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21 Epic Banff Winter Activities for your bucket list

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The most amazing thing to do in Banff in winter is to sit by a fireplace, with warm cocoa in hand and snow-covered mountain views. For this very reason, Banff will always have a piece of my heart forever. The Canadian Rockies come alive with jingle bells, snow festivals, hot chocolate, sleigh rides, crackling fire-pits, colorful mittens and torques, and tons of other Banff Winter activities to keep you hooked. 

It is literally the most wonderful time of the year here and a place where you will make memories for a lifetime. We visited Banff and surrounding areas multiple times and have put together these epic things to do in winter list.

Whether you like outdoors (like ski, snowboarding, winter hike) or love to hibernate indoors, we have something for you in our Banff Winter activities menu. Keep reading to choose your top pick!

21 Epic Things to do in Banff Winter Activities

Things to do in Banff in Winter - Banff Winter Activities
Things to do in Banff in Winter – Banff Winter Activities

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Banff Christmas – Santa Claus Parade of Lights

Christmas comes in early, in Banff. The beautiful Banff town comes alive with Christmas carols in November, with the Santa Claus Parade of Lights. The parade happens at Banff Avenue. Roads are blocked off for traffic as the town gets into the festive season to mark the arrival of Santa to town.

Arrive at Banff Avenue in the evening, bring your picnic chairs, wear warm clothes and get ready to rejoice. You will also see school children and local businesses participating in the Santa parade. So come out and join the entire Banff town in celebrations.

You can easily spend 1.5 to 2 hours here. There are lots of coffee shops on Banff Avenue, so grab a warm hot chocolate or coffee, while you enjoy the parade. It definitely helped me to watch the parade from start to finish!

Fee – Free. Join the parade on November 16th 2019. 

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter #banff #banffwinter
Santa Parade, Banff Town

Banff Christmas Markets

Missing Europe in Canada? Visit the Banff Christmas markets for that traditional European style Christmas market. The markets are set up at 100 Sundance Rd, end of November each year. Find more about this event here

Fee – $5 CAD weekday or $8 CAD weekend (includes a drink of your choice)

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, winter tours, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more. The best things to in Banff in winter

In Banff Avenue, you will also find many local stores selling Christmas items like sweets, gifts, ornaments, decorative crafts, etc. They also make for great souvenirs as well. My favorite store –  “Spirit of Christmas” and they are open all year round.

Banff Gondola Winter Activities 

Want to see how the Banff town looks like, from above. Well, it looks dreamy, all covered in snow, with peekaboo trees, lights, and mighty mountains. Take the Banff gondola ride to reach up to the Sulphur Mountain summit and soak in all the breathtaking views from up there.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Gondola Sightseeing Deck

Banff Gondola is open during the winter season. Keep in mind, it is very cold and windy at a high altitude, so dress warm and be ready for some chill. The walkway (1 km stroll to the Sanson Peak) is still open for visitors in winter but is covered in snow, so sturdy shoes are a must.

Fee – $58 CAD online purchase/adult. It is not necessary to book tickets online, but you do receive a 10% discount if you do so.

Christmas on Mountain Top (Banff Gondola in Winters)

Every year in December, you can meet Santa Claus and get treats from him at the Banff Gondola. The gondola summit also has an interactive centre (Santa’s workshop) from the North Pole.

Great spot to get your pictures taken. This event occurs all weekend from mid-November to December (November 16 to December 22, 2019)

Fee: Free with Gondola admission.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Stargazing at Banff Gondola in Winter

With modern technology and interpreters on-site, you can view the wonderful night sky in Banff, from over 7500 feet. It is available for free with your Banff Gondola ride ticket. This event occurs from late November to March, in the evenings. (2020 dates have not been announced yet. Check here)

Fee: Free with Gondola admission, evening admission.

See the water bubbles in Abraham Lake 

Although not in Banff National Park, with a 2-hour drive you will arrive at Lake Abraham which is a man-made reservoir. Underneath the surface is methane bubbles which makes the place very unique and fascinating! 

