Snowshoeing in Banff – Don’t Miss These 10 Snowshoe Trails

Author: Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

Thinking of Banff in winter conjures up images of a winter wonderland, where the mountaintops and trees are covered in snow. Snowshoeing in Banff on a mild winter day, where the sun is shining and the blue sky is contrasted with the white snowcapped mountains, is really one of the best ways to spend a winter day in Banff National Park.

When we first started snowshoeing, we lived in Calgary so we started out on these easy Kananaskis snowshoe trails. We still visit those trails every winter, especially when snowshoeing with kids. Now that we live in Canmore, we like being closer to explore Banff and Lake Louise snowshoe trails.

If there’s one thing you can count on in these Canadian Rocky Mountains, it’s finding snow. Even if visiting Banff in December, you’re bound to find snow while snowshoeing at Lake Louise and along the Smith-Dorrien in Kananaskis.

That being said, even if there is a lot of snow, some of these Banff snowshoe trails are popular and get packed down quickly. Snowshoes aren’t always required, so we always pack our microspikes as well.

banff snowshoe trail conditions

While many will say you can basically snowshoe on any hiking trail in Banff, not every summer trail makes a good winter trail. Even easy summer hikes can become dangerous in the winter. It’s important to know if you are venturing into avalanche training and have the training and required gear if you decide to continue.

Banff snowshoe trails with dogs
Our dog Copper loved the deep snow!

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10 Banff Snowshoe Trails

Each of these Banff snowshoe trails has something different to offer. We’ve included easy and moderate snowshoe trails in Banff and one that’s more of a challenge.

frozen waterfall along winter hike in Banff National Park

Easy Banff Snowshoe Trails

Whether you are brand new to snowshoeing or snowshoeing with kids, these easy snowshoe trails in Banff are the perfect place to start. Consider making them part of a new holiday tradition, if you are spending Christmas in Banff!

snowshoeing lake louise - lakeshore snowshoe with kids

1. Johnson Lake Snowshoe Trail

Distance: 2.8 km loop

Elevation Gain: minimal

For an easy snowshoe in Banff, you can’t beat the Johnson Lake trail. It’s a short loop around the lake with impressive views of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. From the free parking lot, you can do the loop in either direction (note: there have been one way signs on the Johnson Lake trail in 2020/21).

Johnson Lake - snowshoeing banff trails

From the parking lot, walking down to the lake and across the bridge will take you through the forested section first. Johnson Lake actually has an inner and outer loop. On this side, the inner loop will keep you closer to the shoreline, while the outer will go briefly along the powerline. While this portion is not overly interesting in the winter, it’s still a very pleasant walk in the forest.

Johnson Lake - easy snowshoe trails in Banff

The benefit of doing this section first, is that the return trip on the other side of the lake will give views of Cascade the entire time as you walk towards it.

snowshoeing banff national park at Johnson Lake

Shortly after crossing the bridge at the far side of Johnson Lake, there are two options.

One trail is higher up along the ridge and offers much more impressive views. Shortly after, you’ll enter the forest briefly before returning to the parking lot.

When visiting Banff in January, try to find the locations of the red chairs in Banff National Park. These red chairs are at Johnson Lake
These Banff red chairs are no longer located along the Johnson Lake trail

The second trail stays down lower close to the lakeshore. This trail is narrow and can be difficult to pass when meeting other people on the trail.

To snowshoe Johnson Lake as an out and back, and skipping the forested part on the far side of the lake, use the lower trail out and the upper trail back. You can’t go wrong either way.

This easy Banff snowshoe trail is a perfect spot for snowshoeing with kids. If the lake is well frozen, it’s a fun place to play in the deep snow. Ensure you take all the proper precautions and test the ice thickness before venturing on to the lake.

banff snowshoeing with kids at Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake is popular in the winter for both skating in Banff and as an easy winter hike in Banff. It’s possible that the path will be packed down enough that winter boots or spikes are sufficient.

