Banff National Park is a popular destination in the summer but is just as stunning in the winter. In fact, winter is our family’s favourite time to visit.
There are so many things to do in Banff in winter!
The snow-capped peaks and pristine forests offer a perfect setting for a variety of activities, including snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowboarding. The Town of Banff turns into a picturesque winter wonderland with fun shops, cafes, restaurants, and distilleries.
Banff National Park truly has something to offer everyone.
12 Things to do in Banff in Winter
Start the Day with the Perfect Cup of Coffee
Banff National Park is home to some great coffee spots.
Whitebark café is a favourite and located on the North end of Banff. They also offer wine, beer & liquor along with some lunch options.
Another great spot for coffee in Banff is the WildFlour Bakery. The bakery has a warm and inviting atmosphere, and the coffee is always delicious. The staff is very friendly, which makes it a great place to relax with a cup of coffee and a good book.
Good Earth Café may be a chain cafe but they always have a large selection of bakery items, and lunch eats. It is easy to please the whole family with all the options and so we often end up stopping there when we are with the kids.
Snowshoe and Winter Hike Banff’s Winter Wonderland
Snowshoeing and hiking are some of my family’s favourite ways to explore Banff National Park in the winter.
The Fenland Loop Trail is a great place to start, as it is relatively easy and well-marked.
Johnston Canyon is more challenging but a must-see for first time tourists even though it can be busy. This trail can be extremely slippery in places, but the views of the lower and upper frozen waterfalls are well worth the effort.
Insider Tip: If the upper falls are too far for your family then enjoy hiking to the lower falls and back!
Our family also enjoys Fairview Lookout ! This trail is located at Lake Louise, and while mostly in the trees, offers beautiful views of Chateau Lake Louise below.
We have even pulled the kids up the to the Fairview Lookout in a sled although I shouldn’t recommend this because it is steep with lots of trees that the kids could run into.
In any season, Tunnel Mountain is a classic and a great way to reach a mountain summit! Along the trail you will enjoy expansive views of the mountains and the Town of Banff. There are several lookout points along the way.
When planning your hike, be sure to download the new TrailCollectiv app here. I have been working on TrailCollectiv for the last year with Jessica Sproat. It includes detailed information for all abilities!
For winter hiking, consider bringing along ice cleats as winter hiking can be very slippery. I one time saw a women slip off the edge of the trail at Johnston Canyon and fell down landing on the switchback below.
Layering is also important!
We also recommend bear spray even in the winter. Bears don’t hibernate as long as we like to think and bear spray can also be used against a cougar as well.
Go Wild Skating on a Frozen Mountain Lake
Skating outdoors on a wild skating rink is a unique experience.
There is a time of the year where the ice freezes over enough to skate on, at least 20 cm for a group of people, but the snow hasn’t fallen yet!
This is a magical time where the whole lake looks frozen in time but it can be hard to make the timing work.
Don’t expect to have the lake to yourself because this window of skating is POPULAR among locals and visitors.
If you miss this window, there are still opportunities to go skating outdoors. Locals often shovel off Johnson Lake for skating or there is also the pond in Canmore.
Practice wild ice skating safety, have children wear a helmet, consider bringing along a PFD, and learn from these tips!
Easily Explore the Mountain Tops with the Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola is one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park.
Located just minutes from the town of Banff, the gondola is open year-round and takes visitors on a scenic journey to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
At an elevation of over 2,200 metres, the summit offers stunning views of the Rockies and Banff itself.
Visitors can enjoy mountain top dining at the Sky Bistro or hike the short from the gondola’s upper terminal to the heritage site, Sampson’s Peak.
Whether you’re looking for a unique way to experience Banff National Park or simply want to enjoy some breathtaking views, the Banff Gondola is definitely worth a visit.
Avoid the line ups by ordering tickets online, alternatively you can buy them in person at the gondola station.
Warm Up in the Famous Banff Hot Springs
Banff Hot Springs is a world-famous tourist destination, and for good reason.
Sitting in the mountains overlooking the Town of Banff, the springs offer a unique opportunity to relax and take in some of the most stunning scenery in the world.
The natural heat of the springs helps to chase away the chill, and the steamy waters offer a welcome respite from the cold.
I think the Banff Hot Springs are best enjoyed in the winter. There is nothing like warming up in a stunning hot springs overlooking the mountains on a freezing cold day.
