A Visit to Western Canada.
I assume you have about two - three weeks for this trip. So my suggestion is to hit the highlights of PRAIRIE, MOUNTAIN, and OCEAN. I have prepared three sections below.
You will see that the optimal period for this trip is three weeks. If you cannot do it all, it can be cut to two weeks - or better, you make two trips.?
I assume you are not too adventurous, and so I do not mention the more active sports.
My qualification is that I have lived here all my life. But this is a highly personal assessment. Further information available from the dozens of hyperlinks, which were inserted in 2000.
First thing is get a map showing roads, so you can follow this. But here is a sketch-map courtesy RailTours just to give you a general idea.
I suggest CALGARY in the province of ALBERTA as the first centre for the visit, because it is also close to mountains - about a one hour drive. Edmonton, I regret to say, is a boring five-hour drive from the mountains. But I must add that Calgary is itself only a moderately interesting city of about 800,000. Its great advantage is that it is near the Mountains. But there are a few INTERESTING SITES IN CALGARY.
You can get a good taste of the prairies with a day drive from Calgary to DRUMHELLER, where you see the famous TYRRELL DINOSAUR MUSEUM. Or you can drive from Winnipeg to Calgary - 350 miles! Most folks are content to see 20 huge wheat farms, not 200. So the trip to Drumheller is perfect.
Interested in aboriginal lore? About one hour from Calgary is the BUFFALO JUMP MUSEUM, where you will see the details how the natives attacked the buffalo before they had guns and horses. There are also three large First Peoples settlements near the City. All three were members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the famous buffalo-hunters of the prairies and the chaps who did in General Custer.
On the outskirts of Calgary begin the foothills of the Rockies, and ranching country. You can stay at a DUDE RANCH if you like. Calgary was founded by the Mounties, who were created to police the supposedly wild west, and they have built a replica of their first Fort downtown.
The ideal time for a trip to Calgary is during the STAMPEDE, which is early July each year.
Time of the year? Summer or early fall. May thru September. Weather is usually quite pleasant. Winter is not nice. Can glacier ski in early summer.
How to get about? No question about that: Personal automobile. Simply great highways on the prairies. My friends at THRIFTY urge me to suggest you try them. Can book from anywhere on the planet calling 1800 367 2277. Click here for CALGARY HOTELS and RESTAURANTS.
They are called the ROCKIES also here in Canada and they are great. As good as the Alps, but unpeopled. The best by far lie between Banff and Jasper.
BANFF is about one hour from Calgary and is one of Canada's NATIONAL PARKS. Please follow the rules shown on the website.. You must spend a day in Banff town shopping and seeing the other sights of the area. See the Map. Take the CABLECAR to the top of Sulphur mountain, with an evening stop at the HOT SPRINGS. But overnight at LAKE LOUISE, only a half-hour away.
Make Lake Louise your travel centre for two or three days, staying at the CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE if you can afford it. Demand a lakeside room. Only the Chateau has THE view. Literally. All that is left for the rest of the world is a 20 foot wide foot path to the lakeshore. So, if you can afford it....
Many other nice places to stay in LAKE LOUISE AREA, but no view of lake. . My next choice is self-catering cabin at MORAINE LAKE LODGE. Next lake over! Also a gem, but a scary 14 mile drive in (2,000 foot drop) Go once but if you are nervous drivers you may not want to go in and out for several days. Personally I love it. Keep in mind it can snow up there in July, the height of our summer, but it usualy melts in an hour or two. If the highway is dangerous they close it while they plow it. Delays are possible but unlikely. You however 6000 feet above sea level and it is cool at night. Daytime temps run about 20-25 celsius in July in mountains, 10 degrees cooler if it clouds up - which it will do a few days. Drops down to 10-15 at night. Another classy hotel is the POST HOTEL down in the valley. It has the best restaurant in the area. Other nice low price self-catering rustic cottages, a must-use in the mountains: No great views but pleasant settings in countryside: PARADISE BUNGALOWS (near Lake) and BAKER CREEK BUNGALOWS (nice but more distant). HERE ARE THE REST . But I warn you these are all booked up to one year in advance. Even the campgrounds are booked early! Just in case, her is a complete list of ALBERTA ACCOMODATIONS.
Many walks and drives in Banff/Llake Louise area. One favourite is the easy climb to Lake-in-the-Clouds. Maps available at Tourist Centre. Here is one visitor's comment. Also visit Moraine lake, Emerald Lake, and Johnstone Canyon. One of my favourite side-trips is via Kootenay Park to Vermilion Valley as far as Mountain Goat Salt Lick.
If you want high country hiking try LAKE OHARA LODGE. The ultimate of course is HELI-HIKING. But many less demanding walks through the forest, or canoe rides on the lakes. But remember the bears and read the Rules. If you want to ski look HELI-SKI website or at THIS WEBSITE.
