If you’ve never experienced Banff during winter, you might be wondering if Banff is worth visiting in winter.
Our answer is unequivocally yes! You won’t have to look far for winter activities in Banff, which transforms into a winter wonderland in the months of December through March. If you are lucky enough to visit Banff in winter, be prepared to spend most of your time reliving the childhood joys of playing in snow.
With so many things to do in the winter months, you might even have a hard time choosing what to do in Banff in winter. Just be prepared with the proper winter gear to keep you warm and comfortable all day long!
Banff in Winter
- Banff Winter Activities
- 1. Banff Winter Hikes
- 2. Skating on a Frozen Lake
- 3. Fat Biking in Banff National Park
- 4. Snowshoeing in Banff and the Surrounding Area
- 5. Visit Lake Louise
- 6. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
- 7. Nordic Skiing in Banff National Park
- 8. Alpine Skiing in Banff
- 9. See a Frozen Waterfall in Banff
- 10. Icewalk Tour
- 11. Dog Sledding in Banff
- 12. Banff Gondola
- 13. Ice Climbing
- 14. Winter Festival in Banff
- 15. Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
- 16. Go Wildlife Spotting
- 17. Explore Banff Townsite
- 18. Warm Up with a Coffee by a Fire
- 19. Take a Self-Guided Photography Tour
- 20. Tubing in Banff National Park
- 21. Snowshoeing Tour
- 22. Christmas at the Castle – Fairmont Banff Springs
- 23. Banff Christmas Market
- 24. Meet Santa in Banff
- 25. Tobogganing
- 26. Improve Your Skills with Ski Lessons
- 27. Banff Mountain Film Festival
- 28. Night Skiing at Norquay
- 29. Night Snowshoeing at Lake Louise Ski Resort
- 30. Ride on Canada’s Only Heated Lift
- 31. Sightsee and Dine at New Heights
- 32. Take a Winter Walk
- Banff Winter Weather
- How to Pack for Banff in Winter
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Banff Winter Activities
1. Banff Winter Hikes
Perhaps one of the simplest activities to do in Banff in winter, is a winter hike. There are plenty of winter hikes in Banff and the surrounding area for all fitness levels. Though you need little more than proper winter boots and warm winter gear, don’t discount Banff winter hiking as a worthwhile outing.
There are some incredible views to be had and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a winter wonderland walking amongst trees covered in snow.
2. Skating on a Frozen Lake
Termed “wild ice” by locals, skating on a frozen lake in Banff National Park is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter. What makes this rare opportunity so wonderful is being surrounded by towering mountains peaks covered in snow while skating in Banff on glass like ice. With a little luck, the winter conditions will be just right, such that the water freezes without being covered in snow.
Don’t fear, if skating on the Banff lakes doesn’t work out there are still other opportunities for skating outdoors. Lake Louise, though crowded, is cleared in the winter for skating. The pond in the nearby town of Canmore is also cleared for skating all winter long.
If you are looking for an epic Banff winter experience, try a helicopter tour to see the iconic ice bubbles on Abraham Lake.
3. Fat Biking in Banff National Park
Fat biking is a fairly new activity in the past few years, but if being on a bike appeals more than hiking or snowshoeing then give it a try. With plenty of fat biking trails in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis to explore, the only hard part will be getting a day with the perfect winter weather. It needs to be cold enough that your fat tire bike isn’t sinking into the snow causing ruts.
There are fat bike rentals available in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis.
4. Snowshoeing in Banff and the Surrounding Area
Be warned, snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies might just become your happy place. There is something so peaceful and serene about snowshoeing in the deep snow as large flakes fall down around you. Imagine walking in your very own snow globe.
There are plenty of marked trails for all skill levels, which makes it easy to pick up snowshoe rentals and head out on your own. These easy snowshoes trails in Kananaskis are perfect for beginners.
If you’d like to hook up with a small-group snowshoeing tour near Banff, check out this introductory snowshoeing tour to Marble Canyon, a 40 metre deep limestone gorge. After admiring the dramatic colors of Marble Canyon, enjoy hot maple taffy, a uniquely Canadian treat made in the snow by your guide.
5. Visit Lake Louise
While you won’t get to see the famous Moraine Lake in the winter without considerable effort, you won’t have to miss out on seeing the equally popular Lake Louise in winter. Parking is open all winter long and the lake has a wonderful lakeshore walk, that anyone can do.
While it gets crowded even in the winter, the Lake Louise winter activities make it a worthwhile stop.
