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Driving between Vancouver and Banff

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Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hi, hoping someone can help out with some information for us. We are an Australian family coming to Vancouver late April this year for a week. We would like to drive to Banff and then Calgary and fly out of there. We want to break the journey and spend the night somewhere about 1/2 way to Banff. Would this perhaps be Kamloops? Or is there somewhere closer to Banff, as this appears to be only about 3 hours drive from Vancouver. Are the roads major highways, as we have had trouble locating a map at our end. Thanks for your help.

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1. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hi Fletcher#7,

Yes, the highways from Vancouver to Calgary are major, well-maintained highways. Not to worry. The fastest route would be to take Highway #1 from Vancouver to Hope and then take #5 (the Coquihalla) from Hope to Kamloops. The Coquihalla is a toll highway, the last time I travelled it the toll was $10 CAD. It will cut a lot of time off your trip and being that you only have a week for vacation, I would think this is your best option. At Kamloops you get back onto the #1 highway and follow that all the way to Calgary.

You can stay in Kamloops, but for a place that's a little more scenic (after all, you are on vacation!), I would suggest trying to find something around Schuswap Lake (towns are Salmon Arm, Sorrento and Sicamous, with Salmon Arm and Sicamous being the biggest) A word of caution, this is a resort area and hotel prices can be high, especially on long weekends. Being that you are travelling in late April, you should miss the long weekend of Easter and you will be travelling in what is still the "off-season" so the rates will be more reasonable.

Another place that I think is really unique is Three Valley Gap www.threevalleygap.com) This is a big hotel along the #1 highway, situated on the shore of a large lake. It is really beautiful there. There is not a real "town" at Three Valley Gap, but they do have a ghost town that you could spend a couple of hours visiting. The only restaurant here is in the hotel. It may be a nice, peaceful stopover for your trip. However, having said that, I am not sure they will be open in April. I don't know if they are open year-round.

If you go to the website www.transcanadahighway.com you can find a map and detailed information on towns and points of interest between Vancouver and Calgary. I think this website has lots of good information and will probably help you plan your drive in more detail.

Banff is about 800 km from Vancouver. Allowing for traffic and mountain roads it would be at least a nine hour drive. Banff is about an hour west of Calgary. So if you want to stop halfway, you will be looking for something more around Kamloops or Salmon Arm. When leaving Banff for the airport, you should allow about two hours driving time to get from Banff to the Calgary airport.

Hope this info will be of some help to you, and I hope you have a great vacation in BC and Alberta!

Cheers!

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2. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hello Fletcher#7,

The information that Camping_Girl has given you is excellent. I especially like the link to the web site about the TransCanada Highway. That's a real gem, Camping_Girl.

I would add a few more points. In late April it would not be unusual to find yourself driving during a snowfall somewhere along the Coquihalla Highway or TransCanada Highway. If that happened, you would need to slow down considerably. You don't need a 4x4, but it really helps to have front wheel drive and ABS brakes.

Also you won't see the turquoise lakes, like the one shown on the Alberta page of the TransCanada Highway web site. When you come the lakes will be frozen and white.

Actually that picture is of Peyto Lake, which is just off the Icefields Parkway, about half an hour north of Lake Louise, on the way to Jasper. So it's not actually on the TransCanada Highway, but that's a minor point.

In April you could walk in Johnston Canyon, which is a 20-minute drive from Banff townsite. But the path would have ice on it. It would be slippery, and you would need to wear cleats on your hiking boots. You can buy them or rent them in Banff. One brand name, which I received as a gift this past Christmas, is Get-A-Grip. They cost C$25 a pair. But there are other brand names as well.

Another web site that would help you to plan how long you could drive each day is Map Quest. The default distances are in miles, but you can go to the Settings button at the top of the screen, and request that distances be given to you in kilometres. Map Quest gives you not only distances and times, but also a map, which helps you to visualize the route.

www.mapquest.com

Even in the best driving conditions, Kamloops is more like 4 hours from Vancouver. But those are the sorts of things you'll find out from Map Quest.

I agree with Camping_Girl's suggested overnight stopping points. (Well, I guess you'd want only one of them between Vancouver and Banff, not all of them.)

Please feel free to check out my web site about Vancouver, the Rockies and Calgary:

…msn.com/CalgaryandCanadianRockiesTravelTips

When you drive from Banff to Calgary Airport, you need to leave Banff 5 hours before an international flight's departure time and 4 hours before a domestic flight takes off. This page of my web site explains the logistics:

…msn.com/CalgaryandCanadianRockiesTravelTips…

My site has tips about other topics like weather, what to pack, winter driving, national park entry fees, GST refund, etc.

Hope that helps.

