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Discussion Starter #1
Hey all,

I'll be headed North to Canada in August to visit Banff for a week or so. It'll be my first real time visiting Canada, and I'll be with my truck camping along the way.

If any of you have been, what sort of things can I expect from this particular area of Canada? How's the camping in Banff? Is there the ability to camp anywhere, or must it be in designated camp grounds? I've done some research, but I always like to hear things directly from people I can actually talk to. :)
 

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If you're looking to camp in Banff National Park check out Parks Canada - Plan your visit - 2017 free admission free admission to all of Canada's national parks for 2017, cuz we're 150. Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure. I would imagine there's rules on where to camp, as its a National Park and we kinda take those seriously up here. But once you get out of the park, its for the most part Crown (public) land and if you can get there without too much damage, its fair game. Also check out the Overland Canada forums, they're somewhat active there and might be able to point you in the right direction.
 

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If you're looking to camp in Banff National Park check out Parks Canada - Plan your visit - 2017 free admission free admission to all of Canada's national parks for 2017, cuz we're 150. Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure. I would imagine there's rules on where to camp, as its a National Park and we kinda take those seriously up here. But once you get out of the park, its for the most part Crown (public) land and if you can get there without too much damage, its fair game. Also check out the Overland Canada forums, they're somewhat active there and might be able to point you in the right direction.

Free admission is part of the reason for visiting. :)

Thanks for the suggestion on the other forum, I'll go snoop through their forums for some info!
 

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Bears, Cougars, Mountain lions.

Camp where the people are. Mountains of course crazy nice.

Do not bring your guns. We'll take em and throw you in jail. Same with the other bad stuff too.

Got a couple of extra hours... Jasper National Park is less than 2 hours away.
 

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Bears, Cougars, Mountain lions.


Do not bring your guns. We'll take em and throw you in jail.
Not entirely; as long as you notify the Alberta CFO, declare them at the border, have them in country for less than 60 days, and ensure that they follow our laws you are more than welcome to bring firearms into Canada. Just don't try to smuggle anything. Be completely above board, and for the love of god PIN YOUR MAGS.

Edit: you may need a non-resident hunter tag or a tag from your home state as well. I'm not 100%, cuz our laws are dumb. If you are bringing firearms, call 1-800-731-8000 and they'll give you somewhat coherent advise.
 

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Mosquito creek campground is great. Oddly enough we had no mosquitoes while we were there.

A grizzly but no mosquitos so camp bear smart... no food in tent, no cooking in the tent area and store your food properly.

and the water in the creek in July is cold!!!

Coop
 

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Camping in National parks is only allowed at designated campsites. Depending on the route you chose to come up there are some nice ways to go. Gravel or paved with amazing views.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Camping in National parks is only allowed at designated campsites. Depending on the route you chose to come up there are some nice ways to go. Gravel or paved with amazing views.
That's what I figured. Guess I should probably buckle down and look into reservations!!

I've been there three times now. I have threads on ExPo about my two summer visits, and I can give you a good deal of info from my time up there. I'll write up a more detailed response within the next day or so but for now, here's the links to my two trip reports in the Banff area.

Northern Montana and the Canadian Rockies, August 2015 - Expedition Portal

A (Sort Of) Overland Honeymoon - Expedition Portal

Thanks so much for those posts, you've got some great info and photos involved! I look forward to some Q&A with you. :D I'll keep an eye for your more detailed response.
 

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Not entirely; as long as you notify the Alberta CFO, declare them at the border, have them in country for less than 60 days, and ensure that they follow our laws you are more than welcome to bring firearms into Canada. Just don't try to smuggle anything. Be completely above board, and for the love of god PIN YOUR MAGS.

Edit: you may need a non-resident hunter tag or a tag from your home state as well. I'm not 100%, cuz our laws are dumb. If you are bringing firearms, call 1-800-731-8000 and they'll give you somewhat coherent advise.
Even doing that avoid handguns as our laws are quite a bit more strict on handguns over long rifles and it is often just not worth the headache. Also if you not bringing weapons try to make sure you don't have any random ammo for those weapons. They might assume your trying to smuggle weapons if they find ammo.