Water bubbles in Lake Abraham

This place is getting so much attention of late, but you got to be very careful when you walk the lake, as it is a reservoir and if the surface cracks it could be very dangerous more than a frozen lake. See the water bubbles on a scenic helicopter ride – find out more here

Go Ice Skating in Banff

Being a mountainous-snow clad terrain, Banff offers great options for skating (and also a very Canadian thing to do, eh). There are indoor and outdoor skating rinks and there are many that are free for use as well.

So if you love to be out in the lap of nature, then head to one of the following lakes (and for free). Keep in mind that these rinks are not maintained and a lot depends on weather conditions.

Average skating months are from November or early December and Parks Canada will provide signage and warnings if the lakes are ready for skating or if its thin ice.

Banff Outdoor Skating Rinks/Lakes 

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter #banff #banffwinter

  • Vermillion Lake – Quick drive from Banff town, Vermillion Lake is stunning and very accessible if you are staying on Banff Avenue. There are 3 dock options to choose from, perfect to curve your “almost” private skating rink.
  • Minnewanka Lake – Located 30 minutes away from Banff, Lake Minnewanka is a skater’s paradise. The lake is about 21 kilometres long and presents itself with an amazing backdrop of a snowy winter wonderland. Sometimes you will see water bubbles forming underneath the surface when you skate, so always check the ice thickness before skating.
  • Two Jack Lake – Located only a few minutes away from Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake. This lake is actually more popular in winter than in the summertime, as it presents a stunning view of Mt Rundle, while you skate.
  • Johnson Lake – Another spot to experience the Mt Rundle in its full glory of the winter season is Johnson Lake. This lake is very popular among tourists and locals alike. This lake can be accessed from Lake Minnewanka.
  • Lake Louise – The best of the best if Lake Louise. Located 50 minutes outside of Banff town, Lake Louise transforms into a skater’s paradise with snowy mountains, a castle, and an abandoned house (which is a rental office, by the way). This is probably one of the favorite places/lakes in Banff in winter.
  • Bow River Rink – There is a small skating oval created by the Bow River for skating. This rink is maintained for skating purposes and offers stunning views of Canadian Rockies as well.
Banff and Lake Louise in winter
Banff and Lake Louise in winter

Skating Banff in Hotel/Rec Centre

Some of the indoor skating rinks are operated and maintained by Banff resorts. Some indoor & outdoor rinks have entry fees.

In Banff 

  • Banff Springs Hotel – Has a heated rink. No fee
  • Banff Rec Centre – Fenlands Banff Rec Centre has a skating rink. The access fee is $6
Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Skiing in Lake Louise

In Lake Louise

  • Chateau Lake Louise – Also has a heated ice rink. Free access
  • Lake Louise Rec Centre – Outdoor skating rink. Access is free.

Banff Skate Rentals & Safety

  • At the Banff Rec Centre, you can also rent skates for use. For all the other rinks, especially the ones on the lake, you won’t find rental offices on the spot, so it is advisable that you grab some at the Banff Avenue or Lake Louise before heading to the skating rinks.
  • Banff skate rental options – Unlimited Skate & Snow,  Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, Chateau Mountain Sports
  • If you are in Lake Louise, here are a few options for skate rentals – Wilson Mountain Sports
  • Safety measures are to be followed when skating on the frozen lakes. Proper gear and helmets are key.

Banff Canada Ski Heaven – Banff Ski Resort, Cross Country Ski & Rentals

The Canadian Rockies boasts of more than 8000 acres of pure white bliss for ski lovers. Whether it is skiing or cross country, Banff has got you covered.

In the Banff area, there are 2 gondolas and 26 chair lifts to take you to the mesmerizing winter wonderland. Great Ski options also available in nearby areas of Lake Louise (50 minutes from Banff) and Canmore (20 minutes from Banff).

