Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park and the crown jewel of the nation’s park system. A small area within the park was first protected in 1885 in response to conflict over ownership of a cluster of hot springs. Two years later the protected area was expanded, and today the park is 2,564 sq. miles/6,641 square km. It’s south of Jasper National Park and is part of the Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park is known for its beautiful alpine lakes, bare, rocky peaks, and adventure recreation opportunities. In addition to its stunning scenery, Banff is home to 56 mammal species, including grizzly bears, black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, and elk, which are often seen in the Banff townsite.
The Canadian Rockies Route follows BC Highways 95 and 93 north through Banff National Park and on to Jasper. Drivers can also get to Banff from the East Access Route by taking Trans-Canada Highway 1 west from Calgary.
Reservations and Fees
Admission to Canada’s national parks is free for youth 17 and under. Other park visitors must pay admission fees at a daily rate. Visitors can also access the park with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass. There are additional fees for camping, fire permits, backcountry use, fishing, and other facility rental and program participation.
Soak in Banff Upper Hot Springs just a few minutes south of Banff townsite. The hot springs at Cave and Basin are the springs that originated the protection of the Banff region.
The beautiful mountain lake is much-photographed thanks to its stunning water color, caused by the rock flour in the glacial meltwater, and the steep mountains that ring its shores.
This lake, which has the same stunning colors the region is known for, is set against a backdrop of Mount Victoria and a hanging glacier. The lake is 2.5 miles/4 km from Lake Louise village, a small destination for summer shopping and winter skiing.
Bow Summit and Peyto Lake
Bow Summit is the highest point on the Icefield Parkway. Stop at the top of the pass and walk 15 minutes down a paved pathway to the Peyto Lake Lookout. Continue on the trail past Peyto Lake to another viewpoint that overlooks Bow Valley and Bow Lake. A short, steep trail at the Peyto Lake lookout provides access from the viewing area to the lakeshore.
These 330 foot/100 m cliffs can have multiple waterfalls streaming down their face at once. Water melting from the snowfield above finds its way through cracks in the rock and emerges from the cliff face, giving the appearance of waterfalls coming from the rock.
This scenic resort town attracts 2.5 million visitors every year, in summer for the scenery, and in winter for the skiing at nearby Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. Banff offers banking and currency exchange, restaurants, gas/diesel, lodging and plenty of shopping year-round. On-street parking and some parking lots designated for cars; RV parking near the hospital and at the Fenland Recreation Centre.
Attractions include the Banff Park Museum and National Historic Site; the Banff Gondola, which transports visitors up Sulphur Mountain; the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel with spa, afternoon tea, wine bar and 1888 Chop House restaurant; the hot springs at Cave & Basin National Historic Site and the Upper Hot Springs.
All Banff National Park visitor centers offer maps, brochures, permits, backcountry reservations, up-to-date park information, weather, trail, avalanche and road reports, interpretive exhibits and events. There is a visitor center in the town of Banff at 224 Banff Ave., phone 403-762-1550. The Banff Heritage Railway Station at 327 Railway Ave. has an information kiosk. There is also a visitor center in Lake Louise next to the Samson Mall. You may purchase park passes at the visitor centers.