Christmas is one of the best times to visit Banff National Park. There is genuinely nowhere better than Christmas in Banff, and we’ll share with you all the magical things to do on a Banff Christmas holiday.
Sure, December is cold in Banff, but who cares when it literally looks like the inside of a snowglobe! I love Banff around the holidays; I don’t think I’ve ever spent Christmas somewhere more scenic. Think snow, mountains, and a whole lot of Christmas cheer.
Visitors flock to Banff every year to take part in the magic. There are so many things to do in Banff around Christmas, so pack a warm jacket and boots and settle in for these ideas of Banff Christmas activities.
Things to do Around Christmas in Banff
Ski and Snowboard
Our favorite thing to do in the winter around Banff is to snowboard or ski. Luckily Banff has three ski resorts and even more that are within a few hours’ drive. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts, all within Banff National Park.
You have Lake Louise Ski Resort, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay, all fantastic and unique ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in the winter. If you are into skiing and snowboarding, then December is one of the best times to head here.
If you are lucky enough to come to Banff before December 23rd, you’ll likely end up on the mountain with no crowds and only a handful of locals – especially during the weekdays. December is our favorite time to snowboard in the Rockies, before the large groups arrive and the powder stays untouched just a little longer.
There is arguably no ski resort in the world with a better view than Lake Louise Ski Resort; that photo above is what we’re talking about. So much beauty and so much snow it’s hard to have a bad day here, especially when you drop off the back side.
We’ve visited almost 100 different ski resorts and the views from Lake Louise are hands down some of the best in the world. In our opinion, Lake Louise beats out Banff Sunshine and Mt Norquay by leaps and bounds.
In Search of Christmas Spirit
In Search of Christmas Spirit is a newish event in Downtown Banff that locals and tourists alike are sure to enjoy! This is a walking light experience show that tells a Christmas story.
The walking tour starts at Banff Avenue Square and typically takes about 45 minutes; the event runs from November 24, 2021 – January 1, 2022. Although it is a walking tour, you do need tickets to enjoy it.
Banff Craft Beer Festival
The Banff Craft Beer Fest takes place on Bear Street this year on December 3rd, 4th, and 9-11th. This is a sampling event held partially outdoors and has been dubbed “The most beautiful beer festival in the world.”
The Craft Beer Fest is a yearly event where you can try all of Alberta’s unique craft beers. Tickets cost $29.99 at Alberta Beer Festivals. Although you can try many at all the Banff and Canmore breweries, it’s best to get a sampler of all the breweries in the region if you are around!
Spend an Evening at Lake Louise
While Lake Louise is one of the most popular destinations for its turquoise waters in the summer, it’s also an excellent spot to spend Christmas in Banff. Around Christmas time the Lake Louise is covered in a fresh blanket of snow.
The Fairmont goes all out with Christmas decorations, an ice bar, Christmas lights, an ice castle, a skating rink, and sleigh rides. I’ve broken down some of the Lake Louise Christmas festivities below:
Have a Hot Drink at the Ice Bar
It is in every sense a winter wonderland. During weekends at Lake Louise, you can enjoy mulled wine at the Fairmont Ice Bar! The Ice Bar is open from around December 20th to mid-April.
They dish up all kinds of hot chocolate goodness and even have special treats for the kids. 20 blocks of ice, each weighing 300 lbs are used to make the bar, so it’s truly a special place to visit in Banff in the winter.
Enjoy a Horse Drawn Sleigh Ride
There aren’t many places left in the world where you can ride on a horse-drawn sleigh with snow-capped mountains all around you while next to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. However, at Lake Louise, you can! You can book private, or group sleigh rides through the Chateau – both will make you feel as if you stepped in a fairytale.
Sleigh ride season starts mid-December and runs all the way to April, so if you miss this opportunity around Christmas in Banff, you still have plenty of time. Rides last 45 minutes to one hour! Make sure to dress warm.
Ice Skate on Lake Louise
Lake Louise has been dubbed the most beautiful ice skating rink in the world. While you can ice skate on many lakes in the Rockies, what sets Lake Louise apart is, of course, the holiday atmosphere and that the Chateau manages and creates the “rink.”
