Gatorade blue water, mountain peaks, and endless adventure make Banff National Park a special place to visit. And while some folks save this bucket list destination for the summer months, visiting Banff in winter can be equally, if not more, special.
With a heavy dusting of snow, it becomes a winter wonderland that’ll make your heart sing—or freeze; please dress warm (kidding).
So in this blog, we’ll cover everything you need to know about visiting Banff in winter and the best things to do so you can have the holiday of a lifetime!
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Banff in Winter—Know Before You Go
If you have never visited Banff National Park, you’re in for a treat! Of course, Banff is known for its fantastic mountain-scapes, lakes, hot springs, and hikes.
Banff in winter, however, is known for SO much more. Think snowboarding, ice skating, dog sledding—the list goes on!
So let’s cover a few planning details before jumping more into the activities.
Where is Banff National Park?
Banff National Park is located in Alberta, Canada, tucked away in the Canadian Rock Mountains!
Banff is also Canada’s first national park and was established in 1888.
When is Winter in Banff?
Winter in Banff National Park is from December through March. During that time, you can expect lots of snow and cold temperatures!
However, if you want to skip all the winter crowds, you can experience winter in Banff closer to February.
Most tourists who come to Banff in winter should leave by then, and you’ll have these beautiful Canadian Rockies all to yourself.
What is the Banff in Winter Temperature Like?
Below are the Banff in winter high and lows. All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.
- December 23° – 7°
- January 25° – 7°
- February 32° – 11°
Getting There and Around
Fly into the Calgary Airport! Here are the fast facts about driving from the airport to Banff:
- Calgary International Airport (YYC) — About a 1.5-hour drive from Banff National Park via the TransCanada Highway
Whether or not you rent a car for Banff in winter entirely depends on what you think you’ll be doing! Naturally, renting a car will give you the most freedom.
However, you can also take a shuttle from the Calgary Airport to Banff National Park in winter. A few shuttles will take you to your destination for as low as $10!
You can read more about getting to Banff without a car here.
Where to Stay
Here are some recommendations on where to stay—get ready to snuggle with some warm blankies and hot cocoa!
Fairmont Banff Springs (Luxury)
If you’re visiting Banff in winter, I suggest going all out on accommodations so you’re as cozy as possible. And this property is the place to be. You’ll enjoy 360 views from just about every part of the hotel, pools, a spa, and access to snowsports!
Rimrock Resort Hotel (Luxury)
Rimrock Resort Hotel is an excellent place to stay for your winter adventure! Enjoy a gorgeous view of the Rockies from your window, then head to the lobby to cozy up by the welcoming fireplace. Talk about a home away from home!
Canalta Lodge (Mid-Range)
If you’re looking for more apartment type accommodations that won’t break the bank, then the Canalta Lodge is for you! You can book suites with mini kitchens and enjoy the outdoor firepit. Plus it’s pet-friendly, so Fido can come too!
11 Amazing Things to Do in Banff in Winter
Woohoo! Now that all of the planning details are out of the way let’s cover all the fantastic things to do in Banff in winter.
#1 Go Dog Sledding ( A Banff in Winter Must-Do)
Oh my gosh, if you’re in Banff for winter you MUST MUST MUST go dog sledding!
The best part about dog sledding in Banff is that there are a ton of companies to choose from.
#2 Hike Johnston’s Canyon
Johnston’s Canyon was a summer favorite of mine in Banff, but it is equally as beautiful in the winter! Although you have a few trail options for this hike if you’re visiting Banff in winter, try out the 3.1mi round trip trail.
Imagine walking through a canyon covered in icicles — that’s exactly what you can expect when you go in winter.
Johnston’s Canyon Fast Facts:
- Distance: 3.1 miles RT
- Difficulty: Easy
- Location: 30min outside the town of Banff
- Best Time To Hike: Mid-day
- Gear Suggested: Microspikes
P.S. You might also like this ice walk canyon tour!
Must-Have Experience: Johnston Canyon, Hot Springs, Lake Minnewanka Winter Tour
#3 Try Ice Skating
Banff is 110% the place to be if you want to get your skates on this winter. When winter hits in Banff, the lakes freeze over.
They make the perfect outdoor skating rinks. Below is a list of lakes you can take your skates out for a spin when you visit Banff in winter.
- Two Jack Lake,
- Johnson Lake,
- Lake Minnewanka,
- Lake Louise
Lake Louise is by far the most popular ice skating rink because it is well maintained! The others sometimes have snow on them, making skating a bit more complicated.
You’d Like: Lake Louise & Banff Private Day Tour
#4 Ride the Banff Gondola
What fun are mountains if you can’t see them from above? When visiting Banff in winter, one of the most popular things to do is to ride the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
At the top, you’ll find some fantastic restaurants that will give you some of the best dinner views of your life. Otherwise, you can stand in awe at the sky deck.
You can find more information about the tickets here.
Also Check Out: Banff Gondola & Chairlift Combo
#5 Visit a Ski Resort
Did you know Banff has three main ski resorts called Ski Big 3? Skiing the Big 3 is one of the most popular winter activities in Banff! Here they are:
- Banff Sunshine: Loaded with 137 trails for you ski lovers out there!
