Sit atop a mountain, hike through the forest, feel the spray of a waterfall: Banff and Jasper 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 gazed upon the Valley of the Ten Peaks, near Lake Louise, in 1899. It’s a maxim that could still happily apply today. These landscapes may not be quite as untouched as those seen by pioneers such as David Thompson, Tom Wilson and Mary Schäffer, but there’s still a whiff of wildness on the breeze in Banff and Jasper, which remain among the world's best places to see Mother Nature's raw machinery in action.
The Great Outdoors
Whether it’s hiking along a snow-dusted ridgeline or canoeing across a placid glacial lake, Banff and Jasper boast some of North America's finest outdoor adventures. Embracing the great outdoors is an essential part of experiencing these parks, and there are activities to suit all ages and abilities – even if that just means a gentle riverside stroll 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 like glimpsing animals in their natural habitat, and the Canadian Rockies have some of the best wildlife watching in the world. Shaggy mountain goats, curly-horned mountain sheep, hooting marmots and majestic moose are just some of the inhabitants you’re likely to encounter. If you’re really lucky, you might glimpse a wild black or grizzly bear moseying down the avalanche slopes, perhaps with a couple of fuzzy cubs in tow. Keep a respectful distance and soak it all in; these are the experiences 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, Canada offers up Banff and Jasper, 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 less than 25 years behind. Associated with the development of Canada's trans-continental railroads, which lured wealthy visitors into previously unexplored wilderness, these parks practically invented modern tourism, and their hold on the popular imagination has not diminished.