Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
Last updated on January 14, 2024
In Banff, Alberta, winter wraps itself around the town with a frosty white embrace. Bundled up like marshmallows, visitors waddle through the streets, enjoying the diminished crowds and the winter wonderland atmosphere. The mountains are draped in white fluffy powder, and lights twinkle throughout town like stars. This is Banff in winter…and it’s a magical place to visit with so much to see and experience. Forget a red carpet, it’s a beautiful white one that welcomes those who come to visit during these cold months!
How to Prepare to Visit Banff in Winter
One must be prepared to visit Banff during the winter months. Having adequate warm clothing, including jackets, toques, gloves, scarves and ski pants, is a necessity as weather can change quickly. The cold can and will be extreme at times (below -40 degrees Celsius) so check the weather before you venture out.
If you’re driving to Banff National Park, be sure to have an emergency car kit prepared as roads can be extremely icy. And if you’re venturing out on the Icefields Parkway, it is mandatory to have your vehicle equipped with winter tires or chains.
Things to Do in Banff in Winter
Banff and Lake Louise are rocking every January for a few weeks with the annual SnowDays celebration. There are PLENTY of outdoor winter activities to take part in, including snow sculpting, live entertainment in the streets, dogsledding, a winter carnival, plus much more!
And don’t miss the thrilling event of skijoring as horses pull skiers down the streets of Banff at full speed! SnowDays is a bunch of fun for the whole family
Try Winter Hiking
Don’t be scared of hiking in Banff in winter… in fact, some people prefer it over summer hiking! Banff National Park has many great winter hikes; the key is sticking to the easier, more accessible trails, as you don’t want to put yourself in danger by straying too far in the snow. Some of our favourite winter hiking trails include Johnston Canyon, Fenland Trail, Lake Louise Lakeshore, Fairview Lookout, Tunnel Mountain, and Sulphur Mountain.
We recommend bringing hiking poles and ice cleats on these trails in winter, as they make it much easier if the trail is icy. Many of the hiking trails in Banff can also be explored by snowshoes, which is something to keep in mind!
Enjoy Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding
If you’re visiting Banff in winter, chances are you love to downhill ski or snowboard. Fortunately, Banff National Park has some of the best mountains in the world! Enjoy the beauty of the snow-capped mountains in all their glory in winter. With one of the longest ski seasons in North America, you’re spoiled for options; choose from Mount Norquay, Banff Sunshine Village, and the Lake Louise Ski Area, which combined give you over 8,000 acres of terrain. No matter what level you are, there are ski hills in Banff National Park that will suit you.
Don’t have your own skis or snowboard? There are plenty of places to rent ski equipment in Banff National Park, so there’s no excuse not to try it on your next visit!
Go Ice Skating
There’s no shortage of spots to go ice skating in Banff National Park! One of the most iconic places to ice skate is on Lake Louise itself, as there are also ice sculptures and an ice castle there for your enjoyment. For wild ice skating on frozen lakes – which takes a lot of planning and precautions – Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake, and Two Jack Lake are all popular options.
If you want to go ice skating on a maintained rink, visit the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, the Train Station in Banff town, or the Lake Louise Recreation Centre for an indoor rink. And don’t worry if you don’t have your own ice skates, as there are plenty of places to rent them around Banff and Lake Louise!
Is there anything more magical than experiencing Christmas in a winter wonderland like Banff? Christmas in Banff is one of the best times to visit, as you’ll have your pick of Christmas lights, markets, concerts, shopping, parades, and more.
We highly recommend visiting the Cascade of Time Garden in Banff for an interactive holiday experience, the Banff Christmas Market, and seeing the lights at the Banff Springs Hotel.
Go for a Gondola Ride
The Banff Gondola is a fantastic way to see the majestic Canadian Rockies from a different viewpoint, and it’s one of the most popular things to do in Banff in the winter.
Take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain for unparalleled views and fun options at the top, including an interpretive centre with dining options, 360-degree views, and even the occasional live event. Found not far from downtown Banff, the Banff Gondola is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer.
Go Cross-Country Skiing
Sure, we may instantly think of downhill skiing on the high peaks of the Canadian Rockies when we think of Banff National Park, but there are some fantastic cross-country skiing trails in the park, too! There are scenic track-set and skate skiing options in Banff, and you’ll find many different trails to try throughout the Banff and Lake Louise areas.
Some of our favourite cross-country skiing trails include the Tunnel Mountain River Trails, the Spray River West Trail, the Lake Louise Loop, the Bow River Loop, and Moraine Lake Road.
Experience the Banff Springs Hotel
Visiting the Banff Springs Hotel in winter is like stepping onto the set of your favourite Christmas movie!
Aside from the amazing Christmas lights on display at the hotel, the Fairmont Banff Springs has incredible dining, shopping, and spa options. Known as the “Castle in the Rockies,” the hotel makes for a photogenic and memorable stop during your trip to Banff National Park.
See the Northern Lights
One of the benefits of visiting Banff in winter is the ability to see the Northern Lights. Shining their brightest from December until February, the Aurora Borealis dance their way across the Alberta skies in shades of green, blue, and even red!
