Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter

Man stands on frozen canyon

Banff National Park is what winter dreams are made of. Nestled in the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the town of Banff is surrounded by magical mountain views, snowy outdoor activities, and hot springs to warm up in when your fingers and toes get a bit too frosty. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the snowy season, one trip to Banff is sure to make you fall at least marginally in love with winter. In winter, the quantity of things to do in Banff is nearly limitless and your biggest issue is likely to be finding the time to squeeze them all in!  Here are a few incredible things to do in Banff in winter. 

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Banff town at night

Top things to do in Banff in winter

Icewalk Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most famous trails. During the summer months it gets completely overrun with hordes of tourists. This is one of many reasons visiting Johnston Canyon in winter is so incredible. Rent a pair of ice cleats (around $15/day) in Banff (at Banff Adventures) or Canmore (at GearUp), to prevent a nasty slip on the ice (I made the mistake of not having these one year and it made for a dangerous journey) then start your walk on the suspended catwalk cut into the canyon’s cliff. As you work your way up the canyon, you’ll pass snow covered trees and frozen waterfalls. If you’re looking for even more of an adventure, head to Johnston Canyon with a headlamp for one of the night ice walking tours.

Man stands on frozen canyon

Go ice skating on Lake Louise

Lake Louise is incredible any time of year, but there is something especially enchanting about this Banff National Park hot spot when it’s covered in ice and snow. The section of lake nearest to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is cleared daily between December and April, and even lit up in the evenings for night skaters. You can bring a pair of skates from home or rent a pair ($20) at Chateau Ski and Snow. Adding to the magic, is the yearly ice castle built on the rink. Once you’ve gotten your exercise (and your toes, and or fingers, are frozen), head into the Chateau for a warm drink.

Family skates on frozen Lake Louise

Ski Lake Louise, Sunshine, or Norquay

Tourists visiting Banff in winter are more often than not avid skiers. For good reason. The National Park is home to three incredible ski hills within the vicinity of Banff: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Norquay. Each hill has different perks to offer. Norquay offers hourly ski rates (amazing for a quick two hour ski), Sunshine is a family favourite, and Lake Louise is, well world class Lake Louise. These ski resorts continue to get more popular as the years go on, and when you catch a good snow day here, it’s really a good snow day. 

Man skiing with powder

Go tubing at Mount Norquay

While we’re on the topic of Norquay, even if you’re not interested in skiing you won’t want to miss this thrilling adventure. Grab a snow tube, take the magic carpet and spin/slide down one of Mount Norquay’s 8 tubing lanes. It’s a fun and quick activity not far from Banff Townsite. You can find rates for tubing here, starting from $27 CAD for adults in the last hour of the day. 

Cross country ski Two Jack Lake

There are plenty of great trails to go cross country skiing near Banff. You can check in at the visitor center to get the latest trail conditions and recommendations. Two Jack Lake is one of my favourite areas for cross country skiing because it’s close to the townsite and it also gets nice sun rays. You can rent cross country skis in town if you don’t have your own along with you.

Snowy road in Banff

Snowshoe Lake Louise

A new fan favourite activity in the Banff area, snowshoeing is a great way to explore and easy for anyone to do. Lake Louise has a number of great snowshoe trails, and you can rent snowshoes for $13 CAD at the base of the ski resort. Alternatively, take one of Lake Louise’s amazing snowshoe tours where you can be led on an incredible interactive walk.

Person snowshoes with dog

Go for afternoon tea at the Banff Springs

The Banff Springs is simply iconic. There is something about this classic grey building covered in snow and surrounded by white-capped trees and mountains that makes it at its most iconic. After admiring the Banff Springs’ snow covered spires, head inside to warm up over afternoon tea as you admire the mountain views out the large glass windows. At $55 CAD, this is not a cheap outing, but it is a really memorable one. 

Banff Springs hotel in winter

Take a dip in the Banff Hot Springs

Almost as iconic as its mountains, the natural hot springs in Banff National Park are not to be missed. These hot springs get busy, especially on weekends. They’re a great place to warm up and soak your aching ski/snowshoe muscles. An adult ticket costs $8.48 CAD. 

People soak in hot springs

Drive the Icefields Parkway

Some of those frosty winter days, you might just feel like staying warm and relaxing after an overload of outdoor winter activities. This is the day to take a drive on one of Canada’s most beautiful roads – the Icefields Parkway. This stretch of highway goes from Lake Louise towards Jasper, snaking through some of the Rocky Mountains most beautiful sections. It’s a nice way to rest your legs and still soak in some of Banff’s most beautiful sites. If you feel ambitious, you can go all the way to the iconic Columbia Icefields

Road in Icefields Parkway during winter

How to get to Banff

The main center closest to Banff is Calgary, where you can access Banff by Calgary’s International Airport (YYC). From here it’s a 1.5 hour drive/bus ride to Banff townsite.

