Banff National Park is heaven for the outdoor lover. It has everything from beautiful lakes to rugged mountains to wildlife roaming freely. While summer is the most popular time to visit the Canadian national park, visiting Banff in winter is spectacular. Waterfalls are frozen over, twinkling lights are strung up around the town of Banff, and a constant layer of snow covers everything in sight.
It is truly amazing that a place can feel so different depending on the season you visit. Banff in winter offers great skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and other winter sports. There are a ton of fun, family-friendly things to do in Banff during winter to keep all ages entertained!
Where to stay in Banff in winter
You can even find some incredible lodging options in Banff that offer unbeatable views of the Canadian Rockies and even heated outdoor pools that you can relax in while you enjoy the mountainous landscapes. However, there are a few hotels that stand above the rest during the winter season.
Its sister property, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, on the shores of Lake Louise is another wonderful option that offers both luxury and epic views and activities right outside the door.
However, if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, check out our complete guide to where to stay in Banff.
How to get around Banff in winter
Despite the often snowy conditions in Banff, Canada, getting around the national park in winter is not as precarious as you might expect.
We have always rented a car when visiting Banff in winter. The roads, particularly the highways, are well maintained and treated to keep them passable and safe.
Winter Activities in Banff National Park
If you visit Banff in winter, you’ll find a brilliant blanket of white snow covering the ground.
Although you may have some sunny days with blue skies that look even bluer thanks to the contrasting snow, the air is cold and crisp, and you’ll definitely want to dress in your winter ski apparel to stay warm when out and about.
Go Snowboarding or Skiing at the Banff Big 3
Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular winter activities in Banff.
There are three main ski resorts located in Banff National Park. We’ve personally skied at all three and love them each for their unique offerings.
The largest and most visited ski resort is Lake Louise. This resort has the most developed base area of the three and offers the largest variety and number of ski runs, boasting 145 marked runs plus the back bowls.
Aside from Lake Louise, there are two other mountains in Banff that you shouldn’t discount.
Banff Sunshine Village has some of the most beautiful views and is only a 15 minute drive from the town of Banff. This is extremely convenient if you choose to stay in either Banff or Canmore instead of staying in the village of Lake Louise. Sunshine Village offers 115 runs, many of which are above the treeline.
Mount Norquay also offers great skiing and snowboarding options. Although it is a smaller mountain with only a handful of lifts and 60 runs, it is a very family-friendly mountain that offers ski passes by the hour. This is perfect if you’re trying to teach young children to ski and can’t commit to a full day on the slopes yet.
Additionally, if you just want to get in a few runs before heading back to Calgary to catch an afternoon flight, Mount Norquay is ideal. Another big plus, it is only 5 minutes from Banff!
Perhaps only second to skiing, ice skating is one of the most popular things to do in Banff in winter. It is no wonder why. Many of the lakes around Banff will freeze over in winter, essentially turning into giant ice skating rinks.
One of the most popular places to ice skate in Banff National Park is at Lake Louise. Considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada, this stunning body of water has also been named one of the most beautiful places to ice skate in the world, this frozen lake has designated places for both ice skating and hockey enthusiasts. In fact, a trip to Lake Louise makes for a great gift for hockey players or ice skaters.
While many people consider the summer months to be the best time of year to visit Lake Louise to see the lake’s famous turquoise water, winter is equally epic. When the lake is frozen, it not only becomes a massive ice skating rink, but the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hosts a lot of fun winter activities, and even builds a small ice castle that families will love. It’s no wonder this lake is one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
For those who prefer indoor skating, the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre has two indoor ice skating rinks, including one that serves as an indoor hockey rink.
Dog sledding, snowshoeing, and cross country ski tours
Banff is truly one of the world’s most beautiful winter wonderlands. If you are more comfortable exploring the snowy landscapes with an experienced guide, there are plenty of family-friendly tours you can join.
Families can bundle up and experience the outdoors together alongside a guide or instructor who can cater the day to your comfort level.
Soak in the mineral water at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
There is perhaps no better way to relieve sore muscles after a day of skiing or winter hiking than to soak in one of the natural hot springs Banff is known for.
There are several hot springs in Alberta that you can visit, but one of the most conveniently located is the Banff Upper Hot Springs. It is located in the charming town of Banff, so if you are staying at one of the many hotels in Banff, you are only a couple minutes away by foot or car.
The hot springs are a kid-friendly activity, so if you’re visiting Banff with kids, this makes for the perfect winter activity.
Embark on a winter hike in Johnston Canyon
Banff National Park is best known for its phenomenal hiking and lake activities in the warm weather months, However, there are numerous hikes in Banff that you can do in the winter, as well. These trails vary in length and physical demand, so you can find plenty of hikes easy enough for young children or challenging enough that only experts should attempt them in winter.
