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Shoulder-Season Value in the Canadian Rockies

While waiting for a semi-permanent spot for my motorhome to become available in Washington state on November 1, I had some time available in October and decided to make a fall visit to Canada’s incredible Rocky Mountains.

Although I had explored the region extensively and repeatedly in the past, I had never been there during the initial weeks of autumn so was curious as to whether it is a salable destination for tour groups at that time of the year, from mid-September to mid-October. Despite some potential concerns with weather and seasonal closures, my experiences have prompted me to answer this proposition with a resounding yes.

Virtually everyone is aware that the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta constitutes one of the world’s finest spectacles. However, even though the current strength of the U.S. dollar ($1 Canadian equals about $.76 as of this writing) has made Canadian vacations significantly more affordable than in past years, the Rockies region remains an expensive place to visit during the summer high-season months. So, before my departure, I contacted longtime friend Roland Neave, owner of Wells Gray Tours, Ltd., in Kamloops, British Columbia, to get his take on the situation. Neave confirmed my suspicion that area hotels and motels have much less business between the summer and ski seasons and are willing to play “let’s make a deal” to help fill vacant rooms during that time of the year. As a bonus this year, in celebration of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, admission to all Parks Canada sites is free of charge.

My experience with just one room (I was touring in my car, not my motorhome) proved that affordable lodging there is indeed available in early October, as I averaged spending just $56.39 nightly for the 13 nights I was in the area, and more than half of that included a continental breakfast. It seems likely that since I secured comfortable lodging individually for this kind of money, group deals for 25 or 30 rooms would be even more attractive, depending, of course, on the negotiation skills of the tour planner involved. Therefore, if lodging facilities have beds that would otherwise go empty and groups have warm bodies to help fill them, this could constitute a win-win situation for all concerned. Japanese tour operators have apparently figured this out, as their groups (full coaches, by the way) were the only ones I encountered along the way.

What is it like in the Canadian Rockies in early October, and what are the concerns to which I referred above?  First, a few of the park facilities, like visitor centers and lodges, were closed for the season, but the magnificent scenery was still easily accessible. Not surprisingly, the weather was a bit iffy, with both glorious days of bright-blue skies and sunshine, and others when it rained. Temperatures were comfortably cool, so travelers should bring jackets or coats. There were also a couple of days when it snowed at higher elevations, but this did not in any way inhibit my touring, plus the sight of snow-covered mountain peaks and pine forests added considerably to the scenic splendor. To sum up, the weather there is likely to be just as unpredictable as it is in many other places year-round, but in this case, it is more than compensated for by the substantially lower prices. And I haven’t even mentioned the wildlife and the beautiful fall foliage that I saw in many areas.