Americas, Canada, Opinion

Oh Canada: The Road to Banff National Park

Have you ever seen a tourism ad for Canada, or have you ever been awed by the sheer beauty of those breathtaking Canada pictures on Reddit, Instagram or anywhere else on the internet? Whatever it was, chances are that you have laid eyes on the self-proclaimed holy grail of Canadian nature – Banff National Park.

Who said you need a vowel before and after double consonants, right? Defying the laws with its name itself, the image of Banff and its blue lakes securely nested in breathtaking mountain vistas has been plastered everywhere over the internet and tourism ads to the point where you have to wonder if there’s anything else to that huge country but gorgeous nature and some bears roaming free in between. Coincidentally, I have just arrived in Canada two weeks ago and didn’t hesitate to start my pilgrimage to the promised land of Canada and Alberta Tourism to see for myself if this country is indeed a huge chunk of beautiful nature.

My girlfriend and I arrived in Toronto, Canada, which is, of course, on the opposite side of the country, rented a camper van for almost two weeks and went at it. Boy is this country huge. We overcame more than 3,500 km over the course of 4-5 days in a vehicle the size of our previous flat. But it started out quite alright, driving little chunks the first three days, enjoying dense forests and blue lakes with the occasional black bear to great us from the roadside (three in fact). There were no mountains though, so we pressed on to more interesting grounds, such as the wondrous land of Manitoba, where there is nothing. And when I say nothing, I do mean nothing. A flat piece of land that may be the plainest landscape I have ever seen for almost two days straight while constantly moving 110 kph hoping to maybe leave it behind soon. Nothing except a highway, painfully even farmland as if it was pedantically flattened every day anew and a major city that we actually skipped. Not that we didn’t see it, it couldn’t have hidden behind a mountain or a hill if it wanted to, but driving through this utterly unattractive countryside, dodging a million construction sites during the last sunbeams of the day while miraculously not killing any wildlife in the process, did make us wish to arrive even sooner at our picture-perfect destination. And it actually didn’t take very long after that, within a day’s drive we arrived in Calgary, which is less than two hundred k’s from Banff. So there we were the tourist hell of Banff National Park on the west coast of Canada.

Please don’t get me wrong, Banff is a beautiful national park, but being on the billboard for everything Canadian did not do it any favors really. It is a tourist attraction as I’ve ever seen one, pushing busloads of Asians through little mountain towns and into shuttle buses touring to the lakes and back. RV’s like ours sneaking through the vistas in far greater numbers as I would’ve expected, effectively destroying the loneliness and beauty of the pictures we’ve all seen. And it’s not even close to high season yet. Not that I want to claim this beautiful landscape for myself, but Banff falls victim to the tourism industry in all the wrong ways.

Most tourists leave their trash everywhere and have little to no regard to either the nature they’re in or the people trying to enjoy it with them. We actually had to do a several hour return hike to another lake to gain a little distance to all the crowds and noises and to actually get some of the beautiful loneliness and remoteness that the pictures luring us here promised. And in some ways, we weren’t disappointed, but we did have more time on our hands so we actually made our way further north to the second national park located in the upper part of the Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park.

And it’s Jasper that actually wowed us the most on our trip. While heading into Banff, coming from Calgary, we had driven on a fenced highway, rightfully keeping most of the wildlife away from this construction riddled trash artery leading through this stunning landscape. After passing Banff and the infamous Lake Louise (remember the pictures?) the road actually opened up though, revealing arguably more stunning mountains, forests, and lakes while following the icefield parkway, which actually lived up to its name quite admirably this time of year. While still filled with quite some tourists, compared to Banff it was as remote as one could possibly get within a beautiful national park renowned for its beauty by travelers around the world. Even the town Jasper managed to charm us in all the right ways and, having traveled here for Banff, we stayed for Jasper. Don’t get me wrong, Banff is incredibly beautiful, especially if you have the time and experience to do longer hikes. Jasper is another animal though and we are happy we took this trip for Jasper’s sake. It was the right reward for a trip through Canada that took us 13 days and roughly 5200 km from start to finish.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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