You could spend an entire season (or life!) in Banff and never get bored! We had only a few days to explore Banff National Park and the surrounding areas this past February, and boy was it amazing! (check out our 7 day itinerary here) In this post I am sharing with you 9 of the best winter adventures near Banff… and trust me, you need to try all of them!
9 of the Best Winter Adventures near Banff
1. Go Ice skating
Grab some skates and hit the ice somewhere magical like Lake Louise. We arrived at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise as the sun was rising, grabbed some skates from Chateau Mountain Sports and hit the freshly groomed rinks by 8:30am. We practically had it all to ourselves and it was an unforgettable experience! I had only skated once or twice and would consider myself a complete beginner, so don’t be afraid to give it a try. Be sure to check out the beautiful man-made ice sculptures nearby the Chateau before you head inside for a toasty hot chocolate.
2. Hike Johnston Canyon
Located about 30 minutes out of Banff townsite along the Bow Valley Parkway, Johnston Canyon is a must visit during your trip to the area. There are options for a short walk, moderate hike or even guided ice climbing tours. Visitors can marvel at frozen waterfalls, icy turquoise streams and snowy pine trees. Be sure to bring some shoe traction such as micro-spikes.
3. Hit the slopes
Banff is located nearby some of the best snow terrain in the world – the Big3! (Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay resorts). We opted to spend the day snowboarding at Banff Sunshine Village and had an absolute blast! Sunshine Village has insane mountain views, great snow and they even have a heated chair lift for those extra chilly days. Gear can be rented at the resorts or in Banff townsite. Not into skiing or snowboarding? Mt. Norquay has a tube park for some family fun and plenty of laughs!
4. EXPLORE VERMILLION LAKES
Vermillion Lakes is a popular spot close to town for photographs and to take in beautiful Mount Rundle (the slanted mountain behind Banff). Winter time is perfect for capturing the partially frozen lakes and snow dusting the mountain peaks. To get there, take the Mt. Norquay Road exit and head towards Banff, then turn right onto Vermillion Lakes Access Road. This will then run directly beneath Highway 1 and for several kilometers along the banks of Vermillion Lakes. Sunrise and sunset are both beautiful times of day to visit the area.
5. DRIVE THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
You can easily explore at least the first section of the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) on a day trip from Banff. This stunning scenic drive will wind you past beautiful mountains and glacier fed streams. Some must see stops include Lake Louise, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake. You could even consider popping into British Columbia to check out Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park (along the Trans-Canada Hwy).
6. ENJOY AFTERNOON TEA
If you are a big dessert and tea lover you HAVE to try the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s famous afternoon tea! We first chose our tea (I went with the delicious Organic Jasmine Gold Dragon tea), and then our host brought out a range of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and desserts. I can report that it was all amazing and almost as good as the stunning lake and mountain view from our table. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance.
Photo credit: Chris Amat, @christopheramat
7. GO DOG SLEDDING
Who doesn’t love dogs, snow, pine trees and mountain views? Dog sledding is the ultimate winter experience to have on your visit to Banff! Snowy Owl Tours run humane and ethical dog sledding adventures in Canmore (about 20 minutes from Banff). Be sure to book your adventure ahead of time as they sell out quickly!
8. EAT LIKE A CANADIAN
Let’s face it… what you eat on vacation is almost as important as the adventures you take! Be sure to try some traditional Canadian poutine from Eddie Burger + Bar, classic cheesy fondue at Waldhaus Restaurant, and a fried dough pastry known as a “Beaver Tail“ in downtown Banff. Some other top food choices are the delicious pizzas from Bear Street Tavern and the exceptional service and food at Chop 1888, Fairmont Banff Springs.
9. SEE CASTLE MOUNTAIN
Located along the beautiful Bow Valley Parkway, Castle Mountain is a gem of the Rockies. To get there (coming from Banff) – drive along the Bow Valley Parkway, you will come to a bridge right as you see a river flowing past Castle Mountain, pull over and park safely to the side of the road. There is a wildlife gate to get down to the river (left of the bridge) – make sure to keep it closed after entering and exiting. The river provides beautiful reflections for photographing Castle Mountain at sunrise or sunset.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
There are numerous other options for adventure nearby Banff and around Alberta. You could check out the Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola, take a helicopter ride out of Canmore, visit some local hot springs, try snow shoeing nearby Lake Louise, cross-country ski to Moraine Lake, and more! Like I said, Banff has endless opportunities for adventure in the winter.
CHECK OUT MY 7 DAY ALBERTA ITINERARY
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A massive thank you to Travel Alberta for making this trip possible. As always, all opinions and views are my own. Copyright all imagery – Renee & Matthew Hahnel, Hahnel Visuals Co.