Banff National Park is home to some of the most AWE-INSPIRING places in the Rocky Mountains. From skiing and snowshoeing to soaking in a spa or experiencing a dog sledding tour, there are unlimited options for you in this scenic, ADVENTURE-FILLED National Park. Keep reading for some unique outdoor activities you can’t miss this Winter in Banff!
If you are looking to get off the beaten path this winter in Banff, you have come to the right place! Banff National Park is without a doubt one of the most visited places in all of Canada.
Home to iconic spots like Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon, and Moraine Lake, Banff also boasts a ton of lesser-known areas that are just as scenic with fewer crowds. In this post, we are going to share all of our favourite lesser-known gems in Banff National Park and tips for avoiding crowds at popular destinations.
First & foremost, and I can’t stress this enough, get the heck out of the town of Banff!
Going to Banff National Park and not leaving the town is sort of like going to an all-you-can-eat taco bar and only eating the complimentary chips and salsa. LAME!
This is where you will find the largest crowds of tourists, the highest prices, and the least amount of adventure. I recommend spending no more than 1 day in Banff before branching out and exploring the rest of the park!
Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.
Without further ado, let’s get into it! Here are 22 unique outdoor activities you can’t miss this winter in Banff, Canada!
Skate on a Frozen Lake
Skating is one of my favourite winter activities in Banff and fun for the whole family. There are numerous places to go within the park and they all boast phenomenal views!
Some of the best lakes for skating include The Fairmont Banff Springs, Two Jack Lake, Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, Gap Lake, Abraham Lake, and Vermilion Lakes. Bring camping chairs, a blanket, and a thermos of hot cocoa and Baileys!
Try Your Hand at Dog Sledding
Dog sledding is without a doubt one of the most thrilling winter adventures on this list. Snowy Owl Tours is an excellent local dog sledding company that provides a beautiful and exciting tour. You’ll get up close and personal with the dogs, learn how to drive your own sled through a stunning valley in the Rockies, and enjoy a hot chocolate around the fire to finish off the day.
Snowy Owl Tours is actually based out of Canmore, but they will pick you up at any hotel in Banff. Make sure to book this one in advance- they fill up quickly!
The Banff Gondola is well known in the Canadian Rockies for bringing wide-eyed travellers to the top of Sulphur Mountain. With spectacular views over six mountain ranges, a boardwalk, interpretive centres, and fine dining, there’s no question why this popular destination gets so much praise.
This winter, however, they have taken things to the next level and we could not be more excited about it! Enter, Nightrise.
Nightrise is an experience like nothing we have ever done before and we were absolutely ecstatic to get the chance to visit. Throughout the evening, the summit is brought to life with a combination of vibrant lighting, multimedia effects, video projections, and music. These digital art installations have been created by Moment Factory in participation with the Stoney Nakoda Nation.
Drive the Bow Valley Parkway
The Bow Valley Parkway AKA Highway 1A is a jaw-dropping road that runs parallel to the major highway connecting Banff and Lake Louise. This scenic 48-kilometre drive provides an excellent alternative to Highway 1 and gives you the opportunity to slow down, take in the beauty of the area, and have incredible adventures along the way.
Along this stretch of roadway, you will find monumental mountains, tremendous waterfalls, and abundant wildlife at every bend. It is beautiful, there is far less traffic, and the speed limit is only 60km/h. In the winter, there are several cross-country ski trails that wind in and out of the woods, spanning the entire length of the parkway.
Some highlights include Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots, Morant’s Curve, Silverton Falls, and plenty of cozy cabins you can stay in for the night. For more information on the activities in the area and each cabin, check out the post below.
Enjoy a Day of Snow Tubing
Have you ever heard of The Norquay Tube Park? If not you’ve been missing out. Located about 5 minutes from the Town of Banff, you’re sure to have an incredible day filled with great views, fresh air and a ton of fun. Jump on an inflatable snow tube and hold on tight as you slide, spin, and pick up speed down the hill.
Explore on Your Snowshoes
If you enjoy hiking in the summer, chances are you’ll like snowshoeing just as much. Banff National Park is home to some amazing snowshoeing trails for all abilities. The Canmore Nordic Centre, about 30 minutes from Banff, is an excellent place to go for beginners.