Location of Johnson Lake Snowshoe

Get to the Johnson Lake day use area via the Lake Minnewanka Road. From the TransCanada highway, take the first Banff exit and keep right to get on Lake Minnewanka Road. The road is well signed to get Johnson Lake and there’s a large parking lot complete with toilets.

2. Johnston Canyon Snowshoe

Distance: 5 km out and back

Elevation Gain: 120 m to Upper Falls

While Johnston Canyon itself makes much more sense as an easy winter hike, we’ve included it on this list as it’s possible to snowshoe to Johnston Canyon via Moose Meadows. Hiking Johnston Canyon is still one of our favorite things to do in the winter to see the frozen waterfalls, but this requires little more than boots and microspikes.

Hiking Johnston Canyon - visiting banff in winter

To escape the crowds, continue past the Johnston Canyon parking lot to the Moose Meadows parking lot. The trail from Moose Meadows is an easy snowshoe through the forest that comes to a junction around the 3.2 km mark. This junction has two options: take the trail to Johnston Canyon or continue up to the Ink Pots.

snowshoeing banff national park on Moose Meadows to Ink Pots

The trail to Johnston Canyon from the junction connects to the Johnston Canyon trail at the Upper Falls. This is a popular place for ice climbers, so keep an eye out when at the Upper Falls.

ice climber at Johnston Canyon Upper Falls

From there the Johnston Canyon trail can be hiked down past the Lower Falls and to the parking lot.

Frozen waterfall at Johnston Canyon Banff

Be prepared with snowshoes or microspikes for the hike in Johnston Canyon as it can get quite icy.

There is no loop to get back to Moose Meadows parking lot. The only options are to return back the same way or snowshoe/hike the 2 km along the Bow Valley Parkway.

If energy levels and physical conditions allow, we recommend taking the junction to the Upper Falls then returning to complete the snowshoe up to the Ink Pots.

Location of Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Parkway (highway 1A). Continue driving 2km past Johnston Canyon parking lot to reach Moose Meadows parking lot. The trailhead is obvious at the end of the parking lot.

3. Fairview Lookout Snowshoe

Distance: 2 km out and back

Elevation Gain: 100 m

The Fairview Lookout snowshoe trail at Lake Louise is a steep climb over a short distance. It is located on Fairview Mountain on the south side of Lake Louise.

Fairview Lookout - lake louise snowshoe trails

It’s a steep climb, but we’ve included it under the easy snowshoes because it is so short. Don’t let the climb dissuade you from heading up this trail, the views are well worth the climb.

best snowshoe trails banff - Fairview Lookout

Start the Fairview trail to the left of the Lake Louise shoreline. There are several trails that leave from here and the Fairview Lookout trail is a right at the junction.

winter hikes banff - Fairview Lookout trail

The trail will be easy to follow through the forest up to the viewpoint. At the viewpoint, take the time to appreciate the rewards of the climb. The view of the Chateau Lake Louise hotel and the lake are incredible. This winter scenery is exactly what so many people come to see when visiting Lake Louise in winter.

View of Lake Louise from Fairview Lookout snowshoe trail

Do not attempt any loop from the Fairview Lookout as you can venture into avalanche terrain. Return back on the same trail, enjoying the descent that your legs have earned.

For something longer, pair this snowshoe trail with a snowshoe along the Lake Louise shoreline or skating on Lake Louise. For something more difficult, pair with the Highline snowshoe trail.

banff winter activities - Skating on Lake Louise

Location of Fairview Lookout Snowshoe Trail

From the Lake Louise parking lot, walk to the lakeshore. At the big Lake Louise sign, turn left towards the hiking trails. They are well marked and easy to find. Follow the trail signs to the Fairview Lookout trail.

Sign to Fairview Lookout Snowshoe Trail at Lake Louise

4. Lake Louise Lakeshore Snowshoe

Distance: 4km out and back

Elevation Gain: n/a

For an easy snowshoe trail in Lake Louise, the lakeshore is flat and relatively short. Popular with walkers, this 4 km out and back snowshoe trail will likely be mostly packed down. To get some use out of your snowshoes, ventured out on to the lake if it is frozen solid.

snowshoeing on Lake Louise with kids

An easy snowshoe like this is the perfect time to enjoy your surroundings. The mountain views surrounding the lake are spectacular.

