Canada is a huge country, to give you some idea you could fit over 40 United Kingdom’s into Canada and still have room. Considerably larger then the USA, the provinces that make up Western Canada’s diverse and rugged country, British Columbia (www.hellobc.com ), Alberta (www.travelalberta.com ) and the Yukon (www.touryukon.com ) are truly immense and incredibly varied. If you’re somebody who loves outdoor adventure of any kind, you’re destined to visit one of the world’s last great frontiers that is Western Canada.
Don’t try and fool yourself that you will be able to see it all in two weeks, you just can’t. For those experienced travelers, think driving east or west coast Australia distances, and you’ll be getting close to an idea of how large an area these provinces occupy. To date I’ve spent over 1 year in Western Canada, and not come close to experiencing all this great land has to offer. That said it still makes for a jaw dropping holiday destination, and one or two weeks, well planned, can be one of the most memorable trips of your life. For those on a limited / short time frame perhaps focus on one area rather than trying to cram it all in.
Flying into Western Canada you’ll want to be arriving at either Vancouver International Airport (www.yvr.ca ) if you are heading to Whistler / Blackcomb, Vancouver Island, or anywhere in BC, or into Calgary Airport (Alberta) www.calgaryairport.com for The Rocky Mountain retreats of Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise & Fernie or the stunning south eastern Kootenay region of BC. From both you are free to explore further into the incredibly varied landscape which includes endless snow capped mountains, glaciers, lakes, canyons, rivers, valleys, Rain Forests & Prairies that form the interior of BC and its coastal islands.
UK citizens do not need a VIAS but will need a full valid passport and have to fill out a landing card on arrival, and may be quizzed by customs as to the duration and purpose of your stay, as well as proof on how you intend to support your travels in Canada. Credit Cards and bank funds are usually sufficient ($300 per week of proposed stay). You may be permitted a stay of up to a maximum of 6 months. Always check with your embassy before traveling. You can extend your stay whilst in Canada so long as you do before your authorized time expires! www.cic.gc.ca
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When to go
The climate is warmer in the south than the north, with Vancouver and the west coast Islands receiving very high rainfall in winter in comparison to the high snowfall experienced just about everywhere else from November until March. Unless you are looking for winter sports, summer is ultimately the best time to visit Canada.
Spring is short with brighter days and less rain and summer hot, especially throughout the southern interior regions of BC that see 40c temperatures for weeks on end, turning some areas into desert like landscape and others into a summer paradise. Bush fires are common in the southern interior during summer; whole towns have been literally burnt to the ground. The fires of 2002 saw Kelowna’s West Bank ablaze and the interior rural towns of Barriere and Falkland virtually raised to the ground, (if visiting during these times you must pay close attention to Fire Hazard warnings and parks regulations concerning camp and open fires). However, the far north climate is stark in comparison. Not really seeing summer until June, it ends abruptly with snowfall in early to mid September.
Fall is remarkably beautiful but also a short season; lasting only 4-6 weeks, or even shorter in some places, the colours more than compensate, bringing the entire countryside to life in a grand spectacle before the white of winter sets in. A great season for hiking.
Deep powder snow and ice cover the landscape during the winter months of November to March. Temperatures can plummet into the –10’s, –20’s, -30’s and –40’s or even colder further north, very quickly. Wind chill can play a big factor and winter storms and white outs are common early on in the season especially. Roads are subject to closure and driving conditions can become very dangerous on some of the mountain roads, with poor visibility, rock fall, Black ice, moose, logging trucks and more to watch out for. However, the worst of winter is usually over by January / February, when blue sun-filled skies prevail, making for prime skiing, snowboarding and many other pursuits enjoyed in the great Canadian outdoors until end of March and in some cases into April. With regular snowfall being dumped overnight, it is what dreams are made of for those winter enthusiasts. For those wishing to spend a season in the snow, this is surely one of the best places to do it.
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The following airlines offer flights into Canada from the UK. Some good deals can be had, especially on Zoom Airlines.
Arriving at Vancouver International (YVR), you are only 30-40 minutes from downtown. The Airporter or Translink bus services will take you there and are easy to find on arrival at the airport. Beware, if you plan on taking public transport, have the correct change. Yellow Cabs are also available round the clock, but as usual are more expensive.
