We started the Canada trip with Air Canada flights from Dublin 10:15 – Montreal 12:05, I would definitely advise the extra legroom seats, well worth the money for the 6hr 50m flight!
Had our 3hr 25m layover in Montreal – obviously had our first Tim Hortons of the trip.
Connected in Montreal 15:30 and arrived Winnipeg 17:27 – internal flight was nice, we had complimentary drinks onboard and lovely staff.
Arrival into Winnipeg James Armstrong International Airport and straight to the car hire pick up desk, we used Alamo and got a Hyundai Kona.
Got out of the airport and safely converted to the right-hand side of the road, difficult enough after being on the go for 18 hours!
Done our first leg of the journey and arrived in a town called Brandon – 2hr 20min drive. Done a quick Walmart stop to get the basic for the road trip e.g. 24 pack of water, cereal, biscuits.
Next morning, we done the 4hr 15min drive to a small hamlet called Caron (population of only 120) just past Moose Jaw. The Canadian Pacific cargo train passed regularly on the nearby train line; locals might have been used to the noise by now, but we were not. Only there for one night but the few locals that we did meet were very friendly.
We crossed over the Alberta border the next day after a 3hr 20min drive to our destination of Medicine Hat, we stayed in a Wyndham chain hotel in a suite as a birthday treat, staff were very friendly and even left a Happy Birthday card in the room. We ate in an Indian restaurant called ‘The Mango Tree’ rated in the top 10 restaurants in Medicine Hat, food was authentic and reasonably priced.
Leaving Medicine Hat the following morning we got to see the ‘World’s Largest Tepee’ (65.5 metres tall) it was originally constructed for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, the Saamis Tepee is a tribute to Canada’s native heritage.
Continuing our journey alone the No. 1 Trans-Canada Highway for our 3hr drive to Calgary for a two-night stay to discover the city. Unfortunately, whilst we were there the Calgary Tower was closed due to maintenance work. We explored Stephen Avenue Walk, which was a beautiful pedestrianised area lined with restaurants and shops. We also walked through Chinatown in Calgary which was extremely busy and full of eateries specialising in the local cuisine. We played it safe and opted for something a bit more traditional; pizza!
I would advise walking over the Bow River on Centre Street Bridge and walking up the path to Mount Pleasant Viewpoint, take a seat on the bench and look over the city; nice contrast between quiet park and busy city life.
We also travelled out to the Calgary Olympic Park and experience some downhill karting and the ski lift, this was great would thoroughly recommend if in your own car and have this flexibility.
After our nights in Calgary I was so ready for the early morning drive towards the Rockies, you could faintly see in the distance the view of the mountain ranges from the city. On the early morning drive
We were cursed with dense fog which didn’t clear up until about midday. However, we did not let this stop our Canadian adventure…
We stopped off at Two Jake Lake and Lake Minnewanka, there was canoeing available, but I wanted to wait to do this on either Lake Louise or Lake Moraine. We stopped off at a pop-up tent representing ‘Parks Canada’, like a tourism information point, lifted some maps and brochures of the many places we could stop along the road driving through Banff National Park. In the evening we checked into our hotel in Canmore, although we planned a year in advance, we could not find a reasonable room rate in the town of Banff, so we resorted to staying 10mins outside in the town of Canmore. We stayed in Basecamp Lodge for 2 nights which cost about $600 dollars…and this was one of the cheapest we could find. What we didn’t realise was that they were celebrating Labour Day weekend which was why there was a hike in the already high prices.
Recommended points of interest:
o Fairmount Banff Springs
o Banff Viewpoint
o Mount Norquay – Mount Norquay Scenic Drive
o Walk along Banff Avenue
o Cascade of Time Garden
o Banff Pedestrian bridge, walk the bow river trail
o Banff Visitor information centre
o Banff Train station
Banff Gondola was a complete must. It cost about $65 per person and allowed access to the gondola ride at a specific time allocated on the ticket. Each gondola seated maximum 4 people, we shared ours with a couple from the UK who were on a Titan Travel escorted tour. After touring ourselves and hearing the difference of how this couple had everything sorted for them from private transfer to the airport in the UK to the Banff Gondola tickets, this seemed like the most effortless way to see the Rockies.
Drive the 50 km Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise, stop off and see Johnston Canyon there is a 1.2 km hike to the lower part of the waterfall and a further 1.2 km hike to the upper falls or stop at one of the most photographed locations in Banff National Park; Morant’s Curve with the view of Mt. Temple, Fairview Mountain in the background. If you time it right you might get to see the iconic Rocky Mountaineer train pass through, we unfortunately only got to see the Canadian Pacific freight train, measuring roughly 10,000-12,000 feet in length (3-3.5km) taking approximately 4 ½ minutes to pass by.
Next up was the long-awaited stop of Lake Louise. Initially it was a struggle to get the car park but once parked up and walking towards the lake we were shocked at the hundreds of tourists scrambling around trying to get the perfect picture. Walking further around the corner it was slightly quieter and easier to get a good picture. We went canoeing on Lake Louise for 1 hour, it was about $130 and is operated by Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel staff (hotel guests get a reduced rate and separate entrance). We had a packed lunch and ate this sitting in the canoe in the middle of Lake Louise; what an experience. You can also get a professional photo, this costs about $25.
After Lake Louise we travelled to Lake Moraine, which in my opinion was even more breath-taking than Lake Louise, it was also less crowded; both for walking around and canoeing. There is a short hike to the top of a viewpoint which is where you can capture the best pictures.
Peyto Lake is a glacier fed lake within Banff National Park. There is a short hike from the car park to the viewpoint, which again was overcrowded with tourists. We climbed further down and had our lunch whilst looking around us, if your lucky you will have 1 or 2 ground squirrels running around you.
After Peyto Lake we ventured further up the road towards Jasper and stopped off at the Columbia Icefield and Skywalk, this cost about $115 per person and lasted about 2.5/3 hours. This was a great experience and one I probably won’t get the chance to do again, however I did feel it was the most over-rated attraction we visited on our travels.
We then continued our last week travelling further north towards Edmonton and back south to Saskatoon and stayed with B&B owners originally from Co. Down in the prairies of Manitoba.
Overall, first-time visiting Canada it exceeded my expectations and was everything I had hoped for and more. The scenery is just out of this world, and certainly no picture will do the Rockies any justice, you just must see it with your own eyes!
I also would be prepared to spend some Canadian dollars on all the attractions and excursions that you may encounter along the way. On average with attractions, petrol, food & drink we were spending approx. $250-$300 a day. Therefore, if I was to return, I would strongly considering doing an escorted tour and help reduce the cost that way.
If you have any questions or want me to quote you for a similar trip you can reach me directly on Claire@carefreetravel.co.uk