Banff National Park is Canada's most visited National Park, and for good reasons. I visited Banff and nearby town Jasper in the Summer of 2014, and it was stunning. It has something for everybody: vibrant blue lakes, snow-peaked mountains, waterfalls, glaciers... you really can't go wrong as a tourist in Banff. If you're planning a vacation, keep Banff on the list!
*note: all pictures are mine!
Banff, located in the western Canadian province of Alberta, is a lovely town with scenic views from all angles. It sits in Alberta's rockies, along the Trans-Canadian Highway, and ranks second as the highest elevation in it's province. The town's name is traced back to George Stephen, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Stephen recalled the name of his hometown- Banff, Scotland- and used it as the name for the new community in 1884. Banff is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Canada, as it offers many elements of natural beauty along with outdoor sports and other attractions. As someone who visited there during summer, I can also say without hesitation that the weather there is terrific- an average high of 70°F (22°C). Just don't go there in the winter, you might freeze and that's not an enjoyable vacation!
Lakes in Banff:
If for some reason, you only are able to be in Banff for a single day, then the one thing you must do is visit the lakes. All of them! It may seem boring and trivial to see one lake after another, but each one is completely different and gives you a greater appreciation for the natural wonders of the world. It also helps you see how unique two things that are labeled the same way can be. Banff's lakes are really unbeatable and it's impressive how much beauty lies in such a small sect.
In my opinion, the most brilliant lake in the town is Peyto Lake (pictured above). It is extraordinarily blue, almost to the point where it looks artificially colored! Could you imagine swimming in something that blue? The view from above honestly makes you wish you were a bird so you could see everything as one solid, tremendous sight. To get there, you have to hike the short, although steep path to Bow Summit, which is a small task to see something so outstanding. Then, not only is the water itself amazing, the mountainous background brings some real breathtaking awe. The peaks are dusted with pure, white snow, and the rocky view really speaks for itself.
While Peyto Lake is another level of turquoise, so are many other Banff lakes, as you can see in the slideshow above. The reason these lakes are so remarkably blue is because of the glacial ice that melts and feeds into the lake. The glacial rock flour flows in during the summer months and the fine powder becomes suspended in the water, absorbing sunlight and creating an exquisite marine blue hue. (The process is apparently very scientific and surprisingly hard to understand, but it results in marvelous waters!) Attractions like these lakes bring in upwards of three million tourists every year, and these increasing numbers have recently threatened the ecosystem within Banff. In 1984, Banff National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protecting it from human harm; this is vital to the safety of this area, especially since it was the first Canadian National Park in existence.
The Drive to Jasper:
Jasper is a smaller town about 175 miles away from Banff. If you decide to drive from Banff to Jasper (which you undoubtedly should do), then you're in for a road trip of jaw-dropping scenery with great stops along the way, so be sure to take your time! It's worth it. The views are terrific, and I would call this drive the best one I've ever been on. Not only are there beautiful mountains and lakes, you might even spot a few wild animals! It's impossible to be disappointed by the wonders of Banff and Jasper. The astonishing landscapes themselves provide for a phenomenal vacation experience.
Another outstanding vista is the Columbia Icefield, aptly named for it's vast grounds of ice. This is a must-see if you visit. The Athabasca Glacier and other large icy areas make up the Columbia Icefields, and the experience getting on top of the glacier by riding in a "snow coach" or "ice explorer" is especially fascinating. Some brave souls even drink the water from the small streams that form on the ice because of how pure and clean the water is said to be. The ice can be slightly dangerous, though, with a rare chance that a crevasse will form and create a deep fracture in the ice.
There is so much more to both Banff and Jasper than you've seen in this post. They have relaxing, hot springs (Miette Hot Springs is the one I visited), quaint downtown areas with little souvenir shops and bakeries, amazing hikes, their famous gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain, waterfalls, museums.... but to really know the town, you have to vacation there. I've been to many different travel destinations, and Banff was quite the spectacle!
What's your favorite vacation destination?