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Banff National Park

Banff National Park
IUCN category II (national park)
Map showing the location of Banff National Park
Banff National Park
Location of Banff National Park
Location Alberta
Nearest city Calgary, Alberta
Area 6,641 km2 (2,564 sq mi)
Established 1885
Visitors 3,927,557 (in 2004/05)
Governing body I.D Council, Parks Canada
World Heritage Site 304

Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park, established in 1885 in the Rocky Mountains. The park, located 110–180 kilometres (68–112 mi) west of Calgary in the province of Alberta, encompasses 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 sq mi)[1] 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 from World War I, and through Great Depression-era public works projects.[2] Since the 1960s, park accommodations have been open all year, with annual tourism visits to Banff increasing to over 5 million in the 1990s.[3] Millions more pass through the park on the Trans-Canada Highway.[4] As Banff is one of the world's most visited national parks,[5] 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.


  • History 1
    • Early history 1.1
    • Rocky Mountains Park established 1.2
    • Coal mining 1.3
    • Internment camps 1.4
    • Winter tourism 1.5
    • Conservation 1.6
  • Geography 2
    • Banff 2.1
    • Lake Louise 2.2
    • Icefields Parkway 2.3
  • Geology 3
    • Glaciers and icefields 3.1
  • Climate 4
  • Ecology 5
    • Ecoregions 5.1
    • Wildlife 5.2
    • Mountain pine beetles 5.3
  • Tourism 6
  • Park management 7
  • Human impact 8
    • Environment 8.1
    • Fire management 8.2
    • Transportation 8.3
    • Development 8.4
    • Banff-Bow Valley Study 8.5
    • Canmore 8.6
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Throughout its history, Banff National Park has been shaped by tension between conservation and development interests. The park was established on 25 November 1885 as Banff Hot Springs Reserve,[6] in response to conflicting claims over who discovered hot springs there, and who had the right to develop the hot springs for commercial interests. Instead, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald set aside the hot springs as a small, protected reserve,[7] which was later expanded to include Lake Louise and other areas extending north to the Columbia Icefield.

Early history

Archaeological evidence found at Vermilion Lakes radiocarbon dates the first human activity in Banff to 10,300 B.P.[8] Prior to European contact, aboriginals, including the Stoneys, Kootenay, Tsuu T'ina, Kainai, Peigans, and Siksika, were common in the region where they hunted bison and other game.[9]

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.[10] Ten years later, on 7 November 1885, the last spike was driven in Craigellachie, British Columbia.[7]

Rocky Mountains Park established

With conflicting claims over discovery of hot springs in Banff, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald decided to set aside a small reserve of 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) around the hot springs at Cave and Basin as a public park known as the Banff Hot Springs Reserve in 1885. Under the Rocky Mountains Park Act, enacted on 23 June 1887, the park was expanded to 674 km2 (260 sq mi)[9] and named Rocky Mountains Park. This was Canada's first national park, and the third established in America, after Yellowstone and Mackinac National Parks. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise to attract tourists and increase the number of rail passengers.

The Stoney (Assiniboin) Indians were removed from the Banff National Park during 1890-1920. The park was designed to appeal to sportsmen, and tourists. Officials blamed the depletion of wildlife in the park on the Indians' reliance on subsistence hunting. The exclusionary policy met the goals of sports hunting, tourism, and game conservation, as well as of those attempting to "civilize" the Indians.[11]

Early on, Banff was popular with wealthy European tourists, who arrived in Canada via trans-Atlantic luxury liner and continued westward on the railroad,[9] 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.[12] In 1920, access to Lake Louise by road was available, and the Banff-Windermere Road opened in 1923 to connect Banff with British Columbia.[10]

Canadian Pacific Railway advertising brochure, highlighting Mount Assiniboine and Banff scenery (c. 1917)

In 1902, the park was expanded to cover 11,400 km2 (4,400 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 km2 (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 km2 (2,586 sq mi), with the passage of the National Parks Act.[9] 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.[13] With the construction of a new east gate in 1933, Alberta transferred 0.84 km2 (0.32 sq mi) to the park. This, along with other minor changes in the park boundaries in 1949, set the area of the park at 6,641 km2 (2,564 sq mi).[10]

