Airport transportation, Hotel 1, Hotel 2, Hotel 3, Storyeum, City Tour, Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Hell's Gate Airtram
B.C. Ferry, Hotel 1, Hotel 2, City Tour, Royal London Wax Museum, Royal B.C. Museum, Butchart Gardens
Hotel, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Tower
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff Hotel, Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise, Banff Gondola, Peyto Lake
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
The Columbia Icefields, Jasper Accommodations, Mount Edith Cavell, Athabasca Falls, Jasper Tramway, Maligne Canyon
click on the symbol in the review for pic
By James Glasbergen
Those who enjoy breathtaking scenery, intriguing wildlife, and world-class cities will enjoy a trip to Western Canada. I recently made a 2-week swing through British Columbia and Alberta with stops in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Banff and Jasper. From the top-notch Lumberjack Show at Grouse Mountain, to the amazing plant life at Butchart Gardens, the afternoon rodeo at the world-famous Calgary Stampede, and the spectacular peaks, lakes, and wildlife of the Rocky Mountains, there was no shortage of highlights on this trip. Of course, the best part was that almost all of the major attractions were completetely accessible!
Upon arrival at Vancouver airport, we went over to the Vancouver Airporter desk to get a ride to our hotel. Although the shuttles that they operate between the airport and downtown are not accessible, they will call an accessible taxi for wheelchair users. The wheelchair user then pays the same rate as those taking one of the shuttle buses, which is a substantial savings over a taxi cab fare.
In Vancouver, we stayed at a nice downtown hotel. It was centrally located within easy walking distance to the Robson Street shopping district. It was also close to the popular tourist areas of Gastown and Granville Island, not more than a 20 minute walk from either. Our accessible hotel room had plenty of room to move around (, , ), and the bathroom () had a roll-in shower ().
We started our first full day in Vancouver with a trip to Storyeum, located in Gastown. We called for an accessible taxi to pick us up at our hotel. As is often the case in most cities I have been to, it was a bit of a hassle to get an accessible cab. We ended up calling the dispatcher a couple times to make sure someone was still coming, and it took about an hour before we finally got someone. At Storyeum, we immediately bought tickets for the 72-minute tour, which has numerous departure times throughout the day. The tour takes you on a journey through the history of British Columbia. Led by a guide, our group was escorted through nine different sets where actors told us stories of different time periods in British Columbian history. While the sets were elaborate and the performers quite good, I am not sure the $28 admission per person was worth it for a 72-minute show.
Rather than go through the hassle of waiting for another taxi, we decided to just walk back to our hotel where we had arranged to be picked up in the afternoon for a 3-hour city tour. We were picked up in an accessible minibus which had a hydraulic lift on the side (). The tour included a drive through the Robson Street shopping district, Chinatown, and Gastown. We also made several stops, the first one at Granville Island where we had time to check out the Public Market and the marina. Next, we toured through Stanley Park with stops at the Totem Park and Prospect Point. The tour ended with a stop at The Lookout where we took the elevator up 50 stories to the observation deck for a spectaular view of Vancouver and the surrounding region. While the tour did not provide enough time to see any one thing in depth, it did give us a good introduction to the city so that we could later revisit the places we wanted to spend more time at.
The next morning we picked up our wheelchair accessible van which we rented for the next 12 days (, , ). We immediately drove over to Stanley Park to take in some of the sights. We parked by the Totem Park and walked over to the Stanley Park Carriage Tours. One-hour horse-dawn trolley tours through the park are offered throughout the summer. There was a rather steep ramp that allowed wheelchairs to board and sit right next to the trolley driver in the first row (, ). The narrated tour took us past several points of interest in Stanley Park, including the Lion's Gate Bridge, a Coastal Red Cedar Forest, and the Girl in a Wet Suit Statue. We spent the afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium, located right in Stanley Park. The Aquarium has numerous marine exhibits and offers several daily shows featuring dolphins, beluga whales, and sea otters.
On our last full day in Vancouver, we drove across the Lion's Gate Bridge to Grouse Mountain. There is an accessible cable car called the Skyride that takes passengers from the parking area to the top of the mountain (, , ). It is unfortunate that we were there on a gloomy, rainy day, because the Skyride usually offers a great view of downtown Vancouver. Once at the top we took in a few of the attractions, beginning with the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife. The refuge is home to several endangered animals, including grey wolves and grizzly bears. However, the highlight of Grouse Mountain is the World Famous Lumberjack Show. The show features two lumberjacks competing against each other in a variety of skill-testing events, including axe-throwing, log-rolling, and climbing a 60-foot tree trunk. After the show, we had lunch in the restaurant just as the rain started to come down.
