Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park, established in 1885 in the Canadian Rockies. The park, located 110-180 kilometres (70-110 mi) west of Calgary in the province of Alberta, encompasses 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 sq mi) of mountainous terrain, with numerous glaciers and ice fields, dense coniferous forest, and alpine landscapes. The Icefields Parkway extends from Lake Louise, connecting to Jasper National Park in the north. Provincial forests and Yoho National Park are neighbours to the west, while Kootenay National Park is located to the south and Kananaskis Country to the southeast. The main commercial centre of the park is the town of Banff, in the Bow River valley.
The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in Banff's early years, building the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, and attracting tourists through extensive advertising. In the early 20th century, roads were built in Banff, at times by war internees, and through Great Depression-era public works projects. Since the 1960s, park accommodations have been open all year, with annual tourism visits to Banff increasing to over 5 million in the 1990s. Millions more pass through the park on the Trans-Canada Highway. As Banff is one of the world's most visited national parks, the health of its ecosystem has been threatened. In the mid-1990s, Parks Canada responded by initiating a two-year study, which resulted in management recommendations, and new policies that aim to preserve ecological integrity.
With the admission of British Columbia to Canada on 20 July 1871, Canada agreed to build a transcontinental railroad. Construction of the railroad began in 1875, with Kicking Horse Pass chosen, over the more northerly Yellowhead Pass, as the route through the Canadian Rockies. Ten years later, the last spike was driven in Craigellachie, British Columbia.
Early on, Banff was popular with wealthy European tourists, who arrived in Canada via trans-Atlantic luxury liner and continued westward on the railroad, as well as upper-class American and English tourists. Some visitors participated in mountaineering activities, often hiring local guides. Tom Wilson, along with Jim and Bill Brewster, was among the first outfitters in Banff. The Alpine Club of Canada, established in 1906 by Arthur Oliver Wheeler and Elizabeth Parker, organized climbs and camps in the backcountry.
By 1911, Banff was accessible by automobile from Calgary. Beginning in 1916, the Brewsters offered motorcoach tours of Banff. In 1920, access to Lake Louise by road was available, and the Banff-Windermere Road opened in 1923 to connect Banff with British Columbia.
In 1902, the park was expanded to cover 11,400 square kilometres (4,402 sq mi), encompassing areas around Lake Louise, and the Bow, Red Deer, Kananaskis, and Spray rivers. Bowing to pressure from grazing and logging interests, the size of the park was reduced in 1911 to 4,663 square kilometres (1,800 sq mi), eliminating many foothills areas from the park. Park boundaries changed several more times up until 1930, when the size of Banff was fixed at 6,697 square kilometres (2,586 sq mi), with the passage of the National Parks Act. The Act also renamed the park as Banff National Park, named for the Canadian Pacific Railway station, which in turn was named after the Banffshire region in Scotland. With the construction of a new east gate in 1933, Alberta transferred 0.84 square kilometres (207.5 acres) to the park. This, along with other minor changes in the park boundaries in 1949, set the area of the park at 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 sq mi).
In 1931, the Government of Canada enacted the Unemployment and Farm Relief Act which provided public works projects in the national parks during the Great Depression. In Banff, workers constructed a new bathhouse and pool at Upper Hot Springs, to supplement Cave and Basin. Other projects involved road building in the park, tasks around the Banff townsite, and construction of a highway connecting Banff and Jasper. In 1934, the Public Works Construction Act was passed, providing continued funding for the public works projects. New projects included construction of a new registration facility at Banff's east gate, and construction of an administrative building in Banff. By 1940, the Icefields Parkway reached the Columbia Icefield area of Banff, and connected Banff and Jasper.
Internment camps were once again set up in Banff during World War II, with camps stationed at Lake Louise, Stoney Creek, and Healy Creek. Prison camps were largely composed of Mennonites from Saskatchewan. Japanese internment camps were not stationed in Banff during World War II, but rather were located in Jasper National Park where their detainees worked on the Yellowhead Highway and other projects.
