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World Heritage Sites

COUNTRY Canada - Alberta and British Columbia

NAME Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (comprises Banff National Park, Hamber Provincial Park, Jasper National Park, Kootenay National Park, Mount Robson Provincial Park, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Yoho National Park)


Banff National Park II (National Park)
Hamber Provincial Park II (National Park)
Jasper National Park II (National Park)
Kootenay National Park II (National Park)
Mount Robson Provincial Park II (National Park)
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park II (National Park)
Yoho National Park II (National Park)
Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria i, ii, iii

BIOGEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION 1.19.12 (Rocky Mountains)

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION The parks create one large contiguous area along the British Columbia (B.C.)-Alberta provincial border. Jasper and Banff National Parks form a continuous north-south area on the Alberta side, while Yoho and Kootenay National Parks make up a continuous north-south area on the British Columbia side. The provincial parks are all located in B.C. and join with the national parks on both sides of the provincial border. Mount Robson Provincial Park lies immediately west of Jasper National Park. Further south, Hamber Provincial Park is also found on the western boundary of Jasper National Park. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park lies between Banff and Kootenay National Parks. Accessible via a number of highways: Trans-Canada and Yellowhead from the east and west; David Thompson Highway from the east; and Highway 93 from the south. Banff, Jasper and Yoho are also accessible by railway. 5034'-5328'N, 11510'-11932'W

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT The area (2600ha) around the Cave and Basin mineral hot springs in Banff was declared a park reserve in 1885. Formally gazetted as Rocky Mountains Park (67,300ha) under the Rocky Mountains Park Act in 1887, it was Canada's first national park. In 1930, the park was extended to 669,500ha and renamed Banff National Park. However in 1949, some 5,400ha were excised.

The federal government set aside 2600ha of land at the foot of Mt. Stephen in Yoho as a dominion park in 1886. Between then and 1930, the park area fluctuated considerably, until being finally set in 1930 by the National Parks Act.

Jasper was first assigned protection as a forest park (1,295,000ha) in 1907. Like Yoho, the park has underwent various excisions and extensions, until it was declared a national park by the National Parks Act in 1930.

Kootenay was gazetted in 1920, when British Columbia agreed to relinquish lands eight kilometers either side of Highway 93 in exchange for Federal Government funds to complete its construction. In 1930, the park area was 152,000ha, but has since been reduced.

Mount Robson was gazetted a provincial park in 1913 with an original area of 218,795ha, which was extended in 1967 by 739ha. Protective status was given to 5200ha around Mount Assiniboine in 1922. In 1973, the park was extended to its present size in order to protect alpine areas and watershed, and to link the park to Banff and Kootenay National Parks. Hamber was declared a provincial park in 1941 totalling 1,009,112ha. However, significant boundary modifications in 1961 and 1962 have reduced the park to its present size.

The four national parks were inscribed onto the World Heritage List in 1984 and named The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. The provincial parks were accepted as an addendum to the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks in 1990.

AREA The total area of the World Heritage Site is 2,306,884ha and includes:

Banff National Park 664,080ha
Hamber Provincial Park 24,518ha
Jasper National Park 1,087,800ha
Kootenay National Park 140,600ha
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park 39,052ha
Mount Robson Provincial Park 219,534ha
Yoho National Park 131,300ha

Contiguous to Willmore Wilderness Park (459,671ha), White Goat Wilderness Area (44,457ha), Siffleur Wilderness Area (41,215ha), Ghost River Wilderness Area (15,317ha) and Kananaskis Provincial Park (50,308ha) in Alberta.

LAND TENURE The national parks occupy federal land and the provincial parks occupy British Columbian provincial crown land.

ALTITUDE Ranges from 1036m to 3954m at the summit of Mount Robson.

