Last updated on May 7th, 2021
Banff is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada, and in the winter the snow makes it extra magical! From skiing and snowshoeing outside, to delicious drinks by cozy firesides, Banff is one place you don’t want to miss in the wintertime. Check out our guide for the best winter activities in Banff to add to your bucket list!
If you are planning on visiting Canada this winter, do check out our extensive travel guide for visiting Canada in winter, which includes the best destinations, bucket list winter activities, and useful travel tips.
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Map of the best things to do in Banff in Winter (save it on your phone)
Best things to do in Banff in Winter – Top winter activities
Go up the Sulphur Mountain gondola
The Sulphur Mountain gondola is one of Banff’s most iconic experiences and one of the best things to do in Banff in winter! Hop in the gondola and enjoy a ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (or grab some spikes and poles and do the trek yourself) where you can see jaw-dropping views of the town of Banff and the surrounding mountains. Brave the cold on the boardwalk outside, check out the displays, buy a souvenir, and enjoy a delicious meal at the mountaintop restaurant Sky Bistro.
Make sure you book your ticket for the gondola in advance, you can also book a tour including a few scenic spots and the gondola ride, like this one>>
Go hiking or snowshoeing
Banff National Park and Canmore’s Kananaskis region have tons of winter hiking and snowshoeing options, some of the best winter activities. Right in the town of Banff you can access Tunnel Mountain and Sulphur Mountain, or venture out along the Bow Valley Parkway to visit Johnston Canyon and the Inkpots. In Kananaskis, Chester Lake is a great option or Grassi Lakes in Canmore.
Try cross-country skiing
Banff is home to some incredible cross-country skiing terrain, it’s one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. The Nordic Centre in Canmore has world-class training facilities for athletes, but also a wide variety of trails for both beginner and expert cross-country skiers. Check out Cascade Valley or Moraine Lake Road out in the national park, or the many groomed trails out in Kananaskis Country.
Take a dip in the hot springs
What could be better than spending a day out in the snowy Banff National Park? Warming up afterward in the hot springs! The famed Banff Upper Hot Springs are easily accessible from town and are the perfect spot to rest and relax after all of your winter adventures.
Go early or late to avoid crowds, and don’t forget your swimsuit! If you want a more exclusive experience, check out the Nordic Spa in Kananaskis. You can book a relaxing massage, take a dip in hot and cold pools, and sweat it out in the saunas. Visiting a hot spring is definitely one of the best things to do in Banff in winter.
Banff is home to amazing lakes that freeze solid in the winter, perfect for ice skating! Lake Louise is a popular spot for skaters, or you can head to Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake, or Two Jack Lake, all close to the Banff townsite. In Canmore, you can skate right in town at the Canmore Skating Pond. You’ll be in awe at the beautiful mountain views around you as you glide along on a frozen lake from a fairytale, definitely one of the best things to do in Banff in winter!
Go downhill skiing or snowboarding
Adrenaline junkies rejoice! Banff is home to some of Canada’s best downhill skiing and snowboarding terrain. If you are walking around Banff at night, you may notice lights on one of the mountains. This is the town’s closest ski resort, Mt. Norquay. Sunshine Village is about 20 minutes from Banff, and the Lake Louise Ski Resort is about an hour from town. All three mountains offer lessons and rentals, as well as a mix of green, blue, and black diamond runs. If you want to avoid the crowds, check out the Nakiska Ski Resort, close by in Kananaskis Village.
Check out a museum
Some days are just too cold to venture outside. Luckily, Banff has some incredible museums and art galleries to explore, and it’s one of the best things to do in Banff in winter when you want to stay warm indoors.
In Banff, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies has exhibits on local history, as well as art exhibitions from local artists, both past and present. Visit the Banff Park Museum for an in-depth look at the history of the national park, as well as the Canadian Rockies themselves. Another great option is Cave and Basin, the birthplace of Banff National Park itself!
Catch the sunrise at Vermilion Lakes
Just a few minutes outside of town, Vermilion Lakes is a great spot to catch the sunrise or sunset in Banff. Bring a travel mug of coffee as you watch the light of sunrise turn the peaks pink and orange. Be on the lookout for local wildlife, such as deer and elk, and bring a camera so you can always remember one of the most beautiful sunrises or sunsets you’ll ever see, it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Banff in winter!
Take a yoga class or go indoor climbing
Live like a local and take a yoga class at one of Banff or Canmore’s incredible studios. If you’re in Banff, check out the drop-in schedule at Banff Yoga Practice, or look up The Yoga Lounge in Canmore. WildHeart in Canmore has drop-in yoga classes and barre classes as well!
If yoga isn’t your thing, make sure to check out the climbing wall at Elevation Place in Canmore. Just don’t be surprised if the climbing wall is packed when you go! Locals love the climbing wall at EP, so you can be sure you’ll be getting the authentic Banff and Canmore experience if you go.
Explore Banff Avenue and Main Street in Canmore
Banff Avenue and Main Street in Canmore have tons of shops, boutiques, and restaurants to satisfy any kind of shopper. In Banff, you can explore confectioneries, breweries, souvenir shops, and art galleries as you look up in awe at the incredible Cascade Mountain.
Main Street in Canmore is a little bit quieter, but don’t miss the vibrant shops of downtown. You’ll find everything from locally-produced soaps and perfumes, to bookshops and jewelry stores.