Once you feel comfortable, I would highly recommend downloading the Alltrails App. There are dozens of snowshoeing trails to choose from that are all within an hour’s drive of Banff. A few of our favourites include Chester Lake, Peyto Lake, Marble Canyon, Bow Lake, and Rawson Lake.
Go Downhill Skiing
It is no surprise that Banff is perfectly situated for a ski vacation. With 4 major ski hills within an hour of town, there is no shortage of excitement and fresh powder!
Soak In Natural Hot Springs
The Canadian Rockies are home to several amazing hot springs from developed pools to completely untouched hideaways. Whether you want to drive right up, find a cozy little pool along the river, or hike to the top of a mountain and enjoy a soak with a view, we’ve got you covered.
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is a popular attraction in this mountain resort town. The outdoor pool is universally accessible with lockers, towel rental, and a café in the facility. Some other developed pools in the area are Radium Hot Springs, Fairmont Hot Springs, and Miette Hot Springs.
If commercialized hot springs aren’t your jam, there are also several hike-in natural pools surrounding Banff that are perfect for winter. A few of our favourites are Mist Mountain Hot Springs and Lussier Hot Springs.
Some of the hotels in the area also offer incredible places to go for a soak. A few of my top recommendations include Hidden Ridge Resort for its peaceful outdoor location. The Fox Suites where you can soak in a giant cave. And lastly, The Fairmont Banff Springs for the entire spa experience.
Visit Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is easily one of the most popular day hikes in Banff National Park. The paved trail is fairly mild making it perfect for families and hikers of almost any fitness level. Open year-round, this hike boasts stunning views of the turquoise creek and multiple waterfalls along the way. Johnston Canyon is a great choice for anyone looking to see the natural beauty of the Canadian Rockies!
During the winter in Banff, this is a great place to see frozen waterfalls on a fairly easy and well-maintained pathway. From the parking lot to the upper falls, the hike is only 5 kilometres round trip with 150 m of elevation gain.
If you’re up for a longer hike and want to ditch the crowds, you will love the trail to the Ink Pots. “The Ink Pots” are several bubbling pools of green-coloured mineral springs located in a stunning meadow about 3 kilometres from the Upper Falls. This portion of the hike takes another hour and the elevation gain is a bit more substantial at around 450 meters.
Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise is an iconic spot in Banff National Park. People travel far and wide to witness the turquoise blue waters nestled within the impressive surrounding mountain range.
The cold weather brings a great opportunity to lace up your skates in front of a Canadian landmark: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. In the area, there are several winter hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails. There is also a fantastic winter campground that offers endless activities at your doorstep.
Take a Road Trip Down the Icefields Parkway
The Icefields Parkway is highly regarded as one of the most scenic highways in all of Canada. Also known as Highway 93, this stretch of road spans 233 km from the town of Lake Louise all the way up to Jasper.
Some of our favourite stops include Panther Falls, Abraham Lake, The Athabasca Glacier, Athabasca Falls, and the cross-country ski to Leech Lake. For more information and stops along the way, check out our YouTube video!
Hike to Frozen Waterfalls
One of the best things about winter in Banff is the staggering beauty of the frozen waterfalls! There are several throughout the park with various hikes involved. A few that we believe are the most worth your time and relatively easy to access are Silverton Falls, Johnston Canyon, and Panther Falls.
If you are open to venturing outside Banff National Park, you can also explore gems like Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, Maligne Canyon, Takakkaw Falls, and Troll Falls.
Relax at The Kananaskis Nordic Spa
Kananaskis Nordic Spa has become a go-to “alpine sanctuary” of the Canadian Rockies and there is no question why! This stunning spa combines luxury with natural beauty and allows you to rejuvenate in a scenic environment. The idea of this invigorating therapy cycle is to move through the hot, warm, and cold pools numerous times in a specific order.
Along with these pools, you can also enjoy a massage, different saunas and steam rooms, as well as fantastic food and drinks from the Two Trees Bistro. Only 1 hour from Banff, this luxurious outdoor experience is the perfect way to relax and unwind in the mountains!
