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Visiting Banff National Park

If you're looking for a place that's both serene and thrilling, Banff National Park is where you belong. As Canada's very first National Park, Banff has become wildly popular, drawing in a whopping 4 million visitors every year.

View over Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies

What makes Banff a crowd-pleaser? Well, for starters, it's a playground of nature's best offerings. Imagine winding hiking trails that take you through lush forests and up to majestic viewpoints. If you prefer a night under the stars, Banff's campsites provide the perfect setting. Add to that world-class ski resorts in winter, making it a true wonderland for snow enthusiasts.  

Two lakes in particular, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, steal the spotlight with their crystal-clear turquoise waters, framed by stunning mountain landscapes. And if you're up for a scenic drive, the Bow Valley Parkway offers a journey through the heart of the Rockies, where surprises await around every bend. 

But what truly makes Banff National Park shine is its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a testament to the park's natural beauty and the efforts to preserve its unique ecosystem.

At Canadian Train Vacations, our local experts help visitors to Canada plan personalized vacations to Canada. We’ve explored Banff National Park and many of our popular train trips travel through this scenic area. In this in-depth travel guide, we'll uncover the secrets of Banff – from its captivating attractions to the activities that make it a must-visit. Join us as we explore why Banff National Park is not just a destination; it's a once-in-a-lifetime vacation waiting to be experienced.

Where is Banff National Park?

Banff is considered the most famous park in the Canadian Rockies. This mountainous area is home to the seven parks collectively known as the Canadian Rocky Mountains Parks, some of the best-known mountain scenery on Earth.

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Location and size of the park

View of Castle Mountain and greenery surrounding coursing river

Nestled within the province of Alberta, Canada, Banff National Park is positioned approximately 128 kilometers (80 miles) to the west of the vibrant city of Calgary. Located in the majestic Canadian Rockies, this natural sanctuary unfolds across an impressive expanse of 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 square miles).  

In the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park shares its borders with three other Canadian national parks: Jasper National Park to the north, Yoho National Park to the west, and Kootenay National Park to the south.

Terrain of the park

Fall colours at Vermillion Lakes in Banff with Mount Norquay in sight

Banff National Park stands as a living canvas, painting a picture of unparalleled natural beauty through its diverse and captivating terrain. Embark on a virtual journey with us as we explore the rich tapestry that defines this remarkable landscape. 

  • Majestic mountains: At the heart of Banff lies its mountainous terrain, a symphony of rugged peaks and snow-capped summits that define the park's iconic silhouette. The Rockies, adorned with a dusting of perpetual snow, create a dramatic and awe-inspiring backdrop, setting the stage for an unforgettable adventure. 
  • Reflective glacial lakes: Dotted throughout the park are glacial lakes, shimmering like jewels against the rugged terrain. These pristine bodies of water, including the famous Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, reflect the surrounding snow-capped peaks, creating postcard-perfect vistas that seem almost surreal. The crystal-clear waters add a touch of serenity to the rugged charm of Banff. 
  • Valleys, waterfalls, and canyons: Nestled between the mountains are lush valleys, carved by centuries of natural forces. Waterfalls cascade down rocky cliffs, adding a symphony of sounds to the landscape. Canyons, with their intricate rock formations, invite exploration, providing glimpses into the geological history of the park. 
  • Limestone caves and hidden wonders: Delve deeper, and Banff reveals hidden wonders in the form of limestone caves. These subterranean marvels showcase the park's geological diversity, offering a unique perspective on the forces that have shaped this extraordinary terrain. 

The varied terrain of Banff is not merely a scenic backdrop; it's a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails weave through valleys, offering glimpses of wildlife and panoramic views.

Flora and fauna

A herd of elk graze in a field in front of the snowy Rocky Mountains

Banff National Park is a treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna, creating a spectacular natural environment that sparks fascination and enchantment. From stately ungulates such as Bighorn Sheep, Deer, Elk, and Caribou, to the elusive Moose and Mountain Goats, the park teems with life that's just waiting to be admired. 

