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Calgary/Banff/Lake L./Jasper Trip

We will be in Cagary for a conference and want to spend appropriate time visiting B/LL/&J.
Need expert advice on best food along the way and where to stay.Thanks in advance for the help. Also, how much time should we plan for the trip.

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  1. Banff is an hour or so from Calgary but you would want to overnight there just to get around more. You might even want to spend 2 nights in Banff. Then I would go to LL after lunch and overnight there. The Post Hotel in LL is great. LL is only about a half hour from Banff. Then after lunch the following day, drive to Jasper. It's a gorgeous drive - take your time. Jasper Park Lodge is a great place to stay and I would probably spend 2 nights in Jasper, then drive straight back to Cgy - I think it is about a 2-3 hour drive from Jasper to Cgy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sarah galvin

      actually, the drive from jasper to calgary is closer to 6hrs, especially in the summer with the tourist traffic. It's hard to get to Lake Louise from calgary in less than 2hrs, especially with the construction/twinning of the highway near lake louise and the speed restrictions in the bear zones. Then, it's about 270km from lake louise to jasper, and you'll want to plan in plenty of time to stop and take pictures along the way, stopping in at the Columbia icefields. If you're pressed for time, I'd suggest doing an out and back to the Columbia icefields from lake louise or banff.

    2. Here's my thoughts on the trip:

      1. Canmore - worth the stop if only for the fresh muffins and coffee from Beamers. If you're looking for more, hit Crazyweed.

      2. Banff - my choice for a place to stay would be Buffalo Mountain Lodge. While I generally don't like the other CRMR hotels/restaurants, I think this is a good choice for an out of the way spot in Banff. For eats I like Wildflower or Coyote's for breakfast and the Bison Mountain bistro for dinner. For passable sushi, Sukiyaki House is always fun.

      3. Lake Louise - The Hostel is the best place for reasonably priced food in the Lake. The Post of course always gets the nod, especially for their extensive wine cellar. However for an awesome place to stay and eat, I can't say enough about Cathedral Mountain Lodge. A small intimate lodge that sits on the side of the Kicking Horse River - we've had nothing but great service, a well priced wine list and great food every time.

      5. Jasper - not a lot of experience in around town, but I've stayed at JPL a few times and of the Fairmont mountain properties it's by far the best. The dinning options are outrageous, and I'd consider trying your luck in town. I'd avoid the Korean place though - it was severely lacking.

      2 Replies
      1. re: CriolloLover

        I'm sure Beamers is competent, but for coffee it cannot even approach Communitea, and for pastries, Gourmet Croissant is the best I've had in Canada. Peerless. Both are in Canmore- in fact Communitea gets its pastries from Gourmet Croissant.

        1. re: John Manzo

          I'd agree on a purely coffee comparison Communitea gets the nod. However it's a little too pricey for me, and too urbane for my liking in Canmore. Plus Beamers is always easier to get to as I'm usually in such a rush to get first tracks at Sunshine.

      2. Sarah- What are your recommendations for chow along the way?
        Many thanks to both of you for imput so far.

        14 Replies
        1. re: il davis

          There's no place really from Lake Louise to Jasper for chowhounds; There's the Num-ti-Jah Lodge on Bow Lake, but at 1/2 an hour from Lake Louise on Highway 93, it's probably too soon into your drive to do a pit stop. My suggestion is to get a sandwich and treats from the deli at the Chateau Lake Louise. Sandwiches are pricey, but HUGE and delicious. Beautiful french-style pastries are sold to go, as well as gigantic chewy cookies (Mr. S is a big fan of the oatmeal raisin) Laggans is good for treats, but they only take cash or debit card, and their sandwiches aren't as good as Chateau Lake Louise.

          Personally, I've found the food at the LL hostel so-so, but their breakfasts are pretty decent. For a lower price point, I suggest the Post Hotel pub; the food is extremely high quality as it comes out of the same kitchen as the fancy dining room upstairs, and at the third of the price. The goulash with spaetzle is THE dish to order, but it's all good.

