Road tripping at Banff and Jasper National Parks

“I heard the Canadian Rockies is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.” said my dad the other day. He wasn’t the travel type and he rarely tells me much about anything else besides building strong character and saving money, let alone travel.

So, that was it. Michelle and I (actually, really just Michelle) planned a Banff & Jasper Canada trip and we decided to bring my parents along.

Here’s the overview. We had more or less 4 days.


Day 0

10:48PM

SFO to YKK. We made it. The round trip ticket was about $300/person via Delta/Westjet.

Using Marriott rewards, we stayed at YKK Delta for the first night. If you want convenience, this was the spot. It was literally a 5-minute walk from the arrival terminal.


Day 1

9:32AM

Here’s a tip, double check your car rental time and location. Who’s got two thumbs and made a mistake of booking the car at the wrong location? This guy. Good thing the cancelation was free (via expedia), but the last minute booking still cost us time and $, which both were scarce for the trip.

After some last minute research, the cheapest option was Fox Rental around 15 minutes away from the airport. They had free-shuttles from the airport. Thank god.

11:46AM

Banff Gondola

Since us humans tend to remember the first and last items in a series most vividly (serial-position effect; I’m writing this down to remember.), this spot would be a good bet to kick off the trip.

We were heading to both Banff and Jasper, so we bought the package deal from Pursuit, about $200CAD per adult, which included the Banff Gondola($65cad/adult without the package deal), Glacier Adventure and Skywalk($114cad), and Lake Minnewanka tour ($58cad).

Looking back, I personally would just get gondola and glacier tour. The gondola brought to the observatory, which gave us this…

Mom was stone cold.

There were a few restaurants around. All came with a complementary view.

3:18PM

Castle Mountain

Very close to the freeway. We followed a couple of fellow tourists to discover a gated area (to the left of the bridge when you exit the freeway and drive towards the mountain), where you could take photos near the river.

4:05PM

Bow Lake

Just along the side of Icefield Pkwy; highway 93. Worth it to make a quick stop.

Parents moved away from the standard “V” victory sign when posing for photos
I tried to be extra.

5:07PM Look who we met… Due to the long drive up to Jasper, we saved Lake Louise & Moraine Lake for a later day when we head back down.   6:18PM The drive was long, but the scenery was first class. 7:29PM

We stayed at The Crossing Resort before another long drive to Jasper the next day. It was $190cad/night. If there was nowhere, we were in the middle of it. However, the venue was equipped with convenient store, restaurants, clubhouse, and even a gas station (the next one was 70km away).

Glacier Lake Trail

A trail just 10 minutes walk from The Crossing? We took it. Taking a 30lb fuzzy baby who didn’t feel like walking was the formula to a disastrous hike. And compare to the other trails we’ve been this, this one was just decent. But to be fair, we didn’t hike the entire way. There may possibly be a utopia at the end of the trail that we just never saw.

10:25PM

For the entire trip, none of us ever stayed up late enough to see a pitch dark sky.


Day 2

10:42AM

Columbia Icefield Adventure

Part of the Pursuit package (mentioned above within the gondola section.) It was incredibly windy. And by this morning, Zoltan got sick and started to get a fever.  Zoltan was not interested in standing on a couple-hundred-thousand-year-old piece of ice. The guide brought us in with an enormous 6 wheelers. Dropped us off at this small area where people took photos and endured the harsh wind. Maybe a cool idea to set foot on a glacier if you’ve never been, but generally, I didn’t think it was too entertaining.

12:20PM

Glacier Skywalk

Another part of the package. We were taken by the tour bus to this glass surface skywalk hovering 918 feet above the ground. Another novel idea, but the actual experience and the scenery was just decent.

Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre also had a few restaurants. You either eat here or bring your own lunch.

3:48PM

Maligne Valley

There were long and short trail options for this one. But with Zoltan not feeling 100%, we took the short route—just about 1.5-2 miles round trip.

50 meters deep yet only a few metres wide.

Who’s horny? Cheap joke, I know.

4:38PM

By late afternoon, we made it to Jasper.

Pyramid Lake (right next to Patricia Lake)

Another close to reach lake near downtown Jasper. However, I must admit that by this point, we grew a bit numb seeing all these large body of water. Beautiful nonetheless, but without any distinctive personality, my memory for each was getting blurry.

mom tend to sleep in 3 of 5 photos.