Our original intention was to stop in at the Capilano Suspension Bridge before returning to our hotel. The bridge is located very close to Grouse Mountain. Unfortunately, the rain scrapped those plans. However, we did come back to the Capilano Suspension Bridge for a quick visit after our 2-day stay in Victoria. Admission to the park was free for wheelchair users and one companion since wheelchairs were not allowed on the bridge. Despite the fact that I could not get on the bridge (not sure I would want to even if I could), I still found it a worthwile trip. Aside from viewing the bridge, there was a Story Center, a gift shop, a restaurant and a Totem Park.
After three full days in Vancouver, it was off to the provincial capital of Victoria, located on Vancouver Island. We made the 1.5 hour drive south of Vancouver to Tsawwassen where we caught the ferry to Swartz Bay. Catching the ferry was quite easy. After paying and displaying our disabled permit, we were directed to a special lane where we were among the first vehicles to drive aboard the ferry. Once inside the ferry, there were a number of lanes, and every vehicle just drove as far as they could in each lane before turning their car off and getting out. My friend had to quickly get out to make sure that the cars in the lane beside us left a good 4 or 5 foot gap in front of our side door to allow us to get the ramp out. From there we took the elevator to the upper floors where we sat for the 1.5 hour cruise to Vancouver Island. There was a big cafeteria where passengers could get lunch or dinner, but the food left a lot to be desired. As the ferry pulled in to the dock at Swartz Bay, everyone made their way back to their vehicles. Once the doors opened up, we simply drove off the ferry and made the 30-minute drive to Victoria.
Our hotel was located just outside of Victoria. The hotel had free parking and a restaurant on-site. Our accessible room had a king bed and a roll-away bed (), and the bathroom included a roll-in shower--the only one in the hotel. The roll-in shower was quite small though; in fact, I couldn't even fit all the way in the shower (, ). There was actually a better hotel that we visited right in downtown Vancouver. One could easily walk to all of the attractions, and they had the most accessible hotel rooms I have ever seen (, , , , , , ).
We only had one full day to spend in Victoria, so we tried to take in as much of the sights as possible. We started with a 1.5-hour city tour aboard an accessible double decker bus (). Booking the tour well in advance was important to ensure that the bus with the hydraulic lift was scheduled for our tour. The tour showed us a number of highlights in Victoria, including Chinatown, the Inner Harbour, and the upscale residential districts of Uplands and Oak Bay.
The city tour ended in the Inner Harbour area, so we immediately went over to the Royal London Wax Museum, located across the street from the Parliament Buildings. The museum is fully accessible and is home to over 300 wax figures of people throughout history, from royalty and politicians to Hollywood celebrities and famous sports figures. There was also a chamber of horrors on the lower level with wax figures depicted in a variety of gruesome scenes. This was accessible, but not from the upper level. A staff member had to escort us outside, down a ramp, and around to the side of the building where there was an accessible entrance.
Next, we passed along the front of the Parliament Buildings and across the street to the Royal B.C. Museum. The museum contains numerous exhibits that explore hundreds of years of British Columbian history. To be honest, I was quite bored at the museum, but I suppose there are some people out there who may find it interesting. I was more interested in Thunderbird Park next door, and that was free. The park is home to a unique collection of totem poles and big houses.
After a short tour through Thunderbird Park, we got back in our van and made the 45-minute drive to the world-famous Butchart Gardens. The 50-acre gardens contain hundreds of thousands of plants that are a site to see year-round. Highlights include a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, and the most popular Sunken Garden. There was a dining room on site as well as a gift shop. It took us about two hours to tour through the gardens. Admission was $23 per person but worth the cost.
The next day, we took the ferry back to Vancouver where we spent the day before heading to Calgary. This time we stayed at a hotel close to Canada Place. Our room was very small (, , ), although the bathroom was a decent size. There was a slight lip leading in to the roll-in shower (, , ). The elevator in the hotel was a bit of an issue as you really had to make a sharp turn upon entering the elevator in order to fit in (, ). Those with wider wheelchairs or scooters could have difficulties. Parking was $18 at the hotel, but they did have a continental breakfast.
Early the next morning, we began the long drive to Calgary. Normally about an 11-hour drive, it took us 14 hours in total as we made a slight detour to make a 2-hour stop at the Hell's Gate Airtram. Hell's Gate is a 2.5 to 3-hour drive from Vancouver and is a worthwhile stop for those who have time. There was accessible parking right up against the main building. The accessible tram (, ) takes you down over the Fraser River rapids to river level. At the bottom there is a restaurant, a fudge factory, and a shop. There is also a suspension bridge over the river where you can look straight down at the surging rapids. It was a little tough getting on the suspension bridge in a wheelchair. The ramp leading down to the bridge had numerous ridges to go over (, ) and the walkway out to the bridge had uneven parts (), but it was definitely doable for those with perserverance.
