Ice skating in Banff is a highlight for many visitors visit to Banff in the winter and a favorite way to pass time for many locals. The best part is it’s a free activity for most places around the area with a mix of maintained rinks and natural frozen lakes.
When the weather is right it’s tough to find a better winter experience in Banff then skating across a scenic lake. Ice skating on the lakes can happen during any time of the winter, but the best conditions are early in the winter around November or December. Later in the winter snow can often cover the lakes and make skating nearly impossible without a shovel and some work. However, there are a number of maintained rinks you can head to once that happens.
There is likely no better place in the world to lace up a pair of ice skates and take to the ice than in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff Ice Skating
There is no place to ice skate in Banff more iconic or scenic than the famous Lake Louise. Not much of a surprise, but it’s regularly been considered one of the world’s best ice skating rinks. It’s also tremendous as the frozen lake is maintained by the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The lake is regularly cleared of snow and resurfaced so visitors can enjoy ice skating during the winter despite conditions on other natural lakes.
What really sets Lake Louise apart from the other lakes is the lake’s atmosphere. Around the lakeshore, you can find fires, an ice bar, horse sleigh, and an ice castle. It’s one best reasons to come to Banff in winter and it’s always a treat.
Lake Louise every few winters can freeze very early before a significant snowfall and the result is a blue glass lake. It’s an absolutely stunning natural occurrence and can happen in November, but don’t count on seeing the lake this way as November is generally the worst month to visit Banff. The lake freezing like this has also only happened five times in the last 30 years. I say this only to manage expectations as the surface will likely be a frosted white, but the views are stunning the none the less!
If you’re hoping to get that gorgeous mountain lake with a glass surface Minnewanka in December is probably your best bet. The lake freezes later than Lake Louise as it’s lower in elevation and it lies in a valley that experiences high winds. This can blow the snowfall off the ice and leave a perfect surface. The experience on ice like this is extraordinary as it’s gorgeous and a better surface to skate on than most ice rinks.
The lake is massive and when it freezes you can skate in one direction for kilometers and watch the mountain scenery pass. It’s an amazing experience and one of our favorite places to ice skate in Banff. A big downside is that the vast majority of winter it’s not possible to ice skate on Lake Minnewanka as the lake is not maintained and snow/ice build-up makes it impossible. The good news is if you’re visiting Banff during Christmas/New Year you have a good chance of getting a chance to skate on the lake as it freezes around this time. We skated on Lake Minnewanka on New Year’s day in 2020.
This is another natural lake that’s very just outside of the town of Banff and offers some incredible views. It’s one of our favorite spots in Banff for sunset or sunrise and a hotspot for photographers as the views out over the lakes to Mount Rundle are stunning.
It’s not always possible to ski on this lake as it is not maintained and often is covered in a thick layer of snow. You should take note of the ice thickness near the dock of the third lake as warm spring water makes the ice thin.
Canmore Town Pond
The town of Canmore maintains a nice natural ice skating pond just outside of downtown. It’s serviced daily and resurfaces three-five times a week so you have a reliable surface and it’s great for vacations who choose Canmore as their base. It’s even lit at night so if you feel like enjoying some night time skating it’s a great place to head. The only downside is there are no views as the pond is surrounded by trees and in a neighborhood. There are several frozen ponds around the town of Canmore you can find those on the site here.
Lake Louise Recreation Centre
This maintained rink is located off Village Road in Lake Louise and the facility has both an outdoor hockey and skating rink. It’s a great place to go for a ice skate on a maintained surface.
You aren’t limited to lakes and ponds you can also skate on the famous Bow River. Every year just outside of the town of Banff an oval is cleared by the town when conditions permit. However, as it’s a river it can be very subjective to seasonal changes and varying ice thickness. It’s located next to the Banff Canoe Club and it’s a short walk outside of the center of town.
Johnson Lake is off the road to Lake Minnewanka and it’s a popular spot for ice skating while conditions last. Like many of the natural lakes around Banff for ice skating it has a small window of time when ice skating is possible here.
Two Jack Lake
When Two Jack freezes over you can some amazing views of Mount Rundle and enjoy a gorgeous skate. The lake is one of our favorite places to head in the summer for a stand-up paddleboard. It’s also a tremendous photo spot when the lake reflects the landscape. It’s good for a skate around November to December before the lake gets covered in snow.
Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre
This is the only indoor ice rink on this list and it’s open all year so you can still ice skate in the summer! It’s a guaranteed smooth surface and great as when it gets too cold temperatures are far milder on the indoor ice rink. You will have to pay for use for the ice rink plus ice skate rentals if you don’t have your own. Never worry it’s not too expensive at $6 for adults over 17 and This is also the only place on the list that costs money. $6 for over 17’s, $4.25 for teenagers, and a flat rate of $15 for a family.
We never skated at the Banff Springs as we’ve never stayed in the hotel during the winter time. The small rink is located on the viewing deck of the hotel and right outside the restaurant. As a guest you can definitely enjoy a skate here, and it would be possible to skate as an outside guest as the main levels are open to the public.
Banff High School
This is the most obvious place to go skating in Banff, because you can’t miss it as you drive down Banff Avenue. What’s normally a sports pitch in summer is hosed down as the temperature drops and becomes a beautiful skating rink in winter.
If you don’t fancy heading into the frozen wilderness, this is a great place to skate, just a stone’s throw from most of the hotels.
We’ve missed the season on this one this past year and still haven’t had a chance to get out on Spray Lakes in Kananaskis Country. Similar to Lake Minnewanka this massive man-made lake can freeze over with perfect ice that reflects the breathtaking views of the Spray Valley.
Ice Skate Rentals Around Banff
You don’t need to come with your own set of skates to Banff as there are a plethora of places to rent a pair.
- Banff Adventures Unlimited
- Fenlands Recreation Centre (Skates available for rental for use on-site only)
- Ultimate Sports Downtown
- Chateau Mountain Sports (Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel)
Ice Skating Safety Tips
Generally, we’d advise airing on the side of caution so it’s great to not take off exploring for any lake you can if it’s your first time. There are plenty of local resources and maintained rinks that ensure everyone is safe skating on the natural bodies of water in Banff. It’s also best not to skate alone unless you’re on a maintained rink, of course, there are plenty of ice skating enthusiasts who fully capable on their own.
What To Watch For
- Depth and surface of the body of water
- Moving water such as river, springs, and streams
- Salt or other chemicals
- Objects that can absorb solar heat such as docks, rocks, or logs
- Temperature changes
Depth of Ice
15 cm for walking or ice skating
20 cm for a large skating party or hockey game
Color of Ice
The color of the ice is a great way to indicate its strength. Clear ice is the strongest and best for ice skating in Banff. White or opaque snow ice can be half as strong as blue ice the white surface comes from wet snow melting and freezing on the ice. If the ice is grey, do not skate on this surface as it is weak and indicates water in the ice.