PHYSICAL FEATURES Geologically composed of shale, dolomite, sandstone, limestone and slate spanning time periods from the Precambrian to the Cretaceous. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are oriented in a southeastern to northwestern direction along the Continental Divide and consist of the Western Ranges, the Main Ranges, the Front Ranges and the Foothills, all of which are represented within the parks. The Western Ranges, found within the provincial parks, the southern part of Kootenay and western part of Yoho include formations of folded thick shales. The Main Ranges form the Continental Divide and are represented in all the parks. They are made up of limestone, sandstone and shale and contain the highest mountains, including Mt. Magog, Mt. Sturdee, Marshall and Lunett peaks which all reach or exceed 3100m and are located within Mount Assiniboine Park. It is within the Main Ranges of Yoho that fossil beds in the Burgess Shale layer of the Stephen Formation occur. These are of special interest as they show evolution in action during the mid-Cambrian. The Front Ranges occur in Banff and Jasper and are composed of thick layers of limestone and shale. These mountains often have a tilted, tooth-like appearence. Mt. Rundle in Banff and Roche Miette in Jasper are characteristic of these ranges. The Foothills make up the easternmost extensions of the Rockies and only occur in a small southeastern portion of Jasper (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

Active glaciers and icefields still exist throughout the region, particularly in the Main Ranges. The most significant is the Columbia Icefield, which is the largest icefield in North America's subarctic interior. Covering 325 sq. km, the Icefield spans the Continental Divide and the boundary between Jasper and Banff (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

The Columbia icefields of Jasper National Park are regarded as the hydrographic apex of North America and are the headwaters to three major river systems, namely North Saskatchewan River, Athabasca River and Columbia River (Canadian Parks Service, 1988a). The park waters of Yoho flow to the Pacific Ocean along Kicking Horse River through the Columbia drainage system. Major tributaries of the latter include Yoho, Amiskwi, Ottertail, Emerald and Beaverfoot Rivers (Canadian Parks Service, 1988d). Mount Robson Park encompasses the headwaters of Fraser River whilst Hamber Park encompasses Fortress Lake watershed. There are numerous lakes in Mount Assiniboine park, most of which are located in broad alpine valleys and plateaus where they occupy glacially scoured depressions in the limestone bedrock (Canadian Parks Service, 1990).

The soils are generally shallow and immature, but marked variations do occur. In Jasper, chernozems are found on steep subalpine grassland slopes, whilst podzols are found in upland areas and gleys in poorly drained areas (Anon, 1970b). At Lake Louise in Banff, the soils consist of moraine material (Anon, 1970a).

CLIMATE Experiences continental cool summer/subarctic conditions, where temperatures can range from 30C in the summer to -30C in the winter. In the valleys, mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures are 8.6C and -3.3C respectively, whilst at higher altitudes temperatures are generally five to seven degrees cooler. Annual precipitation ranges from 380mm at lower elevations, to 1250mm along the Continental Divide (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

VEGETATION The Rockies have been divided into three life zones or ecoregions: montane; subalpine; and alpine. Floral species counts in Banff and Jasper indicate about 996 vascular plants, 243 mosses, 407 lichens and 53 liverworts.

Montane vegetation extends over some 18,432ha and occurs in major valley bottoms, on the foothills and sun exposed slopes of lower mountain sides, especially in the front ranges. Forest is generally found between 1200m and 1800m and typical species include Douglas fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, white spruce Picea glauca, aspen Populus tremuloides and poplar Populus balsamifera. Montane wetlands and meadows occupy areas adjacent to major rivers such as the Bow and Red Deer valleys in Banff and Athabasca and Brazeau River valleys in Jasper. Typical species include lodgepole pine Pinus contorta, which rapidly colonises after fire and aspen Populus tremuloides. Black spruce Picea mariana is occasionally found along these river valleys.

The subalpine ecoregion occupies mountainsides between 1800m and 2100m, and valley bottoms of high elevations. This is the most extensive ecoregion in the Rockies and can be subdivided into lower and upper subalpine occupying 69,120ha and 46,080ha, respectively. The principal forest community of the lower subalpine zone comprises Engelmann spruce Picea engelmannii, limber pine Pinus flexilis and lodgepole pine Pinus contorta. Subalpine fir Abies lasiocarpa dominates the upper subalpine zone, although it begins to thin towards the treeline. South of Bow Pass, pure stands of Lyall's larch Larix lyallii dominate the upper limit of this ecoregion.

