Category Archives: Banff National Park

Historic Things to Do in Banff National Park

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Banff – Alberta, Canada

Explore the History of the Canadian Rockies

The national parks of the Canadian Rockies are World Heritage Sites themselves. What better way to explore Banff National Park and experience some authentic Canadian Rockies culture, then to visit Banff’s historic sites. With this list of great things to do in Banff your sure to experience all that Banff has to offer.

The current Banff Springs Hotel was built in 1928 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. (Photo Credit: John Vetterli)

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Located just west of the Banff town site, Cave and Basin is the site of the first hot spring baths and is considered the birth place of the Canadian Rockies National Parks. Long used by Aboriginal Canadians, the naturally occurring hot springs were found by Canadian Pacific Railway workers in the late 19th Century. They decided to turn the springs into a tourist destination. Today you can tour the grotto like baths as well as open air pools constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century. The tourists these bathes drew lead to the creation of Canada’s first national park, Rocky Mountain Park of Canada.  If touring these bathes wets your appetite to take a real dip in a hot springs’ pool, you can always visit the Banff Hot Springs were modern day tourists are still soaking in the pleasure of the geothermal heated pools.

Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site

With its retro name the Cosmic Ray Station conjures up images of the space race. However, the scientific outpost was originally built on the top of Sulphur Mountain in 1956 to study the Sun’s impact on Earth. Located south of the Banff town site a trip to the top of Sulphur Mountain affords visitors the opportunity to view Banff from above.

These days Sulphur Mountain is also more accessible than ever, the Banff Gondola will whisk you up the slope in only eight minutes. From there it’s an easy 1 km hike to the location of the Cosmic Ray Station.

Banff’s Museum of Natural History

Located in the centre of Banff right on Banff Avenue the Museum of Natural History is worth a quick visit. The log structure itself is actually the oldest building in the town of Banff. Visitors will get to view five thousand different Natural History specimens representing the range of species found in the park and the Rocky Mountains.

The museum collection was actively increased only till the 1930s, so the museum itself also an interesting example of early 20th century museum practices.

Buffalo Nations Luxon Museum

To learn more about Canada’s Aboriginal heritage check out the Buffalo Nation’s Museum. Located in Banff, on Birch Avenue, the museum exhibits artefacts from Plains First Nations life before and after European contact. Visitors will learn about daily life for the nomadic tribes of the Canadian prairies. The collection includes beadwork, clothing, tepee displays, as well as spiritual and trade items.

Banff Springs Hotel National Historic Site

The iconic Banff Springs was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1911 and 1928 as a resort for rich clientele to experience the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies in comfort. The hotel’s opulent decor and architecture are still impressive today and well worth a visit. The chateaux style hotel is located just outside of the center of Banff on Spray Avenue. Visitors are welcome to explore the hotels common areas, dine in the restaurants, or take in the panoramic views afforded by the promenade.

Three Historic Hikes Near Banff

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Banff – Alberta, Canada

Explore the History of the Canadian Rockies

Cosmic Ray Station Banff National Park

The Cosmic Ray Station on Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. (Photo Credit: Itza Fineday)

Banff National Park is famous for its natural wonder: from the snow capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the natural hot springs. In Banff you’re greeted by the majesty of nature at every turn. While you’re exploring the great outdoors, why not experience Banff’s cultural history. These  historic hikes are excellent things to do if you want to experience the authentic history of the Rocky Mountains.

Visit the Cosmic Ray Station on Sulphur Mountain

Located just south of the Banff town site a hike up Sulphur Mountain will lead you to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site and a beautiful panorama looking down on the Banff town site.

The trailhead for this five and half km hike is located at the north west corner of the upper parking lot. The hike should take 2 to 5 hours to complete depending on your fitness level.

The trail climbs 742 meters through a series of switch backs before you’ll reach the Cosmic Ray Station.

With its retro name the Cosmic Ray Station conjures up images of the space race. However, the scientific outpost was originally built on the top of Sulphur Mountain in 1956 to study the Sun’s impact on Earth.

The Banff Gondola also scales Sulphur Mountain and some like to hike up and take the gondola down.

Hike to Skoki Ski Lodge National Historic Site

Skoki Ski Lodge is located north of Lake Louise in Banff National Park and was originally built in the 1930’s by the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies as a lodge for backcountry skiers. Today it still operates as a hotel year round providing home cooked meals and rustic sleeping quarters to weary skiers and hikers.

