Visiting Banff in December

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

Many argue that December is the best time of year to visit Banff, and they may very well be right. By December, Banff has received enough snow that you’ll be able to enjoy the full-range of winter activities in Banff such as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, fat biking and more.

With snowy mountain peaks and the soft glow of Christmas lights beneath snow-capped rooftops, the beauty of Banff in December is something you must see for yourself.

A visit to Banff in winter is magical

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Banff Weather in December

It’s hard to know what to expect for weather in Banff in December, so its best to plan your winter wardrobe with flexibility in mind.

Dressing in layers is important when enjoying outdoor activity in Kananaskis or Banff in December

The beautiful blanket of snow covering Canada’s best national park is what makes visiting Banff in December so special. Right in time for Christmas, Banff receives its highest monthly snowfall with an average of 44cm of snow. It doesn’t snow often though, with a daily chance of getting snowfall at roughly 10%.

An average Banff weather in December is actually quite pleasant for wintertime in Canada. The average daily high temperature in Banff in December is -5C (23F), while the average daily low is -14C (7F). These are mild winter temperatures that visitors can easily dress for (using layers).

View from Hoodoo Viewpoint - banff hiking winter
Banff’s Iconic Red Chairs

Keep in mind these are historical monthly average temperatures for Banff in December and the actual daily temperatures you will experience can be quite different. On any given day, the December Banff weather can be a daily high well above zero (if a chinook wind is blowing), or the daily high can be bone-chillingly cold in the -20s or even -30s.

What to wear for December weather in Banff

The recorded temperature is only a small part of the story as shade or wind can have a big impact on how you feel. A temperature of -5C will feel almost warm if you are standing in the direct sunlight, with little wind. That same temperature can feel much colder if you are in the shade and/or there is a wind.

The effect of wind on sub-zero temperatures can be extreme. With the wind-chill effect, -5C will feel like -9C with a light wind of 10km/h, while a 40km/h gust of wind can make it feel nearly 3x colder at -14C.

Things to do in Banff in December

Johnson Lake snow covered - easy winter hikes banff

Visit Lake Louise

Close your eyes and imagine the most beautiful winter scene you can imagine. Chances are that your winter wonderland closely matches the winter scenery at Lake Louise. Throw in some Christmas magic and you will not soon forget a visit to Lake Louise in winter.

A visit to Lake Louise in December will have something for everyone, from simple sightseeing to adventurous winter sports. A must for all visitors is the walk along the Lake Louise Lakeshore, one of our favorite easy walks in Banff – it’s especially beautiful in winter. Many people choose to snowshoe this trail, but it is often hard packed and ok to walk on if you have good winter boots on.

Looking for a truly Canadian experience you won’t soon forget? Bring or rent some ice skates and enjoy ice skating on Lake Louise. A large public skating surface is cleared on the lake in front of the Chateau Lake Louise. If you like pick-up hockey, there is a separate ice surface for you, complete with mini-hockey nets.

banff winter activities - Ice Skating on Lake Louise

Many of the beautiful hiking trails around Lake Louise are closed in the winter due to avalanche risk, but a beautiful Lake Louise snowshoe trail is the Fairview Lookout snowshoe. This 2km snowshoe trail to a lookout where you can look back over the frozen surface of Lake Louise at towards the Chateau. The views from this Fairview Lookout snowshoe are so beautiful!

View from Fairview Lookout - winter hike banff Lake Louise

If you’d like to try snowshoeing at Lake Louise, but don’t have gear, this winter tour to Lake Louise from Banff provides snowshoes.

Yet another magical activity at Lake Louise in winter is a horse-drawn sleigh ride. You’ll feel like you are in a fairy-tale as you glide silently across the snow soaking in the scenery of this real-life snow globe. If you can’t make it to Lake Louise, you can also enjoy a sleigh ride from the Town of Banff.

sleigh ride at Lake Louise in December

If you enjoy sitting back and enjoying the winter scenery, but are craving more action, then you should try dog-sledding at Lake Louise in December. Dog sledding is an exhilarating winter experience at Lake Louise you’ll remember forever.

dog sledding at Lake Louise - things to do in Banff in December

The Lake Louise ski resort isn’t just for alpine skiers. There are several fun things to do at the Lake Louise ski hill in December, including tubing and a winter sightseeing gondola.

