Things to Do in the Winter in Banff Alberta

Written By: The Planet D

Looking for things to do in Banff in winter? You’ve come to the right place. We have experienced every amazing Banff winter activities that will get you outside enjoying the snow right now!

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.

Visiting Banff during the winter months is far more exciting than summer. Trust us, we’ve been to Banff in every season, and winter is our favourite. There are so many things to do.

All you have to do is dress for the weather, and get ready for the trip of a lifetime.

What to do in Banff in Winter

These are just some of the unforgettable winter things to do in Banff in winter if you turn north instead of south for your next vacation.

things to see in banff vermillion lakes banff
Photo captured on our photography tour in Banff

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, luxurious spas, fine dining, and elegant hotels, you’ll have a well-rounded trip that will blow away anything on the beach.

If you don’t know how to dress for the cold, read our Packing tips for Winter Adventures and Layering Tips to survive Winter Travel 

1. Helicopter Tour over Banff National Park

banff winter helicopter tour
Helicopter over Banff – like nowhere else on earth

If there is one helicopter tour that you do in your life, do it over the Rocky Mountains. It’s even better to see the Rocky Mountains in winter.

Dave and I have had the privilege of taking scenic flights on 6 continents, but our flight over Banff National Park offered the most breathtaking views of our lives.

Seeing Banff National Park in winter from above was the most striking scene we’ve ever witnessed.

The peaks covered in snow looked like the perfect winter wonderland. Each pass offered one stunning view after another.

Rockies Heli uses are state of the art helicopters with bubble windows and plenty of space to give everyone the best possible views.

2. Snowshoe the Rocky Mountain Trails

banff winter activities

We killed two birds with one stone during our helicopter flight with Rockies Heli, by booking the Heli Snowshoe experience.

We landed on a mountain peak and hiked through the trails showcasing extraordinary mountain views.

We’ve done a few snowshoeing experiences in Banff, and this one was by far the best since it started at altitude and we were already high in the mountains. Nothing could compare to these views!

3. Take photos of the Starry Nights in Banff

banff winter stars
Stars in Banff

Winter in Banff is the best time for night photography. The days are short so you can find darks skies as early at 6pm.

The nights are clear revealing the milky way and the Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights). Banff is known for its darks skies and places like, Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka and Bow Lake are just a few places to capture stunning night skies.

4. Snowboarding and Skiing in Banff

lake louise snowboarding
Nothing like snowboarding in powder!

A person cannot round up winter things to do in Banff 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 in Banff

What makes Banff Unique is that there are three ski resorts located directly in Banff National Park

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

5. Take Photography Tour

banff winter photography tour
Checking out the shot with Rocky Mountain Adventures

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.

6. Dog Sled to British Columbia

things to do in banff dogsledding banff winter
Unforgettable dog sledding in Banff

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!

7. Banff Hot Springs and Spas

banff winter activities hot springs
At Banff Hot Springs

When looking for things to do in Banff in the winter, you don’t have to stick to adventure. There are a lot of romantic options too!

Like a couples massage, outdoor hot springs, luxury lodges and cozy hideaways.

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.

8. Couple’s Massage

banff winter sunshine lodge
Get a hot tub in your room like this one at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.

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.

9. Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

banff winter johnston canyon
Johnston Canyon Ice Walk

Want to see frozen ice as you’ve never seen before? Take a hike through Johnston Canyon in winter.

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!

See our Ice climbing Adventure in Canmore, Alberta

10. Best Thing to do in Banff in Winter – Skate on Lake Louise

romantic ice skating what to do in banff winter
Enjoy a couple’s skate on Lake Louise.

If there is bucket list item of all the things to do in Banff in winter, it is to 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.

11. Play a Game of Hockey

skating lake louise what to do in banff
Pond hockey anyone?

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!

12. Order a Flight of Spirits

park distillery banff winter drinks
A flight of spirits

Nothing beats warming up from a cold wintry day than a good shot of spirits.

Park Distillery the only distillery in all of Banff National Park. As a matter of 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!

13. Stay in a Back Country Lodge

sundance lodge banff winter activities
Sundance Lodge – 16 km from anywhere

If you ever make it to the Rocky Mountains, you must make sure to go to a backcountry lodge.

This is the epitome of things to do in Banff in winter. 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.

14. Take Sleigh Ride

A Sleigh ride around Lake Louise.
A Sleigh ride around Lake Louise.

The Fairmont offers sleigh rides along the edge of Lake Louise in the winter taking you out to the base of Victoria Glacier.

It’s a beautiful ride through the forest offering mountain views and a romantic experience.

Sip hot chocolate as your driver takes the reins and tells you of the history of the Canadian Rockies.

15. Go Snowtubing

Alberta adventurous things to do

Norquay has some excellent snowtubing and its just a few minutes out of town.

