Banff National Park
Banff National Park lies in the region of the glaciated Rocky Mountain ridge east of the continental watershed and about 130 km (80 mi.) west of Calgary.In the north it adjoins Jasper National Park, with which it is linked by the unique Icefields Parkway, and in the west it runs into the Yoho and Kootenay National Park.Banff National Park is one of Canada's greatest tourist attractions.
Official site: www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/index.aspx
Address: 224 Banff Avenue, Box 900, Banff, AB T1L1K2, Canada
Entrance fee in CAD: Annual pass or membership $67.70, Family $19.60, Adult $9.80, Senior $8.30, Child 6-16 $4.90
Useful tips: Banff National Park is open year-round.
The Icefields Parkway is a scenic stretch of highway that runs from just west of Lake Louise to Jasper. The road follows a valley through huge mountains, and past emerald colored lakes.
Sunshine Region (Sunsine Village Ski Resort)
9 km (51/2 mi.) west of Banff, Sunshine Road branches south off the Trans-Canada Highway. A further 10 km (6 mi.) brings visitors to the lower station of the longest cable railway, or gondola as it is locally called - about 5000 m (16,400 ft) - in the Canadian Rockies (winter operation only). A twenty-minute ride takes them up to Sunshine Meadows, at the Sunshine Village Ski Resort. The area is a very inviting mountain region where some beautiful hill-walks can be enjoyed, such as that to Rock Isle Lake.This region is particularly magnificent in summer, when the mountain flora is in full splendor. In winter Sunshine Village is a favorite skiing area. A small Interpretive Centre provides information about the topography, and nature walks start from here. A chair-lift goes up to Standish Peak on the continental watershed, which here forms the boundary with British Columbia. From the end of June to early September the Sunshine Inn guesthouse offers food and lodging.Sunshine Village is one of the two leading ski resorts in Banff National Park, drawing skiers from all over the world. It offers a vast terrain suitable for all levels of ability.
Bow Valley Parkway
The 48 km (30 mi.) long Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise offers an alternative to the busy TransCanada Highway. Viewing points, camping and picnic sites as well as stopping-places with information boards make it possible to get to know the charming countryside of Bow Valley and to learn more about its geology and topography. Towering above it all is Castle Mountain, whose Eisenhower Peak is 2728 m (8950 ft) high.The Bow Valley Parkway also offers a great chance to see some of the wildlife in Banff National Park.
26 km (16 mi.) along the Bow Valley Parkway sees the start of a favorite path through Johnston Canyon with its two waterfalls.A trail leads through the canyon with bridges along the steep cliff walls allowing visitors to get a feel for being in one of these unique canyons. The trail contiues on some 6 km (4 mi.) on the far side of the canyon, leading up to the Ink Pots, a group of springs of which two basins are particularly striking because of the bluish-green color of the water. Most visitors just stick to the lower level while those with more time and energy take on the more strenuous walk to the Ink Pots.Johnston Canyon is an impressive site in both summer and winter, although it sees very few visitors outside of the summer season.
Lake Minnewanka ("Devil's Lake" in the Indian language), 11 km (7 mi.) north-east of Banff, is now the largest lake within the national park. Simpson, the Governor of Hudson's Bay Company, rested here in 1841. Along the banks of the lake an old Indian path leads by the edge of the rocky mountain range. Around the turn of the century a small health resort grew up here, but it was not until 1912 that the first dam was built which raised the level of the lake by three meters. When the mines at Bankhead closed the government decided to build a power station here to provide electricity for Banff. Then, in 1941, a further dam was built below the lake on Cascade River, which raised the water level of Lake Minnewanka by a further 25 m (82 ft). The lake became 8 km (5 mi.) longer, sinking the holiday resort, forests and all traces of the old trail. Now, between May and September, there are trips lasting two hours round the charmingly situated lake which is now some 20 km (13 mi.) long. On the trip it is often possible to spot thick-horned sheep, deer and black bear.Lake Minnewanka is the only lake in the park on which motor-boats are allowed. It is worthwhile going on to Two Jack Lake - where canoes can be hired - and Johnson Lake. Swimming is possible in summer in the relatively calm lake. A fairly easy path leads round the lake.
