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 than 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.
Where to Go Ice Skating in Banff
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.
Vermilion Lakes are some fantastic natural lakes that are 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 nighttime 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 Lake 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.
Off of the Bow Valley Parkway on the way to Cochrane from Canmore lies Gap Lake. The lake is prone to wind which keeps it snow free for an extended period of time. It’s not the most beautiful lake for a skate, but it does have some awesome ice when it’s frozen.
Similar to Lake Minnewanka this massive man-made lake can freeze over with perfect ice that reflects the breathtaking views of the Spray Valley. The natural valley creates a bottleneck for winds which like Abraham Lake creates hard ice that is often snow-free.
It’s an impeccable place to go for an ice skate in the Canadian Rockies. However, be very mindful as the reservoir remains deeper than many other lakes and a fall in the ice could have real consequences.
Lac Des Arcs
It’s hard to say this is the most scenic spot in the Canadian Rockies for ice skating. Lac Des Arcs sits at the end of the Bow Valley with the TransCanada on one side and a sizable cement plant on the other. However, the ice here when in season is generally excellent. The area is well known for the high winds and chinooks that rip through the narrow section of valley out to the foothills. The wind keeps the ice in good condition and snow free.
Goat Pond isn’t in Banff, but it has to be mentioned on this list as it’s truly an exceptional place to wild ice skate in the Bow Valley. Located on the Smith Dorrien Road is Goat Pond. If you can catch the pond right after it freezes but before the first snowfall you’ll be in for a real treat. There are many logs and stumps here that are beautiful to view through the clear us.
If the ice is completely frozen you’ll get more and more views as you head further away from the road. There’s even a “field” of stumps. Goat Pond may not look like much at first sight, especially when comparing to so many of the photogenic points around Banff, but I promise you it’s a great place to ice skate.
No Abraham Lake is not in Banff National Park, but it’s not far from it in David Thompson Country. It’s one of the most famous spots in all of Canada to see the famous methane ice bubbles so it definitely deserves a special place on this list. If you have ever wanted to skate on ice bubbles head here around January.
Large white bubbles are created in lakes when water-dwelling bacteria feed on decaying organic matter which expels methane gas. When the water freezes, the methane bubbles get trapped in the ice and create these amazing phenomena.
This area is extremely windy, meaning doesn’t cover the ice like all the other bodies of water on this list. So there’s typically a very large window of time to skate on the ice bubbles here.
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)
Banff 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 find 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.
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