Snowshoeing in Banff National Park is a fun, invigorating way to spend time outdoors in…
I’ve put together 14 suggestions for winter day trips from Calgary with the hope that some of these recommendations are completely new to you. I think there should be something for everyone on this list no matter what your age or fitness level.
If you break up your winter routine and get outside – even on the coldest of days, I can pretty well guarantee you’ll feel amazing for having done something. Spending time outdoors does so much for your mental and physical health! Have fun on a selection of these day trips from Calgary.
Go downhill skiing – one of the top day trips from Calgary
Out of Calgary you have numerous options. The closest resort to Calgary is Nakiska in Kananaskis Provincial Park. In Banff National Park you have the choice of Sunshine Ski Resort, Mount Norquay or Lake Louise.
To the south, about 2.5 hours away you’ll find Castle Mountain Resort in the Westcastle Valley of the Rocky Mountains, the site of the 1975 Winter Games. To the north and just 10 minutes east of Red Deer look for Canyon Ski Resort, Alberta’s largest non-mountain resort, as they bill themselves. Prices here are only $40 per adult per day.
And in Calgary you’ll find skiing on a small hill at Canada Olympic Park, open daily from 9 AM to 9 PM.
If you can walk you can snowshoe
Out of Calgary there are an astounding number of truly excellent snowshoeing trails. You can go into one of the parks like Nosehill or Fish Creek if there has been a big dump of snow. Bragg Creek offers superb snowshoeing on a network of trails – and it’s only a 40 minute drive away.
Further afield head to Kananaskis Country, Banff , Kootenay or Yoho National Parks.
In Banff there are lots of easy snowshoe trails close to the Banff Springs Hotel like the Spray River trail. For a longer tour try the 12 kilometre return trip to the Ink Pots, close to Castle Mountain. I also highly recommend the tours to Chester Lake. It has the added benefit of being close to Mount Engadine Lodge, where you have the option of reserving for their afternoon tea.
Go wild skating in Banff National Park
Wild skating seems to be going mainstream. Basically you need a frozen lake – with ice thick enough to skate on. Ideally there should be very little snow for the most perfect skating. But there are lots of people who schlep shovels and make a rink out of a section of snow-covered lake. In Banff National Park, Johnson Lake and Lake Minnewanka later in season are good choices or try out Carrot Creek – Banff’s secret skating spot according to Jody Robbins. Gap Lake is another choice.
I’d recommend joining the public Facebook group – Bow Valley Wild Ice. It’s updated frequently so you can keep abreast of the best spots to skate. They also have a helpful video on staying safe on the ice.
Drive to Drumheller and visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is considered to be the finest dinosaur museum in the world. But before you get there, get out and walk through Horseshoe Canyon, a beautiful spot at any time of the year. If you’re hungry in Drumheller stop at Cafe Italiano (35 3rd Avenue West) for a grilled panini or at The Whistling Kettle (109 Centre Street) for a slice of pie.
And did you know you can do a short but interesting walk behind the museum on an interpretative trail?
Go skating at Lake Louise
Every winter part of Lake Louise is transformed into a skating rink. You can enjoy public skating with an entry through the ice castle or bring your stick for a game of pick up hockey in a separate area.
The lake is lit until midnight but in theory you could skate around the clock. It’s free to skate. Skate rentals are available at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at a cost of $10 for 2 hours or $13 all day for adults – half that for kids.
Head to the Banff Upper Hot Springs – one of the relaxing day trips from Calgary
The Banff Hot Springs are open from 10 AM to 10 PM Sunday to Thursday and to 11 PM on weekends. For only $8.30 you can have a hot soak in a historic setting. They even rent bathing suits. Coldest days are the best.
Go for a winter walk
You don’t have to go far out of Calgary to find some lovely winter walking. Suggestions include the Cross Conservation Area, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park – and Bragg Creek if there isn’t a lot of snow on the ground.
Go dog-sledding – one of the fun day trips from Calgary
If you’re looking for fun day trips from Calgary almost everyone will love dogsledding. In Canmore you can choose from three companies, in Kananaskis Country, there is one company and near Lake Louise there is Kingmik Dog Sled Tours.
Although most tours are only a half day long – that’s the perfect amount of time if it’s a cold day in winter. With a bit of luck you’ll also have a chance to drive the dogsled. You can count on a very high fun factor if you do that.
Head to the annual Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival
Head to Lake Louise to watch ice carvers from all over the world compete to create incredible sculptures from blocks of ice. They usually start with a 300 pound block of ice. Every year the festival has a different theme. The ice sculptures need to reflect that in their carvings. The sculptures are on display for many weeks, a good thing since the main weekend is something of a zoo.
The 2020 Ice Magic festival runs from January 15th to the 26th.
Go cross-country skiing in and around Calgary
One of the closest places to ski is at the Nordic Center in Canmore. It offers 65 kilometres of groomed and track set trails. This is where the Olympic athletes come to train.
Head to Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis Provincial Park where skiing on the 90 kilometres of groomed trails is free. The snow here is usually amazing. Unfortunately though, you can’t rent equipment in the park though you could check in with Kananaskis Outfitters near the Nakiska Ski Area.
Enjoy a soak in the Kananaskis Nordic Spa
One of the recent additions that falls under the relaxing day trips from Calgary category, is a visit to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. Fashioned in the Nordic tradition, the spa stimulates your senses with temperature changes (hot, warm and cold pools). Don’t miss an aromatherapy stop via the steam room. The spa’s location is set against a beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop, only an hour away from downtown Calgary.
The Kananaskis Nordic Spa is very popular now so be sure to make a reservation – well in advance of your planned visit.
Drive to Rosebud, home to the famous Rosebud Theatre
The drive to Rosebud takes you through rolling countryside filled with small valleys and streams. Back in the 1940’s, Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson came here to sketch the area’s farms and ranches – so that should give you an idea of how pretty it is. Plan a stop for something to eat at the Rosebud Country Inn.
Take an ice walk up Johnston Canyon
As one of the most popular winter activities in Banff, you can be sure you’ll have company on this fantastic day trip from Calgary.
As you slip-slide up the canyon, you’ll be treated to views of frozen waterfalls and perhaps the odd ice climber or two.
You do need to rent or buy something like Yactrax that provides traction on the slippery sections. You can go to the lower falls – just 1.2 kilometres each way or if you’re more ambitious, hike 2.7 kilometres one way to the upper falls. The trailhead is less than 20 minutes from Banff.
Search for snowy owls – one of the more unusual day trips from Calgary
Head east to the prairies and prepare to do quite a bit of driving. Snowy owls are active during the day so they are easier to find than you might think – if you know what you’re looking for. But they’re skittish so it’s hard to get great shots.
Look at the top of telephone poles, along wires or any large farm-type structure. With luck you may see them flying low across a farmer’s field.
Go fat tire biking
I have participated in a bike race across a frozen lake in the middle of a Quebec winter when it was -20°C. And I was literally boiling up because I was working so hard.
On the coldest of days, fat tire biking is a great sport. Banff and the Kananaskis area have lots of trails – and you can cycle the bikeways in Calgary, which is a fine way to spend part of a day.
Further reading on what to do in winter in Canada
- 87 Fabulous Things to Do in Canada in Winter
- The Top 19 Places in Canada for Cross-country Skiing
- Sundance Lodge: Banff’s Secret Winter Destination
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