  • Majestic mammals: When wandering through the park's picturesque landscapes, it's common to spot some iconic residents, such as Bighorn Sheep, their curled horns being a notable feature. Keep an eye out for Deer and Elk, gracefully navigating the park's terrain, and Caribou inhabiting the rugged alpine meadows and subalpine forests. It's not unusual to encounter the elusive Moose while exploring the park's watery habitats. These majestic creatures are featured prominently in Canadian folklore and capture the true essence of Canada's wilderness. Agile Mountain Goats, often seen traversing the steep, rocky terrain in search of their favorite vegetation, are another fascinating sight. 
  • Predators of the wild: Banff National Park is also home to both Black and Grizzly Bears, which signifies the park's rich biodiversity and healthy ecosystem. However, remember to maintain a safe distance and follow the safety guidelines at all times. The park offers refuge to other carnivores as well, such as Wolves, Coyotes, and even shy Mountain Lions who roam the territory. 
  • Small wonders: Banff's wildlife isn't confined to the large and majestic. Keep an eye out for charming Squirrels, playful Marmots, and the prickly but fascinating Porcupines. The industrious Beavers transform the park's waterways, showcasing nature's architects at work. 
  • Avian elegance: Banff National Park is no less impressive when it comes to bird life. It's a haven for avid birdwatchers or anyone who enjoys the mesmerizing sight of these winged wonders. Species such as Grouse can be found hiding in the shrubs while soaring skies often feature Bald Eagles, a symbol of North America's freedom, and the mighty Osprey. 

The park also harbors various migratory birds such as waterfowl, including the regal Canada Geese, trumpeter swans, and ducks, which grace the serene waters of the glacial lakes. Banff is a true birdwatcher's delight, offering countless opportunities to spot the awe-inspiring avian life that calls the park home. 

Weather in Banff National Park

The park's climate can best be classified as subarctic, which means winters are cold, blustery, and extended while summers get warm, but are relatively short. The stark contrast of a cozy summer day and a brisk winter night, particularly caused by the park's elevation, is part of Banff's unique charm. 

Summer Weather 

  • As summer unfolds, Banff welcomes warmer days, with temperatures during July averaging 22 °C (72 °F). The nights bring a refreshing coolness, with daily low temperatures averaging 7 °C (45 °F). This diurnal range, a result of the relatively dry air, sets the stage for pleasant summer explorations. 
  • Remember, due to the increased elevation, temperatures can drop significantly—especially on higher hiking trails. It's essential to carry layered clothing, even in summer, and stay prepared for sudden weather changes. 

Winter Weather 

  • Winters in Banff (December to March) are a snowy, ethereal spectacle with an average daytime temperature ranging from -5°C (23°F) to -15°C (5°F). However, temperatures can drop to -20°C (-4°F) or lower during cold spells. The presence of snow is abundant during the winter at different elevations, transforming the park into a winter wonderland and providing excellent conditions for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. 
  • One distinctive influence on Banff's winter climate is the presence of Chinook winds. These warming winds, originating from the Pacific, have a moderating effect on temperatures, offering periods of milder weather amidst the winter chill. As a result, the park experiences a dynamic winter climate, with the occasional interplay of colder temperatures and the gentle touch of Chinook warmth. 
  • High elevations pose a higher chance of experiencing chilly temperatures and more prolonged periods of snow. Visitors embarking on winter adventures are advised to pack proper gear and clothing to stay safe and comfortable in colder conditions. 

#1 Travel Tip: Go in offseason for best wildlife viewing

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Hoping to see wildlife? Spring and fall are your best bets for spotting wildlife, especially bear, elk and moose. The best access to spotting these animals is by driving along the Icefields Parkway.

Blog Author - Athena McKenzie
Athena McKenzie
Content Manager

Banff history and culture

Two people standing on the Cave and Basin boardwalk and looking out at the view

1. Rocky Mountains Park’s establishment 

The crown jewel in Canada's national parks system, Banff National Park, has a remarkable origin story. Established on 25th November 1885, originally under the name Rocky Mountains Park, it holds the noble distinction of being the oldest national park in Canada, and it was the third of its kind globally. 

