Easy Cross-Country Ski Trails in Banff and Area

There are few activities more Canadian than cross-country skiing in Banff National Park. You’ll love the excellent work-out as you soak in the world-class Rocky Mountain scenery on the many beautiful cross-country ski trails in Banff. Cross-country skiing is a very popular winter sport in Alberta and as a result, there is a wide selection of easy cross-country ski trails in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis for all skill levels to enjoy.

We have been avid winter hikers & snowshoers in Banff and Kananaskis for many years, but we are still new to the sport of Nordic skiing. Here are the easy Banff and Kananaskis cross-country ski trails we have enjoyed to date. Check back often as we’ll keep adding new easy Banff cross-country ski trails to this post!

Kananaskis offers great cross country skiing near Canmore

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Easy Banff Cross-Country Ski Trails

Lake Louise Cross-Country Ski Trails

Great Divide Cross-Country Ski Trail – Lake Louise

Distance: 10km one-way

Elevation: 60m loss

Banff National Park is incredibly beautiful with its mountain scenery, but the mountains make it hard to find a long & flat stretch of land for an easy cross-country ski trail. The Great Divide cross-country ski trail in Lake Louise (also known as “Old 1A”) is remarkably flat, making it a great cross-country ski trail in Banff for beginners or families.

The Great Divide cross country ski trail is really wide with many shared uses. This easy Lake Louise cross-country ski trail is groomed with set tracks for classic skiing on each of the outer edges. The wide area between the two set tracks are for skate skiers, fat bikers, snowshoers, etc.

cross country skiing lake louise - Great Divide trail

The Great Divide XC ski trail is an excellent option for an early season outing. While Canmore and the Town of Banff are waiting for enough snow on the ground for cross-country skiing, the Lake Louise area often has a decent snow pack. We’ve enjoyed the Great Divide cross-country ski trail as early as November.

Fun Fact: The southern section of the Alberta / BC border follows the Continental Divide. Water in BC flows toward the Pacific Ocean, while water from Banff in Alberta flows to the Hudson Bay. The Great Divide XC ski trail gets its name as it crosses the Continental Divide from Alberta into Yoho National Park in British Columbia.

If you are really new to cross-country skiing, you can take cross-country ski lessons in Lake Louise.

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

Lake Louise Great Divide cross-county ski trail map

Easy Cross-Country Ski Trails in Kananaskis

Spray Lakes Cross-Country Ski Trails

Watridge Lake Cross-Country Trail

The Watridge Lake cross-country ski trail is a popular beginner Nordic ski trail in the Mt. Shark Day Use area of Kananaskis Country. The Watridge Lake XC ski trail is 7.7km return (to the lake and back). There are some hills along the trail – most are very small and manageable, but there are two which may be of concern to very new cross-country skiers (you can always walk these sections).

Watridge Lake Trail is one of two easy cross country ski trails at Mt. Shark, Kananaskis Country

Watridge Lake Trail is very wide and is groomed and track set for cross-country skiing. It’s width allows for great mountain views and is the primary reason we included it in our list of Great Hikes for Social Distancing. The trail width provides the same benefits in the winter, but it also provides enough space on the side for snowshoeing, winter hiking and fat biking.

There are actually seven XC ski trails found at the Mount Shark cross-country ski area in Kananaskis. Most of the Mount Shark ski trails are rated intermediate or difficult, but the Watridge Trail and the 2km “Blue Trail Loop” are rated as easy cross-country ski trails.

The popular Mount Shark cross-country skiing area is near the south end of the Spray Lakes Provincial Park. There’s a large parking lot at Mt. Shark, but it can fill up on weekends, so get there early.

If you’d like more information on this popular Mount Shark cross-country skiing trail, you can read more on our cross-country skiing at Watridge Lake Trail blog post.

Cross-country skiers share the Watridge Lake Trail with snowshoers, winter hikers and fat bikers

Mt. Shark cross-country ski trails map.

Peter Lougheed XC Ski Trails

Braille Cross-Country Ski Trail

Distance: 2.2km one way

The Braille cross-country ski trail is a fun Kananaskis cross-country ski trail for beginners with excellent mountain views. Braille is an easy 2.2km (one-way) XC ski trail which runs along a powerline between the William Watson Lodge and the Canyon Day Use road. Optionally, you can continue a short distance further to the Pocaterra Warming Hut.

You may cringe at hearing “power line”, but it really isn’t as bad as it sounds, in fact there are many upsides. The trees have been cleared making the path really wide, allowing you to enjoy exceptional views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains in all directions. With Kananaskis mountain views like this, you’ll barely notice the power lines.