Bus Greyhound www.greyhound.ca Budget bus travel network Canada
Moose Travel Network www.moosenetwork.com
Air Westjet www.westjet.ca Good deals on internal domestic flights
Sea BC Ferries www.bcferries.com for access to Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Road Moose Travel Network Backpackers group bus travel
By far the best option if money permits is travel by road; vehicle rental is easy for the over 25’s but can be expensive, and you’ll invariably need a credit card.
To get to the more remote areas you’ll need to arrange your own transport.
Hitch hiking is possible and a pleasant experience in certain areas such as Vancouver Island, and certainly possible but seriously inadvisable in others. Check local backpackers notice boards for travelers offering rides in exchange for shared cost of fuel before you decide to thumb it for sure!
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If you are planning on spending time in the outdoors in Canada, at any time of the year, be prepared. Western Canada can be a rugged, isolated and harsh place. There are many dangers to watch out for so make sure you are not caught unawares. There is plenty of information available from tourist information offices, local hostels, tour operators and tourism websites on outdoor activities and what you will need to know before you go. Above all use common sense.
There are plenty of easy short walks you can take on clearly marked trails which help you to discover many of Canada’s wilderness gems. Usually located at Provincial and National Parks, trails are clearly marked including distances and level of difficulty. There are usually information points located near the entrance. You may pick up trail maps and information on the surrounding area from the local town Tourist Information Office, Backpackers or at the Parks entrance, (National Parks in particular) and quite frequently many of the trails are interpretive, meaning they have info signs all over letting you know what is what.
Ski Resorts are excellent in general, and there are limitless opportunities as to the way you can move over snow and enjoy this season. Many resorts are also open during the summer, allowing for some of the best mountain biking in the world.
The list is practically limitless, and there is no doubt something for everyone here, even if sports is not your thing and you just want to take in some world beating views, get some peace, quiet and relaxation, then here is the place to do it.
Just some of the many activities open to you in Canada’s great Western outdoors:
Biking; ATV ‘Quad Biking’ Cycling Dirt Biking, Mountain Biking,
Canoeing & Kayaking
Climbing & Mountaineering
Skiing, Snowboarding, Cross Country Skiing, Heli-Skiing
Wild Life Viewing
Just some of the creatures you may encounter in Western Canada:
The landscape itself is simply staggering and incredibly varied. Ranging from the iconic snow capped mountain ranges, huge lakes and mighty rivers, fjords, glaciers and ice fields to some of the largest old growth forest in the world alongside plunging canyons. There are vast desert like badlands, rolling hills of vineyards and endless fruit orchards and farmland, along with the unexpected lush pristine coastline dotted with tree-covered islands of all shapes and sizes.
Birds; Eagles, Owls
Cougar (Mountain Lion)
Fish life; Salmon, Trout; Mackerel, Giant Octopus
Insects; Mosquitoes, horseflies, black flies
Mountain Goat & Sheep
Whales: Killer, Humpback, Grey
Safety in Bear Country
Program from the British Columbia Conservation Foundation
Make sure you are ‘Bear Aware’ before you even think about entering the backcountry. During winter months bears are hibernating so not of concern, however during the rest of the year the can be a real danger. There are many reports of people being attacked by bears, however it is almost always through ignorance that attacks occur. Get bear aware, these are not like Yogi or Boo Boo.
Hike in pair’s or groups and above all use common sense. Canada is a very safe country, but do not underestimate your surroundings. Black Bears for example, can weigh in at 200-300kg, Grizzlies up to and in excess of 500kg, you do not want to be getting in the way of something that large and its cubs. They have incredible sense of smell and will tear apart tents and people to get at food. Use extreme caution in the backcountry, store your food a significant distance from your site and do not leave anything edible or remotely smelly in or around your site. Incredibly, Elk injure more people each year than Bears, so be sure to treat wildlife with the respect it deserves. You can learn more from bearaware on their website;
Backcountry and Wilderness Tours / Eco Tours
If you’re compass skills have dwindled somewhat since Boy Scout days and you strive for the easy life, then you can always take a guided tour. There are some excellent eco tours available, especially around Vancouver Island and the Rockies, such as Bear and Whale and other wildlife Watching tours, cultural tours, hiking, biking, scuba diving & kayaking tours and much more. Although completely exposed to the elements you can get incredibly close to the wildlife, making for a far more personal and exhilarating experience, and you’ll learn a lot from some of the expert guides.
