Banff National Park
Thousands of visitors each year make the journey to Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada and the world’s third, covering 6,641 square kilometres or 2,564 square miSkiing at Lake Louise – Banff Accommodationsles, of valley, wild life, glaciers, rivers, Rocky Mountains, meadows and forests. What we know today as Banff, was discovered over 100 years ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway workers, while building the transcontinental Canadian railway. Now, visitors come to enjoy the rugged wilderness and such activities as hiking, fishing, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, boating and soaking in hot springs, and one of the world’s premier destination spots.
Banff is a bustling international destination year round, as avid skiers return year after year to some of the best downhill skiing in the world at Mystic Ridge/Norquay, Skiing Louise, and . Sunshine Village ski areas.
There are two ways to enter the park, which covers 6,641 square kilometres. From the east/west via the TransCanada Highway (Hwy. l) or from the north and south via Hwy. 93 which connects with Hwy. 1. There are two exits off the Trans-Canada into the town of Banff. Driving between Banff and Lake Louise, you can also take the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy. lA);although this route is somewhat slower, it offers good scenery and a greater possibility of seeing wildlife.
While in Banff, you can shop for fine leather goods, jewellery, ceramics and beautiful clothing; dine in a wide variety of restaurants, golf at the Banff Springs Golf Course; cycle (rental bikes are available); ride horseback; see the Rockies from a helicopter; take a float or white-water rafting trip along the Bow River; visit museums and art galleries; and hike along any of 1,000 kilometres of trails.
If you would rather watch scenery than traffic, motor coach tours operate from Banff all the way up to Jasper and points in between!
You may enjoy a trip to Tunnel Mountain. Entering Banff on the eastern exit from Hwy. 1, watch for the sign to Tunnel Mtn. Road just a short distance from the highway. From there, the route winds around the back of Tunnel Mtn. past viewpoints, campgrounds and picnic sites to the hoodoos which are strangely shaped pillars of glacial silt and clay, sculpted by years of wind and erosion.
For an aerial view of the town site and its surroundings, take the Gondola Lift to the summit of Sulphur Mtn. Three observation terraces offer unobstructed panoramic views, and easy hiking trails are nearby. The Summit Restaurant is a beautiful place to enjoy lunch. Most tourists pay to ride the gondola to the summit for the spectacular views. But those who wish to can hike the trail to the top! The hike takes approximately 90-120 minutes and you can choose to hike or ride the gondola down!
Nearby is the famous Upper Hot Springs. Soaking in this open-air pool with its thermally heated 102-degree waters, overlooking the Banff valley, is the perfect way to unwind after an active day.
Lovely Lake Minnewanka is just 8 kilometres northeast of Banff town site. Take a sightseeing cruise to Devil’s Gap, rent a motorboat or fish for lake trout (some up to 14 kilograms), lake and Rocky Mountain whitefish from the fully equipped 22-foot cabin cruisers available from Minnewanka Tours Ltd. at the dock.
Along the road to Lake Minnewanka from Banff, you can enjoy a little historical experience. The town of Bankhead existed here for 20 years as a coal-mining community. A decrease in the use of coal combined with labour strikes and new Canadian National Parks policies and ideals led to the town being completely shut down, and all the buildings removed. The site is now an interpretive area, with trails among the crumbling foundations; photos and informative signboards help bring the town back to life in your imagination.
Along Hwy. lA to Lake Louise is Johnston Canyon with its cascading waterfalls, the Ink Pots (a group of 7 cold water springs nestled in an open meadow beyond the canyon) and the funny little water ouzel, a comical bird that dives, swims and even walks under water!
If you visit Moraine Lake, off Hwy. 1 just before you reach Lake Louise, you may think you have seen it before – and you have! One of the most photographed lakes in the world, Moraine Lake is pictured on the back of older versions of the Canadian $20 bill! When the lake is glassy calm, the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the· surrounding mountain range, is perfectly reflected in the turquoise water.
Another well-known scene is Lake Louise, 30 kilometres north of Banff, and at the base of Mt. Victoria. Although too cold for swimming, the lake is great for canoeing. You can hike the 6.5 kilometre Plain-of-the-Six-Glaciers Trail to a spectacular view of the Victoria Glacier. Almost 150 metres thick in places, the glacier covers more than 2 square kilometres. The hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is also rewarding. Canada’s longest aerial tramway is the Lake Louise Ski Area Sightseeing Lift, which takes you 3.2 kilometres to the top of Whitehorn Mtn. to a stunning vantage point overlooking the area around the lake, Mt. Victoria and the continental divide.
The Columbia Icefields lie north along Hwy. 93 (the Icefields Parkway) about 2 hours’ drive from Banff, and a visit is well worthwhile. “Snowcoaches” venture out onto Athabasca Glacier, and riders can step out onto ice which is 40,000 years old and more than 1,000 feet thick! ! The ice fields represent the largest continuous ice field in North America, south of the arctic circle.
Because it’s a long day-trip, you are well-advised to head straight to the glacier and then take your time on the way back along the Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Majestic peaks scrape the skies, blue-white fingers of glaciers drop through mountain passes, and alpine lakes shimmer in the sun. Light reflecting off glacial silt helps produce the ice’s radiant jade green to teal blue hues, as you can see here in a picture of Peyto Lake along the Parkway.
Drives to more remote sites are worth the extra time and kilometres. These include Takkakaw Falls and Emerald Lake, west on Hwy. 1 near the charming town of Field, British Columbia. Emerald Lake is a beautiful place to enjoy cross-country skiing in the winter as well.
Hiking trails at Sunshine VillageBanff National Park is a wonderful place to visit any time of year, but for many people, the “shoulder seasons” – spring and fall are the best time of all. The crowds are fewer, price value is exceptional, and the weather is often ideal; the colors of flowers budding in spring or trees turning from green to amber in the autumn are a photographer’s dream when set against the mountain backdrop.
Walk among the magenta fireweed of Banff National Park’s trails, dip your paddle into emerald green lakes, gaze up at snow-capped peaks and say a silent “thank you” to those who had the foresight to preserve this exquisite wilderness.