The alpine ecoregion occurs above the treeline and covers an area of about 13,824ha. It is characterised by diminutive and hardy vegetation such as low-growing willow Salix arctica and dwarf birch Betula glandulosa, heath Cassiope tetragona, mountain avens Dryas integrifolia, D. hookeriania, sedge Carex nigricans, Kobresia bellardii, Phyllodoce glandulifolia and Antennaria lanata (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

Around Emerald Lake in Yoho, pockets of wetbelt forest, typical of the Pacific Coast region can be found. Species include western red cedar Thule plicata, western hemlock Tsuga heterophylla and western yew Taxus brevifolia, all of which are at the extreme easternmost extent of their range.

Vascular plants found in Mt. Assiniboine park include American alpine smelowskia Smelowskia calycina, Raynold's sedge Carex raynoldsii, cusick's Indian paintbrush Castilleja cusickii, stalked-pod locoweed Oxytropis podocarpa, dwarf saw-wort Saussurea nuda and apetalous campion Silene uralensis attenuata. Those found within Mt. Robson park include low sandwort Atenaria longipedinculata, slender Indian paintbrush Castilleja gracillima, western Indian paintbrush C. occidentalis, sulphur indian paintbrush C. suphurea and arctic cinquefoil Potentilla hyparctica.

FAUNA A total of 56 mammalian species have been recorded. Characteristic species found in alpine meadows include Rocky mountain goat Oreamos americanus, bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis, northern pika Ochotona princeps and hoary marmot Marmota caligata. Forest mammals include moose Alces alces, mule deer Odocoileus hemionus, white-tailed deer O. viriginianus, caribou Rangifer tarandus, red deer Cervus canadensis and red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. Carnivores include grey wolf Canis lupus (V), grizzly bear Ursos arctos horribilis, black bear U. americanus, wolverine Gulo gulo luscus (V), lynx Felis lynx canadensis and puma F. concolor.

Some 280 avifaunal species have been noted, including northern three-toed woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, white-tailed ptarmigan Lagopus leucurus, grey jay Perisoreus canadensis, mountain bluebird Sialia currucoides, Clark's nutcraker Nucifraga columbiana, golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, mountain chickadee Parus gambeli and rock pipit Anthus spinoletta (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

Other fauna which has been recorded includes one species of toad, three species of frog, one species of salamander and two species of snake (Canadian Parks Service, 1986).

CULTURAL HERITAGE Since prehistoric times, Kootenay has served as a major north-south travel route. The Kootenai Indians settled in the region about 11,000 to 12,000 yearsago. Pictographs found near the hot springs indicate this was a meeting place for plain and mountain bands (Canadian Parks Service, 1988c).

Banff's Vermillion Lakes is one of Canada's oldest known archeological sites, at 10,500 B.P, whilst some pre-historic artifacts in Jasper have been dated to 9,000 B.P. European fur traders and explorers first reached the area in the 1800's seeking suitable transportation routes through the high mountian passes. They were followed by homesteaders and entrepeneurs who realised the commmercial potential of developing areas such as Radium Hot Springs (Canadian Parks Service, 1988c).

LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION According to the 1991 census, Banff had a population of 5,165, Jasper of 4,500 and Field approximately 300 (Canada Parks Service, n.d.).

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES Between eight and ten million people annually visit the four national parks (Canadian Parks Service, n.d.). In 1989, the provincial parks received over 500,000 visitors (Canadian Parks Service, 1990). Facilities include picnic sites, viewpoints, roadside pull-offs, hot pools and day-use trails. Golf courses, downhill ski-areas, souvenir shops and restaurant facilities are commercially operated. There are numerous accommodation facilities including 32 campgrounds, 13 hostels and 29 outlying commercial accommodation facilities. Visitor centres can be found at Banff townsite, Lake Louise, Jasper townsite, Columbian Icefield and Field townsite (Canadian Parks Service, 1988a).

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES Research is carried out in the following topics: fire ecology, grizzly bear, lynx, cougars, wolverines and ungulates biology and ecology, aquatic ecosystems, small mammals, birds, amphibians, forest fragmentation, ecological land classification, tourism and recreation, and fossil research.

CONSERVATION VALUE Designated a World Heriatge Site in recognition of the area's outstanding natural beauty, floral and faunal diversity, and for being a prime example of ongoing geological processes such as glaciation and canyon formation. The Rocky Mountains are also regionally important as they ensure the protection of heritage resources and large tracts of wilderness (Canadian Parks Service, 1988).

