I am a big fan of cross-country skiing in Banff National Park for many reasons. Even on the coldest days you stay warm unlike my experience downhill skiing. You see some of the most pristine country on the planet – often with few people around. The backdrop is incredible – snowy mountain peaks, quiet forest trails, silent rivers save for the odd gurgle under the ice, and animal tracks galore. At the end of the day I highly recommend immersing yourself in the hot steamy waters of the Banff Hot Springs.
Summary of where to go cross-country skiing in Banff National Park
- Be sure to purchase a Parks Canada pass before you head out on any of the cross country ski trails in Banff.
- Check trail reports before leaving home!
- You can also get skier generated live grooming reports from SkierRoger.
- If you plan to cross-country ski in avalanche country you need to have the gear and know-how. Check Avalanche Canada reports before you go.
- The cross-country ski season in Banff usually lasts from late November to early April, depending on the year.
- Choose a cross-country ski trail that is suited to your ability.
- Remember to always go prepared with the 10 essentials no matter what the forecast or trail rating.
- You can rent cross-country ski equipment in Banff at Snowtips-Bactrax and in Lake Louise at Wilson Mountain Sports.
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Location map of cross-country ski trails in Banff
Lake Louise area Cross-country ski trails
Pipestone Cross-country Ski Trails near Lake Louise
Difficulty: Easy to moderate depending in how far you ski
The Pipestone Trails, include the easy Hector (3 km one way), Drummond (2.7 km one way) and Merlin Trails (2.3 km one way) as well as the 13.3 km Pipestone Loop and the 3.5 km one way trial from Baker Creek to Protection Mountain Campground.
The trails are accessible via a short road signed for Pipestone just 0.7 kilometres north of the Lake Louise overpass. There really is something for everyone on this trail network. The snow is usually very good. I like the outer Pipestone Loop loop as it takes you through the woods and past open meadows with excellent views of the Lake Louise Ski Resort.
Fairview and Tramline Trails, Lake Louise Area
Difficulty: Easy to moderate if you head all the way down and up to Lake Louise Village
The Fairview Trail is actually a 7.5 kilometre loop. It’s a beautiful track-set trail that takes you through the forest but it opens up enough to provide some great views. There are no big climbs – just a series of small ups and downs – enough to make it interesting. The height gain in total is only 50 metres. It shouldn’t take you more than two hours to do it. Start at the far end of the furthest parking lot from Chateau Lake Louise. Look for signs saying Fairview Trail. It’s also called the number 2 trail.
Once you’re on it, it’s very well signed and easy to follow. You can make a longer day of it by adding the Tramline Trail to the Fairview Loop – and that allows you to ski from Lake Louise all the way down to Lake Louise Village – and unless you have a car down there you’ll have to ski back up.
Lake Louise Shoreline Trail
If you’re new to cross-country skiing this is a great trail to do. Its 6 kilometres return. Not only is it flat, but it’s very pretty, even if you don’t feel far from civilization. Sometimes you can even ski across Lake Louise, but you’ll need to know that the ice is safe if you’re going to do that.
More advanced skiers with avalanche gear, training and know-how have the option of skiing up to the Plain of Six Glaciers, adding 10 kilometers to the day. On weekends you will often find ice climbers at the end of the trail.
Moraine Lake Road
The Moraine Lake Road is always one of the first places you are able to cross-country ski. The snow comes early and stays late, usually into April. It’s 16 kilometres round trip with just 250 metres of elevation gain if you go up as far as the lookout. Cross-country skiing to Moraine Lake takes you across avalanche chutes and isn’t recommended unless you know what you’re doing. It’s 22 kilometres round-trip to Moraine Lake itself. It’s always a quick ski back to the parking lot.
Great Divide Trail
Difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on if you ski the whole 20 km return
The Great Divide Trail follows Old Highway 1A so it doesn’t have a lot of elevation gain or loss. It’s a good one for beginners or families with young kids. It is track-set from Lake Louise all the way to a trailhead and parking lots just above the Lake O’Hara parking lot. It’s 10 km one way with an elevation loss of 60 metres. Go as far as feels comfortable and retrace tour steps. From the Great Divide Trail you can ski up to Ross Lake in Yoho National Park.
Expect to see snowshoers, fat bikers and people out dogsledding.
Banff area cross-country ski trails
Cross-country skiing the Cascade Fire Road near Lake Minnewanka
Difficulty: Easy to hard depending on how far you go.
The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot that doubles as a track set cross-country ski trail in the winter. It gets great early season snow and it’s one of the first in the area to be track set.
The Cascade Fire Road is an easy cross-country ski unless you elect to ski out and back to the warden’s cabin – and that’s 15 kilometres up the road one way. Then you’ve got a four to six hour day on your hands – but it’s lovely – and if you’re up for it I highly recommend it.