Go to the wolfdog sanctuary
Make sure to dress warmly for a visit to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, the cutest adventure you’ll have in Banff! Bundle up to meet the wolf dogs, 25 of which live at the sanctuary permanently. The rest can be adopted, as the sanctuary seeks to rehabilitate and re-home the misunderstood wolf dog breed. Take an interpretive tour throughout the grounds, or book an interactive tour to get up-close and personal with your newest, fluffiest friends!
Visit Lake Louise
The charming village of Lake Louise has a lot to offer winter visitors and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Banff in winter. Check out the Ice Magic International Ice Carving Competition every January, where you’ll see magical creatures and ice castles come to life! You can walk the path that goes along the frozen lakeshore, or lace up some skates and go skating. Warm-up afterward by checking out the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise!
Best things to do in Banff in Winter – Where to stay in Banff National Park
There are plenty of options for places to stay in and around Banff. The cold weather will have you craving all things warm and comfy, so be sure to book a stay at a cabin at Mt. Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis. The lodge has a mix of “glamping” cabins, yurts, and suites.
If you’re not into the cabin life, how about a stay at a magical castle in the woods? The Fairmont Banff Springs is an iconic spot in Banff, not to mention a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Relax and enjoy the incredible views from your luxury suite. Just be on the lookout for ghosts!
Best things to do in Banff in Winter – Where to eat/have a drink
Coffee and Pastries
The cold weather in Banff calls for something delicious and comforting, like a hot chocolate and a delicious croissant or cookie. In the town of Banff, locals love Whitebark Cafe or Wild Flour Bakery for a hot cup of Joe and a delectable pastry.
Canmore is home to Le fournil, an authentic French bakery, or check out JK Bakery for traditional European-style baked goods. In Canmore, you can also check out Eclipse Coffee Roasters for a warm beverage, and be sure to buy a bag of locally-roasted beans to take home!
Eating out is probably one of the best things to do in Banff in winter and there is no shortage of incredible restaurants for foodies to check out in Banff and Canmore! In Banff, stop by Chuck’s Steakhouse for local steaks, or Nourish for eclectic vegetarian fare.
For something more casual, order a pizza at Bear Street Tavern or a classic burger at Eddie Burger. In Canmore, some great local options are Crazyweed and The Blake, both home to incredible local fare. Don’t miss the fried chicken at Crazyweed or the crack fries at The Blake.
For an incredible view of the sun setting behind the mountains in Canmore, book a table at The Iron Goat, and be sure to try the cornbread!
If you’re looking for casual lunch or brunch, check out Chez Francois in Canmore for an amazing eggs Benedict, and the famous huevos rancheros from Summit Cafe. Communitea is bliss if you love a good buddha bowl. In Banff, Tooloulou’s has a mix of Cajun-style brunch dishes, or stop by Seed & Salt for delicious salads and bowls.
Banff and Canmore are also home to some incredible drinking establishments. Wild Life Distillery in Canmore has a seasonal cocktail menu, as well as classics like a gin and tonic made from their own house-made tonic syrup. Just around the corner from Wild Life is Sheepdog Brewing, so make sure to check out both!
Sample 4-day Banff National Park Winter Itinerary
- Day 1: Check into your accommodations and then head over to the Banff Gondola. Book a table at Sky Bistro and enjoy the views while you dine at the top of a mountain!
- Day 2: Catch a shuttle or drive to Lake Louise and see this iconic spot. Walk around the lakeside and then head to the Fairmont for high tea. Back in town, take a relaxing dip in the Banff Hot Springs (one of the top winter activities).
- Day 3: Rent a pair of skates and go skating on Lake Minnewanka! After, warm up in town with a delicious coffee from Wild Flour and enjoy it as you take in the sights of Banff Avenue. When you’ve finished shopping, stop by one of the many incredible restaurants for dinners, such as Bear Street Tavern or Park Distillery.
- Day 4: If you want to do something the morning you leave, head up Tunnel Mountain, which you can access right from town. This short hike will reward you with beautiful views of the town and surrounding valley. Now that you’ve seen the best winter sights in Banff, you can head home. Just be sure to come back in the summer!
Best things to do in Banff in Winter – What to pack
- Comfortable shoes that will keep your feet dry and warm, like this pair from Mishansha >>
- Wool socks to add a layer of protection, like these ones >>
- Thermal underwear for her>> for him>>
- Gloves and hand warmers (an electronic one you can charge so it’s more eco-friendly, like these ones>>)
- A hat and scarf
- A warm coat, I always recommend Canada Goose coats for super cold weather, it’s almost impossible to feel cold in them.
- A water-resistant camera, there’s nothing worse than not being able to take photos outside just because it’s raining or snowing (pro tips: when it’s really cold, electronics can stop working, make sure to wrap them in something or to keep them close to your body.)
- A water-resistant day pack, like this one by Travelon (gender-neutral, and anti-theft as well)
As you can see, the options are endless for things to do in Banff in winter. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s a day out on the slopes at one of the local ski resorts, a relaxing dip in the hot springs, or time spent sipping on a delicious coffee while nibbling an artisanal pastry, you’ll find a few winter activities you’ll enjoy!
Make sure you dress warmly if you plan to visit Banff this winter, and if you decide to recreate in the backcountry, make sure you’re prepared with the proper gear and knowledge of how to stay safe in avalanche territory!
What are you dreaming about doing in Banff this winter? What do you think are some of the best things to do in Banff in winter? Let us know in the comments below!
About the author
Lindsey Novakowski is a freelance writer based in Banff, AB. When she’s not hunched over a laptop, you can find her out and about, exploring all the beauty (and beer) that the mountains have to offer.