Banff is one of the most renowned tourist destinations in Canada and the most popular in the Canadian Rockies. It is the oldest national park in Canada, the second in North America (following Yellowstone in Wyoming) and the third oldest park in the world (following Royal in Australia). It encompasses 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) including the Lake Louise area and part of the Icefields Parkway. Over 8 million people enter Banff Park each year, of which over three million are considered park visitors - the highest visitation of any Canadian National Park. Most of Banff's natural attractions are easily accessible from its scenic roads and highways. Popular sites around Banff townsite include the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Upper Hot Springs Pool, Cascade Gardens, Tunnel Mountain Drive, Vermilion Lakes, Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka. The townsite imparts a cosmopolitan atmosphere with an expansive array of tourist services as well as cultural attractions such as the Whyte Museum, The Banff Park Museum and the Banff Centre. The Bow Valley Parkway, Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway also present countless opportunities for sightseeing and wildlife viewing. Banff National Park maintains 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) of trails and 50 backcountry campgrounds. In winter, three downhill ski areas service the area. Connecting Jasper National Park and Lake Louise in Banff National Park, the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) is considered to be one of the premier mountain drives in the world. The 230 km (143 mile) parkway follows the Continental Divide north-south as well as the Athabasca, Sunwapta, North Saskatchewan, Mistaya and Bow Valleys. Glaciers that remain from the ice ages dot the landscape, seven icefields within viewing distance of the parkway. The highlight of the drive for many is the Athabasca Glacier, the only road-accessible glacier in the parks. The author grew up in the Canadian Rockies and has been exploring them since she was a child.
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