See Banff from Above with a Helicopter Ride
Gaze down at jagged peaks and icy turquoise lakes during this once-in-a-lifetime experience in Banff National Park. There are several tours ranging from 30 to 60-minute flights as well as a hike and helicopter tour to Marvel Pass in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.
You can also choose to soar over the Columbia Icefields between Banff and Jasper. On this 55-minute helicopter ride, you will see glaciers, icefalls, waterfalls, alpine lakes and massive mountains from the most unique viewpoint!
Visit Emerald Lake Lodge
Technically located just across the park boundary in Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake Lodge is a beautiful place to stay, eat, or just visit for an afternoon walk. The loop around the lake offers marvellous views of the surrounding mountains and the nearby natural bridge is an iconic photo spot.
If you plan to stay the night, they have a lodge as well as a variety of cabins with lakefront views and wood-burning fireplaces. Factor in the stunning outdoor hot tub and this place is 100% worth the splurge!
Experience Fat Biking
If you’ve ever wanted to give fat biking a try, Banff is the place to do it. You can rent a bike in town from a number of gear shops for around $100 CAD per day. There are dozens of trails around Banff to choose from and the rental company always has advice to get you started. A great option for beginners is the Centennial Trail, a paved pathway along Highway Number 1, that runs all the way to Canmore!
Walk With Wolves
The Northern Lights Wolf Centre is actually located near Golden, BC but it’s well worth the 1 hour and 45-minute drive for an unforgettable day. They offer an interactive wolf walk where visitors can embark on a leisurely hike with some furry members of the Northern Lights Wolf Pack. How cool is that?!
On the hike, the wolves are free to run and lead you through their natural habitat. Although they are never forced or expected to interact with humans along the way, most of the time they do! This books up quickly so be sure to reserve in advance.
Stay in a Cozy Cabin
While staying in Banff, you will have an array of accommodation options, from camping to 5-star hotels. I recommend that you opt for lodging that allows you to immerse yourself in the outdoors to truly appreciate the beauty all around you.
These cabins are cozy, charming, and add to the winter experience in Banff. There are several options available, but here are a few of our favourites:
- Baker Creek Mountain Lodge
- Castle Mountain Chalets
- Storm Mountain Lodge
- Mount Engadine Lodge
- Emerald Lake Lodge
- Buffalo Mountain Lodge
Banff offers some amazing places to get out for an evening walk and gaze up at the stars. The further away from the town you get, the better! If you’re really lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Aurora Borealis. Two Jack Lake and Vermillion Lakes are both great options and only a short drive from Banff. Either one would be a perfect place to go for a star walk.
Hit The Cross Country Ski Trails
Whether you’re a complete amateur or a seasoned pro, cross-country skiing is an excellent winter sport that gets you active and outdoors! Like snowshoeing, the Canmore Nordic Centre is a perfect place for beginners.
The staff on-site will help get you set up with gear and recommend the best trails to get you started. With over 65 kilometres of groomed, machine-made, and natural trails, the Nordic Centre is well worth the visit!
If you’re looking for something more challenging, cross-country ski up to Moraine Lake, Lake O’Hara, Taylor Lake, or any number of other beautiful trails inside the National Park. A few of our favourites include Cascade Valley, The Great Divide Trail, and the trails around Castle Junction.
Visit The Fairmont Banff Springs
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a landmark of the town and a cool place to gallivant for a few hours no matter what you’re interested in. They’ve got a series of shops, a skating rink, a beautiful spa, a wonderful brunch buffet, and a ton of old architecture for you to enjoy!
Spend the Night at a Back Country Hut
If you are looking to ditch the crowds, the backcountry is heaven and these lodges offer an incredibly unique experience. The most luxurious lodge is Skoki, where you have your own room and gourmet meals are included. It is pricey, but if you ask us, it’s worth it.
If you are on a budget or are looking for a more rustic experience, there are ACC huts scattered throughout the Rockies. These typically offer shelter and a fire, while you pack in your food and sleeping bag.