The famous Chateau Lake Louise hotel offers many wonderful winter and Christmas activities in December. More on this below…

Guide Along App

Recommended App

This GPS activated Canadian Rockies Audio Driving Tour is the perfect companion to your Banff vacation. It’s both entertaining and educational and will greatly enhance any drive in Banff National Park.

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Downhill Skiing

You can enjoy a wide variety of downhill skiing in Banff in December. All of the “Big 3” Banff ski resorts should have tons of snow for alpine skiers to enjoy.

Downhill skiing is one of the best things to do in Banff in December

Banff National Park has three downhill ski resorts (known as the “Big 3”):

Banff Norquay: A favorite with Bow Valley local families, Banff Norquay is the closest ski resort to the town of Banff. Norquay has some great terrain for beginners, but 44% of their runs are black diamond. In addition to daytime downhill skiing, Norquay offers the only night skiing in Banff National Park.

Sunshine Village Ski Resort: Perched up high on the Continental Divide, Sunshine Village gets a tremendous amount of natural snow and offers the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada. Sunshine offers downhill skiing for all skill levels, from beginner to absolutely insane, but the majority of their runs are blue intermediate. If you are a beginner, check out the best green runs at Sunshine Village.

Lake Louise Ski Resort: With 4,200 acres of skiable terrain over four mountain faces, Lake Louise is one North America’s largest downhill ski resorts. Lake Louise offers a balanced selection of beginner, intermediate and expert ski runs. Be sure to bring your camera as the Rocky Mountain scenery is spectacular. If you are a beginner, check out the best green runs at Lake Louise.

skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort - Banff

In addition to Banff’s Big 3 ski resorts, there’s a variety of downhill ski resorts just outside Banff National Park.

Nakiska Ski Area: Tucked away in Kananaskis Country, Nakiska is the closest mountain ski hill to Calgary. Nakiska hosted the alpine skiing events for the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: 150 km west of Banff in Golden, BC, Kicking Horse offers the 5th most vertical in North America. Get there the easy way with a shuttle and lift ticket package from Banff.

Panorama Mountain Resort: 170 km west of Banff in Invermere, BC, Panorama is one of the largest ski resorts in North America. You’ll enjoy an easy visit as the slopes are never far away from the intimate ski village at Panorama Mountain.

Learning to downhill ski at Sunshine Village - Rock Isle Run - Strawberry Express Chairlift
Dan & Celine Brewer, owners of, on a Flytographer photo shoot with their kids at Lake Minnewanka, Banff.

Banff Photoshoot

A Banff photoshoot is an excellent way to preserve memories from your trip! Get $25 off your first Flytographer photo shoot.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a very popular winter activity around Banff in December, as there should be enough snow on the ground at the most popular cross-country ski areas. The best places to try cross-country skiing in Banff in December are Lake Louise and around the Town of Banff.

A family enjoys cross county skiing on the Braille trail near Elkwood, Kananaskis Country

There is also excellent cross-country skiing in Kananaskis Country, where you will find hundreds of kilometers of trails for all experience levels and styles of skiing.

Learn to cross-country ski in a beautiful location with cross-country ski lessons at Lake Louise.

If you’d like some inspiration and advice on cross-country skiing, we recommend these Easy Banff Cross Country Ski Trails.

Winter Hiking

Just because there is snow on the ground, it doesn’t mean you can’t go for a hike in Banff in December. Many of the popular hiking trails in Banff are still widely used in the wintertime, but some close due to avalanche risk – check yours before you go.

best winter hikes in banff

Winter hiking trails can be very slippery in spots – my shoulder still hurts as I write this from slipping and falling while winter hiking Upper Stoney Lookout a few weeks ago. Learn from my mistake and wear winter traction devices (like microspikes, which ironically I had in my bag at the time of my fall).

If you’d like some inspiration and advice on winter hiking, we recommend these Easy Banff Hikes in Winter.

Hiking Johnston Canyon - visiting Banff in December


Snowshoeing has long been one of our favorite things to do around Banff in winter. There are many great snowshoe trails in Banff and Lake Louise, but our favorite area to go snowshoeing is Kananaskis Country.