If you aren’t into skiing big hills, this is the ultimate couch potatoes thrill ride. You get to enjoy the Rocky Mountains without having to learn a new skill!

16. Indulge in Alberta Beef in the Town of Banff

Cedar Room Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

The Town of Banff has an excellent food scene. Nothing beats Alberta Grade A beef, so head out for the night and try some local cuisine.

Most eateries serve farm to table and ingredients are all locally sourced.

Our recommendations for where to eat in Banff are:

  • Sleeping Buffalo Dining Room at Buffalo Mountain Lodge
  • Fine Dining at Buffalo Mountain Lodge
  • The Bison Restaurant Downtown
  • Park Distillery – Downtown
  • Block Kitchen

17. Go up the Banff Gondola

Banff Gondola View

If you aren’t into winter sports but still want a mountain view, the Banff Gondola is a top attraction in Banff in winter or summer.

There is a restaurant at the top and a fun interactive museum.

There are also viewing platforms to take in different views of the Canadian Rockies.

18. Visit Cave n’Basin

unique travel ideas alberta

Cave n’Basin is a really cool experience in Banff. It was the original Banff Hot Springs.

This national historic site take you on a tour through a cave towards an underwater hot spring.

You can’t swim in the spring anymore, but it is amazing to walk in the path of the birthplace of the Canadian National Park system.

19. Relax with the One You Love

sundance lodge banff alberta
Sitting by the fire each and every night

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.

20. Stop in to See the Legendary Fairmont Hotels

Banff Springs Hotel

The Fairmont Lake Louise and Fairmont Banff Hotels are the Grand Dames of Banff.

Even if you are not staying in these hotels, they are worth stopping in for a look.

The old hotels were originally built for CP Rail passengers connecting Canada.

They have been renovated over the years and are the luxurious experience in Banff. Book a night here for dinner or just stop in for a coffee.

We always pick up a coffee at the Fairmont Lake Louise to take with us on a hike around the lake.

Other Hotels in Banff

juniper hotel banff
Enjoy the outdoor spas with a view!

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.

We also stayed at Deer Lodge located right next door to the Fairmont Lake Louise and it was excellent.

If you want to stay in the town of Banff, Buffalo Mountain Lodge and Fox Hotel and Suites are great options.

And for a romantic winter getaway in a luxurious yet rustic cabin complete with fireplace, we recommend Storm Mountain Lodge.

Frequently Asked Questions about Winter in Banff

How Far is Lake Louise From Banff?

Lake Louise is 57km (35 miles) from Banff. It is an easy drive along the Highway 1 or The Bow Valley Parkway which is the more scenic route.

Should You Stay in Banff or Lake Louise?

It depends on what you want to do. Lake Louis is better for skiing and activities on the lake. The hotels are fully functioning with eateries and shops. But the town of Banff offers more amenities and it is closer to Banff’s main attractions like the Hot Springs and Banff Gondola.

Is Everything Open in Banff in Winter?

Banff and Lake Louise are fully functional in the winter. Everything is open save for hiking trails to lakes which are snowed in and many lake and hiking parking lots are closed.

How far is Banff from Calgary?

Banff is 130 km (80 miles) from Calgary or an hour and a half drive. It is 145 km (90 miles) from the Calgary Airport.

unforgettable things to to in Banff winter
Unforgettable things to do in Banff

Read More about travel to Alberta and Banff

Check out more of Alberta Travels

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.

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

15 thoughts on “Things to Do in the Winter in Banff Alberta”

  1. Hi, how do you get to lake Louise in winter from Banff? And it’s ok to do a day tour? It seems accommodation is a lot cheaper in Banff? I will be travelling solo with no car.

  2. Hey guys – Amazing site! Are you guys on Instagram? Love to connect with you on there through all your travels and what you do… That aside, planning Banff Dec 12-15 and after reading this (Back Country Snowshoeing, Dogsledding, Heli-Tour + Snowshoe, Photo Tour, and Ice Walk are all happening in that time frame! Wanted to ask, how easy and or accessible would Moraine Lake be at this time of the year? Any thoughts or insights? I know it’s nearby but not mentioned here – it probably freezes over by then no?

    IG: @natures_gent

  3. I totally love winter and snow. May be because we don’t really get cold cold cold winter and snow in my hometown Cagliari (though it does snow in the centre of Sardinia). I just like the idea of feeling all cozy inside when it is all white outside. And of getting in a hot jacuzzi or hot springs when it is snowing outside. I would love to go to Banff!!

  4. Canada , I wish it was closer to where I live I would be there every other year, so many things to see , perfect touring holiday in a campervan especially in the summer months , as I believe it can get cold with road closures in the winter months

    • You are right, I wouldn’t recommend a campervan in the winter months. Most campgrounds close up and the roads can be treacherous. But it’s a great destination for winter if you have a car or truck with good winter tires and a sence of adventure!