Parks Canada says summer 2023 is on track to be the busiest season on record in Banff National Park, and it’s urging visitors to plan ahead to avoid spending their time circling the parking lot.
The warning comes after the agency had to briefly restrict access to Lake Louise Drive during August long weekend in response to overwhelming levels of traffic and visitation — the second time this summer the measures have been introduced.
“We are breaking records, right now we’re on track to have the busiest season ever in Banff National Park,” said François Masse, the Parks Canada’s field unit superintendent with Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.
“Lake Louise is the epicentre of the issue,” he said. “But we’re seeing this across the park.”
Lake Minnewanka and Johnston Canyon, for example, are also bursting at the seams.
Tim Nokes, whose family has owned the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows for almost 100 years, says the hiking trail has always been popular, but these days he likens the flow of visitors to a meteorological phenomenon.
“I kind of use the term tsunami of people because it’s very difficult to predict when the volumes will be coming,” he said.
He wants Parks Canada to advertise other attractions in the area, including nearby Kananaskis Country, Kootenay National Park, and Yoho National Park.
Nokes chalks the increased traffic up to Calgary’s population increase, more attention globally, and social media influence.
“One of the things that’s kind of an unstoppable trend is the social media. Someone will get an amazing photo, put it on Instagram and all of a sudden there’s thousands of people, tens of thousands of people that want to have that same image. So that’s very difficult to change.”
The Town of Banff is also busy, says Adrian Field, its director of engineering. He says the town has a congestion threshold of about 24,000 vehicles per day, and in the summer it has surpassed that threshold daily.
“What that really means is we can choose where to have a traffic jam, we cannot choose to not to have a traffic jam.”
But the upside, he says, is more people have chosen to move around on bus or foot.
David Matys, director of experience development with Banff Lake Louise Tourism, said for people who are looking to visit — it’s essential to plan ahead, have a plan B, and consider shoulder season and winter travel dates.
“We’re certainly hearing there’s some frustration at some of our major attractions where people are arriving by car assuming that they can get there easily without any pre-planning or without getting out of their car. And that’s just no longer the case,” Matys said.
He also said people should consider visiting sites outside of the major attractions.
“This is a really big park. There’s some amazing experiences all around the park and there’s a lot of other things that people can see and do when they come to visit Banff and Lake Louise beyond the four or five main attractions that they may know about.”
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