Tours come in all shapes and sizes, for all activities, levels of experience and ages. Your best bet is to check out the hostels and tourism offices wherever you maybe, you’ll find information on all that particular region has to offer there. Usually there is no need to book far in advance; a few days notice will usually suffice, so you can book tours when you arrive. Often the best way as you can shop around and find something that really suits you.
Insects can be a big problem, during spring & summer months and especially in more remote areas. The dreaded Mosquito comes in swarms in some areas, and the biting black flies, horseflies and no-see-um’s can make for a miserable experience if unprepared. Get some heavy DEET, and ensure your tent has a decent insect guard and you should survive. Also try to avoid wearing anything blue, apparently Mozzies are attracted to this colour.
For outdoor sports equipment there are stores providing just about everything you’ll ever need to fully enjoy life in the outdoors, and a bunch of stuff you never even knew they had invented! The quality of equipment is usually superb and many deals can be enjoyed due to the weak Canadian dollar (approx 1 pound = $2.2 CDN).
MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop www.mec.ca is a legendary company for outdoor equipment and the Vancouver store is impressive with very friendly and informed staff, Coast Mountain Sports also offers a good selection of equipment and Ruins www.ruins.ca. is also worth checking out for those snowboarders out there, carrying some top end products, from snowboards to jackets and snow pants. Not necessarily the cheapest, but probably cheaper than anything in UK, and again of superb quality.
There is a whole array of outdoor equipment stores near MEC on West Broadway, none quite as good as MEC, but none the less there are sales being offered all the time, so think about that before you go spending all your hard earned quid’s in rip-off Britain outdoor stores. The quality of equipment here is excellent, and you’ll be able to use the stuff time and time again.
On the cheap, look out for ski swap meets, normally at the beginning or end of a season held at local ski hills (check out local newspaper ads, hostel notice boards or backpacker magazine ads) where travelers and others snow junkies trade in their used equipment for hard cash. Again good deals can be found here if you just want some equipment to last a season or two, just make sure you thoroughly check the gear out, as an unwritten “buy as you see it” rule applies on most private purchases.
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Places to Visit & Accommodation
VANCOUVER (to follow)
THE SUNSHINE COAST & WHISTLER
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Pacific Rim National Park (to follow)
THE ROCKIES & KOOTENAYS
Accommodation in Western Canada is usually of a very good standard. Hostels are located in just about in every major place you’ll want to go, and others you’d never expect to find one. They are fairly inexpensive, clean, friendly, and range in price from approx $20-$30 pppp. In some cases it is advisable to book ahead, especially during peak winter and summer periods to prevent disappointment. Many offer tour-booking facilities, discounts on local tours and attractions and are knowledgeable about the local area, activities and sights. There are some truly excellent hostels throughout BC & the west, from beautifully decorated and maintained cozy hostels to completely self sufficient sustainable mountain cabins, there is a wealth of good and varied budget accommodation here. You best options are with;
- Hostelling International www.hihostels.com There are many truly excellent hostels affiliated with Hostelling International Canada. They are almost without exception value for money, fun, friendly, clean and interesting places. From the luxury of Banff Alpine Centre to the rustic charm of Castle Mountain, and everything in between, this is truly an excellent group.
- Samesun www.samesun.com Designed more for the party going backpacker / holidaymaker / traveler, this small group of hostels are of good standard and a good budget accommodation. Although sometimes quite raucous, and known to be a party atmosphere for the younger crowd. The major draw card is that a few enjoy prime ski-in ski out positions (Big White, Silverstar) and are within passing out distance of the pub! If this is you’re thing then this is the best way to go.
You’re never stuck for accommodation in Western Canada, but generally the backpackers will stick to the main two hostel options above or camp. Smaller Independently hostels do operate in some areas, check guides books and local listings, but are few and far between and standards can vary hugely, from hellish accommodations in Vancouver and Nanaimo for instance to the funky, self sufficient mountain hostel in Revelstoke, so try and find out as much about a place before you decide to stay there.
- Camping National & Provincial Parks Canada www.parkscanada.ca Another good option for the budget traveler is camping. Although not really the best way to go in the winter, it is definitely the most rewarding way to stay. Even in winter there are some areas that boast rustic mountainside cabins that are possible to hike into. They are a welcome warm shelter, containing only the bare necessities for those extreme winter enthusiasts.