Family friendly Kananaskis cross country skiing on the Braille Trail

An easy access point to the Braille cross-country ski trail is at the Elkwood Amphitheatre parking lot. From here, it’s a short XC ski along the Lodgepole Trail to the Braille trail. If you start here, be aware the Braille cross-country ski trail crosses the Kananaskis Lakes Road after about 100m, so it’s best to wait to put your cross-country skis until after you cross the road.

The Braille cross-country ski trail in Kananaskis is a great option for an early season outing. The Kananaskis Lakes typically has more snow than to Banff and Canmore. We have enjoyed the Braille cross-country ski trail as early as Nov 29.

Kid-friendly cross country skiing in Kananaskis - Braille trail

Kananaskis Braille XC ski trail map

Spray Valley Cross-Country Ski Trails

Wedge Connector XC Ski Trail

Distance: 5.4km return (2.7km one-way)

Elevation Gain: 114m

The Wedge Connector cross-county ski trail is a must-do beginner Kananaskis cross-country ski trail. Considering the mountainous landscape, it’s amazing what a flat and easy cross-country ski trail Wedge Connector is. There are only a few small hills along the way, with only one near the end of the trail which may make beginners a little nervous.

The Wedge Connector ski trail isn’t just easy, it’s beautiful as well. Wedge Connector is a groomed, double-track set XC trail which begins through a mixed forest. After about 1km the forest transitions into a large aspen forest, which is really beautiful in winter – I can just imagine how beautiful it’d be in fall.

Wedge Connector Trail is one of the best kid-friendly Kananaskis cross-country ski trail

The best part of the Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail comes towards the end as you approach the Evan-Thomas Creek. The forest gives way to an open meadow with fluffy snow mounds and incredible mountain views on all sides. The bridge which was washed out in the 2013 flood still lies on the side of the trail as a reminder of natures raw power.

Cross-country skiing in Kananaskis offers beautiful winter scenery, such as this on the Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail

The Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail is a popular kid-friendly cross-country ski trail in Kananaskis. Kids love how easy the trail is, but they especially love the chance to play in the deep snow of the meadow and to climb on an abandoned bridge.

Wedge Connector is one of the best easy Kananaskis ski trails

Access to the Wedge Connector XC ski trail is from the large Wedge Pond parking lot. If you are visiting Wedge Pond with kids, take the time to enjoy the easy walk around Wedge Pond for a bonus activity.

Wedge Connector XC Ski Trail Map

Tips for Banff Cross-Country Skiing

The most important thing about cross-country skiing 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. Check trail reports before heading out. For the best experience, it’s worthwhile to take the time to check the latest grooming reports for the trails. We also make use of skierbob.ca which has trip reports provided by other cross country skiers.

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

  4. 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, insulated cross-country ski boots and a good pair of wool socks should be sufficient to keep your feet warm all day.

      Shop for winter hiking boots: MEC — REI
      Shop for gaiters: MEC— REI

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

  5. 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 cross-country skiing outing for earlier in the day if possible.

  6. 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 snacks: MECREI
    Shop for water bottles and reservoirs: MEC — REI

  7. Don’t forget your bear spray. Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean the bears are hibernating yet, especially early in the cross-country ski season. Plus, cougars are active all year round in Banff and Kananaskis.

    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.
easy trail sign on Braille - cross country skiing Kananaskis

Cross-Country Skiing in Banff with Kids

Keeping kids warm and dry is the key to successfully cross-country skiing with kids. For some great tips on successful winter activities with kids, head over to our Family Can Travel blog where we share all our tips!

Cross country skiing with kids on the Braille Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Kananaskis XC Ski Parking Pass

Kananaskis cross-country skiers are being asked to purchase a voluntary (not mandatory) parking pass from Nordiq Alberta to help cover the cost of trail grooming and maintenance. The Kananaskis parking pass is $10/day or $50 for the season. We gladly bought a Kananaskis cross-country skiing parking pass to help keep our Kananaskis XC skiing trails groomed.

Banff Cross-Country Ski Gear

As mentioned, we’re still pretty new at cross-country skiing, so we can’t give expert advice on the cross-country ski gear you’ll need. Thankfully the good folks at REI (the American equivalent of MEC) have written an excellent article on what you’ll need to go cross-country skiing. If you’re Canadian, read the REI article and then hop over to MEC to grab your cross-country ski gear.

Easy Cross-Country Ski Trails in Banff, Lake Louise and Kananaskis

Banff Cross-Country Ski Rentals

Lake Louise Cross-Country Ski Rentals

Canmore Cross-Country Ski Rentals

If you have the right clothes and gear, winter is an exceptional time to visit Banff National Park and the surrounding area. When you are looking for things to do in winter in Banff other than snowshoeing or downhill skiing, try adding cross-country skiing in Banff to your itinerary.

Kananaskis cross-country skiing for beginners

Visiting Banff in Winter

Banff Trip Planning

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