Coal mining

In 1887, local aboriginal tribes signed Treaty 7, which gave Canada rights to explore the land for resources. At the beginning of the 20th century, coal was mined near Lake Minnewanka in Banff. For a brief period, a mine operated at Anthracite, but was shut down in 1904. The Bankhead mine, at Cascade Mountain, was operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1903 to 1922. In 1926, the town was dismantled, with many buildings moved to the town of Banff and elsewhere.[14]

Internment camps

During World War I, immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Germany and Ukraine were sent to Banff to work in internment camps.[15] The main camp was located at Castle Mountain, and was moved to Cave and Basin during winter.[15] Much early infrastructure and road construction was done by men of various Slavic origins although Ukrainians constituted a majority of those held in Banff.[16] Historical plaques and a statue erected by the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association commemorate those interned at Castle Mountain, and Cave and Basin National Historic Site where an interpretive pavilion dealing with Canada's first national internment operations is scheduled for opening in June 2013.

Castle Mountain internment camp (1915)

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.[17] In Banff, workers constructed a new bathhouse and pool at Upper Hot Springs, to supplement Cave and Basin.[16] Other projects involved road building in the park, tasks around the Banff townsite, and construction of a highway connecting Banff and Jasper.[16] 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.[18] Most of the infrastructure present in the national park dates from public work projects enacted during the Great Depression.[17]

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.[16] 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.

Winter tourism

Winter tourism in Banff began in February 1917, with the first Banff Winter Carnival. It was marketed to a regional middle class audience, and became the centerpiece of local boosters aiming to attract visitors, which in wintertime were a low priority for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).[19] The carnival featured a large ice palace, which in 1917 was built by internees. Carnival events included cross-country skiing, ski jumping, curling, snowshoe, and skijoring.[20] In the 1930s, the first downhill ski resort, Sunshine Village, was developed by the Brewsters. Mount Norquay ski area was also developed during the 1930s, with the first chair lift installed there in 1948.[9]

Banff National Park panorama

Since 1968, when the Banff Springs Hotel was winterized, Banff has been a year-round destination.[21] 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.[9] 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.


Since the original Rocky Mountains Park Act, subsequent acts and policies placed greater emphasis on conservation. With public sentiment tending towards environmentalism, Parks Canada issued major new policy in 1979, which emphasized conservation. The National Parks Act was amended in 1988, which made preserving ecological integrity the first priority in all park management decisions. The act also required each park to produce a management plan, with greater public participation.[9]

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.[22]

The view from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, showing Banff and the surrounding areas

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.[23]

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.


Map of Banff National Park

Banff National Park is located in the Rocky Mountains on Alberta's western border with British Columbia in the Alberta Mountain forests ecoregion. 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 centre 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.


Banff, established in 1885, is the main commercial centre in Banff National Park, as well as a centre for cultural activities. Banff is home to several cultural institutions, including the Banff Mountain Film Festival. In 1990, Banff incorporated as a town of Alberta, though still subject to the National Parks Act and federal authority in regards to planning and development.[24] As of the 2005 census, the Town of Banff has a population of 8,352, of which nearly 7,000 are permanent residents.[25] The Bow River flows through the Town of Banff, with the Bow Falls located on the outskirts of town.

Summer in Banff overlooking the Bow river
Bow River

Lake Louise

Lake Louise, a hamlet located 54 km (34 mi) northwest of the Town of Banff, is home to the landmark Chateau Lake Louise at the edge of Lake Louise. Located 15 km (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.[26] The Lake Louise Mountain Resort is also located near the village.

Icefields Parkway

Lower Consolation Lake
Two Jack Lake

The Icefields Parkway extends 230 kilometres (140 mi),[27] 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 2,035 metres (6,677 ft) in elevation,[28] and continues on from there to the Jasper townsite.


The Canadian Rockies consist of several northwest-southeast trending ranges. Closely following the continental divide, the Main Ranges form the backbone of the Canadian Rockies. The Front Ranges are located east of the Main Ranges. Banff National Park extends eastward from the continental divide and includes the eastern slope of the Main Ranges and much of the Front Ranges. The latter include the mountains around the Banff townsite. The foothills are located to the east of the Park, between Calgary and Canmore. On the other side of the Park, the Western Ranges pass through Yoho and Kootenay National Parks. Still farther west is the Rocky Mountain Trench, the western boundary of the Canadian Rockies region in British Columbia.

