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Taylor Lake

Where to Go Snowshoeing in Banff National Park

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park is a fun, invigorating way to spend time outdoors in winter. It’s hard to beat rosy cheeks and the glow you get after a few hours outdoors in Mother Nature. In Banff National Park, there are loads of trails to choose from – including some that will get your heart pounding for hours at a time. Don’t worry though. There are plenty of easy, family-friendly options for those of you who just want to break up the day and get out for an hour or two.

No matter where you end up snowshoeing in Banff National Park, be sure to go prepared. That means taking the right clothing (no cotton) and extra layers if the temperature drops. Take a thermos or two of something hot to drink along with some high energy food. You can burn a lot of calories just trying to stay warm. 

If it hasn’t snowed in a while, I’d also recommend taking a pair of icers as you may have to alternate between snowshoes and icers. And believe it or not, you should still carry bear spray. We met a fellow during the third week of November who ended up close to a BIG grizzly bear near the Cascade Ponds, off the Lake Minnewanka Road. 

Avalanche danger is one of the hazards in the backcountry. Most of these trails don’t cross avalanche paths – and personally that’s the way I like it. But people can inadvertently get off trail – in whiteout conditions for instance or take a trail with known avalanche danger. If that’s the case you better know what you’re doing. Before you go, check out this avalanche forecast for Banff National Park.

Also visit the Banff National Park website for an update on trail conditions.

You can take your dog on leash on most of these trails. Exceptions would be Sunshine Village, perhaps Shadow Lake Lodge, and possibly Paradise Creek. Don’t forget extra water and treats for them as well. Some dogs, like our rescue from Mexico, need booties below a certain temperature. 

Snowshoeing in Banff at Sunshine
Snowshoeing in Banff National Park at Sunshine

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Snowshoeing in Banff to Taylor Lake

Distance and elevation gain: 12.6 km return, 585 m elevation gain

This is a great trail for snowshoeing if you’re after a workout. It climbs most of the way to the lake, ending in a scenic hanging valley. Occasionally you’ll see cross-country skiers on the trail. Give them room as it isn’t a wide trail. Allow about 4 – 5 hours depending on how deep the snow is and how many breaks you take.

The parking lot is located 8 km west of Castle Junction on the west side of the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s signed in either direction. 

Note: The trail to O’Brien Lake or Panorama Ridge take you into avalanche terrain and should be avoided unless you’re equipped to travel through avalanche country and savvy about what to do.

The start of the Taylor Lake snowshoe
The start of the Taylor Lake snowshoe
Taylor Lake
The beauty of Taylor Lake – and one happy Bernese Mountain dog

Upper Stoney Loop

Distance and elevation gain: 4.8 km loop with 205 m of elevation gain

The Upper Stoney loop snowshoe is a great one if you only have a few hours. Its got enough of an elevation gain that you feel like you’ve had a workout. Even though much of the loop is in the forest, it is pretty – and the view from Stoney Lookout is excellent, especially of Cascade Mountain and the Bow Valley.

Pick up the trail just as you enter the Mount Norquay ski area on the right. There is signage and the parking lot attendants seem to know where to point you. 

The view from Stoney Lookout of the Bow Valley
The view of the Bow Valley from Stoney Lookout 
Snowshoeing in Banff on the Upper Stoney loop that finishes behind the lodge at Mt Norquay
The loop finishes behind the lodge at Mt Norquay

Bourgeau Lake

Distance and elevation gain: 14.8 km return with 765 m elevation gain if you go all the way to the lake

You won’t find this snowshoe trail in many guides but it’s a good one for a workout if you go as far as the first of the avalanche chutes, about 5.5 km in. We turned back before the lake, as there was just one avalanche zone too many too cross – and even though there wasn’t a lot of snow, I didn’t feel it was worth the risk. The trail climbs relentlessly to the lake so it’s a good one for the workout. Views are spotty until you reach the lake.

