Banff National Park

Intro

Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, having been established in 1885. It is located in relative proximity to Calgary (Alberta) and includes 2,564 sq miles (6,641 sq km) ready for you to explore them. There you will find different types of landscapes, including a coniferous forest, glaciers, and ice fields. If you need to return to a more comfortable setting, the town of Banff will be the closest thing you will find.

How It Got Here

Banff National Park was initially inhabited by different groups of aboriginals, such as the Kainai, Stoneys, and Siksika. While little is known about the early history of the area, it is believed that the landscape didn’t significantly change for centuries.

The ambitions of the industrial revolution brought the transcontinental railroad, a moment that marked the beginning of several conflicts between those who want development at any costs and those who want to preserve the ecosystem, or at least as much of it as possible. The national park was established in 1885, initially comprising only 10 square miles (26 sq km) around the hot springs that were discovered in the area. Two years later the park was expanded to 260 sq miles (674 square km) and became the third national park in North America after Yellowstone and Mackinac.

The creation of the national park also included the removal of a First Nations group-the Stoney. While today national parks in Canada are administered with the counseling of indigenous groups, many of them feel that not enough has been done in order to compensate for the forced removal policies that were implemented when these parks were developed.

Clime

Those living in the park enjoy a subarctic climate, as the summers are fairly mild and the winters are good for filming the 8th season of Game of Thrones. The average temperature during January is 5 °F (-15 °C) while the average temperature during July is 72 °F (22 °C). The annual precipitation is around 18.6 in (472 mm). At Lake Louise the average snow per year is 120 in (304 cm). Whether you want to visit the park during the summer or the winter, having the proper equipment is necessary in order to ensure it will actually be a vacation. For this reason, you should keep in mind that the average temperatures cannot predict how the weather will be in specific days and you must consult the weather before going to the park.

Banff National Park in the winter

When winter came

Wild Wild Life

While a close encounter with a black bear or a grizzly is not recommendable, it’s hard not to want to see them in their natural habitat. The forest regions of the park have several of them but the chances you will see any are not that high given their relative shyness. Of course, you never know, but be careful. If you are in fact afraid of bears you should know that an electric fence around the parking lot of Lake Louise exists in order to ensure the grizzly will not visit the places most frequented by humans. In areas where humans are most likely to go, the Canadian authorities have also removed bushes in order to prevent bears from searching for food there. Other mammal species that you can find include the Columbian ground squirrel, coyote, elk, marmot, mountain goat, mule deer, red fox, timber wolf and wolverine. Some of these creatures are less shy than others. For example, elks can sometimes be found in the town of Banff!

grizzly bear

A probably unfriendly grizzly bear

elk Jasper National Park

Elks are not particularly shy 

The park also has plenty of bird species, including the bald eagle, gray jay, golden eagle merlin, mountain bluebird, and pipit, among many others. A particularly interesting bird is the white-tailed ptarmigan-a ground bird that can only be found in the high mountains.

A significant portion of the park is dominated by lodgepole pine forests combined with aspen, Engelmann spruce, willow, and spruce. The most common wildflowers include Common Harebell, Early Blue Violet, Elephanthead, and Yellow Lady’s Slipper.

pinecone

A Banffian pinecone 

elephant's head

Elephant Head (do you see why it got this name?) 

Key Locations

Lake Louise is a must-see hamlet and can be found at only 34 miles (54 km) from Banff. Considering that it is one of the most visited lakes in the world, don’t expect to feel overly emerged into the wilds. That being said, it’s a location that offers extremely nice views. At the edge of the lake you can find the Chateau Lake Louise hotel. While normally we would recommend you to make a camp and leave behind the amenities you are used to, this Fairmont hotel is an exception as its location provides an amazing view of the lake that you can only experience when you are flying (or staying at the 10th floor). You should not ignore that the areas located in the proximity of the hotel have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lake Louis & Fairmong Chateau Hotel

At only 9.3 miles (15 km) from Lake Louise you can find the Moraine Lake- a 120 acres (50 hectares) glacially fed lake located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, at 6,183 ft (1,885 m). When the lake reaches its crest in June or July, it reflects a particular shade of blue caused by the refraction of the light off the rock flour that is deposited in the lake.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

A truly fun trip to the Banff National Park should also include Icefields Parkway. This is 140 miles (230 km) road that starts at Lake Louise. On Icefield Parkway you will be able to see the Hector Lake, Bow Summit, Peyto Lake,  Mistaya River, Saskatchewan Crossing, North Saskatchewan River, and Columbia Icefields. The road eventually reaches the Jasper National Park. There is no higher place in Canada where you will find a public road at 6,850 ft (2088m), so a drive up to the Bow Summit is highly recommended.

Icefield Parkway

Icefield Parkway

Bow River

Bow River 

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake

One of the main reasons for which people go to the Banff National Park is the abundance of glaciers and icefields. Whether you are into glaciers or not, it is worth mentioning that they are retreating as a result of global warming, and 150 glaciers that existed in the Canadian Rockies in 1920 have already disappeared.

Wapta is the most impressing glaciated areas in terms of side, covering 31 square miles (80 square km). The second place in terms of size is occupied by the Waputik, which covers 15 square miles (40 square km). They can be found at the border between Banff National Park and Yoho National Park. The Wapta outlets include Bow, Vulture, and Peyto Glaciers. Other notable icefields are the Columbia and the Snow Dome Icefields. The Columbia Icefield includes the most visited glacier in North America-  Athabasca.

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier 

Hiking & Camping in Banff National Park

For information and tips about hikes in Banff National Park check here. If you are interested in camping check here.

Explore

See Banff National Park and surroundings in 3D with FatMap. Find hiking trails and plan your next trekking day.

Use Google Maps to find any address. Street View or photos available for key locations.

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