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Canadian Rockies with 9yo and 12yo

(28 Posts)
magicWandPlease Fri 08-Jan-16 22:11:11

We're thinking of a 2 week fly-drive holiday in the Canadian Rockies this summer. I'd love to get a motorhome, so we can stay off the beaten track, but DH has more-or-less talked me out of it on the grounds that some roads may be inaccessible in a large vehicle. I'd be interested in people's experience of both options.

I'd also like to hear suggested itineraries and recommendations for places to stay. We don't want to be driving every day, and would like plenty of time for kid-friendly walks and activities along the way - maybe some canoeing or some (not too scary) white water rafting. We'd also like to maximise our chances of seeing wildlife (I'd like the kids to think we at least have a chance of seeing a bear, although I know sightings are rare).

My 9yo loves fossils and we'd love to see the Burgess Shale but I've heard it is a day-hike with a guide. Has anyone done it with kids?

Also, is "taking the waters" at a hot spring worth the hype, and if so are some better than others?

I know some tours start at Calgary and end in Vancouver, or vice versa, but I'm not clear on the advantages of that. It must bump up the cost of the flights and car hire? DH and I have been to Vancouver and Vancouver Island before so we're not fussed about spending time over there.

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FruStefanOla Sat 09-Jan-16 09:17:35

I've never been, but DP has and he says that doing an excursion by train (maybe for a couple of/few days) is brilliant - especially the trains which have a top viewing deck so you get a panoramic view.

Tram10 Sat 09-Jan-16 10:07:49

We did the Rockies summer before last, 1 week Alaska cruise from Vancouver and then 10 days in the Rockies flying back from Calgary. My DH really wanted to do it in a motorhome but I was too nervous of meeting bears on the campsites, so talked him out of it, which in hindsight I now regret !

We stayed on a few campsites in little chalets just to get the feel for it, but I was so envious of those in motorhomes, still have not admitted that to DH.

Our kids would have loved the motorhome. IF you do decide on a motorhome, you would need to book really early, there was very little choice by the time we started looking in February and apparently if you have one of the larger motorhomes, 28ft +, you do need to reserve your camping spots well in advance. There were no roads that I could imagine were inaccessible to motorhomes, unless you are thinking of renting the massive ones that look like a tour bus, which look amazing !!.

We did see lots of bears and cubs on the roadside, it's not a rare sight at all, if it's a main road there will usually be lots of cars pulled over to the side, so you will know there are bears around if you see that. I found hiking very nerve wracking, usually there are other visitors in the car parks so people go walking together in groups of 4 or more. A few times rangers closed treks because of bear sightings in the area and another time, the group in front of us turned back as they almost walked straight into a Grizzly bear and her cubs, we all hotfooted it back, very noisily, to our cars. That side of it, I found stressful, to be honest, I was always on edge going for hikes but trying to be blasé for the kids sake.

We didn't do Burgess Shale nor any hot springs, although we did stay in Banff. The scenery and nature is amazing, some fabulous waterfalls and lakes, would recommend taking the tour of the Icefields, there is also the Glacier skywalk close to the icefield, , which is much more impressive in photos than in reality, but the kids like the idea of walking on a glass bridge. I will look back over the photos to see what our itinerary was and come back to you.

Tram10 Sat 09-Jan-16 10:14:47

Forgot to mention, If you are going that far and if you could stretch your budget to an Alaska cruise I would thoroughly recommend adding that to your trip. We originally planned a 3 week Rockies trip, but then decided to add on the Alaska trip as we thought we would never go that far specifically for a cruise (would go back in a heart beat).

It was an amazing trip, not so much the cruising aspect as that was not our cup of tea, but the nature and wildlife we saw was mind-blowing, some of the places I was going to recommend to you above, I just realised were actually in Alaska and not in the Rockies.

Our kids were 11 and 7 on the trip, the loved every second of it.

magicWandPlease Sat 09-Jan-16 13:14:46

Thanks Tram - that's great. Would love to do Alaska too, but we'll only have 2 weeks and I don't want to rush the Rockies.

Did you book a package or arrange it all independently?

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rookiemere Sat 09-Jan-16 15:50:34

Hi we did Canada last year - time split between Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Whistler then up to the Rockies.

