From its partially frozen rivers to endless snowcapped mountains, backpacking into Banff National Park is a truly unique experience. As the first national park in Canada, Banff gave birth to the national park system. It is also the largest national park in Canada and possibly the world. While Banff is primarily known for its skiing, the national park has become a haven for backpackers from all over the world because it offers an unparalleled look into the Canadian wilderness. Planning a backwoods backpacking adventure in Banff National Park begins by deciding when to visit, deciding where to set up your home base and securing the necessary supplies.
Deciding when to visit is the first and most important part of planning your backpacking adventure. According to Parks Canada, the government agency that oversees all national parks, the hiking and camping season of Banff National Park is from mid-May to mid-October. Higher trails are covered by snow from mid-May to June, meaning only lower elevation trails will be available until July. In spring, trails tend to be muddier due to melted snow and there is an increased population of ticks all over the park. Parks Canada suggests that backpackers should prepare for all-season travel, regardless of the time of year the trip is planned.
Banff can be accessed by either bus or car. It can also be reached by plane; however additional transportation will need to be arranged. The nearest airport is in Calgary and the nearest major airport is Vancouver International Airport. Both airports will require a bus ride or rented car to reach Banff. Fortunately, there are airport shuttles from Calgary Airport to Banff.
If you will be driving, you can reach Banff via Highway 1, also known as Trans-Canada. This highway bisects the park, providing an easy entryway. You may also reach Banff by Highway 11and Highway 93, each accessing towns near the Banff National Park.
Deciding where to stay is just as crucial a decision as figuring out how you will get to Banff. You can stay within the Banff Township or other nearby towns that have access to the Park. You should decide which trails you will be trekking before you decide on your hotel. There are many towns that access Banff National Park and hotels are within each of them. This provides for many accommodation options, depending on which parts of the park you’d like to visit.
As you browse through hotels and inns, consider how much time you will be staying at your hotel. Is the nature of your trip to take several day-trips, returning back to your home base each night? Or will you be taking a week-long trek into the backwoods? Depending on how you intended to experience the area, you will have different hotel requirements.
Securing your pass and wilderness reservations is the first step in preparing for your adventure. As Banff National Park is one of the most sought-after parks in the world, it requires maintenance and upkeep. As such, Parks Canada charges reservation fees to help maintain campgrounds and trails. Depending on the scope of your trip, you will require different passes and reservations. The Park service operates several shelters within the backwoods, which will require fees to use. After you have decided on you backpacking adventure, check with Parks Canada to determine which passes are required, how much they cost and how to secure them.
After securing the proper passes, you will need to prepare your equipment. Below is a list of items that Parks Canada recommends:
As one of the largest national parks in the world, Banff offers backpackers endless amounts of adventure and intrigue. However, there are many hazards to consider as well. Be sure to observe all safety regulations and best practices when backpacking. You may also wish to hire a guide to ensure a safe and enjoyable experiencee.
Derek Smoot is a contributing writer and backpacking enthusiast. Derek enjoys the freedom and natural wonder that can be experienced only through backpacking. He one day hopes to lead treks into Banff’s backwoods wilderness.
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