Banff is a magical winter wonderland with fun for all ages! Here are our top 10 things to do in Banff during the snowy season.
1. Hike to spectacular ice falls at Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon is a winter wonderland when the snow falls and the waterfalls freeze. It’s 2.2 kilometres round trip to the Lower Falls or 5.4 kilometres round trip to the Upper Falls. Ice cleats or microspikes recommended from late fall through spring. Check Banff National Park Bulletins for trail/parking lot closures.
2. Snowshoe around picturesque Johnson Lake
From Johnson Lake, you can enjoy views of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. The lakeshore trail is suitable for all ages as it’s only 2.8 km roundtrip with no elevation gain. We do not recommend snowshoeing on the lake unless it has been cold for several weeks and the ice is thick enough. See my pond and lake ice safety tips before venturing on to the ice.
For places to ice skate in Banff, please see this post.
3. Cross country ski at Cascade Valley
This scenic valley’s rolling terrain is suitable for intermediate skiers and is located just minutes from downtown Banff. It’s 13 km round trip from Lake Minnewanka Day Use Area to the first bridge; and 30 km round trip to Stoney Creek bridge. A shorter option to do with kids is Lake Minnewanka Day Use to Upper Bankhead (2.6 km return).
4. Get above Banff on the Banff Gondola
Above Banff is an amazing mountaintop experience with fun, interactive exhibits, a theatre, and dining. After you’ve explored the interpretive centre and had a bite to eat, head up to the rooftop deck or take the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk (1 km return) to Sanson’s Peak and the historic cosmic ray station for incredible views.
See our story, Banff Gondola Mountaintop Christmas, for holiday fun.
Nightrise, a new multimedia experience created in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation, lights up the night at the top of the gondola from December 2, 2021 – March 12, 2022. See our story about Nightrise here.
5. Recharge at Banff Upper Hot Springs
Warm up, relax, and make crazy, frosty hairstyles at the hot springs. Winter is my favorite time to visit the hot springs because I can soak forever without overheating!
6. Go skiing and tubing at Mount Norquay, Sunshine Village, or Lake Louise Ski Resort
See why people from all around the world come to ski in Banff! Mount Norquay is the closest ski resort to the town of Banff with Alberta’s best tube park (longest runs and biggest vertical drop); Sunshine Village boasts the longest season and all natural snow; and Lake Louise is the largest ski resort in the area.
Cave & Basin, the birth place of the National Parks, has an interpretive centre with exhibits about the park’s history, flora, and fauna; a 4 screen HD film about Parks Canada’s history; gift shop; and outdoor interpretive trails. Take the Discovery Boardwalk trail (400 m) to the cave vent, former hotel site, and snail pools. Please look, but don’t touch. The tiny snails are endangered!
8. Experience Christmas at the Castle
The Banff Springs Hotel is Christmas central for the month of December with several daily festive events including crafts, gingerbread house decorating, scavenger hunts, letters to Santa, and more! We love going for brunch (with Santa on the weekends!), looking at the gingerbread houses and decorations, skating, and cross country skiing at nearby Spray River Trail (trailhead behind the Banff Springs Hotel). Be sure to check out Bow Falls while you’re in the area!
9. Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Banff
Banff Avenue will come alive with street vendors, fire dancers, games, warming shelters, and fireworks! Bring your skates so you can ice skate at the downtown rink! Visit the Town of Banff for more information about New Year’s Eve festivities.
10. Celebrate Winter with Banff SnowDays
SnowDays runs from January 19- January 30, 2022 with tons of fun events (most of them FREE!) in Banff and Lake Louise. For a complete events listing, visit Banff & Lake Louise Tourism.
Bonus: Christmas Lighting Trail in Banff
Venture out “In Search of Christmas Spirit” on Banff’s Christmas Lighting Trail. Allow 45 minutes to walk through the illuminated art installations and listen to the story. Pre-registration is required but tickets are free.
- Wednesday – Saturday from November 24 to December 18, 2021; 5:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
- Daily from December 22, 2021 to January 1, 2022; 5:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Get your tickets and more info from Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
Where to Eat
- We love Farm + Fire for its fire-roasted goodness and delish cocktails. Read our review, Farm + Fire Restaurant: Classy comfort food in the heart of Banff, for more information.
- Maple Leaf Grille “features Canadian cuisine including Alberta beef, game, fresh fish and seafood.”
- Sleeping Buffalo Lounge, at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, is perfect for a romantic date night with gourmet Canadiana fare and an award-winning wine list.
- The Banff Springs Hotel has the best brunch in town.
For casual fare, try the Old Spaghetti Factory (my kids’ fav), Chaya (Japanese food), or Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company (in Cascade Mall’s Food Court).
Where to Stay
Elk + Avenue has stylish and spacious suites on Banff Avenue, walking distance to shopping and dining.
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