In answer to some of your questions, for a two week trip I'd stick to in and out of Calgary - particularly as you've done Vancouver before. We absolutely love Tofino on Van Island, but found the drive ( and we started from Whistler) up to the Rockies pretty soul destroying, even more so when DS started developing travel sickness. It also ate up 2-3 days of our trip.

We did the whole motorhome debate and didn't go for it in the end. It was the right decision for Tofino and Whistler but in summer time in the Canadian Rockies I felt the accommodation was generally rather overpriced for what you got and an RV would be a good option.

The roads are big and straight so driving will be fine, but you may not get as much of a chance to go right into town. In a lot of places the RV sites are a bit further out and parking them in the centre might be challenging. Maybe you could hire bikes as well for some of the trip.

The popular sites will book up very quickly - cancellation policies are usually pretty good, so I'd recommend working up a route asap and booking accordingly.

We (well mostly DH and DS) did a number of white water rafting experiences. You'll be able to book them at all locations, but we did a good one at Jasper which was a grade 2 so not totally horrendous.

We saw a lot of wildlife at Jasper - bears & elks - I found huge bear poo when I went out for a morning run - certainly encouraged me to speed up back to the main road pretty quickly. However when we went before we saw bears at Lake Louise, so you will see them for sure in a two week period but not sure at which location.

Lake Louise is definitely worth a walk around - you can hire row boats there half an hour is enough ! There's a toughish 2 hr walk up to a tea house that we did - DS is 9 and he managed fine, it's pretty magical though crowded at the top.

I went to Banff Springs the first time we went pre DC, not sure how much DS would have enjoyed it, but again good fun.

Your DCs will have a blast, you can also do gondola rides, mountain biking and loads of other outdoor things.

The only thing I found, and that's perhaps because we went for 3 weeks rather than two, is that it's an exhausting holiday so be sure to schedule in some crash time as well.

rookiemere Sat 09-Jan-16 15:51:57

Oh and you could ring up some companies to get an itinerary, but I'm not sure if they'll book the RV sites for you. Worth getting their advice though.

nooka Sat 09-Jan-16 22:09:45

I live in BC and last year my sister and BIL came over for a couple of weeks, hired an RV in Calgary, explored the Rockies and drove over to visit us too (we are about 5 hrs from Banff - so in Canadian terms really nearby!).

Almost all roads here are accessible in a RV. Roads (and car parks) are bigger here! We like to camp in Forestry camp sites, accessible only via unpaved logging roads and you can almost guarantee there will be a couple of RVs every night.

If your dh is really wanting to get off the main roads then you'll need to rent something like a SUV or pick up with 4 wheel drive (and check the contract says you can take them off road, they often don't).

RVs are heavier to drive, but my sister/BIL found theirs pretty easy and enjoyed taking their home of wheels about with them (have to admit we prefer our pick up truck and tent combo). Most camp sites will have several RV spots. In the summer you'll have to book everything in advance - most camp sites are open for booking now so you'll need to get booking asap. You may find that there is pretty limited availability for RV hire already.

They rented something like this: which is probably what you'd need for a family of four (there is a smaller one but I think it would be very cramped).

This is a midsized RV by North American standards and would have no issues driving around the Rockies, getting to most camp sites etc.

The Rockies are fantastically beautiful. However in the summer they are also very busy. I'd look to explore some of the less popular spots, so Jasper rather than Banff, Lake Morraine rather than Lake Louise, the hot springs in Kootenay rather than Banff.

And yes go White Water rafting. It's fantastic grin

If your ds is a dinosaur fan then I'd try and build in a visit to Dinosaur Park. It's on the other side of Calgary to the Rockies, but you should be able to fit it in in a two week tour, and it has completely different landscape as it's in the badlands.

magicWandPlease Sun 10-Jan-16 09:39:05

Thanks Nooka. That's useful. So long as we can travel the main scenic routes without having to back up around hairpin bends I think an RV is still attractive, though DH is wary of driving something so big (we live in London - nuff said) and will be more relaxed with a car. Also, although it might be easy to find overnight camping for an RV, what about parking generally? e.g. if you just want to go to a quiet hiking spot with a small-ish car park, I imagine it gets a bit cumbersome.

