For Calgarians, Banff is an easy weekend getaway. For others, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. Regardless of where you live, however, it’s easily one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Located just over an hour from Calgary, Banff is a great place to unwind and find adventure. While the summer is the parks busiest time of year due to warm weather and summer holidays, winter is an equally amazing time with far fewer crowds. In fact, winter might be our favourite time to explore the Rocky Mountains as it really feels like a winter wonderland. With snow-covered pine trees surrounded by tall mountains, there’s never a dull moment in Banff National Park.
Here are Five Ways to Enjoy Winter in Banff National Park
Skiing Down the Slopes
There are all sorts of world-class ski resorts in and around Banff National Park and one of our favourites is Sunshine Village. Home to over 100 runs and some of Canada’s best powder, Sunshine Village is a great place for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. With the base of the ski runs starting at around 7,000 feet, the resort is able to open earlier in the season and close later due to the increased snowfall, allowing more days for skiing than any other place in the area. It’s also home to a luxury slope-side hotel and a heated chairlift! Oh, and did I mention that some of the ski runs cross the continental divide, allowing you to ski in two provinces on one run? Super cool!
If you’d rather go tubing or if it’s your first time on skis, we can also recommend Mount Norquay, which is the closest ski resort to the town of Banff and offers a hill just for beginners.
Hiking Johnston Canyon
If you’re looking to see some beautiful scenery, including frozen waterfalls, caves, a frozen creek, and a narrow canyon, Johnston Canyon is the place to go. This free activity is incredibly popular and is one of the most scenic walks in the park. It’s a fairly easy walk but in the winter you might need ice cleats to avoid slipping. It all depends on the weather. We’ve done the hike twice in the winter months and didn’t wear any cleats but most people do. If you don’t have a vehicle or want more information, there are also a number of guided tours that will bring you there. If you’re looking for even more adventure, you can also go ice-climbing there!
Exploring the Mountain Towns
Just walking around the towns of Canmore and Banff is a great thing to do. Both of them are beautiful and have an array of restaurants, pubs, and shops. Banff has nightclubs as well and is much more touristy than Canmore. You’ll also find skating rinks and if you’re lucky, there might be a festival where you can see people carving ice sculptures. Plus, the views from both towns are spectacular!
Go Skating Outdoors
Another simple activity you could do is to go skating on an outdoor rink. Not only is it a truly Canadian thing to do but with mountains all around you, it just adds to the experience. In Banff, the rink is located right in the middle of town, close to most of the hotels. It’s free but you’ll need some skates, which you can rent from a variety of shops. If you’d rather skate on a lake, consider Lake Louise, which is often rated as one of the most scenic places on Earth.
Another fun and easy-to-do activity is to go snowshoeing! It’s just like walking, except the specialized “shoes” allow you to walk on top of the snow. Any rental shop will rent you snowshoes or you can always buy them for around $100 and up. There are many trails around Banff National Park and all of them are free. For added excitement, you can also jump in a helicopter and go heli-snowshoeing! This is a great combo. You get jaw-dropping views from the helicopter and then you get to go snowshoeing in the backcountry!
Where to Eat
With all this activity, you’re going to need some good food. As one of Canada’s most visited places, there’s no shortage of restaurants. Whether you want something gourmet or just some mountain pub food, Banff and Canmore have you covered. If you’re in Canmore, we can also recommend the Iron Goat Pub & Grill, which offers upscale pub food such as lamb shank, duck wings, and BBQ ribs while offering a wide selection of craft beer, wine, and cocktails. They also have great views of the mountains. This is also the restaurant featured in the video we did about some of the best things to do in the Canadian Rockies. You can see it here ->
One of my favorite places in Banff is the Elk and Oarsman Grill, which has delicious BBQ ribs, tasty pizza, and Elk and Bison burgers! The yam fries are also superb and many meals come with two sides!
So Much To Do in Banff National Park
As you can see, there’s no shortage of things to do in Banff during the winter. There are tons of other things to do as well but this is a great list to get started.
Interested in visiting Jasper, Alberta as well? Check out this itinerary for three days in Jasper National Park.
Have you been to the Canadian Rockies before? What did you think?