Things to Do in Banff in Winter

By now everyone has seen pictures of the beautiful turquoise lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Banff and Lake Louise are the epicenter of the Canadian wilderness, and are equally worth a trip in Summer or Winter. Here is everything you need to know to visit Banff in Winter - where to stay, the most impressive natural wonders, and how to pack for your trip.

 

Sunflare through snow covered tree in Banff

 

Make sure you don't miss our top five tips to make the most of your visit to Banff at the end of this post!

 

Banff National Park

 

Banff National Park is one of the most popular of Canada’s national parks. And for good reason! Banff is full of beautiful glacial lakes, majestic flowing rivers, and towering snowy peaks.

 

View from Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Banff National Park was formed in 1885, making it Canada’s oldest national park. The park encompasses over 2,500 square miles (6,600 square km) of beautiful Canadian wilderness. With this much space, you can definitely find your own picturesque slice of nature.

 

View of Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff - The Next Trip

 

The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in the early growth of the park, building two of the most famous Canadian hotels here, the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. These magnificent hotels established Banff National Park as a popular tourist destination.

 

View of Banff - The Next Trip

 

Winter tourism in Banff was fairly limited until 1968, when the Banff Springs Hotel modernized and became winterized! Previously it was only open during the warmer months of the year.

 

Getting to Banff in Winter

 

Even though Banff is in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is relatively easy to get to any time of the year.  If you don’t already live within driving distance, you will most likely be flying into Calgary, which is about an hour and a half drive away. In comparison, our drive from Vancouver, took about 12 hours.

 

Toyota Tacoma driving in the snow - The Next Trip

 

If you don’t want to drive through the Canadian Rockies in the middle of Winter, there are a number of shuttle buses driving from Calgary to Banff.  Additionally, once in Banff there is a good public transportation system, and you can visit some incredible off the beaten path destinations with tours, such as the Winter Wonder Tour.

That being said, if you have your own vehicle, or a rental car, you can explore all that Banff has to offer at your own pace! Ensure that you have winter tires, as they are mandatory on all highways during the winter months until April.

 

Bow Valley Parkway

 

The Bow Valley Parkway is the scenic alternative to drive between Banff and Lake Louise. The road stretches 31 miles (50 km) with many great sights along the way. It's the perfect place to start exploring Banff National Park and you can't miss out on what it has to offer.

 

View from Bow Valley Parkway - The Next Trip

 

 

Johnston Canyon

 

One of the best stops along the Bow Valley Parkway, Johnston Canyon is dramatically carved into the limestone bedrock with steep canyon walls, and plunging waterfalls. During winter, the falls freeze over, forming dramatic ice features. This is a very popular spot for ice walking and ice climbing and the views don't disappoint.

 

Entrance Gate to Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Frozen lower falls at Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

The two main falls, Lower Falls and Upper Falls, are a relatively easy 0.7 miles (1.1 km) and 1.6 miles (2.6 km) hike from the parking lot. If you're like us and are visiting in Winter, we recommend you wear good traction hiking shoes or bring ice cleats. The path can be quite slippery and difficult to master without the right shoes. The temperatures can be a few degrees cooler at the falls than in the parking lot. Bring your warm jacket to ensure you don't get cold during your hike!

 

Ice Climbers on Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Morant's Curve

 

This is, not surprisingly, one of the most photographed spots in all of Banff National Park. And for good reason, as you can snap some epic pictures here. Canadian freight trains curve through Banff National Park, with the Bow River in the foreground and large mountains in the background.

 

Girl in Red Dress at Morant's Curve in Banff - The Next Trip

 

Finding Morant's Curve is relatively easy as it is well signed. Once you get onto the Bow Valley Parkway (driving from the North), it is a short five to ten minute drive. There is a small parking lot right across the street from the viewpoint. However, getting an iconic photo with a freight train is the difficult part. The freight trains passing through here do not run on a schedule and run at different times every day. As such, you can wait for hours and not see a train, or you may spot one in just a few minutes. Either way, make sure you're prepared and bring snacks and water, and a lot of patience.

