Beautiful Canadian Rockies and Vancouver

19 11 2011

My second stop on my round the world trip is Vancouver. Actually, the main reason why this “round the world” idea came about is really because I wanted very badly to see the Rockies. I have some private matters to attend to in eastern Canada but didn’t want to travel all the way to this part of the world without seeing the Rockies. Since young, I have been hearing so much about how scenic the Rockies are and hence I decided to visit it notwithstanding that the east and west are quite a distance apart.

I flew super early in the morning from San Francisco to Vancouver (it’s a huge challenge for me as I am so not an early bird but somehow I wasn’t tired that I need to wake up at 4am). Vancouver is a nice coastal city, with its beautiful Vancouver Island. But this trip has confirmed the fact that I am really a very city person. Coming from San Francisco with the nice trams and yet bustling city, Vancouver seems to be too quiet and laid back. Even the Chinatown which is usually the most crowded place in most cities pales in comparison to San Francisco’s. Personally, I think that Vancouver is an oversell. Nothing much really except for its famous steam clock, the Sun Yat Sen garden, Capilano suspension bridge and the nice garden in Vancouver Island.

From Vancouver, I took the Rockies Mountaineer to the Rockies. It’s one of the 10 best train rides that’s highly recommended to take so I decided to try it even though the price is rather steep. There are 2 popular routes – one to Jasper and the other to Banff. As I wanted to visit Jasper, I chose the one that goes to Jasper, where I can then visit and drive down to Banff. The train ride was amazing. It started with a nice welcome at the check-in counter at Vancouver Rockies mountaineer station with the staff warm welcome (and Scottish bagpipes performance). On board the train, delicious free food, snacks & drinks were served almost non-stop! One thing about the rocky mountaineer is that trains only travel during the day (a night stopover in Kamloops) so you get to see the nice scenery.

After 2 days, I reached Jasper. Jasper is a small tranquil town in the Rockies, with the backdrop showing nice mountains with ice cap and glaciers. I visited the Jasper National Park, which include the Maligne Canyon, etc.

After a night in Jasper, I travelled on one of the world’s most scenic road – the Icefield Pathway, which links Jasper to Banff. Enroute, I stopped by the beautiful Athabasca falls before reaching Columbia Icefield where I took the Icefield explorer to go on the glacier. It’s definitely worth the CAD 50 to do this as I really enjoyed learning much more about the glaciers (bringing back memories of the Geography lessons) & standing on one of the famous glacier in the world. That night, I stopped by Lake Louise, which is the most photographed place in the Rockies. Before reaching Lake Louise, I made another stop at Peyto Lake (really beautiful with the dark blue water).

After spending time in the scenic Lake Louise and the nearby Moraine Lake, I moved on to Banff, driving along Bow Valley Parkway to see Johnston Canyon and Castle mountain.

Banff has a slightly different feel than Jasper. It is more vibrant with more visitors. Main sights in Banff include the Bow Falls, Sulphur Mountain via the Banff Gondola (CAD 30), Lake Minnewanka, etc.

From Banff, I headed off to Calgary for my flight to the east, ending my good 1 week in the Rockies.

On a side note, many people have always like to compare which is most beautiful ~ Switzerland, Canada or New Zealand. I haven’t been to New Zealand yet so I can’t compare that. But comparing Switzerland and Canada, I will say that the Swiss Alps is like a beautiful lady whilst the Canadian Rockies is like a handsome young man. Both are nice, beautiful in different sense and worth the visit.

Tips:-
– Most attractions in Vancouver city are within walking distance. However, Capilano suspension bridge and Vancouver Island are far away. If you are not driving, I suggest that you join a day tour to Capilano suspension bridge. For Vancouver Island, it is possible to take public transport there (but quite cumbersome so I will suggest joining a day tour as well).

– Rockies Mountaineer has 2 classes – Gold Leaf and Red Leaf. The price difference between these 2 are huge but Gold leaf serve hot food while Red leaf doesn’t. If you can afford it, go for Gold leaf. Otherwise, Red leaf service is also pretty good. You will not regret taking the Rockies mountaineer, any class.

– At Lake Louise, do try to stay at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It has scenic view of the lake (make sure you book the lake view). There’s a fine dining restaurant on ground floor overseeing the lake which serves 2-3 courses dinner. Make sure you try that as it is really yummy! If you have craving for pizza, take the shuttle to Lake Louise Inn. There’s a restaurant on level 2 that serves nice pizza.

– Moraine Lake which is around 25 minutes drive from Lake Louise is a very scenic place to visit (different from Lake Louise so worth the drive). Be careful driving on the winding roads though.

– There’re 2 routes from Lake Louise to Banff, one is via the old route (scenic drive) while the other is via the expressway. I will suggest that you drive via the old road at least till Johnston Canyon where you can stop for a hike. Afterwhich, you can then continue your journey to Banff via the expressway (just need to turn back slightly before you will see the sigb to the expressway) Johnston Canyon has 2 waterfalls (lower an upper). The walk to the lower fall takes around 40 minutes to and fro. Upper fall is a bit of hike and you need an additional 1.5 hours if you want to cover it. If you have time constraint, just do the lower fall will do.

– At Banff, I will recommend the Banff spring hotel. This hotel looks like a castle and is one of the best in Banff. However, its location is slightly out from the town centre but there are good transport to the town centre so no worries.

– Nothing much in Calgary. It’s really a city so if you are not flying out from Calgary, you can give the city a miss. However, I do recommend that either you fly out or take the rockies mountaineer from Banff back to Vancouver (covering a different route from Vancouver to Jasper).

– Prices that is shown generally exclude taxes so don’t get a shock when you are asked to pay more than what you see.

– For those who prefer to join tours, there are a couple of tour agencies that provide Rockies tour (or activities). I recommend Key West Tours (http://www.keywesttravelandtours.com/index.html), or Brewster (http://www.vacationscanada.travel/packages/Canadian-Rockies-Elements-from-Vancouver-7301.aspx). The travelling time from Vancouver to Jasper/Banff is pretty long so for those who prefer not to take long distance coach travel, the alternatives will be either (1) you take the Rocky Moutaineer which is really scenic but expensive, or (2) you can choose to fly to Edmonton (near Jasper) or Calgary (near Banff) and starts you tour there.

The Rockies trip has left me with fond memories. As I reflected on my 3 over hours flight to Toronto, I penned down the following:-

On the other end of the horizon far from where I grow, there is the land of mountains, glaciers and snow.
I saw God’s wonderful creation, so majestic and beautiful, the amazing scenery made me cheerful.
The tranquil Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise, all  leave me with fond memories.
The grandeur of the Rockies I love you so, your beauty has seduced me and my soul.  

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2 responses

1 03 2012
Dudley Psencik

I do agree with all of the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for novices. Could you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

5 03 2012
Carefreetraveller

Hi Dudley, thanks for your suggestion. Will try to make the post longer 🙂

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