Once upon a time in Western Canada: Alberta and British Columbia
Alberta and British Columbia are perfect destinations for those who love breathtaking scenery, road trips, hiking and also modern cities.
I would like to share with you my trip to Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia). It was a popular destination this year, especially for those who did not want to or could not leave the country (because of quarantine, or other reasons).
Like many members of the group, I took advantage of the Aeroplan promotion, which was very generous in giving back 50% of the points. I had been collecting points for a long time and this was the first time I used them.
Normally I plan my trips well in advance, but this one was planned very quickly. I never thought I would be able to go to the other side of the country, since usually, domestic travel is expensive in Canada. I normally prefer destinations with an affordable cost of living.
The most expensive part of the trip was the food, as the hotels were simple and affordable (booked on hotels.com), the plane tickets were paid for with Aeroplan points and almost all attractions in the Rocky Mountain region are free (just purchase the Parks Canada pass).
We bought a package for some attractions in Banff/Jasper and some paid activities in Vancouver. A small part of the trip was paid with Bonidollars and a credit with Expedia, and the last night was paid with a certificate for one free night at a Marriott Bonvoy hotel, which I got with the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card..
Day 1: Quebec City - Calgary (connection in Montreal)
As the flight arrived in the late morning, we had the afternoon to start discovering downtown, where the tramway is free on the 7th avenue. A taxi from the airport to downtown cost almost $50.
There is a bus, but after two flights, we wanted to arrive quickly and comfortably at the hotel.
We also walked along Bow River to the Kensington area, via the Peace Bridge. After dinner we stayed at the hotel, to relax a little. Anyway, downtown is not very welcoming in the evening.
Day 2: Calgary
We went to the Calgary Tower for brunch.
When we make a reservation for the tower restaurant, we can go up the tower for free. The restaurant is just below the pay observatory, so there is little difference in the view. For those who just want to go to the tower, the ticket costs $19.
We spent the afternoon at the Prince Island Park, then we had dinner downtown in the pedestrian street (Stephen Avenue Walk) and finally we spent the evening at the hotel pool (we had reserved it just for us, for 1 hour).
Day 3: Calgary - Banff
I booked a car with Avis, via the Aeroplan website. I later found out it was more expensive and unreliable.
Apparently, Aeroplan bookings do not take into account the actual hours of operation of the rental agencies. We had a reservation for 8:00, but on the door it said 9:00. We went to have breakfast, came back at 9:00. An employee opened the door and told us that the opening had recently been changed to 10:00 a.m., but still let us in.
Looking at the reservation number, he told me mine had been cancelled. It’s a good thing we were in off-season and he still found us a car.
Given our situation (and disappointment), he gave us a car with winter tires and allowed us to return it to the airport, instead of downtown. So we saved 2 taxis, by leaving the car at the airport just before our flight to Vancouver on our way back from the Rockies (we arrived back in Calgary the day before the flight).
Car problem solved, we took the road to Banff.
- Cruise on Lake Minnewanka
- Short hike to see the Stewart Canyon (right next to Lake Minnewanka)
- See nearby lakes (Two Jack and Johnson)
- Surprise Corner (enjoy the view of Bow River and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel)
- Bow River and Bow Falls Observatory; *Gulf Highway tour (we saw several elk)
- Ascent of the Sulphur Mountain Gondola and mini hike to see the Cosmic Ray Station
My mistake: I left my coat in the car and went up with a small jacket. It was cold and it was raining a little bit.
I had to keep my mask on at all times, to warm my face!
Day 4: Lake Louise
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Bow Valley Parkway
- Morant’s Curve
- Johnston Canyon
- Vermilion Lake
We woke up at 3:30 a.m. to have time to take a shower, eat something quickly and leave, to secure a spot in the parking lot at Moraine Lake. We left at about 4:00 a.m., got there at 5:00 a.m. and slept a little bit in the car.
Before 6:30, the parking lot was full and the access road was closed. Several people went up in a group, to see the sunrise. We preferred to wait in the car. It was cold and the fear of seeing bears was stronger than the desire to see the sun rise. Ha-ha!
To see the lake from afar, we hiked the small Rockpile trail (800m). Moraine Lake was shown on the old $20 bill. For me, it is the most beautiful lake in the region, although the most famous is Lake Louise.
After Moraine Lake, we left for Lake Louise, where the parking lot was almost full. We did the Fairview Lookout Trail (1.8 km). I was still afraid of bears… 😀
It is possible to rent kayaks, for:
- $115 (30 min)
- $125 (60 min)
For hotel guests:
- $75 (30 min)
- $85 (60 min)
I just took a picture of the kayaks that were already in the water! From Lake Louise, we drove to the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a parallel road to the Trans-Canada Highway, but more beautiful and quiet. There are animals and beautiful lookouts.
We saw an elk eating quietly by the side of the road.
We arrived at Morant’s Curve at the same time as the train. Lucky, because some people had to wait almost an hour, according to what I’ve read!
People go there to see the train go by, with the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. There’s a very small parking lot across the road. On this road there were also observatories to see the Storm and Castle Mountains, as well as picnic tables.