The Canadian Rockies are composed of sedimentary rock, including shale, sandstone, limestone and quartzite, that originated as deposits on a continental shelf, similar to the relatively shallow shelf off-shore of the eastern US. The geologic formations in Banff range in age from Precambrian eon to the Jurassic period. Rocks as young as late Cretaceous, formed from the shedding of sediments towards the continental interior from rising mountain ranges farther west, were themselves caught up in the mountain-building as deformation progressed inland. However, most of these deposits—notably the Cretaceous sandstones exposed in the footwall of the McConnell thrust fault at Yamnuska mountain—are outside of the boundaries of Banff park proper.

Although the rocks in Banff Park were laid down as sediments between 600 and 175 million years ago, the main period of mountain building occurred between 80 and 120 million years ago, as a result of the shortening and deformation of the ancient continental shelf as exotic island terranes collided and were accreted onto the continent's margin. The shortening was accommodated by thrust faults and associated folds.[29]

Castle Mountain

Erosion accompanied and outlasted the uplift of the Canadian Rockies, with a probable rejuvenation and acceleration of erosion rates since the Pliocene, as the Earth entered a period of extensive glaciation. Glacial landforms overwhelmingly dominate Banff's geomorphology, with examples of all classic glacial forms: cirques, arêtes, hanging valleys, moraines, U-shaped valleys et al. The pre-existing structure left over from mountain-building has strongly guided glacial erosion: mountains in Banff include complex, irregular, anticlinal, synclinal, castellate, dogtooth, and sawback mountains [30] and many of the mountain ranges trend North-Northeast, with sedimentary layering dipping down to the West at 40 - 60 degrees. This leads to dip slope landforms, with generally steeper East and North faces, and trellis drainage, where rivers and old glacial valleys followed the weaker layers in the geological succession.[29]

Mt. Rundle

Classic examples are found at the Banff townsite proper: Mount Rundle is a classic dip slope mountain, and the Spray and Sulphur river drainages flow parallel to the geological strike of the mountain range. Just to the North of Banff townsite, Castle Mountain exemplifies a castellate shape, with steep slopes and cliffs. Castle Mountain is composed of Cambrian rocks of the Cathedral formation (limestone), the Stephen shale above it, and the Eldon formation (limestone).[31] Dogtooth mountains, such as Mount Louis, exhibit sharp, jagged slopes. The Sawback Range, which consists of near-vertically dipping sedimentary layers, has been eroded by cross gullies. Scree deposits are common toward the bottom of many mountains and cliffs.

Glaciers and icefields

Banff National Park has numerous large glaciers and icefields, many of which are easily accessed from the Icefields Parkway. Small cirque glaciers are fairly common in the Main Ranges, situated in depressions on the side of many mountains. As with the majority of mountain glaciers around the world, the glaciers in Banff are retreating. Photographic evidence alone provides testimony to this retreat and the trend has become alarming enough that glaciologists have commenced researching the glaciers in the park more thoroughly, and have been analyzing the impact that reduced glacier ice may have on water supplies to streams and rivers. The largest glaciated areas include the Waputik and Wapta Icefields, which both lie on the Banff-Yoho National Park border. Wapta Icefield covers approximately 80 km2 (31 sq mi) in area.[32] Outlets of Wapta Icefield on the Banff side of the continental divide include Peyto, Bow, and Vulture Glaciers. Bow Glacier retreated an estimated 1,100 m (3,600 ft) between the years 1850 and 1953,[32] and since that period, there has been further retreat which has left a newly formed lake at the terminal moraine. Peyto Glacier has retreated approximately 2,000 m (6,600 ft) since 1880,[33] and is at risk of disappearing entirely within the next 30 to 40 years.[34] Both Crowfoot and Hector Glaciers are also easily visible from the Icefields Parkway, yet they are singular glaciers and are not affiliated with any major icesheets.

