My first stop was Banff National Park, Alberta, situated just outside of Calgary itself. This was Canada’s first National Park, established in 1885, giving birth to Canada’s vast national parks system and an area that covers over 6,000 square kilometres with more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails to choose from. The town of Banff itself is the highest town in Canada, at an elevation of 4,537 feet, but a treeline of around 7,500 feet, leading to a magnificent sight of alpine forests.
This National Park is now one of the most popular in Canada, with approximately 4 million visitors per year to make the most of the sights of the World Heritage Site, including the Bow River, vast meadows and the 45-120 million year old mountains. However, this wasn’t always the case – when the park first opened, there was a large push for tourists and their most successful ploy to lure visitors in was to build the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. You can see this colossal mansion and luxury resort from miles around, especially when hiking the surrounding mountain range. You may think it a blot on the landscape, but in fact I found it a rather grand landmark, aptly reflecting the grandiose nature of the National Park itself. Once opened in 1888, visitors flocked to stay in the hotel, and the town of Banff was born. Having had a wonder around the hotel, I would highly recommend staying here for phenomenal views and first class accommodation.
The fascinating thing about all areas of Canada was just how recent all its history is. The united country of Canada was only formed in 1867, making everything to British eyes seem so new, when locals view the same aspects as almost ancient. When combined with the relatively miniscule population (compared to the sheer landmass of the country), you can see how this is a fairly unique place.
Lake Louise is a world famous area of Banff National Park with jaw-droppingly beautiful turquoise lakes, the Victoria Glacier and some incredible hiking. The hamlet of Lake Louise itself is smaller and more quiet than Banff, but is an ideal base for those who wish to explore the lakes or take part in some water activities. Starting beside another majestic hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the vibrant glacier-fed lake I was faced with was more than a nice view to wake up to in the morning. As such, I felt a pang of jealousy at those who were staying in the hotel itself; I wanted to stay here forever and just look on at the water and its reflections of the mountains and trees. As I watched, in the distance I caught a glimpse of a snow avalanche cascading over the jagged ridges – this was quite a dramatic spectacle!
The only thing I could have wished for was a zoom lens for my camera, but even then this natural occurrence would have felt just as distant and eerie.
The hiking trail around Lake Louise is a fairly long one, only arduous from the length of the walk up a gradual slope. My group and I braved the 6.8 kilometre return hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse from the Chateau Lake Louise trailhead. I would recommend setting aside at least 3 hours for this trail as, even if it takes you only 2 hours to go up and down, you will want to stop off at the various lakes you come across on your travels and simply take in the view wherever possible. You may even be brave enough to have a dip in the bitingly cold – but oh so refreshing – waters.