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Winter in Banff and Lake Louise

Noel Hendrickson
Bow Lake

Winter in Banff and Lake Louise

The magical moments, those moments of pure joy, wonder, and discovery: they’re the ones that really matter. The feeling you have as you sit bundled under a blanket next to your best friends, heads tilted back and gazing in awe at the Northern Lights dancing in the crystal clear sky. The catch in your breath as you drive into town and see for the first time the majestic mountains that seem to burst straight from the ground. Watching snowflakes float gently to the ground and anticipating how fun the skiing will be tomorrow. The sensation of making smooth, floating turns through light, soft snow. These moments are the ones that you’ll remember forever.  

Far from the light pollution of major cities, Banff National Park is a stargazer’s paradise. There are few things more powerful than the peace of the Canadian Rockies with a plethora of starlight overhead– Brendan Van Son, The Toronto Star

Shred the slopes

Banff and Lake Louise are a utopia for skiers and snowboarders. Three easily accessible world-class ski resorts, lightweight powder, the most stunningly scenic backdrop, and a serious après scene. It’s a must-visit location for all snow lovers, no matter your experience.  

The slopes are easily accessible via car or the regularly scheduled bus services. Once you are on the mountain you will find a variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. Experience some of the lightest, fluffiest snow you will ever have the joy of shredding, and smaller lift lines than most other big ski resorts. The season is a long one around here, starting in mid-November and stretching through to late-May. 

Find out more about how to book a ski vacation package. Lift tickets when purchased ahead of time are at a discounted rate. 

Unique Stays

If you prefer to stay somewhere with charm and unique character, there are several options in Banff and Lake Louise. Fairy-tale castles, boutique hotels, hostels, remote backcountry lodges, charming B&Bs or mountain chalets:  there’s something for all preferences and budgets. 

Take a look at the Fairmont Banff Springs if you like luxury and the idea of staying in a fairy-tale castle (who wouldn’t?!). You may even catch a glimpse of the famous Bow Falls outside your hotel window. If you want to unwind from a day outside, try the outdoor and indoor mineral pools at the Willow Stream Spa

For perhaps the most spectacular setting ever (think: right beside a frozen lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers), try the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. With ice skating, winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and outdoor campfires under the stars, you may never want to leave. 

If you’re looking for something a little more out there, what about a backcountry lodge? It’s a truly incredible experience to snowshoe or ski into a remote, off-the-grid cabin, and the perfect chance to connect with just yourself, a good book, and the stars. The Sundance Lodge and Brewsters Shadow Lake Lodge are two amazing options.

For a full list of accommodations in Banff and Lake Louise, visit our Places to Stay page. 

Après action

Après is a way of life in Banff and Lake Louise. Whether you want a cold beer brewed with glacial water at the locals’ hangout, a hot chocolate by a log fire, or cocktails and dancing, you will find what you are looking for guaranteed. Don’t miss a chance to explore the town by night, it may even get a little wild. 

There are so many options for food and drinks in the town of Banff and hamlet of Lake Louise, from distilled spirits to microbrews, to delicious juices for breakfast, pizza or picnics for lunch, or Western style steak or vegan meals for dinner. Some of our favourites for food, drink, and nightlife are:

The best espresso

For the best coffee or tea in town to kick off your day, try Whitebark Cafe. And a bonus for getting your caffeine intake - the coffee is fair trade and organic and the teas are sourced locally. 

Best cocktails

Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar on Banff Ave. is the place to go for campfire-inspired food and spirits distilled in-house. Have a later lunch and join the free Distillery Tour from 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. daily. 

Warm from the inside out

Fondue totally makes sense in this snowy town. The Banff Grizzly House has some of the best around. And don't miss calling your friends from one of the many old-school telephones in each booth. It's hilarious. 

Get wild

For a proper Western cowboy/girl experience, Wild Bill’s Legendary Saloon offers slow-cooked brisket and line dancing lessons. We dare you to ride the mechanical bull!