Since 1968, when the Banff Springs Hotel was winterized, Banff has been a year-round destination. In the 1960s, the Trans-Canada Highway was constructed, providing another transportation corridor through the Bow Valley, in addition to the Bow Valley Parkway, making the park more accessible. Also in the 1960s, Calgary International Airport was built.
Canada launched several bids to host the Winter Olympics in Banff, with the first bid for the 1964 Winter Olympics which were eventually awarded to Innsbruck, Austria. Canada narrowly lost a second bid, for the 1968 Winter Olympics, which were awarded to Grenoble, France. Once again, Banff launched a bid to host the 1972 Winter Olympics, with plans to hold the Olympics at Lake Louise. The 1972 bid was most controversial, as environmental lobby groups provided strong opposition to the bid, which had sponsorship from Imperial Oil. Bowing to pressure, Jean Chrétien, then the Minister of Environment, the government department responsible for Parks Canada, withdrew support for the bid, which was eventually lost to Sapporo, Japan. The cross-country ski events were held at the Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park at Canmore, Alberta, located just outside the eastern gates of Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada Highway, when nearby Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.
In 1984, Banff was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the other national and provincial parks that form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, for the mountain landscapes containing mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons and limestone caves as well as fossils found here. With this designation came added obligations for conservation.
During the 1980s, Parks Canada moved to privatize many park services such as golf courses, and added user fees for use of other facilities and services to help deal with budget cuts. In 1990, the Town of Banff was incorporated, giving local residents more say regarding any proposed developments.
In the 1990s, development plans for the park, including expansion at Sunshine Village, were under fire with lawsuits filed by Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). In the mid-1990s, the Banff-Bow Valley Study was initiated to find ways to better address environmental concerns, and issues relating to development in the park.
Banff National Park is located on Alberta's western border with British Columbia. Banff is about an hour and half driving distance from Calgary, and four hours from Edmonton. Jasper National Park is located to the north, while Yoho National Park is to the west, and Kootenay National Park is to the south. Kananaskis Country, which includes Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, is located to the south and east of Banff.
The Trans-Canada Highway passes through Banff National Park, from eastern boundary near Canmore, through the towns of Banff and Lake Louise, and into Yoho National Park in British Columbia. The Banff townsite is the main commercial center in the national park. The village of Lake Louise is located at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Icefields Parkway, which extends north to the Jasper townsite.
Lake Louise, a small village located 54 kilometres (32 mi) west of the Banff townsite, is home to the landmark Chateau Lake Louise at the edge of Lake Louise. Located 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Lake Louise, Moraine Lake provides a scenic vista of the Valley of the Ten Peaks. This scene was pictured on the back of the $20 Canadian banknote, in the 1969–1979 ("Scenes of Canada") series. The Lake Louise Mountain Resort is also located near the village.
The Icefields Parkway extends 230 kilometres (143 miles), connecting Lake Louise to Jasper, Alberta. The Parkway originates at Lake Louise, and extends north up the Bow Valley, past Hector Lake, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake. The Parkway then crosses a summit, and follows the Mistaya River to Saskatchewan Crossing, where it converges with the Howse and North Saskatchewan River.
The North Saskatchewan River flows east from Saskatchewan Crossing, out of Banff, into what is known as David Thompson country, and onto Edmonton. The David Thompson Highway follows the North Saskatchewan River, past the man-made Abraham Lake, and through David Thompson Country. At Saskatchewan Crossing, basic services are available, including gasoline, cafeteria, a gift shop, and small motel.
North of Saskatchewan Crossing, the Icefields Parkway follows the North Saskatchewan River up to the Columbia Icefield. The Parkway crosses into Jasper National Park at Sunwapta Pass at 2,023 metres (6,635 ft) in elevation, and continues on from there to the Jasper townsite.
The Canadian Rockies are composed of sedimentary rock, including shale, sandstone, limestone and quartzite, that originated as deposits in a shallow inland sea. The geologic formations in Banff range in age from Precambrian eon to the Jurassic period. The mountains were formed 80–120 million years ago, as a product of thrust faults.
