This post is a little different for me. We have never been to this part of the world. I have been researching travel to the Canadian Rockies and also Vancouver and Victoria. I am hoping that these amazing photos and descriptions might convince my husband and travel partner that this would be a fantastic summer vacation for us one of these years. Western Canada looks spectacular! There are wonderful tour companies which will package up most of this and take care of all the details for you, but it isn’t all that difficult to work out the details on your own or with the help of a travel agent. That way, you will get exactly what you want!
Here are the highlights of my proposed trip:
Day 1 : Fly to Victoria, BC – From most US destinations, a connection will be required through Seattle. From Seattle, the flight to Victoria is about 45 minutes. Victoria is on the Pacific coast of Canada and just north of Seattle.
On the first evening, you can stroll around the shops and cafes of the inner harbor. The Inner Harbor is home to the most famous hotel in the city, the Empress, but it is also where you will find many cafes, shops, and two of the biggest tourist attractions: The Parliament building and the Royal British Columbia Museum. You can tour the beautiful Parliament buildings if you like, and they light it all up at night. The Museum is very highly rated and offers a great exhibit on the British Columbia’s history and culture. They also have an IMAX theater.
The most famous hotel in Victoria is the Empress, located right on the inner harbor. The hotel is now owned and operated by Fairmont and it is in the center of the most popular tourist district in the city. The Empress is particularly famous for the High Tea, served daily. The hotel was built in the early 1900’s and maintains its British charm from a by-gone era. This will be a fantastic place to start off our vacation! One thing to be wary of is that the hotel will be doing some major renovations of its north wing through the end of May, 2017. The north wing includes the lobby and common areas, so we will want to keep an eye on that. Reservations and information are available at the hotel website.
Night one: Stay at Fairmont Empress.
My DK Eyewittness Top Ten travel guide tells my that this hotel is “the most famous hotel on the west coast”.
Day 2: Explore Victoria
This is the day to visit the world famous Butchart Gardens, for at least a half day. This is the number one tourist attraction in Victoria per Tripadvisor, but also the one place almost everyone has been to Victoria will tell you to visit. There are many garden areas, including the sunken garden, Italian garden, rose garden and Japanese garden. For your $32CAN admission price, you will also be admitted to concerts on the green and fireworks displays.
The afternoon could be spent visiting the Craigdarroch Castle, a restored victorian mansion. Details are available on their website. Or if the weather is nice, an afternoon hike in Goldstream Provincial Park would be lovely. This park is located about 11 miles northeast of town. Miniatureworld is a third option. It is an indoor exhibit of dioramas which is rated highly by Tripadvisor. Cost to enter is $14CAN per person. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is known for its Asian collection, including a Shinto shrine and garden as well as the building itself. This museum is housed in an 1889 mansion. Admission is $20CAN.
Night 2: Stay at Fairmont Empress in Victoria
Day 3: Travel to Vancouver
There are a few options to travel between Victoria (located on Vancouver Island) and Vancouver (where you catch the train to Jasper/Canadian Rockies). These include a ferry, a seaplane , or a one-way whale watching trip. Vancouver is just east across the bay from Victoria.
In my opinion, the most fun option is to take the Prince of Whales whale watching tour out of Victoria at 12:45pm (it only goes out once per day). This one way excursion will take us and our luggage on a whale watching and sunset cruise for the day and drop us off right in Vancouver in Coal Harbor at the Westin Hotel at 7pm. Information is available at the Prince of Whales Website.
Night 3 Hotel: The Fairmont Vancouver
This is a landmark hotel, known as “the castle in the city”. It is a luxury hotel in a great location in downtown Vancouver.
The Fairmont Vancouver is a landmark hotel, visible from most parts of the city.
Day 4: Explore Vancouver
For the day in Vancouver, there are many choices. If we are feeling brave, we might head up to the famous Vancouver lookout tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. Gastown is the cobbled street district with bars and restaurants should be a nice spot to grab a bite and soak up some old town ambiance. Stanley Park is the largest urban park in North America. It has a zoo, aquarium, beaches, a lagoon and a very interesting looking collection of totem poles. The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is a top rated place to view First Nation and Intuit art in a building constructed to resemble the Big Houses of the First Nation . The Chinatown Gardens was listed by National Geographic as one of the top city gardens in the world.
Night 4: Fairmont Vancouver
Day 5: Explore more sights in Vancouver , then travel overnight on train to Jasper.
