A View of Banff
Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banff2.JPG

Visiting Two Of Canada's National Parks

Banff and Jasper National Parks are located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta.  They are very popular tourist destinations, with visitors exploring this area at all times of the year.  Banff is actually one of the most visited national parks in the world.   Both parks are beautiful,  and they offer recreational activities throughout the year. I have visited both parks many times, and am still amazed at how scenic the surroundings are.  

If you are going to be travelling in Alberta, this article will provide you with information to help you plan your vacation.  Banff in particular is packed with tourists in July and August, although the winter months are also popular due to skiing.  Hotel reservations are recommended, as it can be hard to find vacancies at the last minute.    

Exact Location of Banff

View From the Gondola
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Banff National Park

The largest major city closest to Banff is Calgary.  The population  is just over a million people.  It is considered the gateway to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and they are easily visible from Calgary.   The Calgary Tower downtown has a revolving restaurant and observation area with outstanding views.   There is also a tourist information center, and it is open every day except December 25th and 26th, and January 1st.  The tower dominates the city's skyline, and has been open since 1968.

The entrance to Banff is about 80 miles, or 130 kilometers, to the west on the Trans Canada Highway, also known as Highway 1.  The city of Canmore is located just outside the park boundary.  There are many places to stay in Canmore, and it is a more affordable option than Banff, so some visitors choose to stay here.  Canmore is a scenic alpine town surrounded by mountains.  It is also a lot less crowded than Banff.  Due to the high elevation, Canmore does not have much warm weather, and snow is common much of the year.   There are about 13,000 people living in this area and it offers all the amenities a visitor would need.  

The town of Banff is just off Highway 1.  It has a population of about 8,000, but the number greatly increases in July and August and also the winter months, as seasonal workers often come to stay here for short term jobs.  Summers here are usually warm and pleasant.  

There is a lot of accommodation in Banff, and prices tend to be quite high, particularly in the peak tourist season.  Reservations are suggested during the busy months.  The town itself has many art galleries, boutiques and tourist shops.  There are many fine restaurants offering almost every type of cuisine.  It is fun just to spend a day or two browsing around the town.  

One of the major attractions in Banff is the gondola.  This takes visitors to the summit of Mount Sulphur, where the views are outstanding.  There are places to eat at the summit, as well as observation areas and a gift shop.  The gondola ride should not be missed while visiting Banff.  There are long line ups in the summer time, but if you go earlier in the day you won't likely have to wait as long.  Remember that at higher elevations the temperature drops, so bring warm clothing with you, even if it is quite warm in the town itself on the day you are visiting.  


Banff Springs Hotel
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The Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel is one of the most photographed hotels in Canada, due to the spectacular surroundings.  This hotel has so much character and charm and is worth a visit just to enjoy the views.  The hotel has been in service now for 125 years.

Within the  National Park visitors can see glaciers, forests, alpine meadows, and lots of wildlife. Approximately 300 different species of birds have been identified here.  While exploring the area by car or on foot, visitors may see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose and deer.  Visitors should also be aware that dangerous animals may be lurking as well,  including cougars, wolves and bears.  

Gorgeous Lake Louise
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Lake Louise Area

If there is one place in this area that you should not miss, it would be Lake Louise.  This gorgeous lake is located right by the entrance to the Columbia Icelfields Parkway, and is another one of the most photographed places in Canada.  

Some people believe the town of Banff has lost its charm over the years, due to rapid population growth in the area and commercialization.  However, the same cannot be said for Lake Louise, which looks almost exactly the same as it did years ago.  The iconic Chateau Lake Louise has been there for years, and there are a few other places to stay as well as restaurants and gift shops.   For the most part, however,  there isn't a lot here except for the wonderful views and the pristine lake itself.  

It is a stunning emerald color, which is due to the rock flour produced from nearby glaciers.  There is a lakeside trail which is perfect for walks and picture taking.  

Not far away is Moraine Lake, which is also in a beautiful setting.  However, the road to the lake is quite narrow and winding, and it is in a more remote setting. If you are not used to mountain driving, it may be something you would rather not do.  Lake Louise is located just off the highway, and there is no scary drive to get there.  

Peyto Lake on the Parkway
Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peyto_Lake-Banff_NP-Canada.jpg

The Columbia Icefields Parkway

This is one of the most beautiful drives you would find anywhere.  The Icefields Parkway is 145 miles, or about 230 kilometers, in total.  There are many places you can stop along the drive to take pictures, admire the scenery, have a picnic or go for a hike.  

The Parkway begins at Lake Louise and travels north to the town of Jasper.  The highway runs parallel to the Continental Divide.  The drive has many points of interest, including the Crowfoot Glacier, Athabasca Falls and the Columbia Icefield.  The latter is huge, and feeds eight other glaciers.  Although you can get a good view right from the highway, many people take the time to take one of the snowcoach tours right to the glacier.  

There is a lot of wildlife in the area, and it is quite common to see them from the highway.  Elk, sheep, and other animals sometimes approach the road, so it is important to be on the lookout for them.  

There are very few sharp turns on the highway, so it is easy to travel.  Snow can fall at almost any time of the year, so be aware of the weather forecast.  I would recommend allowing at least three or four hours to really get the most out of this very scenic drive.  

A Lake at Jasper National Park
Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pyramid_Mountain_Jasper_Alberta_05-A.jpg

Jasper National Park

Jasper is just as scenic as Banff, and usually a lot less crowded.  The population of the town is about 4000.  There are many lakes nearby, and plenty of places for hiking and other recreational opportunities.  

Jasper also has a tramway, which travels from the town center to Whistler's Summit.  You can see for miles on a clear day, and of course the views are outstanding.  

If you are interested in a quieter holiday without as many tourists, Jasper National Park is the place to be.   There is a more relaxed atmosphere here and it is particularly suitable if you enjoy the outdoors.  

The city of Edmonton is about a four hour drive east of Jasper.  It is the capital of Alberta and has a population of about 800,000.  The West Edmonton mall is a major attraction in the city.  At one time it was the largest mall in North America.  The North Saskatchewan river passes through Edmonton.  

It is quite easy to make a round trip of this area, starting and ending at Calgary.  From Edmonton, it is a three hour drive to return to Calgary.