Over the past 80 million years, erosion has taken its toll on the landscape, with more extensive erosion occurring in the foothills and Front Range than in the Main Range. Banff's mountains exhibit several different shapes that have been influenced by the composition of rock deposits, layers, and their structure. Numerous mountains in Banff are carved out of sedimentary layers that slope at 50–60 degree angles. Such dip slope mountains have one side with a steep face, and the other with a more gradual slope that follows the layering of the rock formations, e.g., Mount Rundle, near the Banff townsite.
Other types of mountains in Banff include complex, irregular, anticlinal, synclinal, castellate, dogtooth, and sawback mountains. Castle Mountain exemplifies a castellate shape, with steep slopes and cliffs. The top section of Castle Mountain is composed of a layer of Paleozoic-era shale, sandwiched between two limestone layers. Dogtooth mountains, such as Mount Louis, exhibit sharp, jagged slopes. The Sawback Range, which consists of dipping sedimentary layers, has been eroded by cross gullies. Scree deposits are common toward the bottom of many mountains and cliffs.
Banff's landscape has also been marked by glacial erosion, with deep U-shaped valleys and many hanging valleys that often form waterfalls. Matterhorn-type mountains, such as Mount Assiniboine, have been shaped by glacial erosion that has left a sharp peak. A number of small gorges also exist, including Mistaya Canyon and Johnston Canyon.
The Columbia Icefield, at the northern end of Banff, straddles the Banff and Jasper National Park border and extends into British Columbia. Snow Dome, in the Columbia Icefields, forms a hydrological apex of North America, with water flowing from this point in to the Pacific via the Columbia, the Arctic Ocean via the Athabasca River, and into the Hudson Bay and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean, via the North Saskatchewan River. Saskatchewan Glacier, which is approximately 13 kilometers (8 mi) in length and 30 square kilometres (11.6 sq mi) in area, is the major outlet of the Columbia Icefield that flows into Banff. Between the years 1893 and 1953, Saskatchewan Glacier had retreated a distance of 1,364 metres (4,474 ft), with the rate of retreat between the years 1948 and 1953 averaging 55 meters (180 ft) per year. Overall, the glaciers of the Canadian Rockies lost 25% of their mass during the 20th century.
Located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Banff National Park receives 472 millimetres (19 in) of precipitation annually. This is considerably less than received in Yoho National Park on the western side of the divide in British Columbia, with 884 millimetres (35 in) annual precipitation at Wapta Lake and 616 millimetres (26.3 in) at Boulder Creek. 234 centimetres (92 in) of snow falls on average falls each winter in the Banff townsite, while 290 centimetres (114 in) falls in Lake Louise.
During winter months, temperatures in Banff are moderated, compared to Edmonton and other areas of central and northern Alberta, due to Chinook winds and other influences from British Columbia. The mean low temperature during January is −15 °C (6 °F), and the mean high temperature is −5 °C (24 °F) for the Town of Banff. Weather conditions during summer months are pleasant, with high temperatures during July averaging 22 °C (71 °F), and daily low temperatures averaging 7 °C (45 °F).
The park has 56 mammal species that have been recorded. Grizzly and Black bears inhabit the forested regions. Cougar, Lynx, Wolverine, weasel, Northern River Otter and wolves are the primary predatory mammals. Elk, Mule Deer, and White-tailed Deer are common in the valleys of the park, including around (and sometimes in) the Banff townsite, while Moose tend to be more elusive, sticking primarily to wetland areas and near streams. In the alpine regions, Mountain Goats, Bighorn Sheep, marmots and pika are widespread. Other mammals such as Beaver, Porcupine, squirrel, chipmunks are the more commonly observed smaller mammals. In 2005, a total of 5 caribou were counted, making this species one of the rarest mammals found in the park.
