Banff National Park is rated as one of the top places in the world to ski, but if you don’t like sliding down frozen slopes at super sonic speeds it’s still a great winter destination. You will be hard pressed to find a more scenic winter landscape and don’t worry there are plenty of non-skiing activities to keep you entertained.
Ice Skating on Lake Louise
Rent a pair of skates and glide along Lake Louise, one of the world’s most scenic outdoor rinks.
Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides
Enjoy a traditional horse drawn sleigh ride in the beautiful scenery of Lake Louise. It’s always a popular activity with adults and especially young children. There’s also horse drawn sleigh rides offered through the Warner Stables in Banff. They go along the scenic frozen Bow River.
There’s lots of incredible snowshoeing terrain around Banff and Lake Louise with rental options for going on your own or options for guided tours.
Ice Magic Festival
If you happen to visiting during the Ice Magic Festival check out the carved ice sculptures that sit in front of the Chateau Lake Louise hotel. The event is held in the 2nd or 3rd week of January each year.
Dog Sledding Tour
There’s nothing more exhilarating than being pulled by an energetic pack of dogs through a beautiful winter landscapes. Tours are offered by the Snowy Owl and Howling Dog companies based out of Canmore. Pick ups are available at most major Banff Hotels or you can go to their offices. Their tours are run east of Canmore in the Kananaskis area. The other company is Kingmik that does their tours along the Continental Divide near Lake Louise. Each company has several tour options varying in length of time.
Afternoon Tea Or Meal With A View
Treat yourself to an afternoon tea at either of these properties that offer outstanding views and enjoy an array of finger sandwiches and goodies. Or curl up in comfortable corner of the Rundle Lounge with a hot drink. Spend some time strolling through the historic hotel and enjoying it’s beauty.
Have A Hearty Meal In The Village Of Lake Louise
Warm up with a hearty meal at either one of these great spots in the village of Lake Louise. There’s the Outpost, a casual pub style restaurant at the bottom of the Post Hotel. It has a rustic mountain decor and roaring fireplace. Or Bill Peyto’s cafe at the HI Lake Louise Hostel. A relaxed atmosphere serving up tasty food at reasonable prices.
Lake Louise Ski Hill Gondola
The Lake Louise gondola can be taken at a discounted rate for one time trip up and down the ski hill. The views looking back towards Lake Louise and the Bow Valley are breathtaking on a clear day.
If you’re not into skiing, but want to experience some fun and thrill in the snow you can try tubing at the Lake Louise Ski Resort or the Mount Norquay Ski Resort in Banff. It’s great family activity, but keep in mind that children must be 4 years old or 42 inches tall.
The ski resort offers a snowshoe tour exploring Meadowlark, a route at the top of the winter sightseeing gondola. It includes, the gondola lift ride, rental equipment, hot chocolate and a snack. They operate until the ski hill closes for the season in May. Can be booked through the guides cabin by calling you arrive by calling 403-522-1385. 2 people minium, for 8 years and over.
Hike In Johnston Canyon
Hike to one or both of the frozen waterfalls in Johnston Canyon. If you’re lucky you might get to see ice climbers working their way up one of the frozen ice shoots.
Take A Stroll Through Downtown Banff
Stroll through the downtown streets of Banff checking out the many unique stores, stop in one of the cafes or restaurants for a bite to eat or have a hot drink and dessert at one of the locally owned coffee shops. Or hit up one of the many shops offering sweets, chocolates or fudge.
Enjoy A Fondue
In Banff you can book a fondue at the cozy Waldhaus at the Banff Springs Hotel or the Grizzly House Restaurant. In Lake Louise fondue is offered at the Walliser Stube at the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Ride the Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola to get a view overlooking the town of Banff and the valley of snow-capped mountains.
Check Out The Museums
Visit the Banff Museum, Banff Park Museum, Whyte Musuem or the Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum that feature art, culture and history of Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Most of the museums remain open daily except on holiday days. Check their websites the current winter hours.
See the frozen Bow Falls. These are the falls that were featured in the 1953 movie River Of No Return starring Marilyn Monroe. Drive across the bridge from town and turn left onto Spray Avenue and left again on Bow River Avenue to the parking area.
Enjoy A Spa Treatment
Treat yourself to a spa day at the Banff Springs Hotel, it’s a luxury experience you won’t forget. With a spa treatment you get access to their circuit of heated mineral pools with waterfalls and a private lounge where you can stare at the mountains and have food from their light spa menu brought right to your chair.