After a long day of driving, we finally arrived at our Calgary hotel. The hotel was excellent. There was free parking and a continental breakfast available every morning. Our accessible room was huge (, , ), and the bathroom included a roll-in shower (, , ). It was the only room in the hotel that had one. Across the street there was a train depot where you could catch the train into town for $2. It was completely accessible.
On our first full day in Calgary we were supposed to take a day tour out to Banff and Lake Louise with a local sightseeing company. They had just installed a hydraulic lift in one of their vans, and I was going to be their first wheelchair-bound client. However, when they arrived (with a van full of people), there were a couple problems. We looked in the back of the van and there were four spots on the floor for tie-downs, but there were no belts. Worse yet, the driver did not realize what those tie-down spots were for, so the back seat was situated almost in the middle of the front and back tie-down positions which left little to no space for a wheelchair. Only a couple of modifications were needed to solve the problem -- the back seat should be taken out for wheelchair clients and tie-down belts should be installed. I pointed this out to the driver, so hopefully they have since made changes. Needless to say, we did not get to do the tour with them that day, nor did we get to do the city tour they were supposed to take us on the next day. Fortunately, we had our own van, so we just toured on our own.
We immediately got in our van and drove 2 hours west to Lake Louise, located about 30 minutes northwest of Banff. The uniquely green lake is the most famous and most visited attraction in Banff National Park. There was accessible parking onsite, and an accessible pathway went around much of the lake. Almost as big an attraction as Lake Louise is the Chateau Lake Louise, a famous resort that overlooks the lake. After about an hour viewing the lake and walking through the hotel, we drove down the road to beautiful Moraine Lake. Once featured on the back of the Canadian $20 bill, the blue lake is another site that should not be missed. There is a restaurant on site that serves meals, although I felt a little robbed after we ate there. For the amount we paid, we did not get a lot of food at all, and I am not a big eater.
In the afternoon, we stopped in to Banff to visit a couple sights before returning to Calgary. We started at Bow Falls, a small waterfall near the Banff Springs Hotel. After a brief stop, we drove over to Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The site marks the birthplace of Canada's National Park system. Inside the cave are warm mineral springs. The site is only partially accessible, but that was fine by me. I was happy to move on.
Upon returning to Calgary, we made our way over to the Stampede grounds for the world-famous Calgary Stampede. For anyone planning to visit Calgary or the Canadian Rockies during the summer, I highly recommend timing your trip so that you can take in part of the 10-day Stampede. Cowboys from all over the world come to participate in various rodeo events, from roping calves to riding bucking broncos and bulls. There are also nightly chuckwagon races followed by an amazing Grandstand Show. Aside from the events taking place in the Grandstand, there is a big midway full of rides and food vendors, as well as several buildings offering live entertainment and various exhibitions. Several big-name concerts also take place at the Saddledome. The two highlights, though, are the afternoon rodeo followed by the evening Chuckwagon races/Grandstand Show. Tickets for the two events are sold separately or as a package, although they do not recommend that you do them both on the same day as it can make for a long day. Besides, with everything else going on in the park, one needs at least two days to take in everything at the Stampede. We chose to take in the Chuckwagon races/Grandstand Show the first night and return the next day for the rodeo. The accessible seating in the Grandstand was very good. There was indoor, air conditioned seating on the club level as well as outdoor seating in the first row of the main level.
I had hoped to take in more of the attractions in and around Calgary, but we ran out of time. We did stop in at the Calgary Tower before leaving town though. Admission to the observation deck was free for wheelchair users since there were some sections where wheelchair users would find it hard to see due to the height of the wall. The observation deck offered a great view of Calgary and the surrounding area.
The next morning we were off to Banff, where we stayed one night. We immediately went to our hotel to drop off our things. The hotel was located right in town within walking distance to all the shops. Our hotel room was a decent size (, , ). There was space for a queen bed and a roll-away bed, and there was also an accessible balcony. The bathroom included a roll-in shower, although there was a slight lip upon entering it (, ). The hotel also served a free continental breakfast daily.
After quickly dropping off our luggage, we made the short drive over to Lake Minnewanka for a boat cruise. Reservations were not necessary, and no ramp was needed to board the boat as the entrance was nearly flush with the dock (, , , ). The cruise took us for a 1.5 hour tour of Lake Minnewanka and the surrounding area. It was narrated by a guide who explained the history of the region and pointed out notable sights.