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Banff Ski Resorts

There are three primary ski resorts in Banff. They are Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff Sunshine Village and Mt Norquay

  • Mount NorquayMount Norquay Ski Resort is located closest to Banff, an only a 10-minute drive away. You can do night time skiing, snow tubing as well.
  • Sunshine VillageSunshine Village Resort is located about 20 minutes west of Banff. A stunning place during summers and during winters the same resort turns into a winter wonderland. Sunshine Village offers seasonal passes and if you love to ski for 10 days or so, then grab the Sunshine Supercard, offering 4 free days for $99 CAD
  • Lake Louise – The Lake Louise Ski Resort offers stunning ski terrain for all levels of skiers. Popular activities here include skiing and snow tubing. You can purchase a combo pass with a gondola ride, skiing, and tubing for $58 CAD per adult. It is a great place for families and teams. This resort is located in Lake Louise, about an hour’s drive from Banff. There are daily shuttle options for each ski resorts in Banff and Lake Louise. Pick up points are conveniently located across Banff town.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Cross Country Skiing Banff

In all of the above resorts in Banff and Lake Louise, both options for skiing and cross country skiing options are available. (Free-heel skiing and ‘downhill’ or cross country skiing where the heel is fixed).

If you venture a bit further away from Banff town, towards Canmore and Kananaskis, there is another world-class skiing at Nordic Provincial centre. The 1988 Winter Olympics were held at the Canmore Nordic centre Provincial Park and there are trails for cross- country skiers, mountain bikers, and hikers.

The park also hosts national training camps for Canada’s cross country ski teams in winter. The ski tracks are also illuminated for night skiing.

Banff Ski Rentals 

Ski equipment- If you are flying to Banff Alberta, then consider renting ski equipment, rather then bringing your own. Full Ski gear package starts at $84+ CAD, only boots start at $22+ CAD. It is recommended that equipment is reserved ahead of time. In doing so, you can also avail of discounts.

Banff Winter

Go on a Snowshoeing Banff Tour or a day out

Snow-shoeing is a form of hiking. You walk over snow-covered surfaces where a special pair of shoes that makes this activity fun and breathtaking at the same time. Enjoy the fun activity with an adrenaline rush (it also helps burn calories, especially after all the holiday gain!) There are short and/or half-day snowshoeing tours that start from Banff and in and around areas.

Most popular sites for snowshoeing include snow-covered areas in & around Banff Gondola, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Yoho National Park. You can also take a full day snowshoeing activity where you can cover mountains from top to bottom. To access various snowshoeing, there a few things to keep in mind – 

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

  • Meadowlark (Gondola) – This is one of the shortest duration snowshoe activity, and which is also located close to Banff town. To start the snow-shoeing activity, you will have to take the gondola and arrive at the mountain top.
  • Sunshine Village – You will have to access the hills and meadow, from the Sunshine Village Ski Resort (take a chairlift)
  • Lake Louise – There is a trail close to Lake Louise, where you can snowshoe. This trail is both for beginners and advanced snowshoers. The first part of the trail is easy, as you hike and climb through trees. As you reach Lake Mirror and go beyond, some patches are more rugged and prone to avalanches. Because of the scenic beauty of Lake Louise, this trail and snowshoeing activity are very popular. If you are a beginner, taking a guided tour, is well worth the investment.
  • Lake Agnes – A 4 km hike (one-way) to Lake Agnes, which is a popular summer sport in the Banff National Park. Its elevation point is 1300 feet, giving way to some amazing views.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, winter tours, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more. The best things to in Banff in winter

If you have never snowshoed before and are unaware of the Canadian Rockies terrain, it is worthwhile to book a tour for 2 hours or so, with a certified guide and take the time to relax and enjoy the view. Check out thus snowshoeing tour in Kootenay National Park in Banff. 

Go on the Best Banff Winter Hikes

Banff National Park is a hiker’s paradise. During summers, you can expect to see lush greenery, valleys, and turquoise blue waters. Winter hikes on similar (summer) routes are possible, but keep in mind it has its own challenges.

Some portions of trails or roads could be completely blocked or inaccessible. Paths and trails could be slippery and icy, so proper gear is a must.

There are different levels of hiking trails in Banff, so choose one wisely.  Stick to easy, short-duration hikes, if this is your first winter hike in Banff. Or go in a group, with a guide and a tour. Natural disasters also pose an additional hazard – wildfires in the summer and avalanches in the winter are to be aware of. Always follow warning signs and refrain from using those paths.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Banff Winter Hikes and Walks

Here are a few of the popular winter hikes trails – Banff hiking trails for all levels

Easy Hikes

Stewart Canyon – This trail is only 3 km (round trip) and is located by the Lake Minnewanka Day use area. You will see the Cascade River, on this trail. This is one of the easy hiking trails, but be mindful of icy paths.

