Welcome to Banff, Jasper & Glacier National Parks
Sit atop a mountain, hike through the forest, feel the spray of a waterfall: Banff, Jasper and Glacier offer outdoor experiences at their simplest and best.
‘No scene has ever given me an equal impression of inspiring solitude and rugged grandeur.’ So said the explorer Walter Wilcox when he first laid eyes on the Valley of the Ten Peaks, near Lake Louise, in 1899, and it’s a maxim that could happily apply to any of these three national parks. They might not be quite the same untouched landscape experienced by pioneers such as David Thompson, Tom Wilson and Mary Schäffer at the end of the 19th century, but these mountain parks are still among the best places to see the raw machinery of Mother Nature in action. These precious regions harbor some of the world’s grandest landscapes: vistas of stunning and often savage beauty, where for once human meddling has been kept to a minimum, and there’s still a whiff of wildness on the mountain breeze.
The Great Outdoors
Whether it’s hiking along a snow-dusted ridgeline or trekking through the spray of a thundering waterfall, Banff, Jasper and Glacier collectively boast some of the finest outdoor activities that North America has to offer. Getting out and about in the great outdoors is an essential part of experiencing the national parks, and there are activities to suit all ages and abilities – even if that just means a gentle stroll along a lakeshore or a soak in one of the region’s natural hot springs. For more active types, there’s no end of ways to get your adrenaline racing – from exploring the endless network of backcountry trails to kayaking the restless white-water rapids of the Kicking Horse River.
There’s nothing quite like glimpsing animals in their natural habitat, and the Rocky Mountains has some of the best wildlife watching in North America. Shaggy mountain goats, curly-horned mountain sheep, hooting marmots and majestic moose are just some of the inhabitants you’re likely to encounter, and if you’re really fortunate, you might glimpse a wild black or grizzly bear moseying down the avalanche slopes, perhaps with a couple of fuzzy cubs in tow. Seeing a bear in the wild is the holy grail for wildlife watchers, and as long as you remember to keep your distance, it’ll be an experience that will remain with you long after the Rockies have faded from view.
Pieces of History
While other countries protect ancient ruins and medieval castles, the Rocky Mountains offer up Banff, Jasper and Glacier, legendary natural wonders replete with crenelated peaks, majestic meadows and scenery-shaping glaciers that together make up an important part of North America's historical jigsaw. Of the hundreds of national parks scattered around the world today, Banff, created in 1885, is the third oldest, with Jasper and Glacier less than 25 years behind. Associated with the development of America’s cross-continental railroads, which lured wealthy visitors into previously unexplored wildernesses, these protected areas practically invented modern tourism, and their hold on the popular imagination has not diminished.
Hiking Costs Nothing
There are bucket-loads of things to do in Banff, Jasper and Glacier, from heart-in-your-mouth white-water rafting to an easy round of golf. But arguably the most rewarding activity in the parks is the simplest – hiking. Walking along a well-maintained trail amid classic mountain splendor is one of life's great spiritual diversions. You won’t be the first convert: hiking, by default, was the primary means of transportation for the indigenous people of the Rockies and the early European explorers who followed.
Accessibility for All
One of the advantages of the Rocky Mountain parks is their accessibility. Nature pulsates in these wild lofty domains, but you don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy it. Banff, in particular, embodies the fragile, sometimes controversial, juxtaposition between the tamed and the untamed. While some frown at the commercialization of Banff Ave, the home comforts have their merits. Outfitters and guides add safety to potentially complicated trip-planning, while speedy gondolas allow people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to get up above the timberline to experience flower-carpeted alpine meadows and wild animals roaming through their natural habitats.
Maintaining a Balance
Acting as litmus tests for the tricky balance between ecological integrity and a rip-roaring visitor experience, the Rocky Mountain national parks have long played a key role in safeguarding North America's natural environment. Glacier protects an ecosystem unchanged since Columbus’ time, Banff exhibits some of the finest wildlife-watching in North America, and Jasper is a dark-sky preserve free of unnecessary light pollution; underneath the myriad adventure opportunities lies savvy park management paving the way to a greener future.