best winter hikes in banff

14 Easy Winter Hikes in Banff and Area

If you are visiting Banff in winter or anytime between October and April, it’s very likely you’ll be seeing snow. Here in the Canadian Rockies, the snow typically starts to fly well before the official start of winter and that’s when all the Banff winter activities will start.

While waiting for more popular winter activities like skiing, the shoulder season in Banff is the perfect time to do some of these winter hikes in Banff and the surrounding area.

Winter hiking in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis is a great way to experience the area during the shoulder season, but the beauty of these hikes is that you can do them all winter long. They are popular enough that you can count on the trails to be packed down well enough to leave snowshoes behind. That is, of course, unless you are the first one on the trail after a big snowfall.

These are all easy winter hikes in Banff National Park and the surrounding area of Canmore and Kananaskis. Though none of these are epic hikes that will take up your whole day, they are fun, easy outings where you don’t have to worry about avalanche risk. Just be prepared for the winter weather – more tips on that below.

Sulphur Mountain in Banff

This post contains compensated links.

Winter Hiking – Banff

Johnson Lake

Distance: 3.1 km loop

Elevation: 70 m

Johnson Lake snow covered - easy winter hikes banff

Hiking around Johnson Lake is an easy winter hike in Banff National Park. You can make Johnson Lake a full day activity with winter hiking and outdoor skating in Banff National Park, if you are lucky enough to get there when the lake is frozen and not covered in snow. Even if the lake is snow covered, hiking around Johnson Lake is still worth the effort.

winter activities in banff - skating on Johnson Lake

The hike can be done as a loop around the lake, with a portion along a forested trail. Alternatively, you can hike out to the end and turn back for nice views almost the entire time. There is the option to hike up along the ridge or lower down closer to the lake.

Johnson Lake trail map

Johnson Lake - banff winter hiking

Tunnel Mountain

Distance: 4.6 km out & back

Elevation: 266 m

Tunnel Mountain (also known as Sleeping Buffalo) is a popular hike in Banff for tourists and locals alike. The Tunnel Mountain hike is popular enough that the trail will be packed down making it a good candidate for a Banff winter hike.

Tunnel Mountain - Easy Banff Winter Hikes

Tunnel Mountain is a great family hike too, especially if you are looking to accomplish that first summit! It’s just challenging enough for kids that they’ll feel like they’ve climbed a mountain. Meanwhile, you’ll appreciate the views!

Winter scenery in Banff National Park - the view of Rundle Mountain and Banff Springs Golf Course from Tunnel Mountain

Johnston Canyon

Distance: 5.0 km out & back (to the Upper Falls)

Elevation: 236 m

Hiking Johnston Canyon - visiting banff in winter

Easily one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park, Johnston Canyon is also a winter activity in Banff that we highly recommend. For many years, we visited Johnston Canyon more in the winter than in the summer.

While hiking up Johnston Canyon to the Upper and Lower falls is certainly something spectacular to see in the spring and summer, seeing the frozen falls with ice climbers is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter. It’s even more lovely without the summer crowds!

ice climber at Johnston Canyon - winter hike banff

You can extend your winter hike by going all the way up the Ink Pots from Johnston Canyon for a total of 11.7 km out & back. This portion of the trail will be less traveled so you might want to consider bringing snowshoes, depending on the time of the latest snowfall.

If you’d prefer to have transportation, winter gear and a guide, you can enjoy the amazing Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour from Banff.

Ink Pots - best winter hikes in banff

Hoodoos Viewpoint

Distance: 10 km out & back

Elevation: 305 m

View from Hoodoo Viewpoint - banff hiking winter

While you can get to the Hoodoos Viewpoint by parking right at the viewpoint on Tunnel Mountain Road to see these impressive rock spires, doing it as a winter hike is worthwhile.

Starting at Surprise Corner, you’ll love the vantage point of the iconic Banff Springs Hotel. From there, you’ll meander through the forest with incredible views of the Bow River and Mount Rundle. After climbing on to the ridge along Tunnel Mountain Road, the views over the valley are equally impressive.