          If you're hanging around Lake Louise, Emerald Lake Lodge is about a 20 minute drive west, and serves excellent food, and the Cilantro bistro and the hotel bar is open for lunch and dinner (ELL dining room is only open for breakfast and dinner). ELL showcases Canadian cuisine, and farmed game. The Elk ham pizza with carmalized onions is deeeeeelishus and you can get that at Cilantro. The ELL dining room serves probably the best breakfast of all in the Lake Louise corridor.

          1. re: sweeterpea

            I had forgotten about the Outpost at the Post Hotel - good call. My vote is for the beef dip, which is great. But I'd definitely disagree on ELL - the service is horrendous and I've found the food to be generally inconsistent.

            1. re: CriolloLover

              We were there over the Christmas holiday and I can say that the service and food was consistently excellent. I'd give them another try.

              One problem they do have, the waitress told me, was trouble keeping staff as the area is pretty isolated -- most of them are young and want to go out on the town. But I can say the service was very good when we were there.

          2. re: il davis

            Along the way, hmmm, really until you reach Canmore - nothing. In Banff I would eat at Buffalo Mountian Lodge or the wine bar at the Banff Springs hotel. The restaurant in LL right at the entry is not that bad and quick. Personally I would have the Post Hotel pack me a lunch. It has nice mountain ambience but then I am a huge fan of the Chateau Lake Louise - I would eat in the coffee/ lounge area and enjoy the view. I don't like the restaurant in the lower level - too pedestrian. Another option would be to go to Golden, BC. It isn't that far. Not that it's better but probably cheaper for overnight. Actually, the eateries are all far superior to what they used to be and I'm sure you will easily find nice food.

            1. re: sarah galvin

              Sarah and others:
              We only have three days ! Should we "drive thru" Banff and stay at the Chateau Lake Louise or Post Hotel in LL and then Jasper Park Lodge ?
              Canmore sounds like a great stop. Why are you suggesting Golden,BC?

              1. re: il davis

                It depends on how you want to spend your three days. If you want to spend most of them in the car, then i would suggest exactly that. Jasper is great, but from Calgary in the summer as a previous poster mentioned, it's essentially 6 hours driving. If it's a weekend, even longer.
                So that's 12-13 hours driving each way. To me, seems excessive for 3 days.

                If you want to spend more time walking/hiking around, checking out the sites, and relaxing, then i'd suggest something much shorter. Spend either both nights in Canmore/Banff and day trip up to Lake Louise, or spend one night in Canmore/Banff and one in Lake Louise. If you like a quieter, more rustic kind of experience, stay in Canmore. If you prefer a more touristy (think Aspen), commercial "mountain" experience, then stay in Banff.

                1. re: il davis

                  If I had my way I' d pass Banff, and stay in the Lake Louise area (again I cannot say enough about Cathedral Mountain Lodge, which is about 15 minutes down the TCH west of Lake Louise), and then on to Jasper Park.

                  As for Golden, the eats have definitely improved but not so much for the accommodation. There's a few OK condo like spots on site at the KH resort, but nothing memorable. My recommendation for food in Golden would be 1122 for dinner, or Jita's Cafe for lunch - awesome samosa's and mango lassi's!

                  1. re: CriolloLover

                    I guess the question I have to ask is why are you going to the mountains? Is it for the food, or to experience the mountains. If the former, Canmore, Banff, etc are fine. But if you want to really get a mountain experience, driving the parkway and staying in Jasper is preferable, I think. Banff and Canmore are more high-end tourist traps, what a friend astutely called 'towns in the mountains' as opposed to Jasper, which he refered to as 'a mountain town'. I spend a lot of time in Jasper, and really dislike Banff (have spent less time in Canmore but see no reason to spend any more).

                    You can get good food anywhere, but the Canadian Rockies (and especially the Icefields Parkway) are a one of a kind experience, so I would plan the trip around nature, not food. Decide where to go, then figure out where/how to get food.

                    1. re: Dan G

                      Funny, because i agree with you 99%. Where we differ is i don't think a car is the best way to experience the mountains. I'd rather be walking in them than driving through them.

                      As nice as the parkway is (and it really is folks if you've never driven it, an absolutely captivating drive), i would not be looking to spend a third of my waking hours in a car. For those who enjoy driving, then by all means, go to Jasper. But Jasper is not significantly better for tourist-traps than Canmore, especially in the summer. Banff we can all agree on - but some people prefer that sort of experience to a more...rustic one.