I haven't got a full sense of distance yet, but I'm hoping we won't have to move on every day in order to cover the main sites in the Banff and Jasper National Parks. Would it be reasonable to cover each park from 1-2 sites do you think? It would be nice to think we could settle in each accommodation spot for 2-3 days.

OP’s posts: |
muddymary Sun 10-Jan-16 10:11:49

We went about eight years ago and it was one of the best holidays I've ever had. I can't remember the exact order we visited places but we flew into calgary. Then we did Banff and jasper. Stayed on a ranch close to Lake Louise which was fab. Stopped off at whistler. Then went to vancouver and vancouver island.
The whole holiday was amazing. The icefields parkway is certainly worth a visit and I really enjoyed whistler despite not being a skier.

RomComPhooey Sun 10-Jan-16 10:15:03

Marking place so I can reply properly from my laptop.

kittyvet Sun 10-Jan-16 10:24:08

Back packed round there as student in tent. Saw plenty of motor homes off the beaten track! Lake Louise was stunning. Vancouver Island also really beautiful. Wouldn't be worried about bears in motor home but in tent you have to be careful with food, sleeping in clothes smelling of food.

RomComPhooey Sun 10-Jan-16 10:41:13

We visited a couple of years ago for 2 weeks, flying out at the start of Whitsun week and keeping the kids out of school for a week - though ours were younger and school less precious about time off in term then. We saved a lot of money doing it earlier, as the transatlantic flight costs hike up in late June and, although there were plenty of tourists, it wasn't heaving. On the downside, it was still on the cusp of spring/summer in the Rockies then & most of the beautiful blue glacial lakes were still frozen, it snowed whilst we were there and was cold at night. On the upside, we saw a LOT of wildlife - bears and cubs every day (including a grizzly - from the roadside), elk, porcupines, Golden Eagle, lots of deer, a coyote (eating roadkill elk!). We saw sea otters walking the sea wall walk in Stanley Park in Vancouver too.

I had researched different activities, accommodation and destinations independently and worked up a basic itinerary that met our needs, but I booked it all as a bespoke package through Discover the World as it wasn't that long after the Icelandic ash cloud and we wanted the protection of booking through a tour operator. We flew in to Calgary and had a night there to get our bearings, then stayed near to Lake Louise at the Baker Creek Chalets (brilliant destination, don't be put off by the Trip Advisor reviews that mention the trains - they were at distance and one of high points of our trip was seeing the Rocky Mountaineer pass each morning when we were eating breakfast on the deck or the 200+ boxcar trains with multiple engines), then drove up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper and stayed there for a few bays. You can break the drive to Jasper by stopping off at the Athabasca glacier to do the snow coach up to on to the glacier (but pre-book if you are travelling in high season!). Both Lake Louise and Jasper were good bases for other destinations. Banff is an easy drive from the Baker Creek Chalets/Lake Louise. We then opted out of the long drive to Vancouver by driving to Edmonton and getting internal flights (v cheap, as we'd also done the transatlantic leg with Air Canada). Flew home from Vancouver after a city break there. The drive to Edmonton was long (~4hrs) & boring as you are going across featureless prairie within about 30 minutes of leaving Jasper. If we had our time again, I think we'd do the drive the Vancouver - flying over, the landscape looked really interesting and beautiful and I felt we'd missed out.

I agree with others who mention how nerve-wracking hiking is with bears on the loose - we only realised how many there were in Maligne Canyon after we'd walked from 5th bridge up to 1st bridge and back on the deserted riverside trail when we go in the car to drive up the parallel road to Maligne Lake and saw many, many bears in the space of a few miles. Eeek! When I'm having trouble sleeping, that's one thing I do occasionally think about - how lucky we were our children didn't get eaten by bears on that trip, as we were moderately intrepid with the hikes and ours were a lot younger than yours. Make a LOT of noise on the hiking trails. Locals say that bear bells are not loud enough. You can buy giant cans of bear spray (pepper spray) in the park rangers' offices, but it was $40 and I figured we shouldn't be taking those kinds of risks that would mean needing it anyway.

nooka Sun 10-Jan-16 18:59:45

RomCom I'd say you did miss out really. The drives across BC are some of the most beautiful in the world. However they do take a while! When you live here you get used to driving long distances in a way that seems incomprehensible to an English person. When we lived in London driving to my parents place in Wales (probably 3 1/2 hrs) was a painful trip and we'd not do it for less than a long weekend. Here I've driven to Vancouver and back in a day without thinking about it too much (4hrs each way).