Hoodoos Viewpoint trail map

View of Rundle along Hoodoo Trail - winter hikes banff
Hoodoos in Banff - hiking in banff area

Banff: Winter Wildlife and Sightseeing Minibus Tour

Two Jack Lake

Distance: 3.2 km out & back

Elevation: 184 m

Walking along Two Jack Lake - winter things to do in banff

If Johnson Lake is too short of an outing, add Two Jack Lake to your list of winter hiking trails in Banff. This is a leisurely walk with stunning lake views. Start at the parking lot and walk along the lake shore. This path will take you along the wooded lakeshore, past the Two Jack Lakeside campground and to the outflow canal.

Two Jack Lake trail map

Two Jack Lake trail - visiting banff in winter

Stoney Lookout

Distance: 4.3 km loop

Elevation: 239 m

Stoney Lookout is the perfect winter hike in Banff to get a good workout while still getting to appreciate the views over the valley. The hike up to the lookout is in the trees, which gives you a sense of being in a winter wonderland. Once at the top, the views of Cascade mountain and the valley are worth the climb. From there, it’s mostly downhill to return to the parking lot.

Stoney Lookout - Banff winter hiking trails

This trail is popular with winter hikers, snowshoers and fat bikers. You’ll often find the trail packed down enough that microspikes are sufficient. We’ve even done it while our kids attended the excellent ski school program at Mount Norquay.

We love the Kahtoola microspikes and have been using them for several years.

Stoney Lookout trail map

Note:Stoney Lookout” is a new name for this hike. You may also know it by it’s former name, but it was considered derogatory and Parks Canada has officially changed the name.

Lake Louise Lakeshore and Fairview Lookout

Distance: Lakeshore 4.7 km out & back / Fairview Lookout 2 km out & back

Elevation: Lakeshore 101 m / Fairview Lookout 165 m

We recommend making a full day of your time at Lake Louise. While the views are impressive right from the start, take a 4 km winter walk along the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail. At the end before turning back, you might spot a few ice climbers on the frozen waterfall.

banff things to do winter - walking Lake Louise Lakeshore

See Lake Louise and the Chateau Lake Louise from a different perspective by climbing up to the Fairview Lookout. The Fairview Lookout is 1 km each way on an out and back trail. Once you arrive at the lake from the parking lot, the trail leaves from the left (while looking at the lake).

winter hikes banff - Fairview Lookout trail
View from Fairview Lookout - winter hike banff

Finally, don’t forget to bring your ice skates to join in the winter fun on the lake!

banff winter activities - Skating on Lake Louise

You may enjoy this half-day Discover Lake Louise Tour from Banff, which includes snowshoes and plenty of free time to enjoy the amazing winter walks in Lake Louise.

Lake Louise Lakeshore trail map

Fairview Lookout trail map

Want something a little easier than these Banff winter hiking trails?

Here are some winter walks in Banff where you can still experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains without much elevation:

Walk along the 2km Fenland Trail loop. It’s an easy walk through the wooded marshland that you can access right from the town of Banff.

Walk the Vermilion Lakes Road, with impressive mountain views behind the three lakes that make up Vermilion Lakes. You can walk up to 4.4 km before turning back. Just be aware that this road is shared with vehicle traffic.

Vermilion Lakes - banff winter skating

While the hike up to Sulphur Mountain isn’t recommended in the winter due to avalanche risk, you can take the Banff Gondola up then walk along the 1 km interpretive boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station and Sanson’s Peak. Be prepared for some cold winds at the summit!

Banff Gondola - winter activities in banff
Boardwalk on Sulphur Mountain - winter walks Banff

Want something a more difficult winter hike in Banff?

Leaving right from the Taylor Lake parking lot along the Transcanada Highway, hike up the 13.7 km out and back trail to Taylor Lake. The forested trail is worth the view of the lake with panoramic mountain peaks surrounding it. Be prepared with a set of snowshoes, as you might find several feet of snow at the lake.

