Ice skating in Banff is certainly a quintessential Canadian winter activity and not only that, but it’s a very popular winter activity in Banff. The best part is that there are several options for ice skating in Banff National Park and the surrounding area (including Canmore and Kananaskis), from local indoor recreational centres to skating on frozen lakes.
Aside from the indoor rinks in Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise, there are several outdoor ice surfaces in the area that are maintained. These are all your safest options and are the perfect place for anyone who doesn’t want to risk skating on a frozen lake.
Regardless of whether you are out hunting for wild ice for ice skating or making turns on one of the many outdoor rinks, skating is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter.
Skating on the glass-like ice on the frozen lakes or ponds in the Banff area is a special experience because it doesn’t happen every year. Everything needs to line up just right, it has to get cold enough to freeze the Banff lakes without them getting covered in snow.
Ambitious ice skaters will still head out to clear snow off the frozen lakes, but getting to skate on crystal clear ice before the snow falls is a Banff bucket list item for many!
What You’ll Find in This Article on Skating in Banff
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How to Safely Skate in Banff
Skating on ponds and lakes in Banff National Park and the surrounding areas of Canmore and Kananaskis, referred to by locals as wild skating, is the most risky option. It’s important to do your research, be able to check the ice thickness, get some local knowledge about the safety of skating on the lake and know how to rescue yourself if you fall in.
It’s also important to pay attention to what the temperature has been over the preceding days. Lakes that were safe to skate on can open back up when the warm weather persists. Just because other people are skating on it, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Don’t just blindly follow the crowd.
Take a few seconds to read this CBC article about skaters falling through the ice while skating at Lake Minnewanka. This isn’t intended to scare you, but instead to prepare you. Skating on a frozen lake is a risky activity and you shouldn’t venture onto the lake just because you see other people on it.
Ice Thickness for Skating
The Canadian Red Cross recommends 15 cm (6 inches) for skating alone and 20 cm (8 inches) for skating parties. They also are a good resource for understanding what can affect ice thickness, one of which is changing air temperatures. With chinook winds, the area can have several days or even weeks of higher temperatures which can quickly affect the ice thickness.
We strongly recommend you fully read the ice safety information provided by Red Cross on what to do if you get in trouble on the ice and rescuing another person.
Also know that Parks Canada does NOT monitor these natural skating surfaces and skating on them is at your own risk. Parks Canada does recommend checking the thickness of the ice by drilling a hole or checking the cracks to ensure it’s a minimum of 15 cm thick. Though it’s better if you go in a group, if you do go out alone, always let someone know your plan.
Parking for Banff Ice Skating
One final comment is on parking. With social media, the news of pristine ice for skating in Banff spreads quickly! On weekends, hundreds of cars will descend on the latest lake that freezes over.
For your safety and the safety of others, only park in designated parking spots and don’t park where there are “no parking” signs. If you can’t find parking, don’t risk parking where you shouldn’t, instead move on to something else. Always have a back up plan, there are plenty of winter activities in Banff for everyone.
In 2020, Gap Lake became so popular and people continued to park along the 1A highway that is very busy with large trucks putting themselves and others at risk. Don’t be those people. Instead, arrive early or later in the day to ensure you can park safely. If you can’t, then come back another day.
The information we give below on all skating options is for information purposes only and you are responsible for ensuring the safety of the ice before venturing on the lakes, rivers or ponds.
Banff Ice Skating
Outdoor skating in Banff is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter, whether you choose to skate on one of the maintained ice surfaces or be more adventurous and seek out some wild ice skating.
Here are the best options for Banff ice skating outdoors:
1. Skating on Vermilion Lakes
The three Vermilion Lakes are found along Vermilion Lakes Road, which is a right turn shortly after you turn onto Mt. Norquay Drive off the Transcanada Highway into Banff. Being only 2.4 kilometers from the Banff townsite, skating on Vermilion Lakes is a popular local activity.
The first two Vermilion Lakes provide a natural ice surface to skate on with Mt. Rundle as the most impressive backdrop. The Vermilion Lakes are also often one of the earlier lakes possible to skate on in November or December.