If you are staying in Banff, you can enjoy this half-day Lake Louise tour filled with magical winter activities.
6. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride
There are few winter activities in Banff National Park more magical than a horse-drawn sleigh ride. There are two incredible backdrops you can choose for your Banff winter sleigh ride:
Warmed up with a blanket, take in the incredible scenery at Lake Louise with a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Whether you book a private sleigh ride for two or join a group ride, you’ll sit in awe at the towering snow-capped mountains and the ice falls at the end of the Lake Louise lakeside trail.
This is a quintessential thing to do at Lake Louise in the winter that will make everyone in the family happy. Kids especially will love this Lake Louise winter activity.
It’s recommended to make reservations for a Lake Louise sleigh ride in advance. This can be done through Brewster Adventures.
You may also enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the meadows near the Town of Banff. Enjoy the views of the majestic snow-covered Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle, while you cozy up to your loved ones. End your sleigh ride with a warm drink next to a crackling campfire. Advance reservations are also recommended.
7. Nordic Skiing in Banff National Park
Nordic skiing, or cross country skiing, is the perfect way to get in some physical activity while immersing yourself in the winter wonderland that is Banff National Park. With so many trails to choose from in Banff National Park and the surrounding area, the hardest part will be figuring out where to go. For inspiration, we recommend these easy Banff cross-country ski trails.
If you are new to the sport, Canmore Nordic Center is a world-class Olympic facility that offers lessons through Trail Sports. Lake Louise area also has cross-country ski lessons and a multitude of trails guaranteed to challenge all levels.
8. Alpine Skiing in Banff
For some people, it’s all about skiing or snowboarding in the winter. With three world-class ski resorts within easy driving distance, choose one to spend a few days at or check out all three. SkiBig3 has lift tickets that will get you access to all 3 Banff resorts: Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine and Mt. Norquay.
If you’re looking to expand your Rocky Mountain downhill skiing adventures, bus & lift ticket packages are available from Banff to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (Golden, BC) and Panorama Mountain Resort (Invermere, BC).
9. See a Frozen Waterfall in Banff
There are several opportunities in Banff and the surrounding area to see a frozen waterfall, some more closeup than others. While hiking up Johnston Canyon to see the Upper Falls is the most impressive, you can see the Louise Falls at the end of the Lakeshore trail at Lake Louise or Troll Falls in Kananaskis.
Whichever ones you see, we are certain you’ll be impressed by not only the stunning blue color but watching the ice climbers.
10. Icewalk Tour
Grotto Canyon isn’t as well known as Johnston Canyon, but it’s a ton of fun in the wintertime. The Grotto Canyon icewalk, located near Canmore, will take you along a frozen creek bed up a narrow canyon to frozen waterfalls.
These icewalks can be booked through Discover Banff Tours or done on your own. Either way, you’ll want a pair of spikes, like these Kahtoohla microspikes, to get over the ice. Ice spikes can also be rented in Banff.
11. Dog Sledding in Banff
Looking for a uniquely Canadian winter activity in Banff National Park? Look no further than dogsledding in Banff or Lake Louise. Even kids over 2 years old, can go dog sledding, making it a fun family activity in Banff National Park in winter. Just make sure everyone is dressed extra warm, to keep the experience as enjoyable as possible.
There are several companies that offer dog sledding in Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore/Kananaskis:
12. Banff Gondola
Complete with a gondola ride, insane mountain views and a mountain boardwalk, the Banff Gondola is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. In the cold winter months, the rooftop observation deck has deck chairs and fire pits so you can comfortably enjoy the views.
There are two restaurants at the top, which offer a dining experience with views that can’t be beat. With interactive exhibits inside and a stroll along the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk, this is a Banff winter experience for the entire family.
13. Ice Climbing
If you are tired of watching others doing all the ice climbing, or just feeling extra adventurous, give it a try yourself. The Canadian Rockies is the perfect place to give this sport a try. Alpine Air Adventures offers ice climbing instructions for complete beginners and all other ranges of skill levels.
The best time for giving ice climbing a try is for visits to Banff in December through March.
14. Winter Festival in Banff
If you visit Banff in January, add this winter festival in Banff to your must-do list.
The Ice Magic portion of this winter festival in Banff National Park, takes place in Lake Louise. With the Victoria Glacier as the backdrop, ice carvers around the world come to compete. The ice sculptures are nothing short of amazing! If possible, visit before the snow flies to capture these pieces of ice art at their very best. This is one of the best times of the year to stay at the iconic Chateau Lake Louise.