Take A Horse Carriage Ride Through Downtown Banff
Book a horse drawn carriage ride to tour the beautiful scenery of downtown Banff. The rides leave from the Trail Riders store on Banff Avenue. Availability is subject to weather and road conditions during the winter months.
Toboggan rentals are available from the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. There’s the perfect slope behind the hotel that is used by locals and tourists. You can also pick up a fairly inexpensive tobaggan from the Home Hardware store in town.
Mount Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift
Named the North American chairlift, it’s a 15 minute ride up Mount Norquay that offers spectacular views of the town and the Bow and Spray Valleys. Have a meal, glass of wine or craft beer at the Cliff House Bistro when you get to the top. Check the schedule for current times. It’s 10:30am to 4pm from December to about April 10th and then only on Friday to Sunday for the rest of the month. Shuts down in May and then opens 9am to 6pm from June-October, no operation in May. generally
Snowshoeing Tour At Sunshine Meadows
Until mid-May you can take a snowshoeing tour in Sunshine Meadows. There are 360 degree views, including Mount Assiniboine. The guided tour includes the gondola/chair lift ride to the meadows area, the rental equipment, hot chocolate and cookies return transporation from Banff. For more information check their website Snowshoeing At Sunshine Meadows or call 403-762-6560 For ages 12 and over. There’s also a private tour available until late April. You need a minimum group of 7 people. It includes the same snowshoe tour plus a traditional Swiss style fondue at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge’s Chimney Corner Lounge.
Attend An Event At The Banff Center
Look at the calendar of events for the Banff Center. They have exhibitions, music, dance and theatrical performances, show independent films and host key guest speakers.
Historic Cave And Basin
Visit the historic Cave and Basin, the birthplace of Canada’s National Park system. It’s a protected natural site that has interactive exhibits and an underground cave with bubbling thermal waters.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Take a soak in the Banff Upper Hotsprings that park visitors have been enjoying for over a century. Relax your muscles in the 40C. thermal waters while you gaze at the spectacular mountain scenery.
Ice fishing isn’t permitted on lakes within Banff National Park, but there are lakes closeby where you can fish for lake trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish. Several Banff based companies offer ice fishing from December through May (depending on ice conditions). The packages usually include a heated huts, hot beverages, meals or snacks, fishing equipment, winter outdoor gear and fishing licences. Pick ups and drops off are available at Banff hotels.
Snowmobiling is not permitted withing the national parks, but there are opportunities in nearby Golden. It’s just 1.5 hours west of Banff. Several companies offer guided tours with pick ups from Banff.
Winter Walking Trails In Banff
There are many relatively flat pathways and trails that are suitable for winter walking in Banff. The Cascade Ponds is an easily accessible area located on Lake Minnewanka Drive just across the highway from the Banff town site. Other options include the Fenland Loop Trail, the Bow River Trail, the Marsh Loop and Sundance Trail. For more details on these trails see our post Easy Walks Around The Town Of Banff.
Winter Drives In Banff National Park
Bow Valley Parkway
Also known as Highway 1A, this is an alternate route that runs between Banff and Lake Louise. Unlike the main Trans Canada Hwy it is not fenced which means there is an opportunity to see wildlife along the roadside. Obey the lower speed limit of 60 km/hr.
Vermilion Lakes Road
This road follows along a wetland area of lakes and offers one of the most scenic views of Mount Rundle in the background. Sunrise and sunset are particularly nice times to visit. In the winter you might spot elk or coyotes. The road starts near the exit off the Trans Canaada Highway.
Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive
This scenic drive is usually done as a loop but a portion of it is closed from mid-November to mid-April. You can still drive part of it by heading right (east) after passing the Cascade Ponds. Head to Lake Minnewanka and then return back the same way. Keep a look out for Bighorn sheep and elk.
Tunnel Mountain Drive
This drive starts right at the edge of the town of Banff. It offers views of the spray valley and the Bow Falls and an iconic view of the Banff Springs Hotel from Surprise Corner.
Driving on the Icefields Parkway in winter is not something to be done by those not experience in winter driving. If the road conditions are favourable for driving the area around the Bow Lake is a popular place for snowshoeing. Or you can experience the beautiful winter scenery like this view of Peyto Lake. Snowshoes are usually the best way to access the viewing platfrom. For more information see our post on Peyto Lake Lookout in Winter.
See our post on scenic drives in Banff National Park for more information on roads that are accessible year round.