Okay, so you normally book a flight to the Caribbean for the winter. But this year, you want something different right? Something that will make you feel alive, change your life and give you memories, that will last a lifetime. Anyone can sit on a beach drinking Mai Tais, but not everyone can brag that they've soared through the Rocky Mountains, plunged down a massive peek or glided through an ancient forest before a night on the town. These are just some of the unforgettable winter things to do in Banff if you turn north instead of south for your next vacation.
Winter vacations aren't just for the hearty anymore, Banff and Lake Louise have made winter trips comfortable, glamorous, elegant and exciting for everyone. If you dress the part, take advantage of the hot pools, spas, fine dining and elegant hotels, you'll have a well-rounded trip that will blow away anything on the beach. So try something new this year and see all the great things to do in Banff. I bet you change your mind about winter.
Before you go any further, check out our latest video: We round up the best things to do in Banff – Winter Edition
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Unforgettable Winter Things to do in Banff
Heli-Snowshoe Tour over Banff
If there is one helicopter tour that you do in your life, do it over the Rocky Mountains. Dave and I have had the privilege of taking scenic flights on 6 continents, but our flight over Banff National Park was the most breathtaking tour we've ever taken. I believe flying over Banff in winter is what made it special. The peaks covered in snow made you feel as if you were staring at heaven itself. The helicopters that RockiesHeli uses are state of the art with bubble windows and plenty of space to give everyone the best possible views. Add the opportunity to go snowshoeing in the mountains and you've got yourself the most unforgettable experience of your life.
Read more about our heli-snowshoe tour here.
Snowboarding and Skiing
A person cannot round up a winter vacation without mentioning snowboarding or skiing. Banff has some of the best ski conditions in North America. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, you can count on a long ski season, with lots of fresh powder, world class runs and fun for all levels and ages. There are three ski resorts located directly in Banff National Park – Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Norquay. You will never tire of trying out all the backcountry bowls, trails through the glades or gentler runs on the main hills.
See our video and check out our snowboarding adventure at Lake Louise
Take Photo Tour
Banff is one of the most scenic destinations on earth. Bring home your own memories on a photo tour with Rocky Mountain Adventures. You will be taken to the hottest photography spots for photographers, but you can also have the option of learning how to process your photos and optimizing them for print where you can hang your memories on your own walls.
Love Alberta? Check out our Alberta Summer Road Trip.
There's great travel to Southern Alberta too: Enjoy seeing the Hoodoos of the Badlands
Dog Sled to British Columbia
There's only one place you can go dogsledding in Banff National Park and that is with KingMik Dog Sled Tours. Their team of dogs are fast and filled with pep and zip as they run through the Great Divide Trail all the way to the border of British Columbia. As you are snuggled up inside a warm sleeping bag and zipped into the windproof canvas, you glide through the forest looking for lynx tracks while your guide tells you about the area, the dogs and the scenery. On the way back, it's your turn to drive the sled and you'll feel like a true explorer as you mush through the old Trans Canada trail.
Read all about Dogsledding in Banff: There are video and pictures too!
Hot Springs and Spas
I told you that it wasn't all about being outside in the cold, there are a lot of things to do in Banff that don't have to take you through a snowy wonderland. (although who wouldn't want to?) Banff is home to thermal pools where you can bask outside in a tub while taking in the views. The Banff Hot Springs are the most famous hot pools in Banff, and you can even rent an old timers bathing suit to feel like you are in a bath house of the roaring twenties.
Most hotels have outdoor hot tubs and our favourite was the views at the Juniper Hotel and Deer Lodge. But Sunshine Mountain Lodge at Sunshine Village has Banff's largest hotel hot tub located right on the side of the ski hill where after a day on the boards, you can soothe your aching muscles in the tub.
Want recommendations for the best accommodation in Banff – Read our post: Hotels in Banff: 8 Great Stays in the Rockies.
Banff is filled with spas and luxury hotels. You can book many a spa through your own accommodation, but we tried the downtown spa Cedar and Sage. As many of you already know, Dave and I have a lot of massages around the world. Our massage at Cedar and Sage worked all the knots out of our backs in a tranquil setting with certified massage therapists. With its downtown location, we could stroll the shops and enjoy a coffee afterward to truly get that sense of peace that one is looking for after a week of so many adventures.
Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
Want to see frozen ice like you've never seen before? Take a hike through Johnston Canyon. It's an easy walk on a well-maintained steel walkway where you'll see frozen waterfalls all around you. Make sure to go to the very end to see the most beautiful of them It's only a two and a half mile walk taking you to six different frozen waterfalls and a deep pool of swirling water that is reached by walking through a stone arch. You may spy some ice climbers there as well, or you may want to give it a try yourself!
Skate on Lake Louise
It's the most scenic ice rink in the world. Just out front of the Fairmont Lake Louise is the world's prettiest hockey rink complete with Zambonis, hockey benches, and figure skating. It's free to skate on Lake Louise and the ice is ready and waiting as professionals maintain it with state of the art equipment. You can rent your hockey gear at Wilson Mountain Sports located about 5 minutes away on your way into the lake or you can bring your own. There are spots for figure skating and hockey so don't be shy, enjoy some hot chocolate and have either a romantic date with your loved one or join a game of pick up hockey!
Order a Flight of Spirits
It's the only distillery in all of Banff National Park. As a matter a fact, it's the only distillery in a national park in North America. Park Distillery makes smooth vodka and rye right on sight. Direct from the glacial waters of the Rocky Mountains you can be sure that they use the purest water on earth. They offer distillery tours where they'll tell you most of their secrets and you can sit down and sample all their spirits in one tasting.
Be prepared, they go down so well, you'll be feeling it when you stand up. But you know what they say about great booze, no hangover! The tasting has a mix of pure vodka and rye as well as spiced, and coffee flavour. Everyone in your party will have a different favourite. I'm a purest and loved their straight, silky vodka!
Go to the Back Country
If you ever make it to the Rocky Mountains, you must make sure to go to a back country lodge. This is the epitome of things to do in Banff. Why? Because it is where you completely get away from it all. Don't fret too much about bears or cougars in the winter. For the most part, they're hibernating and if you are a party of two or three, they'll be more afraid of you than you are of them.
Imagine sitting in a log cabin heated by a wood burning stove as the snow falls around you outside. That is pure heaven. Sundance Lodge has an executive chef, hot water for showers, solar power and cozy bedrooms. This is where luxury meets rustic living and if you go home and tell everyone that you trekked 16km into the Rocky Mountains to stay at a lodge, you will be the hero of all your friends. You can get to the Banff Alberta Back Country by snowshoeing or cross country skiing.
Relax with the One you Love
After being outside all day, there is nothing more romantic and calming than sitting by a fire. I don't know about you, but we could stare at a fire forever. There's no need to make small talk, just relax, watch the wood burn and contemplate the amazing time you had in Banff National Park. Making a fire each night in our hotel or lodge was a ritual we looked forward to. We would sip wine or tea and do nothing but let the flames lull us to a slumbering state where we were ready to climb into our beds and dream about the next day in Banff.
Our trip to Banff is in partnership with Banff and Lake Louise Tourism. All opinions are our own, all activities and lodges were chosen through lengthy discussions to make sure that they suit our travel style and likes. We planned our trips the way anyone would, through research and information tailoring it to ThePlanetD.