Alberta & BC Rockies Banff Recreation
If you're in the Banff Area, here are some of your recreational opportunities:
Back Country Camping
Back country camping is allowed in designated campgrounds, most 6 kilometres or more away from the nearest road. You must have a free Park Use Permit, obtainable from the Park Information Centre on Banff Avenue. Some trails have quotas to discourage over-use (especially on long weekends). Enquire about the latest conditions regarding wildlife, weather, and fire hazards when you pick up your permit.
You must pack out your garbage, may only start campfires in designated areas, and should stow food out of reach of bears (to avoid unwelcome overnight visitors).
Other Links: [ Learn to Hike ]
The "Golden Triangle" between Golden, Radium, and Banff is a popular and challenging biking mecca. On the three day trip, you ride the wide highway shoulders, but remember you have serious hills and cross the Continental Divide twice
The Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper, is a popular 3 to 5 day ride. The hills are easier northbound, but are shorter southbound. You can take a bus to return to your starting point.
The roads around Banff are scenic without too much challenge. If you really want a challenging on-road bike trip, try the Mount Norquay Road, or visit the Upper Hot Springs. At the ways back are downhill!
Mountain biking's popularity has convinced the Park to designate some old fire roads as trails for mountain bikes. Many trails are off-limits to protect both hikers and wildlife. Stick to the trails, to minimize plant damage and danger to animals. In back-country areas, mountain bikers should ring the bells on their bikes to warn bears of their approach. A helmet is also highly recommended, as is a repair kit, a first adi kit, extra clothing and food.
Other Links: [ Learn to Bicycle ]
Non-motorized boats are allowed on most lakes and rivers in the Park. Lake Minnewanka in Banff is the only place where power boats are allowed (the lake also offers commercial boat tours). Electrical boats with no on-board generator are treated as non-motorized boats. Canoes can be rented at the more popular lakes: Emerald, Louise, Moraine, and O'Hara.
Canoeing or kayaking is popular, and the Park offers a variety of river difficulties. The May/June spring runoff have the highest river levels, repeated again in August with peaking glacial melting. Rafting trips on the Bow and Kicking Horse rivers are available for a day or overnight.
Windsurfing is not recommended in any of the Park, since all the waters are snow or glacial runoff. Lac des Arcs (by Dead Man's Flats) and Ghost Lake (50 km west of Cochrane at the Ghost Dam on the Bow River) offer good winds, though wet suits or dry suits should be worn.
Other Links: [ Learn to Windsurf ]
Parks Canada has 31 roadside campgrounds with 5,000 campsites, usually have flush toilets, picnic tables, firewood, cooking stations, and drinking water. When these are full, campers must use "overflow" campsites with limited facilities (ie just pit toilets). You can reserve ahead; spots fill quickly during the summer. Fees range from $6 to $16 per night, with a maximum stay of 14 nights. You may not collect firewood from the forest or riverbeds.
Most cross-country skiing is done in the valleys, and there are several groomed "loop" trails at Johnson Canyon, Lake Louise, Pipestone, and Whitehorn. These trails
can each be managed nicely in a day.
Back-country skiing is also popular (see "Back-country camping") but let park officials know of your planned route and schedule, in case you become injured or lost.
Other Links: [ Learn to Ski ]
There are a number of popular downhill ski areas
in the mountain parks.
Banff National Park has three ski areas: Sunshine Village, Banff-Mount Norquay, and Lake Louise.
Lake Louise is the largest ski area in the Canadian Rockies, and is regular host to the World Cup Downhill. Its ski season is second only to Sunshine's, with extensive snow-making.
The oldest ski area in the area is Sunshine Village, just west of Banff, which receives the generous snowfalls of the Continental Divide. A gondola takes you up to the "Village", which has a hotel, several bars and restaurants, and a hot tub. Sunshine has a wide range of terrain and weather conditions on its three mountains.
Mount Norquay is just across the highway from Banff, with some legendary steep runs and a ski jump. It also has night skiing three nights a week.
All these ski hills have shuttle buses to and from Banff and Lake Louise hotels.
Other Links: [ Learn to Ski & Snowboard | Ski conditions ]
The mountain waters are quite cold and relatively low in nutrients, so fishing is generally poor. To compensate, a number of lakes have been stocked from hatchery-raised fish. To maintain the natural fish stocks, "catch and release" practices are recommended. Of course, its not always about he fish you catch: here you not only talk about the "one that got away" but the spectacular mountain scenery. Popular lakes, close to the main highway are Bow, Emerald, Minnewanka, and Wapta. You should check with park Information Centres for appropriate fishing seasons, catch limits and permits. A National Parks Fishing License is required, which costs $13 for an annual licence (for those over 16), and $7 for a 4-day licence, plus $8 for a five-year Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) permit.
Golf is a popular sport in the Mountain Parks. Remember that with the higher altitude, shots fly farther in teh thin air, but your swing takes more effort. The Banff Springs Hotel, just south of the Banff townsite is rated one of the Top 10 in the World for scenery.
Other Links: [ Learn to Golf | Mountain Golf Courses ]
There are over 3,000 kilometres of trails
in the Park, from short hikes from a parking lot to 100 kilometre wilderness routes. Backpackers require a Park Use Permit from the Park Information Centres (see back country camping
); you should take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Take an extra change of clothing, waterproof equipment, and a camp stove. Camping and campfires are allowed only in designated areas. Check with the Park Information Centres for current weather, fire, and wildlife hazards.
Other Links: [ Learn to Hike ]
This was how explorers moved around the mountains before the steam locomotive. There are a number of designated horseback trails in the mountains. Trail riding is restricted because it is more destructive to the trails,and some trails are marked for joint hiker-horseback use. Contanct the Park Information Centres.
Horses are available from the Chateau Lake Louise (CP Hotels & Resorts) as well as other locations around the parks. You can rent horses by the hour, half-day, or day from several locations, or go on a guided tour.
Mountain climbing, or a simpler version, rock climbing, is a popular way to explore the extremes of the mountains. The Rockies have over 700 peaks that exceed 10,000 feet or 3,000 metres, so there is plenty of challenge and opportunity. Many of the rocky faces are crumbly sedimentary rock, so many of the routes to the tops of mountains incorporate glaciers, snow or ice. Modern equipment and clothing makes winter mountaineering more popular, and the Rockies provide a number of frozen waterfalls that are a challenge for ice-climbers.
The mountains have many walkable trails that can take you to the peaks of popular mountains. You should check topographic maps for routes that match your skill and endurance levels. If you are interested in more challenging routes, you can hire a professional mountain guide, who can provide both guidance and equipment for your mountain ascent.
There are a number of steep cliffs that are very popular with rock climbers. Rock climbers are more interested in challenging verticals, rather than ascending to the top of the mountain. Some good cliffs are found along the Plain of Six Glaciers hike from the Chateau. Other good cliffs are found near Moraine Lake (drive or hike), near the Tower of Babel, and in Consolation Valley.
Other Links: [ Learn Mountaineering ]