If you’re looking for ways to embrace winter, head for Banff. Between the town and the park there is a terrific amount to do – especially with all the snow that’s fallen so far this year. And no matter what the temperature is outside (even if its -25°C) you can slip into Banff Hot Springs at the end of the day to warm up and relax any tired muscles.
For the most up to date information I always recommend checking in with the Parks Canada people. They have an office on the main street (Banff Avenue) in Banff but they also have a new Visitor Information Centre and Parks Canada desk at the Heritage Train Station. The bonus to going here is the free parking, killer views of Cascade Mountain and lots of coffee. Not only can you pick up a map but you can check out their interpretive panels and historical photographs.
What are the best outdoor winter adventures around Banff?
Snowshoeing is a popular activity and if you can walk I always say you can comfortably snowshoe. From the Cave and Basin area head out along the Bow River and continue all the way to the Healey Creek trailhead if you’re looking for exercise. But if you’re looking for beauty head up Sundance Canyon. Alternatively head for Lake Minnewanka and do the trails paralleling the lake. The Spray River Loop is another popular one for snowshoers. If you want something a little harder and longer, snowshoe up to the aptly named Ink Pots near Johnston Canyon.
Skiing is one of the big reasons to visit Banff National Park in winter. There are three downhill resorts to choose from with Mt. Norquay and Sunshine Village the closest to the town of Banff. Lake Louise is another 30 minutes away – and offers truly beautiful skiing if there’s lots of snow. But it’s Mt. Norquay that has super cheap ski days – $0.90 on four more Tuesdays throughout the season.
The cross-country skiing around Banff is stellar – and there’s a lot of choice. Try the Cascade Fire Road near Lake Minnewanka if you want to be out for a full day. Another excellent trail is the Redearth Trail that takes you up to Shadow Lake Lodge. Strong skiers can easily do and up and back in a day, stopping for a “tea” at the lodge before returning.
Be an early adopter and try some fat tire biking. Rent a bike at Soul Ski and Sport or Bactrax and head out on nearby trails for a few hours. If you’ve got energy to burn make your way to Tunnel Mountain where there are trails that include everything from beginner to expert. The Spray River Loop trail near the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an excellent choice as is the trail along the Bow River.
Fat tire bikes are big with tires the width of your hand. It’s a lot easier if you can peddle right from the stores in downtown Banff than it is trying to load a bike onto the back of a car in winter especially if you’ve arrived in a rental car.
If you don’t mind tight spaces, especially if it’s a cold try the Canmore caving tour. (Caves maintain a constant temperature above zero.) Pick a tour depending on how long you want to be underground. If you love caving I recommend their adventure tour that includes an 18 metre rappel into the darkness and a slide down the very aptly named Laundry Chute. The tour is not for the faint of heart but it sure shows off the beauty of the underground caves.
Every visitor to Banff should do the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk in the winter. It can be crowded so aim to get there at the beginning or end of the day. You can also sign up for a night tour. The walking is easy but sometimes you need “icers” (always provided on tours) if the trail has become slippery. Not only is it interesting to see the engineering that went into making the steel catwalks, but the frozen waterfalls and world of ice is exceptionally beautiful. On weekends especially you’re likely to see ice-climbers at the far end of the canyon. That’s a tour you can try as well – even if you’ve never ice-climbed before.
Bonus winter activity in Banff
Skating is also a great way to spend time in the Banff area. While there is a rink in town and one near the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, you can also try Carrot Creek – Banff’s secret skating spot. Just read the post before you head to Banff National Park or you’ll never find it.
Banff consistently delivers great winter experiences. I feel very lucky to be able to access the area on a regular basis.