There are beautiful picnic grounds everywhere and so pack picnic lunch each day. Often water and cooking too. We usually take Thermos of coffee as simpler. Many hotels and cafes sell box lunches.
Then off to JASPER along the ICEFIELDS HIGHWAY. See MAP. Follow glaciers all the way. A glacier finally comes right to the highway at the mid-point, and you can take a SNOCOACH to the COLUMBIA ICEFIELDS, whence comes water into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans. Check out re tickets as soon as you arrive Louise. Takes 2-3 hours so plan time.
Stay at least two nights at JASPER. The town is not much, because you must go to MALIGNE LAKE and that uses up a day because the last bit is by boat. If you are rich stay at JASPER PARK LODGE. If you are not just go by there for lunch! Stay at TEKARRA LODGE or Beckers Bungalows, self-catering cabins outside town on river. Beckers was good enuff for our honeymoon 45 years ago! Tekarra is more and worth it.
Coming or going to Jasper take a side trip to MOUNT EDITH CAVELL (drive right up to Angel Glacier). A picnic at PYRAMID LAKE is a must. Maps and stuff at JASPER PARK OFFICE. Lastly, drive to MOUNT ROBSON, Rockies's tallest, and back - if there is time.
What to do after Jasper? Many folk ask me should they not then drive to Vancouver? I say not. It is a two-three day drive from Banff or Jasper to Vancouver, and there are better things to see elsewhere. Cal to Van is 700 miles, not all dual carriageway. Middle third is definitely not fast. Save that time, and visit Vancouver Island. Turn around and go back to Calgary and catch a plane to Vancouver. The drive back down the Icefield highway is just as interesting as the drive up, and far more interesting than any sights between Banff and Vancouver. It will take a day to go to Calgary from Jasper, turn in the car, and catch a one-hour flight to Vancouver.
Many people do a loop drive because their air tickets require them to leave and arrive at the same town. But you may be able to get a ticket to Vancouver with a Calgary stopover for very little more. Or book our local no-frills airline, Westjet, from Calgary to Vancouver, $100 CDN each way. Or consider a rail trip to Vancouver from Banff. One of the world's great trips, according to the TV. Try ROCKY MOUNTAIN RAILTOURS.
If you have time to drive to Vancouver, I nevertheless suggest you go back down to Lake Louise and take the TRANS CANADA HIGHWAY through Golden, Rogers Pass (6400 feet), Revelstoke, and then south to Kelowna. A long, long, day on a busy road. The rule is: Be gone by dawn Consider breaking it at EMERALD LAKE LODGE, and after a pleasant evening there drive to Kelowna the next day. For overnite at Kelowna, I always suggest LAKE OKANAGAN RESORT, a classy self-catering place with a great view of the lake - near Kelowna, the major town but in the country. Bit of a twisty drive the last 10 miles after the lake bridge but well worth the effort. Maps, notes and other accommodations available at BC TRAVEL , BC ADVENTURES, ONLINE HIGHWAYS, TRAVEL BC or at BC TOURIST GUIDE.
From there to Vancouver is a 4 hour drive over a fancy new toll road that starts a few miles from the resort. So can rest a morning. Or take the more scenic route south to Pentiction and across just north of US border. Takes you through wine country and mining country. website.and on to Vancouver via two new toll superhighways. In midsummer it is very busy. The rule is : Be gone by dawn.
In my experience, the shorter drive from Jasper to Kamloops is quite boring. You can also do a loop - driving to Vancouver from Jasper/Kamloops and then return to Calgary via Kelowna/Revelstoke. Again I do not suggest it. You will see 90% of the really good stuff on the oneway drive, and loop drive is long.
OK, one way or the other you get to VANCOUVER. No real need for a car for this town. You take BUS TOUR or GREYHOUND to WHISTLER, and cabs, water taxis, and PUBLIC TRANSPORT in Vancouver. Traffic downtown is horrible.
Vancouver is one of the prettiest spots on earth - when the sun shines. Sadly, it often does not. Where else can you be on a pretty beach in the middle of a vibrant city and yet be maybe two hours from a good ski? Assuming you do not shop, and assuming you take the day-trip to Whistler, two days should do it unless you want to spend a day on the beach. (Wait for it if you are there in July. See below.)
Of course, you must go to Yuppie Heaven, also known as WHISTLER RESORT. Suggest bus tour and do not stay over nite. Very pricey.
I have found the best way to see a large city for the first time is by a decent bus tour. You get in the rubbernecking very efficiently, and identify what is worth another visit. I suggest the GRAY LINE BUS TOUR best for first-time visitors toVancouver.