- Lake Louise: The Lake Louise resort is perfect for skiers and snowboarders of every skill level. You can also take lessons here to brush up on your skills!
- Mount Norquay: If you don’t want to ski and think tubing might be fun, the Mount Norquay resort might be what you need! They also have more advanced ski options here.
You can learn about the Big 3 passes here.
#6 Go Tubing
“Okay, Dani, I am not a snowboarder, I am not a skier, and I am certainly not an Olympian figure skater — what else is there for me?” I’m so glad you asked!
When visiting Banff in winter, you can also go tubing! Say whatttt? Yep! And the best part is that you’ll have some epic Canadian Rockies in your view. A popular choice for tubers is Mt Norquay.
Mt Norquay Fast Facts:
- Hours: Monday – Sunday from 5 PM to 9 PM
- Cost: With a Ski Big 3 pass – $0; Without: $35 CAD per adult
#7 Go Snowshoeing
You can go snowshoeing at multiple trails in the Banff area. Below is a list of a few:
- Lake Louise Lakeshore (easy) — 4 km out and back
- Fairview Lookout (easy) – 2 km out and back
- Mirror Lake via Lake Agnes (difficult + avalanche training required) – 5.4 km out and back
- Lake Minnestima (difficult) — 4.3 km out and back
Always make sure to check conditions and avalanche warnings.
Likely to Sell Out: Epic Snowshoeing Tour
#8 Take a Sleigh Ride
If you’re feeling extra holiday-ish this year, I HIGHLY recommend you take your butt to Lake Louise and jump in a horse-drawn sleigh!
The Fairmont Lake Louise has a set schedule from mid-December to early-April for sleigh rides that you can book!
The trips typically provide you with some gear to stay warm like blankets, and the sleighs are usually all decked out in decor.
You can read more information about it here.
#9 Drive Down Icefields Parkway
Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of road.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can drive almost 140 miles to Jasper National Park. But there are closer stops that are worth exploring as you drive:
- Peyto Lake—1-hour drive from Banff; looks like a wolf!
- Bow Lake—1-hour drive; one of my favorite lakes on the drive and has a secret bridge. Can you find it?
- Columbia Icefield—2.5-hour drive from Banff; it’s winter in Banff, so why not explore a Glacier?
#10 Hike with Wolves (Unique Banff in Winter Activity)
You can be one with the wolves while exploring Banff in winter — all you have to do is visit the Wolf Centre! How cool is that?
Check This Out: Banff Winter Wildlife Tour
#11 Visit Banff Upper Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs is a great place to check out while you visit Banff in winter because you’ll get to escape the cold. Here are the fast facts for getting in:
Banff Upper Hot Springs Fast Facts:
- Adult Tickets: $9.25 CAD
- Youth Tickets: $8.00 CAD
- Towels: $2.00 CAD
- Locker: $1.25 CAD
Banff in Winter FAQ
When is the Tourist Season?
Winter in Banff starts in December and ends in early March. This is when Banff in winter tourism peaks. However, you can skip most of the crowds by planning your trip around February.
What is the Currency?
When exploring Banff in winter or any other season, remember that the money used is the Canadian dollar. I always like to look up the current exchange rate here.
Can I Use Credit Cards?
You can certainly pay for items in Banff with a credit card. Most Visa and Mastercards are widely accepted.
What is the Language?
In Banff National Park, most folks speak English. Otherwise, there is a heavy French influence in Canada, so you can get away with speaking French too!
Tips for Visiting Banff in Winter
Let’s wrap this up with some tips for visiting Banff in Winter.
Use Snow Tires
Better safe than sorry! When visiting Banff in winter, ensure the car you rent has winter tires! You can also ask the rental car company to give you an ice scraper and shovel!
Check Road Conditions
Plans can change if a road is closed! Make sure you are checking road conditions and that the route you plan to take is open. You can use this link here for more information.
Snow can severely burn the heck out of your eyes. Wear sunglasses to protect your pupils!
The snow reflects some intense light at you! That being said, wear sunscreen and make sure you are moisturizing.
Grab Banff Park Passes
For visiting Banff National Park in winter, purchase a national park pass. You can see alllllll the information about the fees here. Of course, you can buy it when you arrive, but I like to plan ahead.
Save Money with the Shuttle
To save money, rent a car for the days you need them! If you want to only rent a car for part of your trip to Banff this winter, then use and shuttle and rent a car only for the days you know you will use it!
This is also a good trick for visiting Banff any other season.
Stay Calm When Driving
If you’re from Arizona like me, driving around Banff in winter can seem daunting. I mean, I rarely even see snow let alone drive in it!
However, you must stay calm and trust yourself and your vehicle. Ice road conditions are no joke; you shouldn’t be driving if you’re terrified of doing so.
Also, Alberta does a great job of keeping up with the road to ensure it’s safe for driving.
Visiting Banff in winter is a popular vacation for most folks, so you can rest assured that Alberta will take care of the roads for you!
Final Thoughts for Visiting Banff in Winter
Hopefully, this guide provided you with the information you need to have the best Banff in winter trip possible!
When in doubt, I say just book a dreamy hotel and enjoy some time snuggling up by a fireplace.
If winter isn’t your jam, visiting Banff in the fall is another excellent option.