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Top Banff Winter Activities for an Unforgettable Winter Trip to Banff and Lake Louise


A snow covered mountain reflected in a still, glassy lake as we explored winter activities in Banff Canada
Banff National Park, Canada

As winter blankets the Canadian Rockies, the charming town of Banff emerges as a haven for snow enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Nestled within the breathtaking landscapes of Banff National Park, this winter wonderland offers an array of magical experiences.

From iconic frozen lakes and world-class ski resorts, to cozy alpine villages and exhilarating winter adventures, Banff transforms into a proverbial snow globe of seasonal delights. And while there’s no shortage of mountain activities, you’ll find that a winter trip to Banff offers a more intimate experience than the busier summer months.

Quin and I recently had the opportunity to spend the first week of December exploring Banff with Banff & Lake Louise Tourism and experience the best things to do in Banff, Canada during winter. It was the perfect way to jump start the holiday season! 

We had a great time experiencing the allure of winter in Banff through a mix of snowy adventures and cozy moments throughout the Canadian Rockies. And after a week staying in the area, I can unequivocally say, that Banff should be on your winter bucket list!

***This post may contain affiliate links. Purchasing or booking through these links earns me a commission at no extra charge to you.

How To Get To Banff & Lake Louise

By Air:

Calgary International Airport (YYC): Convenience at Its Best! Banff is conveniently accessible from Calgary International Airport, located approximately 90 miles (145 kilometers) away. From YYC, you have the option of renting a car, taking a shuttle, or hopping on a coach to reach Banff.

By Road:

Scenic Drives: If you’re a fan of road trips and breathtaking landscapes, driving to Banff is a treat. The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) is a scenic drive which offers stunning views, especially if you plan to travel during daylight hours. I rented a car at the airport and found it extremely easy to get around, but I would highly recommend an AWD or 4WD vehicle if you are visiting in the winter.

Shuttle Services: Relax and Enjoy the View. Various shuttle services operate between Calgary and Banff, providing a stress-free option for travelers who prefer to sit back, relax, and take in the views without worrying about navigation. This is a great option if you aren’t comfortable driving in winter conditions and plan on exploring the area through tour company’s and local guides.

Quin flew into Calgary a day after me and used the Banff Airporter Shuttle to get to the town of Banff. The shuttle runs every couple hours and dropped him off right at our hotel! Easy peasy.

Jess jumping between rocks on the shores of Lake Louise. The water is turquoise blue and there is a snow covered mountain on the far shore
Hopping rocks at Lake Louise. This photo was taken a few years back after the first dusting of snow. This year, the lake was frozen when we visited, turning the area into a natural ice rink!

Where To Stay In Banff On Your Winter Trip

Inside The Town Of Banff

THE MOOSE HOTEL & SUITES is one of Banff’s most recent addition to its collection of 4-star accommodations. The Moose boasts a design that epitomizes Mountain elegance, utilizing warm, rich, and natural materials to create a welcoming atmosphere. Positioned just a minute’s stroll from downtown Banff, The Moose is a perfect home base for all your Banff and Lake Louise adventures.

Plus, if you need a cozy break from the winter weather, the Moose offers a veritable baffe of luxurious amenities to sample! Relax at the Meadow Spa & Pools equipped with 10 treatment rooms and a secluded outdoor hot pool. Or head to the fourth floor to enjoy one of the two breathtaking rooftop hot tubs, or the sauna. All providing panoramic views of the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Jess in a red swimsuit sitting in a steaming hot tub at a hotel at dusk. Snow covered mountains behind her.
Relaxing in the roof-top hot tub at The Moose Hotel & Suites. The tubs and sauna feature stunning mountain views.

THE MOUNT ROYAL HOTEL, a historic gem in the heart of Banff, offers a timeless blend of tradition and modern comfort. Originally established in 1908, this iconic hotel has undergone renovations to meet contemporary standards while preserving its classic charm.

Boasting a central location in the heart of downtown Banff, the Mount Royal Hotel features well-appointed rooms and suites, providing a cozy retreat after a day of exploring the stunning surroundings. They’ve also got a great roof top hot tub with views looking out over Banff’s main street down to Mount Rundle.

I’ve only stayed here in the summer, but I can only imagine it would be even more magical during the winter. Watching the snowfall from your cozy room window, or enjoying the alpenglow on Rundle from the hot tub.

