Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Banff Before You Go...
At this point in the journey I have shared with you lodging, restaurants, actives and the lakes, but now I am going to share the top 10 things you need to know before booking your trip.
Research the time of year you want to go. When I initially started planning this trip I wanted it to be the weekend of my birthday, end of October, as a celebration for turning 35. One of my friends started doing some research and found the blizzard season starts within the first few weeks of October. We decided to change the dates of the trip to September and are so glad we did. When the winter starts they will start closing roads to some the places because they are unsafe to drive. For example, the Glacier Discovery Center (where we took the glacier tour) was closed this past Tuesday and Wednesday because the roads were impassable. This coming Monday, the road to Moraine Lake will be closed because of the avalanche risks. The road to Moraine Lake will not reopen until the end of May. The best times to go to Banff are June-September, but this is also the time when the most visitors are there!
What is the best airport to fly into? The closest major airport is in Calgary, which is about 120km away from Banff. The Calgary airport is a smaller airport, but is really nice and they have some amazing art and sculptures to look at. We flew Alaska Airlines, but Delta, Air Canada, West Jet, American Airlines and United Airlines all fly into Calgary. Delta and Air Canada seemed to have the largest presence in the airport. While Alaska was great to fly, they only have three flights between Calgary and Seattle per day. I definitely look into all of the airlines when planning your flight.
What are the best methods of transportation? Banff is 120km from Calgary, so there a few different transportation options you have when flying in. We rented a car, through Hertz, which made is very easy to get around and do whatever we wanted to do. There is a company, Brewster Express, who has shuttles from Calgary Airport to Banff. The shuttle will cost $121 CAD for a round trip shuttle. Once you get into Banff, Brewster Express also has shuttle services to the Glacier Discovery Center and Lake Louise. These shuttles will also be at a cost as well. If you want to take the shuttle into Downtown Banff, there are the Roam Transit busses that will take you around a lot of downtown and surrounding areas. There is one Roam Transit bus that will take you to the area of Lake Louise. If you were to ask me my opinion, renting a car is the easiest and most convenient way to get around! You will also be able to do everything you want to do, on your schedule.
What should I pack when traveling to Banff? Oh, this is the million dollar question and I struggled with this for weeks! I knew we were going to get there in the heart of fall, but the weather kept changing and I didn't know what to pack. I downloaded The Weather Network App, it is basically The Weather Channel, but in Canada, and I started closely watching the weather a few weeks out. When I started to see the temperatures drop, and snow starting to creep into the forecast, I knew there was only one way to pack...layers! Many other travelers had said this same thing and layers are the way to go. I made sure I had good base layers and some heavier top layers, so I wouldn't need to pack a heavy coat. Even in the summer months the weather is unpredictable, so make sure you watch the weather and pack layers!
How many days should I plan my trip for? This is a tricky question because it all depends on what you want to do while you are there. We had three full days and two partial days and it seemed to be enough time for this trip. If I was to do it again, I would plan a week and kind of hop around from place to place. I would stay a few days in downtown Banff, a couple of days at Moraine Lake, etc. I would take the time to explore each area and possibly add in some hiking. The best part about Banff is there are so many things to do, you could take an extended trip. But if you only had a limited number of days, you would still be able to see the big things and take in Banff!
What is the Banff National Park Pass? I did not know about the National Park Pass until I was starting to do my final preparations for the trip. I thought we were only going to need the park pass for days we were going to be driving through the park, I was wrong. As you are driving into Banff you will come to the park entrance and there are three to four cute houses and you will purchase the park pass from this location. The pass is required to enter the park and has to be displayed on the left side of the windshield. One you purchased the pass, you are able to go through the Park Pass Holders lanes and don't have to worry about paying each day. You can purchase the pass before you go from the Banff Lake Louise website. If you don't want to buy it in advance, it is a really easy and quick process when you get there!
Where should I go to find things to do? I mentioned the Banff Jasper Collection in my activities post, but this is definitely a site you should check out while you are planning your trip. I used this site to book the ultimate explorer package, which got us tickets to the Banff Gondola, Glacier Adventure, Glacier Skywalk and the Lake Minnewanka Cruise. This site is so much more than a place to buy tickets because they suggest hotels, adventures, sightseeing, etc. They even have an online form you can use and they will help you plan your entire trip. They also include things to do in Lake Louise, Canmore, Jasper and the Columbia Icefield. This is really a one stop shop for all things.
Where else can I find ideas to plan my trip? Beyond the Banff Jasper Collection, I found a lot of my ideas on Pinterest. So many people are traveling to Banff and putting together posts about their trips, where you should go, best hikes, top 10 photo spots, etc. If you are looking for hikes, but aren't an avid hiker, there are pins out there about easy hikes in Banff. Are you traveling with kids? There are pins out there about things to do when traveling to Banff with children. There are also pins out there with the best places to eat. Definitely check these out on a full stomach, they will make you hungry. Anything you need to know about Banff, you can find between Pinterest and the Banff Jasper Collection! Your trip will be perfect!
Let's talk about money! Everything you plan, unless it is through a US website like Expedia, the prices will be in CAD. You can use the Google conversion and it will show you what the USD price would be at the time. The conversation rate changes daily, so it is a good idea to watch the rates as your vacation nears. Before booking anything in CAD check your credit/debit card to see if there are conversion fees. When we were booking our attraction tickets I was going to use my debit card, but there would be a 3% conversion charge on top of my purchase. One of our travelers had a card that didn't have conversion fee, so we booked everything with her card. Every card and company is different, so check it out before you go. These fees will also apply to every purchase you make while you are in Canada, so this is an even better reason to check out your cards before you go. My last bit of financial advice is to purchase your CAD before you leave home. I went to my bank and purchased the money because I wanted to make sure I didn't have to use any of my cards in Canada. Your bank will use the current conversion rate so that is another reason to watch the rate as you get closer to your trip. If you don't use all of your money, most banks will buy it back from you at the current rate. If you aren't able to convert your money before you leave, most airports will have places you can do it and there are also a few locations in Downtown Banff where you can convert it too.
Will I see wildlife while I am there? Surprisingly, one of the biggest questions I got about my trip was, "Did you see any wildlife?" You will see wildlife while you are there, but you are also in the middle of a national park. We saw a family of elk two different times on our trip, once as we were leaving our cruise on Lake Minnewanka and the other time was when we were leaving Banff, on our way to the Calgary airport. We really wanted to see a bear, but we were there at the end of their season as it was getting cold and starting to snow. If you want to see a bear, definitely plan your trip to July!
Between all of my travel guides and this post, I think I may have provided you with too much information, but I want to make sure you have everything you need to plan your trip. I am very sad this is my last Banff post. I have been reliving my trip for the past two weeks and I find it to be just as amazing now as when I was there. Banff is truly an amazing place and will always be very special to me. Don't be surprised if you see me there again!
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