Banff National Park protects 1.64 million acres of mountains, valleys and glaciers in Alberta, Canada. Banff was Canada’s first national park and the world’s third national park. The Canadian Pacific Railway was important in Banff’s early years, building the Chateau Lake Louise (shown above) and attracting tourists to the park through extensive advertising. Banff is Canada’s most popular national park, attracting 5 million visitors annually.
Lake Louise was named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria (monarch of the United Kingdom from 1837-1901). The tall mountain in the background is the 11,364-foot Mount Victoria, the tallest mountain in the Lake Louise area. It’s covered with the Victoria Glacier. The lake was just starting to thaw on our visit and had pockets of water peeking through the ice. This was our last day in the park and our first fully sunny day. The weather during our visit to Banff in was especially chilly for late May, with two days of light snow and most nights below freezing.
Banff wins the award for most spectacular view from a campground so far on our trip. We arrived to the Tunnel Mountain campground in the middle of the week and thus were able to choose the ultimate campsite. That’s the 9,675-foot Mount Rundle in the background, a constant companion out our RV window during our stay.
There was a pullout with a view of Mount Rundle on the road below our campsite, so the dogs would sit outside and watch the tourists come and go.
Our campsite was literally surrounded by towering mountains. This is a view of our RV from the top of Tunnel Mountain. Click on the image for a larger version and see if you can spot our RV (indicated with a small red arrow).
Elk would frequently feed in the field right outside our RV windows. They were quite accustomed to people, as we would walk right by them to get to our RV, and they’d hardly acknowledge our presence.
The Canadian Pacific Railway also built the famous Banff Springs Hotel. There are hot springs in Banff, but on the advice of a frequent visitor, we decided to skip them and perhaps wait to take a dip in the hot pools of Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park, our next stop.
The cute town of Banff sits right in the middle of southern end of the national park. One of the surprising differences of Canadian national parks is that they often contain cities within them. Many U.S. national parks contain small tourist hubs with perhaps a lodge, campground, and a few small stores. But the Canadian parks have vibrant cities with thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses. Unfortunately, cities mean noise, pollution, lights, and lots of human development that you don’t typically see in the more pristine and natural U.S. national parks.
So when we climbed to the top of Tunnel Mountain, our view was filled with beautiful mountains, forested hillsides, clear rivers, as well as lots of buildings and bridges.
Johnston Canyon was one of our favorite hikes even though it was quite busy. Much of the hike was on an elevated walkway built into the cliffside above an aqua-colored glacier-fed river with numerous waterfalls and cascades along the way. It was also the most moss-covered hike we’ve ever seen.
The Lower Falls in Johnston Canyon blasted through a small slot in the rock and created a huge spray that soaked us as we approached it. On the right you can see a tunnel that was the original path of the falls until the chute on the left opened up. We walked through the tunnel for a close (and very wet) view of the falls.
We viewed the 120-foot Upper Falls from both below and above the falls.
We grabbed a quick, chilly lunch upstream from the falls along the Johnston River. A snowstorm crept over the mountains and started snowing on us in the middle of our meal. There’s nothing like snow in May to keep you on your toes (and get you moving on your feet).
The Ink Pots are cold (39 degrees F) colorful pools that bubble up from below by springs. The pools are various shades of blue, aqua and green.
Lake Minnewanka (“Water of the Spirits” in Nakota) is the longest (17 miles) and one of the deepest (466 feet) lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Darby and I stopped for a rest on the shore after a long hike along the lake.
Dams were built on Lake Minnewanka in 1912 and 1941. The latter dam was very controversial, as the War Powers Act was used to temporarily suspend the National Parks Act and build the dam for hydroelectric power. The dam in 1941 raised the water level nearly 100 feet and submerged the resort village of Minnewanka Village, which had been there since 1888. As a result, the lake is very popular with scuba divers wishing to explore the submerged town.
About a dozen bighorn sheep rested in the forest above the road.
The Ice Fields Parkway is a 143-mile road between Lake Louise in Banff National Park and the town of Jasper in Jasper National Park. It has the nickname, “Most Beautiful Road in the World,” which is surely to arouse some argument from fans of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Nonetheless, the Ice Fields Parkway was indeed quite spectacular, as the views along the entire road are completely protected in two national parks and a World Heritage Site.
The beautiful Bow Lake was still completely covered with snow and ice.
While sitting along Waterfowl Lake and enjoying our lunch, an avalanche suddenly roared down a cliff in the distance. It lasted about 10 seconds and sounded like rolling thunder. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy and didn’t want to miss the avalanche trying to fetch it, so I just sat there and enjoyed the experience. This photo shows the aftermath of a previous avalanche.
Our lunch spot at Waterfowl Lake was one of the most beautiful spots ever, and we’ve certainly enjoyed some incredible lunch spots on this trip and over our 20 years of visiting national parks on vacation. From our spot, we had a 180-degree view of mountains, 6 glaciers, and the aforementioned avalanche.