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks are administered by the Canadian government under the National Parks Act. The Department of the Environment, through Parks Canada, participates in cooperative programs with provincial and regional agencies. Such programs include fire supression, pine beetle control and search and rescue in Yoho and Kootenay (Canadian Parks Service, 1988c and 1988d).

Management plans for Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks were completed in 1988. A Four Mountain Park Management Plan review was completed in 1994: its aims include ensuring management plans reflect amendments to the National Parks Acts 1988 and the Parks Canada policy Guiding Principles and Operational Policies 1994; seeking public views on issues relating to the parks; and introducing management principles such as public education, ecosystem management and sustainable tourism. Master plans are also available for the provincial parks. A new 1997 management plan was prepared for Banff National Park, the result of a review which started in 1993 (Banff-Bow Valley Study, 1996).

For management purposes, five zones have been established. Zone I is a special preservation area which represents three percent of the land and is where access and use are strictly controlled. Approximately 94% of the parks are managed as wilderness (zone II) where only activities requiring primitive facilities are permitted. The natural environment zone (zone III) occupies three percent of the total area and is where low-density outdoor activites are allowed. Zone IV is one of outdoor recreation where educational activities and related facilities that do not harm the natural landscape occur. Finally zone V encompasses park services and includes existing towns and visitor centres. Zones IV and V each occupy about one percent of the parks total area (Parks Canada, n.d., Parks Canada, 1997).

MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS Much of the land bordering British Columbia and Alberta is designated for multiple resource use which includes logging, oil and gas extraction and recreation. The roads resulting from these activities are increasing public access to formerly remote areas. This is particularly evident at Ensign Creek, Yoho where logging has brought access roads very close to Amiskwi Wilderness Area which is adjacent to the park boundary (Canadian Parks Service, 1988d). Within Jasper, the construction of Highway 16, the Canadian National Railway and the Trans-Mountain Pipeline have had a profound hydrological effect on the lower Athabasca and Miette River valleys. The aesthetic impact of the Yellowhead corridor and wildlife mortality are also a problem. In the case of the latter, about 1000 animals were killed between 1970 and 1980 (Canadian Parks Service, 1988b).

One of the biggest threats facing the parks is that of development which has been encouraged with increased tourism. The townsite region of Jasper is an ecologically important area as it is located at the junction of three watersheds. During the winter, wildlife concentrates in the area but development has led to a disturbance in ungulate migration routes around the townsite, the destruction of key habitats as well bear/human conflicts (Canadian Parks Service, 1988b). Littering by hikers and the problems of garbage disposal at major campsites attracts wildlife and is known to have changed the feeding patterns of bears. Regular proposals for expansion of the four downhill ski resorts in the parks are made and continue to cause controversy.

Another threat is a proposed open-pit coal mine 1.8 km from the boundry of the Jasper National Park protion of the World Heritage site. The project has been given approval by the Province of Alberta and is awaiting further permits from the Federal Environment Minister of Fisheries as it would affect fish habitat in eight rivers.

STAFF Banff: 218 full-time employees; Jasper: 137; and Yoho: 65 (J. Brown, pers. comm., 1987). Kootenay has 49 full-time employees, with an additional 80 seasonal and temporary employees (Parks Canada, pers. comm., 1995).

BUDGET Banff: US$9,989,792 for operation and maintenance in 1987-1988. Jasper: US$9,901,000 for operation and maintanence in 1982-1983. Yoho: US$2,444,000 for operation and maintenance in 1982-1983 (J. Brown, pers. comm., 1987). Kootenay: US$ 2,987,000 for operations and maintenance for 1995-1996 (Parks Canada, pers. comm., 1995).


Parks Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage, 25 Eddy Street, Hull, Quebec, K1A 0M5

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, P.O. Box 118, Wasa, B.C. V0B 2K0 (Tel: (604) 422-3212)

Mount Robson Provincial Park, P.O. Box 579, Valemount, B.C. V0E 2Z0 (Tel: (604) 566-4325)

Superintendent, Banff National Park, Box 900, Banff, Alberta T0L 0C0 (Tel: (403) 762-3324)

Superintendent, Jasper National Park, P.O. Box 10, Jasper, Alberta T0E 1E0 (Tel: (403) 852-6161)

Superintendent, Kootenay National Park, Box 220, Radium Hot Springs, B.C. V0A 1M0 (Tel: (604) 347-9615)

Superintendent, Yoho National Park, Box 99, Field, B. C. V0A 1G0 (Tel: (604) 343-6324)


Anon (1970a). Banff National Park Provisional Master Plan. Public Hearings on Provisional Master Plans for Canada's National Parks. 25 pp.