A snowshoeing sign in Kananaskis Country

Depending on the year, the snow pack may not be very deep in early December, but you’ll almost always enjoy deep snow in the southern-regions of the Smith-Dorrien Highway. Chester Lake, Penstock Loop and Sawmill are our favorite Kananaskis snowshoe trails in this area – you’ll almost certainly find good snow.

Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains doesn’t need to be a difficult, epic journey. There’s plenty of options for Easy Snowshoe Trails in Kananaskis.

Banff snowshoeing in December

Wild Ice Skating

Wild ice skating is one of the best FREE things to do in Banff in winter. Early each winter, visitors to Banff have an opportunity to ice skate on a crystal clear lake before it is covered with snow for the duration of winter. Often, the opportunity to go wild ice skating only lasts a few days or weeks, so you need to act quick when the window is open.

Wild ice skating on Johnson Lake in Banff National Park

Popular destinations for wild ice skating around Banff and Canmore are Gap Lake, Lac Des Arcs, Johnson Lake, the Vermillion Lakes and Lake Minnewanka.

Please be safe when enjoying wild ice skating around Banff National Park. According to Parks Canada, the ice needs to be 15 cm (6″) thick for walking or ice skating alone and 20 cm (8″) for ice skating parties or games.

Make your own safety decisions while wild ice skating near Banff in December – you’ll often see people taking risks by skating on clear lakes when the ice simply isn’t ready. Don’t assume it’s safe just because others are skating. The Canadian Red Cross has some excellent safety advice for outdoor skating in Canada.

Enjoy wild ice skating in Kananaskis and Banff in early winter
Skating on Gap Lake

Given how fun wild ice skating is, and the very limited window of opportunity, it’s no surprise that wild ice skating parking lots fill beyond capacity and people tend to park illegally on the road nearby, causing safety issues.

Be aware that the RCMP regularly patrol these areas and ticket & tow cars parked illegally. Your best bet is to go wild ice skating as early in the day as possible.

Read More

Want to try wild ice skating? Our post about wild ice skating in Banff has everything you need to know, including all the best places to go!

Fat Biking in Banff

Fat biking is a relatively new winter activity, but there are already plenty of opportunities to go fat biking around Banff in December. Many trails are multi-use in Banff, so you may be sharing your fat bike trail with winter hikers or people snowshoeing. Please take extra care not to ride over any cross-country ski tracks.

Fat biking around Banff

At present, there are six fat biking trails in Banff National Park, ranging in difficulty from beginner to intermediate. There are significantly more approved fat bike trails in Kananaskis Country.

Ice Walks

Ice walking is a ton of fun! There is so much to love about this unique Banff winter activity – the feeling of walking uphill on a frozen riverbed is so unusual and exciting, we never get tired of it. Our personal favorite is the Grotto Canyon ice walk near Exshaw, but the Johnston Canyon ice walk is also a super popular thing to do in Banff in winter.

Grotto Canyon ice walk - winter hiking kananaskis

You can go ice walking yourself with a pair of quality microspikes (we love our Kahtoola MICROspikes), but if you don’t have any, don’t despair as you can easily join an ice walking tour to Grotto Canyon and Johnston Canyon.

Grotto Canyon icewalk tour - banff things to do in December

Banff Christmas Activities

You’ll love visiting Banff at Christmas. The soft blanket of snow around the Town of Banff and on the mountaintops makes you feel like you are in a real-life snow globe. In town, it seems like everyone is in the spirit with Christmas lights and decorations everywhere you look.

There are tons of fun things to do in Banff at Christmas.

Mountaintop Christmas: A trip up the Banff Gondola around Christmas is a special experience. Visit with Santa, decorate cookies and sample toffee created by pouring maple syrup over snow.

Country Christmas Dinner: Enjoy a sleigh ride from the Chateau Lake Louise to a cozy rustic barn where you will savor a delicious Christmas feast.

Santa on the Slopes at Sunshine Village: Get a candy cane and a picture with Jolly Old St. Nick when he visits Sunshine Village in the weekends leading up to Christmas.

Wildlife Spotting

Just because the bears are hibernating, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy seeing amazing wildlife in Banff. Do it yourself with advice from a local wildlife photographer on how to spot Banff wildlife or join a Banff wildlife tour with an expert guide.

