Banff National Park

By Habeeb Salloum
Special to mycompass.ca

Banff, ALBERTA -- After an 8-minute gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain there is a perfect view of Canada's most famous resort centre, Banff. From this lofty perch, 2,285 metres high, the view is awe-inspiring. All around the Alberta Rockies known as 'shining mountains' by the Native Peoples, the snow-tipped mountains sparkle under the rays of the sun. Below the scenic Bow River with green wooded valleys there appears a picture-postcard of beauty, a panorama of wilderness in a sea of modernity.

Named after Banffshire Scotland, Banff was founded in 1885 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to cater to the whims of the privileged classes who wanted to enjoy the mountain scenery in comfort and luxury. Situated 1,350 metres above sea level, it is tucked away in the bosom of the magnificent Rockies. Called 'Canada's mountain paradise,' the resort has only one reason for its existence: tourism.

The breathtaking landscape and the natural sulfuric hot water springs made it an ideal spot for building a mountain resort for the affluent. Subsequently, Canada's first and the world's third national park was created on a 16 square km area around the town. As the park, designated in 1984 as a World Heritage site, evolved, it became an island of wilderness in the midst of an encroaching civilization.

Today Banff is one of Canada's most important natural preserves. The town itself, an overgrown village of some 7,000 residents, tempts the hordes of tourists with shops crammed full of merchandise, especially along the main street, Banff Avenue. Seemingly, the most numerous visitors are the Japanese who come in great numbers. A good many of the stores have signs in Japanese and Japanese-speaking employees welcome customers.

Surrounding the town is the oldest and most famous nature sanctuary in Canada, the 6,641 square km Banff National Park with its mountains overwhelming everything. A marvelous playground, it encompasses three vegetation zones - mountain, sub-alpine and alpine. Due to the variation of temperature at these different levels of elevation, the weather in the park is very unpredictable.

Slow moving glaciers, rounded mountains, castellated peaks, dense forests, turquoise lakes, sparkling rivers, roaring waterfalls, dazzling white snowfields and lush green meadows are to be found within these zones. The scenic panorama of the landscape led the geologist A.P. Coleman in 1884 to remark, "There is a feeling of having caught nature unaware at her work of creation."

Wildlife is numerous and protected. There are over 250 species of birds and 53 kinds of mammals, including elk, moose, black and grizzly bears, coyote, deer and bighorn sheep.

Amid these gifts of nature, a visitor can partake in animal watching, boating, cycling, fishing, golfing, ice climbing and horseback riding. Above all, the park offers the ultimate in Canadian ski facilities. The three world-class ski areas: Ski Banff @ Norquay, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise are legendary for their ski runs and offer awe-inspiring scenery and top-class skiing services. These resorts have a certain magical beauty that draws people from the four corners of the world, making them an internationally acclaimed destination.

Most of the recreational activities are made accessible by 350 km of roads and 1,000 km of trails. About 4 million visitors come annually to ski or camp in one of the park's 2,800 camp sites or stay in one of the numerous lodging places dotting the majestic mountains. The essence of the park with its towering peaks seems to elevate and humble the spirit.

After touring the neat small town one can drive to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site whose therapeutic-sulfuric waters gave birth to the town of Banff, the mother of Banff National Park. For years the curing aspects of the springs were renowned. At one time, even the Canadian Pacific Railways offered bottles of their waters to the train diners as a cure for all ailments. Today, if visitors want to bathe in sulfuric waters they must visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs situated on the slopes of Sulphur Mountain.

After visiting the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site and Canada's oldest natural history museum, featuring the wildlife of the Rockies, travellers can make their way to the well-known Fairmont Banff Spring. Declared an historical monument by the Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, this gigantic restored hotel is a statement to the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. Modelled after a Scottish baronial castle, it has, for centuries, attracted the rich and famous. On the outside, its spires and turrets, nestled in a storybook setting, give it the appearance of a majestic fairytale castle.