If towing a trailer...
-The roads between Banff and Jasper can be quite steep grades in areas, if your not just tenting it and actually towing a trailer it would be a good idea to ensure everything is in good operating condition.
-If your heading up on the Alberta side (through Waterton area for example) and head to Calgary and over the QEII can have some pretty nasty side winds on occasion. Cannot comment about coming in from the BC side as it has been a while since I have been in that area.
 

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Not entirely; as long as you notify the Alberta CFO, declare them at the border, have them in country for less than 60 days, and ensure that they follow our laws you are more than welcome to bring firearms into Canada. Just don't try to smuggle anything. Be completely above board, and for the love of god PIN YOUR MAGS.

Edit: you may need a non-resident hunter tag or a tag from your home state as well. I'm not 100%, cuz our laws are dumb. If you are bringing firearms, call 1-800-731-8000 and they'll give you somewhat coherent advise.
Yeah, he would need a hunter's tag for coming into Canada as well; our CBSA won't let you into the country with your guns just cuz you want to have them for self-defence.
 

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I've been there three times now. I have threads on ExPo about my two summer visits, and I can give you a good deal of info from my time up there. I'll write up a more detailed response within the next day or so but for now, here's the links to my two trip reports in the Banff area.

Northern Montana and the Canadian Rockies, August 2015 - Expedition Portal

A (Sort Of) Overland Honeymoon - Expedition Portal
Awesome trips. We're planning a trip to Banff area as well.
 

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Thanks so much for those posts, you've got some great info and photos involved! I look forward to some Q&A with you. :D I'll keep an eye for your more detailed response.
Huge apologies for the delay in response! Life got busy for a bit there...

Any time! Feel free to ask any questions and I'll help you out as much as I can.

First, you picked the perfect time to go. In 2017 the parks are all free. When we drove up in 2015 we bought an annual pass for $136. What route are you taking to get there? I see you're in California. There's a couple great places to cross the border, all of which are in Montana. I guess you could go in somewhere else along the BC border, but most likely you'll go in through Montana. Do you plan to go in on the east side or west side of Glacier? Both are excellent routes.

Here's what I would suggest, for the most scenic and adventurous route. Spend a day in Glacier and camp somewhere nearby. Unless you make a reservation, you'll be camping outside the park. I really recommend driving over Going to the Sun Road, making the short hike on the Trail of the Cedars, maybe taking the short offshoot to Avalanche Lake from there. Stop for a while at the Logan Pass visitor center. You can hike up, to the overlook above Hidden Lake, or down, to the first part of the Highline Trail. Both will give you amazing views and you'll likely see mountain goats there. Follow GTTSR farther down afterwards towards St. Mary. Make sure to stop at the overlook on the shore of St. Mary Lake. Be on the lookout for bears between Logan Pass and St. Mary! I've seen many on that stretch.

From St. Mary, I really recommend catching a sunset at Swiftcurrent Lake/Many Glacier. It's stunning.



You can catch dinner at the Many Glacier Hotel or the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, both of which are excellent. The hotel is more expensive and fancy, while the Lodge has good food for fairly cheap. I recommend the pizza from the Lodge. It's also a good place to stay. The next day, head north and cross the border at Chief Mountain, on the east side of the park. It's an easy crossing if you time it right. We had almost no traffic. From the crossing there, you can stop at the overlook and continue on to Waterton. Make sure to pay attention to the map, as it's fairly easy to miss the road going into town. You can spend a little time checking out Waterton, it's not very big. The view is nice and the town has an awesome outdoor gear shop, but not a lot beyond that. It's more of a place to hike than anything else. From there, I'd drive north to Pincher Creek and turn west, past Lundbreck and Bellevue and into the Crowsnest Pass.

