Winter in the Canadian Rockies isn’t solely for snow sports. While skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing are all cold weather favourites when the snow flies, you can also enjoy some of the very same trails frequented by hikers in the summer.
Winter hiking is like taking in the same breathtaking landscape through an entirely different lens. Hikes that are enjoyed by many in the warmer months are often unrecognizable in the counter season. Formerly thundering waterfalls transform to impressive ice pillars, seemingly suspended in time. Tree branches once cloaked in green summer leaves or golden fall needles don their winter attire, in the form of hoar frost or light fluffy flakes. Even the fresh mountain air itself takes on a different energy, as it glimmers and refracts the sparkle of sunshine streaming down from above.
With a couple of pieces of extra gear and a sense of adventure, these summer favourites can also be easily enjoyed during the winter months. Thinking of heading out on other winter trails not mentioned on this list? Be sure to verify that the trail is not in avalanche terrain before heading out and check with Parks Canada for updated trail reports in Banff and Jasper.
Winter Hikes in Banff
This popular summer trail along the Bow Valley Parkway is much quieter in the winter months. However, it is just as impressive in the chilly season as it transforms into a full-blown world of Narnia. Walking along the canyon’s edge and along the suspended catwalk will bring you right into the canyon depths, with frozen water clinging to the walls, colliding into turbulent pools below of dark blue water below.
Access: Follow the Bow Valley Parkway west from its eastern interchange with the Trans-Canada Highway 17.5 kilometres (11 miles) to Johnston Canyon.
Tunnel Mountain is a local’s go-to, and is easily accessed right from the Banff townsite. This trail is well-maintained all year round and has been recently upgraded with new trailheads and handrails. From the top, you can enjoy views of the Bow Valley below from East to West, including Mt. Rundle’s jagged face and the Banff townsite.
Access: The lower trailhead on St. Julien Road, near the Banff Centre.
Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk
Accessible year-round, this safe, gentle 1 km round-trip hike offers unparalleled views of the Spray and Bow Valleys. From the Sulphur Mountain Summit, follow the ridge-top boardwalk towards the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site, perched high above downtown Banff. Take some time to read the interpretive signs along the route and learn about Canada's first national park. After exploring the trail, visit the Banff Gondola Summit's Rooftop Observation Deck for breathtaking 360-degree panoramas, then enjoy a matchless meal at the award-winning Sky Bistro.
Access: From the Banff Gondola Base, soar up to 7,486 feet (2,281 metres) above sea level to Sulphur Mountain's Upper Terminal, enjoying show-stopping Canadian Rockies scenery throughout the ride.
While the Hoodoos viewpoint itself doesn’t require much of a journey, it’s also the beginning of a longer trail that dips down and along the Bow River. After walking through an expansive meadow, you’ll meander through the forest floor at the base of Tunnel Mountain and back up at Surprise Corner lookout for stunning views of the Fairmont Banff Spring hotel.
Access: Parking lot at the Surprise Corner Viewpoint, at the top end of Buffalo Street.
Worked Up an Appetite?
After a late-day walk in the fresh mountain air along the Bow River, stop by the buzz-worthy Farm & Fire for Banff's finest takeout. The to-go wood-fired menu is delicious anywhere, and pairs so well with Banff trails!
Winter Hikes in Jasper
The Lake Annette loop brings winter hikers along a well-marked trail, encircled in vistas of mountainscapes. Lake Annette’s frozen surface invites a sense of tranquility and calm, and a journey along its frozen shores serves as meditation in motion. Pack along a winter lunch to enjoy on the beach area picnic table at the end of your hike.
Access: Follow Highway 16 east towards Edmonton. Take the Maligne Lake Road across the Athabasca river and make your first right towards Jasper Park Lodge. Take the left turn at 1 kilometer towards Lake Annette.
Jasper Discovery Trail
The Jasper Discovery Trail is aptly named to enjoy the best of the townsite. A loop encircling the town of Jasper is broken into three sections - Wapiti Trail, Bighorn Alley, and Red Squirrel Trail. By following the marked bear symbol signs, you’ll make your way through natural woodlands and meadows, along the Athabasca River, and across historic points of interest such as Old Fort Point.
Access: This trail circles around the town of Jasper can be started anywhere. The bear symbol marks Jasper's Discovery Trail.
Pyramid Lake and Athabasca Overlook
For a fun family trail with a little bit of everything, look no further than Pyramid Lake and Athabasca Overlook trails. This trail embarks from the town of Jasper and features beautiful aerial-esque views of Patricia and Pyramid lakes and a forest of Douglas Firs, perfect for soaking in nature’s abundance. Head into The Pines at Pyramid Lake Resort for a warm beverage and a hearty meal following your hike.
Access: From downtown Jasper, take Pyramid Lake Road for 5.6 km to the parking area at the far end of the road, past Pyramid Lake Resort.
The deepest canyon in Jasper National Park is no other than Maligne Canyon. Reaching depths of up to 50 metres, this trail features six bridges and is brimming with frozen waterfalls and icy caverns. For a guided experience, join an Icewalk experience and warm up afterwards at the historic and charming Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen.
Access: From the east end of the town site of Jasper, follow Highway 16 east for 3 km and take the turnoff for Maligne Lake Road to the right. Proceed over the iron bridge across the Athabasca River and stay left at the fork in the road. Follow the road to Maligne Canyon (on your left side).
What to Bring Winter Hiking
- Microspikes: This piece of gear act as low-key crampons that easily stretch over a regular hiking boot. They easily pack away in your backpack to start, and are easy to slip on for icy areas. Microspikes are a must for hikes with any incline, such as Tunnel Mountain or Maligne Canyon.
- Gaiters: Essentially a jacket for your ankles, gaiters fit around your boots and zip up the calf to prevent from snow, mud, and moisture from creeping into your socks. They keep your feet toasty warm.
- Hiking Poles: Hiking poles are nice to have for extra stability on icy, snowy, or uneven surfaces.
- Warm socks: There’s nothing worse than chilly toes to make a winter hike unpleasant. Be sure to wear a pair of warm, hearty socks to enjoy your day out and avoid cutting it short.