If you are craving more sculptures, visit the town of Banff to see the snow sculptures on Bear Street.
For 2021, this winter festival will take place January 20 – 31. See all winter activities during SnowDays in Banff.
15. Soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs
After all that time playing out in the snow, give your body a soak in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. As you sink deeper into the water, you can say goodbye to all those aches from playing hard on the ski hill or exploring the Banff snowshoe trails. Not only will your muscles thank you, but you won’t forget the incredible experience of sitting in the steamy hot water as snow falls down around you.
Note: The Banff Upper Hot Springs are currently closed. Check Parks Canada website for updates.
16. Go Wildlife Spotting
While winter in Banff might not be the best time of year for wildlife spotting around Banff National Park, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor. There are still plenty of animals around for wildlife viewing. Most commonly you’ll see elk and big horn sheep. Though very rare, you might see a wolf, cougar or a lynx.
It’s very unlikely to see a bear in the winter months, as they spend this time hibernating. Though it is possible in late-fall or early spring if they haven’t hibernated yet or come out of hibernation earlier than expected.
Improve your chances to see Banff wildlife by joining a knowledgeable local guide on a 3-hour winter wildlife and sightseeing tour.
Please respect all animals by keeping your distance and never feeding an animal or trying to entice it closer.
17. Explore Banff Townsite
You can’t beat that view of Cascade mountain right from the middle of town. Visit the many shops in Banff and find a spot for lunch with an incredible view.
18. Warm Up with a Coffee by a Fire
While there are a multitude of winter activities in Banff and it’s hard to fit them all in, it’s important to take time to soak it all in. The best way to do this is to grab a coffee or hot chocolate, near a fire where you can take in the view.
19. Take a Self-Guided Photography Tour
Take yourself on a self-guided photography tour of Banff and area. Since the days are short with only 8 hours of daylight in winter, catching one of the spectacular sunrises or sunsets is a lot easier. With the sunrise close to 8:30am, there’s no waking up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise. Sunsets are equally as easy to catch while they are happening around 5pm.
The easiest place to catch a stunning sunrise in Banff is at Vermillion Lakes. Two Jack Lake is another alternative, just 10 minutes from the Banff townsite. In Canmore, the iconic Three Sisters mountains are bound to impress.
20. Tubing in Banff National Park
Mt Norquay has the largest tube park in Alberta with 8 lanes and a kids play area for little ones who aren’t big enough for tubing. If you hold a Lake Louise season pass, you can tube for free at the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
21. Snowshoeing Tour
While we already discussed snowshoeing in Banff and area above, taking a snowshoeing tour is a way to escape the crowds and take part in a unique adventure.
At Sunshine Village, take part in their snowshoeing tour at Sunshine Meadows. This is a guided snowshoe in the backcountry, which includes a gondola and chair lift ride to get you there. This is the best way to experience the fun of playing in deep powder snow!
Snowshoeing tours are one of the best things to do in Banff in winter if you don’t ski. Snowshoeing tours can also be done from Lake Louise. Mt Norquay doesn’t have snowshoe tours, but it has 5 snowshoe trails and rentals available.
22. Christmas at the Castle – Fairmont Banff Springs
If visiting Banff in December, get in the Christmas spirit at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. With special events to help you celebrate the holiday season, you won’t want to leave. Holiday events include private photo sessions with Santa and bedtime stories with Mrs. Claus. Many of the activities are complimentary for hotel guests.
23. Banff Christmas Market
Continue with the Christmas spirit while visiting Banff in December with a visit to the Banff Christmas Market. With live music and a visit with Santa, the Banff Christmas market is much more than just a shopping excursion. Don’t forget to get some Christmas shopping done from the local vendors while enjoying your mulled wine!
Note: The Banff Christmas Market will not be open for 2020.
24. Meet Santa in Banff
Meet Santa in December in Banff at The Spirit of Christmas on Banff Avenue. He’s there most weekends in December. Otherwise, look for Santa on the ski slopes while visiting Banff at Christmas. You can find him at Sunshine Village on the weekends leading up to Christmas.
Note: the Christmas season will look different in 2020, please check local websites before making plans.
Looking for more information on Visiting Banff at Christmas?