Canada has many Provincial Parks, nearly all have good camping available. Some are literally motorway rest stops, however, the vast majority offer good camping, hiking and are commonly set in a reasonably secluded area of natural beauty. Some of the more popular, well known provincial parks include Garibaldi, the formidable Mount Robson, Wells Gray & the Kokanee Glacier.
Today there are well in excess of 400 provincial parks in BC alone. Cost of camping can vary depending on the park, but generally expect to pay between $8-$15 per site per night. Sites are usually well set up and maintained with clean drinking water; toilets, showers and many provide firewood at a surcharge.
There are also many National Parks and areas classified as UNESCO world Heritage sites. In BC you’ll find the Pacific Rim National Park, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho & Kootenay to name a few. In Alberta, Banff & Jasper are the hotspots and for those traveling further north the Yukon offers Kluane, Ivvavik & Vunut. Many of these parks run into each other, creating enormous protected areas such as the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. You will have to pay for entry into these parks, and an annual pass can be picked up on entry to many of the parks for approx $40. This will allow you access to the majority of BC & Alberta’s national parks.
Also worth checking out; www.greatcanadianparks.com
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There seem to be many choices in Vancouver. Mainly between Hostelling International’s three and SameSun. Don’t plan on staying here more than absolutely necessary, if its city your after, stay in London or go to Toronto, Vancouver is not one of the worlds great cities, despite its serene surroundings. Its pleasant enough, but not really a holiday destination in itself. Your best bet is HI on Granville, or Jericho Beach, which enjoys the best location of them all, HI downtown (nr Davie) is more like a prison, and SameSun (formerly Global Village), now completely renovated still gets the loud crowd. Has its own café (open 24 hours), and is directly opposite HI on Granville.
Apart from these take your chances. Some places are more like ‘doss-houses’ for some of the many homeless street people Vancouver has. So beware and choose carefully.
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The Sunshine Coast and Whistler
Hailed as the outdoor recreation capital of British Columbia, you could quite easily drive through Squamish and hardly notice it. An easy 1 hour drive from Vancouver or Whistler, it’s well worth the visit, and if you are into rock climbing and affiliated sports, a mountaineer, or just want to do an easy hike, sit on top of a mountain and dangle your legs over the edge, while checking out the view of the world, then you’ll be mad to bypass this place.
It’s virtually impossible to miss the worlds second largest granite monolith that is the Stawamus Chief, towering over the quaint community of Squamish. Renowned for serious climbing it has over 300 routes on its 625m sheer face as well as easy day hikes to three peaks. There is an awesome Provincial Park at the very foot, with an incredible bouldering field hidden within the forest beneath. The surrounding area is prime for biking, hiking, wind surfing, kayaking, more climbing and pretty much anything outdoors. A prime summer spot, there is a hostel here, but if you are into the whole camping / outdoors then head straight to the Stawamus Chief Provincial Park. It has no showers but there are some beautiful lakes nearby, and waterfalls in which to cool off and wash down, and a great place to explore the enchanting surrounds.
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Only a short distance further north of Squamish is the popular Garibaldi Provincial Park. Some excellent short and longer hikes can be done here, with a chance to take a peak at nearly everything BC has to offer, with ice fields, glaciers, rivers, huge mountain peaks and alpine meadows, it certainly will get you pumped to spend more time outdoors. There are again some rustic cabins / camping available within the park.
Stawamus Chief Provincial Park Campsite
An awesome site, literally at the foot of the Chief. Good plots and a vibrant, friendly atmosphere, you can easily access the biking and hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes and more from here. The trail to the top of the chief leaves from here and takes approx a 2-4 hour roundtrip, steep but easy, and well worth it on a clear day for some stunning views of the surrounding area.
WHISTLER / BLACKCOMB
Only two hours drive north of Vancouver on the impressive scenic sea to sky highway, lies the internationally renowned Ski Resort of Whistler. The largest ski area in North America, with an area of 2,862 ha to explore and over 200 runs and 33 lifts, it is also consistently voted as one of he best. Snowfall here is on a par with Banff & Fernie in the Rockies, averaging 900cm. Due to these factors though prices are more expensive, especially accommodation in the village itself. Expect to pay top dollar here. Lift passes are also more expensive than many of the other resorts, but if the conditions are good it is well worth the money.
