Photographer Matt Scobel and I were provided with an Alive Pass and access to many of these activities. As always, all thoughts, opinions, advice and adventures are 100% my own.
Five days, the Banff Centre, Banff National Park and some of the best adventures in Canada.
Banff is one of the most iconic destinations in Canada and a popular weekend getaway for those living in the prairie provinces. The National Park is one of Canada’s national treasures.
And as much as Canadians love hot weather in the summertime, there’s just as much to do in winter in the mountains.
After spending five days adventuring in partnership with Travel Alberta, the Banff Centre and Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, here are my favourite things to experience in the mountains in wintertime.
1. Skiing and Snowboarding
It had been nearly 15 years since I’d snapped into a pair of skis (I’m usually a snowboarder). But for two days, I rented a set from the SkiBig3 Adventure Hub in Banff and cruised the slopes of both Sunshine and Lake Louise Ski Resorts (all thanks to a SkiBig3 pass that gave me access to the two resorts as well as Mt. Norquay).
If skiing or snowboarding aren’t your thing, you can still stay at the Sunshine Village resort hotel and hit the outdoor hot tub or go up the gondola for the views and an apres ski beverage with everyone else on the slopes.
2. Go for an Evening Walk Through Banff’s Downtown
If there is one thing you do in Banff, make sure you walk along the downtown core. Cascade Mountain looms over the townsite and makes for a perfect photo pretty much anywhere.
A third of the fun is watching everyone else out on the streets. A third is eating all the tasty treats like beavertails, ice cream and popcorn while you walk. And a third is the fun of wandering into all the souvenir shops and giggling at the kitschy Canadian stereotypical trinkets of toques, Buffalo plaid everything and beaver, moose and bear fridge magnets
3. COWS Ice Cream
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you should skip the ice cream.
I’m not sure what was better, the handmade, 16% butterfat ice cream milkshake at COWS Ice Cream or my delight at the cow puns they used to rename the ice cream
They’re an iconic Canadian ice cream brand available across most of the country. They also sell their quirky line of t-shirts, sweaters and souvenirs with the COWS branding.
4. Get a Beavertail
The reason you have two hands? One for ice cream, the other for a Beavertail! Another classic Canadian treat is a fried dough pastry individually hand-stretched to look like a beaver’s tail. Yup, for real.
The best part is the selection of toppings you can add to it. I like to half-and-half it with the classic cinnamon and sugar and then indulge on the other half with
5. Skate at Lake Louise
Picture skating on a frozen lake with Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise behind you and the rocky mountains and Victoria glacier ahead. If it feels like one of the most beautiful skating rinks in the world, that’s because it is, according to CNN Travel.
For alternative lakes to skate on, this year has been particularly great. Gap Lake near Canmore and Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake happen to be frozen over but windswept and free of most snow.
6. Banff Upper Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs are a fantastic and affordable way to relax outside in winter. The hot springs are natural but are topped up by municipal water in the wintertime when the hot spring’s flow is lessened. It’s only $8.30 for entry and has great views from the pool deck.
Looking for something a little more with your hot springs experience?
Check out Kananaskis Nordic Spa. It’s $70 for the day, but it’s genuinely worth it. The spa is designed around the concept of Scandinavian and Nordic hydrotherapy.
There are outdoor pools of varying temperatures (from 4 to 40 degrees Celcius) as well as steam and sauna rooms. They have outdoor firepits and winterized hammocks to relax in.
Their motto is hot + warm + cold + rest + repeat.
7. Sulphur Mountain Gondola Ride
The boardwalk on top of Sulphur mountain with views of the Bow Valley make the price of the gondola ride worth it. It’s not cheap, however, at $58 per person. Thankfully, there are discounts offered if you go at specific times or book in advance online.
It’s a great activity to do before sunset and combine it with a meal at their mountain top restaurants. Afterwards, plan to head to the Upper Hot Springs for the evening as their parking lots are adjacent to one another.
8. Sleigh Ride at Lake Louise
At the end of Lake Louise is a stunning waterfall that turns to ice in the winter, aptly named Ice Falls. It’s also popular with ice climbers which is a fun activity to watch.
Instead of hiking out to the falls, take a sleigh ride through the trees with Brewster Adventures. They’ve been running winter sleigh rides from Chateau Lake Louise for more than six generations. The ride includes
9. Cross-country Ski
There are dozens of cross-country ski trails in Banff National Park. In fact, you can even ski between Canmore and Banff for a fun afternoon outing. It’s an
Ski rentals can be picked up at Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise or Banff Adventures in Banff.
10. Hike Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon hike is a stunning walk through, well, a canyon! Set in the forest, the trail winds along a pathway and catwalks through the gorge. The highlights of the hike (beyond the stunning setting) are the upper and lower falls. In wintertime, there are often ice climbers chiseling their way up the frozen waterfall.
- Go early to beat the crowds as it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park.
- Wear sturdy shoes for this hike, particularly in the winter as the pathways are slick with ice. Microspikes are a great option.
- Hike past the lower falls to the upper falls. Not only do the crowds thin out, but you’ll also access the trail to the Ink Pots.
- For those looking to add a bit more to their hike, make sure to go all the way to the Ink Pots. It’s 5.8km one-way but the view of the turquoise mineral pools is worth it (not to mention hardly anyone else will be up there).
11. Check out the Snow and Ice Sculptures in Banff and at Lake Louise
Every year Banff and Lake Louise hold snow and ice sculpture competitions as part of their Snow Days and Ice Magic Festivals. Artists from all around the world come to create their incredible yet temporary works of art.
12. Tubing at Mount Norquay
Tubing is not just for kids. In fact, I think I had more fun tubing down the hill as an adult than I ever did as a kid!
Mt. Norquay has eight lanes to slide down. The attendants at the top give you a push and will even spin you if you ask for it (trust me – ask for it!). Six lanes go straight down, and one ends in a half-funnel of snow. Their most recent lane is called the Rattle Snake and curves down the mountainside just like a waterslide.
So. Much. Fun.
13. Helicopter Ride over the Snowy Rockies
It’s epic, it’s dramatic and it’s a new perspective on the mountains. A helicopter flight out of Canmore with Alpine Helicopters over the Three Sisters is adventurous and chill at the same time.
A 12-minute flight is only $150 too, so it’s pretty affordable considering you’re flying in a helicopter!
14. Drive the Icefields Parkway
There are just so many iconic things to see and do in the Banff area. Driving the Icefields Parkway is one of them (cue amazing shot of someone standing in the middle of a snowy road with mountains towering around them!)
It’s a 232 kilometre highway that links Lake Louise to Jasper. There are wolf-shaped emerald lakes, perfect sunrises over mountains, icy glaciers and spectacular waterfalls – all within an easy walking distance of where you parked.
15. Catch Sunrise or Sunset Over the Mountains
One of the great things about winter is the days are short. This means there are hardly any excuses as to why you can’t get out of bed in the morning to catch sunrise.
Three more activities I recommend while in the Banff area? Snowshoeing, caving, and dog sledding!