Getting around the Canadian Rockies is easiest with your own vehicle because public transportation is limited. Brewster (403/762-6767, www.brewster.ca) is primarily a tour company but also runs a scheduled bus service linking Calgary International Airport, Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise, with a summer-only service between Lake Louise and Jasper.
Greyhound (403/762-1092, www.greyhound.ca) serves the TransCanada Highway, providing a link between Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, and Golden three times daily. Once daily, buses run through Kootenay National Park, between Banff and Radium Hot Springs.
You can also take Moose Travel Network buses (604/297-0255 or 888/244-6673, www.moosenetwork.com) between Banff and Jasper.
Driving in Canada
U.S. and international driver’s licenses are valid in Canada. All highway signs give distances in kilometers and speeds in kilometers per hour. Unless otherwise posted, the maximum speed limit on the highways is 100 kph (62 mph).
Use of safety belts is mandatory, and motorcyclists must wear helmets. Infants and toddlers weighing up to nine kilograms (20 pounds) must be strapped into an appropriate children’s car seat. Use of a child car seat for larger children weighing 9–18 kilograms (20–40 pounds) is required of British Columbia residents and recommended to nonresidents. Before venturing north of the 49th parallel, U.S. residents should ask their vehicle insurance company for a Canadian Non-resident Inter-provincial Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance Card. You may also be asked to prove vehicle ownership, so carry your vehicle registration form.
If you’re a member in good standing of an automobile association, take your membership card—the Canadian AA provides members of related associations full services, including free maps, itineraries, excellent tour books, road- and weather-condition information, accommodations reservations, travel agency services, and emergency road services. For more information, contact the Alberta Motor Association (780/430-6800, www.ama.ab.ca) or the British Columbia Automobile Association (604/268-5600, www.bcaa.com).
Note: Drinking and driving (with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher) in Canada can get you imprisoned for up to five years on a first offense and will cost you your license for at least 12 months.
All major car rental agencies have outlets at Calgary and Vancouver International Airports. Car rentals are also available in Banff, Canmore, and Jasper, but it is strongly recommended to rent a vehicle before arriving in the Canadian Rockies for two reasons: cost and mileage charges (the now-standard unlimited mileage with major car rentals doesn’t apply in Banff, Canmore, or Jasper). Generally, vehicles can be booked through parent companies in the United States. Rates start at $60 per day for a small economy car, $75 for a midsize car, and $85 for a full-size car.
Major rental companies with outlets in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver are: Avis (800/974-0808, www.avis.ca), Budget (800/268-8900, www.budget.com), Discount (800/263-2355, www.discountcar.com), Dollar (800/800-4000, www.dollar.com), Enterprise (800/325-8007, www.enterprise.com), Hertz (800/263-0600, www.hertz.ca), National (800/227-7368, www.nationalcar.com), and Rent-a-wreck (800/327-0116, www.rentawreck.ca).
Camper vans, recreational vehicles, and travel trailers are a great way to get around the Canadian Rockies without having to worry about accommodations each night. The downside is cost. The smallest vans, capable of sleeping two people, start at $150 per day with 100 free kilometers (62 miles) per day. Standard extra charges include insurance, a preparation fee (usually around $50 per rental), a linen/cutlery charge (around $60 per person per trip), and taxes. Major agencies, with rental outlets in both Calgary and Vancouver, include Cruise Canada (403/291-4963, 800/671-8042, or 800/327-7778, www.cruisecanada.com), Canadream (403/291-1000 or 800/461-7368, www.canadream.com), and Go West (604/528-3900 or 800/661-8813, www.go-west.com). In most cases, a drop-off fee of $400 applies to drop-offs made in Vancouver from rentals originating in Calgary, or vice versa. At the end of the summer season (early September), look for some great online bargains.
For those with limited time, an organized tour is the best way to see the Canadian Rockies. Brewster (403/762-6767 or 800/661-1152, www.brewster.ca) offers day tours and overnight tours throughout the mountains, as well as car rental and accommodation packages. Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (604/606-7245 or 877/460-3200, www.rockymountaineer.com) offers a wide variety of longer tours in conjunction with rail travel between Vancouver and Banff or Jasper. At the opposite end of the price spectrum, by joining a Moose Travel Network (604/777-9905 or 888/244-6673, www.moosenetwork.com) tour you get to see the Canadian Rockies with like-minded budget travelers.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition