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Day by Day Itinerary

On this comprehensive northwest park tour, you'll discover some of nature's most stunning creations. Begin in cosmopolitan Seattle, then travel east to cowboy country and the great wilderness. Experience the grandeur of Glacier National Park's frozen peaks, delight in the vistas of Canadian National Parks at Jasper and Banff, and round out your odyssey with three nights in Vancouver, British Columbia's sparkling city by the sea. Along the way, you'll enjoy an exciting ride on The Ice Explorer snowcoach and savor a special lunch at Edwardian-flavored Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Plus, extend your travel dollar with our pre-trip extension in Seattle & Victoria, or our post-trip extension in Seattle.

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  • Once in Seattle, meet your fellow travelers, including those who arrived here earlier for our optional pre-trip Seattle & Victoria extension, during a Welcome Reception at your hotel.

  • After breakfast, you’ll begin a full-day ride eastward through the ruggedly beautiful Cascade Mountains to Spokane, about 320 miles from Seattle. During your travel today, notice as the mountain landscape transforms into grassy plains. You’ll make several stops along the way, including a break for lunch on your own in Leavenworth, a town reminiscent of a Bavarian village. The day's final destination, Spokane (the "Lilac City"), was founded in 1871 and sits on the Spokane River in eastern Washington State.

    Get better acquainted with your fellow travelers over a Welcome Dinner at your hotel this evening.

  • After breakfast, depart for Kalispell, Montana, stopping for a presentation at Cataldo Mission State Park, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, by a local guide known as a "black robe."

    The "black robes" originated as a group of Jesuit settlers who had learned of the incredible powers of indigenous medicine men, known for wearing black vestments. Today, the church known as Cataldo Mission stands as the oldest building in the state, and a symbol of unity between local tribesmen and the Jesuit settlers.

    Upon arrival in Kalispell this afternoon, settle into your hotel, located just outside Glacier National Park. You’ll enjoy dinner on your own this evening; your Program Director will be able to offer recommendations.

  • Today, you’ll travel to Montana's Glacier National Park, a beautiful wilderness area of more than one million acres. Established in 1910, the U.S. and Canadian governments combined it with Alberta’s Waterton Park in 1932, creating the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Over millennia, glaciers carved out a rugged landscape of spectacular mountains, pristine lakes, and breathtaking scenery.

    In the late afternoon, you will see the local cowboy culture brought to life during an included visit to the Lonesome Dove Guest Ranch. You’ll get a true taste of life on a rustic Montana ranch—a bed and breakfast that caters to both its guests and their horses. Here, you'll meet the cowboys and see the beautiful horses.

    After a home-cooked dinner on the ranch, you will return to your Kalispell hotel. Be sure to look up at the stars that light up Montana’s fabled “Big Sky” before you depart.

    Please note: Weather conditions in this region are always unpredictable, so the road to Glacier National Park may be closed unexpectedly at any time of year. In such cases, alternate itineraries will be arranged.

  • Today, you head north into Canada on the British Columbia side of the Canadian Rockies. Choose a spot for lunch on your own in Fort Steele Heritage Town, a restored 1890s mining boomtown that will stimulate your senses with the sights and sounds of frontier life. Feel the rhythm of western life through the town’s scripted street dramas by joining tours aboard horse-drawn wagons, or by listening to costumed townsfolk in lively debate over the controversies of their day.

    The latter part of the afternoon will be spent traveling to your lodging in Banff; you'll arrive at the hotel late in the afternoon. You dine on your own this evening — ask your Program Director for suggestions on nearby restaurants.

  • After breakfast, you’ll tour the town of Banff, truly a gem set in the Canadian Rockies. The site of Canada’s oldest and most spectacular national park, Banff is nestled in a charming valley dominated by high mountains. During today’s included tour, discover why it’s also the country’s most popular parkland.

    You’ll also enjoy the scenic Tunnel Mountain Drive that loops around the park. Close by, you’ll find the curiously shaped hoodoos—spires of eroded limestone and sandstone.

    Then, visit the Buffalo Nations Museum, dedicated to the Native Americans who inhabited the Northern Plains and Canadian Rockies before the arrival of the Europeans. Enjoy scenic views throughout your return to Banff, where you may spend the afternoon and evening at your leisure.