Marsh Loop – Located close to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The hiking trail is about 5.5 km (round trip) and circles the Cave and Basin Marsh. Perfect spot if you wish to explore the sulphur caves at the historic site and then go for a quick hike.

Fenland Trail – About a 4 km peaceful trail, located near Mt Norquay. One of the easy trails near the Banff townsite.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, winter tours, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more. The best things to in Banff in winter

Moderate Hikes

Tunnel Mountain Summit – Located very close to the Banff town centre, the Tunnel Mountain hiking trail provides gorgeous scenic views of the Bow Valley. This trail is about 5 km (round trip). The reason this trail is of moderate level and proper hiking gear is required. Paths are extremely icy and slippery, so having the experience in using the equipment (hiking gear) is essential.

Hoodoos Viewpoint – The best view of the Hoodoos viewpoint can be accessed by hiking through a forest – 10 km (round trip). This trail provides wonderful scenic viewpoints and wildlife too. You can also hike further along to get to the Tunnel Mountain road, to head to Banff Town.

Banff Ice-Walk – Ice-Walks is also another way to experience winters in Banff National Park. Most popular ice-walks are done on the Johnston Canyon. Learn more about them here

Explore Banff Downtown in Winter

Banff Avenue in November

Banff downtown is a must-visit during winters. You can take some time off the winter activities – relax, eat, shop and unwind. There is a great lineup of cafes, restaurants with amazing mountain views and shops.

During winters, the streets are decorated with Christmas lights. You will find winter menus and special cuisines being offered in most restaurants. Stores with Christmas gifts, Banff souvenirs, local arts, crafts, and photography welcome you when it is snowy outside.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Banff Downtown

Food & Restaurants – Banff Winter Joys 

Relaxing in cafes in Banff, in wintertime, is my all-time favorite activity. Grab your favorite book and blanket, settle in with a warm tea or latte; and you are in heaven! Banff is foodie heaven. Here is a list of our favorite cafes and restaurants.

READ: Ultimate Guide to Food and Restaurants in Banff 

Café

  • WhiteBark Café – One of the best and popular cafes in Banff town for coffee (including Australian white flats) and hot chocolate. Their cocoa powder is sourced in Canada – and so their hot chocolate is the best in town. Perfect Christmas and winter companion.
  • Evelyn’s Coffee World – Another popular café in Banff for coffee, tea, and sandwiches and wraps. The ambiance here is so inviting and welcoming.
  • JK Bakery Café – One of our favorites. We have tried them in Banff and Canmore and I love their organic teas. Their lattes are great too. Brownie, sandwiches, samosas, etc. are available here too.
  • Rocky Mountain Bagel Co – Perfect café with bagels and mocha lattes in Canmore. They have a wide selection of bagels for breakfast and/or otherwise.
Heading to Banff? Get the guide to BEST places to eat in Banff for every meal, occasion and budget. This is your one stop where to eat in Banff planner!
Places to eat in Banff Canada

Fondue & Fancy Dinners

Fairmont Banff Springs offers great dining and ambiance for Banff in winter. Check out their winter dining options here

  • Park Distillery Restaurant – Hip interiors with a great array of wine and spirits
  • Waldhaus Bavarian Restaurant – Yes! A German/Bavarian restaurant in the middle of Canadian Rockies. This restaurant is located inside Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, so you can expect luxurious interiors and delicious schnitzels and cheese fondue!
  • Block Kitchen & Bar – Another warm and cozy place. Their cocktails are amazing.
  • Alpine Social at Chateau Lake Louise – A comfort food haven in Lake Louise luxury hotel, Chateau Lake Louise.
  • Magpie & Stump – Mexican cuisine and cottage & cabin-style restaurant. Their roasted chicken is bliss
  • Juniper Hotel & Bistro – Get reservations done in advance for this restaurant. It is one of the popular places in Banff, due to the amazing views from their seating areas. In winters, you can see the sun shining amongst the snow-covered mountains, while enjoying breakfast in your chairs, inside the restaurant. All glass- windows offer uninterrupted views.
Juniper Bistro at Banff. Heading to Banff? Get the guide to BEST places to eat in Banff for every meal, occasion and budget. This is your one stop where to eat in Banff planner!
Juniper Bistro at Banff.