The hiking trail starts 100m uphill of temple lodge. The 2.5 km trail has and elevation gain of 500 m and should take you 3 to 5 hours to complete depending on your fitness level.

Follow the Path of Early Adventurers to the Twin Falls Tea House

Located just over the BC-Alberta boarder the Twin Falls Tea House is technically in Yoho National Park however it’s still a short drive down highway one from the Banff town site. The idyllic combination of the tea house and nearby falls are an example of the best the Rocky Mountains has to offer and is well worth the visit. A trip to the Twin Falls Tea House National Historic Site makes a great day trip from Banff.

Built in 1908 as a stopover camp for mountaineers and trail riders, the Twin Falls Tea House still serves tea every summer to modern Rocky Mountain adventure seekers.

The spectacular alpine trail will lead you through 18 km of pristine wilderness and past several waterfalls. Although the trail is long it’s also relatively flat with only a 300m elevation gain so expect to spend five hours on this hike. The trailhead is located 0.5 km north west of the Takkakaw Falls parking area.

Working Holiday in the Canadian Rockies: Why Working in Banff is an Experience You Don’t Want to Miss

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Banff Avenue on a crisp winter day. (Photo Credit: Kellie Iwona)

Banff – Alberta, Canada

Become an Honorary Local in Banff

Travelers often seek out an authentic experience. By taking a job in the Rockies you’ll get to become an honorary local. You’ll get to really explore the community and live that authentic experience of the Rockies in Banff National Park.

Plus, there is too much to see in Banff to take it all in over a weekend visit. By living in Banff National Park  you’ll be able to utilize your vacation days to experience all that the Rockies have to offer.

Get to Know People From Around the World

Banff National Park draws visitors from around the world. Living in the Rockies is a great way to meet people from other places without moving an inch. Your work colleagues will come from around the world; from Australia and India, Europe and the Caribbean. For people wanting to work abroad the resorts and ski hills of Banff are anWorking in the Rocky Mountains will allow you to expand your horizons by meeting people from around the globe.

Don’t Just Visit the Rockies – Live Them

When visiting the Rockies, especially for the first time, many people are awed by their majesty. I was no exception. After working in Jasper for four months I was no longer awestruck but I was continuously impressed by the natural beauty I witnessed every day. I counted myself lucky to walk out my door into such natural splendour. My daily commute featured emerald lakes and frequent sightings of deer and elk.

Working in the Rockies will give you a unique chance not just to visit the Mountains but to truly live them. You’ll get to make the Rockies part of your daily life.

Jobs are Plentiful

Mountain towns like  Banff have put limits on expansion to preserve the natural beauty of the parks. This keeps their populations relatively small. However, millions of tourists flock to the mountains each year.  The result is that the local population cannot staff all the shops, restaurants, campgrounds and  hotels in banff that accommodate all these visitors. Banff needs people like you, people on working holidays, to help them run. Businesses are always seeking staff and jobs are plentiful in Banff National Park.

Elk Photography at Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park

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As we approach the middle of June here in Banff National Park, we approach the heart of elk calving season, a wonderful time to attempt to get some new elk photography shots into your portfolio.  One of my favourite spots to try to photograph newborn elk calves and their attentive mothers is along Vermilion Lakes Drive a few kilometers west of the Town of Banff.

Elk photography along Vermilion Lakes Drive in Banff

Elk photography along Vermilion Lakes Drive in Banff

All three lakes along this drive provide some great opportunities at elk with newborn calves, as well as with bald eagles, ospreys, Canada geese and a host of other bird life.  The best times to try to catch elk along here are in the early mornings and late evenings before traffic picks up.  The Vermilion Lakes area  is also a great location for some landscape photography if you’re so inclined, and is an excellent location for some photography if you have a family in tow.

Note: elk cows (females) are extremely dangerous to approach on foot when they have newborn calves.  Please use a long lens and if you are on foot, then stay at least 100 metres (ten bus lengths) away from all elk along this route in the spring.

Happy shooting!

John

PS – want to learn how to be a  better wildlife photographer?  Join me for a wildlife photography workshop in Jasper National Park each October and February.  Check out my Canadian Wildlife Photography Tours website for more details.

