Looking for the best things to do in Banff in winter? I love Banff all year round, but I particularly enjoy Banff in the winter. While most people think of the Canadian Rockies as a summer destination, I believe that winter in Banff is what it’s all about. There are so many amazing things to do in Banff during the winter, I actually get a bit sad when spring rolls around.
The truth of the matter is I love winter in the mountains. I love snowboarding and that cozy feeling when you walk through the door after a long day out and have a hot chocolate by the fire. Banff is great for that feeling. In addition, Lake Louise is easily one of the best ski resorts in North America, and we are what you might call “ski bums.”
You may have heard about how cold a Canadian winter might be, particularly in Alberta. However we urge you not to let the fear of an Alberta winter deter you from traveling to Banff in the winter. You will surely be blown away by the beauty if you sacrifice palm trees and beaches in the south and head north to see snow-capped mountain peaks. If you choose the right Banff hotel, activities, and ski resort, you’ll count down the days until winter in Banff rolls around again.
This guide will get you excited as we share the best things to do in Banff in winter, where to eat in Banff, and where to stay.
Is Banff Worth Visiting in Winter?
Absolutely, Banff is worth visiting in the winter! If you like to ski, you are guaranteed some great skiing at the Banff ski resorts. If you want that classic white Christmas, you are also 99.9% guaranteed a white Christmas in Banff or Canmore.
The restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, and most park attractions are open during the winter. The only thing is that it is cold, so you have to be prepared with proper winter clothing.
What is the Coldest Month in Banff?
A Banff winter means it’s going to be cold. Statistics say that December is the coldest month in Banff, but the coldest snaps have always come in late January and February in our years living here, but every year is completely different.
What do I mean by cold snaps? I’m talking -30°C days. When the cold snaps come, they typically last for a week or so, and then they will mellow back down to a mild -20°C. Can you tell I’m being sarcastic?
Regardless, you need to be prepared for cold weather if you visit anytime between November and April. This means parkas, boots, wool socks, thermals, hats, gloves, scarves – the whole winter sha-bang.
Can You Hike During a Banff Winter?
You can hike in Banff in winter, and it is fabulous. My favorite trails are Tunnel Mountain, Sulphur Mountain, Johnson Lake, the Hoodoos Viewpoint, and Grassi Lakes in Canmore. You’ll want waterproof hiking boots for hiking in the winter, and possibly gaiters and microspikes. A hiking pole is never a bad idea if you plan to do lots of hiking in the winter either.
Although there are some great winter hikes, the two more popular options in the winter are snowshoeing and Nordic skiing.
Is Banff Closed in the Winter?
Banff is absolutely not closed in the winter. This is a national park, and Parks Canada keeps everything open. The main thing this does not pertain to is Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake is essentially closed in the winter, but really what is closed is the access road to Moraine Lake, which Parks Canada closes in October due to avalanche risk.
However, no one stops people from going to Moraine Lake, and adventurers can snowshoe, ski, or fat bike back if they wish. However, they assume all the risks involved in doing so, and it is not recommended to the average visitor.
This goes for most of the park. Very few natural attractions are “closed,” but visitors need to use common sense to determine if their actions are safe in snowy conditions. This typically means having mountain experience, avalanche training, and gear if they plan to go into the backcountry. Deaths and avalanches have occurred from unsuspecting tourists in areas they are not familiar with.
However, when asked if Banff is closed in the winter, readers refer to tourist attractions like the Banff Gondola, Upper Hot Springs, Cave & Basin Museum, and shops on Banff Avenue. And the answer is no – not many of your typical activities in Banff are closed in the winter. Banff is a year-round destination.
Attractions that are closed in the winter in the Canadian Rockies are the Jasper Skywalk, Glacier Explorer, Icefields Discovery Center and essentially any man made attraction along the Icefields Parkway. The Lake Louise Summer Gondola, Mount Norquay Chairlift, Sunshine Gondola, and the Golden Skybridge are all closed until summer as well.
Can You Visit Moraine Lake in the Winter?
As mentioned, Moraine Lake Rd is closed from Canadian Thanksgiving (the second week in October) until the end of May/early June. The only way to visit Moraine Lake in the winter is to snowshoe, fat bike, or cross-country ski in. However only experienced winter adventurers with avalanche training and knowledge should venture past the lookout point on Moraine Lake Rd as this is serious avalanche territory.