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3. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hey Fletcher --

I don't where you will be starting your trip from in Vancouver, but when I leave Yaletown to come home, I count on about 4 hours to Kamloops, perhaps a half hour more in iffy weather - the highway is excellent - the views terrific - and the highway is divided so you shouldn't have too much trouble driving on the right --

The town of Hope is about 90 minutes or so out of Vancouver, and a good place to stop for a cuppa and snack -- don't stop at the gas station coffee shop - go into town - lots of different places there and a great photo op of the river and the mountains closing in on it.

Top up your gas tank in Kamloops - the prices are pretty good there -- Canada is similar to OZ in that it's not a good idea to let your tank get too low -- even in April the weather can turn on you, and if there's a back-up somewhere, you want to be able to keep warm without rationing the fuel --

Whatever you decide to do, you'll have a good time. I suppose in April Lake Louise will still be frozen - but there are lots of great sights in Banff -

If you think that you want to see Jasper on this trip as well, then come to Kamloops, get onto Highway #5 North (the Yellowhead Highway) follow the signs to Jasper National Park - the townsite is about 5/6 hrs away - on a clear day Mt. Robson will be fabulous -

After Jasler head south to Banff - This way you'll miss the Rogers Pass Highway -- an event on it's own -- but it's hard to do everything at once --

Enjoy

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4. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Thanks everyone for your excellent and helpful replies. I have plenty to go on with now and web sites to research. Do you think it will make much difference to our journey time-wise if we stay at an airport hotel in Vancouver rather than down-town. We arrive in about 7pm after a long flight and thought perhaps if we stayed close to the airport that night and took off early the next morning. Thanks again for all your help.

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5. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

>>>>>>Do you think it will make much difference to our journey time-wise if we stay at an airport hotel in Vancouver rather than down-town. We arrive in about 7pm after a long flight and thought perhaps if we stayed close to the airport that night and took off early the next morning.<<<<<<

Fletcher#7, it sounds as if you do not plan to spend any time looking around Vancouver. That would be a tragedy in my opinion. Vancouver is the only modern coastal city to which I have been that rivals Sydney for beauty. Even if you're planning to cover British Columbia and the Alberta Rockies in only a week, I believe Vancouver still deserves a place in your itinerary.

It takes only half an hour to get from Vancouver Airport to downtown Vancouver by taxi.

You could consider something like this:

1 - Land in Vancouver and overnight there.

2 - Look around Vancouver's centrally located sights (Stanley Park, Granville Island Market, Yaletown). Overnight in Vancouver again.

3 - In the morning visit the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. (But be aware that it's closed on Mondays.) I don't know how old your kids are. If they are young, the MOA probably would bore them. However, if they are 12 or older, I think they would find it interesting. It is my favourite Vancouver attraction after Stanley Park. But then I must admit that I'm interested in aboriginal cultures in all parts of the world. Still, I think the comparison between the artefacts of the First Nations people of the British Columbia coast and those of the Aboriginal people of Australia is interesting.

After lunch drive to Kamloops and overnight there.

4 - Drive to Jasper. (This suggestion follows 1BCTraveler's recommendation. The advantage of following this route is that it will give you an opportunity to drive the impressive Icefields Parkway the following day.)

5 - Drive south on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy #93) to Lake Louise, and then turn east onto the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1) to Banff.

6 - Look around the Banff area. You could visit Johnston Canyon, go up the Sulphur Mountain gondola, and stroll around the town. If the mood takes you, you might bathe in the hot springs.

Whether or not you should spend this night in Banff depends on the time of your plane's departure the next day. It would be nice to be able to spend a 2nd night in Banff, so as to minimise the number of 1-night stops you'll be making.

However, if your plane will be departing early the next morning, it will be necessary for you to spend this night in Calgary. Since it takes 1.5 hours to drive from Banff to Calgary, you could even have your evening meal in Banff, and drive to Calgary afterwards.

If you stay in Calgary and want to be conveniently located with respect to the airport, it's best to look for a hotel whose street address ends in NE (the quadrant in which the airport is located) and/or whose name has the word "airport" in it. But do be aware that there is only one hotel -- the Delta Calgary Airport Hotel -- that is actually located right inside the airport complex. The others that call themselves airport hotels are in the NE quadrant, a convenient distance from the airport, but not actually on airport property.

In the next message I'll try to think up an itinerary that goes through Salmon Arm, Revelstoke and Golden to Lake Louise.

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6. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hi Judy,

Thanks for the advice, let me tell you our possible itinerary as it stands at the moment.