You will want for sure to go back to ROBSON STREET SHOPS, GRANVILLE ISLAND, SPECIAL BEACHES, maybe the CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE, and the Chinese Garden. Visit Gastown - if you must - only during the day. WALKING TOURS are available. Vancouver City Guides include VANCOUVER TODAY, VIRTUAL VANCOUVER, TOURISM VANCOUVER, and DISCOVER VANCOUVER.
We think the prettiest corner is at the bottom of Denman on English Bay. So do many others because the beaches are crowded, but you can walk into Stanley Park from there and also to Robson Street Shops and to water taxi stand to go to Granville island. Not too far from downtown, but downtown is just big buildings.
Hotels can be very expensive at Vancouver. We have for 40 years stayed at Sylvia when we visit Vancouver, right on on English Bay, and rent a self-catering flat on second floor front with a little balcony over the sea. Very basic but worth it. I guess I should warn you that others have also discovered old Sylvie, and the view rooms are usually booked a year in advance. The old girl aint very modern. No website or email but fax is 604 6823551 voice 604 681 9321.
Vancouver and Victoria have a ZAGAT GUIDE for a reliable guide to good eats. Best seafood in town is "C" restaurant, but also VERY pricey. More down home is Kettle of Fish.
Now for some real ocean work. Rent a car at downtown Thrifty and take the FERRY to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay.
BC Ferries big boats take about 1 hour. Then. without a backward glance at Nanaimo, drive to Port Alberni and across Vancouver Island to the best beach in the western world. PACIFIC RIM NATIONAL PARK. It will take a day to get there, with the ferry and the drive. Click HERE to see a little map. The Park is where you see Number 4 on the map. Very interesting most of the way. Stop at Cathedral Grove to see the Big Trees they do not tell you about in California, but be sure to get to the end before dark as the last bit over the last mountain is windy.
And, oh yeah, if you do not wish to sleep on the beach be sure to have room reservations. Several good beach front hotels, led by my favourite hotel, the WICKANNINISH INN, which also has a world-class dining room. All the hotels are list under TOFINO.
How many days do you want to walk along the beach and in the rain forest that comes down to the shore? Or watch the 20 foot waves hit the rocks out the window as you eat high class grub? At least two, I would say. Your choice.
Then you must re-trace your steps to Nanaimo, because the only other way out is the world-famous Pacific Coast Trail, which begins across Alberni Fiord from Uclueluet. When you are at that old fishing village, think for a moment of the Canadian fishermen who in 1941 were the entire population and who one day with families were loaded onto buses and interned on the dry prairie for four years for no reason other than that they were of Japanese ancestry. They have never come back. The Pacific Coast Trail is not for the faint of heart or those who fly desks most of the time. There is no ferry out because the coast between here and Victoria is still called the Graveyard of the Pacific. Hundreds of wrecks on the rocks. Only people about are aging hippies.
When you get to Nanaimo you head south to Victoria. This is the only City in Canada where it usually does not freeze at all in the winter. Needless, to say, it is famous for its flowers and gardens.
VICTORIA was founded after the Americans won the Oregon Territory from the Brits. The Hudson's Bay Fur Company as a result had to move its Pacific headquarters from the mouth of the Columbia River (now Vancouver, Washington) to what remained as Canadian even though it was south of the 49th parallel. So a new Fort was established in 1842, which remains to this day the Capital of British Columbia and regards Vancouver as an uncouth railway town. Largely because it was for over 50 years the Headquarters of the British Pacific Naval Squadron, Victoria has a very English air. It also has a climate almost identical to that of the south of England, and the English still come. A few of the gardens and other sights are on the CITY WEBSITE.
Victoria is a great walking town and you have no real need for an auto. But if you have it, you can drive to the must-see BUTCHART GARDENS, about 10 miles north of town. Take high tea at their restaurant, called the Dining Room. Drive back along scenic West Saanich Road and Royal Oak Drive to Mount Douglas Park, and then down the coast all the way back to town. Downtown, take a walk around the INNER HARBOUR. For a sneak preview see the Java virtual pix on the web. Carry on through Beacon Hill Park, and up Government Street. WALKING TOURS are available. Be sure to visit the Bengal Lounge at the EMPRESS HOTEL, even if you cannot afford to stay there. In any event, its website offers a virtual tour., and some of the shops on Government Street that remain almost identical to the way they were in the 1850's. No wonder Victoria is the destination for thousands of US tourists each summer day. More ideas on GREATER VICTORIA, TRAVELGUIDE, TravelBC, BCTRAVEL and TOURISM websites, including suggested accommodations..
You can return to Vancouver and your flight home by ferry from Victoria (Schwartz Bay) through the picaresque Gulf islands.