Vermilion Lakes, though very near the Banff Townsite, is a natural surface that is not cleared, though you’ll often find locals out clearing small rinks to skate on. We recommend bringing a shovel so you can join in.
These lakes are fed by some springs that will keep parts of the lakes open, so don’t expect that the ice will be consistent in its thickness across all areas.
There is limited parking near the first Vermilion Lake.
2. Skating on Two Jack Lake
Found along the Lake Minnewanka road, Two Jack Lake will typically freeze over in late December offering an incredible wild ice skating opportunity. As previously mentioned, make sure the ice is safe for skating as every year is different.
There is a dam at the east end of the lake where thin ice and open water occurs, use extreme caution and stay away from that area.
The free Two Jack Lake parking lot can accommodate around 50-80 cars and has toilets.
3. Skating Lake Minnewanka
One of the biggest and deepest lakes in this list, and as such is one of the last to freeze over, Lake Minnewanka is also accessed along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. You can expect to wait until late December or early January for ice skating on Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka is big and it’s windy. Make sure you don’t venture out too far from shore, as you might have difficulty skating back. Don’t get too far away from your group.
Lake Minnewanka has a large parking lot, but it will fill up fast when the lake is good for skating. As mentioned previously, only park in designated spots and obey any “no parking” signs.
You’ll find benches near the dock for changing and leaving your boots while you skate. If you need to go out further to find ice clear of snow, bring a waterproof blanket or folding chairs to sit and put skates on.
4. Skating on Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake, another lake found on the Lake Minnewanka Road, is usually one of the first lakes that freezes over enough for people to wild ice skate on. This usually happens in November, but variable winter weather can make a big difference.
Johnson Lake has a relatively large parking lot that can accommodate over 100 cars. There are toilets and access to the lake is near the picnic area right by the parking lot. Like many of the lakes, there are no benches, so be prepared to get your skates on along the banks of the Johnson lake.
5. Skating on Cascade Ponds
Cascade Ponds is the first right turn off Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. If the weather permits, it’s possible to skate on Cascade Ponds. Stay away from the edges of the pond where the streams enter or exit the ponds. This can cause thinner ice.
6. Fenlands Outdoor Rink
An outdoor rink is constructed and maintained at the meadow by the Fenlands Recreation Centre in Banff. The Fenlands rink is typically open from 8am to 8pm daily.
7. Banff Train Station Skating
There will be another outdoor rink for skating in Banff at the Train Station. The west parking lot of the train station will be home to a rink almost equal in size to what what previously constructed at the Banff High School. This outdoor skating rink in Banff is typically open from 10am to 9pm daily.
8. Banff Springs Hotel
The Banff Springs Hotel has an ice rink for registered hotel guests. Behind the Banff Springs Hotel, you’ll find the Waldhaus Rink in the Spray Meadow which is accessible from the Bow Falls parking lot.
9. Bow River
Often an oval will get cleared on the Bow River ice just west of Bow Avenue. This spot is on a river, so the ice can have variable thickness. Skating on the Bow River here will be the only natural ice surface you can skate on right from the Banff townsite.
For indoor ice skating in the town of Banff, check the indoor public skating schedule at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre.
10. Lake Louise Ice Skating
For an outdoor skating experience, you really can’t beat the iconic Lake Louise for ice skating. Starting mid-December, the lake is typically ready for skating. Which is great news for anyone visiting Banff National Park in December or later.
What makes Lake Louise skating so incredible?
- While this is still a natural surface for ice skating, Lake Louise is cleared daily by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
- There’s a large parking lot to accommodate plenty of people.
- There are benches and places to store your boots.
- You can get skate rentals at Wilson Mountain Sports or Alpine Social Rentals right at the Chateau (if you are hotel guest).
- There’s a hockey rink for anyone interested in a game of shinny.
- Sometime around mid-December, there will be a giant ice castle on the lake, making it even more magical.
- Warm up by the bonfire with a hot chocolate or sneak inside for lunch in the Chateau.