Driving in Banff in Winter
Before we dig into this list of the best things to do in the winter, let’s talk about winter driving. Anyone visiting Banff between November and April needs to be prepared for winter road conditions. This is especially true when driving the TransCanada, the Bow Valley Parkway, and the Icefields Parkway.
Alberta roads can become treacherous in the winter, and at the very least, you need to have winter tires on your car. If you rent a car for your trip to Banff, ensure that the vehicle is equipped with winter tires. If you plan on driving the Icefields Parkway or into British Columbia in the winter, it is mandatory to have winter tires on your vehicle.
Experience driving in snow is a huge plus. Snowstorms and blizzards are common during this time, so it’s essential to pay attention to the weather and stay off the road if there are snowfall warnings. You can check 5.11 Alberta for road conditions.
Fun Things To Do During a Banff Winter
Ski/Snowboard Big Mountain Terrain
Snowboarding at all of the SkiBig3 resorts was our primary reason for heading to Banff in the winter before we eventually moved to the Rockies. SkiBig3 is a collection of three mountain resorts, all within Banff National Park.
You have Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay, all fantastic and unique Banff ski resorts. Skiing or snowboarding here is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. It’s also one of the many reasons we decided to head to the Canadian Rockies in the first place. Let’s briefly break down each resort.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
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. In between runs ripping down groomers or tackling a bowl, Banff National Park provides fresh air and stunning landscapes. We visited dozens of ski resorts worldwide, 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.
It is also one of North America’s largest ski resorts. The terrain varies between beautiful groomers, challenging steeps, and expert-level chutes. The longest run here stretches for nearly five miles so start working out your leg muscles now.
We love Lake Louise so much that we have bought season passes there for five years in a row. They have a very long season, challenging terrain, and in general, it’s quieter than Banff Sunshine. Also as snowboarders, we find that Banff Sunshine has too many flat cat tracks. If you can only ski or ride at one resort on your vacation, then pick Lake Louise.
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 • 4,200 acres
- Favorite Runs: Brown Shirt Main, Swedes, Juniper Jungle, Men’s Downhill, Saddleback, Sunset Terrace, Jerry’s Jungle and E Chute.
Banff Sunshine is a decent ski resort with terrain for several skill levels. You can easily find yourself smack dab in freeride terrain that would be considered out-of-bounds in other resorts.
Jagged peaks loom high above alpine trees, and the views are unparalleled. When you first arrive in the parking lot, the mountain does not look like much as the base is simply a gondola station and one restaurant. To reach the true resort base, guests must take a 20 minute gondola that delivers them into a sprawling resort that looks like it belongs in the Alps, not North America.
Banff Sunshine contains two expert-only areas that require all riders and skiers to sign out with the ski patrol and carry an avalanche kit. Delirium Dive and Wild West areas feature massive cliff features, chutes, and some seriously steep terrain.
Don’t let the expert terrain detract you from visiting the resort as it also has a plethora of groomed beginner and intermediate runs. The resort has something for everyone and the base area makes for a perfect central point to meet after skiing the surrounding peaks.
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 145 runs • 3,300 acres
- Favorite Runs: World Cup Downhill, Bunkers, The Shoulder, Wildside, Rolling Thunder, Tin Can Alley
Mt Norquay is the most digestible of resorts here and the least imposing for beginners/intermediates. It’s only a 10-minute drive from the town of Banff, making it a great option to go get some runs in and still have time in town.
The resort has been in operation since 1926 and offers several activities aside from snowboarding and ski, like tubing! It’s also the only mountain that offers night skiing in the area, but is relatively small compared to the other resorts of SkiBig3.
While Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine can draw a decent crowd, Mt. Norquay is a quiet mountain. You’ll have a hard time finding crowds here, and it’s the perfect place to learn how to ski with a good ski school and affordable lift ticket. They also offer snowshoe hikes, tubing, and child care. The biggest plus to Mt. Norquay for us is the proximity to the town of Banff, only a 10-minute drive. One of the main downsides we find at Mount Norquay is that it’s often icy.