Their set rinks are resurfaced every night and make for a fantastic place to bring the family to enjoy Christmas in Banff. You can rent ice skate at the Chateau or at Wilson Sports in Lake Louise Village.
Snowshoe on Lake Louise
If you’re not up for ice skating, another fun winter activity in Banff is snowshoeing around Lake Louise. It’s best to snowshoe around the lake; please don’t go back into the Plain of Six Glaciers or up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse as this is dangerous avalanche territory in December.
Warm Up with Fondue
There are a plethora of restaurants around Banff that serve up this classic mountain dish originating from Switzerland. There is heavy Swiss influence in the Canadian Rockies, so of course, this influence translates to the food too.
One of the most well-known places to enjoy fondue in the winter is at Walliser Stube, which is one of the best restaurants in Lake Louise, but you can also find it at the Post Hotel and at the Grizzly House in Downtown Banff.
Relax at Banff Hot Springs
Another great way to spend Christmas in Banff is at the Banff Hot Springs. Enjoying hot water in the cool air is one of the top Banff winter activities to enjoy. Don’t let the frigid Canadian temperatures detract you because there are plenty of ways to warm up around Banff.
These hot springs make for one of the best places to relax those stiff muscles after a ski day. Just be warned afternoons can draw a crowd, so head there in the morning for a more quiet experience.
Mountaintop Christmas on Sulphur Mountain
Still wondering what to do in Banff around Christmas? How about you climb a mountain! What? Just because it’s winter, you think you can’t climb a mountain?
Due to its proximity to Banff town, and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up the mountain instead of sweating it out on the trail means that Sulphur mountain becomes very busy – but not in the winter! With a pair of microspikes and some hiking poles, you’ll be able to tackle the trail up in no time.
Once at the top is a “Mountaintop Christmas Wonderland.” You’ll find Christmas cheer, Santa’s bakeshop, Santa, adult Christmas cocktails for the adults, and other jingle bells and whistles, all in the most magical setting. Also – whether you take the gondola up or hike up, the gondola down is often free in the winter!
Enjoy Christmas at The Castle
If there’s a hotel that screams Christmas, it’s the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, and heading here is one of the best ways to spend Christmas in Banff. This hotel is downright gorgeous and sits perfectly in the park. If you are lucky enough to stay here and enjoy all the amenities here, then I am super jealous.
However, even if you are not staying at Banff Springs, you can still freely walk in and see all the beautiful Christmas decorations and festivities here. It’s called Christmas at the Castle and lasts from late November to January, with different events happening the entire season.
Christmas at the Castle Events
Christmas at the Castle takes place at the Banff Springs Hotel, aka “The Castle.” Each year they host a ton of fun holiday events.
Their North Pole is where you can bring the kids to enjoy crafts like building a Gingerbread House. They also have the Christmas Concert Series featuring various Canadian musicians performing on different dates throughout December. And new this year is the fantastic outdoor space that has a skating rink, fire pits with s’mores, and even a curling rink. There will be beer and wine served for the adults! Stay up to date with their events here.
Banff Christmas Market
The Banff Christmas Market is a super fun event held the last two weeks of November before the holiday craze really starts. It’s located at Warner Stables, the headquarters for Banff Trail Riders. Very close to the center of downtown Banff and is another perfect way to spend Christmas in Banff if you are here in late November.
Yes, you read that right. The Banff Christmas Market takes place in late November instead of in December as the town of Banff and the beautiful horses get too busy to hold it in the peak holiday season. Because of the timing, the event has a much more “local” feel. So if you are in town, make sure to stop by!
It’s the perfect spot to head with friends and family to be merry. Expect Santa, his reindeer, plenty of horses to take photos with, food vendors, drink vendors, and boutique artisan pop-ups. It’s a great way to start getting into the holiday cheer in the early season.
Entry is $7.50 a person, with events taking place on November 19-21st 2021 and November 26-28th, 2021, at 100 Sundance Rd.
