Kootenay, Yoho, Banff and Jasper, sharing borders, form a contiguous park of mountains, valleys, glaciers, lakes and outstanding scenery. It’s such a unique place and in some ways very different from US parks so I decided more information would be helpful to other visitors.
You must have a park pass if you’re stopping at any overlook, picnic ground or campground in the parks. You also need one to drive the Icefields Parkway and the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic secondary road between Banff and Lake Louise. Fees are per person and per day so if you’re visiting for at least seven days or will be visiting other parks in Canada it’s economical to buy an annual Discovery Pass.
The two west to east routes, Hwy 1 and Hwy 16, follow the train routes through the mountains and are two lane, high speed roads. Since these routes are also the best ways to get from the west coast to Alberta there’s a lot of truck traffic. The 55 mph speed limit makes it hard to sightsee. There are plenty of passing lanes and turnoffs on Hwy 1 but not as many on Hwy 16. The Icefield Parkway speed varies from 35 - 55 mph and since commercial trucks are prohibited it’s a much more relaxing drive. It’s about 180 miles from Banff to Jasper on the parkway with few places to get fuel so fill up before starting. The parkway has no cell service but phones are located along the road.
We didn’t receive maps or pamphlets of the type passed out in US national parks. Poor signage adds to the problem so don’t fail to stop in at a visitor center to pick up some maps and brochures or download them from the national park website - Here. It’s hard to spot turnoffs and the kilometer markers on the maps are a real help. The visitor centers are small and don’t explain the parks well.
We visited in the middle of June, just before school let out for the summer, and had no difficulty getting campsites without making reservations. Some of the campgrounds were not opened yet so check the schedules before setting out. The accessible campsites are not truly accessible, lacking pavement, extra width, high fire rings and good pathways to the restrooms.
Very few of the trails are accessible. Some of this is due to the terrain but accessibility does not seem to be promoted in the parks. For instance the short, gravel trail at Howe Pass (76 km from Lake Louise) is very accessible and leads to an incredibly beautiful view but it’s not really marked as a great overlook and certainly not as an accessible one. We had it all to ourselves. Other people pulled into the lot to use the restrooms and left without even noticing the trail.
The weather was very nice during our visit with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Several days were cloudy with some rain but the rain did not last long and the weather could change by the hour.
Although the parks are promoted as great for viewing wildlife we saw very little except for birds, ground squirrels and a couple of tagged elk grazing along the roadway.
I highly recommend visiting these parks. They can be easily included as part of an Alaska trip and are well worth the extra effort. Parks