The May long weekend is the unofficial start of summer in Canada, and the tourism industry in Alberta can't wait for the season to start in the mountains.
By all accounts, the resort town of Banff and the national park that shares its name are both expected to be overloaded with tourists this summer, taking advantage of the free park pass and the celebrations for Canada's 150th birthday.
Canada's oldest national park will be so busy that hotels, restaurants and shops throughout the surrounding region are already cashing in on the spillover of tourism activity.
Mount Engadine Lodge, nestled away about 65 km south of Banff, said its reservations are up about 10 per cent compared to last year. For a family of five looking to stay at the secluded lodge for a weekend this summer, it's already too late.
Jump on the waiting list. Weekends from now until the end of September are pretty much fully booked,said Simon Harvie, general manager of the lodge. "So far we've filled up quicker, and we expect to see that the rest of the summer.
Besides those reserving rooms and cabins, the lodge expects more people to come for afternoon tea or dinner in the evening.
Hotels and restaurants throughout the Bow Valley have high expectations for a big tourism season this summer because of the Canada 150 celebrations.
National parks across the country are free to access this year, which is the main reason Banff will be a top destination. However, the park is usually bustling during the summer months anyway, which is why the rest of region could benefit, from Calgary to Field, B.C.
"Last year, Banff was pretty much at capacity. It was one of the best seasons they've ever had, so probably not a lot more capacity this year, especially through the summer," said Dave Kaiser, president of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, who says the shoulder seasons may be busier as a result.
Campground reservations are also up about 10 per cent so far at Calaway Park, located on the western edge of Calgary. Season passes to the adjacent amusement park are also higher compared to this point last year.
"We're hoping the summer shapes up to be one of our best summers ever," said Bob Williams, general manager of the park.
Williams said there is a perfect storm for the tourism industry: the free park pass, Canada's 150th anniversary and the low value of the loonie compared to the U.S. dollar. Some research has also suggested some Canadians, especially women, may avoid travelling to the U.S. because of President Donald Trump.
Tourists could venture away from Banff and the Trans-Canada Highway, says Simon Harvie, with Mount Engadine Lodge
After having to shoot several wolves last year, officials in Banff are stepping up efforts to prevent park visitors from feeding and approaching wild animals in anticipation of an exceptionally busy summer season.
"Human food kills wildlife," said Parks Canada spokesman Greg Danchuk. "And the other key message is: Give wildlife space."
Those messages will be plastered throughout Banff on posters, signs and pamphlets as part of a new awareness campaign.
Ganchuk said more workers have also been hired to deliver the messages in person to visitors at day use areas and campsites.
The goal is to ensure all wildlife attractants — including things like dishwater, toiletries and stoves — are put away properly.
Banff is expected to be especially full of visitors this summer as entry to national parks is free in 2017 as part of Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations.
One of the signs in the Banff townsite urging visitors not to litter or leave food in places where wild animals can get it.
In theory, violations within the national park can be subject to fines of up to $25,000, depending on the severity.
"But we really hope that, with the communications plan, that we won't have to go to that extreme," Danchuk said.
Keath Crandall, who was visiting Banff this week from Salt Lake City, Utah, welcomed the increased presence of Parks Canada staff.
"Yeah, it doesn't hurt to have someone come around," Crandall said.
"But this is a very big campground. It would be a lot of manpower to do that. I mean, there are hundreds of sites here."
Two wolves had to be killed last year after becoming habituated to human food and demonstrating increasingly bold behaviour around Banff visitors.
A local grizzly known as Bear 148 has also been involved in several close encounters with humans recently, pursuing a group of hikers and their dog near Mount Norquay and showing up unannounced at a girls' rugby practice in town.
Parks Canada is also reminding visitors to keep their distance when taking photos of wildlife.
The awareness campaign advises staying at least 30 metres away from elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats when taking photos.
For bears, wolves and cougars, Parks Canada advises people to stay at least 100 metres away.
When taking photos of animals from a vehicle, visitors are asked to pull over only in locations where it is safe to do so, use their hazard lights to alert other drivers, and not linger too long.