  • Today’s full-day transfer to Jasper is a 185-mile trek across one of the most spectacular highways in the world, the Icefields Parkway. Stop along the way for lunch at beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The lake was named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria. When thawed, the blue-green waters appear almost tropical, though it generally stays frozen through mid-June. The Victorian lodge commands a spectacular view of the lake and surrounding mountains, and it offers paths you can stroll between shoreline and cliffs. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is large and varied enough to impress you as a world unto itself.

    After lunch, ride over Bow Pass, which rises to an altitude of 7,000 feet. This Icefields Parkway route shows you the many glaciers of the Columbia Icefields, the largest body of ice in the Rocky Mountains; and the Athabasca Glacier, the biggest glacier accessible by road in the Canadian Rockies. You’ll ride the Ice Explorer onto the Athabasca Glacier, whose ice is almost 1,000 feet thick. Stepping onto the glacier’s surface, don’t fight the temptation to toss a snowball or two!

    You’ll stay the next two nights in the town of Jasper, an old trading post town located in the heart of Jasper National Park, the Canadian Rockies’ largest National Park. Dine on your own in the hotel or at one of Jasper’s restaurants.

  • Today is yours to make your own independent discoveries. The town of Jasper was founded in 1911 when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was built along the Athabasca River to the Yellowhead Pass, although a settlement here served as a trading post for fur trappers before the railroad came. Today Jasper is a quiet, friendly town set in the heart of a broad valley and guarded by mountains.

    Aside from wandering the town, you may wish to take a ride up Whistler's Mountain aboard the Jasper Tramway. Back in town, the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum is an engaging repository of artifacts from the days of the area’s earliest settlers.

    Perhaps you will choose to take an optional river rafting tour on the Athabasca River today. The Athabasca originates in Jasper National Park, and has calm stretches from which you can enjoy the wildlife and scenery sliding by.

    You may also choose to join us for an optional cruise on Maligne Lake this afternoon, a golden opportunity to relax and experience the sheer majesty of the Rockies in all their unspoiled glory. Before setting out, enjoy afternoon tea at Maligne Canyon. Then, depart on your cruise—you’ll cruise this turquoise lake for about 90 minutes, passing by world-famous Spirit Island.

    Please note: The Maligne Lake Cruise and afternoon tea operates from June to September.

  • Your full-day transfer to Sun Peaks takes you past Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Travel along the scenic Thomson River, with a picnic lunch along the way. Your transfer continues through Wire Cache Provincial Park and along the Thomson River, a tributary of the mighty Fraser River, before you arrive late afternoon at your hotel.

    Dinner is included at your hotel tonight.

  • Travel today to Vancouver, stopping en route at Fraser Canyon to board the scenic Hell’s Gate Airtram. Then, enjoy an included lunch overlooking the canyon. This beautiful, historic canyon is formed by the Fraser River, which begins in the Canadian Rockies and runs through narrow canyons and vast valley floors down to its Pacific Ocean outlet in Vancouver. This area is world-renowned for salmon fishing and white-water rafting. During late summer and early fall, you may see some Sockeye Salmon breaking the water’s surface as they make their way from the ocean upriver to their inland spawning grounds.

    Continue your ride down from the Cascades to the Pacific Coast, arriving at your Vancouver hotel late in the afternoon.

    Vancouver is both beautiful and sophisticated. Ask your Program Director for suggestions on where to dine on your own this evening. You’ll find a wide choice of excellent restaurants, with myriad international cuisines available.

  • On this morning’s included city tour, you’ll see how Vancouver’s urban character is complemented by its proximity to mountains, lush forests, and beaches.

    Then visit Stanley Park, dedicated by Lord Stanley in 1889 for the “use and enjoyment of all people of all colors, creeds, and customs for all time.” The park houses an aquarium, a collection of totem poles, and a miniature railroad, and it’s adorned with majestic evergreen forests, a beautiful formal rose garden, and pristine beaches.

    Your tour concludes in Vancouver’s Gastown, the historical center of the city. In 1867, a retired riverboat captain, John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, arrived and opened a saloon. Despite repeated attempts to give the district a more dignified name, it has maintained its nickname of Gastown. After its heyday, the area was destined to sink into a seedy “skid row” district, but was rejuvenated in the 1970s. It is now a charming restored district that was declared a historical monument in 1972.

    Enjoy your afternoon and evening at leisure. You may want to explore cosmopolitan Robson Street, a shopping mecca for more than 100 years. Or, discover one of Vancouver’s most striking landmarks, Canada Place.