It's just very different driving. Roads are wide, long and straight, and unless you get stuck behind a load of RVs driving is pretty relaxing, helped by the fact that the landscape is generally beautiful most of the time. Although it can be similar for hours - scale is just different here.

Personally I'm fairly relaxed about bears. You don't tend to meet them that much, and generally they aren't interested in people unless there is food in the offing. If you are noisy they will stay away and on most of the tourist trails there are way too many people for them to come near. Might be more of an issue in spring when they are waking up perhaps. We have them in our garden on a fairly regular basis and it's never been an issue. Local advice is to go out in a group if you are worried, and just make sure you aren't the slowest person!

On a more serious note, check in with the park information centres before you go on your walks, wear bells or be noisy, and if you are worried get some bear spray - you'll almost certainly never use it, but it should make you feel more prepared.

nooka Sun 10-Jan-16 19:11:34

Oh and in the Rockies I really doubt you'll have an issue parking, RVs are very very common. I've not driven that way for a while but I don't remember any significant hairpin bends. My old truck was about 18ft long (the RV I linked to is I think 24 or 26') and I have never had any issues with sharp turns or car parks.

Things really are built on a different scale here. My dh drives a Golf, it's a 'compact car' here!

Anyway I shouldn't sell you too much on renting an RV as it's not something I'd do personally. My BIL and sister really enjoyed theirs, but they have a caravan in the UK so have some experience in driving long vehicles.

RomComPhooey Sun 10-Jan-16 21:42:49

It's just very different driving. Roads are wide, long and straight, and unless you get stuck behind a load of RVs driving is pretty relaxing, helped by the fact that the landscape is generally beautiful most of the time. Although it can be similar for hours - scale is just different here.

We've toured a fair bit in the US as well, so we 'get' the distances. It was more that our youngest was only 4 at the time and the best part of 2 days in the car is a big ask. We would like to revisit the Rockies and BC, so we'll look at going cross country next time.

RomComPhooey Sun 10-Jan-16 21:45:40

We were put off hiring an RV for the Rockies when we were in our 20s by a Canadian (in the UK at the time), who said there were a lot of narrow roads. We didn't find the Rockies bad at all, but some of the roads in Yosemite - OMG - hairpin bends with several hundred foot drops just a couple of feet from the edge of the paved road and no crash barriers. shock

nooka Mon 11-Jan-16 08:38:56

Oh you'd want to break it up for sure! I live in interior BC, so obviously I think you missed out smile

We've done some crazy long drives with our two, including our first trip out here when they were 5 and 6, and then a two and a half week journey from the East to West Coast a couple of years later. I'm not sure quite why they put up with it so well. They didn't appreciate the scenery quite as much as we did for sure!

mummymeister Mon 11-Jan-16 10:03:14

we went with similar aged kids 2 years ago. if we went again I wouldn't go for an RV tbh. unless you are used to driving something this big in the UK then it will come as a big shock as they are truly houses on wheels - some of them anyway. there were some places where the roads were not suitable for RV's and people had to park up and do long walks. plus if you going peak season the sites for RV's are booked up very far in advance. the idea of just turning up where you want when you want is not the reality. I didn't see the point in having one if we had to book everything before we went as that would lose the flexibility. we once drove for 5 hours passing many RV stops all of which had full signs.

we flew into Vancouver, stayed in Sechelt for 5 days then into Vancouver for a few days then up to a brilliant cabin for a week then on to Golden in the Rockies and flew back from Calgary. it was a 3 week trip and we found loads for the kids to do.

highlights were a float plane trip, seeing numerous bears, cable car rides, hot springs, white water rafting in Golden.

if you message me I can send links to where we stayed etc. fab trip. the kids still talk about it.

RomComPhooey Mon 11-Jan-16 21:42:12

I'm not sure quite why they put up with it so well.

We were fortunate that loom bands were all the rage at that point.

magicWandPlease Mon 11-Jan-16 22:03:50

mummymeister - thanks, I've pm'd you.

