These are the best places to go snowshoeing in Banff. Snowshoeing is one of the best winter activities to enjoy around Banff when it’s covered in a fluffy layer of beautiful snow. We love the sounds of wilderness in the winter and you’ll be shocked at just how quiet a winter scene can be with a few birds chirping off in the distance and most sounds muffled by the snow.
Snow laden trees are gorgeous and you’ll be forced to stare up along forested trails until you reach open lakes or meadows the sheer scale of the monstrous Canadian Rockies in the winter will humble you. We may be biased, but the mountains here look way more impressive when blanketed in a thick layer of snow. Snowshoeing in Banff is a real treat so you should get out and experience the magic of the Canadian Rockies in the winter.
- 26 Wonderful Things To Do in Banff in Winter
- A Complete Guide to Packing for Banff in the Winter
- 12 Amazing Ice Skating Locations in Banff
Avalanche Awareness in the Canadian Rockies
Almost every winter season there is a loss of life in the Canadian Rockies due to avalanche. While, this tragedy mostly befalls athletes in backcountry skiing, winter mountaineering, and ice climbing it is possible for snowshoers to enter avalanche terrain.
We are not recommending any snowshoes that enter avalanche terrain and strongly advise snowshoers to remain aware of where they go. A number of these snowshoes end near avalanche terrains such as Taylor and Chester. We heard multiple stories of people witnessing inexperienced walk up avalanche terrain or stand directly in their avalanche runout zones. Thi
Where to Snowshoe in Banff
This is likely the most audacious snowshoe in Banff you can tackle as it is 7 km one way and climbs nearly 1,000 meters in elevation. The lake sits at the base of Mt Bell and opens up to some spectacular views. It’s a really serene place and a fantastic day out in the mountains for active visitors who come to Banff in the winter.
Continue on the trail and enjoy the nearby Panorama Meadows as the widely spaced trees and piles of snow feel like another world. The one downside to this hike is that the vast majority takes place in the forest so there isn’t much for views until the end. It’s a great payoff though!
Trail conditions can be pretty mixed some days it’s possible to hike all the way to Taylor Lake other days it’d be near impossible to reach without snowshoes. We recommend snowshoes as it’s best not to posthole (make deep footsteps) as skiers don’t appreciate a ruined trail. Also, it allows you to explore the meadow or walk on the lake. Keep in mind the slopes are avalanche terrain so you do not want to be on near the runout.
Speaking of skiers, Taylor Lake is very popular for backcountry ski and snowboard you will see tracks from those touring going up Panorama Peak and through the meadows. DO NOT follow their tracks uphill in these areas as they enter avalanche terrain. Then as you make your way up or down the trail keep an eye/ear out for descending skiers as they can move fast down the trail.
- Length: 14 km
- Duration: 5 – 7 hours
- Elevation Gain: 924 meters
- Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
- Parking: Taylor Lake Lot
The Johnston Canyon walk is the best thing you can do in Banff in the winter or summer for free. In the winter it’s truly magical and has fewer tourists (but still busy). Have you ever stood on a frozen waterfall before? Neither had we until the Johnston Canyon hike. Due to the elevation of the region and the sub-zero temperatures of winter the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon freeze in time. It’s a pretty surreal experience and completely accessible for all.
As a tip, we suggest picking up some ice cleats in town if you visit Banff in the winter. Although the trail is well managed it can get icy and it’s better to slip everywhere on the trail – ours were very handy! Once you reach the end of the trail and the most impressive frozen fall you’ll probably find some ice climbers. If you’re feeling adventurous book an ice climbing tour yourself. With fresh snow, it’s the perfect time to don a pair of snowshoes and be the first to break trail to this popular natural feature in Banff.
- Length: 11.7 km
- Duration: 2 -5 hours
- Elevation Gain: 608 meters
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Parking: Jonhston Canyon Parking Lot
Tunnel Mountain is awesome because it’s right in the heart of Banff. It’s beloved by locals for its accessibility and you can snowshoe to its peak in the summer. It may be one of the smallest mountains in Banff National Park, but it still offers tremendous views of the surrounding valleys.
The snowshoe moves slowly up the mountain through a number of switchbacks and offers various viewpoints out into the Bow and Spray Valleys. It’s great for sunrise or sunset and it rarely disappoints. Most days it’s possible to hike the path without snowshoes as it only takes a day or two after a fresh snowfall for a well-trodden trail to get packed.
- Length: 4.5 km.
- Duration: 1 hour+
- Elevation Gain: 266 meters
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Parking: Three official parking lots or Banff Town Center.
This is a great snowshoe that is accessible for any skill level. It involves walking to the first viewpoint and then continues on past the viewpoint to an overlook that sits on Bow Ridge. The elevation gain past the first viewpoint is only about 50m and worth the little effort as it provides better views out to the Peyto Glacier, source of Peyto Lake.
