You don't mention the date of your visit, so let's assume that you're coming in the summer.
The approach you've mentioned is often recommended on this forum for people with little time. It lets you see many of the major Parkway sights, but makes it possible to get back to your base in Banff or Lake Louise for the evening. Of course, it would always be preferable to do the whole Parkway, but if your time is short, this is a good approach.
Also assuming this is a summer visit ... If doing the parkway as a day trip from a base in Banff or Lake Louise, I usually recommend Tangle Falls as the turn-around point. Tangle Falls are only 10 km north of the Columbia Icefield, so they don't add too much more time on. The falls are right beside the road, so very accessible as well as very beautiful, and that section of road is scenic. Also, the approach to the Columbia Icefield area from the north is quite spectacular.
Doing the parkway from Lake Louise to Tangle Falls (or the Icefields) and back is about 5 hours of driving, but with scenic stops and photo ops, it will take up a whole day. Pack a picnic lunch and beverages - food services along the way are scarce, expensive and "underwhelming", bu there are lots of beautiful picnic areas where you can stop.
In answer to your question; Yes, you'd be missing quite a bit not including Jasper (krp is being very polite).
Your time limit is usually the minimum recommended for the Banff area (incl L Louise) alone so something's got to give. Can this be your time limit? You haven't given any clue as to the imperative of this- it IS fundamental. Difficult to imagine anywhere taking preference over the Rockies...
The Icefields Parkway is one of THE great drives of the World (and has many beguiling diversions just off it).
My friend and I are coming over in september and are doing the journey from banff to jasper and after reading the comments it sounds a fantastic drive
Thanks for the comments.
Yes i am coming in the Summer - July.
As regards time limit. I can possibly extend a couple of days if needs be but that will increase the cost.
Thanks for your help
There is another thread running today about staying in Lake Louise, but at the risk of repeating myself, LL is close enough to Banff (a 45-minute scenic drive away) that staying in both is not really necessary (although it may be your preference) because you can easily visit both Lake Louise and nearby Moraine Lake from a base in Banff, or one of the outlying accommodations between Banff and Lake Louise. My own personal preference is to avoid one night stays unless absolutely necessary - in my opinion, packing up and checking out, checking in and unpacking eat up valuable vacation time.
Accommodation in Lake Louise is much more limited than Banff, and much more expensive. Dining options are also limited. LL is a very small village (not a real village in the sense of a permanent town - there is no church, no school etc.; it is a centre for servicing park visitors).
Seven nights in the Rockies is a pretty common itinerary, and yes, splitting it 4 and 3 makes a lot of sense.
Further to ATSF's comments above - by driving the southern portion of the IP as far as Tangle Falls, you see the most spectacular parts, including the Columbia Icefield. Of course there is more beautiful scenery between Tangle Falls and the town of Jasper, and much more to see by staying a few days in Jasper so that you can visit the popular scenic attractions in other areas of the park other than south along the IP, but I recognize that people have limited vacation time and funds, and it's just not always possible to see everything. By dint of its remoteness and being further away from an airport and a major city, Jasper gets about half of the number of visitors per year that Banff does (about 2 millions vs. 4 million) ... of course the local business people would like that number to be much higher, but part of the charm of Jasper is that it is smaller, quieter and not quite as touristy as Banff.
Visitation to the parks creates quandaries about how many visitors there are, what activities they do, where they go and the services they need vs. how it affects the parks in terms of ecological impacts. It is possible to love a place to death, and some very eminent scientists have made some very compelling arguments that there is a danger of this happening with some of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks. From a resident's point of view, there are some very busy times in the summer (long weekends, for instance) when the town is bursting at the seams; and much as we welcome visitors and need them (the town's economy depends on tourism, as does the livelihood of two of the four people in my family, and partially in the case of another), a town of 5,000 can only deal with so many at once, and there are times when there are perhaps too many. I always ensure I have extra groceries on hand before a long weekend, because the grocery stores sometimes run out of certain items by Sunday (they don't have enough fridge & storage space to stock up enough for really busy times), and the next truck won't be in until Tuesday or Wednesday. I usually don't drive downtown to pick up groceries or go to the post office in the summer - I use my bicycle as much as I can because it can be almost impossible sometimes to find a parking spot near the grocery store. The line-ups in the shops and at the post office in the summer can get a bit wearying at times, not to mention the drivers who are not accustomed to driving on the same side of the road as we do, and those who miss the "one way street" signs on one of the main downtown streets. But it's also really cool to walk down the street and hear foreign languages from all around the globe, and to meet happy visitors who are totally enthralled with the Rockies and my chosen home town. :)
Yes we recognise staying longer will increase costs, but that is usually cheaper than a return visit...
If you let us in on the other parts of your itinerary, we can be of more assistance- and maybe offset this extra cost by suggesting a slight change of plan to your advantage.
Posting a 'fait accompli' as in an itinerary already booked and asking us to 'rubber stamp' it (as some do) places us in a quandary as to what to say.
How well travelled you are isn't clear, but it may be everywhere else will be a disappointment after the Rockies...I'm not sure you have a grip on the sheer scale of the area- without research, I'd guess B Columbia is 20x the size of Ireland (4 wide, 5 'high').I know, we're in Alberta!
Lets put it this way - we spent two days getting from Jasper and down the Icefields Parkway, before turning west on Highway 1 and heading to Revelstoke. The joys of living here is that we could save Banff for another trip. So, yes, I would say you would be missing plenty. This is so much more than a four-hour scenic drive. I think we spent a good three hours in and around the Columbia Icefields alone. You do have to make tough choices when planning a trip like this, but as ATSF points out, its going to be a lot cheaper than the regrets you may suffer if you miss out.
Also, weather is critical when visiting the Rockies. The longer your stay, the better your chances of a bright, clear day to see the best of the views. It would be a crime to come all this way, have only one day in your schedule to see the Parkway, and to see nothing because of cloud cover on that day. By planning to do the full drive up to Jasper, spend a night or two, and then drive back down again, you can hopefully work it to your best advantage with the weather.
Thanks for all the replies folks.
I've rejigged my itinerary and decided to stay on a little longer thanks to your advice.
The following is what i am currently thinking:
4 nights in Banff - we will be arriving late at night and also we will have a long flight and would like somewhere to base ourselves for a few days before we pack up and leave
1 night Lake Louise
2 nights Japser
Train from Jasper to Vancouver overnight.
6 nights Vancouver.
What do you think of that itinerary?
Thanks for all the help
That looks great! I'm sure you'll be happy that you made those changes. You will want to look into the implications of the one-way car rental, however.Edited: 02 January 2012, 12:05