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Old 12-10-2015, 12:45 PM   #1
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Volcanic Scenic Byway(Lassen/Crater Lake) or Banff/Jasper?

Hi all,

As the title says we are trying to plan our longer summer vacation(7-10 days) before things book up as I know a lot of places can be hard to get into. We keep going back and forth on which trip to take. We have a 28' trailer, 2 boys(will be 2 and 5), and a dog. We pull the trailer with a Silverado so will mainly be setting up camp and exploring with the truck. We prefer to bring the dog along, but can board him if becomes an issue. We also prefer to have at least elec hookups, with water/sewer a plus. We think we have it narrowed down to two options at this point:

Northern CA/Southern OR:
focus on the Volcanic scenic byway, especially Crater Lake and Lassen National Park. My 5 year old son is obsessed with volcanos and went crazy when we took him to Mt St. Helens, so part of why looking at this and also my wife has some sentiment for it as her grandparents passed away a year ago or so and one of the things we found and took when the family was sorting through their stuff was some cool rustic wooden salt and pepper shakers from Lassen, which we hadn't heard of before that. The other pluses is it seems like it's generally less crowded than many other National Parks. There also doesn't seem to be as much information on it here or we see comments about it being a drive through park, so having not been there we also don't want to be bored.

Banff/Jasper:
We've seen pictures/videos and it looks gorgeous, and got excited about it just reading all the various suggestions I've seen on their forum of places to stay and things to see. It reminds me of the North Cascades here in Washington(which we love) except on a much grander scale. The main concern is it also seems to be really crowded and if we don't want to worry about snow/ice too much the season is fairly limited, which probably adds to the crowds. It also seems that RV spots fill up pretty quickly which is why we are trying to plan and decide now(which may already be too late, but hopefully not).

I was curious what opinions others may have on these two areas. Any specific suggestions/recommendations/feedback?

P.S. We will probably take the trip somewhere between July1st and Labor day as it sounds like some trails like Bumpass Hell in Lassen don't open until July and similar in Banff/Jasper you can run into issues with snow/ice. The 5 year old will start Kindergarten in fall so unfortunately it will end our off season vacations we've enjoyed and would need to be back by end of Labor day weekend for his first day of school.
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Old 12-10-2015, 04:13 PM   #2
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My wife and I camped a few weeks in the Banff and Lake Louise area in September of this year. So, I can't comment on the July crowds. We had a few nights at 27*F, and a day with light snow that didn't last on the but an hour or so. That said, the weather in the Canadian Rockies is changeable. So your weather experience might be different.

When we return to the area, we will most likely bypass Banff. It was beautiful, and fun, but more tourist (shopping) oriented (IMHO). We will concentrate on camping at a variety of campgrounds along the Ice Fields Parkway (a 300km stretch of road between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta). There are so many hiking, kayaking, and fishing opportunities there...your 5 year old will be tuckered out with excitement every day.

That said, we took our kids to Lassen and Burney Falls when they were just slightly older than your two children (they are 40 and 38 years old now). It is a a hikers dream. It is volcano rich !!! We will be returning to the area to relive our family experiences as well.

Either of these choices would be excellent in my opinion. From your area, I would choose the Canadian area for this trip. The reason being travel time. You indicate that after this trip, extended trips will be limited because of your younger sons school. In future years, Lassen is more suited to the shorted vacation time available. You are doing a wonderful thing sharing nature with your children and building happy memories.

Here is a pano that I took with my iPhone along the Ice Fields Parkway in Canada:


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Old 12-10-2015, 04:36 PM   #3
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Another possible trip would be Craters of the Moon in Idaho on your way to Yellowstone....the ultimate volcano.
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Old 12-10-2015, 08:11 PM   #4
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If you haven't already viewed the official Lassen NP site it has some great information.

Explore the Hydrothermal Areas - Lassen Volcanic National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

There's also a short lava tube walk that the 5-yr-old would be interested in:

http://www.nps.gov/lavo/upload/Subway-Cave.pdf

I also thought of Crater of the Moon NP in Idaho although not a lot to do in the area like Lassen.

If you're looking for interests for the children I'd recommend Lassen over Banff. Banff is beautiful but not sure it would impress young children like Lassen would.
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Old 12-10-2015, 11:08 PM   #5
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Both places last year...a lotto snow at Crater Lake in late Spring but looked beautiful. And that approach to the trip is worth a family camping adventure.

We were in Canmore AB, touring in Banff, Lake Louis, and Jasper via day trips. July can be VERY busy. You need to plan to get to sites via day trips before 10 AM as parking fills up and creates very long walks for distant parking to get to sites like Lake Louis. But it is VERY beautiful. I was taken by the fact that you see a glacier in Glacier Natl Park. Driving from Canmore to Jasper, you'll see 5-7, and one has trips out onto the glacier via a specially designed touring vehicle.

Bottom line, tough choice...go to both.
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Old 12-11-2015, 10:17 AM   #6
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Thank you for all the replies so far. I'll try to reply to everyone.

HavingABlast, great picture, and thanks for all the information. Long trips definitely wouldn't be out, it's just the long off season trips will be out. We always liked going off season to avoid some of the crowds. The distances are about 2 hours difference although it seems Banff/Jasper would have more driving around to get to areas. Thanks for commending me on getting the kids into nature. We certainly hear it taking them on hikes too, but our older one has been hiking since he was 2 and we've been backpacking the younger one since he was about a week old. I already see technology take over so much of their life that I really feel like we have to get them out into nature and appreciate it, which was a big part of buying the camper as well.