Arrive Vancouver 7pm on the 29th April, stay o'nite. Drive to Kamloops, stay o'night. Drive to Lake Louise, have a look around then on to Banff. Stay 2 nights in Banff. (Our kids are 11 and 14 and have never seen snow, so are hoping to find some!) Then on the 3rd May late arvo drive to Calgary, stay o'night. Fly out to Vancouver in morning, sightsee that day and then fly to Hong Kong on the arvo of May 5th. How does this sound?

Thanks again for your help.

Calgary, Alberta...
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7. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

So, Fletcher #7, here's a crack at another itinerary.

1 - Land in Vancouver and overnight there.

2 - Look around Vancouver and overnight there again.

3 - Drive to one of the places that Camping_Girl mentioned in her post. Alternatively, consider spending this night in the Okanagan Valley, in Penticton or Kelowna or somewhere in between.

4 - Drive to Banff. The advantage of this route is that it takes you over spectacular Rogers Pass between Revelstoke and Golden.

5 - Look around the Banff area, and overnight there again.

6 - Drive to Drumheller to see the amazing dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

From Banff this will take you 3 hours if you drive Banff – Canmore – Cochrane – Airdrie – Beiseker - Drumheller. (That route bypasses Calgary’s traffic.) Allow a couple of hours to go through the museum. Allow an hour for lunch. Allow between 1.5 hours and 2 hours to drive to Calgary, where I suggest you overnight.

It doesn’t matter what ages your children are. Everyone I know who has visited the Tyrrell, and that includes people from 3 to 93, has found the dinosaur skeletons awesome.

One caution is that, at that time of year, the museum will be closed on Mondays.

Another caution is that the prairie scenery that you will hit quite soon after you leave Banff National Park will be boring by comparison with the Rockies. But I think the dinosaur skeletons do warrant the drive across the prairies.

7 – Fly out.

In an earlier message you seemed to be anxious to get out of Vancouver early in the morning. While I’m not suggesting you dawdle, I don’t think you have to be so eager to make such an early start. If you will not be driving from Vancouver to Banff in one day, your drive will not be so onerous that you have to leave at the crack of dawn.

Another thing you may not have considered in your original allocation of time is that there is not all that much to do in the Banff area in late April (unless you want to ski). The lakes will be frozen, trails for the most part will still have snow on them and will not yet be suitable for hiking, etc. The scenery through which you will drive will be spectacular, there’s no question about that, but it will still be a more winter-like trip through the Rockies than a summer-like trip.

In Vancouver, on the other hand, spring will be in full swing. There you will see magnolias, rhododendrons, cherries, dogwood, camellias and spring flowering bulbs in bloom.

Calgary will be more like the Rockies. If it’s an early spring, new green leaves might have appeared on Calgary’s trees. However, it’s not uncommon for that to happen as late as the first week of May.

Hope that helps.

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8. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

>>>>>>Arrive Vancouver 7pm on the 29th April, stay o'nite. Drive to Kamloops, stay o'night. Drive to Lake Louise, have a look around then on to Banff. Stay 2 nights in Banff. (Our kids are 11 and 14 and have never seen snow, so are hoping to find some!) Then on the 3rd May late arvo drive to Calgary, stay o'night. Fly out to Vancouver in morning, sightsee that day and then fly to Hong Kong on the arvo of May 5th. How does this sound?<<<<<<

Oops, Fletcher#7, didn't see this post when I posted my last message. I'll think about this and get back to you in a few minutes.

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9. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Hello Fletcher #7,

I think the itinerary you devised is good. Just for clarification, this is my understanding of it.

Sat 29 – Arrive Vancouver and overnight there.

Sun 30 – Drive to a half way point between Vancouver and Banff. I agree with Camping_Girl that, while Kamloops would be okay, Salmon Arm would be more scenic.

Mon 1 – Drive to Banff and overnight there.

Tue 2 – Look around Banff and spend a 2nd night there.

Wed 3 – Overnight in Calgary. You don’t have to decide now how to spend this day. If your kids are enthralled by the snow, and if they want to stay on in the Banff area for this day, I suggest you do so. If, however, they are willing to do the Tyrrell Museum thing that I suggested, you could leave Banff in the morning, drive to Drumheller, and then overnight in Calgary. But as I said, that is a decision all of you could make once you’re there, on the ground.

Thu 4 - Fly to Vancouver in the morning. Spend the rest of the day looking around Vancouver.

Fri 5 – Depart for Hong Kong in the afternoon. This would still leave the morning free for further sight seeing in Vancouver.

Yes, I think that’s perfect.

Hope you have a great trip.

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10. Re: Driving between Vancouver and Banff

Great, thanks for looking over our itinerary, your help has been fantastic, and such quick replies! We will certainly look at all the options you gave us for sightseeing etc.

Thanks again.