Author Topic: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping  (Read 5261 times)

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Offline roblee

Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« on: February 06, 2015, 11:06:09 am »
Hi guys

Quick question from across the Pond - completed the Northern half of the Sierra Cascades at the end of last Summer and really enjoyed it.
Looking at trying the Great Parks North this Summer - 2015.

One thing that I can't seem to answer at the moment - the U.S. parks seem (in my limited experience) good in that there are many hiker/biker campsites available. So you're safe turning up at the end of the afternoon and being relatively assured of having a spot to camp.
The Canadian parks don't seem to have the same hiker/biker provision - and the first few nights on the route would be in Jasper/Banff/Kootenay parks. I'm probably looking at hitting the road in peak Summer (July/August) and would prefer to not have to pre-book accommodation. Will I encounter full-to-capacity campgrounds or can the tired cycle tourist still be relatively assured of a camping spot at the end of a day's riding?

Would also appreciate any pointers about the best time of Summer - I'm planning to complete the route in a fortnight, Jasper to Missoula. Would normally plan to go after Labour Day in September but feel this may lead to some worse weather in the Canadian Rockies at the start of the trip?

Thanks for any tips!

Cheers
Rob

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2015, 01:28:10 pm »
I can't comment too much on the camping in Canada, as when I rode parts of this route through Banff/Jasper I stayed at hostels. But the campgrounds were pretty busy, I will say.

But the thing I do want to comment on is length of tour. While on paper Jasper to Missoula could be done in two weeks, that's quite a hurried pace with several mountain climbs and lots and lots of things to see and do, especially on the Icefields Parkway. If I went back I might even try to go slower than the last time! What about just staying in the Canadian Rockies, or maybe Jasper to Glacier (MT)?

Offline roblee

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2015, 03:04:17 pm »
Hi adventurepdx - thanks for coming back with your thoughts so quickly!

May I ask - did you pre-book the hostels or just turn up and find space? And what time of year are we talking here? I've heard good things about these hostels so they'd certainly be another accommodation option.

Regarding tour length - I agree it may not be some people's 'cup of tea.' I seem to enjoy the journey aspect of a tour - i.e. getting from A to B by pedal power. So I may cover more distance than most, and spend more time in the saddle rather than at points of interest along the route.
My thinking was that last year I managed about 1,050 miles of the Sierra Cascades route over 17 days on the bike - and believe me that was pretty mountainous! So about 750 miles of Great Parks North in, say, 11-12 days on the bike - I'm thinking that should work out about the same pace (can't take as much holiday this year!). But no plans are finalised yet so I may not do the whole route.

Cheers!
Rob

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2015, 03:22:18 pm »
May I ask - did you pre-book the hostels or just turn up and find space? And what time of year are we talking here? I've heard good things about these hostels so they'd certainly be another accommodation option.

Yep, I pre-booked them. I went in the high-high season (July) and they ran full every night, at least the smaller wilderness hostels outside of the "big towns" (which are Jasper, Lake Louise, Banff townsite, and Canmore). You may luck on a spot, but I wouldn't count on it. (The "big town" hostels may be easier to find space on the fly, but they still can book up.) When I toured the Icefields Pkwy a few years back, I designed the tour here to hop from hostel to hostel. It's pretty easy, since the biggest distance between hostels is about 40 miles.

As for price, if you are travelling solo, I found that a dorm bed in one of the wilderness hostels was not much more than camping. Campgrounds looked like they were running around $22 a night per site and dorm beds start around $25 (plus fees.)

You might not be able to do it all by hostels, but you might be able to squeeze a few in. And the bigger hostels in the "big towns" have good services (laundry!) when you need to take care of that stuff.

Offline roblee

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2015, 03:25:00 pm »
Great info - thanks!
Looks like it'd be best to do some planning ahead for accommodation, at least on the Canadian parks section, then.

Rob

Offline zzzz

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2015, 08:23:54 pm »
Hi:

I did this trip starting 9/1/2013 in Jasper and I can't speak to your concerns about camping as I stay in hotels but I can address a couple of other items here.

I too was concerned about leaving in September and possibly getting caught in some early winter weather, but I got on the web and looked for the historic earliest snow fall for Jasper and Banff and the earliest snow dates were in mid September and typically first snow was in October.

