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5 Magical Things to Do in Winter in Banff and Lake Louise

Published Date
Dec 31, 2023|
Themes
Food & Drink, Events & Festivals, Adventure, Family Travel, Sports
Friends enjoy warm drinks around the camp fire at Juniper Bistro with snowy Mount Rundle behind them in Banff National Park.

Banff and Lake Louise are magical places to visit in the winter. From snow-laden trees to frozen lakes and magical fairy lights covering the townsite, Banff National Park is somewhere everyone needs to experience in the winter. Check out these five activities to find magical things to do during your visit to Banff and Lake Louise.

In Search of Christmas Spirit

Imagine carrying a lantern, dark skies above you, walking through a forest of fairy lights, and following a trail of mystical animal statues as they help you discover your Christmas spirit. That is In Search of Christmas Spirit – an interactive story-telling experience of music, fairy lights, and illuminated animal sculptures – crafted by Jason Carter. Follow Owl, your guide, as they take you to meet their fellow animals of Banff and discover the true meaning of Christmas. This magical experience will offer you a plethora of Instagramable opportunities and is the perfect way to cap your day in Banff and is suitable for all ages.

A family enjoys the In Search of Christmas Spirit event featuring light up animal sculptures on a snowy evening in Banff National ParkA family enjoys the In Search of Christmas Spirit event featuring light up animal sculptures on a snowy evening in Banff National ParkA family enjoys the In Search of Christmas Spirit event featuring light up animal sculptures on a snowy evening in Banff National Park

SnowDays

In late January, the Banff townsite is turned into a wonderous celebration of snow with SnowDays. Featuring larger-than-life snow sculptures, skiing cowboys, and a snow-based Play Zone for all ages – SnowDays is all about winter. The snow sculptures will be the first thing you will want to witness. These towering artworks take over several sites around town – including Bear Street and Banff Ave. Square – and are made by internationally renowned artists.

Each year, they lean into a theme that celebrates something about Banff and Lake Louise. Because of this, the statues change, but you can expect to see whimsical and powerful takes on all that winter in Banff has to offer in larger-than-life detail.

In 2024, we will see the return of Ice Magic! The re-imagined take on the classic ice carving competition takes place over the last two weekends of Ice Magic in the evenings and gives you the chance to watch world-class ice carvers create art in front of your eyes. Tickets are required for Ice Magic.

The snow sculpture exhibition at Bear Street during SnowDays Festival 2022 in Banff National Park. The snow sculpture exhibition at Bear Street during SnowDays Festival 2022 in Banff National Park. The snow sculpture exhibition at Bear Street during SnowDays Festival 2022 in Banff National Park.

Next, you’ll want to venture into the Play Zone – where kids of every age can try fat biking or cross-country skiing and play on specially-constructed snow hills and castles. Bring your gloves because this is a fully hands-on experience. Finally, grab your tickets for Skijoring. This is the perfect blend of Alberta’s cultures – farm life and mountain life. It’s a spectacle that needs to be seen to be sure it’s real. Horses and riders ride hard down Banff Ave., towing skiers dressed in their retro-best, hitting jumps and pulling off mid-air tricks. Yes, this is real – but you’ll want to witness it to be sure.

A skier performs a trick while being drawn by a horse during Snow Days Skijoring event on Banff AvenueA skier performs a trick while being drawn by a horse during Snow Days Skijoring event on Banff AvenueA skier performs a trick while being drawn by a horse during Snow Days Skijoring event on Banff Avenue

Explore a Snow-Covered Forest

With thousands of kilometers of trails to explore, you’ll be able to quickly find yourself in a snow-covered forest with trees laden down in snow. This magical experience needs to be felt firsthand, as light snow will fall from the treetops onto your toque and the sunlight makes the snow sparkle. You have your choice of how to explore as well. You can snap on snowshoes and go for a leisurely stroll, maybe pick up the pace a bit and try out a cross-country ski trail, or experience one of winter’s most popular newer sports – fat biking. No matter how you decide to get into the forest, one thing is certain. Once you are there, it is magical.

The family explores the summit boardwalk from the Banff Gondola, enjoying the views of snow-covered mountains surrounding them. The family explores the summit boardwalk from the Banff Gondola, enjoying the views of snow-covered mountains surrounding them. The family explores the summit boardwalk from the Banff Gondola, enjoying the views of snow-covered mountains surrounding them.

Skate on a Frozen Lake

Lake Louise is world renowned for its views and canoeing in the summer. But did you know that it turns into a winter wonderland when the snow starts to fly? And even better, there is a maintained ice rink directly on the lake, where you can strap on your skates and glide under the towering peak of Mount Fairview. And you don’t need to pack your skates, just pick up rentals from Chateau Mountain SportsChateau Ski & Snow or Wilson Mountain Sports in the Lake Louise Village. This should be a bucket-list, must-do item during every winter vacation in Banff National Park. There’s nothing like feeling the ice glide beneath you and knowing that you are skating on one of the most famous lakes in the world.

Two people skate on a frozen Lake Louise with Victoria Glacier in the backgroundTwo people skate on a frozen Lake Louise with Victoria Glacier in the backgroundTwo people skate on a frozen Lake Louise with Victoria Glacier in the background

Gather by a Fire

There’s just something magical about grabbing a warm drink and cozying up by the fire after a fantastic day in the mountains. With the warmth of a fire, your hands wrapped around a mug, settling into a comfy chair, hopefully with a big cozy sweater. And there are so many options to do just this in Banff. Most hotels come equipped with fireplaces (electric, gas, and wood), and there are a few outdoor locations where you need to bring firewood and be out amongst the beauty, including Cascade Ponds. Just note that you'll need to buy firewood in town. Try IGA when looking for firewood. Even better, you don’t need a hotel or to start your own fire to get your cozy fire and drink fix. Several cafes in Banff and Lake Louise have the perfect place to sit and enjoy a warm beverage in big comfy chairs surrounded by warmth. Check out the big outdoor firepits at Good Earth and Whitebark Café if you want to stay in the fresh air. You can also head inside to the Larkspur Lounge at the Rimrock Hotel or – for the best of both worlds – try the Happy Camper Café inside the Canalta Lodge, where you can be indoors or outdoors and still get that cozy, fireside vibe.

Winter in Banff National Park is a magical time to be here. Whether it’s sitting fireside, exploring a forest or finding your Christmas spirit – everyone can find something whimsical and enchanting in Canada’s oldest national park. If you’re ready to embrace the winter wonderland, check out our trip planner today and start planning your winter vacation now.

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Robert Massey

Robert Massey

Robert loves being outdoors, in particular hiking, trail running, and anything out on the water. You can frequently find him on the trails or the waters of Banff, camera in hand.