Believe it or not, there is a degree of coordination required to organize a trip to Banff and Jasper. Prior to the trip, the only knowledge I had was of Banff. I really didn’t know or hear much about Jasper, possibly my own ignorance. Once I was able to visualize where things were in relation to each other, it made more sense to include Jasper with our trip to Banff. Jasper is about three and a half hours north and slightly west of Banff. That being said, there is a lot to see along the way. The road that travels between the Lake Louise/Banff area and Jasper is called Icefields Parkway. It is worth the trip and a stay in Jasper! The following were two of the tools I used to help in planning and knowledge gathering. As a reference, I purchased the Lonely Planet book entitled Banff, Jasper, & Glacier National Parks. It is great to outline everything from hikes, sights, and transportation to restaurants and hotels. I also spent a great deal of time on the website for the Fairmont properties. If I was doing things all over again, my advice to myself would be to plan ahead, consider the weather, and spend more time in Banff.
My first decision came when trying to decide what airport to fly into prior to planning our trip. There are really only two options. Calgary is likely the best, but Edmonton could be used as an alternate. You will be in for longer drives utilizing the Edmonton airport. Calgary is in closer proximity to all of the Fairmont properties. We positioned ourself to be at the Banff property on the last night, which is the closest to the Calgary Airport at about a one and a half hour drive. We wanted to get the majority of the driving out of the way at the beginning of the trip when we were feeling the most ambitious.
I think there are a few important questions to ask yourself. How many days do you have for your visit? What are the major sites you want to visit? What is the travel time between those sites? Do you have the time/interest to include Jasper? After researching hotels and proximity, I felt a trip to Jasper should be included with our visit to Lake Louise and Banff. In the end, unfortunately hotel availability dictated a portion of our trip. I do think that the order we utilized to visit the sights really worked out well. Make sure you take a look at the map and plan out the best route. For reference, I am going to include our itinerary below:
Day One: Arrive in Calgary afternoon time, rent car, drive to Fairmont Palliser, explore downtown Calgary and have dinner
Day Two: Leave early morning for approximate two hour travel to Lake Louise, lunch at Fairmont Lake Louise and hike in afternoon
Day Three: Morning at Lake Morraine, kayak on Lake Louise, quick “to go” lunch from cafe at Fairmont, spend remainder of day on Icefields parkway stopping at all sights, arrive at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge around dinner time
Day Four: Take scenic drive with stops to Lake Maligne, late lunch in Jasper town, take Jasper Skytram for views and hike, spend second night in Jasper
Day Five: Explore Fairmont property and Lake Beauvert early morning, leave Jasper with stop at Bear’s Paw Bakery for lunch on the road, make nearly 4 hour drive back to Fairmont Banff, spend remainder of day at Fairmont Banff property
Day Six: Relax at hotel and head back to Calgary for flight
We planned our trip in August. Just as a warning, it was actually quite chilly even at the beginning of August. This might be relative because I do live in San Antonio where it is sweltering a good portion of the year. Typically, the temperature was around the 60s during the day, but it would get rather cold in the evening. For the most part, I always found myself wearing pants and, at minimum, a light jacket. The weather could be a little bit unpredictable with somewhat frequent rain. The rain never seemed to last. It would drizzle or even pour for a short amount of time and then clear up entirely. I am sure this area is beautiful in winter, but I would not feel comfortable with the driving conditions and the cold would likely make the trip possibly more unpleasant. Keep in mind you are spending the majority of your time that isn’t inside the car driving to your destination outside exploring.
I would plan to pack for the elements. Things that I brought along were my hiking boots, waterproof jacket, gloves, and hat. I had lots of options available for layering, which I really took advantage of when we took the SkyTram in Jasper. Most days, I wore exercise clothing or items that I brought on our hiking trip in Peru. In the evening, I brought nicer attire for a dressy dinner.
I want to mention one thing to consider ahead of time. You can purchase a pass to enter Banff National Park online. Ultimately, we purchased this prior to leaving the Fairmont Palliser. The concierge was able to print it for us, so we could display it in our dashboard. You purchase based upon the amount of time/days you expect to spend in the park and it is rather inexpensive. It is more convenient to do this ahead of time and makes driving through/lines at the entry points shorter.