Things to do in Banff in December - Wildlife Spotting - Elk

Read More

Be sure to read 30+ Amazing Things to do in Banff in Winter for even more ideas for your visit!

Where to Stay in Banff in December

There’s no better feeling than walking into a warm hotel lobby after a day of playing in the snow in Banff National Park. The rustic alpine décor along with a warm fire will make you feel so cozy. The feeling in the air is extra special when staying at a hotel in Banff in December as the Christmas decorations add a touch of winter magic.

There are many exceptional hotels to choose from in Banff. Here are a few highly recommended Banff hotels for a visit in December:

Banff Springs Hotel

I’ve stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel during the Christmas season several times and can confidently say there are few places more magical than the Banff Springs Hotel at Christmas. This iconic Banff hotel is incredible any time of year, but when it is decorated for Christmas it’s a place you won’t soon forget.

The Banff Springs Hotel goes all-out at Christmas. The Christmas at the Castle package even includes a Christmas tree in your room! Guests can enjoy a variety of special Christmas events including Bedtime Stories with Mrs. Claus, private photo sessions with Santa, Holiday Crafts with Mrs. Claus and the Snowflake Scavenger Hunt.

The Banff Springs Hotel is one of the best places to stay in Banff in December

Did you know that in addition to being one of the best luxury hotels in Banff, the Banff Springs hotel is also one of the best family-friendly hotels in Banff as well as one of the best pet-friendly hotels in Banff?

Read More

Are you curious about staying at the famous Banff Springs Hotel? Check out our full review of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Chateau Lake Louise

I love visiting Lake Louise in December. Between the Lake Louise ski resort, the cross-country ski trails, the cleared skating rink on Lake Louise, snowshoeing, dog sled tours etc., there are simply too many excellent winter activities to choose from.

The best place to base your visit to Lake Louise in December is the iconic Chateau Lake Louise. Special Christmas experiences at the Chateau Lake Louise include sleigh rides, sipping a cocktail at the Ice Bar, toasting s’mores at the lakefront campfire and decorating gingerbread houses,

The Chateau Lake Louise is one of the best places to stay in Banff in December

To see if the Fairmont is right for you, check out our Chateau Lake Louise review. If not, don’t worry as there are plenty of other excellent Lake Louise hotels to choose from.

Moose Hotel and Suites

You can’t get a better location in central Banff than the Moose Hotel & Suites. You’ll love the beautiful mountain views as you soak in one of the two rooftop hot tubs or warming by the outdoor firepit. You’ll also enjoy the full-service spa and the indoor swimming pool.

The Moose Hotel & Suites in Banff National Park, Canada

The Malcolm Hotel in Canmore

Canmore is a charming resort town just minutes outside the Banff park gates and you’ll love Canmore in winter as much as you love Banff! The Malcolm Hotel hugs the shores of Policeman’s Creek – one of my favorite spots for a scenic winter walk in Canmore.

Guests of the Malcolm Hotel in December will love the heated rooftop pool and hot tub with views of the magnificent Three Sisters mountain.

The outdoor heated pool makes the Malcolm Hotel one of the best hotels in Canmore in December

Of course, you are not limited to these hotels for your visit to Banff in December. Check out our recommendations for the best affordable hotels in Banff, the best family friendly hotels in Banff and the best pet friendly hotels in Banff.

When we travel, we often stay at vacation rentals so we can enjoy many of the comforts of home. If you prefer to stay at a vacation rental, there are a wide variety of VRBO rentals in Banff and Canmore to choose from.

What to Bring to Banff in December

With such a wide variety of winter activities and highly variable December Banff weather, it’s hard to know what to bring for your visit. I’m fortunate enough to live minutes from Banff, but if I had to pack for a trip to Banff in December, here’s what I’d bring:

Warm Clothing

It’s such a cliché, but wearing layers is key to being comfortable in Banff in winter. Read this article on staying warm with clothing layers to better prepare yourself for the variable December weather in Banff.

What to wear in Banff in December

In addition to your layers, you’ll need winter boots, warm socks, winter gloves, a good toque and sunglasses.

Winter Gear

Once you’ve got your layers all sorted, don’t forget to bring along a large hiking daybag to store your Banff hiking gear and the layers you don’t need at the moment.

