Beautiful Banff National Park covers an area of over 6,640 square kilometres, stretched along the southern end of what is now known as the Icefields Parkway, and encompassing valleys, mountains, glaciers, forest, meadows and rivers. It is Canada’s first National Park – created in 1883 when three railway workers discovered hot springs in the area (now Cave & Basin National Historic Site) and the government cleverly decided to protect and preserve this geothermal gold mine. In 1983 it was one of four parks to be designated by UNESCO as the Canadian Rocky Mountain Park World Heritage Site but is the most accessible of the four – given its close proximity to Calgary – and is thus the most visited.
The main service centre for the park is the resort town of Banff, bustling all year round: in winter it is a base for some excellent winter sports, and in summer a fantastic spot for walking and many other outdoor activities. The high street is busy with accommodation and restaurants but you don’t have to step too far off the beaten track to enjoy some fantastic walking trails and interesting natural wonders such as hot springs, hoodoos (a unique rock formation) and spectacular views.
Canmore is about twenty minutes south of Banff, just outside the boundary of the National Park and situated in the heart of less frenetic Kananaskis Country. From here the foothills of the Rockies stretch out in to the distance, and this unassuming town does an excellent job of whetting your appetite for the area, whilst still retaining a genuine ‘locals’ feel. Surrounded by vast expanses of wilderness it can also be used as a base for the many outdoor activities in the area, but also has a good selection of quirky cafes and art galleries for those looking for a less energetic day out.