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Discovering winter in beautiful, magical Banff

Banff Townsite

Discovering winter in beautiful, magical Banff

The world loves Banff, AlbertaExternal Link Title's picturesque mountain town in the Canadian RockiesExternal Link Title. And winter here is nothing less than glamorous and exciting -- it's also magical. Just an hour and a half from CalgaryExternal Link Title and framed by the Rockies, you really don't have to leave the area to try everything from an ice-walk, heli-snowshoeing, and hot springs dip, to vodka tasting and dining out. Here are the top winter to-dos in BanffExternal Link Title.

Dogsledding near Lake Louise in Banff National Park
Dogsledding near Lake Louise in Banff National Park – Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka

Take in the snow-capped mountain landscape in a traditional way -- whisking along on a sled pulled by a pack of yapping HuskiesExternal Link Title. Experienced outfitters introduce you to their enthusiastic canine teams, then zip you through snow-frosted forests and frozen meadows. There are several guides to choose from: KingMik Dogsled ToursExternal Link Title is the only one that takes guests through fabled Banff National Park, Canada's oldest. Howling Dog ToursExternal Link Title leads private excursions through Kananaskis Country and the wilderness outside Canmore. Family-run Snowy Owl Sled Dog ToursExternal Link Title offers various creative options, including full-day and overnight outings.

Taste spirits

Enjoy drinks with friends at Park Distillery Restuarant and Bar
Enjoy drinks with friends at Park Distillery Restuarant and Bar - credit: Travel Alberta/ Mike Seehagel

Pull up a chair at trendy Park DistilleryExternal Link Title, the only one in a North American park. Take a tour of the facility, which taps pure glacier water from the surrounding mountains, and sample some award-winning spirits -- namely, vodka, gin, and rye. The distillery is also a rustic-chic Canadiana restaurant and bar (some say Banff's best) that specializes in "campfire cuisine" roasted over a wood-burning flame, aka mouthwatering BBQ. So plan to spend an afternoon devoted to food and drink. Cheers!

Play on the lake

Banff National Park’s Lake Louise
Banff National Park’s Lake Louise

An hour or two on sparkling Lake Louise is a pure delight. And your backdrop? Iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake LouiseExternal Link Title. Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride wrapped in a cozy blanket or ice skate on the frozen lake past a life-size ice castle. Or take part in a quintessentially Canadian pastime and play pick-up hockey, known as "pond hockey," outside in the fresh air. Rent all the gear you'll need from Wilson Mountain SportsExternal Link Title nearby.


Heli Snowshoe with Rockies Heli Canada
Heli-snowshoeing with Rockies Heli-Canada - credit: Travel Alberta/Darren Roberts

Rockies Heli CanadaExternal Link Title can take you way out into the wilderness for a snowshoeing adventure, not to mention the dramatic views you'll enjoy en route. There are several cool trips to choose from, for example, the Bubbles Tour. This one combines a snowshoe hike with hot cocoa and lunch, plus a photo safari of Abraham LakeExternal Link Title and its methane gas bubbles that freeze plants at varying depths under the surface for an unusual and artistic effect.

Hit the backcountry

Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort
Nordic skiing in Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort – Credit: Paddy Pallin

Discover your inner explorer with a cross-country skiExternal Link Title far into the pristine backcountry of Banff National Park. There are several outfitters who can take you on guided expeditions or you can ski on your own into cozy hideaways like Sundance LodgeExternal Link Title, a 1923 Old West-style 10-room log cabin that's a 10-mile ski or snowshoeExternal Link Title in. Another top spot is historic Canadian Pacific Railway cabin Skoki LodgeExternal Link Title, which is home to a crackling fire and wood-burning sauna waiting for you as a well-earned reward. Plus, they serve a gourmet dinner.

Dip into the natural hot springs

Banff Upper Hot Springs
Relax and rejuventate at Banff Upper Hot Springs - credit: Travel Alberta/Noel Hendrickson

It's hard to beat the snow-plus-hot springs equation, and the large pool at Banff Upper Hot SpringsExternal Link Title is the traditional spot. Discovered back in 1883, it's now the only one in the area open to the public. Go in the morning to enjoy some solitude in the steaming mineral-rich water, geothermally heated to about 116 F in the winter. You can rent towels and lockers onsite. Banff Trail RidersExternal Link Title puts together fun combo packages like sleigh ride + hot springs + gondola or sleigh ride + snow tubing + hot springs. 

Go for an ice walk

Johnston Canyon Icewalk
The Johnston Canyon Icewalk – Credit: Discover Banff Tours

You don't have to be hardcore to ice walkExternal Link Title in Banff. You can venture into the steep limestone cliffs of overhanging Johnston CanyonExternal Link Title on a nicely maintained steel catwalk that winds through the trees and rock tunnels to take in the frozen falls, sculpted in frozen blue. It's an easy hike and is especially peaceful on winter mornings. Discover Banff ToursExternal Link Title takes guests on guided treks to the canyon as well, gear provided, and you might spot hardy thrill-seekers ice climbingExternal Link Title the falls.

Hit the town

Banff Avenue in winter
Stroll along Banff Avenue - credit: Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

Pull on your hiking or cowboy boots and hit the downtown hot spots on Banff Avenue. The crowd is international, loves a good time, and likes to stay up late. For line dancing and mechanical bull riding, it's Wild Bill's Legendary SaloonExternal Link Title. Dining favorites include seasonal nouveau-Canadian farm/ranch-to-table at The BisonExternal Link Title; ribs, exotic meats like alligator, and fondue at The Grizzly HouseExternal Link Title; and budget-friendly Mexican and tequila at Magpie and StumpExternal Link Title. If you visit in late November, don't miss the Banff Craft Beer FestivalExternal Link Title. A top watering hole is the always-packed Tommy's Neighborhood PubExternal Link Title, which is conveniently located below the other fave, Dancing Sasquatch NightclubExternal Link Title.

Ski and snowboard

Powder hounds at Sunshine Village
Powder hounds at Sunshine Village – Credit: Banff Lake Louise Tourism/Paul Zizka

DownhillExternal Link Title at Banff is a must, and you've got three gorgeous places to choose from. First, there's the classic resort Sunshine VillageExternal Link Title -- massive and with all the attractions and activities. Sunshine boasts Canada's first heated chairlift, has fast lifts, huge views, and consistent powder, plus you can ski in Alberta and British Columbia on one run. Another plus: The town's biggest hot tub is here -- to the right of the ski hill at Sunshine Mountain LodgeExternal Link Title.


Then there's Lake Louise with incomparable views of Banff National Park and its glacier-fed turquoise lakes. Finally, NorquayExternal Link Title, close to CalgaryExternal Link Title and overlooking the town of Banff is best for beginner riders and downhill skiers, and also offers Alberta's largest tubing park. A Tri-Area lift ticket buys you access to all three.


If you're wondering, really the only thing better than winter in Banff -- is summer in Banff, or spring or fall -- and perhaps a warm-weather Rockies road tripExternal Link Title.

Ready for Banff? Get the details at the Travel Alberta website.