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 into 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.[32] Saskatchewan Glacier, which is approximately 13 km (8.1 mi) in length and 30 km2 (12 sq mi) in area,[32] 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 m (4,475 ft), with the rate of retreat between the years 1948 and 1953 averaging 55 m (180 ft) per year.[32] Overall, the glaciers of the Canadian Rockies lost 25 percent of their mass during the 20th century.[35]


Skiing on Parker Ridge, near the Columbia Icefield

Under the Köppen climate classification, the park has a subarctic climate (Dfc) with cold, snowy winters, and mild summers.[36] The climate is influenced by altitude in which higher altitudes have lower temperatures.[37] Located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Banff National Park receives 472 millimetres (18.6 in) of precipitation annually.[38] This is considerably less than received in Yoho National Park on the western side of the divide in British Columbia, with 884 mm (34.8 in) annual precipitation at Wapta Lake and 616 mm (24.3 in).[38] Being influenced by altitude, snowfall is higher at higher altitudes than at lower altitudes.[37]

As such, 234 cm (92 in) of snow falls on average each year in the Banff townsite, while 304 cm (120 in) falls in Lake Louise, which is located at a higher altitude.[37]

During winter months, temperatures in Banff are moderated, compared to other areas of central and northern Alberta, due to Chinook winds and other influences from British Columbia.[37] The mean low temperature during January is −15 °C (5 °F), and the mean high temperature is −5 °C (23 °F) for the Town of Banff.[38] However, temperatures can drop below −20 °C (−4.0 °F) with wind chill values dropping below −30 °C (−22.0 °F).[37] Weather conditions during summer months are warm, with high temperatures during July averaging 22 °C (72 °F), and daily low temperatures averaging 7 °C (45 °F), leading to a large diurnal range owing to the relative dryness of the air.[37][38]



Banff National Park spans three ecoregions, including montane, subalpine, and alpine. The subalpine ecoregion, which consists mainly of dense forest, comprises 53 percent of Banff's area. 27 percent of the park is located above the tree line, in the alpine ecoregion.[39] The tree line in Banff lies approximately at 2,300 m (7,500 ft),[29] with open meadows at alpine regions and some areas covered by glaciers. A small portion (3 percent) of the park, located at lower elevations, is in the montane ecoregion.[39] Lodgepole pine forests dominate the montane region of Banff, with Englemann spruce, willow, aspen, occasional Douglas-fir and a few Douglas maple interspersed. Englemann spruce are more common in the subalpine regions of Banff, with some areas of lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir.[40] The montane areas, which tend to be the preferred habitat for wildlife, have been subjected to significant human development over the years.


Elk in Banff

The park has 56 mammal species that have been recorded. Grizzly and black bears inhabit the forested regions. Cougar, lynx, wolverine, weasels, 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 beavers, porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks, and Columbian ground squirrels are the more commonly observed smaller mammals.[41] In 2005, a total of five caribou were counted, making this species one of the rarest mammals found in the park.[5]

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.[41] At least 280 species of birds can be found in Banff including bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawk, osprey, 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.[41]

Endangered species in Banff include the Banff Springs snail (Physella johnsoni) which is found in the hot springs of Banff.[42] Woodland caribou, found in Banff, are listed as a threatened species.[43]

Mountain pine beetles

Mountain pine beetles have caused a number of large-scale infestations in Banff National Park, feeding off of the phloem of mature lodgepole pines. Alberta's first known outbreak occurred in 1940, infecting 43 km2 (17 sq mi) of forest in Banff.[44] A second major outbreak occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Banff and the surrounding Rocky Mountains region.


Skiing at Lake Louise

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.[5][45] During summer, 51 percent of park visitors are from Canada (30 percent from Alberta), while 31 percent are from the United States and 14 percent from Europe.[46] Tourism in Banff contributes an estimated C$6 billion annually to the economy.[47]

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.[4]

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. The Banff Lodging Co is a hospitality company in the park. 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.

