Banff Hot Springs.

Banff Hot Springs. Photo courtesy of Travel Alberta Image Collection IV.

Written by George Brio.

Canada’s Banff National Park was discovered purely by accident in 1883. Three construction workers who were employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway noticed bubbling natural hot springs flowing through a nearby cave and not too long thereafter the newly established Banff Hot Springs generated the first tourist traffic to a site which today welcomes more than five million tourists annually.

Because of the continual stream of visitors, the area’s fragile natural ecology has been struggling of late, which has prompted a number of environmental-based initiatives, including an extensive two-year research survey designed to foster awareness and develop better protocols to preserve Banff’s natural ecology.

Trail riding in Banff National Park.

Trail riding in Banff National Park. Photo courtesy Travel Alberta, Image Collection IV.

Banff is actually Canada’s very first national park and represents just the third national park established the world over. Offering more than 2,500 square miles of lakes, rivers, forests, mountains, valleys, meadows and glaciers, Banff’s natural beauty is second to none.

Because of the sheer size and scope of what Banff National Park has to offer, including resort-style accommodations and many scheduled activities, it is important to determine what you want to do most before conducting your search for Banff National Park hotels to decide where best to stay for easy access to your chosen activities.

The Efforts to Conserve

Banff’s struggle with development versus conservation emerged right alongside the park’s evolution, with enterprising entrepreneurs standing head-to-head with ecologists and environmentalists who could see the park’s importance as natural preserve.

An initial compromise between the two factions involved Canada’s then-prime minister, John A. Macdonald, stepping in to designate the Banff Hot Springs as a protected area (an area which now also includes Lake Louise up to Columbia Icefield) but excluding the surrounding areas.

Because it’s now known that the first humans inhabited the area in 10,300 B.P. (before present), there are viable positions continually issuing from each camp.

From a business-minded perspective, five million tourists can generate a lot of profits. From an environmentally-minded perspective, archeologists and others worry at the loss of information continual traffic will provoke.

At various points along the ongoing evolutionary journey of Banff National Park, further protected reserves have been established, the most notable of which has been Rocky Mountains Park.

Hiking in Banff

Hiking in Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo courtesy Travel Alberta, Image Collection IV.

Preservation efforts have continued with the passing of the Rocky Mountains Park Act and later the National Parks Act, which effectively fixed the location and scope of Banff National Park and marked the declaration of Banff itself as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The struggle between the two camps continues to this day, with subsequent legislation being passed which requires better management of protected parks and reserves, including the development of a park management plan for every area and ongoing studies to determine how to best tend to the needs of the fragile natural ecology in each area.

What to Expect at the Park

When you arrive in Banff, you will encounter a literal wealth of natural treasures just waiting for you to enjoy them. Since it will likely not be possible to see everything and Banff offers such a variety, it is helpful to know some ideas for the most popular Banff sights and landmarks.

A great way to launch into your visit is to ride the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where in just eight minutes you can view the entire panorama of Banff spread out beneath you. When your ride concludes, you will be 2,285 miles above the town of Banff and able to see beautiful Lake Minnewanka and other wonders.

Banff Springs Hotel.

Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta. Photo courtesy Travel Alberta, Image Collection IV.

You may wish to proceed from there visit the natural hot springs, from which Banff got its beginnings as a national park and popular tourist destination.

“The Castle” is the hotel that many visitors choose when their primary goal is to bathe in the hot springs, so you can add it to your list.

While you are on a water–sightseeing roll, take a trip to Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park’s largest lake, beneath which is housed the remains of a sight few have seen – the former small town of Minnewanka Landing. The town itself was literally drowned in the aftermath of a newly established nearby hydroelectric dam.

What Else is There?

Other incredible sights in Banff National Park that you won’t want to miss out on include Lake Louise and the Vermillion Lakes, the breathtaking Norquay Look-out, the incomparable Hoodoos stone pillars and the simply stunning Sunshine Meadows with their unforgettable views of the “Mount Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies,” which is Mt. Assiniboine.

Canoes on Lake Louise in Alberta.

Canoes on Lake Louise in Alberta. Photo courtesy Travel Alberta, Image Collection IV.

George Brio developed his love of nature spending summers with his father and grandfather on “guys only” getaways. Article copyright George Brio. Photos copyright Alberta Tourism


Information on visiting Banff National Park



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