If you do continue all the way to the lake, be sure you’re prepared to travel in avalanche country!

The Bourgeau Lake trailhead is on the Trans-Canada Highway just 2.8 km west of the Sunshine Village turnoff and 44 km from the Lake Louise turnoff. It is signed in both directions on the highway.

The start and end of the Bourgeau Lake trail is very easy
The start and end of the Bourgeau Lake trail is very easy
Snowshoeing to Bourgeau Lake on a grey on grey day
Snowshoeing to Bourgeau Lake on a grey November day
Bourgeau Lake avalanche area
And this is why snowshoeing all the way to Bourgeau Lake when there is a heavy snow load is NOT a good idea – rather a large avalanche zone!

Boom Lake Trail

Distance and elevation gain: 10.2 km return with 175 m elevation gain; that doesn’t include any snowshoeing on the lake itself

There is a cross-country ski trail to Boom Lake so there is no reason you couldn’t follow it to the lake, as long as you stay out of the ski tracks. You’re in the trees all the way to the lake, but once you arrive at the lake it’s very pretty. There is a 600 m cliff rising above the southern shore along with some lovely frozen icefalls along the northern shore. 

Only travel on the lake if it is safe to do so. According to the Weather Network, blue ice should be at least 15 cm thick to be safe to walk on – and 20 cm thick if there is a group of people.

Boom Lake is on the north side of Highway 93, 7.2 km south of the Trans-Canada Highway – Castle Junction intersection.

You could also read about cross-country skiing to Boom Lake as it will give you an idea of what to expect.

Snowshoeing on Boom Lake
Snowshoeing on Boom Lake
Avalanche path to the shores of Boom Lake
Avalanche path to the shores of Boom Lake – be sure to stay well away from this

Johnson Lake

Distance and elevation gain: 2.8 km loop with minimal elevation loss or gain

The trail starts from the Johnson Lake day-use area off the road up to Lake Minnewanka. Signage is excellent. 

This is a popular trail for a snowshoe or winter walk. Head off in either direction following the lakeside shoreline. At the far end, enjoy superlative views of both Cascade and Rundle Mountains. The east side of the lake is mainly in the trees and underneath a powerline so it’s not nearly as pretty. 

The trail around Johnson Lake is easy to follow
The trail around Johnson Lake is easy to follow
Snowshoeing in Banff National Park at Johnson Lake
Pretty snowshoeing at Johnson Lake – easy too

Ink Pots via Moose Meadows

Distance and elevation gain: 11.2 km return with 340 m elevation gain and 140 m elevation loss

If you visit the Ink Pots via the Moose Meadows trail, you won’t have to fight the crowds on the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk. The trail climbs steadily through the forest with little in the way of views until you’re almost at the Ink Pots. There you will find magnificently coloured mineral springs, no matter what the temperature.

The trailhead is located at the Moose Meadows parking lot, about 4.6 km southwest of Castle Junction on Highway 1A.

Snowshoe to the Ink Pots in Banff National Park
Snowshoe to the Ink Pots
It's another 8.7 km to Mystic Pass from the Ink Pots
It’s another 8.7 km to Mystic Pass from the Ink Pots – an overnight hike in the summer

Snowshoeing in Banff up Sulphur Mountain via Cosmic Ray Road

Distance and elevation gain: 15.6 km return with 885 m of elevation gain

*** This trail is closed until early April 2021 because of mechanical forest thinning and log hauling. ***

This is one of my favourite winter outings in Banff National Park. Not only do you get a good workout because of the distance, you get stellar views for most of its length. 

The trail starts at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, west of the visitor area. Pick up the Sundance Trail and follow it as it parallels the Bow River for 2.6 km. At that point look for signage and an intersection pointing to the Sulphur Mountain Summit. Take it and follow the long road until it reaches the boardwalk. From there you can climb up Sanson Peak. 