Where to stay in Banff

Depending on your budget, here are some of the top accommodation choices in Banff:

Best budget places to stay in Banff

If you’re looking for an incredible, rustic experience – head to HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel, just past Lake Louise towards Jasper. With a wood-burning sauna, solar powered systems, and access to trails for winter activities right outside the door, this is the perfect place to experience the joys of Banff in the winter. Each cabin has 6 beds and winter rates are around $30 CAD per bed. 

If you want to be in Banff townsite (and close to all of the night action), Same Sun Hostel is the place to be as a backpacker. No spot in Banff is truly budget friendly, and unfortunately the winter months rule out camping. A dorm bed at Same Sun ranges from $40-50 CAD depending on how many beds are in the room. 

Best midrange places to stay in Banff

Irwin’s is a no-frills, perfectly located midrange spot in Banff. If you pick up a deal, you can get a room here for under $100 CAD per night (which is a steal in Banff). 


Airbnbs are a perfect option for those looking for a cozy find at a lower cost. A number of options are available for around $70 CAD per night, like this one

Best upscale places to stay in Banff

Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs

If you’re really looking to treat yourself, head to the two fanciest places in town:  Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs (rooms starting at $400 CAD per night). Both offer iconic views of the mountains. Choose the Rimrock for nicer rooms, but the Banff Springs for a true castle experience.

Solo cabin with snowy mountain behind

What to pack for a trip to Banff in winter

Layers are the name of the game for a trip to Banff, no matter which season you’re visiting in. Here’s everything you need for your trip:

    • Winter jacket
    • Snow pants
    • Toque
    • Mittens
    • Neck tube 
    • Hand warming packs (these come in handy for a day exploring)
    • A versatile day pack, like our Kiri backpack
    • Water bottle and thermos to put a hot drink in while you’re out exploring – you can pack it in Kiri’s Side Hustle Kit for easy access while you’re on the move
    • A set of long underwear to wear under your outer gear 
    • Warm, moisture wicking socks
    • Sunglasses
    • Sunscreen (the sun is intense when it reflects off the snow)
    • Snow boots with good tread
    • A map (paper or digital)
    • A book to curl up with by the fire after a long day outside

Banff Hiking Trails | 6 Must-Do Hikes in Banff

Rae Glacier Near Banff

Banff has become even more of a buzzword in the travel community over the past two years. With incredible mountain vistas and beautiful hiking trails near Banff townsite, this national park located in the Canadian Rockies continues to grow in popularity. This heightened fame was sparked when Canada was named Lonely Planet’s top country to visit in 2017. With free national park passes handed out to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday last year, I have never seen Banff buzzing as much as it did in 2017. And even though the free passes are now gone, the tourists are certainly not.

There are so many places to see in the Banff area that it can be hard to know which spots you should focus on during your trip. It can be even more challenging to know which of the many Banff hiking trails you should choose when you have limited time.

Being from nearby Calgary, I’ve been packing up my own Khmer Explorer backpack to visit the Banff area a lot this summer. These mountain adventures made me realize I should really share some insight into exploring my own backyard! Over the years I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a number of the hikes in this area, so I’m excited to share my favourite hiking trails with you in this post.

While this list expands outside of Banff National Park into the neighbouring Yoho, Kootenay, and Kananaskis regions, these are all easy to access from Banff townsite. I’ve left two famous (and beautiful) Banff hiking trails off of here, Johnston Canyon and Lake Agnus Teahouse only because of the extreme crowds that visit them. With so many other (slightly) less trafficked hikes to explore near Banff, I hope you’ll forgive me that exclusion! So grab the 10 essentials and great hiking backpack (like our customizable Kiri pack with the watering can kit)

banff hiking trails the iceline trail
Iceline Trail

Iceline Trail

Location: Yoho National Park
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 1 hour 15 minutes
Hiking distance: 13-20+ km return (out and back vs. loop variations)
Hiking time: 5-12 hours

The diversity of scenery on the beautiful Iceline Trail is what makes this Yoho National Park hike my all-time favourite trail. Starting at the magnificent Takakkaw Falls, the path first tests you with steep switchbacks. At this point you might be cursing me for suggesting you go on this “scenic” trail, but once you’re past the switchbacks, you’ll be heavily rewarded with stunning views of the glacial iceline itself and the surrounding mountains. The path is barren as you make your way along the rocky alpine meadow, and while the views on this part of the trail are a highlight and many day hikers return the way they came, there’s more beauty to come if you have the time. The path descends down through rocky beds and wooded areas, past more waterfalls and lakes, and over wooden plank bridges. Those wishing to camp overnight have several backcountry campground options or you can stay at Stanley Mitchell Hut. It’s worth doing the full loop if you have the time. While Banff National Park usually gets all of the international fame, the Iceline Trail showcases neighbouring Yoho as serious competition.