 

Snowy Winterland View from Morant's Curve Banff - The Next Trip

 

We visited the Morant's Curve twice during our stay in Banff. While we did not get to see a full freight train, we did see a small locomotive and snow plough come through Morant’s Curve.

 

 
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Lake Louise

 

Lake Louise is another one of the quintessential Canadian Rockies “must-sees” that should be at the top of your list any time of year. You might know the lake due to its striking blue waters. In Winter, the lake is covered in ice and snow, but it is no less beautiful.

 

Ice Hockey Game at Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Instead of canoeing, you will find the lake turned into a hockey rink, an ice castle, and the perfect place to snowshoe and cross-country ski.

 

Ice Castle at Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Girl Twirling at Ice Castle Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Girl Twirling at Ice Castle Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Lake Louise is easily accessible by car and is a 40 minutes drive away from Banff. If you're planning to visit during the holidays or on weekends, make sure you get there early in the day. It can be very busy and the parking lot fills up quickly. Also be sure to check the weather before you plan your trip there as it can be dramatically different from Banff.

 

Girl Jumping at Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Vermilion Lakes

 

The Vermilion Lakes are actually less than 2 miles from the town of Banff, and yet they feel like they are a million miles away! You may have seen pictures of beautiful reflections of Mount Rundle at any time of the year, and this is where the pictures were taken from!

 

View at Vermillion Lakes - The Next Trip

The great part about going to Vermilion Lakes in the Winter is that there is almost no one there. We spent a few hours one afternoon at Vermilion Lakes. During our time we only saw a handful of other people out enjoying the beautiful weather. This makes Vermilion Lakes easy to schedule into your itinerary any time of day.

 

Couple standing on frozen vermillion lakes - The Next Trip

 

 

Girl throwing snow at Vermillion Lakes Banff - The Next Trip

 

If you are feeling adventurous, Vermilion Lakes is a great place to test the waters, quite literally, and take a polar dip.  There are a few areas of the vast lake that are not covered in ice, if you are in need of a refreshing dip! Just be sure to have a warm car waiting for you.

 

Girl doing Polar Dip at Vermillion Lakes Banff - The Next Trip

 

Where to Stay Near Banff


We were hosted by  the Grande Rockies Resort and had a wonderful time at the resort. We are excited to share our stay with you. As always, all of the opinions are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!

 

Girl twirling at Grande Rockies Resort Canmore - The Next Trip

 

Canmore is a great place to base your adventures of Banff National Park, as accommodation, food, and all other essentials are easier to come by and more affordable in Canmore compared to Banff and the entire town is less busy. We stayed in nearby Canmore, at the Grande Rockies Resort.

 

Driveway at Grande Rockies Resort Canmore - The Next Trip

 

Sunrise at Grande Rockies Resort Canmore - The Next Trip

 

Our stay was in a one-bedroom suite which was perfect for our time in Banff National Park as it allowed us the room to relax in the evenings by the fireplace and make a delicious home cooked meal.

 

Kitchen at Grande Rockies Resort Canmore - The Next Trip

 

Fireplace at Grande Rockies Resort Canmore - The Next Trip

 

If you're looking to explore the trails around Canmore, the Grande Rockies Resort has fat tire bikes and snowshoes that can be reserved for free. We took the fat bike on a spin and it's incredibly smooth to ride in the snow. They also have a wonderful indoor swimming pool, indoor-outdoor hot tub, and heated indoor parking!

 

Fat Bike driving in Canmore - The Next Trip

 

What Should I Pack for Banff in Winter?

 

The weather can get properly cold in the Canadian Rockies during the Winter. During our visit the nightly low temperatures reached -18C (0F), but -30C (-22F) would not be unheard of. That means you should be fully outfitted in winter gear from head to toe with a toque (Canadian warm winter hat), scarf, warm jacket, gloves, warm pants, and winter boots. If you are spending a few hours outdoors a very worthwhile investment are the glove warmer packets! We used these each day outside, and they easily lasted the whole day.