You may want to revisit your start date. I found September ideal, traffic had really cleared out. Most particularly in Glacier where Going to the Sun Rd is normally nose to tail cars. I left from Rising Sun Inn at dawn and got passed by maybe 15-20 cars on the 11 mile climb.

The second thing is that the ride can definitely be done in 2 weeks. I was in Missoula before lunch of my 9th day. I have the advantage on you in that I'm very likely to be traveling lighter (around 7 kilo's) since I have very little camping gear and no cooking stuff. But in Sept. 2013 I also did most of the Sierra Cascade route (Bellingham to LA) so I know what you hit there, you should be fine for time.

You see a ongoing difference of views on this site about pace on these trips. And I'm quite sure I've missed a lot great stuff along the way, but you will still see plenty of incredible scenery from the road. Even better than the SC route, I think.

Pete

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2015, 08:35:09 pm »
The second thing is that the ride can definitely be done in 2 weeks. I was in Missoula before lunch of my 9th day.

Yeeps! How many miles a day did you average?

Offline zzzz

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2015, 09:26:59 pm »
I would normally email you this info as I'm sure it's not of general interest but I see I'm at 99 posts, I believe I'm upgraded to a "World Traveler" w one more.

First day was a half day as I left Jasper after lunch.

1) Jasper to Sunwapta Pass - 65 miles
2) Sunwapta Pass to Lake Louise- 80 miles
3) Lake Louise to Inveremere - 92 miles
4) Inveremere to Jaffrey (w detour to Cranbrook)- 116 miles
5) Jaffrey to Pincher Creek - 108 miles
6) Pincher Creek to Rising Sun - 77 miles
7) Rising Sun to Big Fork - 99 miles
8 ) Big Fork to Seeley Lake - 87 miles
9) Seeley Lake to Missoula (54 mls) then to Hamilton - 102 miles

It was a Sunday when I got to Missoula and things looked pretty dark at the ACA ranch so I got a sandwich, watched the comings and goings of the street fair that had taken over main street and rolled out of town. Then on to the TransAm route (east) and some stuff in Colorado for the balance of the trip.

Offline DarrenBnYYC

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2015, 09:49:44 pm »
A buddy and I did the trip from Jasper through Lake Louise, Banff, and back home to Calgary at the peak of the summer in 2014 (last week of July). We were self-supported and camped in the mountain park campgrounds each night. If you go mid-week, there won't be a problem getting a campsite. Actually, a couple of the ones we stayed at (Jonas Creek and Waterfowl Lakes) the campgrounds were maybe 1/3 full. Just stay away from the larger, serviced campsites that attracts the RV crowd -- those ones can fill up and don't have great sites for people in tents and tend to have a much higher proportion of campsites that are on the reservation system (the smaller campgrounds always have first-come, first-serve sites, particularly for tenters).

Regarding time of year, September can be the absolute best time of year out here, but it is risky. This past year (2014) we had a terrible cold snap and a lot of snow here in the first week of September, and it would not have been a fun time to be biking through the mountains, especially on the east slopes of the Rockies (west slopes on the BC side are much less of a concern).

As for how much time to do the trip, you can easily go between Jasper and Banff in 3 days, even with stops to see some of the tourist attractions, like the Columbia Icefields interpretative site. We probably could have made it all the way home to Calgary in 3 days if we had planned our trip a bit better. I haven't been down to Glacier yet, but having driven that way on both the BC (west slopes) side and Alberta (east slopes) side, it is immensely stunning scenery either way. Both southeastern BC and southwestern Alberta, plus that northern part of Montana below, are all some of the most amazing wilderness you find left in North America.


Offline roblee

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2015, 03:25:10 am »
Hi guys

This is all top info, thanks so much!

Dates I'm thinking of at the moment are either 22 Aug - 6 Sep or 29 Aug - 13 Sep; looks like this should generally be OK then.

Current vague plan is to arrive Edmonton (by air) on Saturday evening, then VIA Rail to Jasper to arrive Sunday afternoon, then head off Monday - so the camping I'm concerned about would be during the week - thanks Darren for the info that this should be OK.

Pete - that's some pace you're setting, I normally average 60/70 miles a day but then again am carrying ca. 20+ kg rather than 7 kg!!

Cheers
Rob

Offline Norsman

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2015, 04:16:34 am »
I did a loop that included the Icefield's Parkway in the middle of summer and only ran into camping issues at Lake Louise.  When told that the campground was full I asked if I could check if other cyclists wished to share a site and was given the OK.  The ranger even suggested where I was likely to find other cyclists. Within 10 minutes I was setting up my tent.

