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Insta-impact: Is Social Media Frenzy Fueling Banff’s Latest Closures?

Iconic spots closed twice due to big crowds, with traffic back-ups and illegal parking. Is social media partly to blame?

This summer, access to iconic spots in Banff National Park has been closed for the second time due to overcrowding. 

Photo of Moraine Lake at sunrise with canoes in the foreground.
Moraine Lake at sunrise. Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

In late July, access to the scenic Minnewanka Loop was closed for two hours because of traffic back-ups and illegal parking. And on Sunday August 6, access to Lake Louise was closed for two hours for similar reasons.

Too many vehicles, illegal parking, and traffic jams in 2022 caused the permanent closure of the Moraine Lake Road and parking lot to private vehicles in 2023. 

Will Lake Louise and the Minnewanka loop be next?

Parks Canada has no immediate plans to close access to private vehicles in these two areas, but increasing visitation may force their hand in the future. 

Parks Canada strongly encourages visitors to park their cars and take transit to heavily visited areas in the Park to reduce congestion and improve visitor experiences.

Why the huge increase in the number of visitors? That depends on who you ask.

Some blame post-covid “revenge travel”, making up for time and experiences lost to the pandemic, for bringing more local and international tourists to Banff.

Others point to the increasing population in Canada, which recently hit 40 million. More people means more demand, yet no new National Parks have recently been created in Canada’s populated areas.

Others blame social media, especially sharing on Instagram, which can make little-known spots “Instafamous.”

A prime example from the US is Horseshoe Bend in Arizona which had only a few thousand visitors per year before the launch of Instagram in 2010. Now it boosts over 2 million visitors annually, with people lining up along the cliff edge to take selfies. 

Has social media driven visitors to Banff National Park and to icons like Moraine Lake and Lake Louise?

Overflowing traffic parked alongside the road to Moraine Lake
Parking challenges at the Moraine Lake parking lot forced Parks Canada to close Moraine Lake Road in 2023 to private vehicles. Parks Canada

Kristopher Andres, a photographer and resident of Banff, recently told CBC News, “A few years ago, we could go there (Moraine Lake), pretty much any time of day or night, and we would have plenty of parking. In the last couple of years, it has exploded where we would go there at [2 a.m.] trying to beat the crowds, and the parking lot was jammed 24/7.”

On Instagram, #banff has 3.1 million posts, #lakelouise has 1.1 million posts, and #morainelake has 305,000 posts. The popularity of these locations is clear.

The big question is, what should be done?

Adding infrastructure like more parking lots and facilities will increase congestion and remove the very nature we came to see.

Going to less visited destinations helps spread out the impact. Even Parks Canada has a list of recommended alternatives to Banff and Jasper National Parks. 

You’ll need careful planning if you want to visit Banff National Park. Leave your car behind and take Roam Transit.

a perfect reflection of mountains in Lake Louise at sunset.
Picture perfect Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise after fresh autumn snow. Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

Alberta has over 470 Provincial Parks and Recreation areas, so there are plenty of alternatives to the busy National Parks if you want to be alone with nature.

And if you do find a quiet, little-visited destination, ask yourself if you really need to share that special spot on social media!

Take only pictures and leave only footprints… but maybe hold off on sharing once in awhile.

Photographer photographing a mountain lake at sunrise in the Canadian Rockies
If you find yourself at a little-known location in the Canadian Rockies, should you share your find on social media? Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

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