In 2009, the Banff Lake Louise Tourism hoped the appearance of the "Crasher Squirrel" internet meme would stimulate interest in the park. The meme is based a photograph of a Minnesotan couple visiting the park on the shore of Lake Minnewanka that was "crashed" by a Columbian ground squirrel; the photograph was published in major news sources around the world and the image of the squirrel was digitally manipulated into humorous photos.[48]

Park management

Entry station for Banff National Park

Banff National Park is managed by [9] As with other national parks, Banff is required to have a Park Management Plan. On a provincial level, the park area and the included communities (other than the Town of Banff which is an incorporated municipality) are administered by Alberta Municipal Affairs as Improvement District No. 9 (Banff).[49]

Human impact


Since the 19th century, humans have impacted Banff's environment through introduction of non-native species, controls on other species, and development in the Bow Valley, among other human activities. Bison once lived in the valleys of Banff, but were hunted by indigenous people and the last bison was killed off in 1858.[50] Elk are not indigenous to Banff, and were introduced in 1917 with 57 elk brought in from Yellowstone National Park.[51] The introduction of elk to Banff, combined with controls on coyote and wolves by Parks Canada beginning in the 1930s, has caused imbalance of the ecosystem.[51] Other species that have been displaced from the Bow Valley include grizzly bears, cougars, lynx, wolverine, otter, and moose. Beginning in 1985, gray wolves were recolonizing areas in the Bow Valley.[52] However, the wolf population has struggled, with 32 wolf deaths along the Trans-Canada Highway between 1987 and 2000, leaving only 31 wolves in the area.[53]

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.[54] Lake trout, westslope cutthroat trout, and Chiselmouth are rare native species, while chinook salmon, White sturgeon, Pacific lamprey, and Banff longnose dace are likely extirpated locally.[55] The Banff longnose dace, once only found in Banff, is now an extinct species.[55]

Wildlife overpass

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 six wildlife overpasses, have been constructed at a number of points along the Trans-Canada Highway to help alleviate this problem.[56]

Fire management

Parks Canada management practices, notably fire suppression, since Banff National Park was established have impacted the park's ecosystem. Since 1983, Parks Canada has adopted a strategy that employed prescribed burns, which helps to mimic effects of natural fires.[57][58]


Banff Park Compound Heliport
Airport type Private
Operator Banff Park Warden Service
Location Banff National Park
Time zone MST (UTC−07:00)
 • Summer (DST) MDT (UTC−06:00)
Elevation AMSL 4,570 ft / 1,393 m
CBP2 is located in Alberta
Location in Alberta
Number Length Surface
ft m
1 12 x 12 4 x 4 Concrete

Banff National Park is bisected by two highways that cross the Alberta/British Columbia border while another provides a third access within Alberta. The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) bisects the park in an east-west direction, connecting it to Vancouver to the west and Calgary to the east. Highway 93 bisects the park in a north-south direction, connecting it to Cranbrook to the south and Jasper to the north. The portion of Highway 93 north of Lake Louise is known as the Icefields Parkway whereas the portion southwest of Castle Junction is known as the Banff-Windermere Parkway. Highway 11 (the David Thompson Highway) connects the Icefields Parkway at Saskatchewan River Crossing to Rocky Mountain House to the northeast. Within the park, Highway 1A, also known as the Bow Valley Parkway, loosely parallels Highway 1 between Banff and Lake Louise.[60][61]

Other transportation facilities within Banff National Park include a Canadian Pacific rail line that generally parallels Highway 1 and an airport known as the Banff Park Compound Heliport.[59]


Banff townsite

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.[62] 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.[63]

Banff-Bow Valley Study

While the National Parks Act and the 1988 amendment emphasize ecological integrity, in practice Banff has suffered from inconsistent application of the policies.[47] In 1994, the Banff-Bow Valley Study was mandated by Sheila Copps, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, to provide recommendations on how to better manage human use and development, and maintain ecological integrity.[64] While the two-year Banff-Bow Valley Study was underway, development projects were halted, including the expansion of Sunshine Village, and the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Castle Junction and Sunshine.

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.[47] Another recommendation was to fence off the townsite to reduce confrontations between people and elk.[65] 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 paddock, and cadet camp, that inhibited wildlife movement.[66]

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.[67]


With the cap on growth in the Town of Banff, Canmore, located just outside the Banff boundary, has been growing rapidly to serve increasing demands of tourists. Major developments proposals for Canmore have included the Three Sisters Golf Resorts, proposed in 1992, which has been subject of contentious debate, with environmental groups arguing that the development would fragment important wildlife corridors in the Bow Valley.[68]

See also


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External links

  • Parks Canada Banff National Park page
  • Town of Banff website
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