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135 Years Later, Banff’s Natural Wonders Still Mesmerize Like New

banff-lake-minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka is one of the exquisite natural wonders visitors are thrilled to explore in mountainous Banff. (Vacay.ca file photo)

When you grow up near one of the world’s most desired tourist destinations, it’s easy to forget how many people outside of Canada only dream of one day travelling to this place we call home.

The first time my family visited Banff, we had to do the trip in two separate journeys. My brother and my father stayed working in our family grocery store while my sister and my mom and I took the tour bus from Calgary to Banff and then Lake Louise. The next weekend, it was my brother and my dad’s turn to go.

As new immigrants at the time, the concept of a family vacation was unknown; what was certain was we couldn’t close the grocery store so we could all go together. So we made the trip over two weekends. The trip to Banff was our first vacation as Canadians and it took months for my parents to save enough money to take the journey.

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Surrounded by epic peaks, a visitor at the top of Sulphur Mountain does her best to capture the panoramic awesomeness that is Banff. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Forty years later, my brother wanted us to visit Banff and Lake Louise again, this time with his fiancee from Vietnam and an aunt from Panama, both of whom had never been to Canada before. My first thought when I received the invite was it wasn’t worth the trip. My brothers and I were no longer new immigrants. We both travel extensively for work. Banff was for postcards to send to friends, a place to tell others about.

“Banff is Banff. Been there,” I told my brother. For the last decade, my mining engineer brother had been living in gritty Asia. His four-worded response: “Snow. Space. Trees. Air.”

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Hockey players of any level can join in on the shinny matches that take place on the skating rink in Banff. (Petti Fong photo for Vacay.ca)

By selecting Banff as the No. 1 destination on the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2020 the editors of the digital magazine recognize that the past continues to teach us how we should travel in the present to safeguard certain places for the future.

Canada’s first national park was created in 1885, as a public response to fears of all the competing interests that were eyeing the area for development. The government stepped in and made the region a protected reserve.

Discover More: 5 Wine-and-Dine Spots in Banff

It’s been 135 years since that decision was made and millions of international travellers have gained insight into what matters in Canada. Banff represents what we, as a country, have chosen to conserve and preserve.

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Trails form out of frozen Two Jacks Lake as hikers and ice skaters venture into the pristine and timeless nature of Banff. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

This year, our editorial team focused on destinations that are leading Canada in sustainability initiatives. Many places tout their tourist attractions but with the growing urgency of climate change, we thought it was vital that we also consider destinations that are going above and beyond to make travel sustainable.

Banff, with its 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of protected tundra, lake, and forest, is a haven for wildlife.

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A plaque at Lake Minnewanka, which twice has required artificial raising, reads, “The natural scene has been altered but nature has done much to heal the scars wrought by man.” (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

“Will we see bears?” my brother’s fiancee, Sy, asked with excitement. The cows and horses we saw on the way into the park delighted her for the simple fact that they could roam free without fear of being stolen or hunted.

Banff has emphasized wildlife conservation for more than a century. Small and big innovations have made the Alberta icon an international model for eco-conscious travellers. The wildlife overpasses, first put in place two decades ago, allow large mammals like bears and small ones like boreal toads to roam. Delegations from around the world visit Banff each year to learn how to create their own structures.

Main Street Banff on a winter morning

The entire town of Banff is easy to walk. Visitors can peruse shops during the day and enjoy restaurants and nightlife when the moon comes out. (Petti Fong photo for Vacay.ca)

Roaming free is also a priority for two-legged travellers. The town of Banff is completely walkable. A robust transit system takes you out of town. Roam, the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission, could have the prettiest buses in the country. Some of Canada’s most prominent wildlife photographers have their stunning work wrapped around the buses. Roam has regular transit service connecting Canmore, the small city outside of the national park, with Banff and Lake Louise and in winter, seasonal service to ski resorts.

There are no motorized vehicles allowed on the many walking trails in Banff and Lake Louise, no ATVs  either. And motorized boats are nearly completely banned on all the majestic lakes in the park. “We love to keep it that way. There’s no motor oil that can have an impact on what’s around us,” says Angela Anderson, director of media and communications with Banff and Lake Louise Tourism.

This simple, but impactful move, to reduce the use of motor oil in places where human visitors tread, is just one way Banff National Park has found a balance that welcomes travellers. It’s been doing it for 135 years and is certain to continue doing so for the many years ahead.

MORE ABOUT VISITING BANFF

Where to Stay: Banff Aspen Lodge with its spacious rooms and suites are geared for family get-togethers and couple’s getaways. Two hot tubs and an outdoor fireplace on the premises are the perfect spot to star gaze when the snow is falling. Nightly rates for a weekend stay in January start at around $189. Visit the hotel’s website to book.

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A map showing the route from Banff to Lake Louise