Outside The Town Of Banff

THE FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS feels and looks like a storybook castle nestled in the heart of Banff National Park. The views are simply breathtaking, with your room overlooking either the towering mountains or the serene Bow River. It’s a blend of luxury and nature that’s hard to put into words.

You can unwind in the spa, take in a round of golf on their incredible course, or explore the nearby Banff winter hiking trails. The hotel has this timeless charm that makes you feel like you’re part of something special. And when it comes to dining, there’s a variety of options to suit every taste. 

I haven’t had the opportunity to actually stay at the Fairmont, but Quin and I did get to spend the evening there during our recent winter visit to Banff. The hotel was stunning with all of its holiday decorations!

We enjoyed dinner and festive cocktails at The Thristy Reindeer and then headed out to the expansive patio for s’mores cooked on our private fire pit. And when I tell you these were the most luxurious of s’mores, you better believe it. The Fairmont also offers a see-through dome with 360-degree views of Banff National Park and Canada’s Castle in the Rockies for special occasions!

Jess standing on a deck of a log cabin as it snows. She is holding a mug and inside is warmly lit.
Baker Creek
A photo looking through a door frame, outside is dark and snowy, inside is warmly lit and Jess sits by the burning fireplace.
We were lucky enough to experience a snow storm while staying at Baker Creek, which only added to it’s cozy charm!

BAKER CREEK BY BASECAMP is an immersive nature retreat along Bow Valley Parkway. The cozy cabins, with their rustic charm and modern comforts, offer a tranquil escape surrounded by pristine wilderness. Unwind by the fireplace or on your private patio, with the soothing sounds of Baker Creek nearby.

During winter season, the experience extends to a charming on-site ice rink, adding a delightful seasonal touch. It’s an ideal basecamp for exploring Banff National Park in winter, providing a serene haven to recharge after a day of adventure.

We only had one night at Baker Creek, but it was my favorite stay of the trip! We arrived in the middle of a snow storm after a day of snowshoeing in the mountains and I couldn’t imagine a cozier getaway to unwind. The cabins were all decked out in holiday lights that tightened the winter wonderland vibes that the snow was already giving. The small on-sight store had everything we needed for a relaxing movie night. The perfect end to a wonderful trip!

Where To Eat During Your Banff Winter Vacation

Brazen – My friend Andrea and I ate at Branze my first night in Banff, and we were not disappointed! It’s a culinary gem where locally sourced ingredients are transformed into innovative dishes. Our favorites were the beet salad and roasted carrots!

Bluebird Restaurant & Lobby Bar – At Bluebird, artfully crafted dishes meet a warm and inviting ambiance. We sat by the large wood burning fireplace for breakfast and it was the perfect way to kick off the day. I enjoyed the Classic French Omelet, but the SoufflĂ© Pancakes looked to-dye-for!

Shoku Izakaya – Shoku Izakaya in Banff offers a unique culinary journey with its modern take on traditional Japanese izakaya dining. I ordered the Daily Ramen, which had a delicious rich, spicy broth that really hit the spot after a chilly morning wandering around town.

Lupo – Lupo is a fun Italian restaurant with a fun atmosphere. With an elevated position and large windows, you can enjoy great views of Banff while dining on delicious pasta dishes. Don’t miss out on the spicy meatballs!

Wild Flour Bakery – Wild Flour is my favorite coffee shop in Banff. The baked goods are fantastic and they have a number of delicious coffee drinks – ranging from traditional to super creative and unique. The beet latte was one of my favorites novelty drinks, but the brownie hot chocolate (specially made for the Banff Hot Chocolate Trail), was so good!

Farm & Fire – Great spot for a yummy breakfast before heading out on your adventure. Farm & Fire is located inside the Elk & Avenue Hotel. They recently updated their menu and Quin and I both really enjoyed our meals.

Three Bears Brewery – One of our favorite meals! I had the pizza and it was super yummy. Three Bears is a modern space that still manages to feel rustic. There’s outdoor seating too – although we didn’t see anyone out there.

Sky Bistro – Perched at an elevation of 7,510 feet, Sky Bistro offers diners a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding Rocky Mountains, the town of Banff, and the Bow Valley. Accessible by the Banff Gondola, the journey to the restaurant is an experience in itself, providing stunning vistas on the way up.

The night Quin and I ate at Sky Bistro we attended Night Rise at the Banff Gondola first. If I were to do it again, I’d revers the order. Make sure to make reservations for Sky Bistro while it’s still light out so you can enjoy the views while you eat! If you wait until after the Night Rise show, it will be too dark to see anything from Sky Bistro.