Anon (1970b). Jasper National Park Provisional Master Plan. Public Hearings on Provisional Master Plans for Canada's National Parks. 20 pp.

Achuff, P.L., Holland, W.D., Coen, G.M. and Van Tishem, L. (1989). Ecological Land Classification of Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Alberta Institute of Pedology, Edmonton.

Achuff, P.L., Pengell, I. and White, C. (1986). Special Resources of Banff National Park. Environment Canada, Parks, Banff Warden Service, Banff National Park.

Banff-Bow Valley Study (1996) Banff-Bow Valley: At the crossroads. Summary report of the Banff-Bow Valley Task Force (Robert Page, Suzanne Bayley, J Douglas Cook, Jeffrey E. Green, and J.R. Brent Ritchie). Prepared for the Honorable Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Ottowa, ON. 76pp.

Banfield, A.W.F. (1958). Mammals of Banff National Park. Bulletin of the National Museum of Canada 159.

Canadian Parks Service (not dated). In Trust for Tomorrow: A Management Framework for Four Mountain Parks. Canadian Parks Service, Western Region, Calgary, Alberta. 80 pp.

Canadian Parks Service (1990). Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber Provincial Parks Nomination. 10 pp + Appendices.

Canadian Parks Service (1988a). Banff National Park Management Plan. Canadian Parks Service, Western Region, Calgary, Alberta. 239 pp.

Canadian Parks Service (1988b). Jasper National Park Management Plan. Canadian Parks Service, Western Region, Calgary, Alberta. 227 pp.

Canadian Parks Service (1988c). Kootenay National Park Management Plan. Canadian Parks Service, Western Region, Calgary, Alberta. 182 pp.

Canadian Parks Service (1988d). Yoho National Park Management Plan. Canadian Parks Service, Western Region, Calgary, Alberta. 221 pp.

Clarke, C.H.D. and Cowan, I. McT. (1945). Birds of Banff National Park. Canadian Field Naturalist 59: 83-103.

Coen, G.M. and Kuchar, P. (1982). Biophysical (Ecological) Inventory of Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Alberta Soil Survey Unit, Agriculture Canada, Edmonton.

  • Gadd, B. (1986). Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. Corax Press, Box 1577, Jasper T0E 1E0.

    Holland, W.D. and Coen, G.M. (eds) (1982). Ecological (biophysical) Land Classification of Banff and Jasper national parks. Volume I: summary and Volume II: soil and vegetation resources. Alberta Institute of Pedology, Edmonton. SS-82-44.

    Holroyd, G.L. and Van T. ghem, K.J. (1983). Ecological (biophysical) Land Classification of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Volume III: The Wildlife Inventory. Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton.

    Ministry of Environment and Parks (1991). Mount Robson Provincial Park Master Plan. Province of British Columbia. (Unseen).

    Ministry of Environment and Parks (1989). Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Master Plan. Province of British Columbia. (Unseen).

    Ministry of Environment and Parks (1986). Hamber Provincial Park Master Plan. Province of British Columbia. (Unseen).

    Parks Canada (1994). Four Mountain Parks Five Year Plan Update: Summary of Public Involvement and Parks Canada's Comments. Canadian Heritage Parks Canada. 26 pp.

    Parks Canada (1997) Banff National Park Management Plan: Summary. Canadian Heritage Parks Canada.

    Northern Forest Research Centre (1980). Biophysical land classification studies of Jasper National Park. (Unseen).

    Scace, R. (1973). Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho: an initial bibliography of the contiguous Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks.

    Stringer, P.W. (1973). An ecological study of grasslands in Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks. Canadian Journal of Botany 51: 383-411.

    Stringer, P.W. and La Roi, G.H. (1970). The Douglas Fir Forests of Banff and Jasper National Parks, Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany 48: 1703-1726.

    DATE November 1994, updated October 1995, July 1997, December 1998.


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