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Christmas in Banff – 31 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

With snow-capped mountain peaks and the soft glow of Christmas lights beneath snow-covered rooftops, the beauty of Banff at Christmas is something you must see for yourself. There’s really no better place to experience a Canadian Christmas than in Banff. It truly is a winter wonderland!

Christmas is such a magical time of year, and you can expect nothing less when celebrating Christmas in Banff in 2021.

If you’ve ever dreamed of a white Christmas for the holiday season, Banff and the Canadian Rockies is where you’ll find it. Right in time for Christmas, Banff receives its highest annual snowfall with an average of 44cm of snow. It doesn’t snow often though, with a daily chance of getting snowfall at roughly 10%. With some luck those light white flakes will be falling all around you on Christmas day!

Banff - In Search of Christmas Spirit Event

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Best Things to do in Banff at Christmas

You’ll love visiting Banff in December and spending Christmas in Banff National Park. The soft blanket of snow around the Banff town and on the mountaintops of the Canadian Rockies makes you feel like you are in a real-life snow globe. In downtown Banff, it seems like everyone is in the spirit with Christmas lights and decorations everywhere you look.

Banff Christmas Lights on Banff Avenue (2)

In addition to the holiday festive spirit, there are plenty of fun things to do in Banff at Christmas! Here are all our favorite Banff Christmas activities:

1. Santa Claus Parade of Lights

Late November is the start of the Christmas season in Banff National Park and it’s kicked off with the popular Santa Claus Parade of Lights. This Banff Christmas parade is a chance for kids to get a glimpse of Santa as he rides along Banff Avenue.

Banff Christmas Parade - one of the best things to do in Banff in winter

Don’t be mistaken in thinking this is just for kids, this event is fun for both adults and children alike!

Note: The Santa Claus Parade of Lights has been cancelled again in 2021. We hope this fun Banff Christmas parade will return in 2022. It’s been a Banff Christmas tradition for our family that has been missed.

2. In Search of Christmas Spirit

In Search of Christmas Spirit is a live Christmas story told by the Banff wildlife portrayed as lit sculptures. You experience this Banff Christmas activity while walking through Cascade Gardens at night with a lantern.

Start of In Search of Christmas Spirit Sculpture
Wolf Sculpture at In Search of Christmas Spirit in Banff

It’s not only a magical Banff Christmas experience, but it’s a fun activity for the whole family. There’s actually something quite peaceful about this easy Banff walk in the dark of the winter evening. We’d argue that this is one of the best free things to do in Banff at Christmas.

Bear Sculptures at In Search of Christmas Spirit in Banff

You will need to book tickets through Banff and Lake Louise Tourism for a time slot to take part in this Banff Christmas event. Also, it’s completely outside, so dress warm for a winter evening outside. We recommend dressing warmer than you think you’ll need to, as it’s a nice slow stroll.

Owl as part of In Search of Christmas Spirit in Banff

This Christmas even in Banff takes place from November 24, 2021 to January 1, 2022 from 5pm to 10:30pm. You need to get tickets in advance and register. Check-in at the Banff Park Museum to pick up your lantern before you walk over to Cascade Gardens.

3. Enjoy the Mountaintop Christmas at the Banff Gondola

The Mountaintop Christmas at the top of the Banff Gondola does an excellent job at spreading festive cheer for anyone in Banff for Christmas. Starting November 20, 2021, a trip up the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas in Banff National Park.

View from summit of Banff Gondola - a must visit while in Banff for Christmas

If you’re wondering where to get pictures with Santa in Banff, you can get pictures here. That’s not it for the Christmas activities, from decorating cookies to enjoying a hot chocolate next to a cozy fire, you’ll be filled with Christmas cheer. All the Mountaintop Christmas activities at the Banff Gondola are included with your gondola admission.

Getting pictures with Santa in Banff

*Kids go free before noon with a paying adult! One kid per adult admission.

Take it up a notch and book the Elf Express! A decorated coach will pick you up at your Banff hotel (Mount Royal Hotel and Elk + Avenue) for a fun ride to and from the Banff Gondola.

While we know there are plenty of things to do in Banff at Christmas, don’t forget to take some time to walk the boardwalks for some of the most incredible views from the Sulphur Mountain summit!

Mountaintop Christmas in Banff

Mountaintop Christmas happens on weekends from November 20, 2021 to December 19, 2021 or daily from December 20 to 30th.