- Runs/Skiable Terrain: 60 • 72 acres
- Favorite Runs: Constellation, Norquay 90 Glades, and Lone Pine.
NOT A SKIER? We break down the best things to do in Banff in the winter for non skiers.
Hit the Photography Hotspots of Banff
Four national parks make up the Canadian Rockies and countless scenic mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and glaciers. Banff, in particular, is one of Canada’s most picturesque places; you’ll definitely want to take a large share of photos. You can also partake in a photography tour where they show the best places and how to get the perfect shot.
There are many great spots to take photos in the winter. Vermilion Lakes, Bow Valley Parkway, and Lake Louise are great places to snag a great picture or you can drive all the way up to Jasper for a multitude of more places along the Icefields Parkway!
Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
The Johnston Canyon walk is the best thing you can do in Banff in winter for free. Have you ever stood on a frozen waterfall before? Neither had we until the Johnston Canyon hike. Due to the region’s elevation and the sub-zero temperatures of winter, the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon freeze around December. Seeing this is a pretty surreal experience and entirely accessible for all.
We suggest picking up some ice cleats in town as the trail can turn into a vertical ice rink in the winter. You can rent microspikes from Snowtips Bactrax in Downtown Banff or at Wilson Sports in Lake Louise. Once you reach the end of the trail and the most impressive frozen fall, you’ll probably find some ice climbers!
Take the Kids Tubing
An enjoyable activity for families with kids in Banff is tubing at Mt. Norquay or Lake Louise Ski Resort. The tubing park offers two daily time slots, and on weekends, there’s often night tubing—just be sure to check the schedule in advance.
The tube parks at Mount Norquay are notably extensive, ranking as the longest in Alberta, and they provide an exhilarating, high-speed experience. Tickets are priced at $45 for adults, inclusive of the tube, which makes it a much more affordable alternative to skiing with the family.
Tube sessions are scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays, from December 29, 2023, and to March 16, 2024 with extra night sessions on December 26th to 28th, 2023, as well as February 18th and 19th, 2024.
Hike Tunnel Mountain
Tunnel Mountain is right in the heart of 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 Bow Valley and Mount Rundle.
The hike moves slowly up the mountain through several switchbacks and offers various viewpoints out into the Bow and Spray Valleys. It’s great for sunrise or sunset, and it rarely disappoints. The best part is it’s only a 4.5 km round trip hike and shouldn’t take more than one hour up, yes even in winter! It’s one of the easiest winter hikes you can do with only 266 meters of elevation gain.
Snowshoe Around Banff
A great thing to do for families visiting Banff in the winter 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 snow shoes allows 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. You can rent snowshoes at Snowtips Bactrax if you want to explore on your own, or book a guided snowshoe tour to the top of the world!
Visiting Marble Canyon is one of the best things to do in neighboring Kootenay National Park. It’s a lovely hike through a canyon often filled with thousands of wildflowers in the summer, however my favorite time to hike it is in the winter. The trail follows the canyon and has a series of bridges that cross over the rushing Kootenay River, which is where you can see frozen waterfalls during the winter months.
It’s one of our favorite trails for families or anyone looking for something easy and straightforward, right off Highway 93S. You can easily stop at Marble Canyon on your way to Lake Louise, as it’s just a short detour off the Trans Canada.
Ice Skate on Lake Louise
One of the best things to do in the winter in Banff is ice skate on Lake Louise. Seriously, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, so you have to take a whirl among Mount Victoria and the lake.
The best part about ice skating on Lake Louise is that it is always skatable as the Fairmont resurfaces it every night. This is great compared to other lakes in Banff that are no longer good for skating as soon as the snow covers the ice. You can easily rent ice skates at the Fairmont Chateau or from Wilsons in Lake Louise Village.
If you’re not much of a skater, don’t worry – Lake Louise freezes completely every winter, allowing you to walk on the lake and explore the area.
Enjoy the Lake Louise Ice Bar
During weekends at Lake Louise, you can enjoy mulled wine at the Banff 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.
What’s impressive is that 20 blocks of ice, each weighing 300 lbs, are used to make this bar, so it’s truly a special place to visit in Banff in the winter.
