Finding wild spaces in busy summer tourist areas in the parks
This summer is Canada’s 150th birthday. To celebrate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made National Park access free for 2017. Normally a park entry costs over $20, depending on the park, and an annual pass $140, so many people are taking advantage this year. It’s noticeable – the mountain parks are very crowded this year! We live close to Banff National Park, and tourism, and vehicular traffic, is definitely up this year.
There are a total of 47 National Parks in Canada to encourage us to explore and understand natural spaces. There are good and bad things to increased tourism. There is a trade off here, tourism, can be tough on natural areas. Increased traffic on the roads can be a threat to wildlife. Also, people who don’t know about wildlife, particularly bear safety, put themselves and wildlife at risk. Parking lots become crowded, trails crowded and eroded, all these factors can create tension.
However, free access is a good thing. The free pass to Parks will encourage new visitors to come out and explore the amazing wild places Canada has to offer. It’s important that people see these wild places that make up most of Canada’s land mass, and to inspire people to get outside, get healthy and balanced. Free access should be approached with caution, and it’s important to keep in mind the principles of ecotourism and conservation when visiting wild areas.
1. Arrive early
Avoid traffic jams and crowded trailheads by planning and being prepared. For example, take that popular hike mid week instead of on the weekend, and arrive early.
Do your research in advance, get current trail conditions and trail reports. Follow the rules, including area closures, check trail conditions, and follow established trails.
2. Avoid long weekends
Long weekends are much busier than any other summer weekend. There are four long weekends in the summer, from May until Labour Day in September. Plan to visit the popular areas on weekends other than these.
If you can swing it, you might also consider making a mid-week visit instead of visiting on the weekend.
3. Shoulder season
Visit that area or hike that trail during off season, avoiding the busy months of July and August. Some of the most popular places, such as Lake Louise, are swarming with people in the summer months, making it difficult to even find a parking spot. Consider taking in these areas in September, when kids have gone back to school from summer holidays and as a bonus, you can see fall colours, like the larch trees turning.
Research proves that disconnecting is very healthy. While convenient, wifi access can redirect our attention spans to things other than being in the moment. In most backcountry areas in Banff, there is no cell coverage, making it very easy to disconnect. Even just off the highways, for example the Icefields Parkway, highway 93 North, will have no cell coverage for hundreds of kilometers. You can upload your photos after you’ve returned home from your trip. Make sure to savour and absorb the natural beauty and experience, it’s very therapeutic and will leave you fully refreshed. Read why you should exercise outside here.
Though being disconnected is great, you should have a way of calling for help in case of an emergency. In very remote areas, know where the warden’s station is to make an emergency call, or carry a satellite phone or Spot transmitter. Read more what safety items to carry in your backpack here.
You can see the effects of climate change with shrinking glaciers. This is a great opportunity to learn how the changing climate will impact the natural world. In Jasper National Park in Alberta, you can drive right up to 2000 meters and almost brush past the Athabasca glacier. This glacier is rapidly receding, with date markers showing the rate of retreat. In fact, this glacier has receded over 200 meters since 1992, and has left a moon-like landscape, filled with rocky, weathered moraines.
From glacial retreat, to how fires and floods change the landscape, there are many opportunities to learn about the natural environment on your visit.
If you are hiking, read more about how to avoid busy hiking trails.