Banff National Park The National treasury of canada

Lake in Banff National Park

Banff National Park, established 1885 and sized 6,641 km2, is Canada's first and most visited National Park. Its eastern gate is located approximately 100 km west of Calgary in the Rocky Mountains and stretches 240 km along the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. Originally set aside to preserve sulphur hot springs for public use, Banff's blend of towering peaks and flowery meadows makes it among Canada's most invaluable areas.

Geography of Banff National Park

In Banff National Park., July is the warmest, with average highs of 22°C. January is the coldest month with average lows of -15°C, though it often drops to -30°C. The relative dryness of the air in Banff, however, makes even extreme temperatures more bearable. Regardless of the season, the temperature will fall about 1°C for every 200m of elevation gain. Also, daylight can last as little as eight hours in December, while at the end of June, the sun rises at 5:30 am and sets at 10:00 pm, lasting almost seventeen hours.

The largest cave system in Canada extends for approximately 20 km below the Columbia Icefields. The glaciers still clinging to upper-mountain slopes have helped shape the park's landscape, creating numerous lakes, waterfalls and broad, U-shaped valleys.

A climber in the Athabasca Glacier Cave in Alberta, Canada,

The majority of the trees in the park are evergreen, particularly lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Deciduous trees are primarily of poplar variety. Colorful wildflowers abound in the park, particularly at higher altitudes above the treeline.

There are 53 species of mammals in Banff National Park, including grizzly bears, black bears, cougar, lynx, wolverine, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. The park is also home to at least 280 species of birds, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawk and osprey. Its harsh winters are unsuitable for reptiles and amphibians, but the park is home to one species of toad, three species of frog, one species of salamander and two species of snakes. The Banff Springs Snail is listed as an endangered species, while the woodland caribou is a threatened species.

Elk in Banff National Park
Wolf in Banff National Park
Black Bears in Banff National Park

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans have lived in Banff for at least 10,000 years. The park is located in the traditional territory of the Kootenay, Stoney, Blood, Peigan, Siksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations peoples. These groups hunted game such as sheep, goats, moose, deer and elk found in the Rocky Mountains. With the signing of Treaty 7 in 1877, the Canadian government extinguished First Nations’ title to this land and sought to force these groups onto reserves.

Boats on Lake Moraine in Banff National Park

In 1883, two Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) employees came across hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. Despite their claims of discovery, local First Nations peoples had long known about the springs. Two years later, in response to competing claims of ownership over the springs, an Order in Council granted ownership to the Canadian government and established the 26 km2 Hot Springs Reserve. The Canadian government and the CPR then began working to develop the springs as a tourist destination to increase traffic on the CPR and ensure the profitability of the railway. The town of Banff was established in 1886 as a transportation and service center for the tourist industry. In 1887, the reserve was renamed Rocky Mountains Park and expanded in size to 674 km2. The following year, construction was completed on the CPR-owned Banff Springs Hotel which became a popular destination for wealthy tourists.

The National Parks Act (1930) made administration of the renamed Banff National Park the responsibility of Parks Canada. After several changes in boundaries since its creation, in 1949, the present-day size of the park was set at 6,641 km2. The winterization of the Banff Springs Hotel in 1968 helped to transform the park into a year-round tourist destination. The construction of the Trans-Canada Highway in the 1960s also greatly increased the number of visitors to the park.

Banff National Park Mountains

Throughout its history, Parks Canada has upheld its original mandate to conserve rather than develop. In the bid for the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, Banff National Park would have been the site of large-scale development to support tourism, disrupting wildlife and the natural surroundings. Intense pressure from environmental groups forced Parks Canada to withdraw its support from the bid.

The town of Banff is the largest municipality located in a Canadian national park. Owing to its unique and precious surroundings, residents have to demonstrate a “need to reside” in order to live within the park. Otherwise, accommodations are rare and expensive. Human facilities in the park include campgrounds, resorts, alpine and cross-country skiing, and 1,100 km of hiking trails radiate from the town of Banff. Banff National Park is home to seven national historic sites including Banff Museum Park, Cave and Basin, Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin, Howse Pass, Skoki Ski Lodge and Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. Banff Springs Hotel is the only historic site not administered by Parks Canada.

Glacial Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

The Banff Center is a premier arts institution and incubator. Its mission is to promote, commission and support artists. The facility also plays host to the annual Banff Summer Arts Festival and the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Since 1996, the town has endeavoured to promote its rich heritage through a Heritage Plaque program that denotes historically-significant sites, events and noteworthy individuals.

Banff Avenue in the town of Banff in Banff National Park
Created By
Min Lee
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