Turn back at the end of the lake, as the area past the end of the Lake Louise lakeshore trail ventures into avalanche terrain.

To make it a loop, snowshoe back across the lake if it is frozen solid (staying away from Fairview Mountain that has some avalanche risk). Be mindful to stay off the cross country ski tracks.

lake louise snowshoeing with kids in chariot

Never venture out on to the lake if you don’t know if it’s safe. If the rinks are being maintained, there’s a good chance that the lake is well frozen.

For a longer outing in Lake Louise, pair this snowshoe with the Fairview Lookout snowshoe or skating on Lake Louise, one of the best things to do in Banff in winter.

We also recommend the nearby Great Divide for an easy cross country ski in Banff National Park.

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

Location of Lake Louise Lakeshore Snowshoe

Drive up to the parking lot at Lake Louise (arrive early, as it gets busy). Start the snowshoe at the lake and around the North side of the lake along the lakeshore trail.

5. Lake Louise Blue Square 27 Snowshoe Trail

Distance: 6 km loop

Elevation Gain: 231 m

While slightly more challenging, this Blue Square 27 snowshoe trail descends into a beautiful snow covered forest. It offer up some stunning mountain views as you enter large meadows. At times even the Lake Louise Ski Resort is well within view.

kids having lunch sitting on snow while snowshoeing in Lake Louise

It eventually crosses the Great Divide ski trail, so be sure to be respectful of the cross-country skiers and the groomed ski trails by not stepping on them.

This trail is both unnamed and not on a map, aside from the one posted around Lake Louise by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Your best bet on this well-marked trail is to follow the blue squares with the number 27 on them.

Kids snowshoeing in Banff - Lake Louise snowshoe Trails

While this might not be the most popular snowshoe trail in Lake Louise, it’s worth the time alone to avoid the crowds. Add to that a winter wonderland of snow covered trees, large open meadows and mountain views. You won’t be disappointed!

sun peaking behind mountain with meadow in front on Lake Louise snowshoe trail

Location of Lake Louise Blue Square 27 Snowshoe

Drive up to the parking lot at Lake Louise (arrive early, as it gets busy). Start the snowshoe at the lake near the Lake Agnes trailhead.

If you are considering a visit to Banff with kids or pets, check out our recommendations for family-friendly-hotels in Banff and pet-friendly hotels in Banff.

Moderate Banff Snowshoe Trails

If you are looking for more of a challenge or want to have a longer outing, here are a few moderate snowshoe trails in Banff that we recommend.

snowshoeing near banff at Mount Norquay

6. Ink Pots via Moose Meadows

Distance: 11.2 km out and back

Elevation Gain: 340 m

The Ink Pots are a set of springs rich in minerals that gives them a stunning blue-green color and have water bubbling up through the mud. They are found in a valley surrounded with impressive mountain views.

Snowshoe to the Ink Pots via an out and back snowshoe trail from Moose Meadows. As mentioned previously, it’s possible to stop at the 3.2 km junction point to take a slight detour to the Upper Falls of Johnston Canyon.

Views along Moose Meadows - snowshoeing in banff

Once back at the junction, follow the sign to the left to the Ink Pots. The trail is easy to follow as it climbs through the forest. As you near the Ink Pots, you’ll lose some elevation as you descend into the valley. Eventually, the forest opens up to a stunning alpine meadow.

snowshoeing in Banff with dogs

While the Ink Pots won’t be nearly as impressive in the winter, the surrounding scenery is more than worth it. If the Ink Pots aren’t frozen over, you may still get the green/blue hue, best seen on a sunny day.

Moose Meadows to Ink Pots - best snowshoeing banff

The benches at the Ink Pots make the perfect spot to stop and enjoy this beautiful winter scenery in Banff. Take the same trail back down to the parking lot, enjoying the downhill almost the entire way.