Ice Skate the Canadian Way
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more scenic ice rink than in the Canadian Rockies. Every year in November, the lakes of Banff start to freeze over for the winter. If you can catch them after they freeze, but before a significant snowfall comes and covers the ice, grab a pair of ice skates and get out there! Some of our favorite places to ice skate are Lake Minnewanka, Goat Pond, and Johnson Lake.
Carols in the Park
This mountain Canadian Christmas concert in Banff Avenue Square is held multiple times in November and December. It is where you can come with family and be merry while listening to Christmas music. The concerts are all free, but dress warmly as it will be chilly!
Go Dog Sledding
Another great way to spend Christmas in Banff is to go dog sledding! Discover Banff Tours runs dog sledding adventures at Lake Louise and in Canmore.
We’ve done this four separate times, and it’s always a fantastic experience. What I particularly love is how quiet the ride is, with only the sound of the dog teams steps against the snow
Snowshoe Around Banff National Park
A great thing to do for families visiting Banff around Christmas is snowshoe! Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t leave the well-trodden path. You might not be able to walk through the snow on foot, but a quality pair of snowshoes allow you to float across the snow.
They’re super easy to get the hang of, and you’ll be moving along in no time. Two popular snowshoe hikes are to the Paint Pots or Marble Canyon, but you’re free to explore the wilderness on your own if you rent a pair and are confident!
If you decide to venture into avalanche terrain, you must have proper avalanche safety training. Avalanches are a common occurrence in the Rockies, and every year people, unfortunately, die in them. You can rent snowshoes at Snowtips Bactrax on Bear Street.
Fat Tire Bike
Fatbiking is a fun activity to enjoy in Banff in the winter. You can rent fat bikes at Snowtips Bactrax and hit the trails. The best fat bike trails are the Goat Creek Trail, the Lake Minnewanka Cascade Trail, and cycle the Moraine Lake Access Rd (this road ends at a viewpoint overlooking Moraine Lake, any further is avalanche terrain).
Hike Tunnel Mountain
I recommend Tunnel Mountain on every Banff itinerary. Tunnel Mountain is right in the heart of Banff and a fun family-friendly hike in Banff. It’s beloved by locals for its accessibility, and you can hike it year-round. It may be one of the smallest mountains in Banff National Park, but it still offers tremendous views of the surrounding valleys and Mount Rundle.
The hike moves slowly up the mountain through several switchbacks and offers various viewpoints into the Bow and Spray Valleys. It’s great for sunrise or sunset, and it rarely disappoints. The best part is it’s only 4.5 km round trip and shouldn’t take more than one hour up. It’s one of the most leisurely winter hikes you can do with only 266 meters of elevation gain.
We did this last Christmas Eve before the festivities began, and it was a great short hike to get in before we gained a bunch of Christmas weight. The whole family was able to join as it’s a pretty tame hike! You can read more about the Tunnel Mountain hike here.
Head to Canmore
Okay, this isn’t really a thing to do in Banff as it’s a 15-minute drive away. We may be biased to our home base, but we think Canmore is the bee’s knees. Canmore is another mountain town just outside of Banff National Park. It’s not nearly as touristy or popular as Banff, meaning it’s much more enjoyable.
You can walk down the main street here without fighting through crowds, and there are plenty of great restaurants, bars, and shops to venture into.
The views are just as impressive as well, and Christmas in Canmore here is still on point. Make sure to check out The Three Sisters and enjoy the Canmore town pond around the holidays – two of the best things to do in Canmore in the winter!
Browse the Storefronts Around Banff Ave
Late November marks the beginning of Christmas time in Downtown Banff. From now until Christmas, Banff Ave is lined with cheer, and it’s full-on shopping time.
I love cruising in and out of the stores even if I’m not buying anything. There is a special feeling in the air in the mountains around Christmas that nothing can replace. Make sure to check out The Spirit of Christmas store for all things Banff Christmas!