The descent is way faster but there is the option to pay for a ride down on the Banff Gondola. Then you’d have to taxi, hitchhike or have pre-arranged a shuttle to get back to the Cave and Basin parking lot.

Read: The Sulphur Mountain hike in Banff National Park

Hiking the Cosmic Ray Road in November
Hiking the Cosmic Ray Road in November
The boardwalk that takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain
The boardwalk that takes you to the top of Sulphur Mountain

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park on the Spray River Loop

Distance and elevation gain: 12 km for the full loop with 65 m of elevation gain

The Spray River loop is ideal if you want to get out for some easy exercise. Often, you’ll be hiking, perhaps with cleats and not snowshoeing as the snow around here never stays around for long.

From the trailhead, located just past the Banff Springs Hotel, follow the Spray River for 5.7 km down to a bridge. You can either retrace your steps at this point or cross the bridge and follow the wide trail back along the river to another bridge. Cross it, climb a short hill, turn right and you’re back at the trailhead.

Read: Hiking the Spray River Loop Trail, Banff National Park 

The turn around point on the Spray River Loop
The turn around point on the Spray River Loop winter hike or snowshoe
Looking towards the Banff Springs Hotel
Looking towards the Banff Springs Hotel

Tunnel Mountain

Distance and elevation gain: 4.8 km return with 260 m of elevation gain

I think of Tunnel Mountain as a great place to go for a winter walk but after a big dump of fresh snow, it would also be a terrific outing on snowshoes. Its one of the must do trails in the park for the superlative views you get of Mt. Rundle, the Banff townsite, Mt Norquay and the Bow Valley. If you’ve never been to Banff before, a hike to the summit helps put all the landmarks in perspective.

Allow 90 minutes to 2 hours to do the round-trip hike.

You can walk to the trailhead from downtown Banff, but you can also drive there in about 5 minutes via Banff Avenue, Wolf Street, Grizzly and St. Julien Road (complete directions in my the Tunnel Mountain blog)

Read: The Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park 

Awesome views of Mt Rundle
Awesome views of Mt Rundle from Tunnel Mountain
Young couple reading up on the endangered limber pine from the summit of Tunnel Mountain
Young couple reading up on the endangered limber pine from the summit of Tunnel Mountain

Surprise Corner to Hoodoos

Distance and elevation gain: 9.2 km return with 115 m elevation gain, 90 m elevation loss

You’ll find the trailhead for this outing at Surprise Corner, located at the east end of Buffalo Street. Years ago, we combined this trail with a loop off of Tunnel Mountain Road, just past the Hoodoos Viewpoint and made a full day of it.

Some of the trail is in the trees but there are great long sections where you get some views of the Bow River. Around the Hoodoos Viewpoint the vistas are gorgeous. This is a sunny trail so its often icy. I think you’ll find icers are a better choice than snowshoes unless there has been a fresh dump of snow.

Views of the hoodoos overlooking the Bow River
Views of the hoodoos overlooking the Bow River
Glorious views at the high point of the trail
Glorious views near the high point of the trail

Lake Louise Lakeshore

Distance and elevation gain: 4.0 km return with no elevation gain

From the front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, head right on the lakeshore trail. Views are beautiful for the full length of the trail. At the end of the lake look for ice climbers on the 100 m tall frozen waterfall.

Continuing past the end of the lake towards the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse takes you into avalanche country. Again, take the proper equipment and know how to safely travel in this terrain. 

Snoeshoeing in Banff along the Lake Louise shores
Enjoy a winter walk or snowshoe beside Lake Louise
Particularly pretty winter walking or snowshoeing before Lake Louise has frozen over
Particularly pretty winter walking or snowshoeing before Lake Louise has frozen over

Mirror Lake

Distance and elevation gain: 5.4 km return with a 295 m elevation gain – via the Lake Agnes Trail

This is a popular trail to hike and snowshoe in winter with many people continuing past Mirror Lake to Agnes Lake.