Location of Ink Pots Trail

Johnston Canyon is located along the Bow Valley Parkway (highway 1A). Continue driving past Johnston Canyon parking lot 2 km to reach Moose Meadows parking lot. The trailhead is obvious at the end of the parking lot.

7. Upper Stoney Lookout Trail

Distance: 4.8 km loop

Elevation Gain: 205 m

The Upper Stoney Loop at Mount Norquay makes for a fun half-day snowshoe in Banff National Park. This trail isn’t overly long and we’d typically consider this to be an easy snowshoe trail in Banff, but due to the elevation gain we’ve included it under moderate snowshoe trails in Banff.

This is probably the easiest summit to make in Banff, but it will still induce some sweating on the way up!

banff national park snowshoe trails - Upper Stoney Lookout

Starting at the parking lot to the Mount Norquay Ski Resort (at the very near part of the parking lot closest to the road), the trail immediately starts the ascent. It’s a continual climb, with a few steep sections, through the forest. Marvel at the feeling of walking amongst these snow covered trees.

best snowshoeing trails banff - Upper Stoney Lookout

The trail is easy to follow as it’s used frequently by snowshoers, hikers and people fat biking in Banff. If the trail is packed down well enough, snowshoes may not be necessary though some type of traction device will make it an easier climb.

If snowshoeing the Upper Stoney Loop shortly after a large snowfall, definitely pack snowshoes. It’s not unusual for the first half of the trail to be packed down by a hiker who turned back. You’ll be breaking trail if you continue the loop, especially early in the season.

There aren’t any views on the way up, except at the summit. The trees hide most of the view, but this is still a great place to stop for lunch or a snack.

best snowshoe trails banff - upper stoney lookout

From there continue along the same trail to loop back down. The trail will end at the Mount Norquay ski resort where you walk across the parking lot to finish this moderate Banff snowshoe trail.

We have enjoyed this snowshoe trail in Banff with kids. While there might be some complaining on the way up, they’ll love the second half that’s almost entirely downhill!

Upper Stoney Lookout - Snowshoe trails at Mount Norquay

Locaton of Upper Stoney Snowshoe Loop

Take the exit to Mount Norquay off the TransCanada highway and follow the switchbacks up to the parking lot. Stop at the near side of the parking lot (furthest away from the ski resort). The trail starts immediately across the road in the trees, with trail signs making it easy to find.

8. Hoodoos Viewpoint via Surprise Corner

Distance: 9.6 km out and back

Elevation Gain: 305 m

Like so many of the trails around Banff, the need for snowshoes will be completely dependent on how much snow has fallen and how recently. The trails are frequented by locals and tourists, so they are often packed down within days of a recent snowfall. We find it helps to plan for either a snowshoe or a winter hike.

If you really want to snowshoe, we recommend heading into Kananaskis. Even some of the easy snowshoe trails in Kananaskis, especially those along the Smith-Dorrien, will either have recent snowfalls or enough snow to play around in on the side of the trail.

Hoodoos Viewpoint - Banff snowshoe trails

This specific winter hike or snowshoe in Banff first offers spectacular views of the Fairmont Banff Springs from Surprise Corner.

Banff Springs Hotel in Winter

From there it’s an easy walk along the river with just as impressive views of Mount Rundle. There is one steep hill along this trail, but it’s well worth it for the views from the Hoodoo Viewpoint. This is one section where even with little snow, you should be prepared with some type of traction device for your boots (either snowshoes or microspikes).

Hoodoos in Banff - hiking in banff area

This trail can be done as a loop by heading back on Tunnel Mountain Road, but we prefer it as an out and back. The trail down by the river is quiet and peaceful.

Location of the Hoodoo Viewpoint Snowshoe

From the TransCanada highway, take the second exit into the town of Banff. Park at the Surprise Corner Viewpoint in Banff and follow the hiking signs to the Hoodoos trail.