OP’s posts: |
Tram10 Tue 12-Jan-16 13:23:57

Had a look at the photos as a reminder, so this is a quick summary of our trip

Leaving Vancouver we stopped for the morning at Capaliano Suspension bridge, kids loved it !

We spent a few days in Wells Grey National park, (Clearwater). Some beautiful lakes and waterfalls, hiked to Hemlicken Falls, Mouls Falls Waterfall where you can walk behind the waterfall. Wells Grey National Park was where we saw a lot of bears, several sightings a day, usually when we were driving back to our hotel, it seemed like they came out late afternoon / early evening.

We then spent a few days in Jasper, we spent ages in a traffic jam going into Jasper, so i would suggest you plan to arrive early in the day or early evening. We stayed in the Fairmont which was a fab location, beautiful scenery, but expensive for what it was. We took the Jasper cable car up the mountain, stunning views from there. We visited Maligne lake, again saw several bears on the road to the lake. You can do whitewater rafting in this area, but I think it was Class 111, you can also do kayaking which was our preference.

The highlight of the trip was the Icefields parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise, the most spectacular scenery you can ever imagine, don't miss taking this route!! The kids will love the big bus/tractor trip on the glacier, wrap up well !!! Book it in advance, it gets so busy and so crowded, we were there on what was a Canadian bank holiday weekend, so maybe that is why it was so hectic.

We visited Peyto lake and Bow lake and glacier, Peyto lake is stunning, the water is completely turquoise, you can't believe the colour of it. There are a some beautiful hikes around here, we only did some short ones though.

We then stayed in Lake Louise, stunning location, full of tourists though. We stayed at the Fairmont Lake Louise, it was lovely being there before the buses arrived in the morning and after they left in the evening. Don't let the idea of the tourists put you off though, it really is a stunning lake and mountain view. There is a lovely walk around the lake and a few hikes that will give you beautiful views. You can rent kayaks here which I would recommend. We also visited Moraine lake, very beautiful, but not as spectacular as Lake Louise.

Our final stop was Banff, it's a busy quaint town, stayed at the Fairmont. Hubby played an early morning round of golf and there was a bear on the fairway !! There is a beautiful walk from Banff town to the Fairmont along the Bow river and bow river falls, about 15 minute walk. You can do river rafting and tubing from there too.

You will love your trip, the scenery is unreal in many parts, we will definitely go back at some point.

RomComPhooey Tue 12-Jan-16 19:10:14

We also visited Moraine lake, very beautiful, but not as spectacular as Lake Louise.

It might have been the time of year we visited (lots of snow on the ground/peaks & lake still frozen), but Moraine Lake was DH's favourite place - he had what he described as a spiritual experience. It was pristine and breathtakingly beautiful - there is something about the way the mountains frame the lake...

magicWandPlease Tue 12-Jan-16 22:56:07

Thanks all - keep it coming. We've now booked our flights (to/from Calgary) and car (not RV), and have worked out a basic itinerary. Some of the accommodation is booked, but I haven't booked a cabin for Jasper yet, where we want to stay 6 nights. A lot of people have mentioned Alpine Village, and Patricia Lake Bungalows seems to have good reviews too, so I'm enquiring after both - no details of availability online so keeping fingers crossed while I wait for replies.

My 12yo says he wants to go fishing, but I can only find hardcore guided fishing trips, not beginner lessons for city-kids (bearing in mind DH and I are novices too, and DS2 might need to be otherwise occupied as he wouldn't have the patience for it). Any ideas?

OP’s posts: |
RomComPhooey Tue 12-Jan-16 23:08:41

Magic - We stayed in the Alpine Village in Jasper. I've just checked their website and it was the Lodge Suites (#30 ~ Large 2-Bedroom 2nd Floor Suite). It was a bit 70s-tastic on the decor but very roomy and comfortable. We had a picnic table and BBQ at the bottom of the outdoor stairs, so could dine out (with the midges). The outdoor hot tub was fun in the rain - it was pretty cold and wet when we visited. It was far enough from main street that we drove into town when we went out for dinner etc, but nicely located by the river. As pictured on their website, they have airondack chairs by the river so you can sit & enjoy the view - but is across the road from the resort. The thing you don't get a sense of on that webpage is how closely the lodges are packed together, but it was the similar (though not as tight) at the Baker Creek Chalets I mentioned upthread.

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