Two kids standing on ice bench at the Banff Gondola

4. Warm Up with Hot Chocolate

What screams Christmas more than sitting by a fire with a hot chocolate? While we know a Christmas holiday in Banff will be jam packed with activities, don’t forget to take some time to slow down and take it all in!

Hot Chocolate Trail in Banff at Sky Bistro

Indulge with the incredible creations found along Banff’s hot chocolate trail as you take in the lights in Banff on Christmas day. The perfect way to warm up after a snowy adventure.

two kids having hot chocolate at Sky Bistro in Banff

Like many of Banff’s Christmas activities, the Hot Chocolate Trail starts on November 20, 2021 until January 1, 2022. With 14 Banff restaurants and cafes participating, it will be hard to choose just one festive hot chocolate!

5. Visit Banff Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are the perfect way to get some Christmas shopping done while letting your excitement for the holidays grow! Whether you plan to stay in Banff over Christmas or not, save some room for the local artisanal items you’ll want to splurge on at the Banff Christmas Market.

Banff Christmas Market

If you have the time during your Banff winter vacation, take some time to visit both the Banff Christmas Market and the Canmore Christmas Artisans Market.

two kids getting pictures in a Christmas scene at Banff Christmas Market

Choose from two Banff Christmas Markets this year:

  1. The Banff Christmas Market will be held over two weekends: November 19-21 and November 26-28 in 2021. It’s held at Warner Stables and pre-purchased tickets are required.

  2. The Bear Street Holiday Market in the heart of Banff will be the ideal spot to meander with your holiday-themed hot chocolate from the Hot Chocolate Trail! It will take place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting on November 19, 2021 and until December 24, 2021.

The annual Canmore Christmas Artisans Market is back for 2021! It will take place on November 20 & 21 at the Canmore Seniors Centre. Admission is $4.

If you miss the markets, but still want to shop local then Alberta’s Own Market in Canmore is full of locally crafted goods!

6. Make a Stop at The Spirit of Christmas Store

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas souvenir, this is where you’ll find it!

While browsing through the shops along Banff Avenue at any time of year, it’s worth a stop in the Spirit of Christmas store. This store spreads Christmas cheer all year long and visiting this Banff Christmas store is bound to put you in the holiday spirit. For the perfect Banff souvenir, we recommend purchasing an ornament to remind you of Christmas in Banff!

The Spirit of Christmas store was once a great place to see Santa in Banff. Check their website or Facebook page to see if it’s a possibility in 2021.

7. Country Christmas Dinner

For a fun thing to do in Lake Louise at Christmas, take part in a Country Christmas Dinner. Enjoy a sleigh ride from the Chateau Lake Louise to a cozy rustic barn where you will savor a delicious Christmas feast.

Along with dinner, enjoy live entertainment and dancing.

This event can be booked for either December 23 or December 28, for anyone in Banff and Lake Louise during Christmas.

8. Banff Scavenger Hunt

While not a traditional Christmas activity, a Banff Scavenger Hunt is fun for the whole family. Solve puzzles, riddles and find items from the scavenger hunt on this adventure through the Town of Banff.

9. See Santa on the Slopes

Skiing in Banff at Christmas is the perfect way to get some Christmas cheer! All three Banff ski resorts are open on Christmas day. If skiing in Banff on Christmas day doesn’t make for some incredible memories, I don’t know what will!

mother and son skiing in Banff at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Photo Credit: Lake Louise Ski Resort & Philip Forsey

Check each of the resort websites to see what events they have planned for Christmas Day:

In years past on Christmas day, dressing like Santa could get you a free day of skiing!

New to downhill skiing? There are tons of great ski runs for beginners at Sunshine Ski Resort.

10. Skating in Banff

One of our favorite Christmas day activities! Seriously, if you are looking for things to do on Christmas in Banff, this is it. Imagine ice skating with a mountain backdrop then warming up a cup of hot chocolate. That feels like Christmas!

father and son skating on a mountain lake

If you are lucky with your timing, you might have the opportunity to skate on a frozen Banff lake before it’s covered in snow. But don’t worry if not, as there are still other opportunities for skating in Banff National Park!

boy in blue jacket and black helmet skating at Lake Louise - Christmas

If you are in Lake Louise at Christmas, then lace up your skates for skating on the cleared ice on the lake. For night skating, you can safely skate at Lake Louise or Banff at night on one of the lit-up rinks.

