Banff National Park Overview

By Mike Potter

After an easy hike to the top of Tunnel Mountain just outside Banff townsite, I take a deep breath of the fresh pine-scented air that rushes past on a brisk westerly. From the summit, I overlook the turquoise bends of the Bow River, and see the peaks that are synonymous with the park rise abruptly from the valley on all sides. From my vantage point, the bustling community of Banff is revealed as but a tiny square in the vast and varied quilt of Canada's Banff National Park.

Over 100 years ago, in 1896, American explorer Walter Wilcox wrote that this spot was "the best place from which to get a good general idea of Banff and its surroundings." Wilcox knew—he made the first recorded visits to many places—that there was much more to experience beyond the environs of the townsite.

The Bow River, while a major watershed, is but one of hundreds that beckon for exploration. As I soak up the views, I visualize other favorite scenes of this renowned preserve in the Canadian Rockies. Tunnel Mountain is a spot I've never tired of, and have returned to dozens of times. It epitomizes the beauty and the wildness that are at the core of the eternal appeal of Banff National Park. The hike serves as a gentle introduction to this wilderness gem, Canada's first national park, established in 1885.

Banff Appeal
What are the draws for visitors? Well, for a start, all that open space. Over four million outdoor enthusiasts visit Banff National Park each year, but you wouldn't know it. With 7,000 square kilometers of rugged Rockies topography, there is lots of room to roam. The park protects a cornucopia of landscapes: iconic peaks like Cascade Mountain and Mount Victoria, deep lakes fed by vast icefields, rushing rivers, forest-filled valleys, and flower-bedecked alpine meadows.

Banff is also home to an abundance of untamed animals. Among the wildlife are such totemic creatures as grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, and mountain goats. Then of course there are the activities visitors can enjoy. Banff's varied terrain attracts the whole spectrum of outdoor enthusiasts, from day hikers to backpackers, sport climbers to alpine mountaineers, flatwater paddlers to extreme kayakers. Plus there's winter, with lots of opportunity for pursuits such as snowshoeing, ice climbing, and cross-country skiing in all its forms.

Banff National Park is readily accessible as well. It lies close to Calgary International Airport and is traversed by the Trans-Canada Highway and the world-renowned Icefields Parkway. The park has a well-developed infrastructure of campground, hostel, and hotel accommodations, and boasts an extensive network of hiking trails.

Banff National Park—which happens to be part of a World Heritage Site—is a superb choice if searching for a destination full of adventure replete with amenities. Check it out, and experience the wonders of the Canadian wilderness.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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