    Or, join a Capilano Suspension Bridge optional tour—during which you'll utilize suspended walkways to view the area's coastal forest and thriving flora and fauna.

    Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.

  • Visit Vancouver's exotic and expansive Chinatown. You'll enter the second-largest Chinatown in North America through the gaily-painted pillars of China Gate. Once inside, you’ll find such landmarks as the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives and the Sam Kee building, the narrowest office building in the world. You’ll notice that many of Chinatown’s buildings date from Victorian times and have typically Chinese features. The Chinese were among the first settlers of Vancouver, so while it’s a relatively new city, Chinatown is one of its oldest neighborhoods.

    While in Chinatown, you'll explore the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first of its kind outside of China. As you wander the manicured grounds, you might feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to 15th-century China, and you’ll learn about the Ming Dynasty through the architecture and horticulture you find here.

    After time to explore on your own, enjoy lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant.

    You have another evening free to pursue your interests in Vancouver on your own, whether they include nightlife or a relaxed dinner in this friendly city.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    You will ride back to Seattle this morning, with a stop along the way to take in the scenery and stretch your legs.

    You arrive at Pike Place Market in Seattle with time to explore independently. Pike Place Market is a nine-acre historic district originally created in 1907 to provide farmers with a place to sell their produce without the high increase of middlemen’s commissions. Today, Pike Place offers the best in local produce, seafood, meat, and international foods, along with unique gifts handmade by local craftspeople. After lunch on your own, meet your Program Director and board a coach for an included city tour.

    Enjoy a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant this evening. Take this opportunity to relive memories of your trip and perhaps exchange addresses with newfound friends.

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home.

    Or, begin your optional post-trip extension in Seattle.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This trip features a fair amount of walking, often through sites without ramps or elevators.
  • For your comfort and safety, we recommend this program only to individuals in good physical condition. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please consult our Travel Counselors for guidance.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.
  • Several days feature long overland transfers by motorcoach, during which you'll view some of the finest scenery in the Pacific Northwest.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Hotel Five

    Seattle, Washington | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    Conveniently located in downtown Seattle, Hotel Five offers access to all of downtown Seattle’s attractions. Your room comes equipped with air-conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, an in-room safe, satellite TV, and wireless Internet access.

  • Red Lion River Inn

    Spokane, Washington | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Red Lion River Inn is located along the banks of the Spokane River and within easy walking distance of downtown shopping, Riverfront Park, and the Spokane Opera House and Convention Center. Gonzaga University is located right next door. The hotel offers air-conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, satellite TV, a private bath with hair dryer, and complimentary high-speed wireless Internet access in all rooms.

  • Red Lion Kalispell

    Kalispell, Montana

    In downtown Kalispell, the Red Lion offers a place to relax in the region's natural beauty while enjoying modern amenities such as a health club, indoor pool, and hot tub. Your room has cable TV, wireless Internet access, a refrigerator and microwave, air conditioning, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Mount Royal Hotel

    Banff, Alberta | Rating: First Class

    Built in 1908, the First-Class Mount Royal Hotel offers guests a classic charm and convenient location within walking distance of many of Banff's shops, art galleries, and nightlife. Your hotel features a business center, and 24-hour front desk and security. Your air-conditioned room’s amenities include private bath and shower, hair dryer, fireplace, radio/alarm clock, refrigerator, telephone, TV, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Tonquin Motor Inn

    Jasper, Alberta | Rating: First Class

    Inside Jasper National Park sits the well-appointed and comfortable Tonquin Motor Inn, with a fitness center, indoor heated pool, hot tub and spa services. Your air-conditioned room is equipped with a telephone, satellite television, and wireless Internet access.

  • Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Lodge

    Sun Peaks, British Columbia

    Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Lodge is located in the verdant heart of British Columbia, near the scenic Sun Peaks mountain resort. The hotel features a sauna and hot tub, as well as an on-site restaurant. Each room is equipped with a private bath and hair dryer, TV, DVD player, and coffee- and tea-making facilities. Wireless Internet access is available in common areas.

  • Executive Hotel Vintage Park

    Vancouver, mbia | Rating: First Class

    Situated in downtown Vancouver, the Executive Hotel Vintage Park provides access to all the city's attractions. Enjoy a free daily newspaper in your room, which comes with satellite TV, wireless high-speed Internet access, a refrigerator, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Quality Hotel

    Vancouver, British Columbia

    Located in downtown Vancouver, this hotel offers amenities such as concierge and room service, and wireless Internet access in common areas. Your air-conditioned room has a telephone, a free daily newspaper, wireless Internet access and satellite TV, as well as coffee- and tea-making facilities.