Some of the restaurants especially the ones with hotels offer scenic views of Canadian Rockies. (Waldhaus Bavarian Restaurant – Fairmont Banff, Juniper Hotel & Bistro and Alpine Social at Chateau Lake Louise). It is worth considering a restaurant visit if you don’t plan to stay there, that way you can still capture Banff’s beauty from their doorsteps, minus the hefty price-tag. 

Banff Avenue in November
Banff November at the downtown lanes

Go on Scenic Winter Drives in the Canadian Rockies 

Banff National Park’s drive is stunning during winters. Whether you are driving into the national park or driving from one town to another in Banff, you will be mesmerized by the mountain slopes covered in snow, with the sun shining in between those peaks.

During these drives, you might also encounter wildlife on your way. Pay attention to road signs and drive carefully. Driving in winter in the Canadian Rockies calls for some experience in driving in snowy conditions. Roads might be icy and slippery, with low visibility. Drive slow, use lights, take insurance, and ensure you have winter tires on.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Some of the scenic drives in the Banff National Park are

  • Icefields Parkway – This stunning drive takes you from Banff to Jasper National Park. Glacier Skywalk and ice-fields are just located 2 hours from Banff town. This is my all-time favorite drive in the Canadian Rockies. 
  • Lake Louise – Drive from Banff to Lake Louise (via Bow Valley Parkway) is a real treat to the eye. Look out for wildlife and amazing mountain views. But drive slow and stay alert. 
  • Lake Minnewanka – Another beautiful route, where you can sight wildlife as well. Watch for road and weather warnings, as some portions of the route could be closed in severe snowfall.
  • Lake Vermillion – Great drive option to view those sunrises and sunsets with the Mount Rundle backdrop
  • Sulphur Mountain Drive – Breathtaking mountain views with different elevation points. Look out for scenic stops, along the drive.
  • Tunnel Mountain Drive – Perfect to soak in the views of Spray Valley and Bow Falls, with a lookout and stop options on the way to capture the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Soak in Banff Hot Springs & Pools in winter

One of the unique things to do in Banff is to enjoy a relaxing time at one of its natural hot springs! There are 3 natural hot springs located in Banff and surrounding areas. They are – Upper Banff Hot Springs, Radium Hot Springs, and Miette Hot Springs. 

Canmore Staycation - tosomeplacenew Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, winter tours, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more. The best things to in Banff in winter
Staycation

Upper Banff Hot Springs is located about a 5-minute drive from Banff town and offers a great relaxation oasis in the lap of nature, cradled and surrounded by amazing mountain views. The water here maintains a warm temperature of 40 degrees Celsius all year round, including winters.

Imagine there is light snow and it’s foggy, but you are soaked, in warm water – like a fuzzy blanket cuddling you up. This is a great way to relax your sore muscles or wipe your winter woes away. The water here is composed of minerals with healing properties.

The entry fee to the natural hot springs is as low as $8.50 CAD for an adult one-time pass. Rental options for swimwear, are also available on site for a fee. If you would rather soak up in a hot pool, in your hotel or resort, then here are some options for you.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Hot Pools in Banff and Surrounding Areas
  • Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel – Luxury stay and even luxurious mountain views, while enjoying in a hot tub. Book your stay here
  • Sunshine Village -Ski here and enjoy all the winter activities, and then relax and unwind in one of the outdoor pools at the Sunshine Village. Book your stay here
  • Deer Lodge – Cabin style, rustic stay – but the outdoor pool is a bonus at an affordable nightly rate. Find more about the Deer Lodge and book your stay here
  • Falcon Crest, Canmore – One of our favorite hotels in Banff and the surrounding area. Situated in Canmore (20 minutes from Banff), this hotel has a hot tub, with scenic mountain views (three Sisters range). Book your stay here

All the pools mentioned above are outdoor pools, with access to gorgeous mountain views. Find more hotels in and around Banff National Park here

Admire Banff Wildlife in Winters

Winter or summer – you will find wildlife roaming about in many parts of Banff National Park. The possibility of sighting wildlife is slightly higher in off-season months like in winter or spring. Less touristy areas and late afternoon or early morning hours are also great for capturing Banff wildlife.

