A travel writer colleague of mine plans to be in the Canadian Rockies in October.
My advice to her: Take a Saint Bernard dog with a little barrel of brandy around its neck.
When is the best time to head to the mountains of Canada’s province?
From right now and through September the weather will probably be just fine for summer outdoor activities.
And October could be just dandy, so the brandy-toting dog might not be needed after all.
Here’s a little “eye candy” to entice you to pack your bags and head there.
There are four national parks in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff at the southern end and Jasper to the north are both national parks and towns. Highways running nearly two hundred straight-as-an-arrow miles connect them.
Jewel-like Lake Louise dangles like a aquamarine pendant from the mountains about halfway between Banff and Jasper.
Yoho and Kootenay National Parks on on the west side of the Rockies.
Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, horseback riding, glacier touring, and spectacular sightseeing opportunities exist throughout the region.
For an overview of what you’ll discover, read my “Touring The Canadian Rockies” story.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a 1987 comedy film starring Steve Martin and John Candy.
But planes, trains and automobiles are also the modes of transportation that will take you to and through the Canadian Rockies.
The major airports are at Calgary (a two hour drive to Banff) and Edmonton (about four hours from Jasper).
The Rocky Mountaineer excursion train runs between Vancouver, Banff-Lake Louise and Calgary, and also between Vancouver and Jasper. Canada’s Via Rail offers scheduled passenger service between Vancouver, Jasper and Edmonton.
Bus tours to the parks operate from the major cities, but if you want to travel independently, rent a car and drive from place to place, as I did during my 2012 trip.
For more tips are getting to the Canadian Rockies, read my “Reaching Canada’s Rocky Mountain Parks” story.
Planning Your Trip
If you were content to do a trip with a series of “one-night stand” stops, you could probably pack a visit to Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Edmonton into a frenetic, five-night, six-day jaunt.
But I’d recommend doubling that time at a minimum, and spending two weeks or more for the optimum experience.
Hate trip planning? Not a problem.
In “The Perfect Canadian Rocky Mountains Trip” I’ve laid out a complete 11-day itinerary that covers all of those stops, except for Edmonton, which you could add on at the end for a 1-3 night stay.
For additional help in putting together your perfect trip, check out these Canada tourism Websites:
- Visit Calgary
- Banff-Lake Louise
- Jasper Travel
- Explore Edmonton
- Brewster Travel Canada
- Rocky Mountaineer
- Via Rail Canada Vacations
What to Pack
As I discovered on a trip to Sequoia and Kings’ Canyon National Parks in California this May, Mother Nature is fickle when it comes to weather in the mountains. In the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Sierra Nevada, it can snow anytime of year, not just in winter.
“The Layered Look” is always a winner when you vacation in mountain regions. A combination of shorts and long pants, short-sleeve and long-sleeves shirts, T-shirts, a light rain parka or waterproof windbreaker, plus a sweater, usually works well well, rain or shine, when temperatures range from around 30-50F overnight to between 55-85F during the day.
If you plan on day hiking, take a pair of hiking boots (I wear low-cut ones from Merrell that look like “sneakers” but have lug soles and fit nicely into my roll-aboard bag), a small day pack, and a hat to keep the sun (and maybe rain or snow) off your head and face. You’ll be hiking between 4,000’ to 7,000’ above sea level, so if you live at a much lower elevation, own hiking poles and don’t mind checking luggage at the airport, consider bringing them along.
U.S. citizens are accustomed to travel state-to-state only carrying a driver’s license for identification. But proving who you are and that you are entitled to entry is a big more complicated when crossing the U.S.-Canada border in either direction.
My best advice to U.S. citizens: Get and carry a valid passport. If yours is about to expire, get it renewed.
Children under 18 will not be allowed to enter Canada unless traveling with both parents or unless the person with whom they are traveling has a notarized letter from the absent parent(s) authorizing the child to make the trip. On a trip to Waterton National Park in Alberta a few years back, I saw grandparents traveling with a grandchild refused entry to Canada because they lacked such a letter.
If you are flying to the U.S. from Canada, you will probably clear U.S. Customs and Immigration at your Canadian airport of embarkation. So check the airport Website for advice regarding how long in advance of your flight’s departure you should arrive to check in for your flight, pass through airport security, and clear customs and immigration.
While U.S. dollars may be accepted by hotels, restaurants, and other vendors, it is a good idea to have some Canadian currency when you arrive in Canada.
Travelex has locations around the U.S. and at some airports where you can exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian dollars; it can ship the currency to you if you do not live near one of its locations.
During your stay in Canada, you should be able to use ATMs to replenish your supply of cash, and your credit cards should be accepted by nearly everyone. And after your return to the U.S., Travelex will probably buy back your Canadian dollars (folding money only; keep the coins as souvenirs or for use on your next trip north of the border).