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Old 06-06-2017, 07:59 PM   #1
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Suggestions for Banff, Jasper, Waterton?

In a few weeks we'll be heading to California and driving our SMB back via the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies. We have 3-5 days scheduled to spend in Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks and really don't yet have too many ideas what to see and do.

We'll be there the second week of July (6-10, roughly), so I guess it will be getting crowded at that point. I have one night booked at Lake Louise Campground (Friday, July 7), but that's it (we're not big on reservations).

Any suggestions as to cool stuff to see and do would be welcome. Not to mention "secret" camping spots in case all the regular CGs are full (we are 2wd but don't mind driving rough Forest Service-type roads). We have been perusing the Moon and Lonely Planet guides, so have a rough idea of the lay of the land.

Myself, wife, and 12-year-old son are traveling. We like to do moderate hikes, will have our bikes with us and enjoy biking, etc. The one hike we have on our radar is the Lake Louise area hike to the teahouse (my wife likes that idea!).

In Waterton we're hoping to score a site at Townsite CG, but that might be a dream. Ideas for alternative camping/boondocking would be great.


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Old 06-06-2017, 08:58 PM   #2
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I love that area. We did the trip about 5 years ago in a 76 VW Type II Transporter Campmobile. Things are a little different in Banff/Watertown There are Provincial parks, and private land. They have very little in the way of boon docking as they don't have National Forests around the parks. We went in the summer, early July. It snowed the morning of our hike to the tea houses, and a little when we're at the top one. Basically we toured the area by car and camped at the many campgrounds along the Trans Continental Highway. It didn't seem like we needed any reservations, except for Waterton. We got lucky there and the visitors center located a spot for us. One of the last spots at 11:00 am! This year might be crazy, as they are having an anniversary, so the parks pass was free for Canadians. Anyway, there are hikes like the The Vermillion lakes, Tea Houses at Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Moraine Lake, some waterfall hikes in Waterton. They have these cool tour busses in Waterton, and its sister Glacier (which is also a must) they are old 1930s busses retrofitted to burn propane. I could go on and on. I did have some cell phone issues, so I advise checking with your carrier. Bear spray is okay to bring across the border, but not guns. They will search you. Of course youlll need a passport, but dogs don't.

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Old 06-07-2017, 08:51 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by wadewaydo View Post
I love that area. We did the trip about 5 years ago in a 76 VW Type II Transporter Campmobile. [...] Bear spray is okay to bring across the border, but not guns. They will search you.
I'm guessing as a rule all VW microbusses get searched going across all borders :-)

We went in and out of Canada/USA last summer (New Brunswick) with our SMB and had no problems either way, except for a few questions. We looked like the Griswolds, though, with our bikes hanging off the back and a 12-year-old kid along for the ride.
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Old 06-07-2017, 07:13 PM   #4
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Anyone else able to chime in? I know some of you have to have been to this beautiful area in your vans! :-)
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Old 06-08-2017, 12:55 PM   #5
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I was up there last summer for a week or so. We booked some campgrounds ahead of time because things get reserved early and there are few dirt roads to go boondocking on up there.

The only tip I can give you is at Waterton we were able to get a camping spot on the grass within Waterton Springs Campground at the last minute because we told them we are just a van and we don't need hookups. Cost us $20 and we got to use the facilities. Nice people there.

We stayed at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff which wasn't too busy and we were able to ride our road bicycles right from camp out to some of the cooler scenic sites.
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Old 06-08-2017, 01:20 PM   #6
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you might get a few ideas from this trip report...
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Old 06-08-2017, 01:36 PM   #7
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I'm researching a similar trip in July. My focus is mtn biking and hiking. Here's a few links I have bookmarked:
Gravel Travel Canada - Gravel Travel Canada
Expedition Portal
Canmore Scenic Drives | Canmore, Alberta and Kananaskis Travel Guide
Expedition Portal
Smith Dorrien Trail
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Old 06-08-2017, 02:37 PM   #8
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Would love to help out any way I can. Much of this area is my backyard. I'm excited for you and your family to experience the area. What is your route coming north and then whats your plan for going back south? Might have some advice for both of those that might make a good route instead of back tracking. Their is a new skywalk along the parkway called Glacier Skywalk if you google it.
Mosquito Creek is a great campground along the parkway.
From canmore, head up to spray lakes (742), head south on the 40 and you can stay on that down to Blaremore but its all gravel and lots of boon docking along their or you can run to Longview and head south on the 22x (paved) to Lundbrick. Take the short jont into the crowsnest pass and see Frank Slide. From here you can hit forestry roads down towards waterton or take the #6 south to waterton. If you can't get a site there, their are many provincial parks. Payne Lake next to Mountian View has some good spots. Worst case you park at our house we are 45 min from waterton.
From Waterton, you take the chief mountain border crossing (still #6) down to st. mary's and over going to the sun road to west glacier. Tons of hikes in Glacier Nat. Park.
Anyway thats just a quick run down of a route but let us know where your crossing into canada and where your want to exit.
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Old 06-08-2017, 04:58 PM   #9
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Suggestions for Banff, Jasper, Waterton?

