Banff National Park is the jewel of the Canadian national park system. Part of a chain of parks and wildlife reserves located in the Rocky Mountains, it is one of the most visited outdoor sites in North America. Located in an area between the great American parks of the Continental West and Alaska, Banff incorporates the best of both, in terms of both scenery and wildlife. Together with nearby Jasper and other sites, Banff is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks world heritage site.
The area around Banff was first explored in earnest in the early 19th century. Incredibly rich in wildlife, the Canadian government acted to protect the area before large numbers of settlers began arriving. In 1885 it became a reserve, and in 1887 followed the example of Yellowstone and became the first national park in Canada and the second in North America. Thanks to the easy access provided by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Banff became an overnight hit with visitors from all over the world. The area around Banff received worldwide attention in 1988 when the nearby city of Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics.
Banff is a wildlife bonanza, combining the best of the various Rocky Mountain ecosystems. Herds of Elk, Mule Deer, White-Tailed Deer, Moose, Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep can be found here, as well as a sprinkling of Caribou. Predators include the Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Wolf and Lynx. Small mammals abound. Huge numbers of birds make their home in the park, including the Majestic Golden Eagle.
Banff National Park covers an area of over 6,600 square km on the edge of the Rocky Mountains on the southern end of Alberta, about ninety miles west of Calgary. It is easily accessible to Calgary by road and rail. It is open year round, though access may be restricted to certain areas at certain times of the year, weather permitting. The cost of admission is $9.80. Web: www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff (official website).