For 12 days between Jan – Feb, 2024 (Jan 26-28 & Feb 2-4, 2024, 6pm – 9pm), there is an extraordinary event at Lake Louise. The Ice Magic event is what winter in Canada is all about. This is where ice comes alive and serves as a form of art and architectural design. During this time, you can watch artists from around the world carve different frozen figures.
While it used to be free to visit the ice carving events and wander around between Monday – Friday and on the weekends before 10 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m. You’ll now need tickets to join in the fun, these are available for purchase starting December 12, 2023. Tickets allow public viewing from 6 pm to 9 pm every weekend. The main events will go down like this:
- January 26 – 27: Witness skilled artisans create breathtaking ice sculptures during the 2024 Ice Magic Competition.
- January 28: Attend the Award Ceremony to discover the champions of the 2024 Ice Magic Competition and savor a captivating live carving demonstration.
- February 2 – 4: Appreciate the completed ice sculptures and experience live carving demonstrations.
The Ice Magic 2024 experience starts at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, where a complimentary shuttle will take you to the event. Ticket prices are $14 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $7 for children. Lake Louise Ski Resort Guests, Banff Hotel Guests, Lake Louise Area Hotel Guests, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Guests either receive complimentary or discounted tickets. Contact your hotel for more information.
Nordic Ski/Cross Country Ski
Nordic skiing is a low-impact sport that gets your heart racing and allows you to slide across the snow. It’s very popular in Banff, and locals love to enjoy the sport in the winter. One thing you can’t argue against is the pristine wilderness beauty that Nordic skiers will find themselves, especially in Banff.
Cross country skiing is a serious hobby here, and plenty of people get out there and stretch their legs. The Nordic Center near Canmore is a popular place to go cross country skiing and great for visitors who wish to try the sport. However there are plenty of other trails you can enjoy including the Pipestone Loop, Spray River Loop Trail, and Fairview Loop!
Drive the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway, or Hwy 93, is a scenic drive that has visitors flocking from around the world to drive. If you’re driving from Banff to Jasper or vice versa, you’ll be taking the Icefields Parkway.
However, you don’t have to drive it from point to point (though I recommend it). The parkway is where one can come to enjoy a drive-in nature, surrounded by waterfalls, rock spires, ancient glaciers, and turquoise lakes in the summer. But the road and stops are just as beautiful in the winter!
If there’s been a significant recent snowfall, I would check the conditions and ensure you have a sturdy 4×4 vehicle with winter tires. This road is not often plowed in the winter, and the road can get icy and dicey! There are also no services on the parkway in the winter. That means no fuel and no food stops, so you must be prepared and knowledgeable.
Your vehicle should have winter tires if you’re driving in Alberta in the winter anyway and should have an emergency kit in case you are stranded. There’s no cell service along the Icefields Parkway. Winter conditions last from November to April, but even October will see some snow in the Rockies. If you aren’t sure about your winter driving skills, we recommend booking an Icefields Parkway tour instead!
There are plenty of beautiful stops on the Icefields Parkway, but a few of our favorites to enjoy in the winter are Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, and Tangle Creek Falls!
Admire Bow Lake
Bow Lake is a tremendous stop on the Icefields Parkway and one of our favorite Banff lakes to enjoy. While it’s not a large lake in the scope of the world, it is significant for the Canadian Rockies. Bow Lake sits at an elevation of 1920 meters and spends most of the year locked away in ice.
This makes it a popular spot for winter activities like snowshoeing and ski touring. Bow Lake is a great place to head for the average visitor as it’s not too far away from Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway. You can easily head here solely to admire the sunset from the shore and take in views of glaciers.
Peyto Lake is the most famous lake in Banff National Park you may not have heard about. It’s a turquoise blue glacier-fed lake 40 km north of Lake Louise and a popular stop on the famous Icefields Parkway. The brilliant display of blue is fed by the Peyto Glacier high above the lake and part of the Wapta Icefield.
The view from the viewpoint is one of the most spectacular in all of Banff National Park and a super popular spot for photographers in the summer. Peyto Lake, in our opinion, competes for beauty with Moraine Lake without as many visitors.