Banff is home to a wide variety of wild animals and birds. The most common animals include coyotes, grizzly bears, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, etc.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter #banff #banffwinter
Elks in Winter

There is a list of areas where wildlife in Banff National Park are commonly found –

  • Banff Town – In and around parks and river beds, you might find elks and mule deer
  • Vermillion Lakes – Elk and deer are found here in spring and wintertime
  • Lake Minnewanka or Minnewanka loop trail – Find Bighorn sheep, elks, wolves (sometimes) here
  • Sulphur Mountain Area (hike or gondola) – Bighorn sheep are commonly spotted by the gondola parking area, route to Gondola or hiking trails
  • Johnston Canyon – Elks are commonly spotted here.
  • Banff to Canmore Road – You can find bighorn sheep, elk, coyotes, bears, wolves, horses
  • Banff to Lake Louise Road – Grizzly bears are common in Lake Louise and surrounding areas. Cubs, falcons, squirrels, etc are common as well. Bow Valley Parkway (drive to Lake Louise) is aptly named Moose Meadows as it is a safe haven for mammals and wolves.
  • Drives in and around Banff – As you arrive in Banff, you will notice animal corridors of this kind. This is meant to allow wildlife to roam about freely in their natural habitat while keeping them safe from incoming traffic. By Bow Valley Parkway and Icefields Parkway, you will see a wide range of animals like grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, wolves, coyotes, etc.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Jasper National Park, also part of the Canadian Rockies Park system is a popular place to view wildlife. On our trips to Jasper from Banff, we have seen elks roaming about freely. Sunsets are a great time to witness elks and bears here too. If you are taking a stroll in the evening, you might find some elks staring at you!

Tips & Safety around Banff Wildlife

  • Do not try to feed or go too close to wildlife. Leave them in their natural habitat
  • Winter and Springtime are optimum seasons to capture and see wildlife in action
  • Venture out in the evenings or early mornings to increase chances of wildlife sightseeing
  • On your drives, make sure you pay attention to wildlife crossing the road. Very often you will find wolves and coyotes dead on the road, as drivers don’t follow signs (wildlife crossing signs)
  • To increase chances of wildlife sighting, as part of your Banff Winter itinerary, add a wildlife tour. These tours are organized and they last 3-5 hours, led by a trained guide. Also includes hotel pick up and drop-off, so a perfect addition to your winter break. Book your Wildlife Tour here

Northern Lights Banff National Park

Banff National Park and the areas in and around it are perfect to view northern lights and stargaze. Lake Minnewanka and Lake Vermilion are great places to witness the green dancing lights in the sky.

For Lake Vermillion, make sure you drive away from the city lights, as darkness is key to experiencing these lights. Of course, on snowy days, the likelihood of seeing northern lights are rare. Northern lights have been sighted in the early hours or hours after 12:00 midnight (02:00- 04:00 am)

Check out the optimum time for viewing northern lights in Banff here – Aurora Watch

Banff Winters

Lake Louise Winter Activities – Ski, Ice Tubing, Dog Sledging 

Lake Louise is wonderful in winter. When we visited Lake Louise last winter, it was like a postcard image of the little cabin, with a snowy backdrop. We have visited Lake Louise and Banff at different stages of winter – November, December & March. Early winter months, Lake Louise slowly starts freezing and loses its turquoise blue waters. The ice is still thin.

Lake Louise in December is gorgeous, perfect for most of the winter activities like snowshoeing, skiing, skating (late December). Early January, Ice festivals takes place at Lake Louise. We have also seen a partially frozen Lake Louise in May.

The air in Lake Louise tends to be cold and dry, but it is warmer than other mountainous areas in Alberta due to the Chinook winds. So even though it might seem very COLD, it is still bearable for a snow fight! Are you in?

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is located by the lake itself and is definitely a great option for a luxurious and romantic staycation. There is a skating rink as well as a hot pool available on site. And hospitality like no other.

There are many cabins and other accommodation options available close to the hamlet of Lake Louise as well. Lake Louise’s tourism office is located close to the lakeside as well.

Banff Winter Wonderland
Banff Winter Wonderland – Lake Louise in early November

Banff Lake Louise is one of the most picturesque paradises for winter activities. One of the best for cross skiing, skating, and snow-shoeing during winters, of course, imagine the lovely snow-covered mountains and trails.