 

Girl standing on frozen lake with backpack and suitcase - The Next Trip

 

 

The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Things to Do in Banff in Winter:

 

1) Prepare for the cold

This is Winter in the Canadian Rockies, and as we already mentioned it can get really cold! Even if you already live somewhere that has cold winters, it pays to be prepared for your trip to Banff. Often when we travel we spend a lot more time outdoors, so be sure to pack all warm clothing and hand warmers!

2) Stay Hydrated

We noticed that our skin was very dry during our stay in Banff. This is partially due to the cold and dry air outside and the hot dry air inside from the building heaters. Another important factor is that we tend to drink less water when it is cold outside! Packing a thermos with some warm water, tea, or broth on your outdoor adventures is a great way to stay hydrated and warm at the same time!

3) Cook your own meals

While there are some fantastic restaurants in both Banff and Canmore, as they are located in a small remote resort town, they are priced accordingly! The easiest way to save a large amount of money on your trip to Banff is to cook a few meals in your hotel room. Our one-bedroom suite at the Grande Rockies Resort was perfect for us to cook some of our meals ourselves!

4) Hit the slopes

While we didn't have enough time on our trip to get some skiing and snowboarding in, this is a fantastic area for winter sports. Banff Sunshine and Lake Louise are by far the biggest and most popular ski mountains with tourists. Smaller Norquay is nearer to Banff, and can be a great alternative to escape the crowds.

5) Have a flexible schedule

This is the number one mindset to have to enjoy your trip to Banff in the Winter.  Winter weather is unpredictable, and can be rather unfriendly towards Winter travelers. On our trip we encountered multiple road closures, rain, snow, and sunshine. You never really know what the weather conditions will be, but you just have to be able to roll with it. That being said, it's great to always have a secondary plan in the back of your mind if your first plans don't work out due to weather.

 

Save this post to your Canada travel Pinterest board for when you plan your next vacation!

 

Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.

 

Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.

Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.
Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.
Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.
Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.
Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter. These are our top places to see in Banff, where to stay, and what to pack.

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Explore Banff National Park with Winter Wonder Tour

Banff National Park is a dream to visit in Winter! In case you didn't know, Kyle is from Canada (read about our story here), and we love exploring Canada. Read about our Canada East Coast adventures here. However, we have not visited the Canadian Rockies in Winter until now. The snow-covered mountains and trees make for the perfect fairy tale getaway. There is no better way to start off your romantic trip than with the Banff Winter Wonder Tour. The tour takes you to some of the main highlights of Banff National Park in Winter. Hence, it provides you with a quintessential Canadian experience along the way!

 

Snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka Banff - The Next Trip

 

All of the below locations and activities were included within the Banff Winter Wonder Tour, which we enjoyed on a beautiful sunny afternoon. We were taken between all locations by coach bus. This allowed us to heat up after each outdoor activity and leave our belongings in a safe space when we didn’t need them. Take a seat as we take you through all of the tour activities!

 

Disclaimer:  Our tour was provided by Brewster Sightseeing and we loved it. As always, all of our opinions on our experience and how many Canadian treats you should eat are completely our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us!

 

Views of Two Jack Lake

 

The first stop of the tour is a viewpoint of Two Jack Lake. The lake is named after two local Jack’s who used to work in the area and frequent the lake. Two Jack Lake is relatively unknown compared to some of the most famous nearby lakes. However, it is no less beautiful!

 

Two Jack Lake Banff National Park in Winter - The Next Trip

 

The sun reflecting off the frozen lake is magical!

 

Snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka

 

Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake in Banff National Park, and was one of our favorite stops on the tour! It is very popular in the Summer, but equally as beautiful in the Winter.

 

Showshoeing at Lake Minnewanka with Pursuit Collection - The Next Trip

 

Here we went on a short snowshoeing walk through the forest and along the lake. It had snowed the night before, so there was fresh snow everywhere. As a result, it was a lot of fun bounding through the deep snow. As the lake was entirely frozen and covered in snow, we even walked out onto the ice!