In the summer, you’ll find bright blue water here, but in the dead of winter, you can still see a beautiful frozen wonderland. If you get here in October right after the first snowfall, but before the lake freezes, it makes for an extra memorable sight as you’ll see the peaks covered in snow, but the lake shining bright blue! It’s a great place for a snowshoe in Banff, but be mindful not to continue to Bow Summit as it is avalanche terrain.
Soak in 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.
Just outside of Banff town lies the Banff Upper Hot Springs, which are among the best hot springs in Alberta. 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 quiet experience.
Hike Up Sulphur Mountain
Still wondering what to do in Banff in the winter? Hiking Sulphur Mountain is a fun half day adventure! Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up to the Banff Gondola boardwalk that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley.
Due to its proximity to Banff town, and the fact that you can take the Banff Gondola up to the peak 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.
Head Up the Banff Gondola
If you don’t want to hike up Sulphur Mountain, the next best thing is to take the Banff Gondola up. The Banff Gondola allows visitors to ride to the summit in gondola cabins with large windows that will enable 360-degree views from the base.
A ride to the top takes eight minutes and climbs to 2281 meters (7486 ft) above sea level. You climb 698 meters very quickly, and when you reach the top, you are on Sulphur Mountain. You’ll be able to enjoy the Sky Bistro, indoor coffee shop, interactive learning center, and the fantastic boardwalk on top, allowing for excellent viewing.
The Banff Gondola isn’t cheap, starting at $60 for adults, with prices fluctuating depending on day and time. However, if you have young kids or grandparents with mobility issues, the Banff Gondola is a great way to get them to the summit of a mountain easily, especially in winter!
What is Nightrise? The Banff Nightrise is an interactive experience created by multimedia studio Moment Factory in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Nightrise is an immersive and interactive journey that transforms Sulphur Mountain after dark with lights, projections, and riveting soundscapes from mid-November to mid-March only.
It allows visitors to “listen to the view,” and each level of the complex is transformed, with the viewing deck allowing visitors to view Banff in a new way.
It’s a beautiful experience, especially since it is partnered with the Indigenous peoples who contribute music, words, and stories.
Get Those Mount Rundle Views
Mount Rundle is one of the most famous mountains in Canada and a top sight to see in Banff in the winter. It’s an icon of Banff and will make you feel incredibly small any time of day. Mount Rundle is best seen at sunrise and sunset.
Thankfully, in the winter, the sun rises late (sometimes 9 am!). In the winter, you can catch sunset between 4:30-6:30 pm, depending on the month. My favorite spot to see Mount Rundle is from Vermilion Lakes or the Mount Norquay Lookout.
The wildlife doesn’t leave Banff when summertime goes away. Apart from bears, you’ll still find moose, elk, deer, owls, foxes, sheep, wolves, and coyotes here all year round. I actually love spotting these animals in the winter more than in the summer – they look so much more majestic in the snow!
Please remember, if you want to pull over to take photos of wildlife, to do so safely and make sure you are out of the way of traffic. Of course, you can spot wildlife on your own, but if you want the knowledge and info of a guide, it’s best to book a wildlife tour.
Ice Skate on Frozen Lakes
One of the main reasons I love Banff in winter? Ice skating on frozen lakes! There’s a fantastic period in the Rockies when the ice freezes over on the lakes, but a significant snowfall has yet to happen. This creates the most natural and beautiful ice rink in the world, and every local loves it when it happens.
Different lakes freeze over at different times, but you can expect the Banff lakes to start freezing over in November and continue until January. As a visitor, it’s hard to know when this will happen, so we suggest joining our Facebook group to stay up to date.
A few of my favorite lakes to skate on are Johnson Lake, Goat Pond, and Lake Minnewanka. Lake Minnewanka is a highlight no matter if skating or not. This is a glacial lake that is just a ten-minute drive away from the town of Banff. At 21 km long and 142 meters deep, it’s one of the largest in the Rockies. In the summer, it’s a busy place to hike and go canoeing, but in the winter, it’s a sight to behold and one of the best places to ice skate.
Enjoy Two Jack Lake
Just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake. It’s another fantastic lake with jaw-dropping Mount Rundle Views. Two Jack is one of the most photographed lakes in the Canadian Rockies, but in the winter, it’s possible to arrive here with a tripod and be all by yourself.