At the Crowsnest Pass, you can spend a day or so in the area or just enjoy the scenery and make your way to Banff. If you're pressed for time, I'd suggest just going to Banff. Now, there's a few ways to do this. You could jump over to Fernie, north past Invermere and into Radium Hot Springs, then through Kootenay National Park and over to Banff. But that's a pretty long drive and although beautiful, it's not the most interesting way I think. I'd recommend taking the Forestry Trunk Road (Highway 40/42/43 depending on where you look) north from Coleman. Yes, it's a dirt route, but it's pretty smooth and well developed. You'll be on dirt for maybe two hours maximum, and it's so worth it. The scenery is stunning, as it takes you through the foothills of the Rockies, and you'll see parts that not a lot of tourists visit. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and it will get you to Banff very quickly compared to going through Radium. It's a lot of this:



It's maybe 30-40 miles to get to the T-junction where the asphalt starts again. Turn left and you'll be on the Kananaskis Trail, where the scenery gets even better. It's not a long drive from here to Canmore, but you'll want to stop for the scenery every so often I think.



Follow that road north to Kananaskis Lake. From there, you can go left and go past Spray Lakes straight to Canmore, or you can continue north to Seebe and link up with the Tans-Canada Highway there. I recommend going to Canmore. The scenery will only get better from there, and Canmore is only about 15 minutes from Banff. Canmore itself is a very cool city to check out, so stop there if you have the time. Of course, the main place to go is Banff.

Next, camping. I wouldn't worry overly much about reserving, though it's not a bad idea. There's a few campgrounds right near Banff itself that have huge numbers of campsites, and they have great amenities. Running water, sinks for washing up, bathrooms, etc. No, they're not the most secluded but they don't cost too much and it's kind of nice to have access to all that from time to time. The sites are very well kept, with picnic tables and fire pits, but you'll need to buy a fire permit for every night you plan to have a fire. Adds some expense, but they have pre-cut firewood for you (at least at Two Jack, where I stayed at in 2015). If you prefer to camp outside the park, it's a bit of a drive, but you can fairly easily reach the Forestry Trunk Road/Alberta 40 from there via Kananaskis Country. For ease though, I suggest camping in Banff.

Next, things to do in Banff. All three times I went, it stormed. So be prepared to do something other than checking out the scenery if needed. Downtown Banff is a spectacular place. It's such a cool, walkable city that's full of things for everyone. There's great shops with trinkets, clothes, outdoor gear, etc. The variety there is great. There are a ton of excellent restaurants too. I'd recommend trying Skoki's fresh waffles or crepes, trying a burger at The Eddie, or having some pub food at The Elk and Oarsmen. All excellent. My wife and I also make it a point to get a Beaver Tail every time we go too. Sure, it's a chain, but it's good. Also, it's a Canadian cliche, but I have a serious love affair with Tim Horton's. Great coffee and donuts.

For other activities, there's a lot to do. Learn about the history of Parks Canada at Cave and Basin National Historic Site or check out the beautiful flowers at Cascade Gardens. Both are a good time. If you want to relax during the rain or during the evening, definitely check out the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Cheap and a great way to unwind. There's also a number of good museums in Banff.

Now for the important stuff. Things to see! Near to Banff itself is the drive along Vermilion Lakes, which is beautiful during the evening around sunset.



There's a lot to see as far as scenery, and it's almost impossible to find somewhere bad to see. For the best stuff, you can head down to Kananaskis for great scenery best accessed by hikes, or you can head north and see some of the most famous sights in Canada. I'll start with what's nearest to Banff. Start off by taking the Bow Valley Parkway just off the Trans-Canada Highway and do the hike up Johnston Canyon. So incredibly cool and not too difficult. The rock formations are very cool, and the waterfalls are something else entirely. Next, two of the big ones. Lake Louise is a very famous place and a well known stop, as well as the beginning of the stunning Icefields Parkway. Spend a little time on the shores of Lake Louise.



