Exploring the Vastness of Banff National Park

To borrow on old travelogue cliché, Alberta’s Banff National Park is study in contrast. Its 2,586 square miles comprise both wilderness and civilization. There are high mountains, deep valleys, endless forests and abundant wildlife. Even though much of it feels and looks remote, it is just 70 miles from Calgary – and the Trans-Canada Highway runs right through it. It contains one large town (Banff), one smaller town (Lake Louise Village), two palatial hotels (the Fairmont Banff Springs and Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise) and three significant downhill ski areas (Ski Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay). It is a park among parks, with Kootenay National Park just to the south, Yoho National Park to the west (and in another province) and Jasper National Park to the north. It is Canada’s oldest national park and also the one with phenomenal snowshoe opportunities.

It’s a great destination for a snowshoe getaway or a multi-activity winter vacation with snowshoeing among the options. There’s skiing (Alpine and Nordic), wildlife viewing, spa-hopping and enjoying the shops, galleries, restaurants and nightspots in Banff or quieter Lake Louise Village. As a bonus, winter is low season in Banff, so lodging is a bargain and the shops offer incredible values.

Snowshoeing Options

The most straightforward snowshoeing is practically from the doorstep of the Chateau Lake Louise. It is possible to snowshoe across or around this iconic lake, and also to veer off into the trees for as long or short an excursion as you wish. The trail around the lake is 1.3 virtually flat miles. The view of the mountains with their exposed banded limestone of white and dark gray, or across the frozen lake to the gorgeous hotel, are oh-and-ah-worthy. An ascent of about 1,300 feet up a side trail to historic Lake Agnes Teahouse.

Snowshoe down to Lake Louise Village and from the Paradise Valley Trailhead on the south end of town, follow the Moraine Lake Road or the parallel Moraine Lake Highline Trail. The road is maintained for Nordic skiing to the Tower of Babel viewpoint, but it’s wide enough to avoid any ski/snowshoe conflicts. From trailhead to Moraine Lake is about five miles. Off in the other direction, to the north, is a small portion the Great Divide Bike Trail, also maintained for Nordic skiing. It is part of ambitious Continental Divide Trail that ultimately will reach from deep in Mexico to Alaska’s far north.

The Bow Glacier, part of the Wapta Icefield, feeds the Bow River. It flows through the national park, passing Lake Louise Village and Banff before flowing out of the park eastward to Canmore and then to Calgary and beyond. The Bow River Valley offers abundant snowshoeing opportunity routes of various lengths. The Trans-Canada Highway parallels the river with numerous access points. One of the most popular excursions is the Bow River Loop Trail connecting both sides of the river into a mellow 5.5-mile route.

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About the author

Claire Walter