Skating in Banff would be the ideal thing to do after a Christmas dinner.

father pulling sled with daughter skating nearby - one of the best banff winter activities - Skating on Lake Louise

11. Snowshoeing in Banff

There’s nothing quite like snowshoeing in a winter wonderland, where the tree tops are covered in snow to get in the Christmas spirit for the holiday season. Make it even more cheerful by singing Christmas carols as you walk through what feels like a snow globe. 

Snowshoeing in Banff is the ideal activity to work off your Christmas brunch before indulging in Christmas dinner. You’ll have no trouble finding a Banff snowshoe to suit all abilities!

The views of the Spray Lakes from the Rummel Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis in December

For an easy snowshoe in Banff National Park, head over to the Johnson Lake hike which makes an excellent beginner snowshoe. For something that’s a little longer, you can snowshoe to the Ink Pots. We also really enjoy the Stoney Lookout snowshoe!

Moose Meadows to Ink Pots - best snowshoeing banff

If it happens to be one of those years where there just isn’t enough snow at Christmas in Banff, enjoy one of these best winter hikes in Banff. The Surprise Corner to Hoodoos trail is a very enjoyable easy hike right from the town of Banff, as is the popular Tunnel Mountain hike.

Alternatively, you can find snow by doing one of these easy snowshoes in Kananaskis.

snowshoeing - banff winter activities

12. Cross Country Skiing

Cross country skiing is a great alternative to snowshoeing, depending on what your family enjoys more. There are plenty of great beginner cross country ski trails in Banff and area for the whole family to enjoy.

Cross country skiing in Banff on Great Divide Trail

Even if cross-country skiing is a new sport to your family, that’s the perfect way to make some wonderful Christmas memories in Banff National Park.

kids cross country skiing on the Great Divide Trail at Lake Louise, Banff

13. Snow Tubing

If giant smiles is what you are after while during your Banff Christmas holidays, then a stop at one of the tube parks will make that happen.

Both Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mt Norquay have tube parks for some of the most fun you can have in Banff in winter. If you just don’t want the fun to end, Norquay has night tubing.

14. Ice Walk

If your family is looking for a unique outdoor experience while visiting Banff at Christmas, then why not try an ice walk?

Grotto Canyon - winter hiking kananaskis

There’s nothing quite like walking on ice in a canyon and the frozen waterfalls you’ll see while visiting Johnston Canyon or Grotto Canyon are well worth it. You can do it on your own (don’t forget the spikes) or by joining an ice walk tour.

15. Dog Sledding

Just one more way to enjoy the stunning winter scenery in Banff and Lake Louise at Christmas. Treat the family to a fun outing like dog sledding.

Dog sledding can be done either from Lake Louise or Canmore. If you plan to spend Christmas at Lake Louise, contact Kingmik Dog Sled Tours.

For Canmore, contact Snow Owl Dog Sled Tours. The Canmore dog sledding tours take place in the Spray Lakes Provincial Park just outside of Canmore.

dogsledding - banff things to do winter

16. The Search for Santa

If you are spending Christmas in Banff with kids, then The Search for Santa in Banff will be an exciting activity for them. Using clues to find Santa’s secret hideaway, the kids will also get a visit with Santa. You’ll also get professional pictures to capture this magical Banff Christmas moment.

While this is one of the more costly ways to see Santa in Banff, it guarantees you won’t have to wait in long line-ups and getting to Santa will be part of the fun! Mini photo sessions or story time with Santa are two other options to see Santa.

17. Christmas Day Brunch

Start your Christmas day with a Christmas brunch. The Banff Springs Hotel offers an incredible Christmas brunch but be sure to get booked in early as it fills up quickly.

Make sure you have one of our other Banff Christmas activities planned for the day, or you won’t have any room for Christmas dinner!

18. Tobogganing in Banff

Say what? That’s what we Canadians call sledding and it’s the perfect Canadian Christmas tradition! Grab the sled and head to one of the local hills for some fun in the snow.

toboganning - banff winter activities for families

Adults will feel like a kid again, guaranteed! Don’t forget to have all the fun with a snowball fight and making snow angels! Your Banff Christmas memories will be filled with smiles and laughter!

girl with purple jacket and pink toque Tobogganing in Banff

19. Fatbiking in Banff

All these activities for visiting Banff at Christmas are about keeping that smile on your face and enjoying all that Banff National Park has to offer. There are so many fun Banff winter activities and fatbiking in Banff is one of our favorites!