There is still much more to explore in Vancouver, before the evening train leaves for Jasper. Canada Place is worth a visit. It was built for Expo 86 and offers great views of the city harbor, and some amazing architecture. The Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest art gallery in western Canada. It specializes in national and international exhibitions. Most unique to this museum is the most significant collection of works by Emily Carr, BC’s famous artist and writer. Granville Island is also a hugely popular tourist spot. The Granville Island Public Market is built where old factories had been and offers over 200 shops and restaurants.
Viarail trains depart Vancouver three times per week at 8:30pm from the Pacific Central Station and arrive in Japsper the following day. Accomodations on the train include economy, upper berth, lower berth, private cabin or deluxe cabin with a shower. Views of the mountains from the glass domed train cars are know to be spectacular!
Night 5: on board the Viarail train
Day 6: Jasper
The train will arrive in Jasper at 4pm.
There will be time for the hour long hike around Lac Beavert at the hotel, or to rent a canoe and head out on the lake. Dinner tonight can be at one of the Hotel’s six restaurants.
Hotel Night 6: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Day 7: Day trip to Maligne Canyon and Maligne lake
From Jasper, drive through Maligne Canyon to arrive at Maligne Lake. There take the Maligne Lake Cruise to Spirit Island. My Frommers Guide calls this the “the best boat tour in the Canadian Rockies”. The lake is very often photographed and is famous for its beautiful green-blue color.
In the evening, explore the quaint town of Jasper with its shops and restaurants.
Night 7: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Day 8: Travel to Lake Louise
Transportation in this part of the world seems to be an amazing experience all on its own! This leg of the journey is no exception. Travel from Jasper to Lake Louise is along the famous Icefields parkway. This is listed by National Geographic as one of the 20 “drives of a lifetime”. There are a few companies which will pick you and your luggage up in Jasper and then take you for a day of sightseeing along this parkway, and drop you off right at Lake Louise hotels after a day of touring. Brewster offers its Icefields parkway Discovery tour for $225, leaving Jasper at 8:30 am. On the way to Lake Louise, you will see over 100 visible glaciers, the turquoise lakes, waterfalls and the famous Columbia Icefield. You will be able to go out on the Glacier Skywalk. The best part of the day looks like it will be a trip out on the all terrain vehicle “Ice explorer” right on top of the Athabasca Glacier. Hot lunch is also included at the Columbia icefield. What a day!
Night 8: Fairmont Lake Louise
This is an historic hotel, originally built by the Canadian Railroad. It is located in a setting that is beyond beautiful (see photo below), and is now run by Fairmont.
Day 9: Lake Louise activities
Enjoy a day trip to the famous Yoho National park. Takakkaw Falls and the Yoho Valley are the big draws there. “Takakkaw” means magnificent. The falls are 380 feet high and look like they won’t disappoint!
Night 9: Fairmont Lake Louise
Day 10: Lake Louise/Banff
Spend the morning and early afternoon relaxing at this beautiful resort. Hiking and boating are both available. Later in the afternoon, travel to Banff.
It is a relatively short transfer between Lake Louise and Banff, Brewster offers a shuttle for $30 for the 30 minute ride. Taxis and other bus companies are also available.
Night 10: Fairmont Banff Springs
This is another spectacular, historic hotel built in the chateau style from the turn of the last century.
Start the day in the town of Banff. The Banff Gondola ride is a very popular option. For $41 per adult, you can take the 8 minute goldola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain. There you can walk on a viewing deck to Sanson peak for great views. or you can hike the Tunnel Mountain trail. This is a classic Banff trail the begins right in the center of town. It is a 1.5 mile hike that takes you straight up to the summit of Tunnel Mountain and is very popular.
Lunch can be back in town, where there are several very good options. After lunch, you can head up Mountain Road to the Upper Hot Springs. Charge for adults is $7.
Dinner can be in the town of Banff or at the resort.
Night 11: Fairmont Banff
Day 12: Banff and surroundings
You could spend the day at leisure to enjoy the beautiful resort, Or you might enjoy a hike at the beautiful Sunshine meadows park. You can hike up there from town, or take a short bus ride up. The draw here in summertime is the wildflowers that bloom in summertime along the Garden Path Trail. Views of Mount Assiniboine, the “Matterhorn of the Rockies” are also not to be missed. Admission is $26 per adult, and guidebooks warn you to bring plenty of water, lunch, sunscreen… and bear spray. I will admit that I have never heard of bear spray, and the need to carry some with me is a bit off-putting. There are numerous other hiking options available.
The evening can be spent at the resort or in the fun town of Banff, where there are many dining and night life options.
Night 12: Fairmont Banff
Day 13: Travel Home
Transport to Calgary airport is about a one hour ride. There are numerous options available.