The Vermilion Lakes Drive is 11 km (7 mi.) long and leads to the three Vermilion Lakes west of the town of Banff. They lie in the floodplain of the Bow River and are a refuge for numerous waterfowl. Ornithologists come here to observe bald eagles, osprey and Canadian geese. With a little luck beavers and elk may also be spotted.This is generally regarded as the best area of Banff National Park for migrant waterfowl. In the early spring it's possible to see Tundra Swans, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, and White-winged and Surf Scoters, to name just a few. This is also a good area to spot bald eagles, which nest in the Vermillion Lakes area.In the summer months the American Bittern, Red-necked Grebe,Pied-billed Grebe, Wood Duck, Barred Owl, and Pileated Woodpecker frequent the area. The birding season continues on through the fall and into early winter.
Mount Norquay Ski Area
After traveling for 61/2 km (4 mi.) along Mount Norquay Road, with its many hairpin bends, you come to the lower station of the chairlift, which goes up to Mount Norquay, 2135 m (7007 ft).Mount Norquay, one of the three most popular ski hills in Banff National Park, has the added benefit of offering night skiing with lit trails, something not found at the other major ski resorts in the area. The hill offers skiing for all levels of ability and has made efforts to market itself as a family hill. Norquay is also the closest ski hill to the town of Banff.
Banff - River Rafting
River rafting is a popular sport and past time in the Canadian Rockies, with many operators based out of Banff. From June to the end of September a number of firms offer trips by rubber dinghy or raft on the Bow River, Kootenay River, and Kicking Horse River. These are the main rafting sites but there are also others in the vicinity. There are trips available for all levels of rafting. Spring is a popular time with fast running rivers. This is definitely the best time of year for people looking for a wild ride.
About 7 km (41/2 mi.) north-east of Banff Town site, on the narrow bending road to Lake Minnewanka, can be found the remains of the old coal-mining town of Bankhead, which enjoyed its heyday in the first half of this century. An instructive footpath - with boards displaying old photographs and explanatory notes - helps give an idea of what this ghost town was like.Lower Bankhead is where the coal mine and plant were located and Upper Bankhead is the location of the former town.
The only remnants of the old mining settlement of Silver City, 27 km (17 mi.) west of Banff, are a meadow and a sign.Silver City was once home to a population of 3000. These were prospectors who had been led to believe the area held vast amounts of silver. In reality the area held only minimal amounts the mineral but promoters, hoping to get rich quick from the influx of people, had misled the public. The industry soon collapsed and Silver City became a ghost town.The old town was located below Castle Mountain.
Sightseeing trips by helicopter are popular with visitors to the Rockies. They are available by various tour operators in Banff. Walkers can be taken to the more remote valleys, for heli-hiking, as it's called. In winter skiers can try heli-skiing, where skiers are flown to regions where they can be sure of snow. It is also possible to take a helicopter flight just to see the mountains and lakes from the air.
It is worthwhile climbing Tunnel Mountain where hoodoos, unique pillar rock formations caused by erosion, can be seen and from where there is a breathtaking view out over the surroundings and the Fairmong Banff Springs.A 2.3 km (1.4 mi) walking trail leads to the top of Tunnel Mountain and is only light to moderately strenuous. For those not interested in climbing the mountain, the best views of the Tunnel Mountain are from Tunnel Mountain Road.
The impressive mountain country around Banff can also be explored on horseback. Guided tours lasting one or more days are also available.This can be a great way to see the Rocky Mountains and the backcountry and is a good alternative to hiking for those experienced in horseback riding.
More Banff National Park Pictures