Banff National Park

Banff National Park is in the Alberta Rockies region of Alberta, Canada. Together with six other national parks it makes up the UNESCO World Heritage site "Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks".


Established in 1885, Banff National Park is Canada's first national park, and its creation gave birth to Canada's national park system. At 6,641 square kilometres it is also one of the largest national parks in Canada, if not the world. The park sees visits well into the millions annually.

The park starts in the north at   Sunwapta pass just south of the Columbia Icefield and Jasper National Park with the   southern park entrance just north of Canmore. The town of Banff and the village and resort of Lake Louise are within the park. The other park entrances are from the east near the   Saskatchewan River Crossing and from the west at   Kicking Horse Pass and   Vermilion Pass.


This area was inhabited by the Nakoda (Stoney) Indians thousands of years before the white man arrived. The park itself was first 'discovered' by the workers building the transcontinental railway in 1882. At first the park was centered around the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, and was officially born in 1885. The first Banff Springs Hotel was built a mere three years later, the current incarnation was built in 1928. The first highway through the park was completed in 1923. The park boundaries as they are today were drawn up in 1930, as part of the National Parks Act passed by Canadian Parliament.


Moraine Lake near Lake Louise

Other than the townsites of Banff and Lake Louise, the three ski areas (Norquay, Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise), and the highways that bisect the park, it is about 93 percent untouched wilderness. The most dominant feature is of course the mountains, of which vistas are present from anywhere in any direction.

Flora and fauna

The most common wildlife seen in the park are bighorn sheep, deer, and North American elk. Moose are more elusive (their population is in decline) and mountain goats are virtually undetectable on the mountainsides without a good pair of binoculars. (Visitors often mistake female bighorn sheep for mountain goats, because female bighorns have short horns somewhat like those of mountain goats.) Although caribou are present in the park, they are rarely seen by visitors. It is important to keep in mind the park is also home to black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, and cougars (mountain lions).

On the warmer and fuzzier side, the park is home to many tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. The occasional porcupine and beaver may also be found. Bird lovers will want to watch for Ruffed Grouse, Bald Eagles, and the ubiquitous Canada Goose.


In summer the climate is generally mild. July is the warmest month, with an average temperature of 22C. There is rarely snow at highway level in the summer, but the mountain tops will be snow covered year round. In winter the average temperature drops drastically. January is the coldest month with an average of -15C. Snow will be found at any elevation in the winter, and harsh winter conditions can be expected anywhere at any time. No matter the season, it is important to consider that the temperature will drop 1C for every 200m of elevation gained.

Get in

Map of Banff NationalPark

By car

Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) bisects the park east/west. Banff is about an hour and a half from Calgary Alberta and the same from Golden British Columbia. Other ways to enter the park by automobile include the Icefields Parkway from Jasper, Highway 11 from Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer Alberta, and Highway 93 from Radium Hot Springs and Cranbrook British Columbia.

By bus

Greyhound and Brewster provide regular scheduled coaches that serve Banff and Lake Louise, departing from Calgary and points in British Columbia. Another option is to book one of the many guided bus tours that visit the park. Most of these will depart from Calgary or Vancouver.

There are three different airport shuttle providers from the Calgary Airport to Banff and Lake Louise.

By train

Explore the Canadian Rockies by rail. Day rail tours depart from Banff connecting to Vancouver.

Between Mid-April and Mid-October, the two-day, all daylight Rocky Mountaineer travels between Vancouver or Whistler, British Columbia and the Rocky Mountain destinations of Jasper, Banff or Calgary Alberta. Guests relax in Redleaf or Goldleaf Service, enjoying onboard commentary and bi-regional cuisine as the awe-inspiring scenery passes by at a leisurely pace. For selected departure date in December, the festive Rocky Mountaineer travels through a winter wonderland where the mountain valleys are covered in a blanket of snow.

By air

The closest International Airport is in Calgary. Vancouver International Airport is approximately 12 hours' drive to the west. Springbank Airport (west of Calgary, towards Banff) is nearly 80 km from Banff. Springbank operates short charter flights with small aircraft. There is a heliport in Cochrane, 5 minutes drive east of the park boundary and a 15 minute drive from the town of Banff.


All visitors stopping in the park (even just for gas) require a park permit. If you are driving through non-stop, the pass is not required. Day passes and annual passes are available.