Two Jack is also another great to skate on while in Banff in the winter if you arrive and the conditions are just right. A few years ago, Two Jack froze over just before Christmas, which added to the town holiday spirit!
Enjoy the Town of Banff
If you want a day of shopping, cappuccinos, and breweries, stay in the town of Banff and enjoy a day of walking around. Banff Ave has tons of restaurants, boutique shops, and cheesy souvenir stores to entertain all.
Are you visiting Banff around the holidays? Make sure to pop into The Spirit of Christmas store on Banff Avenue! They do the whole Christmas thing just right!
Check Out Bow Falls
Bow Falls is a must-see waterfall when in Banff. They are only a short walk away from the town and take you into magnificent nature. Depending on when you go to see them in the winter, they may be frozen, but we’ve been lucky and seen the beauty of the half in ice and half water.
There are pleasant walkways for visitors so they can view Bow Falls safely. (Also, you can type Surprise Corner Viewpoint on Google Maps when near here for a doubly amazing view).
Enjoy a Sleigh Ride
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. I particularly love how quiet the ride is, with only the sound of the dog team’s steps against the snow.
Relax in Nature
We have an addiction to the post-excitement high we receive in the mountains. After flying down a mountain on our snowboard, nothing beats the feeling of calming our nerves in nature. There are countless ways you can relax, whether it be by a hot tub, on a bench, by a fire, or watching the sunset over the frost-tipped mountains.
Just kick back with the one you love and let the calming effect of Banff National Park wash over you. Nothing else can compare to this when visiting Banff in the winter.
Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway connects Banff to Lake Louise. It’s also called the “1A” and is a scenic alternative to the Trans Canada. It’s beautiful to drive in the winter, when all the trees are freshly covered with snow.
There are plenty of beautiful stops like Castle Junction, Storm Mountain Lookout, and Morant’s Curve. It will take a bit longer to drive this route than the Trans Canada, as it isn’t plowed as often, speed limits are lower, and it’s more scenic. However, it’s worth driving at least once in the winter! Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!
Stop at Morant’s Curve
Speaking of the Bow Valley Parkway, one of my favorite spots along the route is Morant’s Curve.
This is a photography point and where many photographers hang out in the freezing cold with hopes of seeing the bright red Canadian Pacific train come around the tracks under Mount Temple.
There are no train schedules, so if you want to catch a train coming around the bend, you’ll have to wait until…however long you have in you! Typically, trains run every hour, but you honestly never know! We’ve waited 1.5 hours before, only to never see a train. We ended up giving up just as we lost sensation in our toes. It’s best to stake out here with a hot chocolate from Trailhead Cafe nearby!
Spend Christmas in Banff
There really is nowhere more beautiful to spend Christmas than Banff National Park. Christmas events start as early as late November and last until early January. It’s a magical time of year for everyone!
My favorite thing to do around Christmas time in Banff is visit the Banff Springs Hotel and head to Carols in the Park, but there is so much more! Here is a rundown of all that is on offer for Christmas in 2023 (Christmas 2024 events will be updated when the information is available).
Banff Christmas Market
The Banff Christmas Market is at Warner Stables. It’s actually in late November each year, as the town of Banff becomes too busy during the holidays to host it in December. However I figured I should mention it here in case you visiting in both November and December.
The Christmas Market is a fun event where you can enjoy local food, shop from local artisan booths, and take a few photos with Banff’s favorite Clydesdale horse. Entry is $15 a person, with events taking place on November 17-19, 24-26, and December 1-3, at 100 Sundance Rd. Tickets must be pre-purchased.
Christmas at the Castle
Christmas at the Castle takes place at the Banff Springs Hotel, aka “The Castle.” Each year they host a ton of fun holiday events. The best part is you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them all!
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 amazing 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! You can book a Christmas at the Castle package that runs between Saturday, December 16, 2023 and Wednesday, January 3, 2024. The package includes luxury accommodation, in-room decorated Christmas Tree, and complimentary self parking.
In Search of Christmas Spirit
This live Christmas story is told by an impressive light display that starts from Banff Avenue Square and runs through Cascade Gardens. This free experience typically takes about 45min to 1 hour to complete, so grab a hot chocolate and enjoy. It’s set to run on select dates between Nov 17 – Dec 31, 2023. Although this is a free event you still need a ticket to enjoy!