Amid the Canadian Pacific Railway's construction, workers stumbled across a chain of hot springs nestled on the eastern slopes of Alberta's Rocky Mountains. Recognizing the touristic potential and inherent natural beauty, the Canadian government swiftly took steps to protect this area. 

The popular Cave and Basin Hot Springs, initially known as Banff Hot Springs Reserve, became the cornerstone of the newly created park. What started as a modest 26-square-kilometer reserve primarily focused on promoting tourism and safeguarding the hot springs, soon embarked on a path of expansion, both in terms of physical area and conservation scope. 

Over time, the park – rechristened as Banff National Park in 1930 – has grown to an impressive 6,641 square kilometers, making it one of the largest national parks in Canada today. Displaying a spectacular array of landscapes and fostering the revival of numerous wildlife species, the park is the epitome of successful conservation and sustainable tourism. 

Banff's history and cultural heritage, interwoven with pioneering conservation efforts and respect for indigenous legacies, continue to carve its unique identity in Canada's vibrant cultural tapestry. 

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2. Indigenous Peoples 

Long before European settlers arrived, the land of Banff National Park was home to Indigenous people. The term "Indigenous Peoples" is a collective name for the original peoples of North America and their descendants. Among the different tribes, the Stoney Nakoda are the First Nations people most associated with Banff National Park. 

Banff has always been considered a very sacred and vital place by Indigenous tribes. For them, it served as a gathering point for food, and medicines, and it was also visited for healing by accessing the mountains and hot springs. Recognizing the significance of this land to the Indigenous people, modern-day Parks Canada has sought to build more durable relationships with local nations to ensure more comprehensive stewardship of the land and celebrate traditional indigenous values. 

Banff National Park Pre-Arrival Info

Hours of Operation 

Banff National Park welcomes visitors year-round, offering a diverse range of activities and attractions. Whether you're an early riser or a sunset seeker, understanding the hours of operation ensures you can maximize your time and enjoyment. 

Visitor centers 

Get a head start on your Banff journey by knowing the operating hours of visitor centers. These hubs of information provide valuable insights, maps, and assistance to help you navigate the park seamlessly. 

1. Lake Louise Visitor Centre 

Nestled adjacent to Samson Mall in the Village of Lake Louise, the Lake Louise Visitor Centre is your gateway to the wonders of the region. 

  • January 1 to June 7: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • June 8 to September 4: 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. 
  • September 5 to December 31: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • December 25: Closed 

2. Banff Information Kiosk 

Conveniently located at 327 Railway Avenue in the Town of Banff, the Banff Information Kiosk is a welcoming stop for valuable insights into the area. 

  • Daily: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • December 25: Closed 
  • 3.Banff Visitor Centre 

3. Banff Visitor Centre

Situated at 224 Banff Avenue in the Town of Banff, the Banff Visitor Centre is a hub of information for a seamless exploration of the picturesque surroundings. 

  • January 1 to May 31: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • June 1 to September 4: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 
  • September 5 to December 31: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • December 25: Closed 

Please remember that the hours of operation for these visitor centers may be subject to change due to various factors such as weather conditions or maintenance work. 

4. Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Checkpoints 

In the effort to safeguard the pristine aquatic ecosystems of Banff National Park, the park welcomes both non-motorized and motorized watercraft, provided a mandatory inspection is scheduled 48 hours in advance. 

  • Lake Louise Inspection Station 
  • For Non-Motorized Watercraft 
  • Operational Period: May 19 - October 9 
  • Inspection Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. 

5.Lake Minnewanka Inspection Station 

For Non-Motorized and Motorized Watercraft 

  • May 19 - June 4: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. 
  • June 5 - September 5: 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. 
  • September 6 - October 15: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. 

Fees and Passes

Entrance and service fees play a vital role in sustaining the beauty and integrity of Banff National Park. These fees contribute directly to the park's preservation, ensuring that future generations can continue to experience its wonders. 

To facilitate your park experience, Banff National Park offers a variety of passes and fee categories: 

Daily park passes: 

  • Valid until 4:00 pm on the day after purchase when acquired on-site. 