Iceline Trail near Banff
Iceline Trail

Larch Valley

Location: Banff National Park
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 1 hour
Hiking distance: 12 km return
Hiking time: 5-6 hours

This popular hike is famous for its larch trees that turn the valley a stunning field of gold around the last two weeks of September each year. During this time the trail can be quite a zoo, but it’s no wonder tourists flock here and it’s worth hiking whether it’s autumn or not. From the shoreline of enchanting Moraine Lake, the Larch Valley trail switchbacks steeply to access the valley itself. Once you reach the valley, it’s relatively flat as you wander through the larches, past reflective pools and surrounding mountain peaks. It’s possible to carry onwards on the scree slope trail to Sentinel Pass for even more impressive views of the region. Regardless of whether you choose to carry on, Larch Valley offers some of the most incredible views of the peaks surrounding Lake Louise that you can find in this area.

Larch Valley
Larch Valley

Rae Glacier

Location: Kananaskis Country
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 1 hour 20 minutes
Hiking distance: 8 km return
Hiking time: 4 hours

Rae Glacier is one of those rare hikes that is unbelievably underrated and infrequently visited. To access the glacier you start on the popular trail towards Elbow Lake. Elbow Lake has a nice day use area and quite a scenic campsite on the lakeshore. To get to Rae Glacier, you carry on past the campsite until you reach a creek and have to follow an often faint trail that veers off to the right. As long as you can see the glacier in front of you, don’t worry, a clearer trail does appear again. It’s around 2.5 km with a significant elevation gain from the edge of the lake up to the glacier. Sadly, Rae has receded significantly so there isn’t much of a glacier left here to admire. Nevertheless make your way up to the snow, and then turn around to take in the beautiful view below you. I’ve been hard pressed to find a more jaw-dropping vista (and one often viewed in solitude!) around this area.

Rae Glacier Near Banff
Rae Glacier

Chester Lake

Location: Kananaskis Country
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 1 hour 30 minutes
Hiking distance: 9.7 km return
Hiking time: 4 hours

Chester Lake is my favourite hike in Kananaskis Country. It’s an easy, short hike with incredible views and while it does get busy, it’s not crazy to park here like it can be to access the Lake Louise/Moraine Lake hikes during the summer. Less famous than Larch Valley, this is also a beautiful spot to see the larches change colour the last two weeks of September. The path initially has a steady uphill through the forest but then levels right out as it meanders through a large meadow to Chester Lake itself. After stopping for a snack by the lake, carry on through the forest to the large boulders known as “elephant rocks”. You can then hike up a steep little slope to get to the most beautiful views over the valley. This hike is most impressive during larch season, but it also makes for a nice snowshoe trail if you’re visiting in the winter!

Chester Lake
Chester Lake

Plain of Six Glaciers

Location: Banff National Park
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 45 minutes
Hiking distance: 11 km return
Hiking time: 4-5 hours

This is probably the most well-known of the hikes on this list, and for good reason. With beautiful views, a teahouse waiting for you at the top, and not too gruelling of an uphill climb, the Plain of Six Glaciers trail is incredibly enticing as a hiker. Most people opt for the closer and shorter hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse, but it’s not nearly as stunning as the Plain of Six Glaciers. From the Lake Louise parking lot you simply follow the lakeside trail all the way behind the lake. The path has a very mild incline as you traverse through forest and over some scree. It then opens up with incredible views back towards Lake Louise. It can get a little bit icy in parts here even in the summer months, so do tread carefully on the slippery sections. After a couple of slightly steeper switchbacks you’ll then reach the adorable teahouse that was first built in 1924. It’s a nice spot to either snack outside on a packed lunch or dart into the teahouse for a hot cup of tea or bowl of soup (remember to bring cash as there is no electricity to process credit cards up here!).

Plain of Six Glaciers

Stanley Glacier

Location: Kootenay National Park
Driving time from Banff to trailhead: 35 minutes
Hiking distance: 8.4 km return
Hiking time: 3-4 hours

Located just off of Highway 1 on Highway 93, Stanley Glacier manages to avoid some of Banff’s intense traffic. This glacier is located in beautiful Kootenay National Park and makes for a perfect half-day hike in the area. After crossing the initial stream next to the parking lot, you’ll start the trail on some switchbacks leading through a forest. A lightning strike in 1968 charred this forest and as a result it’s now a beautiful place to witness forest regrowth and incredible wildflowers. After the initial switchbacks, it levels out and follows a creek to the boulder basin of the glacier. This is where the maintained trail ends, but there are plenty of little paths continuing onwards to explore and get a closer peek at the glacier. Like Rae Glacier, Stanley too has sadly receded significantly over the past years. It remains a beautiful hike and also an important reminder of the realities facing our environment.

Stanley Glacier

Responsible travel tip

Remember that you are in bear country. Make sure to pack out all of your garbage, bring bear spray, hike in groups if possible, and don’t stop your car and get out to look at the bears if you see them near the highway.

Have you been on any of these hikes? What did you think of them? And do you have any favourite Banff hiking trails not included on this list? Let me know in the comments below!