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Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Since 1883 when three Canadian Pacific Railway construction workers stumbled across a cave containing hot springs on the slopes of Alberta's Rocky Mountains, travelers have enjoyed 6,641 square kilometres of protected landscape. From luxury hotels to outdoor camping, visitors are drawn to the natural wonders, outdoor adventures, alpine culture, wildlife, western heritage and the comfort cuisine of Banff and Lake Louise mountain resorts.

Banff National Park was the first in Canada and third in the world when it was created — the birthplace of a national park system in which Canadians take great pride. Banff is part of a rare UNESCO World Heritage Site, a protected pristine wilderness which can be enjoyed by visitors in an environmentally sustainable way. Strict limits on development provide a fine balance between preservation of the natural environment and the easy ability to enjoy recreational opportunities. The park boasts immense snow-capped mountains, ancient glaciers, tree-filled valleys, fresh rivers and wildlife of all kinds including bears, mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, deer and moose. Chat with people from all over the world and local Canadians on the streets of Banff and Lake Louise, two small communities that have been welcoming the world for more than 100 years.

Icon Hotels


It was William Cornelius Van Horne, general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway who stated 'Since we can't export the scenery, we'll have to import the tourists.' Today The Fairmont Banff Springs and The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are internationally recognized symbols of Canadian hospitality. These lavish resort hotels are a destination in themselves offering a unique blend of opulence and seclusion – a symbol of Rocky Mountain magnificence for more than a century.



If we can’t export the scenery, we will import the tourists,” declared Cornelius Van Horne during the late 1800's, referring to the majestic beauty of Banff. Vice President of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in the late 1800's, it was Van Horne who had the vision to build the stately hotels in the Canadian Rockies and bring tourism to Canada.

"Finest Hotel on the North American Continent" was how the Banff Springs Hotel was advertised when it first opened for business in 1888. Built at a cost of $250,000 it was Van Horne’s dream of a grand hotel, modeled after a Scottish castle and a bastion of luxury. Originally a 250-room property, it attracted l, 503 guests in the first summer of operation. By 1911, the number had increased to 22,000 thus creating an obvious need for expansion. In 1925, just as work was coming to a finish on an 11-story center tower addition, the original structure burned to the ground. The company immediately rebuilt and by 1928 a newer, superior and more lavish building stood in its place. Today, with an ambitious $75 million restoration now complete, The Fairmont Banff Springs remains one of the foremost hotels in the world and continues to follow Van Horne’s ideals of dynamic excellence.



“A hotel for the outdoor adventurer and alpinist” was the role Cornelius Van Horne had in mind for the Chalet on the shores of Lake Louise. Built two years after its sister hotel in 1890, in contrast to the Banff Springs the Lake Louise Chalet was a simple, single-level wooden structure consisting of a veranda, sitting room, kitchen and a bedroom. Visitors to Lake Louise numbered no more than 100 in a summer season and were mainly mountain climbers, artists and scenery photographers.

In the early 1900s, visitors to the area increased to more than 5,000 and this was considered enough to warrant expanding the chalet. Two Tudor-style, half-timbered wings were added and increased its capacity from a dozen guests to 240. In 1913, a concrete wing was completed, adding the grand Victoria Dining room and new bedrooms. On July 3, 1924, a fire of an undetermined cause destroyed the wooden structure of the hotel.

Within a year the CPR rebuilt a new eight-story brick wing, to join the Painter wing of 1913, and changed the name to The Chateau Lake Louise. Up until 1982, the Chateau operated only as a summer resort. The transformation to a four-season resort prompted the need for extensive upgrades.

In 1990, after a $65 million investment, the restoration and expansion was completed. The new Glacier Wing added 140 guest rooms and a Western Saloon has been added, as well as new dining outlets and shopping facilities. In 2004 The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise took the wraps off the new $65 million Mount Temple Wing and the first meeting groups began arriving. Designed to meet the needs of modern business while paying tribute to the centuries-old heritage and the protected wildlife of Banff National Park, the new wing expanded the iconic hotel’s total meeting space to 36,000 square feet.