Annual discovery passes

  • Valid for a full year from the purchase date until the end of the calendar month. 
  • Available for purchase on-site or online. 

Fee Categories: 


  • Adult (18-64 years): $10.50 
  • Senior (65+ years): $9.00 
  • Youth (17 and under): Free 
  • Family/Group (up to seven people in a single vehicle): $21.00 
  • Commercial Group (per person): $9.00 

Transportation Services/Public Transit 

Shuttle service by parks Canada for Lake Louise and Moraine Lake: 

  • Adult (18-64 years): $8.00 
  • Senior (65+ years): $4.00 
  • Youth (17 and under): Free 

Camping Fees (One Night): 

  • Various camping options with fees ranging from $18.75 to $128.00, depending on the site and amenities. 
  • Camping services include a "Fire Permit" at $9.50 per day. 

Backcountry Use and Camping Fees: 

  • Nightly Fee per Person: $12.75 
  • Daily Grazing Permit per Horse: $2.50 
  • Monthly Grazing Permit per Horse: $31.00 

Fishing Permits: 

  • Daily: $12.75 
  • Annual: $44.25 

Heritage Presentation Special Programs (Guided): 

  • Hidden Lake: Guided Conservation Hike 
  • Adult (18-64 years): $75.63 
  • Senior (65+ years): $63.53 
  • Youth (17 and under): $51.53 

Reservation Services: 

  • Online/Internet Booking, Changes, or Withdrawal: $11.50: $11.50 
  • Telephone Booking, Alterations, or Termination: $13.50 

Parking Fees (Daily): 

  • General Parking at Lake Louise Lakeshore (per vehicle): $21.00 
  • Accessible Parking at Lake Louise Lakeshore (per vehicle): $8.00 

Safety Guidelines

In preparation for your visit to Banff National Park, please be aware of potential closures and restrictions. Familiarize yourself with the following safety guidelines to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience: 

  • Weather Awareness: Be mindful of changing weather conditions and check forecasts regularly to plan your activities accordingly. 
  • Park Regulations: Adhere to park regulations to maintain the ecological balance and preserve the natural beauty of Banff. 
  • Wildlife: Respect wildlife and maintain a safe distance. Do not feed or approach animals for your safety and theirs. 
  • Water Safety: Exercise caution around lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Follow water safety guidelines for a secure aquatic experience. 
  • Avalanche Conditions: Stay informed about avalanche conditions if engaging in winter activities, and take necessary precautions. 
  • Trekking or Hiking: Follow designated trails, inform others of your plans, and be equipped with proper gear for trekking or hiking adventures. 
  • Camping: Abide by camping regulations, use designated campsites, and practice Leave No Trace principles for minimal environmental impact. 

By adhering to these safety guidelines, you contribute to the well-being of the park and ensure a positive experience for yourself and fellow visitors. 

Attractions and Activities

Banff National Park is a treasure trove of captivating sights and exhilarating activities. Here are the must-see sights and our recommended activities: 

Activities in Banff National Park  

  • Banff Gondola: An eight-minute gondola ride takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. From here, you have a breathtaking view of six mountain ranges and can explore a ridgetop boardwalk offering 360-degree views. 
  • Icefields Parkway: Considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, travel by pristine mountain lakes, broad sweeping valleys, and vast wilderness. The highlight is seeing glaciers from the highway and viewpoints.  
  • Exploring the town of Banff: Visitors can enjoy shopping, dining, or indulging in luxurious spa experiences found within the townsite. The Banff Springs Hotel and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise are renowned for their world-class spas and other amenities. 

Top hikes in Banff National Park  

1. Plain of Six Glaciers Trail: 

  • Length: Approximately 13.8 kilometers (8.6 miles) round trip. 
  • Difficulty: Moderate. 
  • Top Sights: This popular trail gives hikers stunning views of both the Victoria Glacier and Lake Louise. Along the way, you'll pass by the historic Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, where you can take a break and enjoy a snack while marveling at the breathtaking alpine scenery. 