The Best Winter Activities in Banff and Lake Louise

Banff Christmas Market

Adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations, the Banff Christmas Market is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter.

The market welcomes visitors with the irresistible scent of spiced mulled wine and the sounds of live holiday music. Stroll through rows of charming stalls adorned with handmade ornaments, locally crafted gifts, and festive treats.

Don’t forget to have your photo snapped with Santa Clause! The Banff Christmas Market captures the magic of the season, creating a spirited and heartwarming atmosphere that make it a cherished holiday tradition for locals and visitors alike.

Jess in a red hat and winter clothes sitting in a red Santa sleigh
Getting in the holiday spirit at the Banff Christmas Market!

Banff’s Hot Chocolate Trail

Embark on a delightful winter adventure through the scenic streets of Banff with the oh so delicious Banff Hot Chocolate Trail. This yummy journey invites locals and visitors to indulge in the rich and comforting flavors of the season at some of Banff’s most charming cafes and chocolatiers.

The Banff Hot Chocolate Trail is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the seasonal magic of Banff one blissful sip at a time. Wild Flour Bakery was one of my favorite stops along the trail, although there were plenty of bars offering more adult versions of this classic drink too!

A cup of hot chocolate with a brownie stick on top and a pink cup of beet latte
Wild Flour was one of my favorite stops along the Banff Hot Chocolate Trail.

Explore The Town Of Banff

Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, pristine lakes, and dense forests, Banff winter activities offer a breathtaking backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. But the town itself shouldn’t be missed! Banff is the ultimate mountain town. 

Take the time to wander around its charming streets and you’ll find yourself surrounded by quaint boutique shops, art galleries, and a truly diverse array of restaurants offering delicious cuisine from around the world.

Private Icefields Parkway Explorer tour with Radventures

The Icefields Parkway is largely acknowledged as one of the world’s most beautiful drives and is undoubtedly one of the best places to add to your Banff and Lake Louise itinerary. But a winter tour of the Icefields Parkway offers a chance to discover a side of this iconic route that few ever see. The Parkway is uniquely stunning during the coldest months as everything is covered in a blanket of pristine snow. Not to mention it’s far less crowded!

I’m not always a tour person, but I wouldn’t change a thing about our private Icefields Parkway tour with Radventures! We enjoyed the flexibility of an independent trip, while still benefiting from the expertise of a local guide. It was particularly comforting to have an experienced driver to navigate the winter road conditions.

A snowy scene at Icefield Parkway looking down a snow covered road leading to a mountain in the distance - a scenic drive here is one of the best winter activities in Banff national park
Iconic winter landscapes along the Icefields Parkway only a few minutes outside of Banff.

Enjoy An Evening at the Fairmont Banff Springs

The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Even if you aren’t planning on staying at the Fairmont, you can still get in on some of the holiday festivities! That’s exactly what Quin and I did during our stay in Banff  and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular places to visit in the area!.

The hotel’s lounges offer festive-themed cocktails and treats, allowing guests to toast to the season in style. We showed up for the elaborate decorations, and stayed for drinks and s’mores. An evening at “The Castle” as it’s lovingly referred to, was the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.

Johnston Canyon Icewalk | Discover Banff Tours

One of the best Banff winter activities – the Johnston Canyon Icewalk is an enchanting winter adventure that takes you through a frozen wonderland in the heart of Banff National Park. Beginning at the trailhead near Johnston Canyon Resort, we were guided through a narrow canyon carved by the Johnston Creek.

The trail, typically accessible in the winter with ice cleats (provided by most tour operators), leads visitors along suspended catwalks and cliff-edge walkways on one of the best Banff winter hikes.

The trail, typically accessible in the winter with ice cleats (provided by most tour operators), leads visitors along suspended catwalks and cliff-edge walkways. The highlight of the Icewalk is the ethereal Lower and Upper Falls, where the cascading frozen waterfall forms magnificent pillars and curtains of blue-tinted ice. Before heading back to the van our Discover Banff Tours guide provided us all with maple cookies and hot chocolate!

Nightrise at the Banff Gondola

Nightrise at the Banff Gondola is a captivating experience created by Moment Factory in collaboration with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. The show features hypnotic ambient sounds, dynamic video projections, and other immersive elements that artfully redefine the well-known peaks.

I’d recommend taking the Gondola up, enjoy sunset from one of the mountain top restaurants, and then stick around to enjoy the Nightrise experience.

