8 Easy Cross-Country Ski Trails in Banff and Area

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

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 activity in Alberta and as a result, there is a wide selection of easy cross-country ski trails in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis for all beginners 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 cross-country skiing. Here are the six 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

1. Great Divide Cross-Country Ski Trail

  • Park: Banff National Park
  • 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 nice and easy 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.

Location of the Great Divide Cross-Country Ski Trail

Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful parts of Banff National Park. Luckily for XC skiers, Lake Louise has an abundance of easy cross-country ski trails, as well as more challenging XC trails for more experienced skiers.

Lake Louise Great Divide cross-country ski trail map

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

If you are looking for a special place to try cross-country skiing, why not try taking cross-country ski lessons in Lake Louise.

2. Lake Minnewanka to Upper Bankhead

  • Park: Banff National Park
  • Distance: 4.6km out-and-back

While many people head to Lake Minnewanka in winter to cross-country ski the Cascade Valley to the Cascade River Bridge, you can stay left at the junction and make it a shorter ski to the Upper Bankhead parking lot. While you may find that the trail isn’t groomed or track-set past the junction to the Cascade River Bridge, it will often still have skier tracks that you can follow.

The benefit is that it also gets much quieter in this direction. There are some hills this way, but it’s an easy cross-country ski even for kids. You’ll also be rewarded with some impressive mountain views along the way!

Stop at the Upper Bankhead parking lot for a quick hot chocolate before the return trip!

Cross-country skiing at Lake Minnewanka - Winter

Location of the Lake Minnewanka Cross-Country Ski Trails

Take Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive to the Lake Minnewanka Day Use parking lot. From there, the cross-country ski trails begin on the closed section of the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. There’s a very clear junction that goes right to the Cascade Valley River Bridge. Stay left to go to Upper Bankhead.

3. Hector Cross-Country Ski Trail

  • Park: Banff National Park
  • Distance: 3km one-way
  • Elevation: 95m gain

Banff’s Hector Trail is a rewarding, easy cross-country ski trail just minutes from Lake Louise.

The beautiful Hector cross-country ski trail begins by passing a historic settlement with wooden house, barn etc. The trail then continues through a snowy evergreen forest which is wide enough to offer some nice mountain vistas, yet close enough to still feel like you are in a forest.

Hector Trail is a 3km long easy Banff cross-country ski trail in the Pipestone area near Lake Louise

It’s a short 3km XC ski on the Hector Trail to Pipestone Pond. The cross-country ski to this frozen, snow-covered Banff lake is slightly uphill the entire way, with only two short hills which may present a challenge to beginners to cross country skiing.

Once you arrive at the Pipestone Pond, you are nicely rewarded with views of Whitehorn Mountain (2,637m) and Hector Point sitting proudly across the lake. The return trip on this easy Banff cross-country skiing trail is great fun with minimal effort required as you slowly glide down the gentle downhill track to the beginning.

You'll see Pipestone Pond in Banff while cross-country skiing the Hector Trail, The Pipestone Loop and/or the Drummond Trail

Location of the Hector Cross-Country Ski Trail

The Hector ski trail is found within the popular and beautiful Pipestone XC ski area. Pipestone is just a one minute drive past the Lake Louise overpass on the TransCanada highway. Within the Pipestone cross-country ski area, you’ll find three easy Banff cross-country ski trails, all under 3km one-way. We enjoyed the Hector XC ski trail so much, we’re itching to come back to ski the rest of the Pipestone cross-country ski trails.

Pipestone XC Ski Area Parking Lot

Find excellent Banff cross country skiing at the Pipestone Cross-Country Ski Trails near Lake Louise

4. Watridge Lake Cross-Country Trail

  • Park: Spray Lakes Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country
  • Distance: 3.85km one-way

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. Its 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.

Location of the Watridge Lake XC Ski Trail

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

There are actually seven XC ski trails found at the Mount Shark cross-country ski area in Kananaskis. Most of the Mount Shark XC 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.

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. You may also be interested in this easy snowshoe trail from Mount Shark.

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

Mt. Shark cross-country ski trails map.

5. Braille Cross-Country Ski Trail

  • Park: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country
  • Distance: 2.2km one way

The Braille cross-country ski trail is a fun & easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail for beginners with excellent mountain views. The Braille XC trail is an easy 2.2km (one-way) 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

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.

Location of the Braille XC Ski 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.

Kananaskis Braille XC ski trail map

Kid-friendly cross country skiing in Kananaskis - Braille trail

6. Wedge Connector XC Ski Trail

  • Park: Spray Valley Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country
  • Distance: 2.7km one-way
  • Elevation Gain: 114m

The Wedge Connector cross-county ski trail is a must-do easy 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 isn’t just an easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail, 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 nature’s 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 this easy cross-country ski trail, 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

Location of the Wedge Connector XC Ski Trail

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

7. Banff Loop Cross-Country Ski Trail

  • Park: Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country
  • Distance: 5.2km loop
  • Elevation Gain: 160m

The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre is a must-do for all cross-country skiers in Alberta. This easy Canmore cross-country ski trail has 4 sets of tracks on the groomed trail – two sets of tracks for travel in each direction on the loop. It’s like a divided highway for cross-country skiing!

easy cross country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre on the Banff Loop Trail

The Banff Loop XC ski trail is 12m wide, allowing for a steady flow of graceful skate-skiers through the middle of the tracks. The slope of the trail is mostly gentle, but there are a few hills along the Banff Loop which will require extra effort.