Banff’s Hot Chocolate Trail
The Banff Hot Chocolate Trail will have you and the family stuffed with whipped cream and sprinkles. The trail highlights the best places to grab a hot chocolate in Banff; if you are staying for a few days, challenge yourself and try them out!
Banff Craft Beer Festival
The Banff Craft Beer Fest takes place on Bear Street this year from November 23-25. This sampling event is held partially outdoors and has been dubbed “The most beautiful beer festival in the world.”
It’s where you can head to try all of Alberta’s unique craft beers. Tickets start at $25 at Alberta Beer Festivals.
Santa on the Slopes
Head to the SkiBig3 resorts any day five days before Christmas and be on the lookout for Mr. and Mrs. Claus. They are frequently seen shredding on the days leading up to Christmas.
You can also find Santa on the Mountain at Banff Sunshine on December 9 and 10, 2023 between 9 am – 2:30 pm and at Lake Louise Ski Resort from 10:00am – 1:00pm between December 23-25.
READ MORE: Magical Ways to Spend a Christmas in Banff
Spot the Northern Lights
Yes, it’s possible to see the Northern Lights in Banff! However, I wouldn’t plan a trip around seeing the northern lights on your trip to Alberta, but you might get lucky on your visit. In all the time we’ve been in the Rockies, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen the aurora.
What I’m trying to say is, don’t expect to see them, but feel extra special if they make an appearance. The northern lights are most commonly seen from September to April. December is often a fantastic time to view them since night skies are often clear, and days are short. See all our tips for viewing the northern lights in Banff!
Enjoy the SnowDays Festival
SnowDays is a fun annual festival in Banff that will take place between Jan 19 – Feb 4, 2024. This 12-day long event is where ice carvers head for Downtown Banff and work their magic.
Their ice sculptures are typically displayed for the public on Bear Street. During the SnowDays festival, you’ll also be able to witness Skijoring, as well as take the kids to SnowDays Play Zone, while the adults enjoy the Bear Street Live Entertainment. Here’s a rundown of the SnowDays events:
- Live Snow Sculpting
- Kids PlayZone
- Skijoring (January 20, 2024 – two shows only 11 am and 3 pm.)
- Ice Magic Reimagined at Lake Louise
Not Quite in Banff – But Close!
Enjoy a Helicopter Tour
Although the average visitor can’t summit a mountain in Banff in winter, it’s possible to still get a great view of the Rockies from above. One of the best things to do is enjoy a helicopter tour during this season.
Helicopter tours run out of Canmore and often go to the Three Sisters and sometimes back to Marvel Pass and there are also popular heli tours based out of David Thompson Country (off the Icefields Parkway). It’s certainly not a budget experience, but the memory of seeing these colossal peaks covered in snow should last you a lifetime.
Head Out to Abraham Lake
Abraham Lake is about two hours away from Banff towards Nordegg, but people flock there in the winter for one main thing. Ice bubbles. Yes, this is the most famous place in all of Canada to see frozen methane bubbles. It’s best to head here around January and February to see the bubbles.
The lake is typically completely frozen by this time, though it is frigid and extremely windy at Abraham Lake. It’s said to be one of the windiest places in Canada! Dress appropriately and be safe on the ice. Ice should be more than 4 inches thick before humans should walk or skate on it, and it’s always best to check safety with an ice screw. One of the most accessible places to see the ice bubbles at Abraham Lake is Preacher’s Point!
Spend a Few Days in Jasper
I highly recommend adding a few days onto your Banff itinerary to head to Jasper if you have the time. Jasper National Park is about a four hour drive away from Banff in the winter and is just as beautiful as Banff, but it sees far fewer visitors.
Jasper is wonderful in the winter and is when you will find cheaper rates on accommodation, and plenty of great things to do like play ice hockey on Pyramid Lake, ski at Marmot Basin, or spot moose at Maligne Lake. Jasper is well worth three days of exploration – although longer is always better if you can swing it!
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, making it much more enjoyable.
There are so many things to do in the winter in Canmore! 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, with constant views of the The Three Sisters wherever you are!
