# Thursday, September 4, 2014
                 
Welcome to this new blog series that examines popular visitor destinations in Canada.

There are so many beautiful places to go and see in Canada. It is difficult to choose one attraction over another.

However, we have to start somewhere, and what better place to start than Banff National Park in Alberta and the beautiful Rocky Mountains!
Chateau Lake Louise
Chateau Lake Louise, Banff National Park

History

The first Banff park was established in 1885 by Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald. It was called the "Banff Hot Springs Reserve", and unsurprisingly it was centered around Banff’s mineral springs.

In 1887 it was expanded and renamed the "Rocky Mountain Park", becoming the first Canadian national park on record.  This also made it the 2nd oldest North American park, after Yellowstone in the United States.

In 1902 the park was expanded upon further. The size of the park was increased to 11,400 square kilometers and was renamed "Banff National Park". Since then the size and area of the park has fluctuated, with its current size being set at 6,697 square kilometers.

Location and Geography

Banff National Park is located in the western part of Alberta within the Rocky Mountains.

The geography of the park is one of three types: alpine (above the treeline); sub-alpine (between the treeline and the montane area); and montane (lower mountain slopes with its own distinct vegetation).

The alpine region comprises 44% of the park and consists of scattered meadows, shrubs, rock outcroppings, snow, and of course ice.

The sub-alpine region makes up 53% of the total park area and is further sub-divided into a lower and upper region. The upper region consists mostly of spruce and fir trees mixed in with meadows, while the lower region is made up of more densely populated pine, spruce and fir trees.

The smallest area is the montane region (3% of the park), and consists of fir, aspen, pine, spruce and poplar trees along with some grasslands.

Towns and Lodgings

Banff National Park is a large park that is spread out across almost 7000 square kilometers. There are two small towns inside the park, Banff and Lake Louise, both of which have resorts and inns for accommodations.

Banff is a resort town situated in the southern part of the park along the Trans-Canada highway. It has many different attractions besides the mountains such as museums, historical sites and even a film festival.

The hot springs that were the center of the original park are also located near Banff.

Lake Louise is a hamlet about 50 km north of the town of Banff and is situated on the shores of Lake Louise. It is home to the world famous "Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise", a luxurious resort hotel at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The scenery at the chateau is breath taking (see the image at the top of the blog).

In addition the hamlet of Lake Louise offers spectacular hiking, fishing and canoeing.

For those who don’t mind "roughing it" there are also numerous campgrounds inside of the park for visitor accommodations.

Activities

The following are just some of the things you can do in Banff. Regardless of where you go or what you do, the scenery will be beautiful!

Note: to find out what activities are available for given locations inside of Banff please click on this link.
  • Hiking/backpacking: a very common activity in Banff with a wide variety of trails (e.g. mountain and lake side trails).
  • Hot springs: relax in one of the park’s hot mineral springs, situated near the town of Banff (known as Upper Hot Springs).
  • Canoeing, boating and fishing: there are numerous lakes and rivers that you can boat, canoe or fish on. Note that some waterways allow fishing while others do not (click here for more).
  • Skiing and snowboarding: very popular activities in the winter time, available in numerous locations.
  • Scuba diving: you can go diving at either Lake Minnewanka or Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park.
  • Horseback riding: many trails in the park allow for horseback riding. There are also several companies that offer ½ and full day horseback riding tours (e.g. everything is taken care of for you, just bring your riding duds along).
  • Mountaineering: there are numerous places to go climbing into the Rocky Mountains.
  • Wildlife and photography: there are plenty of places in the park where you can view (and photograph) park wildlife such as black bears, moose, elk, a wide variety of birds, and even grizzly bears. Please note that caution must always be taken when you are close to wild, powerful animals (especially true for bears, and even truer for grizzlies).
Upper Hot Springs
Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park

Conclusion

We hope this article has shed some light on why Banff National Park is such a popular visitor to Canada attraction.

Stay tuned for our next "Popular Visitor Attractions" blog article coming soon!

Please note: if you are considering a visit to Banff make sure you are protected from medical emergencies via visitor to Canada insurance. You can click here for instant, online quotes.

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