Due to the harsh winters, the park has few reptiles and amphibians with only one species of toad, three species of frog, one salamander species and two species of snakes that have been identified. At least 280 species of birds can be found in Banff including Bald and Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Falcon and Merlin, all of which are predatory species. Additionally, commonly seen species such as the Gray Jay, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Mountain Bluebird, Clark's Nutcracker, Mountain Chickadee and pipit are frequently found in the lower elevations. The White-tailed Ptarmigan is a ground bird that is often seen in the alpine zones. Rivers and lakes are frequented by over a hundred different species including loons, herons and mallards who spend their summers in the park.
Endangered species in Banff include the Banff Springs Snail Physella johnsoni which is found in the hot springs of Banff. Woodland caribou, found in Banff, are listed as a threatened species, as are grizzly bears.
Banff National Park is the most visited Alberta tourist destination and one of the most visited national parks in North America, with 3,927,557 visitors in 2004/2005. During summer, 42% of park visitors are from Canada (23% from Alberta), while 35% are from the United States, and 20% from Europe. Tourism in Banff contributes an estimated C$6 billion annually to the economy.
A park pass is required for stopping in the park and permit checks are common during the summer months, especially at Lake Louise and the start of the Icefields Parkway. A permit is not required if travelling straight through the park without stopping. Approximately 5 million people pass through Banff annually on the Trans-Canada Highway without stopping.
Attractions in Banff include Upper Hot Springs, and a 27-hole golf course at Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, and three ski resorts including Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Mountain Resort, and Mount Norquay ski resort. Day hikes, such as the Cory Pass Loop, are popular with visitors. Other activities include alpine and Nordic skiing, and horseback riding.
Backcountry activities in Banff include hiking, camping, climbing, and skiing. Parks Canada requires those using backcountry campgrounds, Alpine Club of Canada huts, or other backcountry facilities to purchase a wilderness pass. Reservations for using the campgrounds are also required.
The population of bull trout and other native species of fish in Banff's lakes has also dwindled, with the introduction of non-native species including brook trout, and rainbow trout. Lake trout, Westslope cutthroat trout, and Chiselmouth are also rare native species, while Chinook salmon, White sturgeon, Pacific lamprey, and Banff longnose dace are likely extinct locally. The Banff longnose dace, once only found in Banff, is now an extinct species.
The Trans-Canada Highway, passing through Banff, has been problematic, posing hazards for wildlife due to vehicle traffic and as an impediment to wildlife migration. Grizzly bears are among the species impacted by the highway, which together with other developments in Banff, has caused fragmentation of the landscape. Grizzly bears prefer the montane habitat, which has been most impacted by development. Wildlife crossings, including a series of underpasses, and two wildlife overpasses, have been constructed at a number of points along the Trans-Canada Highway to help alleviate this problem.
In 1978, expansion of Sunshine Village ski resort was approved, with added parking, hotel expansion, and development of Goat's Eye Mountain. Implementation of this development proposal was delayed through the 1980s, while environmental assessments were conducted. In 1989, Sunshine Village withdrew its development proposal, in light of government reservations, and submitted a revised proposal in 1992. This plan was approved by the government, pending environmental review. Subsequently, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) filed a court injunction, which halted the development. CPAWS also put pressure on UNESCO to revoke Banff's World Heritage Site status, over concerns that developments were harming the park's ecological health.
The panel issued over 500 recommendations, including limiting the growth of the Banff townsite, capping the town's population at 10,000, placing quotas for popular hiking trails, and curtailing development in the park. Another recommendation was to fence off the townsite to reduce confrontations between people and elk. By fencing off the townsite, this measure was also intended to reduce access to this refuge for elk from predators, such as wolves that tended to avoid the townsite. Upon release of the report, Copps immediately moved to accept the proposal to cap the town population. She also ordered a small airstrip to be removed, along with a buffalo padlock, and cadet camp, that inhibited wildlife movement.
In response to concerns and recommendations raised by the Banff Bow Valley Study, a number of development plans were curtailed in the 1990s. Plans to add nine holes at the Banff Springs Golf Resort were withdrawn in 1996.