Fall Wildlife Photography Preview for Banff National Park

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As fall slowly approaches here in Banff National Park, I thought now would be a great time to take a look ahead at autumn / fall wildlife photography opportunities for Banff and Jasper National Parks and beyond.  I’ll begin with Banff, which offers not only some great fall landscape photography, but some fantastic wildlife photo locations, too.

Suprisingly enough, one of the premier wildlife viewing locations in Banff National Park each fall is around the Banff Springs Golf Course.  The best elk rut in Banff occurs on the hallowed Springs fairways and patient photographers will find lots of great opportunities for photographing big bulls and their harems of cow elk both on and off the course.

Bull Elk

Bull Elk in Banff National Park

Another great area to find big bull elk each September and October is on the Lake Minnewanka Road, where lucky photographers may find not only elk, but also bighorn sheep, coyotes, and mule deer.

Bull Elk Photography in Banff National Park

Bull Elk Photography in Banff National Park

The Bow Valley Parkway is also an excellent place to spend some time in Banff National Park viewing and photographing wildlife.  Banff Travel offers Evening Wildlife Safaris along the Parkway, or you can simply drive along yourself and get lucky with bighorn sheep, coyotes, bears, and even wild wolves.

Wild wolf in Banff National Park

Wild wolf in Banff National Park

But most wildlife photographers in the park are going to focus their attention on the incredible elk rut.  This is by far the best time of year to view and photograph the giant bulls, and again, you’ll want to concentrate your efforts on the Golf Course road at the Banff Springs Hotel, or on the Lake Minnewanka Road.

Let me know if you have any questions before your big trip, and happy shooting!

John

Canadian Rockies RV Camping: Rampart Creek

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Planning an RV camping vacation? It’s hard to beat the Canadian Rockies, a must-visit for anyone who enjoys getting out in their RV. In places like Banff, Jasper and Canmore, we’ve got great scenery, wildlife, rivers and activities.

The sights of the Rockies make every road trip a pleasure.

We’ve also got plenty of great scenic drives, including the famous Icefields Parkway between Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, where you can see the Columbia Icefield. Add that to some awesome campgrounds, and you can see for yourself that this is a top RV vacation destination.

One of these great RV campgrounds is Rampart Creek in Banff National Park. Although you should know it only accommodates small RVs.The good news is campsites are all back-in and have lots of shade from the surrounding trees. There are no hookups, but they have well water (hand-pumped), pit toilets, fire rings, recycling bins and food storage containers. For a more full service campground in Banff, check out Tunnel Mountain.

About Rampart Creek Campground

Rampart Creek is a basic Banff National Park campground, with 50 sites. You’ll find it close to the Columbia Icefields (28 km away) along the Icefields Highway, making it a great stopping point for exploring this amazing part of the Canadian Rockies. It is 147 km from the town of Banff and 88 km from the town of Lake Louise.

Reservations cannot be made for this campsite. Like the majority of campsites in Banff National Park it is first-come, first served. Check out time is at 11 a.m., and is the best time to arrive to secure your site. Check here for reservable campsites.

Some of the sites have the privilege to overlook the North Saskatchewan River and the valley. The site is open from June 25-September 6, 2010 (weather dependent).

The campground consists of 4 loops including a walk-in tent section with dry toilets, water stations, sheltered camp kitchens with wood burning cook stoves, garbage containers and recycling bins. Remember: this is bear country, so all food items must be stored properly. Read all advisories when you arrive, as they may have information about dangerous wildlife and/or inform you if you need to boil the water.

Campground Services

  • Recycling bins
  • Food storage
  • Disabled access
  • Fees
  • $15.70 for the site and an additional $8.80 for use of the fire pit. Note: Parks Canada reserves the right to change the fees without notice.
  • Dry toilets
  • Well water (hand pump)
  • Kitchen shelters with wood cook stove
  • Fire pits and firewood (available when you get the fire permit)
  • Smoke-free loop

Banff Activities

Visit the Columbia Icefields, go hiking and try ice climbing in nearby famous spots in the winter.

Rampart Creek Campground

  • Icefields Highway
  • Banff National Park
  • Banff, AB T1L 1K2
  • (403) 762-1550

For general information contact:

  • Banff National Park
  • Box 900
  • Banff, AB
  • Canada, T1L 1K2
  • Phone: (403) 762-1550

To see all other national park campsites in Canada, visit Parks Canada.