For the night, we stayed at the Becker’s Chalet for $180cad/night.


Day 3

8:45AM

Becker’s was conveniently located just 15 minutes from downtown Jasper. It was also next to the Athabasca River for a gorgeous view when you walk out of the cabin.

For day 3, we didn’t have much on the itinerary except making it to Lake Louise by 5:30. We had a few “instagram popular” lakes lined up, but after growing tired of the generic looking lakes, we decided to just wing it.

9:48AM

Grizzly Sighting!

Like, whoa.

Mom and three cubs. We saw rabbits, elks, goats, and finally (luckily) we saw the Grizzlies.

11:24AM

A mirror like lake appeared behind the trees for a glimpse through my peripheral vision. I stopped the car, pulled a U turn, and ended at the entrance of Horseshoe Lake Trail entrance. You can’t see the horseshow shape unless using a drone. But I must say this was one of my favorite lakes from the trip.

Horseshoe Lake Trail

Another quick 5 minutes hike from the trail start point to reach the lake. It was a bit cold when we made it, but it seems people use this as a natural swim hole during the summer. Photos online have shown people diving off the cliffs.

12:18PM

Athabasca Falls

A bit touristy. Structures and pathways were built around the fall. Lots of people.

2:30PM

While we continued our drive on the Icefield Parkway down to Banff, I saw this cave at the end of this plain. We did another spontaneous stop and ventured on this dry river bed.

The cave ended up to be nothing more than a mediocre valley. But we did turn our attention onto the rocks we stepped on. From cave sighting to rock hunting. We picked up a few beautiful rocks as souvenirs.

The only souvenirs we acquired from this trip.   The search for the coolest rock was time-consuming. We were running late.

5:32PM

Made it.

Chateau Lake Louise

We stayed here for the night at $800 bucks a night for the Mountain-View room. We wouldn’t have splurged, but this was the birthday month for my mom and wife.

This put a hole in my wallet, but at the end of that hole were the smiles of my mom and wife. So it was all worth it. I cried a little, but it was worth it.

We got lucky. Got the view of the lake but the price tag of the mountain.

While I was taking photos by the lake, I befriended a fellow photography hobbyist. He told me a friend of his stayed at the 3rd floor lake view room for a cool $3K a pop. Jesus. That’s a full frame DSLR each night. But I guess it’s all about the experience instead of things, right? The experience of getting robbed.

But I gotta say, the stunning sight of Lake Louise might just worth the bucks. And this maybe the light at the end of the tunnel for those who work all year and want to unplug and unwind.

Mom and dad being cute.

9:32PM

Pink hour.

10:15PM Blue hour. The fog set in and made it all mystical.


Day 4

6:20AM

Moraine Lake morning—woke up early to beat the traffic. Just 20 minutes drive from Lake Louise was the (relatively) underrated Moraine Lake. It was not as massive, but just as, if not more, spectacular.

Moraine Lake

We were given two route options at the trailhead: the shore side and, well, the Rock Pile. Why hello there. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are the must-go, of course. Just head there early to avoid the crowd. They also block off the streets after 8am, so the standard commute time can potentially tri-fold if arriving too late.   10:08AM Just wanted to take a moment to say how cool Canadian bills were.

12:32PM

Afternoon Tea—another part of the birthday package for the mom and wife.

Dessert with a sweeter view? Only one of them has calories. All you can eat: 2:40PM

Lake Louise Canoe

Oh yes, the Instagram famous canoes. The rates for non-hotel guests were per canoe, $125cad plus tax per hour. For hotel guests the rates were $85cad plus tax per hour. Holy crap, man. Luckily, we didn’t pay for it. Due to a miscommunication, the hotel gifted us a voucher for the canoe. I’d also like to point out the staff at Chateu Lake Louise were phenomenal. 6:08PM

Lake Minnewanka Tour

Last of the package from the Pursuit combo deal. It was a guided tour around Lake Minnewanka, which stood for the water of spirits.

7:08PM

Drove down to Banff Downtown to say farewell.

And here was the last of it. Thanks, Canada.

’til next time.

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