50 Switzerlands in One

The history of Swiss mountain guides and mountaineering tourism in western Canada go hand in hand. At the end of the 19th century, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) responded to a growing international interest in mountaineering by fostering tourism in the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains.

The world’s most famous alpinist at the end of the 19th century, Englishman Edward Whymper, proposed to the CPR that he promote the new Canadian West as a tourist destination in the English press. Whymper earned his reputation as a result of his groundbreaking first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. After a visit to the Canadian Rockies, he famously praised the area as “50 Switzerlands in one”, a slogan that the CPR quickly adopted to emphasize the Swiss motif for successful tourism business.

Between 1899 and 1954, there were approximately 35 Swiss mountaineers employed by CPR to guide tourists during the summer in the mountain ranges of the Selkirk and Rockies.

ROAM Buses

ROAM Buses

Banff is proud to be the first municipality in Canada to introduce an all-hybrid electric bus system. Our ‘Roam’ buses are friendly to the environment, and they look beautiful too: each bus features a unique backcountry view of grizzlies, elk, goats and wolves. With these new hybrids, we’re reducing emissions and lowering fuel and lifecycle costs. And the buses look amazing.

Sustainable Practices

Living and doing business in Canada’s first national park comes with responsibility. As locals and business people living in this protected landscape, we are proud to participate in responsible tourism activities. From restaurants, outdoor tours, non-profit organizations to ski resorts, accommodations and shopping, below are some of the Canadian Rocky experiences that minimize impact, build environmental and cultural awareness, and engage positive experiences for our visitors.

Skiing a World Heritage Site

Where else in the world can you ski on three mountains in an UNESCO World Heritage site? Proud, no, more than proud… braggers really, of being in a National Park!

Banff National Park has over 7,600 acres of down-hill ski terrain and because the mountains are in a protected environment, every skiing opportunity comes with unobstructed views of Canadian Rocky Mountain landscapes.

Millions of trees in a protected forest, fresh air and snow-capped mountains that stretch into the distance, Banff and Lake Louise were green long before it was fashionable to be “environmentally responsible.”

Tour operators, transportation companies, and hotel owners know that being located within the world’s second national park and a United Nations World Heritage Site is both a privilege and a responsibility, so they deliver casual luxury and unprecedented experiences that encourage preservation of its natural beauty. It goes far beyond low-flush toilets and recycled paper; it means high-performance green buildings with lighting, heating and cooling systems that reduce the environmental footprint of each and every guest.

Icefields Parkway

To travel the Icefields Parkway is to experience one of Canada’s national treasures and most rewarding destinations. Stretching 232km (144 mi.) through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, this world-class journey offers access to a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad sweeping valleys. This special travel route winds its way through two national parks, boasting a unique and irreplaceable landscape rich in history and natural beauty second to none.

Bow Valley Parkway

Johnston Canyon

If there’s one must-drive to do, it’s the scenic Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise on Highway 1A. Be on the look out for elk, deer, moose, bears and birds of all descriptions, along with cyclists out for a pedal through Banff National Park. It’s definitely a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of slower driving route with incomparable views, and interpretive panels that explain the flora, fauna and history of the Canadian Rockies. Stop for a short hike up to Johnston Canyon to see the steep cliffs carved by rushing whitewater, erosion and time or just pull over for a picnic at a picturesque view point. In winter, visitors can don ice cleats and walk up to the base of gigantic pillars of ice in the frozen canyon.

Columbia Icefield

Feeding the mighty waters of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is the Columbia Icefield, one of the largest accumulations of ice south of the Arctic Circle. Nearly 325 kilometers of ice with depths as much as 365 metres, this hydrological apex, one of two in the world, is accessible to travelers on an Ice Explorer. Travel in a specially designed all-terrain vehicle to experience an ancient ice and a moving glacier while sipping its fresh waters.