Next, we drove over to Banff Gondola for a trip to the top of Sulphur Mountain. The cable cars were accessible for wheelchair users. When it was my time to board, they simply flipped up a seat and got out a portable ramp, and then I just wheeled aboard (). At the top, there was an accessible observation area, as well as a restaurant and a gift shop. The observation area offers of a spectacular view of Banff and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. There was also a boardwalk that led out to another viewing area, but it was not acessible ().
After a short one-night stay in Banff, we were off to Jasper. The drive through the Rockies along the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives you will see anywhere. Banff to Jasper is about a 3.5 hour drive nonstop, but with so many point of interests along the way, it took us most of the day.
Our first stop was Bow Lake, which had a little parking area where people could get out and check out the view. After a brief stop, we drove further up the Parkway to beautiful Peyto Lake. There was a paved path out to the viewing area, but it was very steep (). I had my friend hold on to my handlebars to make sure my tires didn't star slipping on the way down. Someone in a manual wheelchair would definitely need assistance, and it would likely not be an easy task for the person helping. It is worth the effort though as Peyto Lake is one of the few sites that should not be missed.
Next, we stopped in at the Columbia Icefields, located just inside Jasper National Park. The Icefields consist of eight different glaciers that form the largest collection of ice and snow outside of the Arctic. The most visible glacier for tourists is the Athabasca Glacier which sits next to the highway. Tours onto the glacier are conducted in buses called Snocoaches, which are specially designed with huge tires. Nine of the 22 Snocoaches were equipped with hydraulic lifts and tie-downs for wheelchairs. After buying tickets, we were taken in a wheelchair accessible van ()across the highway where we transferred into the Snocoach (). Once we were out on the glacier, the Snocoach stopped and everyone was able to get out and walk around a little. I was able to get out as well, although I didn't go very far as the snow made it a little rough. Besides, it was freezing out and I wasn't too interested in hanging outside for very long anyway. (Icefield pics)
After the Icefields, we made a quick stop at Sunwapta Falls before heading to Jasper. Our accommodations near Jasper were excellent. We had a spacious accessible cabin (, ) that included 2 queen beds, a sofabed, and a kitchen/living room (, , , , ). The bathroom was also quite large and included a roll-in shower (, , ). There was also a restaurant onsite.
We started our only full day in Jasper with a drive up Mount Edith Cavell. Unfortunately, it did not turn out to be accessible at all. The road to the top was very long and full of potholes. At the top there was a steep trail on a paved path, but it was not doable for wheelchair users. So, we turned around and drove back down the mountain and on to Athabasca Falls. There were a couple boardwalks offering different viewpoints of the Falls, but only one was wheelchair accessible and it did not go out very far, which left me with only a side view of the Falls.
Our next stop was the Jasper Tramway, where an accessible tram brought us to the top of Whistler's Mountain for a spectacular view of Jasper and the surrounding region. Each tram held a maximum of 30 passengers. They had some plywood that they used for a ramp into the tram, but we didn't need it as the tram entrance was almost flush with the boarding area (). Like the Banff Gondola, there was an accessible observation area and a restaurant at the top.
The last stop of the day was at Maligne Canyon, which was only partially accessible. There was a paved path throughout the canyon, but only the upper part of canyon was doable, and even that was difficult due to steep paths and broken pavement. The paths in the lower canyon were way too difficult for a wheelchair to navigate.
That was it for the sightseeing portion of our trip. The next morning we made the 8 hour drive from Jasper to Vancouver, where we stayed one last night before flying home. We stayed at a hotel across from the airport. It was a decent hotel. Our room had one queen bed and a sofabed (, , ), and the bathroom had a roll-in shower (, , ). There was also a restaurant onsite. The only problem we had at the hotel came at check-out time. I wanted to leave our hoyer lift at the front desk with the concierge as it was scheduled to be picked up by a local medical company a day later. I have done this at many, many hotels without a single problem. However, I was told by the front desk person at this hotel that they had no storage space and could not hold on to it. I was quite shocked and unsure what to do as we were flying out only a few hours later. So, I basically just argued and caused a fuss with the receptionist until his co-worker finally suggested that they could store it in their staff room over night. Problem solved. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, I guess.
All in all, the trip went very well. The only unfortunate part was that the weather in Vancouver was unseasonably cool all week long, so it felt more like October than July. We were still able to see everything we hoped to see though, and the weather turned around nicely for our week in Alberta. While 2 weeks is clearly not enough time to take in all the attractions of each city, it was enough time to experience the major highlights.
BANFF NATIONAL PARK PICTURES
JASPER NATIONAL PARK PICTURES
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