9. Mirror Lake Snowshoe Trail

Distance: 5.4 km out and back

Elevation: 295 m

The hike to the Lake Agnes teahouse is one of the most popular hikes in Lake Louise in summer. Unfortunately, most of us are unable to snowshoe to Lake Agnes in the winter due to Class 2 avalanche terrain, which requires appropriate training and equipment.

It’s not all bad news though as you can snowshoe to Mirror Lake, which shares the first part of the Lake Agnes trail. This excellent Lake Louise snowshoe trail is a moderate snowshoe from the Chateau Lake Louise.

You can't snowshoe to Lake Agnes due to avalanche risk, but the scenery at Mirror Lake in January is amazing

Along the Mirror Lake snowshoe trail you’ll enjoy nice views of Fairview Mountain across Lake Louise. When you arrive at Mirror Lake, take the time to enjoy the beauty of a snow-covered Big Beehive.

You can’t snowshoe to Lake Agnes due to avalanche risk, but the scenery at Mirror Lake in winter is amazing

Note: sections of the Lake Agnes Trail to Mirror Lake still pass through avalanche terrain. Be aware of this risk and take a good look at your surroundings before you decide to stop. Please check the Banff avalanche report and the Mirror Lake trail conditions before attempting this Lake Louise snowshoe trail.

Location of Mirror Lake Snowshoe Trail

From the Lake Louise parking lot, walk to the lake. While facing the lake, take the path to the right along the North side of the lake. There will be clear hiking signs with the trail leading up to the right.

Difficult Snowshoe Trails

The difficult snowshoe trails in Banff require more knowledge and research to ensure you aren’t venturing into dangerous avalanche terrain. They are also longer and steeper, so plan to bring more layers, food, water and anything else you need for spending a significantly longer time outside on a winter day.

Here is one difficult snowshoe trail in Banff that we recommend.

View alog Moose Meadows Banff snowshoe

10. Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe

Distance: 12.8 km out and back 

Elevation Gain: 885 m

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe begins from the Mount Norquay Ski Resort. Follow the snowshoe trail signs that begin near the Sundance Magic Carpet and follow them past the chair lifts. You’ll eventually descend down into the trees near the Mystic chairlift.

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail begins below the Mystic chairlift at Mt. Norquay Ski Area

This Banff snowshoe trail starts with a descent down to the Forty-Mile Creek. Enjoy this part of the trail, as the trail past the bridge starts its ascent all the way to Cascade Amphitheatre.

A snow-covered bridge over 40 Mile Creek - snowshoe trails in Banff, Canada

On the next part of the trail across the bridge over Forty-Mile Creek, you’ll get a few sneaky mountain views through the trees. These are a great place to stop and catch your breath.

The trail will eventually come to a junction where you’ll continue to the right. This is where the switchbacks start to get steeper. You’ll be glad to not to be the people out breaking the trail on this climb! Even if the trail is packed, the snow can still be soft and snowshoes provide good traction.

Cascade Amphitheatre is one of the challenging Banff snowshoe trails

These switchbacks continue all the way up through the sparse forest, until it levels off and the trees get more dense. From there you’ll know you’re close, as it soon opens up to reveal the view you came looking for!

Banff snowshoeing on Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail

This is an out and back trail, so continue back down the way you came. Enjoy the downhill back to the creek, because there’s still some work to do to get back to the parking lot!

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe will definitely get your blood pumping.

It’s been years since we’ve been afforded the time to do a longer and more difficult snowshoe. We’ve spent a lot of time snowshoeing with kids, either carrying them in a backpack carrier or with them snowshoeing themselves. With kids in ski lessons at Norquay, we started exploring the surrounding trails and knew we wanted to complete this snowshoe trail all the way to the Cascade Amphitheatre. We are so glad we did.

The effort required on the hard Banff snowshoe trail up Cascade Mountain is all worth it

To extend your outing, start with the Upper Stoney Loop then rather than returning to the parking lot go right to continue to Cascade Amphitheatre.

Location of the Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe

Take the exit to Mount Norquay off the TransCanada highway and follow the switchbacks up to the parking lot. Take your snowshoes and walk past Cascade Lodge. You’ll begin to see the snowshoe trail markers near the Sundance Magic Carpet.

