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On The Trail Toward Shadow Lake

10 of the Best Outdoor Winter Activities in Alberta

When snow finally makes an appearance, by November at the latest in this part of Canada, it’s the time to get pumped for winter in Alberta. Say no to winter blahs by filling your weekends and holidays with a host of exciting outdoor winter activities in Alberta. From skiing to dogsledding, skating to snowshoeing, ice-climbing to fat tire biking – there really is no excuse not to get outside. 

Invest in the clothing so you can enjoy those sunny, blue sky days, even when the thermometer dips to -25°C. It’s amazing how even a few hours outside on a winter day can enhance your sense of well-being. Enjoy these 10 winter activities in Alberta that will get and keep you excited for winter. 

Read: What to Wear in Canada in Winter on a -20°C Day 

Chester Lake in winter
On the way to Chester Lake

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Go skiing in Alberta – one of the top winter activities in Alberta

Get your boards and skis tuned now so you can hit the ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains once they open. For the shortest drive from Calgary head for Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis Country.

In Banff National Park choose from three ski resorts – Mount Norquay – a perfect choice for novice and expert skiers, Sunshine Village – home to Canada’s first heated chairlift and Lake Louise Ski Resort with its exceptional scenery and vast choice of terrain.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Jasper National Park in winter give Marmot Basin a try. It’s a well-designed, friendly resort and a great choice for families.

Read: 7 Amazing Alberta Ski Resorts You’ll Want to Visit

At the top of the Standish Chairlift at Sunshine
At the top of the Standish Chairlift at Sunshine Ski Resort

Visit a backcountry lodge – a relaxing winter activity in Alberta, once you’re there

Not into downhill skiing? No problem. Enjoy the cozy vibe of a backcountry hut tucked into the mountains – and accessible only on cross-country skis or via snowshoes.

Near the town of Banff choose the relatively easy to access Sundance Lodge. More experienced backcountry skiers should consider Skoki Lodge or Tonquin Valley Lodge. Shadow Lake Lodge with its individual log cabins is another excellent choice.

Sundance Lodge at night
Sundance Lodge at night

Go skating

Bring skates or rent a pair at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise so you can enjoy the magic of skating or playing shinny on Lake Louise.

Called the world’s best skating rink by both CNN and the Huffington Post, skating here offers a backdrop like no other, In January be dazzled by the Ice Magic Festival.

There’s also lots of wild mountain skating available too. – depending on the year and conditions. This skating post by Tanya Koob showcases the best places to try in Banff and Kananaskis. 

One of the top winter activities in Alberta is a skate around the ice castle at Lake Louise
Skate around the ice castle at Lake Louise

Try snowshoeing

Ever wondered what it’s like to snowshoe under a full moon? Sign up for a two hour tour with Kananskis Outfitters and see for yourself. Or choose their Dark Sky Stargazing Tour. Other options for exploring Kananaskis Country include Sunday morning tours and private half or full day snowshoe tours.

Above Sunshine Ski Resort, it’s also great fun to go out into the stunning backcountry with White Mountain Adventures. You can read about my Canadian Signature snowshoeing experience here.

The Ribbon Creek Snowshoeing trails are dog-friendly
The Ribbon Creek snowshoeing trails are dog-friendly
Scenery on a blue sky day while Sunshine Village snowshoeing
View on a gorgeous day while snowshoeing

Go cat skiing at Castle Mountain

Cat skiing powder snow at Castle Mountain Resort in southern Alberta is a thrilling experience. Strapped onto a pair of fat skis, it’s like floating on air – when you get it right.

With pointers from the guides, intermediate and better skiers will have an adrenalin filled day that will leave you wanting more.

And if someone in your group isn’t interested in cat skiing, they can go head off on downhill skis, or go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

What a fabulous backdrop for skiing & boarding
What a fabulous backdrop for cat-skiing & boarding

Get your adrenaline pumping while ice-climbing

Ice climbing might look intimidating but it’s actually a whole lot of fun. And it’s VERY SAFE if you go with a guiding company like Rockaboo.

In just a few hours you can learn to rappel down a frozen waterfall and climb right back up with an axe in each hand, a pair of crampons and a few words of encouragement from your belayer. One of the best places to try it in Alberta is on the beautiful frozen waterfalls at the end of Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park.

Read: Where and How to Go Iceclimbing in Alberta

Catching the ice climbers in action in Johnston Canyon
Catching the ice climbers in action in Johnston Canyon 
Me ice climbing in Alberta in the Maligne Canyon
Me ice climbing in Alberta in the Maligne Canyon

Explore the trails on a fat tire bike

Head to Banff’s Soul Ski & Bike for a fat tire mountain bike rental and information on the best trails to ride in winter. That will vary depending on whether you’re there on a powder day or if a Chinook has rolled in and turned the snow to mush.

For novice riders the Sundance Trail that follows the Bow River is usually an excellent choice – and a scenic one to boot. If you’re hardcore chances are you’ll be directed to the Tunnel Mountain area where you can challenge your conditioning program as well.