If I was to choose between your two dates I would take the earlier one.  Just less likely to snow. Just be aware that the Labour Day weekend (Sept. 4 to 7) tends to be very busy.  Thursday night, all day Friday and all day Monday can be horrifically busy on the roads; at least in Canada.  Probably another reason to take the earlier date.

Offline roblee

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2015, 11:54:30 am »
Righto, thought I'd resuscitate this old thread of mine with some feedback from my tour using the Great Parks North route...

Short summary would be - good route. I think the distance fits well into a fortnight's tour (I completed it in 12 days on the bike, plus 1 rest day, and the 12th cycling day I arrived into Missoula for lunchtime).

I flew into Edmonton on 29th August, then on 30th got the VIA Rail across to Jasper. What I hadn't quite accounted for was the fact that this train comes all the way across Canada...don't count on it being on time! I had a 7-hour delay.

I guess I hadn't quite appreciated how far North the route starts. My first night on the bike was camping near the Columbia Icefields. There was snow falling. The next morning was a very cold start!
I had low cloud cover all along the Icefields Parkway so only got slight snatches of views now and then.
In fact for the whole of the first week I had a lot of rain and cold temperatures. The weather only really finally improved the day I did Going-To-The-Sun-Road through Glacier NP. So my final three days were warm and sunny!
Apparently the last week or so of August there were big fires and lots of smoke around this part of Canada!!

To answer the query I originally had when starting this thread - I didn't have any problem finding camping spots. The Nat'l Park sites I used in Canada were not full.
I elected to stay at Kootenay Park Lodge for the third night on the bike - there were no campgrounds in quite the right place. The next night (out of the Parks) I found a wild camping spot as the only campground around, at Fairmont Hot Springs, was really an overpriced RV park.

I basically started out with two days' supplies leaving Jasper. There are opportunities to stock up at Saskatchewan River Crossing and Lake Louise, if needed. But both are overpriced, especially the Crossing!!
From Castle Junction, through Kootenay Park, there's nothing (another reason I decided to stay at the Lodge on this stretch).

I took my rest day in Fernie, about half way I think. There's a good choice of accommodation there. Recommend the Red Tree Lodge - reasonably priced and bike-friendly.
Cranbrook is a sizeable town (you guys would probably call it a city...) not too far off the main route.

The remainder of the route was pretty straightforward. Glacier NP is recommended, and when I was there (the week after Labor Day) was not too busy. Lots of cyclists out on shiny race bikes though!

Compared to my tour the previous year (three weeks on that occasion) on the northern section (through Washington and Oregon) of the Sierra Cascades route, I thought this tour was easier and more straightforward. Generally less need to plan that far ahead logistically (e.g. For food and water). None of the climbs really seemed that bad - definitely on the whole shorter in duration - compared to some of the neverending climbs on the SC...

Hope that helps some considering a tour using Great Parks North!

Cheers
Rob

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2015, 02:06:01 pm »
Thanks for the report! Sounds like a good trip.

Yep, I can vouch for the expensiveness of food in the Canadian Rockies. It's because it's a tourist area, and trucks also have to come from long distances away. It's quite a sticker shock to go into a store and find items double or even triple the price you would pay elsewhere! Reminded me of touring Big Sur and finding $2 candy bars (in 2006). The best bet is to stock up in Banff and Jasper, but being on a bike, you're not going to be able to carry all the food you need.

Sorry to hear about the weather. Yeah, in the higher elevations, you can hit snow anytime. But that's a drag about the low clouds. I remember it being pretty much overcast the entire time I was in the Canadian Rockies on my tour in July 2011. Thankfully, the clouds were usually higher, so I got to see a lot. And also rain only happened a couple times. But I think it's rare to get lots of clear sunny days.

Offline big blue cat

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2015, 04:55:41 pm »
We started our trip end of June into July 2010 from Edmonton, Alberta,  rode to Jasper & took the Icefields Parkway.
We had no problem getting a campsite except around July 1. I think that's Canada Day, I think it's a version
of the U.S. 4th of July. Other than that no problems. We ended our trip in Kalispell, Mt.
May the wind be at your back.
Scott

Offline donald.stewart.92

Re: Great Parks North - Canadian Camping
« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2015, 10:57:22 am »
Great info from everyone. Makes me put it on my bucket list.