Make this winter magical with a mountain getaway in Banff. While the national park's world-class 'Big 3'—Banff Sunshine, Mt. Norquay and Lake Louise Ski Resort—are the season's biggest draw, there are plenty more uplifting outdoor adventures awaiting your discovery.
To truly unplug and unwind, stay a night, or two, at the Elk + Avenue or Mount Royal Hotel in town. Just one night away allows you to double your fun and return home rested and recharged, with a full and happy heart.
From winter walks and ice skating to horse-drawn sleigh rides and fat-tire biking, here are some of the quintessential Canadian winter activities to experience in your own—postcard-perfect—backyard. Pack a picnic, or grab lunch to go from Farm & Fire for an alfresco feast to fuel your adventure.
Cross Country Skiing in Banff
Cross-country skiing is a soul-quenching experience, especially in Banff. The national park boasts one of the longest ski seasons in North America and offers a host of beginner and intermediate scenic track-set trails. The Tunnel Mountain Winter Trails and the Spray River West Trail are great options close to downtown if you're new to the sport. For something more intense, Brewster Creek to Sundance Lodge is breathtaking—in more ways than one. The Lake Louise Loop, across the Canadian Rockies natural landmark, is another fun trail to try.
Ice Skating in Banff
There's something spectacular about skating outdoors in the Canadian Rockies, and there's no shortage of beautiful frozen lakes in Banff. At the east end of town, Johnson Lake is a popular spot, as are Two Jack Lake, west of Mt. Norway Road and Vermillion Lakes off the Lake Minnewanka Road. The Lake Minnewanka reservoir is another option; however, it usually freezes over later in the season. Lake Louise is, of course, the most iconic natural rink in Banff National Park; aim to arrive early or around lunchtime to increase your chances of finding parking. Downtown Banff also has three flooded outdoor rinks that are free to use but require online pre-registration. Bring your skates or rent them in town, wear a helmet and always check ice conditions in advance. Parks Canada is a great resource.
Winter Hiking in Banff
Hiking through sparkling snowy landscapes is a refreshing way to get your heart rate up in winter. Thankfully many of Banff's top trails are accessible year-round. Beginner routes typically only require a good pair of warm, weatherproof hiking shoes, while some trails call for ice cleats or snowshoes. Johnston Canyon is one of Parks Canada's most popular and easy hiking spots, but ice cleats are recommended. Sundance Canyon, Tunnel Mountain Summit and Sulphur Mountain winter trails are some of the more adrenaline-boosting options near Banff. Or, head to Lake Louise and explore the Moraine Lake Road and Lake Louise Lakeshore trails for beginners. Mirror Lake, via the Lake Agnes Trail is a moderate adventure. Taylor Lake is the area's most challenging trek, and bringing a pair of snowshoes is highly recommended.
Remember to explore with caution! Some trails in the Lake Louise area—inlcuding Mirror Lake and Taylor Lake—pass through avalanche terrain. When travelling beyond marked trails, or past an avalanche danger sign, assume you are in avalanche country. Travel in avalanche terrain requires specialized knowledge, skills and equipment!
Check the current avalanche forecast at a Parks Canada Visitor Centre or avalanche.ca. Visit parksmountainsafety.ca for more information on backcountry travel and how to stay safe in the mountains.
Fat Tire Biking in Banff
Biking has become an all-season sport in Banff National Park. Fat bikes have wide snow-gripping tires that make it easier to cycle on slick surfaces. There are six recommended fat biking trails near downtown Banff. With minimal elevation gain, the three beginner options are Spray River East, Sundance and the Tunner Mountain winter trails. Intermediate options include the Banff Avenue Trail, Tunnel Bench Loop and Lake Minnewanka. Moraine Lake Road, just before Lake Louise, is another challenging trail boasting amazing views.
Snowshoeing in Banff
Snowshoeing is one of the easiest winter activities to take up. As the saying goes, "if you can walk, you can snowshoe." While backcountry exploration is almost endless in the park, many of Banff's winter trails are multi-use, making snowshoeing super accessible for beginners. Johnson Lake, Tunnel Mountain Drive and the Lake Louise Lakeshore and Peyto Lake Viewpoint trails are all entry-level. While Banff's Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos and the Highline Trail to Paradise Creek in Lake Louise are more challenging. As with any outdoor winter trail activity, check the Parks Canada website for conditions before setting off.
Sleigh Rides in Banff
Romantic and nostalgic, guided horse-drawn sleigh rides are a time-honoured tradition in Banff National Park. The classic Canadian Rockies adventure is a leisurely way to enjoy the surrounding scenery while learning about park history, geology and wildlife. Choose a group tour, or make it an intimate occasion and book a one-horse-sleigh for two. Afternoon rides showcase Banff and Lake Louise's stunning winter landscapes, while evening trips present exceptional star gazing opportunities.
Dog Sledding in Banff
A guided dog sledding tour is a thrilling, quintessential Canadian Rockies experience. All tours begin with a team meet and greet to learn about the enthusiastic pups charged with pulling the sled. Then it's a heart-pumping fast-paced adventure, navigating through the snowy course. Tours typically range from 30 minutes to 90-minutes in length, with some operators offering up to half-day expeditions.
Ready to plan your winter escape to Banff? Contact us to learn more about winter specials for Albertans, and book your accommodation, tours and equipment rentals.