The Village of Whistler is the focal point, and is where the major lifts are to take you up into either Whistler or Blackcombe Mountain; you can also ride the glacier on Blackcombe (weather restrictions apply). It can be busy however and lineups can become quite long, although I’m sure if you’re a Brit or European, you’ll be used to this already.
Situated lakeside looking directly at the Whistler Mountain, with a large wood burning fireplace and sauna, this is a perfect budget retreat. It is only 4km, or 45 min walk to Whistler Village around the lakeside trails or you can take the bus that runs 5 times per day round to the village. Reservations are essential here so book in advance. Try the polar bear dip, where you hit the sauna, then break the ice over the frozen lake and jump in, how many times can you handle it?
The Southside Lodge www.snowboardwhistler.com
A good option, especially due to its excellent access, only 200m from the Creekside Gondola, you can also access Whistler Village and Blackcomb Mt from the top of the Creek gondola, so there is no need to take the bus. It has also been recently renovated and has all the amenities you’ll need. A snowboarder’s favourite.
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The largest island on the west coast of North America and containing some of the best scenery BC has to offer, Vancouver Island has much to offer. Where the ocean meets old growth rainforest, pure black / grey volcanic sand beaches stretch for miles on end and English rose gardens dot the picturesque capital, Killer Whales can be seen surfing the seas while Paragliders float over cliff edges. The west coast, more exposed to the Pacific than the east, is invariably more rugged and less inhabited, and is where most visitors tend to gravitate, although you can often stroll down Long Beach and not see a soul.
In fact the capital of BC, Victoria comes as a pleasant alternative to the relative hustle and bustle of Vancouver. Known as the city of gardens, the English influence is quite evident. The town sits on a picturesque boat filled harbor at the southern end of the island, with fresh ocean walks and flower filled gardens and parks, it is a naturally beautiful town with a charm all of its own. A refreshing change from the ‘strip mall, big box store’ towns that are commonly found throughout BC’s mainland. There are some good nights out to be had here, so best advise is stay close to where the action is to ensure something more comfortable than a sidewalk pillow. You can rent cycles from near the waterfront, and this is a really enjoyable way of exploring this neat little city.
HI Victoria www.hihostels.ca
You’re best bet in Victoria and a good base from which to explore the rest of the southern part of the island. It enjoys a prime location, only seconds to the waterfront and the rest of town. From here you can easily explore all Victoria has to offer. Definitely better than anything Vancouver has to offer.
Anyone visiting Vancouver Island must pay a visit to Tofino. It’s not law but it should be. Positioned at the gateway to the Clayoquot Sound, at the top end of Long Beach and surrounded by pristine ocean and islands teaming with wildlife and stunning old growth rainforest, this ex whaling station turned funky surfer town is surely BC’s paradise.
You should allow good time to travel here, en route is the Pacific Rim National Park, containing the West Coast Trail and surf beaten Long Beach to name but a few attractions and there are numerous stops along the way where short interpretive trails take you into the forest to discover something else.
Salmon and seafood are on the menu here, so try heading down to the fishing docks at Ucluelet when the boats turn in, some seriously fresh fish and seafood can be had for backpacker friendly prices. Remember to haggle!
Whale watching, surfing, scuba diving, exploring the vast rainforest trails through the Pacific Rim National Park, bathing in natural hot springs, exploring local islands or simply relaxing on long beach marveling at your surrounds are all very possible here. A great place to chill out and be truly humbled by nature. A very laid back alternative / hippy / surfer community, usually guarantees that the food will be good, and you’ll not see a Maccy D’s for miles, and this is true of Tofino.
Whalers on the Point Guesthouse (HI Tofino) www.tofinohostel.com
Enjoying a breathtaking view of Vancouver Island's Clayoquot Sound, this hostel is ideally positioned for those wanting to take full advantage of what the Wild West coast of Vancouver Island has to offer. Beautifully constructed and superbly maintained. Surrounded on all sides by ocean and islands, this is as idyllic as a hostel can get. Book
in advance to avoid disappointment later, you will want to stay here.
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Host to the forthcoming Canadian Iron man triathlon, Penticton is a tiny town at the bottom end of the Okanagan Valley. Its hot, sunny climate, sandy lakeshore beaches and summer vibe help turn what would normally be an ordinary place into something quite special.