Extensions

  • Hotel Five

    Seattle, Washington | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    Conveniently located in downtown Seattle, Hotel Five offers access to all of downtown Seattle’s attractions. Your room comes equipped with air-conditioning, coffee- and tea-making facilities, an in-room safe, satellite TV, and wireless Internet access.

  • Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel

    Victoria, British Columbia | Rating: First Class

    Opened in May 2004, the First-Class Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour is located just steps from Inner Harbour and offers views including the Legislative building, the Olympic Mountain range, and the Pacific Ocean. Along with Fire & Water, its signature restaurant, hotel amenities include a fitness room, an indoor pool, and whirlpool.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2795
w/ standard air $3295

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Lonesome Dove Guest Ranch visit. Tour a Montana ranch and learn about daily life there. Then sit down for dinner with your cowboy hosts and fellow travelers.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 3 National Parks

  • Glacier National Park
  • Banff National Park
  • Jasper National Park

The Ice of Time

How glaciers carved the Canadian Rockies

by David Valdes Greenwood, for Grand Circle

The stone-crushing weight of the glaciers makes them a force to be reckoned with.

Imagine a vast sea of ice sprawling for 85 square miles. You don’t have to be in the Arctic Circle to experience this majestic frozen vista: It’s the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies, where Banff and Jasper National Parks meet. Feeding eight glaciers, the ice of which reaches depths of up to 1,000 feet, it’s not like any other landscape in North America. But frozen doesn’t mean unmoving: The Icefield continues to shift over time, carving out its own niche in the mountains.

The slow hand of Mother Nature

When the Rocky Mountains appeared, during the Cretaceous era, they were thrust upward by seismic activity that can truly be described as earth-shattering, with summits estimated at 30,000 feet—over twice the height of Everest. An estimated 150,000 years ago, in the Pleistocene Era, sheets of glacial ice covered all but the very peaks, a state which remained until about 20,000 years ago when warmer air began to change the shape of the glaciers.

Glaciers move when warming surfaces begin to melt, the resulting water drilling little holes called moulins through the ice, slim rivulets reaching all the way to the bedrock beneath, then flowing beneath the frozen masses. This buried runoff makes a slippery surface upon which the glacier begins to slide forward, like a sled on a hill. It’s not a speedy charge by any stretch, but it is a powerful kind of progress: The stone-crushing weight of the glaciers makes them a force to be reckoned with. Over the course of thousands of years, the ice here has whittled away the mountaintops and carved out the skyline we see today: Jagged peaks and wide valleys formed as the glaciers muscled their way through.

“Discovering” the giant underfoot

Despite its massive size, the Columbia Icefield was unknown to most of the world until an adventurous pair of climbers headed up Mt. Athabasca. On the surface it was an unlikely duo: Herman Woolley, a book publisher who never set foot on a mountain until he turned forty, and J. Norman Collie, a chemist by training. But Woolley knew he was in good hands with Collie, who had made himself a serious mountaineer: He was the first to climb 21 of the Canadian Rockies (and eventually named 30 of Canada’s peaks).

When the men reached the summit of Athabasca, they were greeted by a vision they never expected. As Collie later wrote, “To the westward stretched a vast icefield probably never seen before by the human eye, and surrounded entirely by unknown, unnamed, and unclimbed peaks.” They’d actually been walking on the ice for part of their trek, but without any idea of the glacial scope until they saw it from above.

Nothing cold can stay

Collie was the first to surmise, correctly, a unique feature of the landscape below. Forming a triple Continental Divide, the melting waters of the icefield flow to the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the North Atlantic alike, making this glacial confluence a key player in the ecosystem of Canada and beyond. That importance makes it worrisome that the glaciers appear to be thinning.

This is especially clear in the Athabasca Glacier, which serves as the face of the group thanks to its accessibility. While it still shows motion of several centimeters a day, it is clearly receding from its past glory, having lost more than a mile of its forward edge in the last 100 years. In fact, global climate experts estimate that Athabasca will disappear within a century’s time; it may yield a beautiful lake in its wake, but perhaps no longer contribute to the flow of waters as it once did.

For travelers who wish to walk on an ancient glacier, that means now is the time to visit the Icefield. For scientists, the big question is this: How will the next act of these ever-changing glaciers transform the Rockies this time?