The Canmore Nordic Centre also serves as the training ground for Canada’s top cross-country ski athletes. Don’t worry about getting in their way though – beginners to cross-country skiing stay on the set tracks, while the world-class cross-country ski athletes zoom past on their way to the much harder XC ski trails within the Canmore Nordic Centre. This unique opportunity to ski with the best cross-country skiers in Canada simply can’t be missed.

My favorite part of the Banff Loop cross-country ski trail at the Canmore Nordic Centre is the views of all my favorite Bow Valley mountains. Along the way you’ll enjoy excellent views of Mount Rundle, Ha Ling, Miners Peak, Mount Lawrence Grassi and the famous Three Sisters.

Another unique aspect of the Banff Loop trail is the opportunity to go cross-country skiing at night, it’s definitely one of the best Canmore winter activities. The Canmore Nordic Centre has lit the entire Banff Loop trail, allowing free night cross-country skiing from 5PM to 9PM every day.

Location of the Banff Loop XC Ski Trail

The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail is conveniently located in Canmore, just minutes from the gates of Banff National Park. Built for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics, the Canmore Nordic Centre played host to all the Olympic cross-country skiing and biathlon events. The Canmore Nordic Centre was upgraded to international standards in 2008 and still plays host to World Cup competitions.

The road to the Canmore Nordic Centre is well-marked throughout Canmore. The Banff Loop cross-country ski trail begins right in front of the Canmore Nordic Centre day lodge.

Note: Winter trail fees are in effect for cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

8. Amos and Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trails

  • Park: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Kananaskis Country
  • Distance: 5.4 km

Combining a portion of the Amos xc trail with an easy section of the Wheeler xc trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, makes a wonderful 5 km loop.

Amos Cross Country Ski Trail in Kananaskis

The trail starts with a short 0.2 km section before you begin the loop. Staying on Amos is easy as the trail is well marked.

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Cross Country Ski Trails Map along Amos XC Ski Trail

At the first map, go left to stay on the Amos cross country ski trail. We recommend doing the Amos section first and returning on Wheeler. There is one long winding hill on Wheeler that is much more fun to come down than go up.

Cross Country Skiing with Kids - Wheeler Trail in Kananaskis

Continue to follow the Amos trail for 2.5 km, passing junctions to the Woolley and Lynx cross country ski trails. At the fourth junction, the Amos trail ends and you’ll have the option to go left or right on the Wheeler cross country ski trail. Go right to take the easy section of Wheeler back to the parking lot.

Views along Wheeler XC Ski Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

While the Amos trail winds through the trees, the Wheeler trail spends the majority of the time up on a ledge with mountain views through the trees. There are three picnic tables along this portion making it a good place to stop for lunch or a snack.

picnic table along Wheeler Cross Country Ski Trail in Kananaskis

Overall this is an easy cross country ski trail in Kananaskis with only a few hills to contend with. Our 5 and 7 year olds easily managed it. Both trails are groomed and trackset with one set of tracks going each way.

You’ll notice that both the Amos and the Wheeler trail are crossed multiple times by the Frozen Toad Loop snowshoe and the Elkwood Loop snowshoe. These are two other fun winter activities to do in the area.

Snowshoe trail crossing cross country ski trail in Kananaskis

Location of the Amos XC Ski Trail

The Amos cross-country ski trail begins right at the Elkwood Amphitheatre parking lot. When you get to the trailhead (just past the toilets) go left to begin on the Amos trail.

Peter Lougheed Cross Country Ski Trail map

Banff Cross-Country Skiing Tips

The most important thing about cross-country skiing is to know the terrain, stay safe and be prepared for the unpredictable winter weather in Banff.

  • Always check the Kananaskis or Banff weather forecast and be prepared to turn back if the weather changes. In winter, the weather can change quickly in the Banff mountains and blowing snow can cause zero visibility.

  • Check the cross-country ski 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.
The Wedge Connector trail is a popular kid-friendly cross-country ski trail in Kananaskis
Wedge Connector XC Ski Trail
  • Be aware of the terrain you are cross-country skiing into and only venture into avalanche terrain if you know what you are doing. Learn the avalanche basics from Avalanche Canada.

  • 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.

Dress in layers while cross-country skiing in Banff in winter
  • 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.

  • The days are short in Banff in 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.

  • 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

  • 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

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.

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 some easy cross-country skiing in Banff to your itinerary.

Kananaskis cross-country skiing for beginners

Banff Winter Activities

Visiting Banff in Winter

Banff Trip Planning

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Easy Cross Country Ski Trails in Banff and Area. These are all fun, easy cross country ski trails for beginners or to do with kids.

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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.