The Bow Valley Parkway was closed after Castle Junction, so was access to Johnston Canyon, but I knew that by booking a table at the Black Swift Bistro, access was granted and we had time to visit the canyon. Bingo!
I recommend that you take the tour before eating at the bistro.
The distance to reach the upper falls is about 2.7 km. On our way back to Banff, we stopped at an observatory on the Trans-Canada Highway, which offered a view of the Vermillion Lakes. Then we took the small road by the lakeside, to see them up close.
To end the day, we drove the gulf route a second time and saw more elk.
Day 5: Banff-Jasper - Icefields Parkway
We woke up again very early to take the Glacier route to Jasper, which is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
There are so many things to see that it can take all day to cover the 288 km that separate the 2 towns (233 km if we start at Lake Louise).
Here’s the program for the day:
- Lake Herbert
- Lake Hector Lookout
- Bow Lake and Glacier Lookout
- Waterfowl Lakes Lookout
- Mistaya Canyon
- North Saskatchewan River Lookout
- Coleman’s Creek (picnic stop)
- Weeping Wall
- Sunwapta Pass (boundary between Banff and Jasper National Parks)
- Columbia Icefield Discovery center
- Columbia Icefield Skywalk (glass walkway)
- Short hike to the front of the Athabasca Glacier. At the moment, tours with the large tour buses are suspended due to a serious accident that occurred this summer. There have been deaths and injuries (including people who became paraplegics).
- Tangle Creek Falls
Day 6: Jasper
We took a quick tour of the village of Jasper, before hitting the road.
Visits of the day
The stops of the day:
- Medicine Lake
- Lake Maligne
- Maligne Canyon
- Lake Annette
- Lake Beauvert
- Lake Patricia
- Pyramid Lake, beach and Island
Since Jasper’s gondola opens late and closes early, we couldn’t go. 🙁
We saw elk all over Jasper, but unfortunately no other animals.
At Maligne Canyon, we cheated. We did the hike to see the first 4 bridges, but took the car to see the 5th and 6th bridges.
The main attraction of Maligne Lake is the cruise to see Spirit Island, but it was sold out when we tried to buy it.
Medicine Lake was almost empty, but I later learned that this was normal. It empties like a bathtub every year.
Day 7: Jasper-Banff-Calgary
Instead of going through Edmonton, we drove back to the Glaciers, to see what we couldn’t see the other day. As usual, we saw elk…:)
Visits of the day
Here are today’s visits:
- Horseshoe Lake
- Athabasca Falls and River
- Sunwapta Falls
- Stutfield Glacier Lookout
- Bow Lake and Glacier Lookout
We stopped at the IGA in Banff (AIR MILES 😀 partner) to buy personal care products, as my spouse told me he forgot our kit at the hotel in Jasper. It was a kit I bought in the Philippines… (small tears almost flowed:( ).
When we arrived at the hotel near the Calgary airport, the kit was in his backpack. 😀
Day 8: Flight Calgary - Vancouver
We left the car at the airport and caught our 6:30 a.m. flight to Vancouver. At the airport we took the SkyTrain to downtown. At the hotel, we were able to check in right away. It was the same everywhere. It started raining, and we remembered we were in Raincouver.
We took bus number 50 to visit the Grandville Island public market.
Despite the grey landscape, we took the small False Creek Ferry for a ride. It felt like a cruise in a bathtub. It was very funny.
Armed with our umbrellas, we decided to walk from Grandville Island to Science World, stopping for grey pictures and to eat in a small Mediterranean restaurant, found by chance (to escape the rain a little).
From Science World, we walked to BC Stadium and then to the Chinatown Gate, where we didn’t stay long, it was so scary (and sad).
Three blocks down we saw the famous Gastown Steam Clock.
We went to a parking lot next to a brewery to see the port and the train cars.
At the Waterfront station, we took the SeaBus to the Lonsdale Pier. The day pass allowed us to take the bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain (AquaBus is not included).
At the small Lonsdale market, we found a Brazilian creperie, where I could practice my mother tongue a bit (I rarely use it here) and eat a big bowl of açaí.
Then, we went back to Waterfront and walked (still in the rain) to see Canada Place, the Convention Centre, the Olympic cauldron, among other things.
The Vancouver Tower (Vancouver Lookout) was closed (open for groups only).
Day 9: Vancouver
It was still raining and we spent the morning on the phone with Aeroplan to change our return flight for 2 days later. In the afternoon, it was sunny in Vancouver. I couldn’t believe it!
We walked along the Waterfront pedestrian trail, to pick up the bikes we had reserved to ride around Stanley Park, stopping to take pictures and also to try to figure out the way ahead. There was construction work and also one-way trails sometimes.
Since I am always looking for animals, I saw Canada geese, ducks, squirrels and raccoons.
From the park, we walked to Waterfront, to be able to admire it without rain.
Day 10: Vancouver - Grouse Mountain
We had booked a car with Hertz, through the link on Desjardins World Elite. It was cheaper that way, through World Elite.
The branch was on Grandville Street and we went on foot. There are weird people in this area too, but not as many as in Chinatown and downtown Calgary.