- Enjoy a stroll through the incredible ice sculptures at Lake Louise (during the Ice Magic Festival).
- You can make a full day of it by adding on a cross-country ski, a sleigh ride or a walk around the lake.
- Lake Louise is lit for night skating. Chances are you’ll have it mostly to yourself!
While we know Lake Louise ice skating sounds just about perfect, there are still a few things to keep in mind. As you can expect, Lake Louise gets busy, even in the winter. If you aren’t staying at the hotel, we always recommend going mid-week and arriving earlier or later in the day so you aren’t disappointed by a full parking lot.
Beware of the ice festival weekends or hockey tournaments going on. You’ll need tickets to visit on the ice festival weekends.
Canmore Ice Skating
While Canmore and Kananaskis are outside of Banff National Park, they are still in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and also offer some incredible opportunities for skating. Whether you are looking for a low risk activity on a maintained ice surface or some wild skating, don’t dismiss these areas.
11. Skating at The Pond in Canmore
The Canmore Pond is a popular place for skating in Canmore for locals and visitors. Located on 7th Avenue and Mallard Alley, it’s a short walk from downtown Canmore or there is street parking along 7th Avenue. The Pond is the perfect place to join friends for outdoor skating in Canmore and one of the best Canmore winter activities.
At the Pond, there are benches to change into skates and where boots can be left. The Pond is cleared and maintained with a Zamboni.
12. Skating at Canmore Nordic Centre
While many people don’t think of the Canmore Nordic Centre for skating, they do set up an ice surface near the stadium. The ice rink at the Canmore Nordic Centre is cleared and maintained with a Zamboni, plus there are benches to make it easy to swap from cross country skis to skates. The views are pretty impressive too.
There is ample parking, though expect it to be very busy on weekends, given that the Nordic Center is predominantly used by cross country skiers.
While you can’t rent skates at Trail Sports at the Nordic Centre, you can rent cross country skis, snowshoes or fat bikes. There are plenty of outdoor activities at the Nordic Centre to fill a day, and skating is one that you can do without having to purchase a CNC pass.
13. Skating on Gap Lake
Perhaps one of the most popular places for mountain lake ice skating in 2020 is Gap Lake. Gap Lake is located about 10km east of Canmore along the 1A highway. It’s close proximity to both Calgary and Canmore plus glass like ice made Gap Lake ice skating the thing to do!
Similar to Vermilion Lakes, the train tracks are relatively close making for an impressive view of the mountains with the train slowly rolling by.
The Gap Lake day use has limited parking and toilets. There are also picnic tables along the lake, though expect to put your skates on down along the banks of the lake.
14. Skating on Lac Des Arcs
Often windy, Lac Des Arcs is the first lake you’ll pass along the Transcanada Highway just 14 km east of Canmore. Lac Des Arcs can freeze over enough to allow from some wild skating. While the nearby cement plant doesn’t make for the nicest views, there are plenty of mountains surrounding this mountain lake to make up for it.
Surprisingly, the lake is very shallow making it quite fun to skate on looking for bubbles and weeds along the way. On a windy day, you can expect the wind to do all the work for you as you head back to your car.
Parking is available at the lake near the campground (take the road to the campground) or at one of the highway pullouts.
Quarry Lake in Canmore is NOT suitable for ice skating, as it is fed by an underground spring that can cause variable ice thickness.
Other Ice Skating in Canmore
Kananaskis Ice Skating
With so many mountain lakes with stunning views, Kananaskis offers some amazing wild skating. Keep in mind that cell service is very limited in Kananaskis, so whether you are snowshoeing in Kananaskis or tying up your skates be prepared in case of any emergencies.
15. Skating on Goat Pond
Skating on Goat Pond in Kananaskis, beneath the Goat Range while catching glimpses of a past forest under the water is truly an incredible experience.
Goat Pond is located about 15 km from Canmore, along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail (highway 742). Parking is near the gate at the Goat Pond dam or along the Smith-Dorrien with easy access to the water.