Frantz, We definitely have Craters on our radar as well, but as twogypsies said, it wasn't clear how much else was in that general area so it may be added to some other trip. We of course plan on taking them to Yellowstone, but we'd like to wait until they are a bit older(at least the younger one) so they may appreciate it more.

twogypsies, I definitely checked out the websites along with the forum posts and pictures and videos. Travel the Volcanic Legacy Byway All American Road in Oregon and California was also good if anyone else viewing this thread is thinking of a similar trip. Sadly I hadn't seen much on Burney Falls before finding it on that site either and now it's a must go to on our trip as waterfalls are a family favorite.

DSL417, what you said about Banff is what I've heard a lot of and is part of what makes me lean towards Lassen. It's not that we don't get up early with the young kids, but even with that, getting us and them ready for the day takes a bit of time so we always seem to be getting out later than we plan on. How was Glacier? It was in our final 3 for this year, but we ultimately eliminated it for similar reasons to Banff, expect we had more trouble finding stuff we knew the kids would like besides driving the Sun road.
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Old 12-12-2015, 12:12 AM   #7
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I don't want to turn you away from Banff...just look hard at the time of year...DW saw her first moose at the lake eat of Canmore; there is more beauty per mile of scenery than any place we've visited in the US, driving from Canmore to Jasper. I've seen Glacier; it's beautiful, but the Banff area is better, JMHO, by a bunch. But for kids to see things that can impress...if it were me, I'd go to Yellowstone. Hiking trails, interesting sites etc. Second would be Yosemite, although I don't know what the impacts last year's fires were.

If you're going to do Oregon and Northern CA, then consider the Redwoods and the SW Oregon coast. We camped at Brookings and saw whales from the shore every day in May. Rogue River raft and speed boat trips are great for the kids as well.
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Old 12-12-2015, 06:55 AM   #8
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If you miss Banff/Jasper you will regret it. Stay at the Parcs campgroundS, you will see more wildlife just IN the campground than you can imagine. If you want a preview go to www.capecodtoalaska2014.com. We passed through both parks in June on our way to Alaska 2 years ago and were amazed. Yes, there is snow, but it is in the higher elevations, not on any of the roads. To be able to take pictures at 10 PM with an iPhone is amazing. The beauty will have you in awe.

DON'T MISS IT.


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Old 12-12-2015, 11:17 PM   #9
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My wife and I went to Banff and Lake Louis many years ago and had a great time. We rented a car and stayed in guest houses. We will do it again one day in our RV. My brother and his wife love going to Lassen. I haven't been in 40 years but that trip will happen within the next year. Either way you can't go wrong. Let us know what you decide to do.
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Old 12-13-2015, 03:12 PM   #10
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I consider the the Banff/Jasper area as one of the most awe inspiring areas we have ever traveled to. But so do many, so as stated, be prepared & plan accordingly. I consider Lassen a scaled down, much less visited (but it can get crowded) version of Yellowstone. Highly recommend it. And we love Crater Lake. As do the crowds. With Mt. Shasta between the two, if you're on a volcanic tour, these are classics. (Speaking of, when my kids were younger, took them to see the movie Dante's Peak. My high school age daughter expressed a great deal of interest in volcanoes. The following summer, we started at Lassen & worked our way north thru the volcanoes to Rainier. Time well spent. Her undergrad degree is in Geology. If your looking for hook-ups in the Lassen, Shasta & Crater Lake area, good facilities exist but they may require a little drive time. One of the various RV park review sites will help you pinpoint what fits you. {And one last visit down memory lane. When my son was 2, the family hiked Bumpass Hell in Lassen. He mentions his foot hurt. He'd developed a bad blister. I carried him back. (He was 10lbs at birth. Big kid!) He'd heard the story so many times that as a teenager, he insisted we do the hike there & much beyond.}. Those times you spend with your kids when they are young will be returned to you by orders of magnitude.
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Old 12-15-2015, 12:06 AM   #11
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Jasper is our favorite.. Book at whistler campground in Jan. There are other campgrounds. The campground is right in the national park. You can hike, swim, canoe, horseback ride, bike, take river raft trips. Full hookups. Here is a pic of the elk right in the campground this year.
Banff is nice and so is lake Louise...however Jasper is our favorite. Given the the exchange rate US /Canadian dollar about 30% more on your US dollar. Hope this helps.Click image for larger version

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Old 12-15-2015, 02:12 AM   #12
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We've been to both and I'd suggest Lassen/Crater Lake based on your travel time.

Canada's 4th of July is celebrated on July 1st.

Let me tell you about no place to camp as I found out the hard way. Also the Calgary Stampede is from July 8 to July 17.

I don't know what route you are taking but if are going across from the Pacific side you will pass over the steepest mountains I've ever driven over, and I've been to all the lower 48.
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Old 12-15-2015, 03:01 PM   #13
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Thank you for all the replies. I think at this point we are planning on doing Lassen/Crater Lake. We will definitely still take the Banff/Jasper trip in the coming years as everyone talks about how amazing it is, as well as Yellowstone as many others suggested. We just may wait until the boys are a bit older so they can enjoy it more.

If anyone has any specific recommendations on campgrounds in the area, I'd gladly take them. We are looking through options now and trying to set a general travel timeline so can figure out exactly how many days we want to stay at each place. Also if any one has suggestions on a good time to go. We can really going anytime between May and end of September. I mainly limited it to starting in July due to Lassen site saying often Bumpass hell trail doesn't open until then and we definitely want to do that hike(as well as risk of snow on Banff/Jasper when looking at that). Based on what I read and what others have said on here I suspect the timing to avoid crowds probably matters more for Crater Lake than Lassen and the best rule is probably to try to avoid holiday weekends.
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Old 12-15-2015, 03:31 PM   #14
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We are going to get a ton of rain and snow this year so I suggest leaning towards the latter time of the year.

Where are you coming from?
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