Once we got the car, we drove to Grouse Mountain, via Stanley Park and Lion’s Gate Bridge. As it had been sunny the day before, it was not sunny at Grouse Mountain (two days of sunshine in a row would have been too much to ask). So our gondola ride was super useless (but we couldn’t do it another day).
To go up, there were 7 of us (6 tourists and the employee, who gave explanations, but spoke so fast that even he, I think, didn’t understand anything). Up there, everything was closed. We walked around a bit and saw the grizzly bears in captivity.
In the main building, people were glued together and did not wear masks. Everyone decided to go back down at the same time. They put everyone in the gondola, like sardines. Very little social distancing. It was the first time Western Canada disappointed me (COVID-wise). Everywhere I found people were very rigourous and disciplined.
From Grouse Mountain, we went to a park, not far away, to see Capilano Lake and the Cleveland Dam.
The Capilano suspension bridge was closed for the installation of Christmas lights, so we didn’t go. We tried Lynn Canyon Park, which was open, but the suspension bridge was also closed. We walked for a while before we left.
Still in the rain, we passed by Ambleside and Dundarave beaches, the Point Atkinson Lighthouse Park (we hiked the trail, but the access to see the lighthouse was blocked). We went to eat at Horseshoe Bay, and wait for the rain to let up a little.
On the way back, we made a small stop at Stanley Park, to see the empty tree and the Lions Gate Bridge from afar.
I would like to give my compliments to the people at the Gyoza Bar restaurant in Vancouver, where we went 3 times (the 4th time, they were closing).
It’s cheap, the people are lovely and the Asian fusion food was delicious. I felt like family with them.
Day 11: Vancouver-Whistler - Sea to Sky Highway
Visits of the day
Since the distance was shorter, we made fewer stops:
- Shannon Falls (small trail, easy level. There were others available)
- Brandywine Falls (small trail, passing over the train tracks, before arriving at the Falls Observatory)
- Cheakamus River Suspension Bridge (there is a trail across the bridge)
The Whistler hotel was booked through Expedia, thanks to a credit we had. It paid for almost 50% of the night. Like everywhere else on this trip, we were allowed to check in earlier, and that allowed us to go and see the village of Whistler right away.
There was an event for mountain bikes, and only they could ride the cable car. As there wasn’t much to do/see in the village, we hit the road again.
Day 12: Whistler - Vancouver
We had the first snow of the season. We went to Whistler for a final visit before heading back to Vancouver.
We returned the car to Hertz on Grandville Street and walked to the hotel.
This time, a roving man followed us several blocks. He was screaming and making movements, like he was hitting something. We weren’t scared, but it’s always best to be careful.
For our last night, I used my annual certificate at the Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel.
We had a beautiful room, very spacious, on the 29th floor, with a beautiful view of Vancouver Harbour.
Day 13: Vancouver - Quebec City
We made our last visits, before taking the SkyTrain to the airport. Initially we had a connecting flight to Montreal, but after the change, the connection was in Toronto, and we got a B-777 instead of an A-320. We had a 40-minute connection in Toronto.
We were in row 19, and the flight attendant allowed us to switch to row 18. We only moved forward one row, but it was an emergency exit, with preference seats. I wouldn’t have paid $64 for that, but for free, I made an effort. 🙂
The flight arrived a few minutes early in Toronto, which allowed us to catch our connecting flight without having to run.
YQB-YUL: Quiet, about 30% full;
YUL-YYC: Quiet too, about 30% full. We got the 2 seat row in the A-220 (2-3 configuration);
YYC-YVR: Quiet, almost empty. We also changed our seats for an emergency exit;
YVR-YYZ: the busiest flight, about 70%;
YYZ-YQB: Quiet, about 30%.
Most of the hotels were simple and affordable, booked on hotels.com.
In Banff, the hotel we had booked decided not to open until December, so they transferred our reservation to another, nicer hotel for the same rate.
In Whistler, the hotel was booked on Expedia, because we had a credit.
In Vancouver, the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel cost 35,000 points and we used the free one-night stay certificate that came with the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card.
Cost (for 2 persons)
- Flights: 25,000 Aeroplan points + $422 (taxes)
- Luggage fees: $0 (backpack travel)
- Accommodations: $1,106 + 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points certificate
- Whistler Parking: $21
- Banff and Jasper parking: $0
- Parking Vancouver: $0 ($26 value)
- Car rental: $322 (Avis-5 days-Tucson) + $116 (Hertz-2 days-Camry)
- Gasoline (Banff, Calgary and Vancouver): $120
- Taxi Quebec (one way): $28
- Taxi Calgary (one way): $50
- SkyTrain Vancouver (day pass): $31.00 (with the $5.00 airport surcharge per person)
- SkyTrain Vancouver ticket (return): $9.00
- Taxi Quebec (one way): $28
- Restaurants: approximately $1,000
- Parks Canada (Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper): $80
- Attractions: $348
Credit cards used
Thanks to milesopedia and members of the Facebook group for the tips with rewards points and credit card points, as well as travel information. The mutual help relationship we have here is as pleasant as the journey itself.