Skating here is like performing on a world-class stage, snowshoeing and hassling through a vanilla iced cupcake, minus the elevation. You might ask, Vanilla Cupcake? The frozen lake, with constant snow, reminds of a snow globe, but in an edible way – yea a cupcake!

If you are planning a romantic time out, Lake Louise is perfect for taking a stroll hand in hand in the snow. You can also book horse carriage rides or dog sledding tours (or dog sledding tours).

Lake Louise Ski Resort is an option for snowboarding and skiing. This resort is more spacious and less crowded than other ski resorts in the Banff National Park. The Alpine Ski World Cup occurs in Lake Louise in late November and is one of kind in the whole of Canada, so don’t miss it if you are here.

Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter

Ice Tubing in Lake Louise Resort

Ice Tubing is another fun activity to enjoy in Lake Louise. Just like any regular tubing activity, you use the inflatable tubes on the snow to enjoy the highs and lows of the winter landscape. Tubing was originally used by Indigenous peoples of Canada, and now it is a fun-filled activity. It is also a great alternative to skiing.

Lake Louise Resort in Winter
Lake Louise Resort in Winter

You can sit back, relax inside the tube – the tracks are groomed for safety and smooth slide, and enjoy the scenic views. Even children over the age of 4 years can participate.

Other then the Lake Louise Ski Resort, you can experience ice tubing at Mt Norquay.

Go on Wagon and Sleigh Rides in Banff in Winter

Sleigh or wagon rides in Banff are a great way to experience the winter. Open top, warm blanket and miles, and miles of snow-covered landscape, with the beautiful Rockies mountain, is a scene to capture and remember forever.

There are many options for horse-drawn sleigh rides in Banff. The start of sleigh rides happens in a stable close to Downtown Banff. You can opt for a 2 person (private ride) or join a gang of 12-14 people as you dash through the snow, enjoying marshmallows and hot chocolate.

As always dress warmly for the occasion. You can always book rides online, to secure your spot.

A sleigh ride is an outdoor activity, so if the weather is not favorable, tours or rides may be canceled. Refunds are issued by the tour agency, in the event, tours are canceled.

Banff Winter Festivals

Wintertime in Banff also calls for fun winter festivities. Winter festivals are a great way to explore Banff and nearby areas. Fests start as early as November and they carry on until the early days of February.

Things to do in Banff in Winter - Banff Winter Activities
Things to do in Banff in Winter – Banff Winter Activities
  • Winterstart Festival – This festival augments the start of the winter season in Banff, with the Santa Parade, Christmas markets, and Banff Beer festival. Winterstart Festival happens in November only.
  • Snow Days Event – Snow Days is a 10-day winter festival that occurs in Banff and Lake Louise in January. There are different activities like ice climbing, ice carvings, and skating, etc that are scheduled for everybody to enjoy.
  • Ice Magic festival – This is one of the magical sights in Lake Louise. Every year in January, ice sculptures are created on the frozen Lake Louise by artists from across the globe. Free shuttles are also available to take you to the Ice Magic Festival site. This event is scheduled for early January every year.

Get pampered – Best Hotels in Banff for Winter Getaway

Banff is an amazing option for a romantic weekend getaway or for gathering friends and family to spend the holidays with. There are lots of great accommodation options in Banff in winter.

Prices for Banff hotels are a bit pricier during Christmas. Plan to visit Banff after Christmas, going into New Year, or in the 2nd or third week of January, when hotel rates are cheaper. If you are visiting for Christmas or New Year, plan ahead and book in advance.