Enjoying the view of Tunnel Mountain while winter walking in Banff

I like to pack light, which for me often means renting equipment instead of bringing my own. There are tons of gear rental shops in Calgary, Canmore and Banff to meet all your equipment needs.

A few small, but useful items I’d recommend you bring are a thermos, microspikes and hand warmers.

We are big fans of the hand and foot warmers by Aurora Heat, which are eco-friendly, sustainable and so much better than the single-use hand warmers. Being reusable, I know I’ll get tons of use out of them year after year! I always pack them for every outing. It’s worth having them just in case! Nothing ruins an outdoor adventure faster than cold hands or feet!

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Aurora Heat Hand Warmers

Finding Good Snow around Banff in December

When people think of December, they often think of deep, dark winter. But, in fact, around Banff, December is still very early in the winter season and depending on how wet the weather in November was, it can sometimes be hard to find good snow for the many fun winter activities in Banff.

When Banff and Canmore have not had good November or December snowfall, we have a few go-to places to find good snow for some winter fun. In Banff National Park, you’ll often find great snow conditions around Lake Louise. While in Kananaskis Country, you’ll typically find superior snow pack around the Kananaskis Lakes and the southern reaches of the Smith-Dorrien Highway, especially around the Chester Lake area.

You will find good snow at Chester Lake in December

Our Banff Activities in December

In hopes of providing some inspiration for your trip to Banff in December, here are some of the Banff and Kananaskis activities we’ve enjoyed over the years:

Banff Christmas Activities

Photos with Santa in Banff

Over the years we have taken the kids to get their photos with Santa in a variety of locations around Banff and Canmore, including:

The Banff Gondola Mountaintop Christmas: This was our favorite place to get Santa photos in Banff. From the gondola ride, the incredible mountaintop scenery, the fun kids activities and a visit with Santa, this Banff Christmas activity is non-stop fun.

The Spirit of Christmas: This incredible festive store along Banff Avenue is bursting with fun Christmas decorations.

The Canmore Malcolm Hotel: We followed up our photos with Santa with a fun walk down Candy Cane Lane – a festive walk between the hotel and a little creek with many Christmas inflatables and decorations. Great fun for the kids!

Banff Santa Photos - Mountaintop Christmas at Banff Gondola

Note, in some years the opportunities to get photos with Santa in Banff start as early as mid-November.

Banff Downhill Skiing

Sunshine Village Ski Resort

Sunshine Village is my favorite Banff ski resort. I love the wide open spaces and the incredible views of the Banff mountain peaks all around. Sunshine Village often opens for the season in November, starting with a limited amount of ski lifts, then gradually opening more lifts as the snow falls.

By mid-December, all the chairlifts at Sunshine Village will be operational with almost all runs open. In 2020, there was hardly any snow on the valley floor in the Town of Banff and Canmore, but up at Sunshine Village there was tons of great snow.

Skiing in Banff at Christmas

Kananaskis Wild Ice Skating

Goat Pond Wild Ice Skating

Goat Pond is a beautiful place to go wild ice skating in Kananaskis Country. Enjoy wide open views of the beautiful rocky mountains as you skate on this large Kananaskis lake. The surrounding mountains are many of the area’s most iconic mountains, including the Big Sister (of Canmore’s famous Three Sisters mountain), Mt. Lawrence Grassi, Ha Ling and Mt. Rundle.

A family enjoys wild ice skating on Goat Pond in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Canmore Skating Pond

It’s not wild ice skating, but just steps from downtown, the Canmore Skating Pond is a great place to go ice skating in December. The city clears the ice surface on this natural pond several times a week, making it a guaranteed place to skate on a lake in winter. Don’t let its in-town location fool you, there are plenty of excellent mountain views to enjoy on the Canmore skating pond.

The ice needs to be thick enough for a Zamboni to drive on, so be sure to check to see if the Canmore Skating Pond is open before you go.

A family enjoys skating a the Canmore Pond in December

Banff Winter Hiking

Cascade Amphitheatre

We enjoyed a portion of the Cascade Amphitheatre winter hike in Banff while our kids were at ski lessons at Norquay. The full trail is 12km, but due to our time constraints we only walked 5km (2.5km each way).

