Banff National Park is located in the province of Alberta, among a cluster of national parks (with Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho) which showcase the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The combination boasts some of the most magnificent accessible scenery in the world. Snow-covered mountain peaks surround teal blue lakes and crisp, cold rivers, attracting numerous types of wildlife and numerous tourists and adventurers. Banff, in particular, is Canada’s oldest national park (1885), and, with the other parks in the region, was rewarded with World Heritage Site status in 1984 and 1990.
Headquarters for an exploration of these parks is the townsite of Banff, Alberta, which is nestled within the park in a valley surrounded by peaks which reach heights of 9000 -12,000 feet, and which offers lodging, restaurants, shops, and other services for the visitor. Some of the first tourists to the area were drawn to the bubbling thermal waters of “Cave” and “Basin” Springs, now a National Historic Site.
Particular attractions within Banff National Park include Lake Louise, a spectacular turquoise blue lake formed by glacial melt. Visitors may stroll or boat around the lake, hike into the mountains, or take a gondola to an overlook to get an aerial view. At one end is the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, one of a number of hotels throughout Canada, built by the Canadian Railroad to entice tourists to Canada.
Near Lake Louise is Moraine Lake, similar in many respects, but, in this case, occupying the Valley of the Ten Peaks. It is the grayish, glacial silt which contributes to the unusual and dramatic color of these lakes.
An excellent day trip from Banff is a scenic drive along the Icefields Parkway. The Icefields Parkway, is a spectacular 142 mile (300 km) highway which extends from the town of Lake Louise, northward to the town of Jasper, Alberta. This drive offers amazing views of the Canadian Rockies, waterfalls, lakes and glaciers. It is certainly one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. Along the route are numerous overlooks and trails. The road is extremely well-engineered and does not require tremendous mountain-driving skill. Plan to spend the entire day if the drive begins and ends in Banff or Jasper or Lake Louise, since the round-trip is almost 300 miles, and there are obligatory stops along the way to admire the scenery or for other activities.
Jasper National Park, Alberta, lies to the north of Banff National Park and also offers spectacular mountain scenery and varied outdoor activities. The northern section of the Icefields Parkway lies within Jasper National Park and includes Athabasca Mountain and Athabasca Falls. The town of Jasper, Alberta is also interesting and is equipped to serve as a base of operations while exploring the park.
Yoho National Park, British Columbia, is a small park which abuts Banff National Park. Like its neighbor, it preserves the splendor of the Canadian Rockies. There are guided tours of the Fossil Bed area and numerous hiking trails. Other activities are available at Emerald Lake. Be sure to see Takakkaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest at over 1200 feet.
Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, along with Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Yoho National Park constitute a tribute to the magnificent Canadian Rockies, and all have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kootenay adjoins Yoho to the north and Banff to the east. Like the others, this park offers dramatic mountain scenery and numerous outdoor activities. Of special note are Radium Hot Springs and the Paint Pots.
1. Instead of taking the highway from Lake Louise to Banff, take Bow Valley Parkway, which almost guarantees wildlife sightings besides great scenery.
2. Check out the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which, like the Chateau Lake Louise, is a grand old hotel built by the Canadian Railroad.
3. While on the Icefields Parkway, be sure to stop at Icefield Centre (at kilometer 127) and take a ride on a Snocoach out onto the Columbia Icefield. Visitors are allowed to get out and walk around on the glacier for an unforgettable experience.
4. One of the most beautiful viewpoints on the Icefields Parkway leads to Peyto Lake (at kilometer 40).