Just 130 km west of Calgary on the scenic TransCanada Highway, the Fairmont Banff Springs is cuddled by a tree-filled landscape surrounded by fantastically shaped mountains. The hotel/resort stands out strikingly in all its splendour on the edge of town. To me, it resembled a gigantic fairy tale castle, shimmering dramatically in the sunlight. Its unparalleled blend of opulence and seclusion has drawn tourists and wealthy honeymooners for more than 100 years.

The sprawling 18-storey hotel, located in a prime Canadian resort area, is one of the country's best known tourist lodging places. Each one of the 770 chambers at the Fairmont Banff Springs has its own unique features. Like a well-rounded village, the hotel, which has a staff of 1,200, offers an array of world renowned conveniences. A year-round wonderland, this resort abode offers luxurious lounges; 6 first class restaurants, 10 other eating places, and 14 shops, including fascinating boutiques in which one can shop for exquisite goods.

For fun and fitness, try the indoor heated swimming pool, whirlpools, four tennis courts or the 27-hole golf course that stretches in a storybook setting up the Bow River Valley. For many guests, overshadowing all these attributes is the Willow Stream Spa which is one of the top spas in Canada. Renovated in 2003, the Spa is at the forefront of the spa industry, offering a European-style spa experience.

From its windows overlooking the pine forested Bow River Valley visitors can stand engrossed with the view as if in a dream. Before them is an enchanting vista of sky-reaching mountains overlooking an emerald landscape in a picturesque valley edged by golf course greens. It is a fitting end to the exploration of the town of Banff and its environs surrounded by the splendour of the Rocky Mountains.

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If You Go:

There are all types of transportation links to Banff. The town is only one and a half hours drive west of Calgary. The easiest and best way to enjoy Banff and the surrounding park is to rent an auto at the airport in Calgary. With a car, life becomes easy. You can explore the park at your leisure.

What to Do Around Town:

Gondola Ride, Mountain Ave. Phone # 762-2523 - only minutes from downtown Banff, it is Canada's foremost sightseeing gondola ride. Helicopter Tours - Alpine Helicopters offer 20 minutes to one-hour tours to view the grandeur of the mountain ranges and glaciers. For all types of tours and prices, contact Brewster, Box 1140, 100 Gopher Street, Banff, Alberta, Canada T1L 1J3. Tel: Toll Free: 1-800-760-6934 or 1-403-762-6700. Fax: 1-403-762-6750. E-mail: feedback@brewster.ca or check, Internet: http://www.brewster.ca/day_trips - the company offers coach, boat and many other types of tours. The best is the five-hour Banff/Lake Louise Tour. There are other tours to Jasper, Colombia Icefields, Mountain Lakes and Canyons.

Two Good Places to Stay:

Fairmont Banff Spring - Inside, the hotel incorporates an amazing collection of chambers. Besides the770 rooms, it offers 14 shops and 6 restaurants - a number of which diffuse old-world splendour. It is a vibrant town unto itself. P.O. Box 960, Banff, Alberta, Canada T1L 1J4. Tel: Toll Free: 1-800-441-1414 or 403-762-2211. Fax 403-762-5755. E-mail: banffsprings@fairmont.com

The Rimrock Resort Hotel - A few minutes from town on the way to the Gondola, this chalet-like resort has an incredible panoramic view of the Rockies. 100 Mountain Avenue, P.O. Box 1110, Banff, Alberta, Canada T0L 0C0 CA. Toll Free Reservations: 1-888-Rimrock. Tel: (403) 762-3356. Fax: (403) 762-4132. www.rimrockresort.com - E-mail: info@rimrockresort.com

A Good Place to Eat:

Fuze Finer Dining is: 2 Flr. 110 Banff Ave. Phone# 760-0853 - a fine dining restaurant and lounge, newly opened in March 2005, it is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Banff. Its style of food is globally inspired, as the menu is rich with various internationally ethnic influences and flavours. The wine list offers a wide range of interesting and unique selections. Cost of a seven-course meal $100. - With wine about $150 CN.

For Further Information Contact: Banff Tourist Office, 224 Banff Avenue, Box 1298, Banff, Alberta, Canada. Tel: 403 762 8421 Fax: 403 762 8163. Email: info@banfflakelouise.com Website: www.banfflakelouise.com


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