Many festivals are held here and surrounding communities during the summer, attracting both family and young crowds, who flock to the valley to soak up the sun, sand and err, lake. Its not quite the same as being on an endless golden wind swept beach on the west coast of Australia with turquoise waters lapping at your feet and abundant coral reef breaking the surface, but for a desert community, its as close as you can get. Plus to date there have never been any shark attacks in Penticton! Although beware the Ogopogo of Okanagan Lake!
A small, friendly, quiet and well run hostil full of character, and characters! Good information available on local tours and attractions.
Local Ski hill; Big White www.bigwhite.com
The only reason to go to Kelowna would be to visit Big White. The town is non descript and ugly, and is similar in appearance to many of the northern interior logging and mill towns. The mountain however is almost on a par with Fernie, with over 100 runs it receives a good deal of snowfall and conditions can be near perfect here. It is also BC’s second largest ski resort; the major drawback is the distance out to Big White from Kelowna itself, approximately an hours drive, and the road can become difficult and dangerous during the frequent bad weather. A shuttle bus does run from town, but even still, with Kelowna itself not having much to shout about, its one for a weekend trip if you have time or if you are passing through. Alternatively you can stay on the hill and simply use the town as a supply stop.
SameSun Backpacker Ski Lodge
Ski in, Ski out location. The only serious option if Big White Ski Resort is where you’re headed.
Local ski hill; SilverStarMountain Resort www.silverstarmtn.com
Vernon is nestled at the top end of the Okanagan Valley. Surrounded by three lakes and several provincial parks, vineyards and fruit orchards. This area can be a paradise during the summer months, with hot days and plenty of swimming, camping and fishing available in the local vicinity.
Although the town is nothing to write home about it has several attractions well worth a visit and is a drastic improvement on nearby Kelowna. Buildings are covered in murals, and streets are kept clean and presentable, although the town of Vernon incredibly has failed to make much of its prime setting. With three lakes and sandy beaches surrounding, the town Centre lies a distance from all 3 lake shores and has the main freeway passing directly thorough the middle of town, making the downtown experience similar to that of Kelowna. However, smaller in size and surrounded by vineyards, orchards and rolling grass and treed hillsides, the countryside more than makes up for Vernon’s lack of planning. Of notable interest is Kalamalka Provincial Park.
The Lodged Inn Hostel (HI Vernon) www.lodgedinn.com.
Truly a funky, fun and friendly hostel. Stunning stained glass windows, amazing murals and arts and craft work feature throughout this beautiful bright Queen Anne Style 3 floor mansion. It has a large treed yard, is located only minutes to downtown Vernon, 20 minutes drive from Silver Star Mountain Resort and The Internationally renowned Sovereign Lake Nordic Cross Country Ski Centre. Past guests who have been inspired by this beautiful and unique corner of the Okanagan Valley have created much of what you see at the hostel. They also offer summer, winter and fall packages from paragliding to sailing, mushroom safaris to snowshoe safaris, ski and board packages, and everything in between. The best place to stay in the Okanagan!
SameSun Backpacker Ski Lodge www.samesun.com
As with the others, this place can get raucous. Although due to its position directly in Silverstar village it is only seconds from the chairlifts and enjoys that prized ski in ski out location.
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The Rockies & Kootenays
Local Ski Hill; SunshineVillage www.skibanff.com
Banff National Park reportedly receives over 4.5 million visitors per year. Due to it being one of the oldest, most beautiful, well known parks, it is also one of the most easily accessible places on earth. Encompassing wetlands, lakes, rivers, glaciers, ice fields, and towering mountain peaks, there are endless activities including skiing, biking and hiking trails, and a whole host more, it is a remarkable place where you can explore for days, weeks or months on end at any time of year, and still escape the crowds!
The park is divided into four main sections, north from Banff Town site you’ll pass through;
- Banff Town site
- Bow Valley Parkway
- Lake Louise
- Ice fields Parkway
Arriving at Jasper National Park, the route is no more than 180-200km, from Banff to Jasper, with an astounding amount to see and do in between. Both a summer and winter paradise for people of all ages and of all interests, its impossible not to enjoy your stay here.
The town site itself has the charms and warmth of a true mountain village, boasting easy accessibility as one of its major draw cards although slowly falling into the trap of becoming a junkyard tourist attraction because of this.