16. Skating on Spray Lakes Reservoir
Further along the road from Goat Pond, the Spray Lakes Reservoir is located around 20 km from Canmore along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail (highway 742). This is a large body of water where it can get very windy, so don’t skate too far out that you won’t be able to get back. It’s also quite deep (up to 60 m), so make sure the ice is well frozen before venturing out and know what to do in case of an emergency.
The easiest access is parking at the Driftwood day use area, where you’ll also find toilets.
Other Ice Skating in Kananaskis
In Kananaskis Village, there are two maintained outdoor ice surfaces for skating: the Village Pond and the hockey rink.
How to Find the Best Places for Skating in Banff
The best way to find a place for ice skating in Banff is to consult social media or talk to a knowledgeable local. Parks employees may also be able to give some insight.
While social media can be the cause of overcrowding, it can also be a good place to look for lakes that might be ready for skating. Be prepared to do your own testing of the ice thickness before venturing on frozen lakes.
Where to Find Ice Skate Rentals in Banff and Area
If you don’t have your own ice skates, no need to worry. Skates can be rented in Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore. Many of the rentals can have a helmet or a hockey stick added on to your rental.
For families looking to rent skates, many of the places have children’s skates for rent as well.
Banff Skate Rentals
Lake Louise Skate Rentals
Canmore Skate Rentals
Kananaskis Skate Rentals
What to Bring for Ice Skating in Banff and Area
With a lot of gear to carry, a plastic sled is the easiest way to get from parking lot to the lake. We’ve also used a sled for skating with small children, though a stroller also works.
We always bring a waterproof blanket to sit on, when we know we won’t have benches available.
Here’s our full list of items to bring ice skating in Banff:
- Plastic sled for hauling skates or skating with kids
- Winter blanket or folding camp chair to sit on
- Skate aids for kids
- Thermos with hot chocolate
- Hand & foot warmers for cold hands and feet. We are big fans of the hand and foot warmers by Aurora Heat (save 10% using TRAVELBANFFCANADA at checkout), which are eco-friendly, sustainable and so much better than the single-use hand warmers.
- Hockey stick
- Throw rope for safety
- Ice screw to measure ice
- Shovel to clear ice
- Ice Skates & helmets
Other Questions about Skating in Banff National Park and Area
Is it safe to skate on Lake Louise?
Yes, from mid-December to mid-April when the lake is being cleared of snow daily by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, it is safe to skate on Lake Louise. There is a live webcam at Lake Louise to check the conditions daily.
How long can you skate on Lake Louise?
Skating on Lake Louise is free and you can skate for as long as you want, unless you have a time limit on your skate rentals.
Is skating on Lake Louise free?
Skating on Lake Louise is free. The only cost for skating on Lake Louise is your Banff National Park entry fee, skate rentals (if any) or if you visit during SnowDays festival weekends.
Can you rent skates at Lake Louise?
Where can you skate in Banff?
There are several options for ice skating in Banff. When the conditions are just right, some of the nearby lakes become ideal outdoor skating rinks. There are also maintained ice surfaces in Banff like the one at Fenlands and new for 2022 at the Banff Train Station.
Can you skate on Lake Minnewanka?
When the conditions are just right, yes you can skate on Lake Minnewanka. It will need to be cold enough for the lake to freeze to a safe thickness for skating without getting covered in snow.
Where can I rent ice skates in Banff?
Where can you skate in Canmore?
Canmore has several ice surfaces that are maintained in the winter. The Canmore Pond is a favorite for many looking for outdoor skating in Canmore. Other options include the Canmore Nordic Centre, the Canmore Recreation Centre and other neighborhood outdoor ice rinks.
How thick does ice have to be to skate on?
Red Cross recommends a thickness of 15 cm for skating along or 20 cm for skating parties.
Where can I skate in Kananaskis?
If the conditions don’t allow for skating on a frozen lake in Kananaskis, then head over to Kananaskis Village. You can skate on the Village pond and there’s also a hockey rink.
Visiting Banff in Winter
Banff Trip Planning
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.