It was here in Cave and Basin National Historic Site (located in Banff) that Canada’s first National Park was born. Back in the 1880’s the Canadian Pacific Railway was stretching it’s way across Canada opening in its wake a path for pioneers (very similar to US history). Although Aboriginal people had known about this place centuries using it as a sacred gathering place in 1883 when three railway workers stumbled upon the Cave they brought it to the nation’s attention. These new travelers saw an opportunity to capitalize on the unique area. Fortunately the then Prime Minister Sir John Macdonald had the foresight to create a reserve protecting the place for future generations of Canadians and the world. Currently this historic site located within Banff National Park has some of the remaining historic buildings, mineral water bubbling out of the ground, the endangered Banff Springs Snail that lives nowhere else but here and the original underground cave that was first discovered.
“National parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources. It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our natural resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.” – John F. Kennedy
While the United States is government is following the President’s Executive Order and reviewing National Monuments created by former Presidents since 1996 presumably to determine if they should remain protected as National Monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, Canada is actually looking to expand their National Park System. They have created a National Parks System Plan with the goal to establish a system of national parks that represents each of Canada’s distinct natural regions. They estimate their system is just over 60% completed, this means adding nearly 40% more to the existing system.
The national parks of Canada are a source of pride for Canadians and an integral part of the countries’ identity; they celebrate the beauty and infinite variety of the land. This is no more evidenced by the fact that this year is Canada’s 150th anniversary and to celebrate Parks Canada is inviting all visitors to celebrate by visiting the Canadian National Parks for free. Now if this doesn’t show a country that values its parks then I’m not sure what does.
“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.”– Mollie Beattie
From the Parks Canada website: “National parks protect natural environments representative of Canada’s natural heritage. These special places are gateways to nature, to adventure, to discovery, to solitude. They celebrate the beauty and infinite variety of our country. Protected and preserved for all Canadians and for the world, each is a sanctuary in which nature is allowed to evolve in its own way, as it has done since the dawn of time. Each provides a haven, not only for plants and animals, but also for the human spirit. A place to wander… to wonder… to discover yourself.”
A little more about what to do in Banff……
As usual hiking was my primary form of exploration. Even though it is still considered early in the season the parks are already starting to get crowded. On the recommendation from a Ranger in the visitors center I selected one of the “iconic” Banff hikes – Johnston Canyon. I should have known when I saw the size of the two parking lots that serve this area that it would be full of visitors. The first 2.4 km of the hike (yes, in Canada so switching to kilometers!) traveled up the canyon alongside a beautiful creek that had carved its way through the canyon. The catwalks that made up portions of the trail were feats of engineering without which the million plus visitors to the area every year would not be able to access this incredible sight. The crowds along this trail to the lower and upper falls made for a less than pleasant experience although the scenery made up for it. The sheer power of the water rushing through the canyon was impressive.
“Water is the most expressive element in nature. It responds to every mood from tranquility to turbulence.” Walter Phillips about Johnston Canyon (a famous Canadian painter)
From the lower falls Cory and I continued on the trail toward the Ink Pots and the crowds thinned considerably. There was still some snow on the trail and it was quite muddy in many spots, which made for tricky going on the steep parts of the trail. However the Ink Pots were worth the hike as the trail opened into a meadow bordered by the river and these spring-fed colorful ponds.
While we stopped here for lunch the lack of exercise reminded me that it was still winter as far as the weather was concerned and the cold wind as well as a few snow flakes made it time to get back on the trail and head for the car.
A day at Lake Louise was on the schedule and as it is considerably higher in elevation there was much more snow which limited the hiking opportunities. Not one to avoid a challenge Cory and I took off on a snow hike up to the viewpoint overlooking the lake. It was very helpful to have my hiking poles that I bought when in Hood River as well as my “Yak Trax” (that fit over my boots for better traction on ice and snow) for this snow hike.
The lake itself was starting to thaw but still mostly frozen over although not enough to warrant a stroll out on to the ice. Hard to tell from the photos but lakeside there were a plethora of tourists that the tour busses dropped off to view the beautiful lake. Once again, getting away from the heavily used area and out on the trails was relief from the masses.
After our snow hike it was quite a treat to retire to the beautiful Chateau Lake Louise for “afternoon tea”. This was something that I had wanted to do when I was in Waterton Lakes (near Glacier NP) but the historic hotel there had already closed for the season. It is a “mini-meal” steeped in tradition thought to have been started by the French in the 17th century to bridge the long hours between lunch and a late dinner. Needless to say it was very relaxing to partake in this tradition in such a beautiful place.
The last hike in Banff was an unexpected pleasure. While visiting Cave and Basin Historic Site I decided to get some exercise before going
through the historic buildings. Heading out the Sundance Trail from the parking lot the first section was on a wide paved trail along the river. As it was an overcast somewhat drizzly day there were few folks on the trail. As the pavement ended a trail started up into a beautiful steep river carved canyon before looping back around to the Sundance trail. A definite must do when you visit this historic site!
Did I forget to mention that Banff has a brewery? Why yes they do! And its located right in the downtown area. Their Plaid Goat Red Ale was excellent as was the BLT for an early dinner after a day of hiking.
Other than that the town itself was very touristy and quite overpriced and overcrowded. It reminded me very much of Jackson Hole Wyoming.
Fortunately my National Park campsite was located outside of town and afforded me views of the mountains as well as a passing herd of elk right from my campsite. Reservations would definitely be recommended during their busy season.
From here heading to Jasper over the Icefields Parkway – through some of the most amazing country that I have seen to date.