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When Crowds Are Well Worth the View: Exploring Banff National Park

With our rapidly growing population and the prominence of media exposure in our daily lives, it is inevitable that some of the most awe-inspiring places on our planet will become overcrowded, making them hard to visit. Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is an example of such a place.

By: Karissa Frye + Save to a List

As a freelance photographer, a lot of my time is spent on social media. There are particular places that are so consistently and so beautifully captured through a lens, I make a note to travel there to see it for myself. While I am a person who struggles finding pleasure in places that are filled with people, I chose to fight the crowds in order to experience Banff National Park and it was well worth the travel, shuttles, lines and nearly impossible camping arrangements.

My adventure partner and I entered the park through Radium Hot Springs, which is where the views gradually became more scenic. Around every turn, a stunning range of peaks would appear. I quickly found myself thinking I had entered an Ansel Adams landscape photo book. The height of the mountains and the light that poured down the valley was unbelievable. After arriving at our reservation-only campsite near the town of Banff, we drove to a nearby creek to watch the sunset.

The next day we planned to travel to the reputable Lake Louise, but due to our late start, we had to make different arrangements. The lake was at capacity. We had already traveled to the area, so wanted to try our luck at the nearby, Lake Moraine. The overflow parking was full, so we ventured to the entrance and drove in circles for half an hour before finally lucking out and entering the lot after enough cars had left. Finally arriving to the lake, we realized all the trouble had been worth it. 

We had planned a moderate hike through Larch Valley. The incline of the trail was steadily winding through a thick forest, but the views at the top were absolutely breathtaking. We passed a few parties on our way up and got to chat with some wildlife biologists at the top who were taking samples of existing brown trout populations. We finished the hike just before sunset and headed out to avoid traffic. 

The next day we were prepared to get up early in order to make it to Lake Louise. We waited in the overflow parking area for a shuttle to take us up, because parking was nearly impossible. The lake was everything I had expected and more. The size, color and surrounding peaks were absolutely incredible. While tourists from all over the world stood with selfie-sticks and waited for their turn to get that "picture-perfect" frame, I stood quietly and stared at its splendor. It didn't matter who or what was going on around me. I was engulfed in natural beauty so unique, that it was impossible to notice the bustle going on around me. 

We hiked to the Lake Agnes Teahouse with hundreds of others and then decided to escape a little further to the Plain of Six Glaciers, where we found fewer hikers and more views. The mosquitoes were hungry and the sun was intense, but we didn't care. The mountains surrounding us kept us motivated. On our final ascent, a storm blew in and thunder boomed above us. We heard a rumble and looked up to see a glacier slipping down the mountain in a big plume of white snow. Luckily, we were only a quarter-mile from the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. We waited out the storm with some hot chai tea and chatted with the workers who spend their summers living in small cabins at the top of the mountain. Not a bad life if you ask me. 

The following day we returned to Lake Louise for some rock climbing and swimming. While storms blew over us and lines grew to do the routes above, the views kept us happy. With the inevitable and sometimes overwhelmingly high visitation numbers increasing, it is refreshing to be able to put the bustle aside and to truly enjoy the splendor of national parks. The employees and visitors at Banff National Park do a great job of keeping serenity and purity in this special environment that can be practiced in other places alike. The most important practice being to educate visitors on environmental ethics such as Leave No Trace principles, which are outdoor ethics to promote conservation in our beloved places. The best way to practice these ethics is to be informed of threats to environments and to behave with the utmost respect during and after visits. After you have familiarized yourself with these important practices, get out and enjoy. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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