This fun winter walk took us past several of the Banff Norquay chairlifts before we entered a deep evergreen forest. It was a very enjoyable walk downhill to into the river valley for 40 Mile Creek. The humidity from the river created a winter wonderland of frosty trees all around – an amazing sight!

Frost covered trees line the shores of 40 Mile Creek. Enjoy this scenery on the Cascade Amphitheatre winter hike from Norquay ski area in Banff, Canada

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

Kananaskis Winter Hiking

Grotto Canyon Ice Walk

The Grotto Canyon ice walk is a really fun & very unique thing to do in Kananaskis in winter. The tranquil stream which bubbles down Grotto Canyon in summer turns into a sheet of ice which hikers can ice walk on up into the canyon. Walking uphill on a brilliant blue sheet of ice to a set of frozen waterfalls at the end of Grotto Canyon is a winter activity in Kananaskis you won’t soon forget!

The Grotto Canyon icewalk near Banff has a mild incline and is considered easy

The Grotto Canyon ice walk is a short & easy winter hike in Kananaskis, as long as you have the proper traction device on your winter boots. The Grotto Canyon Trail is a popular thing to do with kids in Kananaskis in summer and becomes even more fun as an ice walk in winter!

Frozen waterfalls are one of the many things that make Grotto Canyon a fun thing to do with kids in winter in Kananaskis

Heart Creek Winter Hike

Heart Creek Trail is one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis. The Heart Creek hike can be enjoyed year-round and is especially beautiful with a blanket of snow and ice in the winter.

Kids love the Heart Creek bridges - even in December!

This easy Kananaskis winter hike follows the gentle flow of Heart Creek upstream deep into the belly of a dramatic mountain canyon. In December, the water from Heart Creek still flows, but will be partially covered with snow and ice.

The primary attraction of the Heart Creek Trail is a series of short, wooden bridges which cross the creek multiple times. These bridges will be covered in hard-packed snow in December, so traction devices on your winter boots are a good idea.

Be careful crossing the slippery bridges on the Heart Creek Trail in December

Kananaskis Cross-County Skiing

Watridge Lake Cross-Country Ski Trail

The Watridge Lake Trail is a very popular multi-sport trail in the Mt. Shark Day use area. It’s best known for it’s groomed and track-set cross-country ski trail, but it’s approved for all kinds of winter sports including skate skiing, fat biking, winter hiking, snowshoeing and even skijoring!

The Watridge Lake Trail is an excellent location for cross-country skiing in December in Kananaskis.

The Watridge Lake cross-country ski trail is an easy 7.7km (return) track to the shores of Watridge Lake and back. If you feel up to it and have the right footwear, you can winter hike or snowshoe the amazing short, but steep Karst Spring Trail from Watridge Lake. Karst Spring has one of the most impressive waterfalls in Kananaskis and is very beautiful in wintertime.

Karst Springs in December is very beautiful with snow covered rocks and logs and many interesting ice formations

Wedge Connector Cross-Country Ski Trail

The Wedge Connector XC ski trail is a great option for beginners. This easy Kananaskis cross-country ski trail is a short 5.4 km long and is very flat with only a few hills to contend with.

Snow conditions are usually excellent when cross-country skiing in Kananaskis in December

Along the Wedge Connector cross-country ski trail, you’ll enjoy a variety of forest settings ranging from snow-capped evergreens to large patches of white-barked aspen trees. Occasional breaks in the trees offer stunning views of the surrounding Kananaskis mountains, including one of my favorites, Mt. Kidd.

The Wedge Connector XC ski trail is one of the best easy cross-country ski trails in Kananaskis

Towards the end of the Wedge Connector XC ski trail you leave the forest and enter a beautiful clearing near the Evan-Thomas creek. The views of the surrounding snow-capped Kananaskis mountains are incredible without trees blocking the view. Kids will love climbing on the remains of the bridge which was ruined in the 2013 flood.

Kananaskis Snowshoeing

As you can tell by the lengthy list, we love snowshoeing in Kananaskis in December. The Kananaskis Lakes and the southern Smith-Dorrien highway always have great snow, even when there is little snow on the ground in Banff and Canmore.

Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail

The Chester Lake snowshoe trail is one of our favorite Kananaskis snowshoe trails of all time. The first 2 km is a good workout through a dense, snow-covered evergreen forest, but you are amply rewarded for your effort.