                      And the food in Canmore and Banff is infinitely better than Jasper - and this is still a food board isnt it? :)

                  2. re: il davis

                    I agree with Yen, just hang around Banff/Lake Louise area or else you willl spend most of your time driving. Do you hike? Depending on what time of year you go THE premier hike in the area is the Saddleback/Fairview trail that starts from the canoe house on the shores of Lake Louise. The last part as you summit Mt. Fairview is a bit of a slog, but I guarantee breathtaking once-in-a-lifetime views.

                    I am partial to the Post Hotel myself, we have stayed there many times, and the food in the dining room, plus overall staff at the hotel are consistently excellent. The owners themselves are always hanging around, and when we called for firewood once, one of them brought it to our suite himself! I think there's only about 70 rooms which ensures personal service. One of the bell hops told me they try to memorize all the guest's names and we were addressed correctly by name after the first day we checked in. Spring for a "preferred side" suite, the standard side faces the parking lot and tends to have a lot of early morning noise. The cabins on the Pipestone River are wonderful if you want to splurge. Again, I highly recommend it.

                    Golden is starting to try to become a tourist destination. It's a small town that has it's main industry in logging. and it's ok to stop by if you're bored. Only having three days, I recommend that it's not a worthwhile stop for you. Another place I forgot to mention for good eats is Truffle Pigs, which as moved to the Kicking Horse Lodge in the village of Field, BC (about 20 minutes west of Lake Louise)

                    http://www.kickinghorselodge.net/

                    The food is good, but at their old location the service was extremely laid back and slow. It's still worth the stop, though.

                    1. re: sweeterpea

                      Definitely agree with Dan G about the reason for planning the trip. The Post while having consistently refined service lacks warmth and the location is dubious at best with the railway running right behind the hotel. I' d have to say though for the best hiking in the LL area, the hikes up into Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass (starting on the shores of Moraine Lake) are easily the tops, especially in the fall with an early start.

                      Truffle pigs while having decent food, I always found to have woefully slow and indifferent service. Laid back is one thing, and is expected in many cases in the Mountains - however their service was borderline inhospitable. I'd definitely pass on the Kicking Horse Lodge and give the new joint in the former Truffle Pig location a chance, good service and very reasonable priced food.

                      1. re: CriolloLover

                        I disagree with lack of warmth at the Post but maybe it's just the luck of the draw. In total agreement with Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass; they are beautiful, but just to make note for the past few years you must have a party of 6 to hike the trails due to grizzly bears.

                        1. re: sweeterpea

                          You're right, warmth is not the right word. I just found the service to have a kind of disengaged old world European vibe. Which for many may be very suitable. Hey, they definitely have not been in business for this many years by hook or crook. However my experiences at Cathedral Mountain have had the same level of service with a little more personalization, interaction and less pretension . But I guess as a much smaller lodge (I think 30 rooms) it's easier to do this. Here's the link I ferreted out:

                          www.cathedralmountain.com

                          And yes, the 6 plus is definitely a must when in effect. It's been awhile since I've run into a bear in the area (a sow and cubs about 3 years back) but they definitely make use of that whole valley. For a bear, those fat ground squirrels in Larch Valley are gastronomique extraordinaire!!

                          1. re: CriolloLover

                            We were there last fall for our anniversary and we had a Kiwi server, and an Aussie and I must say there was no hint of "old world European"; honestly I can say the service was extremely professional indicitive of a high-end restaurant with just enough friendliness that we felt comfortable and welcome.

                            However, one evening, we planned on doing the pub for dinner -- and it was closed! We approached the dining room in full muddy and sweaty hiking gear and explained our predicament. The manager looked us down very slowly from head to toe, peering over his bifocals, then grimly nodded his approval. That was the only time I felt the staff lacked warmth ;o)

              2. I'm going to put in another vote for at least having a drink at the BIG hotels. Banff Springs and Chateau LL are worth walking around especially if you have any interest in architecture. They are special places with a ton of history. I would stay at the Chateau asking for a room with a view of the lake. I also think their Sunday brunch is good in that 'over the top, gut busting' way. We also like the German restaurant in the Chateau. Haven't had as much luck eating or staying at the Banff Springs but if stepping back into mountain history appeals to you then stop for a drink and a wander.

