Banff National Park was born in the fall of 1885, when three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers found a cave containing hot springs, on the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. Banff National Park became Canada’s first national park and the world’s third.
It spans 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles) containing mountains, valleys, forests, glaciers, meadows and rivers. In recent history Banff National Park became one of the world’s leading destination spots. Visitors can tour a number of historic sites, hike along the shores of Lake Louise, soak in Banff’s famous hot springs, spend a night in the luxurious and historic Banff Springs Hotel, or drive the Icefields Parkway into neighboring Jasper National Park.
Banff is home to many different geological and ecological wonders. The best know are the hot springs, but there are also the Castleguard Caves that are located in the remote northwest corner of the park. They are considered to be the longest cave system in Canada. To top that, the park also holds Alberta’s southernmost herd of the endangered woodland caribou.
Since the park is in the Rocky Mountain natural life zone, with terrain divided into three separate eco-regions: the montane, the sub-alpine and the alpine, it is a hiking paradise. In all, it contains about 1,600 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) of trails, which is by far more than any other mountain park in Canada. Whether it’s a one hour stroll up a mountain, or a month long backcountry expedition into some of the most remote areas of the park, Banff National Park won’t disappoint hikers of any level of expertise.
Lucky travelers may see deer, elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, grizzly bears, black bears, and wolves among a number of other large and small animals. In most cases they don’t even have to go far as all of this wildlife can be spotted right along the travel routes that cut through the park. The Trans-Canada Highway, the Banff-Radium Highway, the Bow Valley Parkway and the tremendous Icefields Parkway will enchant the visitors with there immense beauty.
Quick Facts about the Banff area
Banff National Park spans 6,641 square kilometers(2,564 square miles), and is the second largest of Canada’s mountain parks behind Jasper National Park.
Over five million people visit Banff National Park a year.
Banff National Park is one of four national parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay) that, together with three British Columbia provincial parks (Mount Assiniboine, Mount Robson and Hamber), make up the Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
Banff National Park’s western boundary runs for 240 kilometers along the Continental Divide.
When the park was born, it started as a ten square mile reserve around the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs, which was established by the Dominion of Canada in 1885.
The largest lake in the park, Lake Minnewanka, is man-made. When it was dammed, the water level rose and drowned the tiny resort village of Minnewanka Landing.
Lake Louise, which is the most famous attraction in the Canadian Rockies, was discovered by guide/outfitter Tom Wilson in 1882. However, natives of the Bow Valley had known of the lake’s existence for some time — one of them, Edwin Hunter, led Wilson to the lake’s edge.
Fifty-eight percent of Banff’s visitors are from Alberta, but the growing percentage of visitors are foreign: 17% American, 7% European and Japanese.
Elk are the most common large animal found in Banff National Park, with a population numbering in the thousands.
There are 69 species of mammals in the Canadian Rockies, ranging from bighorn sheep, deer, elk, coyotes to black bears, grizzly bears and wolves.
The fields beneath Castle Mountain once were home to Western Canada’s largest city. The boom town of Silver City lived for just a few years, but had 2,500 residents at its peak in the 1880s.
Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park, and world’s third after Yellowstone National Park in the United States and Royal National Park in Australia.
The Bow Valley Parkway is an alternate scenic route from Banff to Lake Louise. Fifty-five kilometers long (thirty-five miles), it provides breathtaking views of the Sawback Range and Castle Mountain, and it leads to one of the most popular attractions, the Johnston Canyon.
The town of Banff was not always the largest town in the park. In the early 1900s the coal mining town of Bankhead was a growing “metropolis”, but these days it’s the park’s most famous ghost town.