If you're feeling like a hike from here, the walk to the Lake Agnes Tea House is a great one. A little strenuous, but the tea house at Lake Agnes is awesome. Great tea and great food with excellent views. If you're looking for a longer hike, the Plain of Six Glaciers is spectacular. From there, you MUST drive south to go to Moraine Lake. It's still the most beautiful place I've ever been to this day.



If you want to hike fro here, the walk to Consolation Lakes is extremely easy but so worthwhile. The views are excellent. If you're up to it, though, make the hike up to Eiffel Lake or up Larch Valley. It's unspeakably beautiful. I can't describe in words how amazing it is. Only downside is you'll have to wait for a group to hike with, as you're not allowed to hike in groups smaller than 4 due to bear activity. Don't let that bother you though. It's very safe.
 

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From the junction at Lake Louise, you can keep following the Trans-Canada Highway or go north along the Icefields Parkway. If you stay on the TCH, you'll go into Yoho National Park in BC, which is very beautiful too. It's relatively small, but there's lots to see. Of note is the towering Takkakaw Falls, Sherbrooke Lake, and Emerald Lake. All fantastic places to see that will leave you speechless.

It's all worth missing though if you opt to go up the Icefields Parkway. You'll probably want to stop at almost every turnoff you'll see, and I recommend doing so. Not that I have to say that, you'll want to do that regardless. There's a bunch of great lakeside overlooks and general viewpoints you'll want to check out. If you have the time, make the very short drive to the overlook at Peyto Lake. It's a very short hike that's all uphill, but the views are worth it. If you have the time I also recommend going up to Bow Summit.



North of there the scenery keeps being amazing. The farther north you go, the more rugged the terrain is. If you have a whole day to dedicate to the Icefields Parkway, DO IT. It's worth it. There's a bunch more places to stop along the way, so take advantage of that. Part of the way up is Saskatchewan Crossing, where you can get gas and groceries for the last time until Jasper. Not far past that is the big hill around Parker Ridge that gives you a great view of the valley you just drove up. To stretch your legs, consider hiking the Parker Ridge trail, where you can see a large glacier from. Not far from there is the Icefield Centre, where the scenery reaches the peak of excellence. Be careful, though. It WILL be busy and the parking lot will probably be crowded. But it's worth the stop and you'll enjoy the scenery immensely.

From there you can go on to Jasper or back down to Banff. There's tons to see either way.

A couple of tips:

- Carry bear spray if you plan to hike. It's very effective and bears are not uncommon in these areas. If you have to use it, hold the bottom of the can with your other hand. There's a lot of force behind it.
- Be prepared for bears, but don't be afraid. Yes, it's bear country, but problems are extremely rare. Keep your distance, police your food, and chat when you hike. Talking keeps you from sneaking up on them, which startles them. Follow those rules and you'll be fine. Seeing them is a privilege.
- If you're going to a busy landmark like Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, go early in the morning. Parking spots fill quickly, so get up and go. You'll appreciate the thinner crowds. No matter what, it will be busy if you're there in summer.
- Make sure all of your credit and debit cards are signed on the back. They'll refuse to take them if they're not signed.
- There's an amazing free parking garage in Banff that we use every time. It generally has plenty of space, and they let you park for 8 hours. It's literally downtown too, so it's easy to get to anywhere from there.
- If you need them, every bigger town you'll stop in will have a chamber of commerce that will give you free maps to navigate by. The first time we went up there, the only method of navigation we had really was maps we collected from city chambers. Really useful!
- Crossing into Canada is very easy. They'll only ask a few questions and wave you through. Getting back into the US is the hard part. Make sure your truck is clean before you go to the border, and be prepared to throw some food away if they ask you to. Overall if you're nice and polite, border crossings won't be a problem.