Other RV sites in Banff National Park

Contact:(403) 762-1550

RV Camping in the Canadian Rockies: Tunnel Mountain

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What could beat the Canadian Rockies as a place to go RV camping? Nothing, I’m betting. It’s got some of the world’s most famous scenic drives, including the Lake Louise to Jasper drive that takes you through the Columbia Icefields along the way.

Come visit one of the world's greatest RV camping spots here in Banff.

It’s also got terrific camping in some of the world’s most beautiful national parks, including Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and great towns, such as Canmore, Banff and Jasper. Here you’ll be able to enjoy great Rockies vacation activities such as rafting, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and horseback riding.

One great place to set up camp in Banff is the Tunnel Mountain campground.

The Tunnel Mountain campground is in Banff National Park, just outside of Banff townsite.

This is Banff’s largest RV camping area, with 320 sites. Staying here, you’ll get great views of the valley, the Hoodoos and the Banff Springs Golf Course. It is located on Tunnel Mountain, just 2.4 km from the town of Banff. Which means you’re in easy walking distance from town. This can be nice if you don’t feel like pulling up stakes with the RV and coming in, or could use some time on your feet after some long drives.

The Tunnel Mountain campground has good services itself, including food, laundry and even a waterslide are nearby! It is also the only campground in the national park that has full RV hookups available (15 and 30-amp electrical hookups, water and sewer). So it’s sort of the RV’ers mecca for camping. The sites can accommodate large RVs, up to 50-feet long, and are pull-through (not just back-in).

Some of the sites are reservable, while others remain open for visitors on a first-come, first served basis. The campground is open from early May to early October (reservable May 14- October 3).

Visit Parks Canada Campground Reservation Service or call toll-free to 1.877.737.3783 (1.877.RESERVE) to reserve your spot at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff National Park. Please note that reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance.

You may also want to visit Parks Canada for descriptions of all campsites (reservable and non-reservable) on national park grounds.

Additional Services

  • flush toilets
  • each site has a picnic table
  • disabled accessible
  • interpretive programs
  • fee: $38.20 (subject to change)
  • hot showers
  • pets allowed

Other RV Campgrounds in Banff National Park:

  • fire pits and picnic tables at each site
  • kitchen shelters located on grounds
  • pets allowed
  • fee: $32.30 (subject to change)
  • Tunnel Mountain Village II
  • 188 sites
  • open year-round (reservable May 14- October 3)
  • some sites available by reservation, others first-come, first served
  • 15 and 30-amp electric hookups at each site, (no water or sewer hookups)
  • can accommodate vehicles up to 50 feet long
  • flush toilets
  • hot showers

For more information about camping in Banff National Park:

  • Banff National Park
  • Box 900
  • Banff, AB
  • Canada, T1L 1K2
  • Phone: (403) 762-1550

Landscape Photography – Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

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With the advent of spring in Banff National Park comes a plethora of nature photography opportunities:  bears are wandering the valley bottoms, prairie crocuses are shining brightly on the mountain slopes, and fresh leaves are poking out all over.  But spring also heralds a time for landscape photographers to get serious in Banff as the snow and ice finally disappear from the mountain valleys and lakes.  Banff National Park is one of the world’s premier landscape photography destinations, and for good reason.  It boasts many of Canada’s finest and most well-known photography locations: Mt Rundle and Vermilion Lakes, Castle Mountain, Lake Louise, and the crown jewel of Canadian landscape photography, Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Landscape Photography - Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Last week, Herbert Lake and Waterfowl Lakes on the Icefields Parkway became ice free — at least a week earlier than normal.  So that means that we are probably on pace for an ice-free Moraine Lake a little earlier than normal this year, maybe even by the end of May if we’re lucky.

Moraine Lake - Best Photography in Banff

Moraine Lake - Best Photography in Banff

The scene at Moraine Lake is a classic and it can be photographed from a variety of angles.  The best time of year to capture sunrise there with some light on the lake water is in June, before the angle of the sun changes enough for the mountains directly west of the lake to block most of the early morning light from hitting the lake itself.  Sunrise is still great after that first good month, but the alpenglow will only light up the peaks in the background.

Sunrise at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Sunrise at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

By July and August, the best reflective light is actually at about 11 a.m. in the morning, when the sun finally crests the towering peaks to the west and shines down on the lake.  That’s when you’ll get the classic shots of the emerald blue water framed by the sunlit Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Summer Landscape Photography in Banff National Park

Summer Landscape Photography in Banff National Park

Note that morning is the best time of day to photograph Moraine Lake.  By late afternoon and evening, the mountains behind the lake are in shadow and do not provide the same dramatic backdrop as they do in the morning.