Enjoy Delicious Eats at One of the Many Banff Restaurants
Banff is home to some of the best restaurants in the country.
Some of our favourite restaurants in Banff:
The Grizzly House: The Grizzly House is one of the most popular family-friendly restaurants in Banff. It is more than just food but a complete dining experience that will last a few hours. The restaurant is known for its fondue (I recommend the group food options), and it also offers a variety of other Swiss and Canadian dishes.
Nourish Bistro: Nourish Bistroy is one of our family’s favourite vegan Restaurants. The atmosphere is cozy and the food is delicious!
The Keg Steakhouse & Bar: The Keg Steakhouse & Bar is a casual dining restaurant that offers a wide variety of steak and seafood dishes. The restaurant has a cozy and inviting atmosphere, making it perfect for a romantic dinner.
Visit Lake Louise
Lake Louise lake and the resort is a must-visit in winter and is less busy than the summer.
This is nice because some days in the summer you have to wake up at 3 – 6 am in the morning just to grab a parking spot!
Every winter, the lake at Lake Louise freezes over, and you can enjoy skating with a backdrop of some of Canada’s most famous mountains in the background.
In addition to skating, Lake Louise also offers cross country skiing, and hiking/snowshoe trails to enjoy. Just make sure to avoid any of the trails that enter avalanche terrain!
After exploring outside, our family loves enjoying a warm drink in the Chateau Lake Louise to warm up!
Enjoy the Lake Louise Ice Carving Festival
The Lake Louise Ice Carving Festival is an annual event that attracts ice carving enthusiasts and competitors from all over the world.
Sculptures of various sizes and detailing cover the front landscape of the chateau.
Enjoy looking at the ice carving sculptures and end at the outdoor ice bar!
Our family has enjoyed the variety of sculptures year after year.
Hit the Slopes and Enjoy Snowboarding and Skiing near Banff
Banff National Park is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world.
The park’s three ski resorts – Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Norquay – offer a wide variety of terrain for both beginners and experienced riders.
Lake Louise and Sunshine are both world class ski resorts. Our family has had so much fun at both of them.
Norquay is more affordable, less touristy and more popular among locals and beginner/intermediate skiers and snowboarders!
Learn more about Snowboarding in Banff!
Explore the Mountains on a Dog Sledding Tour!
For a truly unique experience, consider booking a dog sledding tour to enjoy exploring the outdoors behind a dog sled team!
At Howling Dog Tours, they accommodate people with disabilities and children as young as two can go on a tour! Tours last two hours or a half day depending on your booking.
Each option offers a snack and a hot beverage along with ample photographing opportunities. For the half day option, you can add on a hot lunch as well!
Grab the Skis and Go Nordic skiing
The Town of Banff and surrounding area boasts some incredible cross country skiing trails. Ranging from easy to difficult, there are trails for everyone.
Visitors looking for easy trails can cross country ski through the closed Tunnel Mountain Campgrounds, or near the Banff Fairmont Springs Hotel.
A popular moderate trail is cross country skiing from Canmore on the Goat Creek that mostly descends down to the Town of Banff! (Ok… technically the trail does not start from Canmore but just south of it at along the Smith-Dorrien in the Goat Creek Parking Lot).
More Cross Country Ski Trails can be found here.
Explore the Unique Shops in the Town of Banff
Lastly, enjoy exploring the unique shops in the Town of Banff.
If you’re looking for unique gifts that capture the spirit of Christmas, be sure to visit the Spirit of Christmas store in Banff. The small shop is crammed full of festive decorations, hand-crafted wooden toys, and other charming holiday items.
My parents picked up some old Christmas lights that they used to have on their tree when I was younger! They look like candles (multi coloured) that have liquid moving up and down the light.
For the sweet tooth on your list, don’t miss the Fudgery.
Rocky Mountain Soap is another must-visit shop, especially if you’re looking for stocking stuffers. The handmade in Alberta soaps come in a variety of festive scents and are made with natural ingredients.
BIG NEWS… We launched an app!
Enjoy hiking with your family? We launched an app called TrailCollectiv to help families get outside, find trails, and connect!
I wrote a book!
Want more hikes like the ones listed in this post?
Buy the paperback book Hikes for Families: A Guide to the Canadian Rockies here.
Purchase (Ebook) Hikes for Families: A Guide to the Canadian Rockies here.
Meet Us, the family behind Born to be Adventurous.