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The Banff and Jasper parks regions are among the most rugged and wild in the world. The natural splendor is almost beyond belief: Jagged peaks soar above burbling mountain streams that link icy, emerald alpine lakes; colorful wildflowers dot expansive alpine meadows, walled in by the mountains all around; preternatural glaciers are cradled in massive mountain bowls; and all this is populated by a range of species particular to its alpine ruggedness. Between them, Banff and Jasper, along with Waterton to the south, preserve the entire spine of the Rockies from the U.S. border stretching north for 1,127km (700 miles).

All that being the case, you can't expect to have it all to yourself. And you won't -- millions of tourists pass through both of these parks each year, so if you're looking for peace and quiet in the wilderness, note that these two parks offer a lot less of it than you might expect (though Banff, with its proximity to Calgary, is worse than Jasper this way).

It's best to visit the parks in the off-season if you can -- October/November, or April/May; if not, be sure to plan well ahead, or you may find it difficult to secure the accommodation you want. The parks can handle only so many people, and they're usually full all summer long.

Orientation

Taken together, Jasper and Banff cover 17,519 sq. km (6,764 sq. miles) of rugged alpine wilderness. Even so, they're wonderfully easy to navigate. Well-maintained highways link the major centers, making travel between them a breeze, although extreme weather can occasionally make driving in the parks a trial. In particular, watch the weather reports in winter for reports of snow squalls and white-outs, as these can obliterate visibility and transform the highways into long, black skating rinks.

The townsites of Banff and Jasper -- the main accommodation and dining hubs of the respective parks, as well as the staging areas for tours and information -- are 287km (178 miles) apart, connected by Hwy. 93, the Icefields Parkway, one of the world's most beautiful drives. Banff is 128km (79 miles) from Calgary via Hwy. 1; Jasper, 375km (232 miles) from Edmonton on Rte. 16, the famous Yellowhead Highway.

Entry to the Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay network of parks costs C$9.80 per adult per day, C$8.30 for seniors, C$4.90 for youth, or C$19.60 per group or family per day. An annual pass to the National Parks of Canada -- which gives entry to 27 of the country's national parks for an entire year from date of issue -- costs C$67.70 for adults, C$57.90 for seniors, C$33.30 for youth, and C$136.40 for a group/family pass. There are also discounts for seniors and youth.

Visitor Information

Travel Alberta (tel. 800/661-8888; www.travelalberta.com) can provide accommodations and visitors' guides, as well as the excellent Traveler's Guide and a road map. There's a separate guide for campers as well.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.