Johnston Canyon is one of the more popular hikes in Banff National Park in winter or summer. It is a beautiful and easy hike that turns into an ice-covered experience in winter.
You can join a Johnston Canyon icewalk hiking tour that takes you to both the frozen over lower falls and upper falls, then warm up with a cup of hot chocolate afterwards.
In winter, this hike requires ice cleats, which are provided by your guide.
Take a ride up the Banff Gondola
A trip up the Banff Gondola is also worth the journey when visiting Banff in winter.
The gondola takes you up to the top of Sulphur Mountain where you can enjoy stunning views from the observation deck of the sharp peaks of the Canadian Rockies as well as Bow Valley and the town of Banff below. You’ll also be able to see the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel which resembles a beautiful castle perched on a mountainside.
You’ll climb aboard a 4-6 person gondola and take a short 8-minute ride to the top. At the top of Sulphur Mountain you can walk along the boardwalk to admire the 360-degree views, head into the Above Banff Interpretive Center to learn about early explorers and wildlife in the area, or grab a coffee or even a full meal at one of the best places to eat in Banff.
Go ice climbing
Ice climbing is one of the most adrenaline pumping things to do in Banff in winter. While this activity is only suitable for adults and teenagers, it promises to be a thrilling adventure that is both challenging and breathtakingly scenic.
As the majestic Canadian Rockies don their winter coat, ice climbers flock to Banff National Park to conquer frozen waterfalls and towering ice formations.
With its abundance of world-class ice routes, ranging from beginner-friendly to expert-level, Banff serves as a haven for climbers of all skill levels. But even if you’ve never attempted to scale a frozen wall of ice before, you can book a guided ice climbing class for beginners and spend some time learning the basics before attempting your first ice climb with your knowledgeable instructor.
Explore the Icefields Parkway
While some areas of the Banff and Lake Louise area, like Moraine Lake, are closed during winter, the Icefields Parkway is open year round. Although the roads do occasionally close due to avalanches, the drive, which connects Banff to Jasper provides incredible scenery.
If you rented a car for a self-drive, you’ll need snow tires, as they are mandatory from November 1 to April 1.
Spend an evening shopping in the town of Banff
The town of Banff is a great place to spend an evening shopping. Take a stroll down the main street in Banff, stepping into souvenir shops when you see something you like or simply get cold and need to warm up in a heated store.
You’ll find plenty of Canadian souvenirs and other items that Canada is known for that will make great keepsakes or gifts for friends and family.
Go snow tubing at Mt. Norquay
Mount Norquay isn’t just known for its family friendly runs, the ski resort also has some great family amenities. Snow tubing is one of the most popular winter experiences at Mount Norquay . Spend a couple hours racing down Alberta’s longest tubing lanes on an inflatable tube.
Ideal for adults and kids ages 4 and up, tubing sessions can be booked in 3 hour sessions.
The Norquay Tube Park also has a magic carpet that you can take back up to the top of the tubing track so you can feel the rush of adrenaline time and time again as you zoom down the hillside. This is sure to be one of your children’s favorite things to do in Banff in winter!
Go on a winter sleigh ride
Banff National Park is the perfect setting for a winter sleigh ride. Resembling a scene from a storybook, where the snow-covered landscape becomes your enchanting backdrop, a horse-drawn sleigh ride is one of the best Banff winter activities for families.
Pulled by majestic horses adorned with jingling bells, the sleighs glide effortlessly through the pristine wilderness. You can sit back and enjoy the sights while snuggled under a cozy wool blanket on the 40-minute experience.
Afterwards, warm up by a campfire and a hot drink to top off the memorable winter day.
Photography and wildlife spotting
Photography is a popular pastime in Banff National Park. Whether it’s the rugged mountains, or the wildlife you are wanting to photograph, you will find stunning views just about everywhere, even in winter.
Winter wildlife spotting in Banff National Park unveils a tranquil glimpse at how animals adapt to the snowy landscapes. Keep your eyes peeled for elk, bighorn sheep, and even moose,which are often seen foraging for food in the forested terrain.
Although catching the sight of one of these majestic creatures isn’t a guarantee, if you are lucky enough to see some of Banff’s winter animals, it will take your breath away.
Conclusion: Things to do in Banff in winter
Winter in Banff is widely popular among winter sports enthusiasts in the Canadian Rockies. Even during a “bad’ year, the area typically receives more than 100 inches of snow during the season. For this reason, snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding, and snowmobile tours are all great things to do in Banff National Park during the winter months.
Just keep in mind, winter in Banff can be extremely cold, so make sure you dress for the cold weather, especially when taking part in any of the great Banff winter activities that are outdoors, and you will surely have a memorable vacation.
Do you have a question or comment about any of these things to do in Banff in winter? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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This guide to the best things to do in Banff in winter was first written in February 2016, but was most recently updated in February 2024 for accuracy and current travel information.