Otherwise there is only one major hill near the beginning of the trail but it’s gradual and swiftly dispatched. The rest of the trail is either flat or offers gently rolling hills. Reach a bridge about 90 minutes into the ski outing – a common place for skiers to turn around. But I’d encourage you to ski at least another 15 -20 minutes so you can enjoy some really pretty views.
Cave and Basin Trails plus Old Healy Creek Road
Park at the refurbished Cave and Basin National Historic Site in Banff and walk behind the buildings and over to the ski trail. You’ll probably get a whiff of rotten eggs as you go – as this is hot springs country. As an aside, garter snakes are fond of the hot springs so there must be a lot of them around this area come the spring.
The Cave and Basin trails can be walked, skied or snowshoed. They are super easy but they are very worthwhile especially after a fresh dump of snow on a sunny day. Mountain views are great and if you have the time it’s worth checking out Sundance Canyon. Leave your skis behind and investigate the canyon on foot.
You can also ski a loop trail through the marshlands which is quite scenic around the Bow River.
For stronger skiers it’s possible to ski into Sundance Lodge and spend the night – something I highly recommend doing.
It’s possible to ski about 16 kilometres in total between the Cave and Basin and Old Healy Creek Trails. There are small hills on the Old Healy Creek Trail but nothing of any note on the Cave and Basin trail.
Boom Lake, Banff National Park
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
The Boom Lake cross-country ski trail is fun. Located in Banff National Park near the boundary of Kootenay National Park, it’s a 5 km ski in to Boom Lake with an elevation gain of just 180 m 591 feet). Once you get to the lake you can ski in either direction BUT make sure the ice is safe and be aware of avalanche slopes that come down to the lake. You can ski the trail in about two hours if you ski fast.
Spray River trail
The Spray River trail, which starts just past the Banff Springs Hotel, is best skied after a snowfall. It’s 5.7 km one way to the bridge over the Spray River. Elevation gain is an easy 75 metres. You can do it as an out and back or as a loop, but the difficulty level goes up a notch with the loop. The trail roughly parallels the river so there are plenty of peek a boo views.
Be prepared to share the trail with snowshoers, winter hikers, and fat bikers.
If you cross-country ski up Redearth Creek for 12.9 km you will reach Shadow Lake Lodge. The last three kilometres are NIT track set. While the lodge is a lovely spot to spend a few days, there is the option hardy skiers to ski up and down in a day. If you’re going to do that, I’d recommend you continue for a kilometre past the lodge so you can enjoy a great view of Mt. Ball above Shadow Lake. Count on a long but rewarding day if skiing.
Goat Creek and Spray River Trail
If you like the thought of a one way trail, providing you can organize a shuttle, start above Canmore at the Goat Creek parking lot (check to make sure its open as it was closed for upgrades in summer-fall 2022) and cross-country ski all the way to the Banff Springs Hotel, a distance of 19.8 km. There is an elevation gain of 435 m and a loss of 160 m. Allow three to five hours one way.
The first part of the trail doesn’t normally get track set but once you meet up with the Spray River trail, you should enjoy track-set trails. It’s one of the prime cross-country ski day trips in Alberta, but getting back to your starting point above Canmore may be the crux of the outing.
Cross-country ski from Castle Junction to Baker Creek Mountain Resort, paralleling Highway 1A for about 5 km. The trail is track-set and does weave through pretty country, even if it is close to the highway. Allow two to three hours to do the return ski.
What to take cross-country skiing in Banff
You’re going to want to stay warm, so be sure to dress in layers. Carry hand warmers, energy bars, and pack a thermos with something hot to drink.
If you’re driving to Banff National Park, always go prepared as snow storms can roll in very quickly. Be sure to pack a snow shovel and an emergency car kit.
If you need more ideas on where to cross-country ski in Alberta, I highly recommend the book – Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies.
Where to stay in Banff National Park
Some of my favourite hotels in Banff include the Moose Hotel – great location, Buffalo Mountain Lodge – excellent restaurant and wood-burning fireplaces plus a huge outdoor hot tub and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel when I’m looking to splurge.
If you want to be on Lake Louise itself it will be expensive. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise enjoys the best views of the lake but with a price.
Deer Lodge is a more affordable option and just a short walk away from the lake. Their updated rooms are great.
In Lake Louise Village the Post Hotel and Spa is lovely and the food is great but it’s not on the lake.
If it’s cozy log cabins you’re after check out Baker Creek Mountain Resort.
An affordable hostel option is this one in Lake Louise.
Further reading on cross-country skiing
- 6 Fun Things to Do in Hinton, Alberta in Winter
- 5 of the Best Places to Cross-country Ski near Calgary
- Skiing in Kananaskis: Ribbon Creek to Skogan Pass
- The Top 19 Places in Canada for Cross-country Skiing
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