hikes in Jasper, none are more scenic than the hike to Cavell Meadows.
In compiling this travel guide, I assumed you enjoy the outdoors—hiking, fishing, watching wildlife, and the like—but maybe not with a backpack full of provisions strapped to your back. Keeping this in mind, I’d recommend spending at least four days in the two parks—one each in Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, with the fourth spent along the Icefields Parkway.
Unless you’re a die-hard skier or snowboarder, summer is definitely the best time of year to visit. The months of July and August are the busiest, with crowds decreasing exponentially in the weeks before and after these two months.
June and September are wonderful times to visit the park. Aside from the crowd factor, in June wildflowers start blooming and wildlife is abundant. September sees temperatures ripe for hiking, and the turning colors are at their peak. In either month, discounted accommodations are a welcome bonus.
In May and the stretch of October through November, the park is at its quietest. The park’s three alpine resorts begin opening in December and remain in operation until April or May. While skiing and boarding are the big wintertime draw, plan on expanding your experience by joining a sleigh ride, trying snowshoeing, or heading out ice fishing.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition