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Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most stunning national parks, and the most visited area in the province of Alberta. It’s home to famous jewel-like lakes and the opportunity for outdoor adventure abounds. It’s also a great destination for wildlife viewing, home to everything from caribou and elk to black and grizzly bears. While you could just come and soak up its striking natural beauty, here are some of the best ways to experience it.
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Moraine Lake sits in the heart of the park within the Valley of the Ten Peaks at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. One of the world’s most beautiful lakes, in early summer, come watch the water levels rise and cast an extraordinary shade of blue. Rock particles in the glacial waters are responsible for its striking hue, and as the shoreline is often visited by deer and the occasional bear. Rent a canoe and paddle around, or take a hike on one of the trails that range from gentle strolls to more challenging treks.
A ride on the Banff Gondola provides the opportunity to soar to another awe-inspiring view point above stunning Lake Louise and its vivid turquoise waters. The modern glass-enclosed gondola also offers an unsurpassed view of Banff, the Bow Valley and a 360-degree view of six mountain ranges. When you reach the main level observation deck, you’ll feel as if you’re on top of the world. From here, you can take the Banff Skywalk which leads to Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station and the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site. You’ll also find two eateries, a coffee shop, snack bar, gift shops, and interpretive hiking trails.
After a day at play, there may be no better way to soothe those sore muscles than with a visit to Upper Banff Springs. Discovered in 1884, the First Nation people regarded the springs as sacred waters that could cure ailments and support good health. They’ve since become one of the park’s most popular attractions, with the outdoor spring-fed pool offering the chance to soak while enjoying views of Mount Rundle.
The 142-mile Icefields Parkway has been called the “Drive of a Lifetime” by National Geographic. It traces the Continental Divide and links Banff to Jasper National park, as well as the towns of Lake Louise and Jasper. Along the way you’ll see glaciers, wildlife, iconic mountains and beautiful alpine lakes.The Athabasca Glacier, the largest of the six “toes” that make up the Columbia Icefield, which once covered the Canadian Rockies, has lost more than half of its volume over the last 125 years, and is quickly disappearing. If you go sooner than later, you can see it before it totally disappears.
If you want to do more than just see the glacier, consider taking a guided walk or an adventure onto the icefield in one of the large, six-wheeled, all-terrain vehicles. You’ll get out onto the accessible tongue of ice that squeezes into a valley below. The melting ice has exposed raw bedrock, and you’ll be able to get a firsthand look at the progression of pioneering plant life that’s started to take hold on the barren surface. The thrilling excursion includes fascinating information about glaciers and their impact on the environment delivered by a knowledgeable driver/guide.
If you like to enjoy a good afternoon tea, the Lake Agnes Tea House is one of the most scenic places to do just that. Set deep in the wilderness, there are a number of alpine tea houses in Banff that are open during the summer, but the only way to reach them is via horseback, helicopter or a hike. The Lake Agnes Tea House can be reached with just a two-mile trek from the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. If you’re up for more, by hiking another 1.5 miles or so, you can continue the experience at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
Banff National Park offers the best skiing in the province at three different resorts, including Lake Louise, Canada’s second-largest ski resort with over 4,000 acres of terrain. Sunshine Village offers 12 lifts and nearly 3,500 skiable acres. As it straddles the Continental Divide, it experiences more snow than its neighbors, offering a long ski season that often begins in November and doesn’t end until late May. Mount Norquay is the locals gem, and one of the oldest ski resorts in the country having opened nearly a century ago.
The town of Banff is located right inside Banff National Park, high in the Canadian Rockies. The highest town in Canada at 4,537 feet, it’s surrounded by towering mountains, including Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain.It’s common to see herds of deer strolling the main street alongside visitors who enjoy the many interesting shops, art galleries, museums and restaurants. A variety of dining options can be enjoyed, including regionally sourced Rocky Mountain fare, and you’ll also find some great pubs where you can enjoy the warmth of a fire, a drink and sometimes live entertainment too.
If you want to learn more about the area, visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to learn more about the area. This is also where the visitor center is, an excellent resource for tips and other information.