Truly one of the most astounding natural sights on the planet, the Rocky Mountains are at their highest, wildest, and most breathtakingly beautiful on the Canadian side of the border. Forming a formidable natural barrier between the prairie provinces to the east, and the gateway to the Pacific, British Columbia to the west, the Rockies are primarily claimed by the province of Alberta.
Given their status as one of the natural wonders of the world, the Rockies are honoured and protected by the Canadian Government under the guise of three separate national parks – Waterton Lakes, Jasper, and Banff National Parks. Banff National Park is the oldest in Canada, and the three parks together are among the largest in the world. Jasper National Park, at a whopping 4,200 square miles in area, is larger than both the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. Combine Jasper and Banff parks, and you have an area larger than Connecticut as well.
The terrain is still very much wild and not at all conducive to development or road building. As a result, the area is still very sparsely populated, despite being among the most popular tourist destinations in North America. In fact, the two largest towns, Jasper and Banff, have a combined population of less than 15,000 people. On the flip side, the annual tally of visitors to the parks numbers well into the millions.
Beyond the magnificent peaks with their permanent caps of snow, the area is home to startling blue glacial lakes, streams, and the indescribable Lake Louise. Perhaps most popular with tourists, however, is the abundant wildlife that flourishes here. Rocky Mountain goats, big horn sheep, elk, moose, bear are all commonly seen. The elk are in fact, a bit of a nuisance in the towns at times. Smaller species are seen here as well; but it is the big five that cause the most excitement. Herds of elk are frequently seen roaming through and around the towns of Banff and Jasper. For many, many years, there has been a small herd of mountain goats that are particularly fond of a rocky area in the neck of a sharp curve along Highway 16, near the town of Jasper. Frequent travellers know to slow down, even without the warning signs, as there is almost always a crowd of tourists with cameras stopped along the narrow road to snap pictures of the goats assembled a few metres away.
The ski hills in the Jasper and Banff areas are world reknowned, making these areas top winter vacation sites. Canmore, a small town in the Kananaskis region of the foothills between Calgary and Banff, is ski bunny central, with several top notch resorts catering to families and the famous alike. The Jasper area is less crowded and busy, and provides some fantastic skiing experiences. Apres-ski, the natural hot springs in the Banff area nurse tender muscles and warm the blood.
References and additional information:
http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/jasper/index_e.asp (Government of Canada website)