Victoria Glacier and Lake Louise

The turquoise water draws its brilliant colour from the “rock flour,” fine particles of glacial sediment which are suspended in the water that reflect blue and green wavelengths of light because they are so small and uniform. Framed by Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier, the water temperature only gets a few degrees above freezing in summer. The native’s called it “Ho-run-num-nay” or Lake of Little Fishes, long before they took outfitter and explorer Tom Wilson up for a peek in 1882, although he is credited with “discovering” the world-famous location. In 1890 a cabin was built on the shores of the lake, which is 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long, 500 m(1,649 feet) wide and 90 m (295 feet deep) and was later named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and later the wife of the governor general of Canada. Lake Louise is considered the birthplace of mountaineering in Canada, after the railway imported Swiss mountain guides to accompany well-heeled guests interested in exploring the nearby peaks.

Banff Hot Springs

You need time to connect with yourself and the great outdoors and there’s plenty of space here to really find some inner peace and quiet. If your idea of complete relaxation involves soaking in hot water, an exotic therapeutic massage and perhaps a purifying facial, you’re in good company. Health-conscious visitors from around the world have been “taking the waters” here since explorers first discovered the natural hot springs bubbling out of the ground more than 100 years ago.

Rocky Mountain Comfort Food

Visitors to Banff and Lake Louise have discovered that mountains may just be the most powerful anti-oxidant known. Replenish the senses with pure fresh alpine air and boost your energy level with lean healthy portions of wild game, each accompanied by fresh local ingredients, vegetables and inventive salads. At the same time relax, lower the blood pressure and experience food that is about bringing pleasure back to the table and celebrating it as a central aspect in our everyday lives.

Mountain Culture at the Banff Centre

Mountain lovers from around the world share their experiences, ideas and challenges through the celebration of festivals, competitions, forums, conference and summits. From arm chair explorers to extreme adventurers the Banff Mountain Book Festival, the Banff Mountain Film Festival and World Tour and the Banff Mountain Photography Competition attract vacationers who engage their senses in the spectacular culture of mountain landscape.

Skiing a National Park

Mt. Norquay

Famous for its breathtaking scenery and outstanding champagne powder, the ski resorts of Mt. Norquay, The Lake Louise Ski Area and Sunshine Village are located within the limits of the national park, delivering the pristine experience conscious travelers are looking for. While other destinations continue to expand, Banff National Park is set to remain unspoiled. Through the internationally recognized designations of UNESCO World Heritage Site and Canadian National Park System, Banff and Lake Louise are protected from over-development.

Volunteers Make a Difference

Banff National Park’s ability to achieve its integrated mandate of Visitor Experience, Education, and Protection can only be achieved by the support and involvement of others. Canadians love their national parks and look for ways to participate in their protection and presentation. As volunteers, they make a difference through their actions and the example of personal responsibility and stewardship that they model. The Banff Volunteer Program offers hands-on opportunities to get involved and make a difference. Programs such as Park Ambassadors welcome visitors and promote park learning. Helping Hands work together in groups to remove invasive weeds and rehabilitate trails. Citizen Scientists add to the larger body of scientific knowledge in the park through a range of ecological and social monitoring including measuring plant, animal, or physical indicators over a specific length of time.

Festivals in Banff National Park

Celebrate with the local Banff and Lake Louise residents in all four seasons and join in on any number of unique festivals and fun events in Banff National Park. Festivals span the calendar year — everything from arts, culture, music and food and wine, to dragon boat, bicycle and ski racing. The Canada Day parade and fireworks on July 1 are an annual tradition along with dance, music, and opera at The Banff Summer Arts Festival. In the fall meet the international mountaineering community at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festivals. Three weeks of entertaining events kick off the annual Winterstart Festival, with World Cup downhill ski racing, the Santa Claus Parade and community-wide family events. January’s Ice Magic, where ice carvers transform frozen blocks of ice into artistic sculptures, is set on the shores of Lake Louise, beneath the towering Victoria Glacier.