Another fun winter activity in Banff for the whole family is tobogganing. Tobogganing hills can be found at Lake Louise, the Canmore Nordic Center and for families staying at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
26. Improve Your Skills with Ski Lessons
Whether you’ve been skiing for years or just starting out, the instructors at the ski hills will help you improve your skills or show you new areas of the mountain. Another option is to set your kids up with some ski instruction while you get out for a few hours on your own.
27. Banff Mountain Film Festival
While not technically in winter, the Banff Film Festival occurs in November each year. If you happen to visit Banff in November, don’t miss the opportunity to take part. This is an annual presentation of films and documentaries focused on the environment and mountain culture.
28. Night Skiing at Norquay
If you aren’t ready for the fun to end, plan for a night of skiing at Mt Norquay. Mt Norquay has runs that are lit for skiing and it’s the only night skiing you’ll find around.
Make sure to check the hours of operation before heading out.
29. Night Snowshoeing at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Experience the winter wonderland under the stars with a night snowshoe tour at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The crisp night air and starry sky are bound to make this an incredible adventure. Make sure to dress extra warm for this experience.
30. Ride on Canada’s Only Heated Lift
Sunshine Village may not have night skiing or a tube park, but it does have Canada’s only heated chairlift.
31. Sightsee and Dine at New Heights
Another amazing thing to do in Banff in winter for non-skiers is to take a sightseeing gondola or chairlift. Whether it’s dining at 7000ft at Mt Norquay or just taking in the stunning views of Banff National Park, this is the way to do it. At Sunshine Village, you can take the gondola followed by a chairlift for the highest point for sightseeing in the area.
Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll be blown away by the views.
32. Take a Winter Walk
Not everything has to be an epic adventure, though those are easy to find in Banff National Park. Taking a stroll on a beautiful winter day is just good for the soul. This can be as easy as walking around the town of Banff, or better yet walk the Lakeshore trail at Lake Louise. The views will astound you and the trail is an easy, flat walk.
Two other great options are the many pathways in the nearby town of Canmore or the Village Rim trail in Kananaskis Village.
Banff Winter Weather
Banff winter temperatures can have a huge impact on your enjoyment if you aren’t prepared for it.
It’s easy enough to get some average Banff winter weather data online, which will tell you that the average high is -4 degrees Celsius and the average low is -14 degrees Celsius. What that won’t tell you is that the mountain weather is hugely unpredictable. It’s nearly impossible to give an accurate forecast of what the weather will be like in Banff in the winter.
When the Chinook winds blow, a warm wind that brings quick temperature changes, the temperature can climb above freezing. Snow starts to melt and it might even feel like spring for a day or two.
On the flip side, the temperatures can plummet to -30 deg Celsius for days. Add a wind chill factor to that and you’ll need to worry about skin freezing in seconds.
It’s also a very dry cold, so be prepared to use chapstick and hand lotion like you’ve never used before.
The best way to prepare for this is to dress in layers and be prepared for the weather to change. With the proper winter gear, you’ll be surprised at how warm you can be even at temperatures well below freezing.
Not sure how to properly dress in layers? Our friends at Mountain Equipment Co-op can help you out with this handy guide to dressing in layers.
How to Pack for Banff in Winter
Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm and make sure to avoid getting wet. This includes removing layers to keep from getting too sweaty and protecting your feet from getting wet.
- Your layers should include a wool or wool blend base layer to wick the moisture away from your body. The wonderful thing about wool is that is stays warm even when wet. Your mid-layer is a warmth layer which can be a down jacket or fleece. Finally, use a soft shell jacket as your third layer that’s waterproof and windproof.
Shop for base layers: MEC — REI
Shop for mid-layers: MEC — REI
Shop for soft shell layers: MEC — REI
- For your feet, waterproof insulated hiking boots or insulated winter boots plus a good pair of wool socks. Gaiters are a great way to keep snow out of your boots and keep your feet dry.
Shop for winter hiking boots: MEC — REI
Shop for gaiters: MEC— REI
- Don’t forget to pack a scarf or buff, extra mitts, a toque, sunglasses and sunscreen.
With so much to do in the area, we love the winter in Banff. It wasn’t hard to come up with this list of over 30 amazing things to do in Banff in winter. We probably even forgot a few…Head over to Instagram and tag @travelbanffcanada in your favorite Banff winter activity!
Banff Winter Tours You May Enjoy
- Athabasca Glacier Snow Trip from Banff
- Discover Banff and Its Wildlife
- Banff Winter Wonders Tour with Banff Gondola Ride
- 4-Day Winter Banff Mini Tour
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