                The Rimrock is another option in Banff with a really good dining room, great view and an incredible scotch selection in the lounge which, unfortunately, has no view.

                I also don't think 3 days makes Jasper worthwhile. If you want to drive through amazing mountains you can also go west from Lake Louise as I think the trip to Invermere is pretty nice but there isn't really anywhere good to eat at the other end.

                3 Replies
                1. re: sharonanne

                  Yes! I second the Rimrock. The Eden Dining room has an amazing tasting menu. One of the few places in the area where you should dress up or you will feel out of place.

                  Having stayed at both Chateau LL and the Post, the Post offers more bang for your buck. The room is much bigger, many with wood-buring fireplaces, plus the service is more personalized; the Chateau LL is beautiful, but we felt like more of a number. The lakeside rooms have amazing views, but are small and cramped, unless you want to empty the bank for one of the suites.

                  1. re: sweeterpea

                    We've had good service at the Chateau including free room upgrades but that was in ski season not summer. Also, I've been known to threaten to steal one of the duvets. I'm a fan. I admit the rooms sound better at the Post but I'd take a view over a bigger room if the fittings were decent.

                    I'm just saying for what might be a once in a lifetime visit we shouldn't underestimate the unique experience that these two hotels can offer. As mentioned, it just depends on what you are looking for. For hiking I might consider Canmore or even Kananaskis Lodge but for a taste of the old grand style you gotta at least look at these two. Walking around the Banff Springs one time we came across complimentary cheese and sherry being served with chamber music in a room straight out of a scottish castle. I rest my case. :-)

                    1. re: sharonanne

                      I agree with most people here - don't go further than the columbia ice fields. There's no need with such little time. But, for all of you who will be going to Jasper, in the winter I stopped in for lunch at a place on the main road (across sort of from the train station) that serves soups and sandwiches and baked items. There were three of us, and we all really enjoyed our meals. I agree that it has been hard to find a foodie's delight in this little town and we were pleasantly surprised with this spot.

                2. Thank you all so much for this valuable advice! I need to sort it out and then make reservations. Here are some more details for you to consider and further advise me on:
                  We will be going mid September (14,15 etc).We love mountains and good solid food.
                  It sounds as though with such a short time period Banff,LL and to the Columbia Ice fields is the best plan. Not sure now about driving all the way to Jasper.If we wanted to go on to Edmonton to depart to fly back East than it would pay to go to Jasper.
                  Still unsure of the best hotel for us in Banff or LL. Someone mentioned going west from LL for beautiful scenery. Seems out of the way. I am most appreciative.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: il davis

                    Jasper isn't really on the way to Edmonton. We've driven the Yellowhead highway from Edmonton just to see it but I didn't find the scenery all that wonderful. My daughter, who lives in Edmonton, says some people even drive via Calgary to Jasper to ski.

                    I suggested driving west from LL as a day trip as an alternative to driving to Jasper if driving through mountain scenery is your goal. There are lots of good day trips in the area of LL. I'm sure others can suggest even better ones. I lived in Jasper as a child and think the scenery is outstanding but doing Banff, LL and Jasper in 3 days with tourist traffic won't be fun.

                    1. re: il davis

                      There's some breathtaking scenery and easy hikes around Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park, which is just past Lake Louise. It is definitely not out of the way; it's about 15 minutes past LL. You must reserve in advance as human traffic is limited daily to keep the area pristine, but it's very well worth it. You must take a bus in, run by Parks Canada. All the details are here:

                      http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/YOHO/act...

                      As for hotels, you have to take stock of what you want. There is some very sophisticated dining in Banff, plus there's shopping, art galleries, a movie theatre and such. There tends to be a lot of tourists night and day, but it will be reduced in mid Sept. The Village of Lake Louise tends to be quieter and after 6, there are virtually no tourists there unless you are actually staying overnight. Most people are there to enjoy hiking and the surrounding mountains. It is very quiet in the evening, there is very little nightlife and next to no shopping.

                      It's too bad you are staying such a limited time; hopefully you'll have a great time and be back :o)