Hope that helps! If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. I'm more than happy to help where I can.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
From the junction at Lake Louise, you can keep following the Trans-Canada Highway or go north along the Icefields Parkway. If you stay on the TCH, you'll go into Yoho National Park in BC, which is very beautiful too. It's relatively small, but there's lots to see. Of note is the towering Takkakaw Falls, Sherbrooke Lake, and Emerald Lake. All fantastic places to see that will leave you speechless.

It's all worth missing though if you opt to go up the Icefields Parkway. You'll probably want to stop at almost every turnoff you'll see, and I recommend doing so. Not that I have to say that, you'll want to do that regardless. There's a bunch of great lakeside overlooks and general viewpoints you'll want to check out. If you have the time, make the very short drive to the overlook at Peyto Lake. It's a very short hike that's all uphill, but the views are worth it. If you have the time I also recommend going up to Bow Summit.



North of there the scenery keeps being amazing. The farther north you go, the more rugged the terrain is. If you have a whole day to dedicate to the Icefields Parkway, DO IT. It's worth it. There's a bunch more places to stop along the way, so take advantage of that. Part of the way up is Saskatchewan Crossing, where you can get gas and groceries for the last time until Jasper. Not far past that is the big hill around Parker Ridge that gives you a great view of the valley you just drove up. To stretch your legs, consider hiking the Parker Ridge trail, where you can see a large glacier from. Not far from there is the Icefield Centre, where the scenery reaches the peak of excellence. Be careful, though. It WILL be busy and the parking lot will probably be crowded. But it's worth the stop and you'll enjoy the scenery immensely.

From there you can go on to Jasper or back down to Banff. There's tons to see either way.

A couple of tips:

- Carry bear spray if you plan to hike. It's very effective and bears are not uncommon in these areas. If you have to use it, hold the bottom of the can with your other hand. There's a lot of force behind it.
- Be prepared for bears, but don't be afraid. Yes, it's bear country, but problems are extremely rare. Keep your distance, police your food, and chat when you hike. Talking keeps you from sneaking up on them, which startles them. Follow those rules and you'll be fine. Seeing them is a privilege.
- If you're going to a busy landmark like Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, go early in the morning. Parking spots fill quickly, so get up and go. You'll appreciate the thinner crowds. No matter what, it will be busy if you're there in summer.
- Make sure all of your credit and debit cards are signed on the back. They'll refuse to take them if they're not signed.
- There's an amazing free parking garage in Banff that we use every time. It generally has plenty of space, and they let you park for 8 hours. It's literally downtown too, so it's easy to get to anywhere from there.
- If you need them, every bigger town you'll stop in will have a chamber of commerce that will give you free maps to navigate by. The first time we went up there, the only method of navigation we had really was maps we collected from city chambers. Really useful!
- Crossing into Canada is very easy. They'll only ask a few questions and wave you through. Getting back into the US is the hard part. Make sure your truck is clean before you go to the border, and be prepared to throw some food away if they ask you to. Overall if you're nice and polite, border crossings won't be a problem.

Hope that helps! If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to ask. I'm more than happy to help where I can.

Dude, your posts are awesome! You have no idea how much I appreciate your detailed responses!!

I'm working, and had to breeze through them. But when I get some real down time (hopefully Monday), I'll sit down and pull out a map to map out your directions and suggestions. I'm more excited for this trip now than I am my Baja trip!

To answer the one question I did see you ask, yes I will be coming from CA and going in through Montana - undecided where yet though. I'll have plenty of comments/questions for you on Monday I'm sure. I can't say it enough how stoked I am with your informative posts.

To answer the other few questions from others:

No guns here, and no trailer. Just a RTT, my wife and potentially our two dogs.
 

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Dude, your posts are awesome! You have no idea how much I appreciate your detailed responses!!

I'm working, and had to breeze through them. But when I get some real down time (hopefully Monday), I'll sit down and pull out a map to map out your directions and suggestions. I'm more excited for this trip now than I am my Baja trip!

To answer the one question I did see you ask, yes I will be coming from CA and going in through Montana - undecided where yet though. I'll have plenty of comments/questions for you on Monday I'm sure. I can't say it enough how stoked I am with your informative posts.