We recommend snowshoes for the Banff Cascade Amphitheatre in winter

Banff Snowshoe Trail Safety

Banff Wildlife Safety

In the dead of winter, the bears around Banff should be hibernating (be careful in early winter or early spring though!) But that’s not a reason to let your guard down as other Banff wildlife like wolves, cougars and elk still provide a safety risk to Banff visitors.

Wildlife Spotting - winter Banff Activities

Although the most vicious animal we usually encounter on these Banff snowshoe trails is a squirrel, it only takes a few minutes to learn about wildlife safety in Banff National Park.

Banff Snowshoe Trail Reports

It’s always a good idea to check the Banff snowshoe trail conditions before you leave home. Parks Canada doesn’t publish a trail report for every trail, but you can read recent reviews on AllTrails to get a sense for current trail conditions.

Fairview Lookout snowshoeing at Lake Louise

Avalanche Risk while Snowshoeing in Banff National Park

The risk of a Banff avalanche increases above the treeline into the alpine zone

We highly recommend consulting the Banff Avalanche Bulletin published by Parks Canada before you go.

We are not avalanche experts, so please educate yourself and make smart decisions while enjoying the beauty of Banff National Park in winter.

Banff Snowshoe Rentals

Snowshoe Rentals in Banff

Snowshoe rentals are available at Mount Norquay as well, in the North American Lodge (near the Norquay Tubing area).

Snowshoe Rentals in Lake Louise

Essential Tips for Snowshoeing in Banff

The most important thing about snowshoeing in Banff is to know the terrain, stay safe and be prepared for the elements.

  1. Always check the weather forecast and be prepared to turn back if the weather changes. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and blowing snow can cause zero visibility.

  2. Be aware of the terrain you are snowshoeing into and only venture into avalanche terrain if you know what you are doing. Learn the avalanche basics from Avalanche Canada.

  3. 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. We recommend learning about dressing in layers before you enjoy any snowshoe trails in Banff. Make sure you have a good daybag to store your unused layers in.

    • 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
      Shop for mid-layers
      Shop for soft shell layers

    • For your feet, waterproof insulated hiking boots or insulated winter boots plus a good pair of wool socks should be sufficient. Gaiters are a great way to keep snow out of your boots and keep your feet dry.

      Shop for winter hiking boots
      Shop for gaiters

    • Don’t forget to pack extra mitts, a toque, sunglasses and sunscreen.

    • Keep your fingers and toes toasty with hand and feet warmers. Winter activities are less fun if your hands and feet are freezing. 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.

  4. Days are short in the winter and it gets darker much earlier than expected especially when the sun ducks down behind the mountains. Plan your winter hikes earlier in the day.

  5. Bring plenty of snacks and water. Pack snacks that won’t freeze (or are still easy to eat when they get cold). For water, you might need to use water bottles instead of a water reservoir, as the water in the tube can freeze easily.

    Shop for high energy snacks
    Shop for water bottles and reservoirs

  6. Don’t forget the bear spray. Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean the bears are tucked in sleeping for the winter.

    Note that most airlines will not allow you to fly with bear spray, so you are better off buying or renting a bottle while in Banff. Oh… and take a second to learn how to use bear spray before hitting the trails.

  7. Bring microspikes for trails that are well packed down. If you are unsure of the trail conditions, you can bring your snowshoes as well.

    Shop for traction devices
    Shop snowshoes

  8. Hiking poles are also a good option for snowshoeing. Trekking poles can help reduce strain on your knees, help with balance and can be useful when the trail is icy.

    Shop for trekking poles: MEC — REI

  9. winter picnic blanket is a nice treat when you stop for lunch or a snack, if you have room in your pack.

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Snowshoeing in Banff is one of the best ways to enjoy a winter day in Banff. Choose from these 8 fun snowshoe trails in Banff National Park, ranging from easy to difficult snowshoeing. Includes recommendations for Banff snowshoeing with kids!

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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.