The insanely expensive Banff Springs Hotel is one of the most impressive buildings in Western Canada, and stands out as something to characterize Banff. The towns stone bridges; architecture, remarkable setting and vibrant party atmosphere remind you that you are in one of the best well known areas of the world.
Allow plenty of time and money for this place, once you get here you’ll usually want to stay for longer, from glacier walking to night clubbing, its all here, and all accessible.
Hi Banff Alpine Centre www.hihostels.ca
Situated a little way out of the main town Centre, this is another beautifully designed and maintained building, with all wood interior in places, it also has its own café, good facilities and some good deals on accommodation, as well as some of the best views in Banff!
Samesun Backpackers (formerly Global Village).
A good location very close to town, this hostel is decent enough, although again for the partygoers, it is usually packed out during peak seasons.
Lake Louise, only 50km or so north of Banff makes for a good stop en route, especially to check out the staggering Lake Louise and Emerald Lakes, which on a clear summers day will be the richest of emerald colours. There is not much to the town at all, a few accommodations, a HI, and the Lake Louise Chalet and a small shopping courtyard; the place is of course famous for its ski resort. Larger than Banff, many take advantage of the close proximity and ski here and stay in Banff since this has the restaurants, bars and clubs. There are passes available covering both ski areas and it is truly awesome. Combining Louise and Banff makes for a great varied ski holiday.
A beautiful hostel with many its own cafe, and excellent facilities, you can easily enjoy the peace and quiet here. Well placed to enjoy both Lake Louise and Banff resorts, a sweet place to kick back and relax after a hard day on the slopes.
By far the quainter and quietest of the Canadian Rocky towns, Jasper remains more of an untouched, unspoilt natural wonderland. Jasper National Park is also the largest of the Rocky Mountain parks and the best place to head to escape the crowds of Banff, and to check out the wildlife. Obviously due to the lack of tourism here, wildlife roams more freely, and it’s common to see Elk, Moose, Bear and more around the town itself. A great place to explore, there are countless camping opportunities, and you’ll have to pass through both the Bow Valley and Icefields Parkway to get here, a short drive that could well take all day with the amount of stops en route. As with Banff and Lake Louise, tours can be easily organized. Highly recommended is the snow cat trip to the top of the glaciers, highly worthwhile on a clear, early morning.
There is a plethora of HI Hostels stretching from Banff to Jasper, most of which are in and around Jasper. More rustic style with excellent access to the hiking, biking and more in the surrounding Jasper National Park, this is a place to get away from it all and check out what backcountry Canada is really like. With limited facilities, these are some of Hostelling International best wilderness retreats.
A small community, with a population of only 8000 the town itself has some charm of is own. The attraction of the area really is the outdoors. The gateway to many of the great parks of Canada, Revelstoke is also famed for its heli-skiing, incredible dumps of snow, sheer mountain faces, and avalanches. The two bear statues that guard the entrance to the town pose some sort of idea as to what dominates in the wilderness round here too.
Mountain Hostel www.mountainhostel.ca
Definitely off the beaten track, this is a must if you are in the area. A 15km hike or cross-country ski into this totally self-sufficient retreat. Set in a prime location in the Selkirk Mountains, surrounded by some of BC’s oldest growth trees, stunning waterfalls, rivers and glaciers. This is an extreme place, previous to my visit the road in and out to the hostel had been completely wiped out by a rock face collapse. It is also an area prone to avalanches. The owner, who built the place with his own hands, is a very friendly and informative guy, and quite the bushman. He is very accommodating and for those not up to the challenge of making it in here, transport can be arranged to get them in. Some excellent hiking can be done from here. More for the bushwhackers but a real Canadian experience. Check their website for more information.
Local Ski Hill; Fernie Alpine Resort www.skifernie.com
A top class resort in the BC Rockies, the mountain is simply awesome and so easily accessible. Only 5km from the town Centre, it boasts In excess of 90 runs with an average annual snowfall of 875cm. This is one of the favourites among those in the know due to its reputation for deep powder snow and uncrowded slopes. Incredibly it remains largely undiscovered and not greatly developed either, so you can cruise the mountainside in peace and quiet and marvel at the incredible views without the hoards of tourists.
Raging Elk Hostel (HI Fernie); www.ragingelk.com
With easy access to the Ski Hill, this is a fun and friendly place where you’ll meet avid dedicated skiers and boarders settling in for the season. The hostel has all the necessary facilities, although the vast majority of your time will be on the mountain anyway.