All Canadian National Parks require visitors to pay an entry fee. Your citizenship or place of residence does not change what you pay; Canadian residents and international visitors pay the same fees. The national parks in Alberta and BC are fairly close to each other and it is possible to visit several of them in a single day. If you pay an entry fee in one mountain park (e.g. Banff National Park), and visit another on the same day (e.g. Yoho National Park), you will not have to pay a second time. Your paid entry fee is valid until 4PM the following day.

The fees that visitors pay do not go to general government revenues; they are used to enhance and maintain the parks and visitor services.

As of March 2014, the entry fees were as follows:

If you are entering the park as a group of 2-7 people travelling in a single vehicle, you can pay the group fee of $19.60 per day. (This is the same fee as paying for two adults.)

If you will be visiting Canadian National Parks for 7 days or more, you may save money by purchasing an annual Discovery Pass:

A Discovery Pass also includes admission to national historic sites operated by Parks Canada, such as the Banff Park Museum, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Bar U Ranch, Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, Fort Langley National Historic Site, and more. Note that Parks Canada does not operate all of Canada's national historic sites.

Additional variable fees are required for camping and backcountry exploration. See the official Parks Canada website for a complete current schedule.

Get around


There are several nature trails within half an hour of Banff township. These feature wildlife, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and mountains. Banff is located at a high latitude and thus the scenery is four-seasonal; Banff looks completely different in the winter than it does in the summer.

Peyto Lake
Johnston Canyon


Visit the official site for Banff Lake Louise Tourism to find any activity you may be looking for whether it's horseback riding, fishing, sightseeing, ATV adventures, white water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. Banff National Park also offers a large variety of activities besides skiing/snowboarding in the winter. Try your hand at dogsledding, icefishing, ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice climbing.


In nearby towns, such as Banff, Canmore and Jasper, you may enjoy strolling alongside locals and world-travellers as you discover a cosmopolitan collection of galleries, boutiques and cafés. Shops range from internationally recognized clothiers or independently-owned establishments to Canada's oldest department store. The village of Lake Louise also has a few places to purchase supplies.


With inventive panache, chefs relentlessly reach new culinary heights. Recipes change according to the seasons and make use of the freshest local ingredients. During the fall and winter, this means game, squash and legumes, while spring features asparagus and mushrooms and summer highlights edible flowers and fresh fruits. The majority of restaurants are found in Banff town, with a few at other resorts in the park.


Banff town has a large variety of places to sit and enjoy a drink whether it is après ski or a patio.


Whether camping or looking for a high class hotel, Banff National Park has something to offer. Camping spots are found throughout the park. Camping outside of designated spots is illegal without a special backcountry permit.

There are many hotels/lodges and bed-and-breakfasts throughout Banff. Vacation rental apartments can also be found easily. Some resorts provide log-cabin rentals. RV parking is available very close to Banff township.




Stay safe

Although cougar and bear attacks may get sensationalized in the media, statistically the greatest threat for injury or death in the park is driving through it. If you are unfamiliar with driving in winter conditions it is highly recommended you either find other transportation, or visit in the summer. If venturing in the backcountry you must also be aware of avalanche danger. This also applies to skiing out of bounds, in three words: Don't do it.

Elk, moose and deer are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, especially females with young (May and June) and males during the mating season (September through November). Remember, stay at least 30 metres (3 bus-lengths) away from any elk, moose or deer.

Elk in some areas of the park are accustomed to the presence of people and automobiles. Do not think you can photograph a bull elk (i.e. one with antlers) from close-up by driving slowly past it while you shoot. Especially during mating season, bull elk will attack an automobile without warning, and can cause serious damage.

Wolves and coyotes are often seen on trails and along roads. Cougars are elusive and rarely seen, but they do live here. The chance of being approached by these carnivores is unlikely, but if you are approached, send a clear message that you are not prey.

Rules to follow for your safety and theirs:

Learn more and educate yourself from a reliable source

Ask park staff about wildlife safety, and how you can keep wildlife wild– and alive, or read Parks Canada wildlife publications available at information centers or on the Parks Canada website.

Emergency contacts

Go next

Although Banff is considered one of the best places to "get out" of the nearby cities, these nearby destinations are great:

The nearest major cities are:

Routes through Banff National Park

Kamloops Field (in Yoho NP)  W  E  Canmore Calgary
END Jasper (in Jasper NP)  N  S  Radium Hot Springs Cranbrook

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, January 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.