2. Sentinel Pass: 

  • Length: Around 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) round trip. 
  • Difficulty: Challenging. 
  • Top Sights: The Sentinel Pass hike takes you through diverse landscapes, from dense forests to open alpine meadows. The pass itself provides panoramic views of the stunning Larch Valley and surrounding mountains. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as this area is known for encounters with mountain goats and bighorn sheep. 

3. Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots: 

  • Length: About 10.6 kilometers (6.6 miles) round trip. 
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate. 
  • Top Sights: This trail goes along catwalks and bridges through Johnston Canyon, offering close-up views of waterfalls and unique geological formations.  

Lakes in Banff National Park 

  • Moraine Lake: Nestled in the stunning Valley of the Ten Peaks, it is famous for hiking trails, such as the Rockpile Trail, providing the best views of the lake and surrounding mountains. A boat tour on the lake is a magical experience, especially from mid-to-late June when the impressive reflection of the peaks in the lake is at its best. 
  • Lake Louise: Banff's most famous destination with its mesmerizing blue-green waters, charming shoreline trails, and backdrop of the massive Victoria Glacier. It's a paradise for hiking and canoeing in summer, and world-class skiing in winter. 
  • Peyto Lake: Don't miss the breathtaking Peyto Lake, known for its striking turquoise color during the summer months.

#2 Travel Tip: Book transit to Lake Moraine

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Moraine Lake is a popular spot and its access road is closed to personal vehicles. You can get there by Parks Canada shuttles, Roam Public Transit, or tours buses. Many of our Banff tours do include Moraine Lake.

Louise Weiss
Director of Legendary Hospitality

Hidden gems in Banff National Park 

Here are some hidden gems in Banff National Park that go beyond the well-known hike,  popular lakes, and the famous gondola.  

  • Banff Park Museum: Tucked away on Banff Avenue, the Banff Park Museum is a great spot for those interested in natural history. Housed in a charming log building, the museum showcases an extensive collection of mounted specimens of wildlife and exhibits that highlight the park's ecological diversity. It's a great place to gain insights into the region's flora and fauna. 
  •  Cascade Gardens: Cascade Gardens is a beautifully landscaped area featuring a variety of flowers, plants, and water features. It's a peaceful oasis located near the iconic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, enjoy the vibrant colors, and appreciate the mountain backdrop. The gardens offer a serene escape without the crowds often found in more popular attractions. 
  • The Bow Valley Parkway: This scenic alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway, offers numerous viewpoints, picnic spots, and opportunities for wildlife sightings. Keep an eye out for elk, bears, and other wildlife that frequent the area. There are several short walks and interpretive stops along the parkway, such as Johnston Canyon and Castle Mountain Lookout, making it a hidden gem for those seeking a more relaxed and nature-focused drive. The road is also popular for cycling.

#3 Travel Tip: Plan to get up early

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Banff is an especially popular park in the summer, but the early sunrise means you can experience quiet trails if you’re willing to be an early riser as well.

Louise Weiss
Director of Legendary Hospitality

Where to stay in Banff National Park?

Here are some recommendations for accommodations ranging from hotels to cabins in Banff National Park:

  • Fairmont Banff Springs: Known as "Canada's Castle in the Rockies," this historic hotel offers unparalleled luxury in a magnificent setting. Amenities include a championship golf course, a world-renowned spa, heated indoor and outdoor pools, a bowling and entertainment center, and a variety of dining options.
  • The Rimrock Resort Hotel: This hotel is notable for its breathtaking views over the Bow Valley from the large picture windows in the main lobby. It offers a peaceful and relaxing environment with elegant rooms and a variety of dining experiences.
  • Banff Rocky Mountain Resort: Nestled amidst the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, this resort offers outdoor hot tubs, an indoor swimming pool, squash courts, and dining options. Condo-style accommodation comes with full kitchens and wood-burning fireplaces.