Local Ski Hill; Whitewater Ski Resort
At the heart of the stunningly beautiful Kootenay region, nested in the Selkirk Mountains, with the Rockies directly to the east and lying in good proximately to the iconic Valhalla Provincial Park, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park and Whitewater Ski Resort is Nelson.
A funky, hippy town, where tree hugging, dope smoking, shoe-less smelly sorts roam the small downtown area, incredibly unharassed by cops or fellow residents. Houses can be made from the hull of a boat, and wind chimes and solstice parties reign supreme. Most definitely an interesting place to be for a while, especially should you be visiting during the annual Shambhala Music Festival, www.shambhalamusicfestival.com which kicks off August 10th –14th. A three night, four-day celebration of music, held in the fields around Nelson. Tickets are approx $100, but as with all festivals you’ll need to buy tickets well in advance. The biggest music festival is Western Canada, and a must if you’re into your music.
Enjoying its position on Arrow Lakes, there is plenty in the surrounding region to keep you occupied for many, many days. From the small but excellent Whitewater Ski Resort which receives an incredible 1,200 cm of snow annually, some of the highest in BC, to Completely Natural Hot Springs that surface riverside, allowing you to camp in the forest and wake up to your very own personal warmed by nature bath. Truly rewarding after a long hike, of which there are countless taking you to the top of the surrounding snow capped peaks. A great way to gauge just how large Canada is. Natural foods and a natural lifestyle ultimately reign here, and there is much to keep you occupied in the outdoors.
HI Nelson Dancing Bear Inn
A cozy, friendly hostel, located in the downtown area and resembling its funky surrounds it is also a good place to get some information on local tours and activities, as well as the location of some BC’s prime natural hot springs.
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Food & Drink
Food and Drink in Canada. Well, where to start. West Canadians certainly like their Tim Horton’s, a fast food style bakery outlet, serving coffee, tea, donuts, bagels and sandwiches as well as other delicious delights that are absolutely no good for you but will certainly fatten you up for cold winter months!
In fact most West Canadian towns, with the odd exception, are more or less the same, each having at least 1, but more likely 3 or 4 Timmy’s, plus a whole host of other fast food outlets, including; subway, pita pit, A&W Burger, Dairy Queen, McD’s, Starbucks, etc. The other “Usual Suspects” are Boston Pizza, Kelly O’Brien’s, Red Lobster, Joey’s Only Fish & Chips, Pizza Hut, and so on.
An ‘exception’ usually is exactly that, you may not find a Timmy’s for miles, only organic coffee shops with wholesome fruit and veggie based goodies and smaller independent grocery stores with more locally grown and produced healthy option food. This actually makes a refreshing change, especially for the junk food weary traveler, and can be just as cheap, if not cheaper. Elsewhere you’ll have to seek out the healthy(ish) option food from barrage of junk food chains, or bite the bullet and Super Size it.
Supermarkets are also found in every town, and if you can be bothered to cook for yourself you can get some good deals. Save on More Foods offer a membership card, you should get one of these if you decide to shop here since you’ll save a fortune, otherwise the Real Canadian Superstore is well priced.
Farmers Markets can be found in the smaller community towns, usually once or twice per week, they can be a good place to stock up on locally grown fruit, veg, and other locally grown / made / hunted products. Some are better than others and they will not necessarily cater to your every need, and may be seasonal.
At ski Resorts you’ll find a good selection of restaurants and bars, offering all the usual food in good Desperate Dan friendly size portions at reasonable prices. Alcohol can get expensive, especially in the larger resorts, and some of the Winterized hostels have their own café with good, inexpensive selections.
For those big drinkers out there, take note. It is cheaper to drink in the Province of Alberta than BC, despite BC’s laid back ways, the Cowboys of Alberta need their liquor, and they ain’t paying no god damn extra 7% tax for it like those suckers in BC. It doesn’t make a great deal difference to normal folk, but for those raging alcoholics, a significant saving to help stave off the shakes for one more day eh? No doubt. Bringing me nicely to the penultimate section of our guide . . .
Pubs & Clubs
Update on Pub & Clubs coming shortly.
Ski Hill Quick Guide
Please click here to download the guide
Useful Links Index
List of useful links contained within this guide.
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Info supplied by Buster Smith
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