Fat tire biking the Spray River loop 
Fat tire biking the Spray River loop

Go dogsledding

Unleash your inner musher on a dogsledding tour out of Kananaskis or Canmore. It’s a wonderfully romantic activity to do with your partner and it can be just as much fun with kids.

The dogs will enchant you with their personalities and amaze you with their athleticism. Tours run the gamut from two hours to overnight. Now who wouldn’t want to do that?

I think the dogs know they're on the home stretch
I think the dogs know they’re on the home stretch

Dogsledding out of Canmore

Head to the trails in Bragg Creek for skiing or snowshoeing

Explore the trails around Bragg Creek on snowshoes or skis, especially right after a fresh snow. The Ranger Summit – Strange Brew Loop is particularly beautiful. It’s one of my favourite winter activities in Alberta close to Calgary.

Over several hours you are treated to many a mountain view and the silence of a snow shrouded forest. Take a thermos of hot chocolate and enjoy it in the woods. Afterwards warm up in one of Bragg Creek’s cafés.

Read: 

Winter activities in Alberta include snowshoeing the Bragg Creek trails
Great views from the ridge section of the trail

Explore Johnston Canyon in winter via an icewalk – high fun factor for winter activities in Alberta

Hike up Johnston Canyon – wearing a pair of icers – to admire the frozen beauty. While some people don’t bother wearing anything to stop the sliding, you do so at your peril.

There are two sets of frozen waterfalls to see – with the best being at the upper falls, 2.6 kilometres from the parking lot. Always popular, this trail is best hiked early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.

One of the fun winter activities in Alberta is the icewalk to Johnston Canyon
A couple of cowboys in Johnston Canyon

Visit the Kananaskis Nordic Spa

You should book your visit in advance but nothing beats soaking in steamy hot waters on a cold winter days – interrupted if you dare by a dip in freezing-cold plunge pools. Then hop in the saunas and melt all the stress away. I could enjoy a visit here every day of the week.

Read: A Relaxing Visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa in Alberta

The Kananskis Nordic Spa is one of the most relaxing day trips from Calgary
Visit the Kananaskis Nordic Spa – but make reservations

Further reading on things to do in Alberta in winter

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

10 activities that will get you excited for winter in Alberta

A big thank you to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post – but really what’s not to love about winter in this province?

 

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. You’re right! All of these get me excited….and generally I’m not a huge fan of the cold 😀 I would love to once experience what it’s like to ice skate on an actual lake as opposed to in a rink. That’s one of those things that I’ve been dreaming of since I was a child 🙂

  2. Your first photo is amazing with the fog creeping in – so cool. In another lifetime I was a snow skier while in high school, which I look back and can’t believe it was me. I wouldn’t trust myself to get on a pair of skis! Ha! Ha! We don’t do winter sports but we have found traveling in winter can be pretty great – especially in places that winter is off season. We spent 3 weeks in Paris, in January a few years back and it was fabulous!

    1. @Patti I think tour operators of places in the sun have done an amazing job of promoting beaches in the winter to the detriment of what you can find at home in winter. With a combo of the right attitude and the right clothes, winter can be an amazing time of year for outdoor adventures.

  3. Fantastic post. Heading back to Canada after three years of travel and this post makes so very excited! Cheers and thanks 🙂

  4. The moonlight snowshoe tour sounds amazing – especially if a hot toddy was waiting for me at the end. I’ve always wanted to try ice climbing – maybe I’ll try this year since Jasper’s in my ‘backyard’. I especially like the fact that you get to use the axe to jab the ice and propel yourself upwards – like a scene from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones…. 🙂

  5. I adore ice skating and growing up on the east coast it was a huge thrill to skate on Lake Louise with my kids and my 70 year old father. Like the looks of that Lodge close to Banff!

  6. Yup, the snow shovel is found (had to use it once)! I peeked at my mountain bike, which is yearning for a snow-ride through Red Deer’s fabulous Waskasoo Park trails system, as well as neighbourhood and roadway connectors. One really doesn’t have to look far beyond the “backyard” to embrace Alberta’s outdoor opportunities!
    Happy snow-days,
    Jim Woychuk (Red Deer, AB).

    1. @Jim That sounds like a terrific way to spend time in winter. I am going to try fat tire mountain biking this year so have to think I’d manage quite well on Red Deer’s trails with a bike like that – my regular bike not so much.

  7. Used to love Alberta’s winter as a kid, but as an older person with achy bones, my favorite winter activity is making the hot drinks and baking all the goodies to have on hand when my family comes inside after being out in the cold! This was a great article with lovely pictures, but you are missing out on Canadian winter if you’ve not played hockey on a pond (in my childhood, we used sticks off a tree and a frozen horse plop for a puck)!

  8. Hey @hikebiketravel! Love the posts always. I was wondering where your first pic on this article was taken? With the bench and creek? Did u snowshoe here or cross county? Thanks!

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