Banff Hot Chocolate Trail
Around Christmas time, all the best cafes in Banff come together to create the “Hot Chocolate Trail.” Cafes like Wild Flour, Stock, Park Disterilly, Good Earth, and many more all make their own signature hot chocolates to try – yes some of them are alcoholic drinks for the adults.
Kananaskis Nordic Spa
The Kananaskis Nordic Spa is in the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Kananaskis Country. It’s right at the base of Nakiska Ski Resort, so if you plan on doing any family-friendly skiing at Nakiska, consider booking a stay here.
Not only is the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge a beautiful place to stay in the Rockies, but their new Nordic Spa has the complete relaxation package. You could spend a whole day here with your spouse or friends enjoying the steam rooms and saunas. If you’re having a romantic holiday in the Rockies, you’ll love this spot!
Take a Banff Wildlife Tour
You won’t find many bears in Banff in the winter, but there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen! Elk, sheep, owls, coyotes, and lynx are just a few of the animals we’ve spotted around the area.
Of course, you could keep an eye out for the wildlife yourself, but if you want a better chance at seeing the Rockies wildlife, it’s best to book a tour.
Visit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Santuary
This sanctuary allows you to learn about and observe wolfdogs and even interact with them by sharing treats and pats. They provide a safe haven for displaced wolfdogs and do a great job of spreading awareness for the species.
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary goes beyond providing a safe haven for displaced wolfdogs, with a focus on spreading awareness and knowledge about the canine. It’s a fun thing to do around the holidays with the family!
Booking Hotels for a Banff Christmas
I highly recommend booking your hotels well in advance around the holidays. Banff is a popular destination, even in the winter. For the best deals and options, you should start looking at Banff hotels during the Fall or before.
If you find yourself priced out of options in Banff, don’t forget to start checking around Canmore! Below are some of our favorite places to stay in the Canadian Rockies around the holidays.
Mount Engadine Lodge
If you want to stay in a cabin in the middle of the wilderness, consider booking Mount Engadine Lodge. This special lodge isn’t actually in Banff, but rather in Kananaskis away from the crowds of Downtown Banff. It’s an intimate and cozy place to stay if you don’t mind being a bit out there!
The Malcolm Canmore
The Malcolm is the nicest hotel in Canmore and during the holiday season, they really go all out. Expect the whole hotel to be decorated with a massive tree to welcome guests. They host events for the whole family during the holidays and have the best views of the Three Sisters!
Banff Springs Hotel
One of the nicest hotels to stay in Banff around Christmas is of course The Castle herself. Staying here doesn’t come cheap, but it gives you the best access to the amazing events happening around the hotel!
What to Wear Around Banff at Christmastime?
Layers, layers, and layers. December in Banff is one of the coldest months of the year, and the closer you get to Lake Louise, the more frigid you can expect the temperature to be.
That means to come with a proper winter jacket, thermal underwear, merino wool socks, winter boots, gloves, and a hat, at the very least.
For the indoor time you’ll want to pack things like a sweater and comfortable pants. Unless you plan on having an extravagant meal out, formal evening wear isn’t needed. You can typically find me in thermal leggings, boots, and a sweater in December.
Here’s an essential list to go off. The left column is for general winter packing, and the right is if partaking in snow sports.
- Winter Down Jacket
- Casual Pants
- 1 x Top Base Layer
- 1 x Bottom Base Layer
- 2-3 x Wool Sports Bra
- 2-3 x Wool Ski Socks
- Warm Hat
- Winter Boots
Driving in Banff in the Winter
If your plans involve renting a car and driving around Banff during the holidays, it’s imperative you rent a car with snow tires. Bonus points if you have experience with winter driving, as the roads can get very treacherous here in the winter, especially after a big snowstorm.
If you have any plans to drive into British Columbia, it is a law that you have winter tires on the car. Please take this seriously, as going into a ditch (or worse) will certainly put a damper on your winter vacation.
Hopefully, this helped you determine what to do in Banff for Christmas!
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. World Nomads offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: From luxury hotels to wilderness cabins, there are plenty of places to stay in the Rockies. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our full Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, or embarking on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
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