Winter Hiking – Canmore

Grassi Lakes

Distance: 4.0 km out & back

Elevation: 170 m

Grassi Lakes are a winter wonderland

One of the most popular hikes in Canmore also makes a great winter hike. The Grassi Lakes hike is an easy 4 km hike. Even in the winter this is a hike that almost anyone will be able to do. Given it’s popularity, you can expect the snow to be nicely packed. And the water color could arguably be even prettier surrounded with the white snow.

During the rest of the year there are two options to hike up to Grassi Lakes, but in the winter only the Grassi Lakes Upper trail is open. The more difficult route, Grassi Lake Interpretive Trail, is closed due to icy trail conditions.

Heart Creek

Distance: 4.7 km out & back

Elevation: 302 m

Just east of Canmore, Heart Creek is a favorite family hike, and for good reason. It’s a flat easy hike that ends at a hidden waterfall. Heart Creek makes for an easy winter hike near Canmore. With very little elevation and bridges crossing the creek, it’s a great way to spend a weekend morning.

Another fun outing in the area is hiking to the Heart Creek Bunker. It’s an easy 4.0 km hike along the Great Trail that will take you to an abandoned cold war bunker. It leaves from the opposite side of the parking lot from the Heart Creek trail.

Want something easier than these winter hiking trails in Canmore?

Canmore has an extensive pathway system that is perfect for a winter walk. Enjoy the quiet along Policeman’s Creek in the early morning or walk the pathways along the Bow River to the Engine Bridge.

A short walk along the shores of Quarry Lake is also bound to impress.

Want a more difficult winter hiking trail in Canmore?

There’s something truly magical about the snow capped Canadian Rocky Mountains contrasted with the green pine trees and blue sky. While summer in Canmore and Banff is the busiest time, our favorite time to see the mountains is in the winter. There’s no better way to get to see this from up high than doing a winter hike in Canmore up to Ha Ling peak.

Hiking Ha Ling Peak is a popular activity, so you shouldn’t need anything more on your feet than winter hiking boots and microspikes to get up to the peak. Be aware that Ha Ling crosses an avalanche zone and there can be snow cornices at the edge. Check the avalanche forecast before going, stay far away from the edge and be prepared for changes in weather. High winds and snow can quickly cause a loss of visibility.

Winter Hiking – Kananaskis

Troll Falls

Distance: 3.4 km

Elevation: 151 m

One of the most popular trails in Kananaskis, especially for families, is Troll Falls. Whether you’re planning to hike this in the summer or add this to your winter hiking in Kananaskis, we are certain you will love this trail. It’s an easy hiking trail, which is really more like a walk, with a fun reward at the end. Troll falls is beautiful and impressive in the winter time.

Frozen waterfall at Troll Falls - Kananaskis winter hiking

Every once in a while, troll dolls get hidden along this trail. Kids will literally run the length of this trail looking for those troll dolls. Unfortunately, then tend to start disappearing over time leaving kids disappointed when they are gone.

Troll Falls trail map

Troll Falls - winter hiking trails in kananaskis

Grotto Canyon

Distance: 7.1 km out & back

Elevation: 390 m

With plenty of snow on the ground, Grotto Canyon is an easy winter hike in the canyon. Approximately 3.5 km in you’ll come to a waterfall. This is typically the point where we turn back.

Once shoulder season hits in the spring, the snow gives way to ice that freezes and thaws several times over. This is also a great time to hike Grotto Canyon, though we don’t recommend doing it unless you have your own microspikes or take the Grotto Canyon Icewalk tour.

Grotto Canyon trail map

Grotto Canyon - winter hiking kananaskis
Waterfall at Grotto Canyon - easy winter hikes Canmore

We use snowshoes for small kids who don’t fit into microspikes, which can be purchased at REI or MEC.

Rawson Lake

Distance: 8.9 km out & back

Elevation: 607 m

For a bit more of a challenge than the rest of the Kananaskis winter hikes on this list, Rawson Lake is a beautiful winter hike. Rawson Lake begins at the parking lot for Upper Kananaskis Lake. You’ll follow the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail until shortly after Sarrail Creek, where you’ll make a left up to Rawson Lake. It’s well marked and easy to find.

