You’ve likely heard of Banff National Park before, and associated places like Moraine Lake, which once graced Canada’s twenty-dollar bill. However, there are a lot more interesting facts and riveting tales to learn about this stunning part of the world. From wild mountain men to world-famous golf courses, Banff and Lake Louise has plenty of fun facts to keep you fascinated.
1. The cool story behind those baby blues
You may have noticed that some Banff National Park lakes are extremely blue, even emerald sometimes, and that’s not because someone drained and painted the lake beds – a popular urban legend.
Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Bow Lake get their colour from the glaciers that surround them. In the springtime and early summer, melting glaciers run into the lake and deposit fine rock "flour" ground by moving glaciers, which in turn refracts the sunlight. The colour can change daily depending on the light, but in general, you can expect these lakes to always glow azure in the summer.
2. Wild stories about a wild guy
If you’ve ever come to Banff you’ve likely encountered Bill Peyto in one way or another. The legendary pioneer, guide, and park warden’s face now graces the “Welcome to Banff” sign and the infamous saloon Wild Bill's bears his name.
In a town of mountaineers, miners, and railwaymen, one really must stand out to leave such a legacy. Stories about Bill include a rumour that he raised cougar kittens in a cabin through the winter, and a legend about him walking into a bar with a live lynx on his back to scare off patrons. Even though he was a notorious introvert, Banff National Park can’t get enough of Wild Bill Peyto.
3. Banff National Park boasts 1,600 kilometers of hiking trails
You could walk to San Francisco before you explored all of them - and these are just the maintained trails! It’s nearly impossible to get bored in Banff and Lake Louise, where there is a hiking trail to be conquered for every age and ability.
Whether you want to summit a mountain or take a cruisy walk to a glacial-fed lake, there are endless options. One of our favorite hikes is up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, which will take you 433 meters to Lake Agnes and its astonishing views of Mount Whyte and Devil’s Thumb. This is a 7.6-kilometre round trip moderate hike best done between Late May and early October. Your reward for making it to the tea house, is of course, tea and treats in a gorgeous setting.
4. There’s a mountain that is shaped like a castle
Known for its unique shape, Castle Mountain is a hard one to miss when visitors are traveling down either the Bow Valley Parkway or the Trans-Canada highway. It was named by James Hector in 1858 after he described it as looking “exactly like a giant castle.”
It may take you a few minutes to drive Castle Mountain’s length on the road, as it stretches for nearly 16 kilometers! You can stay right at Castle Junction at the Castle Mountain Chalets, which is a great jumping-off point for access to the Bow Valley Parkway and Lake Louise.
5. Ever heard of a triple divide?
It sounds like a burger special, but a triple divide is actually a watershed junction that flows into three separate drainage basins. There’s only a few triple divides in the world, and one of them is located on the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Park.
A snowflake landing on Mount Snow Dome has three possible final destinations – the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Arctic Ocean. You can see this glacier-topped beauty from the Glacier Skywalk, or other viewpoints on the Icefields Parkway.
6. The ski resorts are super early birds
It's no secret that the Canadian Rockies get a lot of snow. The champagne powder starts to fall as early as September, and by November, Banff National Park typically looks like the inside of a snow globe.
In 2020 Mt. Norquay Ski Resort opened on October 24 – the first ski resort to open in Canada! Banff Sunshine Village and Lake Louise have their opening days set for November 6, 2020: the start of another fabulous ski season in the Canadian Rockies.
The Audi FIS Ski World Cup usually kicks off the season at Lake Louise, but has been cancelled for 2020. Early November usually sees world-famous athletes descend upon Banff and Lake Louise to compete to be crowned among the fastest skiers in the world.
7. It has the world’s only distillery in a national park
Park Distillery is a top spot for dinner, but don’t pass up on a sip or three of their house-distilled spirits. The pure, glacial water and TLC poured into the small batches make for a distinctly delightful tasting experience. They also have an on-site shop, so you can carry home a souvenir from the world’s only distillery located in a national park.
8. Banff National Park was Canada's first national park
Banff National Park dates back to 1883, when railway workers discovered a natural hot spring at the base of Sulphur Mountain. To resolve ownership disputes and protect the area’s natural splendour, Prime Minister Macdonald set aside a preserve of 26 square kilometers in 1885.
Two years later, in 1887, Canada’s first national park would be established, expanded to 674 square kilometers and named the Rocky Mountains Park. The park was renamed Banff National Park in 1930 under the National Park Act – the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway named it after his Scottish homeland, Banffshire.
9. Banff has one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world
The Banff Springs Golf Course is over a hundred years old and considered one of the most beautiful in the world, according to Golf Advisor.
The course sits right at the chokepoint of the Bow River, between Tunnel Mountain and Mount Rundle. As golfers play through the course, they're treated to awe-inspiring views of the massive rock wall of Rundle. After a round of golf, head over to the Waldhaus Restaurant, which overlooks the course. You can drink German-style beers and eat pretzels while watching others tee off.