To answer the other few questions from others:

No guns here, and no trailer. Just a RTT, my wife and potentially our two dogs.
No problem, I'll try to think up some other things to mention. I'll have to read through my trip reports again haha!

Google Earth is your friend if you're checking out Alberta 40/Forestry Trunk Road, which I really strongly recommend. I've driven from Coleman all the way up to Jasper on it, and it was fantastic the whole way. There's a few offshoot roads, but it's pretty easy to follow. Just find the road going straight north from Coleman.

According to Google Earth, the easiest way up for you is by taking I-15 all the way north past Vegas, SLC, Pocatello, and into Montana via "the chin". You'll then hook up with I-90 for a short while to get as far as Garrison, then over to Avon and up 200! If you follow that route, I'll bet I can get you a free place to stay in Seeley Lake if you like. My parents live there. But that's still about a 17 hour drive from SoCal. I'd offer to let you stay in my yard, but I'm about three hours out of your way, near Billings.

I guess you could follow 90 a little farther to Missoula, then take 200 north on the east side of Flathead Lake, but the scenery there is crap compared to the Swan Valley, and it's about the same travel time. But yeah, the best way to go is definitely up through the Swan Valley (stunning scenery), through Seeley Lake and Bigfork (Both amazing little towns. Seriously.) on the way to Kalispell, which is where you'll want to use as a jumping off point for going north.

From Kalispell you're only a stone's throw from West Glacier, where you can go into the park and cross over Going to the Sun Road to the east to access the Chief Mountain border crossing. The alternative is going through Eureka and crossing at Roosville, but I don't think it's nearly as good a drive as going in from the east side of the Rockies. Plus you miss Glacier completely, which is worth driving through at the very least. You could bypass Glacier by hopping over to Browning and up to St. Mary, but it's a lot longer and the scenery is worse.

Hopefully that helps your planning!
 

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Discussion Starter #17
- Quoting to notify -

Ideally, I'd like my trip to be about 2.5 weeks because of drive time, I'm hoping that'll be enough without rushing through the sites. My planned departure date is some where around August 1st from SoCal, and I need to be home by 22nd for my Wife to get back to School for work. If we need to stick her on a plane earlier, we're going to do that.

With that being said, I'm debating whether we see Glacier National Park first, or second. Your thoughts? We plan to catch the big Solar Eclipse in Oregon, so I'm guessing Glacier on the way North is probably the smarter option. I think we'll only have time to truly stick to the West side of the park. I have family in Missoula, so I can always fly back and rent a car to see the East side of Glacier. Honestly, Glacier isn't a huge priority to me, but I figure if I'm going that direction with my own truck and gear, it'd be a worthwhile stop.

I did have a 7 day car tour page book marked, but now I can't find it and I think I'm going to ditch it and use your advice/trip reports to plan instead. I'll definitely be driving the 40 as you suggested, especially if it gets us off the beaten path.

So with all that said, my current direction is: SoCal > Glacier(?) > Banff > Oregon > SoCal.

Have you guys ever camped in/near Banff? If you have, any recommendations on any particular spots?
 

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Ideally, I'd like my trip to be about 2.5 weeks because of drive time, I'm hoping that'll be enough without rushing through the sites. My planned departure date is some where around August 1st from SoCal, and I need to be home by 22nd for my Wife to get back to School for work. If we need to stick her on a plane earlier, we're going to do that.

With that being said, I'm debating whether we see Glacier National Park first, or second. Your thoughts? We plan to catch the big Solar Eclipse in Oregon, so I'm guessing Glacier on the way North is probably the smarter option. I think we'll only have time to truly stick to the West side of the park. I have family in Missoula, so I can always fly back and rent a car to see the East side of Glacier. Honestly, Glacier isn't a huge priority to me, but I figure if I'm going that direction with my own truck and gear, it'd be a worthwhile stop.