Kananaskis Nordic Spa
If you’re already in Canmore, you may as well spend a day in Kananaskis! 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.
The Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is a beautiful place to stay in the Rockies, and their new Nordic Spa has a 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!
Visit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, home to more than 35 wonderous wolfdogs, is located in Cochrane, at the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and is just a quick drive from Banff.
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 greatly spread 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!
Emerald Lake is a stunning lake in nearby Yoho National Park, and walking around the lake makes for a great family-friendly hike in the winter. Emerald Lake freezes over in the winter, and you won’t see any of that dazzling emerald color.
However, the natural shape of the surrounding mountains and the lake’s elevation creates a microclimate that encourages a heavy amount of snowfall in the winter. So, a visit to the lake feels like stepping into a winter wonderland.
You can take a leisurely stroll along the lake, snowshoe, or cross-country ski. Or book one of the cozy romantic cabins at the Emerald Lake Lodge and stay overnight.
Where To Eat in Banff
- Brazen Banff: If you’re looking for a nice upscale meal in Bandd, our favorite place to go to is Brazen in the Mount Royal Hotel. They have fantastic cocktails, top notch service, and creative dishes.
- Banff Sushi: We love sushi, and we love a good deal, so Banff Sushi is a slam dunk for us. The novelty of the sushi train was definitely appreciated and bring us back to Japan every time we visit. Here, you can enjoy tantalizing bites of sushi off the Canadian train engine. If you like sushi, this may be one of the best deals in Banff.
- Hankki: If you are after cheap and quick eats you will love Hankki Korean street food kitchen. Here, you can get a famous Korean BBQ bowl for under $12, or try their delicious fries!
- Whitebark Cafe: Hip coffee shop serving delicious coffee and freshly baked treats. It’s the perfect post ski pick me if you’re not into the alcoholic apres ski scene!
- Nourish Bistro: This healthy cafe is the perfect lunch spot in town with reasonably priced lunch combos and coffee.
- Bear Street Tavern: Winter activities often mean you’re burning plenty of calories, so if you’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere and some tasty grub head to this tavern to replenish. Our favorite thing to get here is pizza!
- The Grizzly Paw Brewing Pub: Our favorite post ski ritual is to check out the Canmore local brewery, something you can only find in North America. To find some of the best brews around go to the neighboring town of Canmore.
Where to Stay in Banff in the Winter?
- Fairmont Banff Springs (Luxury): Easily the most sought-after and luxurious place to stay in Banff. If you’re looking to stay in a castle, this is for you. If visiting around Christmas, it’s worth the high price tag to enjoy a night here.
- Elk + Avenue Hotel (Mid Range): E&E provides comfortable and modern hotel on Banff Ave.
- Banff Caribou Lodge (Budget): More affordable, but basic hotel option on Banff Ave.
Visiting around Christmas? Here's we recommend you stay to get all the holiday feels!
Stay in a Banff Cabin!
I’ll always recommend staying in a beautiful Banff cabin, but in the winter, I think staying in a cozy cabin is essential in the mountains. There’s nothing better than snuggling up next to a fire in your log home for a few days. A few of my favorites are:
- Baker Creek Mountain Resort: Located on the Bow Valley Parkway, this is the best place to enjoy the best of Lake Louise and Banff.
- Storm Mountain Cabin: Right off of HWY 93, close to Castle Mountain, is this home away from home. They do great meals here as well.
- Mount Engadine Lodge: Not in Banff, but in Kananaskis, Mount Engadine is one of the most sought after cabins in the Rockies. They do great all inclusive options here, and is the perfect place to stay if you’re going to go snowshoeing in Kananaskis.
Map of the Best Things to Do in Banff in the Winter
Do You Need a Parks Pass to Visit Banff in the Winter?
Yes! You always need a Parks Canada Pass to recreate in Banff National Park. See the information below for prices.
Parks Canada Discovery Pass Fees (Yearly Pass)
|Pass Type (Yearly Pass)
|Youth (up to 17)
|Family/Group (up to 7 Persons)
Parks Canada Day Pass Rates
|Youth (up to 17)
|Family/Group (7 Persons)
Hopefully, this helped you determine what to do in Banff in winter!
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.
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Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.