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. Here are the top things to do in Banff in winter.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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