Great info so far. Thanks all!

@GNTY, we're coming up the US west coast from California and will either cross the border north of Seattle or cross to Vancouver Island directly from Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula and then back to the Canadian mainland via ferries. Depends on whether we can get reservations both ways or not.

From Vancouver (city) we'll head up to Jasper (haven't planned the route yet), probably spend the night there, then make our way slowly down toward Banff, with a CG reservation in Lake Louise.

Coming back into the US will be down near Waterton park and then into Glacier NP (which we've been to a few times). I'm not in front of a map right now so am going by memory.

In Glacier we'll probably spend one night at Many Glacier CG if we can get a spot, then also head over Going to the Sun Hwy to Apgar and camp around there somewhere.
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Old 06-18-2017, 11:33 AM   #10
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I like crossing via Port Angeles, but that's to Victoria and you're gonna need another ferry to Vancouver. Well worth it, although another option if booking is a problem is to ferry across to Vic and spend a day or two there without the SMB, then drive over to Van without the ferry. The landing in Vic puts you right near a lot of good stuff.

Going to Jasper out of Van go up 99 through Whistler and down to Lillooet. Very pretty; nice to stop over up there. Then over to Kamloops and on up the Thompson to Jasper. I often stay at a tiny park, North Thompson Prov Park, since it's right on the highway about half ways from Kamloops to Jasper. There are excellent campgrounds in Robson Prov park as well, although it often gets crappier weather than east in Jasper. Good hiking.

The big Nat Park campgrounds near Jasper are fine, with lots of biking and hiking trails right into town. Showers too.

Take your time going down the Icefields. I think it's the best road in North America. If you want some quieter camping, try Honeymoon Lake. I also like the sites near the Icefields Centre. BTW, you can camp in their parking lot if stuff is full. It's actually quiet at night, and you can't beat the view. If you like hiking, there are tons of nice day hikes off the Icefields. If you stay at Wilcox Creek cmpgrd, just south of the Icefields, there's a great hike right outta camp. Or the classic Parker Pass nearby. I think the Patton/Robinson hiking guide is the best one for the whole area.

Try to spend some time in Yoho. It's REALLY hard to get a booking on the bus to get into Lake O'Hara, but if you can, do it. Amazing. Hiking the Iceline out of the Takakkaw Falls area is one of the better ones in the area. If you are camping at Louise, you'll be put into the "soft" side if you've got a poptop, inside the bear fence. I saw someone who kinda slid by and got into the hard side, but the wardens weren't happy when they noticed the top.

Banff south of there is busy. But the parks do have some overflow camping, like at Louise. I like to go further and camp in Kootenay myself, and visit the Radium Hot Springs, right next to camp. Or stay in Kananaskis, since I guess you're gonna go east a bit.

From Banff south, check out the forestry trunk road. It's smaller paved and gravel road through the boonies on the east side of the Rockies.

The parks are in large part surrounded by both crown land (kinda like US BLM) and forestry land (like USFS). The forestry land allows boonie camping in lots of area; beware of bears and logging trucks. But they also have some small, primitive campsites as well. And AB has some prov park campsites near the forestry road too IIRC. There are also forestry camps all around Kamloops and on the west side as well. Check out this app for listings of most of that: US AND CANADA CAMPGROUNDS - FORMAL AND DISPERSED PUBLIC CAMPING LOCATIONS - Home. They have a Canadian version, and it works offline.

For something completely different, try going east in AB and visit Dinosaur Prov Park. I love the place (at least when skeeters aren't so bad). It's near Brooks on the Red Deer.

If you get stuck for camping on the west side of Glacier, try the WA state campground at Whitefish Lake. Quite pleasant, although a train booms through. Nice swimming lake though.

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