 

Snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka Banff National Park in Winter - The Next Trip

 

Bettina tried using some old-style snowshoes made with a wooden frame and dried caribou hide webbing. However, as they didn’t have the metal ice picks on the bottom like modern snowshoes do, it was slippery! Luckily, she didn't fall!

 

Old Snowshoes at Lake Minnewanka - The Next Trip

 

Old Snowshoes at Lake Minnewanka - The Next Trip

 

Cave & Basin National Historic Site

 

The Cave and Basin National Historic Site is an interactive place to learn about the birthplace of Canada’s national parks, as well as local history and culture.

 

Cave and Basin Natural Hot Spring Banff - The Next Trip

 

The site includes access to an underground natural hot spring, which is protected to preserve the habitat of the Banff Springs snail. This minuscule snail has adapted to live in the harsh environment of the natural thermal springs. The snail lives in just five of the nine Banff hot springs, and is considered ‘at risk’ or endangered.  Additionally, there is only one hot springs open to the public (the Upper Hot Springs) to preserve these little Banff Spring snails.

 

Bow Falls

 

These waterfalls on the Bow River are located very close to Banff town center. The viewpoint here allows you to see the beautiful ice-covered falls in the Winter, as well as the nearby merger of the Bow and Spray rivers.

 

Bow River Banff National Park

 

We also enjoyed a cup of warm hot chocolate and a traditional Canadian sweet, Nanaimo Bars while taking in the beautiful Bow Falls!

Banff Gondola on the Winter of Wonder Tour

 

The last stop on the tour is at the Banff Gondola. The gondola climbs 2,292 feet (698 meters) to the top of Sulphur Mountain. On your way to the top you will have glimpses of the town of Banff and the mountain views that await.

 

View from Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

The eight-minute journey to the top is totally worth it when you arrive to magnificent views like these!

 

View from Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

At the top of Sulphur Mountain, the Winter Wonder tour includes a delicious sampling of a traditional Canadian snack. We tried bannock with maple butter and a cup of hot apple cider. Both the bannock and apple cider were freshly made upon our arrival. As a result, they were absolutely delicious! So much that we even had seconds!

 

Canadian Treat Bannock - The Next Trip

 

After our snack we had an hour of free time. You could take photos, walk the boardwalk to nearby Sanson’s Peak, or explore the gondola summit.

 

View from Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

Igloo at Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

 

After our time at the summit, we took the gondola back down to the mountain base. The coach bus drove back to the town of Banff, and we said goodbye to our excellent tour hosts. The Banff Winter Wonder tour is a wonderful way to spend your afternoon exploring Banff National Park in Winter and complete with outdoor Winter activities, historical facts, classic Canadian treats, and most importantly all those iconic Canadian Rockies views.

 

Alpenglow Festival

 

The Alpenglow Festival was not specifically included in our Winter Wonder Tour, but we wanted to highlight it as it is a must see if you’re in Banff on a Winter weekend. During the festival you can enjoy an evening of more amazing views and live music at the top of Sulphur Mountain. It happens every Friday and Saturday night between the end of January and April.

 

Alpenglow Festival at Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

Alpenglow Festival at Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

The festival is included within a Banff Gondola ticket, and provides a warm and cozy atmosphere at the top of Sulphur Mountain. Inside the gondola summit there is the Glow Bar Lounge, with live music, signature drinks, and tasty treats.

 

Alpenglow Festival at Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

If you feel like venturing out onto the rooftop, don't worry about the cold! You will be rewarded with a heated igloo, where you can eat a delicious s’more after roasting it yourself on the firepits! Our roasted s'mores were perfect! We enjoyed a relaxing Friday night at the Alpenglow Festival and can highly recommend it as an evening out on top of the town of Banff!

 

Alpenglow Festival at Banff Gondola - The Next Trip

 

 

Pin this post to your Banff and Canada board to help plan your next trip!

 

 

Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!
Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!
Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!
Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!
Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!
Explore Banff National Park in Winter with the Winter Wonder Tour! Go snowshoeing at Lake Minnewanka, take a ride up the Banff Gondola, and enjoy this Canadian Rockies destination!

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