Read our exclusive Banff hotels guide here

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotels

  • A stunning castle-like luxurious hotel, nested in the beautiful Canadian Rockies
  • Surrounded by scenic mountain views from hotel rooms, restaurants, outdoor pool, and more
  • Great for a romantic stay and in-house dinners and fondue
  • Book your stay here

Rimrock Resort Hotel

  • Located in the heart of Banff town
  • Great rooms, perfect winter staycation
  • Has a spa and restaurant & bar
  • Book your stay here

Banff Rocky Mountain Resort

  • Great location, close yet far from the Banff town hustle-bustle
  • Fun staycation with indoor swimming pool, gym, and kitchen facilities
  • Perfect home away from home
  • Book your stay here

Hidden Ridge Resort

  • Condo style resort, great for groups and families
  • Ideal for the long term – a home away from home – hotel
  • Comes with kitchen, laundry, pool
  • Book your stay here

Buffalo Mountain Lodge

  • Tucked far away, into the cradle of Tunnel Mountain
  • Rustic looking cabins with all the modern facilities
  • Good access to winter activities like skiing and Banff town
  • Book your stay here
Banff Winter Activities - Lake Louise covered in snow
Banff Winter Activities – Lake Louise covered in snow

Tips for Visiting Banff in Winter

Banff is beautiful at any time of the year. June to September is considered peak tourist months as the weather is warm and provides a great opportunity for summer activities like kayaking, hiking, picnics, camping, etc.

But winter months are stunning in its own way. And they are “sort of”, off-season months too, so you can expect some great hotel deals. And you also get to experience so many activities and festivals.

Winter kicks in Banff, in November and stays until the first few weeks in April. Read our travel guide on visiting Banff in the month of November

Here are some safety and general tips to keep in mind while visiting the Canadian Rocky mountains – Banff in winters.

  • The best way to explore Banff in winter is by car. You can rent cars in Calgary Airport or Banff.
  • If you are flying into Banff, consider renting gear/equipment, to save on baggage fees. Reserve them ahead of time.
  • Driving in Banff or the Canadian Rockies in winter is tricky. Slow down when you see wildlife, or when the visibility is poor. Never run low on gas.
Amazing Banff winter activities - Christmas parade & markets, skii, snow-shoeing, hot cocoa, ice festivals & more - Best Things to do in Banff in Winter
Lake Louise – Parking Lot
  • Keep gloves and warm clothes handy in your car. Accidents and avalanches may keep you stranded sometimes.
  • Keep snow shovel in your vehicle too.
  • Take roadside assistance and insurance.
  • Carry bear spray and don’t attempt to feed animals or go too close to them
  • Carry warm clothes.
    • Thermal wear, warm socks, gloves, torques or warm hats, sturdy shoes, water & windproof jackets.
    • Carry moisturizer, sunscreen, and sunglasses in winter too
  • Book tours in advance to secure your spot.
  • Pay attention to site or road warnings. Some portions of the trail or road might be closed due to poor conditions or damage.
  • A weather forecast app is handy like Weather Network
  • Local News App like CBC
  • Photography Tips – For capturing the best of Banff in winter, try photographing during the day and when it is not snowing. While it is snowing, although it might seem wonderful, photos might turn out dark or grainy.
    • Lighting is key. Day time hours.
    • Wear bright-colored jackets to beat the grays in your photos and add some brightness.

Banff Winter activities 

Here you go – these are some of the best winter activities in Banff. Pick one favorite spot, make it your home – enjoy your time relaxing in a hot tub, snowshoeing, chase northern lights, and slip some warm cocoa. Do winters in style, in one of the most beautiful places in North America, also a UNESCO heritage site.

Additional Reading 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Pin! Best Things to do in Banff in Winter – Banff Winter Activities

Banff in Winter activities and things to do
Banff and Lake Louise in winter
Banff Winter Scenes and downtown
Banff Winter Activities

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6 Comments

  1. Looks like a perfect place to spend the winter holidays! I had never heard of it before and I’m really amazed by all the activities available. Nature looks breathtaking. And your pictures are great!

  2. Hi Mayuri! By chance I came across your blog, and your sharing is beautiful and comprehensive. Thank you for somebody who’s new to Canada. Would you recommend heading from Edmonton to Jasper then to Banff or starting from Calgary? Thank you again! Best regards, Vanessa

    1. Hi Vanessa – Welcome to Canada!
      Both are great options, but we found the route from Banff/Lake Louise to Jasper to be more scenic. You can also go all the way to Field BC to explore Yoho National Park – we would recommend visiting Yoho in April or after as the Takkakaw Falls and the Spiral Tunnels are closed for the season in BC.

      Traveling from Calgary to Banff > Jasper also makes sense if you are flying to Alberta from another Canadian city.
      Let me know if you have further questions, will be happy to help!
      Happy Travels!

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