For lodging or cabins, consider:

  • Castle Mountain Chalets: Located halfway between Banff and Lake Louise, they offer rustic Mountain Log Cabins and Suites.
  • Inns of Banff: Offering a variety of lodge and condo-style accommodations, this property provides opportunities for both comfort and convenience.
  • Storm Mountain Lodge: Historic cabins located in the heart of Banff National Park. Here you can enjoy the tranquility of the mountain setting.

[ Read: Fun Facts About Banff National Park ]

Conservation Efforts and Future Challenges 

Banff National Park, a sanctuary of breathtaking landscapes and rich biodiversity, requires dedicated conservation efforts to safeguard its natural heritage. The importance of preserving this pristine environment extends beyond the park's borders, contributing to global ecological balance. 

Conservation Initiatives: 

  • Habitat Restoration: Ongoing habitat restoration projects aim to revitalize and protect critical ecosystems within the park. These initiatives involve replanting native vegetation, controlling invasive species, and maintaining the delicate balance of flora and fauna. 
  • Wildlife Management: Rigorous wildlife management strategies are employed to monitor and sustain healthy populations. Researchers conduct studies on migration patterns, habitat utilization, and animal behavior, ensuring the well-being of the diverse species that call the park home. 
  • Sustainable Tourism Practices: Banff National Park advocates for responsible tourism practices. Programs educate visitors on minimizing their impact, respecting wildlife habitats, and adhering to ethical guidelines, promoting an ethos of sustainable tourism. 

Collaborative Conservation Partnerships: 

Partnerships with governmental agencies, non-profit organizations, and indigenous communities foster a collaborative approach to conservation. Shared resources and knowledge enhance the effectiveness of conservation initiatives. 

Future Challenges: 

  • Balancing Tourism and Conservation: The park's popularity as a tourist destination presents a delicate balance. Managing the influx of visitors while minimizing environmental impact demands careful planning, infrastructure development, and the promotion of sustainable tourism practices. 
  • Invasive Species Threat: Invasive species, whether plant or animal, pose a threat to the park's delicate ecosystems. Vigilant monitoring and rapid response measures are essential to prevent the spread of invasive species and protect the native flora and fauna. 

As custodians of Banff National Park, collective responsibility is paramount. By continuing and expanding conservation efforts, embracing sustainable practices, and addressing emerging challenges with resilience and innovation, we can ensure that this natural wonder remains a thriving and resilient ecosystem for generations to come. 

Final Thoughts 

Famous for its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife, Banff National Park is a natural haven that captivates with its enchanting beauty. From the iconic Moraine Lake to the lush hiking trails, the park offers hidden wonders waiting to be explored. With recreational opportunities like hiking and wildlife viewing, it's a paradise for nature lovers.  

Our local travel experts can help you plan your ideal vacation to Banff, personalized around your needs and interests.

Frequently Asked Questions

Start by outlining your interests, whether it's hiking, wildlife, or scenic drives. Research accommodations, create an itinerary, and check for seasonal activities. Be sure to consider park regulations and plan accordingly. Our travel advisors can help you create a personalized itinerary.

The summer months (June to September) offer warm weather and vibrant landscapes, while winter (December to March) is ideal for skiing. Shoulder seasons like spring and fall provide a quieter experience with fewer crowds.

A minimum of 3-4 days is recommended to explore Banff National Park thoroughly. This allows time for key attractions, hikes, and leisurely experiences.

Banff National Park is open year-round. Specific attractions, accommodations, and roads may have seasonal closures or restrictions, so it's essential to check for updates before planning.

The entrance fee varies. As of the latest information, an adult daily pass is $10.50, a senior pass is $9.00, and youth under 17 enter for free. Different passes, including annual ones, are available.

The exact number of grizzlies in Banff National Park can vary. Conservation efforts are in place to monitor and protect these iconic bears. Visitors may catch glimpses of them in their natural habitat.

Absolutely! Banff National Park's stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and recreational opportunities make it a must-visit destination. Whether you're an adventure seeker or nature lover, Banff promises a truly unforgettable experience.

About the author: Athena McKenzie is the Content Manager at Fresh Tracks Canada. An experienced lifestyle journalist, she has written about travel, design, arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Elle Canada and... Read more

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