Good luck out there, and happy shooting!

John

Banff National Park turns 125

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Come help us celebrate Banff National Park‘s 125th anniversary this summer in the Canadian Rockies.

It all got started 125 years ago when a few railway workers stumbled onto some hot pools that eventually led to the creation of not only Banff National Park but the Canadian National Parks system.

Banff turns 125! Come celebrate with us.

Here’s a couple things you can do to discover just what it was that made this the epicenter of Canada’s park system, and one of the highlights of any Rockies vacation.

Soak up Banff history

Go right to the root of what caused Banff to become a National Park, the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Kick back, relax and take in the scenery and springs that have inspired people to come here since aboriginal times.

The Icefields Parkway

Take a scenic Canadian Rockies drive down the Icefields Parkway, one of the most renowned drives in the world.  Along the way, you can do some sightseeing, get some great vacation photos, go hiking and see Rockies wildlife. The route between Lake Louise near the town of Banff to the town of Jasper is 230 km/142 mi. A definite must-see is the Columbia Icefield, one of the largest icefields south of the arctic circle.

Sound of Banff Music

Check out the Banff Centre for anything from small jazz shows, to big country and rock concerts, and line dancing lessons. A great way to spend a night out on your Canadian Rockies vacation.

Eat it up

Banff has lots of great restaurants. Everything from ethnic food, to pizza joints, fine dining to pub food. No belly should growl in this fine grubbing town, at least not for too long after you’ve gotten off of the trail.

Hike Banff

This may seem like one of the most obvious Banff activities to engage in, but hey, we don’t want you to miss the opportunity to hike Banff. One great trail near the town of Banff is Tunnel Mountain. It’s a trail that you can take slow if you want to conserve some energy, or hike fast if you want to burn some. The hike is a 3 mi/4.3 km round trip. Make it to the top and you’ll get great views of the town and park.

Banff National Park: Sulphur Mountain

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If there’s an epicenter, a place where the history of Banff National Park springs from that would have to be Sulphur Mountain.

Banff from above.

Sulphur Mountain gets its name from two of its most main attractions: the Cave and Basin toward the bottom of the mountain, and the Banff Upper Hot Springs further up. Hot springs, of course, are a welcome sight in the cold Canadian Rockies, and both of these places are well worth visiting.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs, one of nine commercially developed hot springs in the area, are seasonal springs, with water flow peaking in the spring and at their lowest in winter. In fact, since the early 2000s, spring’s flow has stopped completely in the winter, prompting Banff officials to keep the springs alive with municipal water. The water’s natural source comes from either Sulphur Mountain or nearby Mount Rundle, and it flows through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault, geothermally heated to approximately 38 degrees Celsius.

The Cave and Basin Hot Springs was first explored in the mid-1800s, but they became a primary tourist destination toward the turn of the century when a pair of railroad workers climbed down a felled tree into the cave and realized what an opportunity they were looking at. Today, interpetive hikes and replicas of that time remain … along with the springs themselves, of course.

Sulphur Mountain is about more than just its hot springs, though, no matter how refreshing they might be. One of its attractions, of course, is the fact that it is a mountain, which means it’s there to be climbed.

Today, the Banff Gondola running along the eastern slope can carry you up to the summit. At the ridge, you’ll find two fine restaurants, a gift shop, and numerous lookout points from which you can see the Bow Valley to the west and east. Follow a boardwalk that begins on the north side and you can walk up to Sanson’s Peak, which has an elevation of 2,256 meters (7,402 feet).

For hikers and purists, the true summit of Sulphur Mountain can be reached on a scrambler’s trail on the south side of the mountain. It’s not a hugely difficult climb, and you can get a bit higher than you’ll see at Sanson’s Peak. Sulphur Mountain tops out at 2,451 meters (8,041 feet).

By the way, the meteorological research station remains intact. You can visit the site. It has been preserved as completely as possible.

In 1957, a new laboratory was built on the peak to study cosmic rays. That observatory was operational until 1978, but the building was removed in 1981. Now, a plaque marks the site where it stood.

So the next time you’re in the Canadian Rockies, come warm yourself at the hot springs of Sulphur Mountain, either before or after you climb to a rather spectacular view. Even in a place as special as the Rockies, this is one summit that stands out from the rest.