The next 2 km is an easy winter walk or snowshoe through open meadows with large mounds of fluffy snow all around. As you near Chester Lake, you become surrounded by jagged, snow-covered mountains on all sides. On a sunny Alberta day (which are quite common in December), this is some of the most beautiful winter scenery you can find in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Chester Lake has some of the best winter scenery in Kananaskis near Banff

Hogarth Lakes Snowshoe Trail

The Hogarth Lakes Snowshoe Trail is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a short, easy Kananaskis snowshoe trail in December. Hogarth Lakes is a flat 3.9 km snowshoe trail through a magical wintery forest, which passes by and/or over a series of frozen lakes.

December Snowshoeing at Hogarth Lakes in Kananaskis Country

Rummel Lake Snowshoe

We love the Kananaskis Rummel Lake Trail all-year round. The lake is gorgeous in the spring & summer, while in fall it’s a beautiful larch tree hike. In December, you’ll love the incredible vistas of snow-covered mountain peaks surrounding the frozen Spray Lakes Reservoir, which you’ll earn after only 2 km of snowshoeing.

This moderate Kananaskis snowshoe trail continues through a beautiful wintery forest leading you to the the shores of Rummel Lake. Surrounding the lake are the huge snow-capped peaks of The Tower and Mount Galatea, making this a magical winter setting in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Don’t venture too far beyond the trees due to increased avalanche risk.

The views of the Spray Lakes from the Rummel Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis in December

Rummel Lake Snowshoe Trail Map

Rummel Lake Snowshoe Trail Report

Sawmill Snowshoe Loop Trail

This 5 km Kananaskis snowshoe loop is a fun trail which explores a valley at the base of Kent Ridge North Mountain. In December you can almost always count on good snow cover in this part of Kananaskis country.

The Sawmill snowshoe trail is a loop which follows a mountain stream (often still unfrozen in December) to a clearing with excellent mountain views. The first half is a good workout, but you’ll love the easy downhill snowshoe back to the parking lot.

December snowshoeing in Kananaskis - Sawmill Snowshoe Loop

Wintour Snowshoe Trail

You know how they close Highway 40 south of the Kananaskis Lakes on December 1 for the whole winter? The good news is that it remains open to non-powered recreation. It’s true that snowshoeing along a snow-covered highway isn’t the most magical nature experience you’ll have in Kananaskis, but the wide open spaces mean that you’ll enjoy great mountain views the whole time.

Penstock Loop Snowshoe Trail

The Penstock Loop snowshoe trail is one of our favorite easy Kananaskis snowshoe trails. You’ll enjoy the lake and mountain views while snowshoeing along the Lower Kananaskis Lake dam. Other highlights of snowshoeing Penstock Loop include a frozen waterfall and an interesting wooden aqueduct to follow along.

A December snowshoe with dogs at the Penstock Loop Trail in Kananakis Country

South Goat Creek Snowshoeing

South Goat Creek is one of our favorite fun & easy snowshoe trails near Canmore. We just made up the name for this place as I don’t think it has an official name. This kid-friendly snowshoe trail begins with a walk down a short hill towards an open meadow with a small lake.

The scenery in this snowy winter meadow is epic, with Goat Creek running through and vistas of snow capped mountains in all directions. There are tons of areas to explore here, or you could opt to take a walk along the High Rockies Trail which runs through the meadow.

Snowshoeing South Goat Creek is one of our favorite December activities near Canmore

Elk Pass Snowshoe Trail

Enjoy plenty of December snow and a variety of scenery on this Kananaskis snowshoe trail. The Elk Pass snowshoe trail alternates between dense, snow covered evergreen forest and a wide-open power line. You’ll get a decent workout on this uphill 5 km (one-way) snowshoe trail.

Things to do in Kananaskis in December - Elk Pass Snowshoe Trail

Kananaskis Fat Biking

High Rockies Trail (Goat Creek to Goat Pond)

The full length of the winter High Rockies Trail runs 63 km from Goat Creek to Pocaterra Dam. Thankfully, the High Rockies Trail has several access points allowing Kananaskis fat bikers to do the trail in more manageable chunks.