Fat Biking in Banff with two fat bikes near the Banff sign

Whether you decide to rent a fat bike and go on your own or join a fatbiking tour, we are sure you are going to enjoy every minute of it!

woman Fat biking in December in Kananaskis Country

20. Enjoy one of Banff’s Restaurants for Christmas Dinner

If you are looking to go all out, then look at the Christmas day dining options at the Banff Springs Hotel. The 360 Dome offers panoramic views along with a six course Christmas dinner. This will be unlike any Christmas dinner you’ve had before.

Christmas at the Castle dining also has buffets as an alternative dining option at a fraction of the price above.

For other dining options, there are many incredible restaurants in Banff and area that serve up a Christmas dinner. The Banff Collective is a good place to start looking for Banff restaurants open on Christmas Day.

21. Go on a Tour of Banff Christmas Lights

Is there anything more Christmas-y than twinkling lights?

Christmas Lights on Banff Avenue

Take your own sparkle tour of the Christmas lights during an evening stroll through the streets of downtown Banff. An easy walk in Banff with hot chocolate in hand is the perfect Christmas Eve activity in Banff!

Banff Christmas Lights with mountains in the background

22. Sleigh Ride in Banff

If you aren’t up for more walking after a day of skiing or snowshoeing, treat yourself to a sleigh ride through Banff or at Lake Louise. Enjoy the peacefulness of this experience as you sit in awe of the stunning mountain views surrounding Banff or Lake Louise.

sleigh ride at Lake Louise at Christmas

With the Banff Trail Riders, you have the option of a group or private horse drawn sleigh ride that will take you through the Banff Mountain Meadows.

Horse draw Sleigh ride at Lake Louise at Christmas

For a Lake Louise Christmas sleigh ride, book one of the 15-passenger horse drawn sleigh rides that departs from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and takes you along the beautiful Lake Louise. Get bundled up and enjoy an evening sleigh ride after a delicious Christmas dinner.

Lake Louise horse drawn sleigh rides can be booked here.

23. Banff Centre for Holiday Performances

The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is the perfect place to look for holiday performances or concerts to get you in the Christmas spirit for the holiday season in Banff. Check the Banff Centre events page to see what’s on during your Banff Christmas vacation.

24. Banff Upper Hot Springs

After all those Banff Christmas activities that got you out playing in the snow, it’s time to warm up in the Banff Hot Springs!

The Banff Banff Hot Springs are a top thing to do for visitors to the Banff Springs Hotel
Photo Credit: Noel Hendrickson

What better place to relax after a day of fun than at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. You will love a dip into the hot pools with large snowflakes falling around you and your sore muscles will thank you for it!

25. Get Pictures with Santa

It’s really not Christmas unless you get to see Santa and even better if you can get a picture with the man in red. Add to your collection of memories of Christmas in Banff with a picture with Santa.

two children standing in front talking to Santa in Banff National Park

Your best options to see Santa in Banff during the holiday season are up the Banff Gondola, at The Spirit of Christmas store (check if this is possible in 2021) or by booking some private time with Santa through The Search for Santa.

You may also get to see Santa on the slopes as in past years he’s been skiing on weekends.

Two kids getting pictures with Santa at Banff Gondola Mountaintop Christmas

We’ll update any other ways to see Santa in Banff for 2021 as they become announced.

26. Take an easy walk past the Vermilion Lakes

After your Christmas dinner in Banff, take an easy Banff walk along Vermilion Lakes Road for some fresh air and star gazing.

Vermilion Lakes in Winter
Photo Credit: Noel Hendrickson

27. See A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic that is fun to see every Christmas! This family friendly Christmas event takes place at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Tickets are available throughout December with special performances on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.

Get tickets for A Christmas Carol here.

28. Afternoon Tea in Banff

An Afternoon Tea in Banff is the perfect afternoon activity after a morning out exploring or an a particularly cold day. Both the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel offer Afternoon Tea in Banff.

As part of the Christmas at the Castle at the Banff Springs Hotel, they offer a holiday-themed afternoon tea starting on November 19, 2021.

29. See the CP Holiday Train

The CP Holiday Train comes through Banff in all its decorated glory every other year. You can see the CP Holiday Train in Banff in 2022 and 2024.

The CP Holiday Train raises food, money and awareness for people who go hungry. Though it has been virtual in 2020 and 2021, they continue to raise food and funds to help fight against hunger.

30. Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola

If seeing the spectacular mountain peaks from the Banff Gondola isn’t enough, you can also take the Lake Louise sightseeing gondola for a stunning winter view of Banff National Park.

While the sightseeing gondola still operates at Lake Louise in winter, it’s important to note that the services and restaurants at the top aren’t open in the winter.

31. Wildlife Spotting

There are so many things to do in Banff in winter, that’s it might feel difficult to fit them all in. Seeing Banff wildlife is one of the highlights of visiting Banff National Park, even in winter. Take the time on a scenic drive in Banff to spot wildlife on your own or join a wildlife tour.

A majestic bull elk sticking its tongue out

31. Visit the Fairmont Banff Springs

We’ve mentioned it several times above, but there’s no better place to get in the festive spirit. Marvel at the Banff Springs Hotel Christmas decorations while taking a leisurely walk (with hot chocolate in hand) through the stunning Banff Springs Hotel.

Check the Banff & Lake Louise Christmas events page for updates on things to do for Christmas in Banff National Park.

Banff Avenue lights shining at night

Best Places to Stay in Banff at Christmas

Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel is one of the best places to stay in Banff in December

There are few places more magical than the Banff Springs Hotel at Christmas. This 5-star luxury Banff hotel is incredible any time of year, but when it is decorated for Christmas it’s a place you won’t soon forget.

The Banff Springs Hotel goes all-out at Christmas. The Christmas at the Castle package even includes a Christmas tree in your room! Guests can enjoy a variety of special Christmas events including Bedtime Stories with Mrs. Claus, private photo sessions with Santa, Holiday Crafts with Mrs. Claus and the Snowflake Scavenger Hunt.

Worried about how much it costs to stay at the Banff Springs Hotel? Check out our review of a Fairmont Room, the most affordable room at the Fairmont.

Chateau Lake Louise

The Chateau Lake Louise is one of the best places to stay in Banff in December

Lake Louise in December is incredible. Between the Lake Louise ski resort, the cross-country ski trails, the cleared skating rink on Lake Louise, snowshoeing, dog sled tours etc., there are simply too many excellent winter activities to choose from.

The best place to base your visit to Lake Louise in December is the iconic Chateau Lake Louise. Special Christmas experiences at the Chateau Lake Louise include sleigh rides, sipping a cocktail at the Ice Bar, toasting s’mores at the lakefront campfire and decorating gingerbread houses.

Visiting Banff with kids and/or pets? We recommend the best family-friendly hotels in Banff and the best pet-friendly hotels in Banff.

Stay in a Cozy Banff Cabin

Stay in a cozy Banff cabin during your Banff Christmas vacation! While you’ll be further away from Banff town and restaurants, you’ll enjoy the incredible peacefulness of the Banff winter days.

Castle Mountain Chalets has Banff Cabins to stay for Winter holidays in Banff

Baker Creek Mountain Resort and Castle Mountain Chalets are both found along the Bow Valley Parkway. Still a short drive from the Banff townsite, you can enjoy a rustic cabin feel in these cozy Banff cabins in the winter.

Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise Alberta

If you want to stay closer to the action, the Banff Log Cabin is a fun alternative in town. Our list of the best Banff cabins for rent gives you all the options you need to enjoy staying in Banff during Christmas!

We hope we’ve given you more than enough ideas on what to do in Banff at Christmas. It truly is a magical time of year and makes the perfect places to visiting during Christmas in Canada.

Trees and building with Christmas Lights for In Search of Christmas Spirit Event in Banff

Frequently Asked Questions about Banff at Christmas

What is there to do in Banff at Christmas time?

There are so many incredible things to do in Banff at Christmas time, that you’ll have trouble choosing. Some of the best things to do in Banff in the winter include skiing, snowshoeing, skating and cross country skiing. Dog sledding, ice walks and sleigh rides are also popular with visitors to Banff in December and at Christmas time.

Does it snow in Banff at Christmas?

While it’s very likely to see snow at Christmas in Banff, there’s no guarantee that it will snow on Christmas Day. Even if it doesn’t snow, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the snow in Banff and the surrounding area at Christmas.

Is Banff open Christmas Day?

Banff National Park is open on Christmas Day. While some places may be closed, there will still be plenty of places open to get hot chocolate, Christmas dinner and anything else you’ll need.

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All the best things to do in Banff at Christmas. From skiing to pictures with Santa, you'll feel the Christmas cheer in Banff like no other place.