Dance with the locals

As for where to party afterwards, perhaps you could ask your friendly ski lifty as to where the locals are headed that night, or check out the full nightlife listings.

Winter Activities

Banff and Lake Louise have a plethora of winter activities to see and do. We have put together a list of our absolute must-do's and must-see's. 

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a great way to explore Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies during the winter months. There are plenty of options for skate and classic trails for all fitness levels. To get detailed information about the trails and rentals visit our Cross-Country Skiing page. 

Ice Skating

A favourite Canadian sport, ice skating on frozen lakes and playing shinny with your friends on an outdoor rink is an incredible way to enjoy fresh mountain air. 

There are several indoor and outdoor ice skating rinks open during the winter in Banff and Lake Louise and the best part - 90% are free! For information on the various locations, visit our Ice Skating page

Dog sledding

Learn about the history of dog sledding in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, meet the trainers and sled dogs up close when you experience one of the guided dog sled tours. It will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

Winter Hiking & Snowshoeing

Two activities that are enjoyed by locals every day are winter hiking and snowshoeing. All you need is a warm jacket, a toque, mittens, and a pair of winter boots and you're set to experience our winter wonderland. If you're keen to experience something a little different, strap on some snowshoes and play in the freshly fallen snow. For winter boot and snowshoe rentals, visit SnowTips-Backtrax.

Ice Climbing & Backcountry Skiing

For the adrenaline-inspired, Banff National Park boasts some of the best ice and mixed climbing routes in the world. Imagine climbing up frozen waterfalls while you look down at a spectacular frozen creek below. For the best and safest experience hire an Alpine Mountain Guide for the day through Yamnuska Mountain Adventures. 

Backcountry skiing is a spectacular way to find your inner mojo. It's an activity that can be both exhilirating and peaceful at the same time. You can fly by helicopter with CMH Heli-Skiing to a remote luxury backountry lodge where thousands of feet of vertical and fresh tracks await, or you can ski the majestic Puracell Range with R.K. Heli-Skiing. Get out and explore!

Relax and Rejuvenate

Travelling is a great opportunity to nourish your body and soul, especially in a place like Banff and Lake Louise where you are surrounded by such majestic natural beauty - it’s difficult to not feel inspired here.

Noel Hendrickson

A full range of health and wellness practices and providers exist to help you find your zen. Some of our favourites are:

Stretch with a view

Take a yoga class at the Rocky Mountain Yoga studio - there are not many studios which offer such stunning mountain views during your upward dog.

Indulgent pampering

For a proper treat, indulge with a spa treatment at the Cedar & Sage Co. or Willow Stream Spa.

Hot water and fresh, cold air

Soak in the outdoor Upper Banff Hot Springs - we especially enjoy going for a soak in the evening when the stars are sparkling and legs are aching from a long day of skiing or snowboarding.

Sunset vibes

Take a walk around Vermilion Lakes as the sun is setting. Vermilion Lakes is also a great place to hang out and stargaze - and, if you are lucky, take in the Northern Lights. Make sure you wear plenty of warm clothes and take a blanket to snuggle up in.

How to Get Here

Getting to Banff and Lake Louise is easy. There are direct flights from all the key international flight hubs to Calgary International Airport. From the airport it’s a scenic and straightforward drive or shuttle bus to Banff National Park. 

Direct Flights

There are direct flights from all the key flight hubs around the world to Calgary International Airport (YYC). Get on the plane, then after a glass of wine, a film or two, and a little nap you will find yourself flying overhead the snow covered peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It's truly stunning. 

Getting From the Airport

It takes around 90 minutes to drive from the Calgary International Airport to Banff depending on traffic. If you're heading to Lake Louise add another 40-45 minutes. It’s a very scenic and straightforward trip. You could rent a car from the Calgary airport or city centre or take one of the shuttle buses or scheduled coach services. Find out more information about trip planning.

Getting From Calgary

There are two options to get from downtown and parts of the city of Calgary. Visit our Explore the Park page for more information. 

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