But be warned. The trail beyond Mirror Lake is classified as challenging Class 2 terrain for avalanche exposure and travel. I did it one year not appreciating the massive snowfields above me that you can’t see from the trail. Stupid! If you continue – and so many people do – you should have all the appropriate equipment and know-how in avalanche country. Dumb luck doesn’t count for much.

The actual trail to Mirror Lake switchbacks through the trees – offering only a few views. But it’s a good workout and Mirror Lake with the view of the Big Beehive pictured below is very pretty.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake
The slope on the right is the avalanche slope
The slope on the right is the avalanche slope though most of it can’t be seen

“Highline” Trail to Paradise Creek

Distance and elevation gain: 9 km return, 60 m elevation gain 

This is one of the few snowshoe trails I haven’t done in Banff National Park. It’s on the top of my list when I know it’s going to be a sunny day in Lake Louise this winter.

For a full route description until I’ve done this trail for myself, check out this post by 10 Adventures.

The Paradise Valley area of Banff
Now imagine snow in this landscape and you can see what a treat you’ll be in for

Snowshoeing in Banff – options that are not mainstream

Snowshoeing in Banff at Sunshine Meadows

Distance and elevation gain: Variable depending on the tour 

While it’s possible to explore Sunshine Meadows on your own, there are some logistics involved just getting into the high country. You would have to pay for a ride up and down the gondola and Standish chairlift at a minimum – which in 2020-21 is $44 + GST pp. 

The other alternative is to enjoy a guided, fun winter outing with White Mountain Adventures. I’ve done a few outings with them and have always enjoyed the experience. Sunshine Meadows on a bluebird day is particularly beautiful but if you’re in a winter snowstorm you can get turned around pretty quickly. For people who are navigationally challenged, go with a guide.

Read: The Sunshine Village Snowshoeing Experience 

Snowshoeing in Banff National Park out of Sunshine Village Scenery
View on a gorgeous day while snowshoeing in Banff National Park from Sunshine Village
My friend Jody just before she crashes
My friend Jody just before she crashes

Snowshoeing from Shadow Lake Lodge

Most people cross-country ski up to Shadow Lake Lodge, but once you’re up at the lodge there are is lots of opportunity for snowshoeing. Head out to Shadow Lake on a flat easy trail or make your way towards Gibbon or Ball Pass.

Take the Redearth Creek Trail to the lodge from the Redearth Creek parking area. You’ll find it signed on the Trans-Canada Highway in either direction, located 20 km west of the Banff townsite or 10.5 km east of Castle Junction.

Snowshoeing is an option from Shadow Lake Lodge
Snowshoeing is an option from Shadow Lake Lodge

Have you been snowshoeing in Banff? Do you have any trails that you’d recommend?

A few things I’d recommend for these snowshoeing outings

You can rent snowshoes but it’s so much easier to go on a last-minute outing if you have your own. Buy some somewhere, anywhere – as they are being gobbled up because of COVID.

For more ideas on where to go snowshoeing in the Rockies, pick up a 2nd edition copy of Andrew Nugara’s Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies.

I’d also recommend buying a good pair of icers like these ones from Kahtoola.

Poles are invaluable for balance. You can buy winter pole but I just use my collapsible hiking poles – and would suggest something like these ones

Be sure to take some handwarmers, a thermos, some energy bars and an extra pair of warm socks.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Where to go snowshoeing 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 2 Comments

  1. Once again, a great piece with detailed information for all levels of winter enthusiasts. And amazing pics!!!!

    1. @Guy Thanks for your lovely comment. It takes some time to cover off all these trails but I have fun doing it. I am personally always looking for new ideas. Need to visit Jasper in winter so I can do another in depth post on snowshoeing & xcountry skiing as these are going to be such popular activities this winter. I hear xcountry skis are flying off the shelf at the same speed as snowshoes!

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