A view of a lit up town at night in the valley, seen from the top of Banff Gondola
The view of downtown Banff from the top of the Banff Gondola at twilight.

Sunrise at Vermillion Lakes

Conveniently located only a few minutes outside downtown, Vermilion Lakes is one of my favorite places to watch sunrise in the Banff area. Before the lake freezes, the calm waters reflect the sorounding mountains and colorful morning sky. 

But even after the lake freezes, the unobstructed view of first light hitting the snow-capped peaks is worth seeing as one of your winter activities in Banff National Park. Vermilion Lakes is a hot spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike, and it’s pretty easy to see why!

Jess standing on a snow covered frozen lake at sunrise, wearing a pink sweater and purple scarf - one of my favorite Banff winter activities
Sunrise pastels at Vermillion Lakes! Shop my outfit.

Visit Lake Louise in Winter

Lake Louise, renowned for its stunning turquoise waters in the warmer months, transforms into a winter wonder with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks once the temperatures start to drop. The iconic frozen lake surrounded by the towering Victoria Glacier creates a postcard-perfect scene.

Get there after the freeze and before the snow starts to accumulate, and you can even try your hand at wild ice skating – one of the must-do Banff winter activities! Ice skate rentals are available at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Of course skating isn’t the only way to enjoy this famous lake in the winter months. You can explore the pristine winter landscape surrounding Lake Louise area by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. We even saw people walking across the lake back to the glacier in their winter boots. As with all winter activities, make sure to dress warmly, bring layers, and plan ahead for any extended excursions.

Or you can take a Lake Louise winter tour!

A woman standing on a rock on the edge of Lake Louise looking across the lake. A huge mountain either side is reflected in the water in Banff National Park
Beautiful lake views during our Lake Louise winter activities

Hit The Slopes At One of Banff’s Three World Renowned Ski Resorts

Quin and I didn’t go skiing this trip – we were too busy enjoying all the other winter activities on offer in Banff! However, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention it. Banff National Park is home to world-renowned ski resorts, including Banff Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mount Norquay.

One of the most remarkable aspects of skiing in Banff is the breathtaking scenery. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, alpine meadows, and frozen lakes, skiers can enjoy unparalleled views as they navigate the slopes.

Whether you’re a seasoned skier or a newcomer to the sport, these resorts offer an unforgettable combination of world-class slopes, cross country skiing, stunning landscapes, and a welcoming mountain town ambiance. And of course after a long day on the slopes there’s a lively après-ski scene waiting for you back in town!

Snowshoe Sunshine Meadows | White Mountain Adventures

If skiing isn’t your thing, no worries! There are all sorts of alternative ways to get up into the world famous mountains around Banff. One of my personal favorites is snowshoeing! White Mountain Adventures has everything you need to get out into an uncharted expanse of snowy bliss with a pair of snowshoes – one of the best things to do in Banff in winter if you don’t ski!

Their skilled guides will lead you through the untouched winter backcountry on their snowshoe tours, ensuring you experience the Rockies at their best. On our snowshoe adventure we even enjoyed a cup of steaming hot cocoa and delicious cookies. It was an ideal end to the trip, and a great way to soak in the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Jess snowshoeing through deep snow surrounded by snow covered trees. She is holding a ski pole in each hand and wearing a pink sweater and salopettes - a must do for Banff winter activities
Snowshoeing through a winter wonderland at Sunshine Meadows. The trees looked like frosted treats!

From the pristine beauty of frozen Lake Louise to exploring snow-covered trails in Banff, every step of my winter trip to the Canadian Rockies felt like a journey through a winter wonderland. I hope I’ve given you lots of ideas for your own winter trip to Banff. If you’re looking for even more, don’t forget to check out the Banff & Lake Louise Trip Builder! It’s the perfect resource for planning your dream Banff adventures.

More Winter Inspiration!

The Ultimate Winter Getaway At Lake Tahoe

Winter Wellness Getaway In Sun Valley, Idaho

Fun Activities To Get You Through A Washington Winter

Chasing Winter In Finland

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the complete guide to a winter trip to banff with banff winter photography

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  1. Kirtan Patel says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your Winter Canadian trip through your writing, Jess! Having been to Banff & Jasper in the middle of Summer, I am now interested in exploring Banff in the Winter season. That Banff Hot Chocolate Trail and the beet latte sound enticing!

    • Jess Wandering says:

      Thanks for taking the time to check it out Kirtan! I hope that your holidays are going well and that you have time to get out on a winter adventure or two of your own. Happy New Year!

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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