Upper Kananaskis trail to Rawson Lake - winter hiking trails Kananaskis

Rawson Lake is predominately in the trees, but the view of the lake is definitely worthwhile!

Rawson Lake snow covered - kananaskis winter hiking

Do not hike the lakeshore trail in the winter. Walking along the lakeshore trail of Rawson Lake will take you into dangerous avalanche terrain.

Once the snow starts to accumulate, give snowshoeing a try! Rawson Lake is also a great trail to snowshoe! Here are other recommended easy snowshoes in Kananaskis.

Rawson Lake trail map

Black Prince Cirque Interpretive Trail

Distance: 4.8 km loop

Elevation: 178 m

From the Black Prince Day Use parking lot, you can access two hikes. The first is the Black Prince Cirque Interpretive Trail, which leaves directly from the parking lot. The other is the Black Shale Suspension Bridge via Black Prince, which starts across the Smith-Dorrien highway (more on this below).

Black Prince Interpretive Trail - winter hiking kananaskis

The Black Prince Cinque Interpretive Trail, though it isn’t all that long, will still give you a workout. The trail starts along the creek, across the bridge then it starts to climb.

We first did this one in just our winter boots and while it was doable, we were wishing we had brought our snowshoes to climb in the deep snow. We did our best to avoid walking over the ski trails as well, which often had us trudging through some deep snow.

Black Prince Interpretive Trail - easy winter hike Kananaskis

Once the trail levels off, the trail is much narrower and will take you along a loop through a boulder field and past Warspite Lake. Make sure not to venture past the lake in the winter, since this will put you in dangerous avalanche terrain. Instead, download the AllTrails map and follow the trail to keep you on the loop and back down the hill to the parking lot.

Black Shale Suspension Bridge

Distance: 6.1 km out & back

Elevation: 333 m

The Black Shale Suspension Bridge is accessed from the High Rockies Trail, across the Smith-Dorrien highway from the Black Prince day use parking lot. This undulating trail is mostly in the forest, making it a good choice for a windy day. Once at the bridge, you can continue along the High Rockies trail as long as you want, or turn back to complete the Black Shale Suspension Bridge hike.

The suspension bridge over Blackshale Creek is closed in the winter, so Alberta Parks built a bypass trail allowing you to continue along the High Rockies Trail without using the bridge.

Want something easier than these winter hiking trails in Kananaskis?

The Village Rim Trail is a 1.3 km easy loop that leaves from the Kananaskis Village. It’s a paved trail with five viewpoints over the Kananaskis Valley.

Kananaskis Village walking trails in winter

Want a more challenging winter hike in Kananaskis?

Hiking to Chester Lake is a beautiful hike that is worth it any time of year. This trail is typically busy enough that microspikes on boots should be sufficient, although snowshoes are a good idea if you arrive shortly after a large snowfall.  

chester lake snowshoe

Essential Tips for Winter Hiking

The most important thing about winter hiking 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 hiking 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.

    • 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 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: MEC — REI
      Shop for gaiters: MEC— REI

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

  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 snacks: MEC REI
    Shop for water bottles and reservoirs: MEC — REI

  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: MEC — REI

  8. Hiking poles are also a good option for winter hiking. 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

For even more Banff hiking essentials, we have a complete list of what you’ll need.

Winter Hiking with Kids

hiking Chester Lake trail with kids

Keeping kids warm and dry is the key to successfully hiking in the winter with kids. For even more great tips on winter hiking with kids, head over to our Family Can Travel blog where we share all our tips!

View of valley from hoodoo viewpoint - hiking banff winter

The winter is an exceptional time to visit Banff and the surrounding area, just be prepared with the right gear! When you are looking for things to do in winter in Banff other than snowshoeing or skiing, add winter hiking in Banff to your itinerary.

More Banff Resources

Found this post useful? Save it or share it with your friends!

Don't miss these easy winter hikes in Banff National Park and area. Covering winter hikes in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis, you'll love these winter hiking trails!