I did have a 7 day car tour page book marked, but now I can't find it and I think I'm going to ditch it and use your advice/trip reports to plan instead. I'll definitely be driving the 40 as you suggested, especially if it gets us off the beaten path.

So with all that said, my current direction is: SoCal > Glacier(?) > Banff > Oregon > SoCal.

Have you guys ever camped in/near Banff? If you have, any recommendations on any particular spots?
Holy crap! I took way too long to respond to this. My apologies!

2.5 weeks is an ideal amount of time actually. Plenty of time to explore and have fun without limiting yourself too much.

If it was me, I'd go to Glacier first, for a number of reasons. First, the scenery is going to look really impressive on the way up, less so on the way back. Banff's beauty will make you slightly numb to it, which would be too bad because of how nice Glacier really is. Second, Glacier is a great introduction to the scenery of the Rockies, and by starting there you kind of ratchet the up the awesome factor one step at a time. Makes for a better experience in my opinion. Third, Glacier is a small park in comparison to the Canadian Rockies. You'll want to see Glacier first so you can free up the rest of your time for Canada and not have to worry about cutting that time short to leave time for Glacier on the way down.

As for what side of the park... It really doesn't matter that much. Driving over Going to the Sun Road is not a long endeavor, taking maybe three or four hours if it's really busy. That includes stops along the way for scenery. The road ends at St. Mary, on the east side of the park less than 25 minutes drive to Many Glacier. Also, Glacier is more for hiking than sightseeing from a car. It's a fairly small park all things considered, and the number of places to drive to and see scenery without strapping on a backpack is fairly small. You can easily hit all of them in a day. Plus, the best way to cross over if you're planning on taking Route 40 from Coleman is to go through the Chief Mountain border crossing. Chief Mountain is on the east side of Glacier. If you go in through there, you can hit Waterton on the way up, then it's a fairly short drive to the Crowsnest Pass and Coleman/Blairmore. If you stay on the west side, you're better off going through Eureka/Roosville and driving to Banff through Radium. A pretty drive, but nowhere near as awesome as approaching from the east via Coleman to Kananaskis/Canmore.

Here's how I'd do it, assuming you'll be camping somewhere close to NW MT on the way up. If you break it up into two moderate driving days from SoCal to Montana, you could even camp near West Glacier and make the most of your time. If you want to try to go as far as possible from SoCal in a really long driving day, you could even camp as far south as Seeley Lake or even Deer Lodge and still see a lot. Drive into the park after camping for the night, stopping at all the major spots. Apgar, Lake McDonald, Trail of the Cedars, Logan Pass, Hidden Lake, St. Mary Lake. You can be in St. Mary by the afternoon if you like, or you can take a bit longer. I very strongly recommend sticking around to see Many Glacier at sunset. It's such an amazing place. The view is incredible. Then you can camp nearby and make your approach to the border the next morning. Cross at Chief Mountain and continue on your way north.

As for camping in Banff, there's a couple major camping areas to hit. If you feel like staying as close to town as possible, you could stay at the Tunnel Mountain CG, which is basically in Banff. It's nice enough, but it feels a bit on the civilized side. Just 5 minutes away are the Two Jack campgrounds. There's a Lakeside campground with great access to scenic Two Jack Lake, which is gorgeous, but it fills up fast so if you want to stay there you have to plan ahead and reserve a spot. Further from the lake is the Two Jack Main CG, which is very large and normally has space available. It's a bit more secluded. If you're willing to go farther away and want fewer neighbors, there's the Johnston Canyon CG along the Bow Valley Parkway, but it's very small and you absolutely should reserve if you want a spot. If you want to stay closer to the amazing scenery at Lake Louise, they do have a fairly large CG there, but you will absolutely have to reserve in advance as it's very desirable. Most campgrounds we came across are $20-25CAD per night.
 

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Lived in Banff for 7 years (8 yrs on BC side now) and end up back there at least a couple times each year. Feel free to PM me for suggestions of must see places and things to do.
 
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