However, you should be mindful and careful to stay away from Bow Summit which enters avalanche terrain. It’s a busy area and you should not be surprised to find a lot of backcountry ski tourers as it’s the most accessible area in the park.
- Trailhead: Peyto Lake Lower Parking Lot
- Distance: 2.7 km
- Elevation: 115 meters
- Time: 45 – 60 minutes (depends on how long you enjoy the view)
Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park is one of the most iconic winter scenes in the Canadian Rockies and makes for a great snowshoe location. You can walk across the frozen lake or enjoy some of the maintained trails around the lake. You have some amazing scenic views and it’s a breathtaking scene.
It’s kind of a pick your own flavor adventure, but do keep in mind the Emerald Avalanche Slide Path that is well marked by Parks Canada. After, you make your way around the frozen lake warm up with a hot chocolate at the Cilantro Cafe part of the Emerald Lake Lodge.
- Trailhead: Emerald Lake Parking Lot
- Distance: (N/A)
- Elevation: (N/A)
- Time: Depends on how long you enjoy the view
Bow Lake is a tremendous location for a snowshoe on the Icefield’s Parkway. There is no set trail across the frozen lake, but it has an ample supply of astounding views and plenty of fresh snow. What’s more, there is no avalanche risk on the safe flat lake.
- Trailhead: Bow Lake Parking Lot
- Distance: N/A
- Elevation: N/A
- Time: Depends on how long you explore
Chester Lake is not based in Banff National Park and is instead in Kananaskis Country Provincial Park so it makes more sense for those who chose to base themselves in Canmore over Banff. It’s a fantastic snowshoe and very popular.
So it’s possible if it hasn’t snowed in a while to make it a wintertime hike, but if you plan to make it to the lake it helps to have snowshoes as the snow softens at elevation. It starts out a little steep at the beginning so be prepared to climb a bit of elevation. It’s a wonderful spot to get outside in the winter and enjoy Kananaskis Country.
- Trailhead: Chester Lake Trailhead
- Distance: 9.7 km
- Elevation: 424 meters
- Time: Depends on how long you enjoy the view
Sulphur Mountain is easily one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful hike up that provides visitors with astonishing views over the Bow Valley and Spray Valley. The trail leaves from the Banff Gondola or Hot Springs parking lots and follows a series of switchbacks up Sulphur Mountain until reaching the Gondola Station. Follow the boardwalk along the ridge to the peak and stunning views out across the valley and Banff.
In the winter it’s free to take the Gondola back down so it’s a great way to get some exercise without having to walk back out. Due to it’s 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, particularly the peak.
- Length: 10.1 km
- Duration: 2 – 4 hours
- Elevation Gain: 744 meters
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Parking: Banff Gondola / Hot Springs
Lake Louise is a great place for a snowshoe tour. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more scenic location in the world for a snowshoe than Lake Louise. Every year the lake freezes over and there are a number of winter trails along with ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides. The most popular snowshoe is along the Northern side of Lake Louise, but you can also head up to Mirror Lake or over to Paradise Creek.
If you’d like to experience a snowshoe at elevation Lake Louise, Mt Norquay, and Sunshine Village all offer guided snowshoe tours. We’ve never taken part in these snowshoe tours, but we do ride at Lake Louise and we often see them out on the tour.
Expert Snowshoes in Banff
These snowshoes pass through avalanche terrain or at the very least an avalanche runout. Please know and understand how to read avalanche reports and have a good understanding of the conditions that can cause an avalanche.
If you’re a set on getting out to bigger snowshoes in the Canadian Rockies I’d strongly advise taking an AST 1 course to gain a foundation of the science behind avalanches and what to do in the event of one. Personally, I do not take part in these snowshoes and prefer ski touring if I’m going to take the risk. However, I’m familiar with a number of the routes from the ski touring so I can comment on them.
- Healy Pass
- Paradise Valley
- Boom Lake
- Deception Pass
- Crystal Ridge
Snowshoe Winter Safety in Banff
You are responsible for your own safety in the park and even around town. Snowshoeing and spending time in the wilderness can have serious consequences so always remain prepared.
- Check Parks Canada or Avalanche.ca for up to date details on trail conditions and the avalanche forecast.
- When trails are icy a pair of poles or cleats may be more helpful than snowshoes.
- Always bring a map on longer snowshoes.
- Pack emergency layers, we always have an extra layer in case we need to weather the cold.
- Let someone know where you’re heading in case of an emergency.
- There are a lot of winter hazards to be aware of such as avalanches, disorientation, thin ice, hypothermia, and frostbite.
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