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Established in 1885, Banff National Park, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is the oldest national park in Canada. Located roughly 60 miles (97 km) to the west of Calgary, the park offers city dwellers easy access to more than 2,500 square miles (6,475 sq km) of mountains, forests, lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. The park is home to many species of animals including grizzlies, bighorns, elk, and deer, while the resort town of Banff boasts restaurants, hotels, and shopping in a stylish environment. Whether you want to hike through the pine trees, go rafting on the river, or head out in search of wildlife, there are countless things to do for lovers of the outdoors.
Banff — The small city of Banff is a resort destination located at the foot of Cascade Mountain near the south end of the park. Along the main street of Banff Avenue, find charming boutiques, eclectic eateries, and château-style hotels. In the middle of the city near the Bow River, historic and cultural attractions include the Banff Park Museum, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. To the west and the south, on the outskirts of town, you’ll find 2 different hot springs. The Cave and Basin Historic Site features spectacular indoor springs and a green outdoor pool, while the Banff Upper Hot Springs offer a preserved 1930s bathhouse and panoramic views of the Rockies.
Lake Louise — Roughly a 45-minute drive northwest of Banff is the picturesque hamlet of Lake Louise. The area is known for its glacier-fed lake ringed by towering peaks, which are watched over by the palatial Fairmont Château. In the winter, the lake becomes an ice skating rink, while in the summer the water is taken over by kayaks and canoes. At the Lake Louise Ski Resort, the Wildlife Interpretation Centre at the top of the gondola is the perfect place to discover what makes life in the park magnificently unique.
Scope out the most majestic views of the Canadian Rockies from the top of Sulphur Mountain. From the base, hop in a gondola for a sensational ride to the summit, which rises 7,400 feet (2,255 m) above Banff. Here, on the 360-degree observation deck, soak in awe-inspiring views of the emerald forests and snow-capped peaks of 6 mountain ranges. Once you’ve taken in the sights, set off for a stroll along the ridgetop boardwalk, a 1.2-mile (2 km) trek that brings you to Sanson’s Peak.
There’s no end to the outdoor adventure to be found in Banff National Park. On a full-day tour, explore the frozen expanses of the Columbia Icefield as you learn all about the erosive legacy of the Crowfoot Glacier. For fans of animals, a visit to the Grizzly Bear Refuge brings you into the life of a bear named Boo, while a journey into the backcountry offers views of caribou, deer, and bighorn sheep.
Thrill-seekers of all ages will love a whitewater rafting excursion on the Kicking Horse River, but if you prefer something a bit calmer, a canoe ride on the Bow River is an ideal way to spend a serene afternoon. And of course, you can’t visit Banff National Park without setting off on a hike or 2. With a certified guide leading the way, explore the craggy trails around Lake Agnes and Lake Louise, ending the day with tea at a mountaintop retreat.
While Banff is certainly most known for its sporting activities, there’s more you can do in this breathtaking destination. Unwind with a dip in the mineral hot springs, enjoy a private photography session amid alpine scenery, or fill up with a cowboy-style cookout just outside the city. If you’re in the mood for culture, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is known as one of Canada’s most important artistic institutions. Take in a play, listen to classical music, or enjoy any number of outdoor festivals and events in the summer.