You can take a Northern Lights tour or try to catch them on your own; your best bet to see them is on a clear night. There’s also the nearby Dark Skies Preserve in Jasper, one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Alberta.
One of our favourite Banff winter activities is snowshoeing. Perfect for traversing through deep snow, most of the hiking trails in Banff in winter can also be used as snowshoe trails. Not sure where to start? You can take one of the snowshoe tours in the park.
We personally love the Johnston Canyon walk as you can see the frozen waterfalls, but many people love Tunnel Mountain and Peyto Lake, too.
Visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs
We don’t know about you, but we prefer winter hot springs over summer! There’s just something extra magical about seeing all of the steam in the air and experiencing the warm water in contrast with the cold weather.
Arguably the most famous hot springs in Alberta, the Banff Upper Hot Springs are family-friendly; there’s also a gift shop, café, and a day spa with various treatments that include massage, steam rooms, and aromatherapy, so your time here can take the better part of the day. Found near the Banff Gondola, the hot springs are a fantastic way to relax and unwind on a wintry day.
Take a Tour
Whether it’s your first time to the Canadian Rocky Mountains or your hundredth, there’s always something new to see and learn about. Not sure where to start? Take a tour! Fortunately, there are plenty of tours to try in winter in Banff; we love relinquishing all responsibility to a tour company and not having to worry about driving, parking, or where to go.
Some of our favourite winter tours in Banff include those run by Banff Adventures, where you can find tours on everything from ice climbing to helicopter flights and beyond.
If you’re looking for a unique way to see Banff in winter, why not try dogsledding? Explore the beautiful Canadian Rockies with a team of energetic Huskies and a musher (your guide) as you zip through the landscape like you never have before.
Our recommendation is Kingmik Dog Sled Tours, which has operated in Banff since 1982.
You may have tried skiing or snowboarding in Banff National Park… but have you tried tubing in Banff?! If you’re looking for something fun and exciting, tubing is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter.
One of the best places in Banff to try it is at Mount Norquay Ski Resort, where there’s an entire tube park dedicated to the activity. Ride down Alberta’s longest tube lanes on an inflatable tube for a snowy activity you’ll never forget.
Indulge in the Hot Chocolate Trail
If you love hot chocolate, you’re in luck! Banff has a special “Hot Chocolate Trail” with over 20 participating restaurants and cafés to try, all offering a unique festive-themed hot chocolate.
Perfect for a fun winter activity in Banff – this year, it’s running from November 17th until December 23rd – enjoy everything from Raspberry Ripple to Banana Bliss to boozy concoctions with Cointreau and Maple Rye!
Try Fat Biking
Fat biking is a relatively new activity to the park, but it’s a great way to experience Banff in the winter. This is a fantastic way for avid cyclists to keep up their hobby, even when the snow falls, but beginners love this unique activity, too!
Whether you stick to the Banff townsite or venture further afield to one of the trails – the Lake Minnewanka Trail, Sundance Trail, and Spray East Trail are all popular – there are plenty of ways to explore the park on a fat bike. You can also sign up for a fat biking tour. And there is no need to bring your own bike, as there is plenty to rent in Banff!
Visit Lake Louise
Seeing Lake Louise in winter is a must. Whether you’re skating on the frozen lake, popping into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, enjoying the Lake Louise Ski Area, or wandering around the village, don’t miss out on visiting this part of Banff National Park.
While many visitors to the park stay in downtown Banff, you could easily spend many days exploring all that Lake Louise has to offer… and it’s only a short drive away from the Banff townsite! Snowshoe, ski, skate, hike, shop, eat… Lake Louise in winter really has it all.
Get Cozy on a Sleigh Ride
One of the most memorable (and perhaps most romantic) of all the Banff winter activities? Going on a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the park! There are quite a few options for horse-drawn sleigh rides in Banff National Park, but we still recommend booking your sleigh ride as far in advance as possible.
Breathe in the fresh air, take in the views of the Canadian Rockies, and enjoy the beauty of this winter wonderland all around you. You can even book a private sleigh ride for an extra special experience!
Treat-yo-Self at the Spa
After all of those Banff winter activities, you might feel the need to relax! Thankfully, Banff National Park is home to quite a few excellent spas. Both the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs are standouts, but there’s also Cedar and Sage Co. Spa, Meadow Spa and Pools, Bliss Valley Massage and Wellness, and many more, most of which can be found in the town of Banff.
There’s nothing like a bit of rest and rejuvenation after a long day of being outdoors, especially in the cold weather!
Let’s face it: sometimes we need a break from all the outdoorsy adventures and just feel like a shopping spree! Thankfully, there is a lot of great shopping in Banff National Park, both in downtown Banff and Lake Louise Village.
Stroll along Banff Avenue for a variety of shops offering everything from winter gear to souvenirs. In Lake Louise, don’t forget to check out all of the shops at the grand Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
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Dalene Heck is a co-founder of Road Trip Alberta. She was born in Edmonton, grew up in the Peace Country, and has ventured to almost every corner of Alberta and the world (she’s travelled to 60 countries)! She is a serial blogger, the CEO of HMI Marketing, co-creator of the Trip Chaser card game, a leukemia-slayer, and cat whisperer.