The air is crisp as you venture to the lakeside, carefully walking by the light of a headlamp. Snow crunches underfoot as you dig your boots in, take in the stillness, then click. Off goes the headlamp. Gazing up into the darkness, you’ve never seen so many stars. The sky is filled with celestial wonders so clearly defined that in an instant Banff National Park has redefined the idea of stargazing.
Having little to no light pollution, the Banff and Lake Louise region offers the rare opportunity to view the stars under some of the darkest skies on the planet. Not only will it awaken the kid in you, but stargazing, however you like to do it, gives you a chance to escape the ordinary and put life into perspective.
So bundle up and get out there! Here are 8 ways you can stargaze in Banff National Park:
1. Low-Effort Stargazing
A memorable experience under the dark skies can be as simple as looking up. For a quick jaunt close to Banff, try Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka or Two Jack Lake. For the darkest skies take a journey up the Icefields Parkway! We recommend Bow Lake, which offers parking and a quick hike to the lakeshore.
2. Stargazing at the Banff Gondola
Get even closer to the heavens with a trip up a mountainside first. On Fridays and Saturdays through the winter, head to the Banff Gondola for Stargazing at the Summit, a night of discovery at 7,500 feet. Gaze at galaxies through telescopes, get tips for photographing the night skies and take the opportunity to warm up with a film and complimentary tea or hot apple cider.
3. Johnston Canyon Evening Ice Walks
Experience an evening adventure like no other - icewalking along Johnston Canyon. This 2.5-hour tour will guide you through incredible frozen features and along suspended catwalks to the magical Lower Falls. Reward your efforts with some hot chocolate and memories of the icy world, lit up at night by the starry skies.
4. Nighttime Skiing at Mt. Norquay
Carving turns in the stillness of night makes the sound of them resonate all the more as you swish your way down the slopes. Buy a nighttime lift pass at Mt. Norquay and you can see the stars overhead and look down on the lights twinkling from the town of Banff – not your average ski run!
5. Hot Springs Soak and Stargaze
If there's one activity in the park that can truly be experienced year-round, it's the Banff Upper Hot Springs. It doesn’t matter that it's -20 outside; soaking in the springs is always a relaxing way to end a day of outdoor adventures. Head up there after dark to add starry skies to this already blissful mix.
6. Stars on Ice – You Choose the Spot
Skating on a mountain lake is the quintessential experience, but under the Milky Way? That's taking it to the next-level. Dig your picks in at the world-renowned rink on Lake Louise, where the ice is maintained and fire pits are ready to warm you up. Or, when conditions are right, head out to one of the many mountain lakes! Try Vermilion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake or Two Jack Lake.
7. Evening Snowshoe at Banff Sunshine Village
Guests at Sunshine Mountain Lodge have the special opportunity to explore the Sunshine area once the sun has set. When the ski hill lifts close and the stars come out, you can strap on a pair of snowshoes for a stargazing walk in the alpine. Hot chocolate by the fireside awaits you at the Chimney Corner Lounge when you're ready to call it a night and tuck in for a warm-up.
8. Lantern Tours at Cave and Basin
Hosted partially inside (though still very dark!) and outside, the Lantern Tours at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site will give you a new appreciation for our national parks system. By lantern light you’ll enter the cave and make your way up the tunnel to a hidden pool. Stop by Story Hall to learn more about this impressive site, then don’t miss the greatest secret: step out on the old pool deck for some unexpected stargazing right on the outskirts of town.
Bonus! The Northern Lights frequently make an appearance overhead in Banff National Park. If you're lucky, they'll be active and you'll have clear skies to see them. The goal is to find views predominantly north, so Lake Minnewanka is a great go-to spot for starters! To help you find out if the lights are out, join the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook Group and check out these Aurora Watching Web Resources.