A beautiful winter scene in Kananaskis fat biking the High Rockies Trail between Goat Creek and Goat Pond

This segment of the High Rockies Trail is the closest to Canmore. The first 0.9 km is a highly enjoyable downhill leg on the Goat Creek Trail from the Goat Creek parking lot to the Banff National Park Boundary. A left turn takes you to the start of the High Rockies Trail.

This leg of the High Rockies trail is double-wide through a beautiful forest featuring many excellent mountain views. The trail trends upwards towards Goat Pond, with many undulations along the way. I’ll be honest, this trail got pretty hard in spots, but it was worth the effort.

Fat biking in December is a lot of fun in Kananaskis Country

The round-trip distance of this leg of the High Rockies Trail is 13.7 km with 467 m of total elevation gain.

Kananaskis Nordic Spa

Looking to pamper yourself a little? Treat yourself to a visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa!

The feature attraction at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is the hydrotherapy cycle. Enjoy incredible views of the majestic & rugged Mt. Kidd mountain as you soak in one of many outdoor pools. Alternate between hot, warm and cold pools to get the full effect of the hydrotherapy cycle.

When not soaking in a hydrotherapy pool, you can enjoy many other rejuvenating activities such as the Finnish Sauna, the Banyan & Barrel Saunas, the Eucalyptus Steam Room, the Alchemist Steam Room, a Turkish Hammam and outdoor rest areas with fire pits.

We enjoyed our visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa on a crisp morning in December. The steam rising from the hot pools looks incredible as the sun poked through the towering evergreen trees surrounding the spa. As if that weren’t enough, Mount Kidd was glowing in the morning sun. What an incredible setting!

Be sure to enjoy to visit the Two Trees Bistro during your visit to the Kananaskis spa. The views of the outdoor spa were fun and the food was excellent!

Be sure to book early as the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is often reserved months in advance. If your preferred dates are already taken, consider a stay at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. Guests at the hotel can book spa packages on dates unavailable to the public.

Driving in Banff in December

December in Banff means winter driving conditions. With any luck the highways will be clear, but the weather is unpredictable so you should always check the forecast and be prepared for winter driving conditions.

For visiting the Icefields Parkway in December, make sure you have tires either with M+S (mud & snow) or the snowflake symbol. These are required as of Nov 1. Read more about winter driving section here and more about driving the Icefields Parkway in the winter here before you head out on the Icefields Parkway in the winter. It’s crucial you check the conditions before heading out in case the road is closed due to avalanches and always leave yourself plenty of time in the winter.

For driving into British Columbia (if you are visiting Emerald Lake in Yoho NP or Marble Canyon in Kootenay NP), make sure you have tires either with M+S (mud & snow) or the snowflake symbol. These are required as of Oct 1.

Don’t Forget Your Banff Park Pass & Kananaskis Conservation Pass

A Banff Park Pass, also known as the Parks Canada Discovery Pass, is required for exploring Banff National Park. You can pick it up as you enter at the Banff Park Gates.

For any of the areas around Canmore and Kananaskis you require a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. This includes the parking lots closest to Canmore like the Canmore Nordic Centre and Grassi Lakes.

Your Questions About Banff National Park in December

What is a Chinook?

Albertan’s love Chinook winds in the winter! A Chinook wind is the result of warm, moist winds traveling inland from the Pacific Ocean. The moisture drops as rain and snow as it travels over the province of British Columbia. These warm winds are no longer moist as they swoop into Alberta, causing dramatic temperature increases. A Chinook wind can often raise temperatures by as much as 20 – 30 C over the course of a day.

Does it snow in Banff in December?

Ink Pots - best winter hikes in banff

It snows an average of 44cm in Banff in December, making it the most of any month of the year. It doesn’t snow often however, with each day having a 10-15% chance of a snowfall.

What is there to do in Banff at Christmas?

We list many of the top things to do in Banff at Christmas above. If you are looking for more ideas for Banff at Christmas, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism has lots of great information.

Is December a good time to visit Banff?

Stoney Lookout - Banff winter hiking trails

December is an excellent time to visit Banff National Park. The entire Bow Valley gets swept up in Christmas spirit, there are tons of great things to do in winter in Banff and the Rocky Mountains are incredibly beautiful when covered in fresh snow. You will never forget a visit to Banff in December.

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Visiting Banff in December
Standing at Aylmer Lookout Banff National Park

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.