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5 Easy Cross Country Ski Trails In Banff National Park

5 Easy Cross Country Ski Trails in Banff National Park

I am a big fan of the cross country ski trails 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.

Check out these 5 suggestions for easy cross country ski trails in Banff National Park. Remember to always go prepared with the 10 essentials no matter what the forecast or trail rating. At the end of the day I highly recommend immersing yourself in the hot steamy waters of the Banff Hot Springs.

Pipestone Trails near Lake Louise

The Pipestone Trails, accessible via a short road signed for Pipestone just 0.7 kilometres north of the Lake Louise overpass have something for everyone.

Twenty one kilometres of mostly easy skiing is available. The snow is usually very good. I like the outer loop. It’s 13 kilometres long and takes you through the woods and then through open meadows with excellent views of the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Nicely groomed cross country ski trails in Banff
Nicely groomed trails
Lovely skiing with views of Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lovely skiing with views of Lake Louise Ski Resort
Pipestone cross-country skiing near Lake Louise - one of the cross country ski trails in Banff National Park
Pipestone cross-country skiing near Lake Louise

Fairview Trail, Lake Louise Area

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 Skiing: The Fairview & Tramline Trails
Skiing the Fairview Trail

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.

More advanced skiers 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.

View from the far end of Lake Louise - one of the cross country ski trails in Banff National Park
View from the far end of Lake Louise
You can see ice climbers in action at Lake Louise
You can see ice climbers in action at the far end of Lake Louise

The Cascade Fire Road near Lake Minnewanka – one of the easy cross country ski trails in Banff National Park

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 long day on your hands.

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. However since the flooding in June 2014 there has been a deep swath cut through part of the trail.

It’s at about the two hour mark going up. Although it’s still possible to go up and down the steep gully, you may want to turn around there.

Lake Minnewanka before its frozen
Lake Minnewanka before its frozen
Starting up the Cascade Fire Road - one of the easy cross country ski trails in Banff
Starting up the Cascade Fire Road
You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka
You almost always see elk on the drive in to Lake Minnewanka

Cave and Basin Trails plus Old Healy Creek Road – one of my favourite cross country ski trails in Banff

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 too.

Leave your skis behind and investigate the canyon on foot. For stronger skiers it’s possible to ski into Sundance Lodge and spend the night – something I highly recommend doing.

Continue all the way to the Sunshine Road though back in 2013 floods made a mess of the trail just 300 metres before you reach the road. Still 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.

Beautiful mountain views along much of the trail
Beautiful mountain views along much of the trail
Some beautiful skiing alongside the Bow River
Some beautiful skiing alongside the Bow River
Late afternoon light in the mountains
Late afternoon light in the mountains

If you want to get an idea about ski conditions before you head out (for Kananaskis Country too)  then it’s worthwhile checking out Skier Bob’s website. It’s an interactive site so day by day reports on ski conditions are posted. It’s a great site and worth checking out.

Further reading on cross-country skiing

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

5 easy cross country ski trails in Banff National Park

 

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. I downhill skied (raced actually) once upon a time in another life, Leigh. And I know cross-country skiing is actually more strenuous. My opinion.
    Chateau Lake Louise is high, high on my bucket list. Has been for years! I’m with you, I like to see hot springs, not smell them. Your photos are amazing as always, our friend! 🙂

    1. @Ted You do have to have a National Parks pass. I buy a yearly one for ~$135 so I don’t have to think twice about going into Banff – plus it’s good for all the National Parks with the exception of the ones in the north. And the trails really are lovely but they could use some snow right now.

  2. Amazing scenery, so beautiful. I have never been to Banff NP but definitely plan to. It might not work out this year, but it is a must for next year! Very beautiful captures

  3. This is a nice post, thanks!
    For an absolute beginner like me, where would you recommend to try near Banff town?
    I have come to Banff because I want to learn winter sports. First cross-country skiing and skiing downhill and maybe snowboard if I feel like.

    1. @Jamie If there is good snow head to the Cave and Basin area (walk down the small hill if its icy) and then ski west beside the Bow River. It’s pretty and its easy. Heading to the Canmore Nordic area is also recommended as they have loads of trails across all levels and it’s not very far to go.

  4. Hi Leigh,

    Great info. I have been most places in the park but not on cross country skies. I have some friends coming to visit very soon and I want to take them for a day doing this activity. What would you recommend as the most scenic trail to do in the Banff and Lake Louise area if you had to pick one. I think a 2-4hour trip would be perfect as they are new to cross country skiing.

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