Just like the snowflakes that pile up on evergreen branches, the options for winter activities in Banff and Lake Louise are much deeper than you might think. Spend a week seeking out winter’s surprises, and you’ll find that every day spent in the company of snowy mountain peaks is different from the last.
Day 1: Winter Walks
Begin your week of winter wonder by heading straight to the village of Lake Louise in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Let the mountains – and the mountain people – give you a warm welcome with a locally-made tea from Laggan’s Bakery or the Trailhead Café. Bring your mug (better yet, an insulated cup or thermos) to take your tea out on the trails. Stretch your legs on the tree-lined path along the Bow River Loop or the iconic Lake Louise shoreline trail, where you’ll also find exquisitely carved ice sculptures if you visit in late January during the Ice Magic festival.
Day 2: Snowshoeing in the Forest
Wake up well-rested after a comfortable night at the Lake Louise Inn or Mountaineer Lodge and meet your guide from Great Divide Nature Interpretation. These guides are scholars of Mother Nature, and we’re confident in saying they’re some of the most intriguing characters you’ll meet in the Rockies. With snowshoes strapped to your feet, explore the serene snowy forest and learn about the flora and fauna that thrive here.
Join the locals for dinner and a beer at the Lake Louise Village Grill & Bar. If you’ve truly caught the spirit of the mountains and aren’t ready to head indoors for the evening, the night sky above Lake Louise puts on a starry light show unlike any other.
Day 3: Cross Country Skiing
Spend your last morning in Lake Louise gliding through the snow on skinny skis. Wilson Mountain Sports in the village provides cross-country gear rentals and tips on grooming conditions for favourite local trails like the renowned Moraine Lake Road or Great Divide Trail.
Marvel at the rugged mountain peaks lining the road back to Banff before checking into Brewster’s Mountain Lodge, the brand-new Peaks Hotel & Suites, or the Mount Royal Hotel. Each is located right in pedestrian-friendly downtown Banff. Let yourself be drawn onto the streets where the holiday spirit is brimming from shops and restaurants. Complete the afternoon with a classic Canadian burger at the Elk and Oarsmen, Eddie Burger Bar, or the aptly named Beaver Bar.
Day 4: Fly High with the Snowbirds
By now, you’ll be well acquainted with the steep slopes of the mountains that surround Banff and Lake Louise. Get a whole new perspective on the immensity of the Rockies with a helicopter tour that soars high above the peaks. Getting to the helipad is an adventure in itself, either 20 minutes east at Alpine Helicopters or 2.5 hours north along the Icefields Parkway at Rockies Heli. The road north is stunning, but be sure to check on road conditions before you go.
After an afternoon in the sky, come back down to earth in the best possible way with an evening sleigh ride. Bundle up in the traditional wooden sleigh and listen to the faint jingling of the horses’ harnesses and the stories of your Banff Trail Riders guide.
Day 5: Fatbiking Adventure
After a day of restful exploration, it’s time to stretch your mountain legs. Visit the friendly folks at Snowtips-Bactrax to rent a fatbike – the latest and greatest of wintertime sports. This specially designed snow bike with wide tires will allow you to cover significant snowy ground, like the Goat Creek Trail (19 km) or the Cascade Fire Road near Lake Minnewanka (up to 25 km one-way).
For a unique and memorable evening after your big day, climb onboard the Banff Gondola to watch the sunset turn to starscape from high above the twinkling lights of Banff.
Day 6: Snow Tubing and Ice Walking
Have a relaxing morning in your cozy room – you’ve earned it! When you’re ready, venture out for a coffee and then head up to Mt. Norquay. This ski resort is also home to an activity for everyone – snow tubing. Enjoy the easy access with a short ride up the tube park, and then feel the rush of cruising down the carefully groomed snow tube lanes.
Take an afternoon drive from Mt. Norquay to Johnston’s Canyon with plenty of time for scenic stops like the Mt. Norquay viewpoint and Morant’s Curve. When you arrive at the canyon, join a guide from Banff Adventures or Discover Banff Tours to suit up with ice crampons and venture into the unearthly realms of this frozen canyon. After a day in the snow, a warm meal at Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine or Saffron-Indian Bistro awaits.
Day 7: Guided Ice Climbing
Your last full day in Banff National Park should be especially memorable, so try your hand at something truly unique. Ice climbing is the passion of many mountain folks and a thrilling, physical exploit. Your experienced guide from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Alpine Air Adventures will explain the ins and outs of climbing before fitting you with crampons and ice axes to ascend frozen pillars of ice. You’ll feel well-supported in your secure harness and free to focus on the last bucket-list activity on your list – perhaps the one that brings you closest to the mountains you now know so well.