anff National Park is a world-class destination with some of the planet’s most inspiring mountain scenery. Soaring peaks, shimmering lakes and abundant wildlife continually thrill visitors at Canada’s oldest national park. Conde Nast says about Banff, “in terms of jaw-dropping, life-changing scenery, it’s right up there with Yellowstone and Yosemite”.
These days, record numbers of visitors come to marvel at this life-changing scenery. But this popularity comes at a cost. Crowds, traffic jams and noise afflict certain sites within the national park. Fortunately, Banff and the neighboring mountain parks provide an alternative to the tourist crush.
Banff’s most popular destinations are popular for a reason, and should be visited if possible. But if you are looking for a more peaceful experience, consider these five alternatives that quietly showcase what makes the Canadian Rockies so special.
Unbeatable Mountain Scenery
One of the best places to experience the glory of the Rocky Mountains without the crowds is just outside of Banff National Park: Kananaskis Country.
Kananaskis Country, to the south and east of Banff National Park, is sometimes called Alberta’s mountain playground. The locals know how great the area is, even though outsiders haven’t yet caught on. Kananaskis Country encompasses mighty peaks, calm lakes and gentle mountain meadows.
The area is home to several superb provincial parks, including Spray Lake, Peter Lougheed and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Parks. One highlight of Kananaskis Country is the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail, an unpaved but easily accessible road that guides you through breathtaking vista after breathtaking vista (all minus the pesky crowds).
The Kananaskis Lakes at the southern end of the trail provides a fitting punctuation mark to the experience. Nature is at its best in Kananaskis. Don’t miss it.
Banff’s relaxing and scenic hot springs helped to put the park on the world’s radar over a century ago. They remain wonderful today, but they can also be crowded.
For an alternative rocky mountain hot spring experience, consider Radium Hot Springs in nearby British Columbia. Only an hour and a half from Banff, Radium Hot Springs combines glorious mountain scenery and lush forests with warm, rejuvenating waters.
Within Kootenay National Park, Radium’s pools are nestled among verdant pines. And with temperatures between 37ºC and 40ºC (98ºF and 104ºF), the waters are guaranteed to warm your soul on even the chilliest day. The hot springs can also be your launchpad to the many charms of Kootenay National Park. And you can be back in Banff in time for dinner.
Even without leaving Banff National Park, you can find many excellent alternatives to the best known sites. Lake Louise is one of Canada’s most iconic beauty spots. Beautiful blue waters with a backdrop of imposing,
snowclad mountains provide inspiration to many.
But Lake Louise’s iconic status has also led to traffic jams and full parking lots that can make you wonder if you are in Disneyland instead of out in nature. Fortunately, Banff offers a slew of alternative lakes to stir the soul.
One such is Bow Lake. Located a 30-minute drive from Lake Louise, Bow Lake sits close to the headwaters of the Bow River. Towering above Bow Lake’s turquoise waters are a host of impressive peaks, including 2,840-metre (9,320-foot) Bow Peak.
To truly appreciate the lake, consider the 4.5-kilometer (2.8 mile) Bow Lake Lookout Hike. The walk originates close to nearby Peyto Lake and culminates in spectacular views of Bow Lake and the Icefields Parkway (not to mention the views of oft-photographed Peyto Lake you can enjoy on the way).
A Home Away From Home
The Banff town site is where most people stay while in the national park. The town provides easy access to quaint shops, diverse restaurants and convenient services, such as banks and libraries. Most visitors stay in one of the many hotels, apartments and hostels.
Convenience is nice, but the crowds, commotion and noise can strike a dissonant note. Leave the townsite behind, and discover one of the many lodges sprinkled throughout the park. These lodges aim to give visitors a closer connection to Banff’s spectacular wilderness.
One such lodge is Num-ti-jah, which is located close to Bow Lake. Rooms in Num-ti-jah don’t come equipped with televisions or radios, freeing visitors to explore the many outdoor options located nearby. Wildlife viewing, canoeing and hiking are all accessible steps from the lodge. Here, you can bask effortlessly in the natural wonders that enfold you.
Hikers can rejoice when in Banff. Few places offer more options and greater rewards to those looking to connect to nature.
Unfortunately for lovers of solitude, certain trails, such as the hike to Johnston Canyon, can be quite crowded. But for those looking to hike in greater seclusion, quieter options abound. A list of alternatives would be nearly endless, but this article will start with just one suggestion: Silverton Falls.
Silverton Falls is only minutes away from Johnston Canyon and is located at the foot of oft-photographed Castle Mountain. Hikers have two options: a leisurely amble along the shorter, easier hike to the lower falls, or continue on and navigate the more grueling path to the upper falls.
Both falls offer peaceful views of rushing water and leafy forest, all minus the distracting tourist hordes found on more popular trails.
No one is suggesting you avoid Banff’s most popular sites. As with so many of the world’s most sought-out destinations, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon and the town of Banff are popular for a reason. But tourism on a mass-scale can and does change a place.
That is the great conundrum for lovers of exceptionally beautiful places like the Canadian Rockies: the siren’s call of nature can be overwhelming, but your mere presence potentially alters the landscape that invokes that powerful experience. Searching out the less crowded places, therefore, has the potential to give you a more serene experience and give a rest to those places that are being loved too much.
Banff and the Canadian Rockies offer boundless options. Be mindful of your impact, but don’t let the crowds stop you. Banff and the Canadian Rockies await you. Start making plans today.