Banff National park is an extremely popular destination in the summertime, which is when I have always dreamed of going as well. Its home to beautiful weather, turquoise lakes, kayaking, hiking and so much more!
While most people head to places like Thailand (like I did in 2017) or Hawaii for the winter months, I like to experience all 4 seasons when I travel! Living in Las Vegas, snow is a foreign concept to me. When I saw a picture of Lake Louise frozen over, my crazy ass bought a ticket instantly!
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– When to Go –
If you want to experience Banff as a winter wonderland, go in January! Lake Louise has its famous ice castle festivals and ice bars. All of the lakes are frozen over and there’s plenty of snow for skiing and dog sledding.
TIP: Don’t go in December, like me, and miss the ice bar and ice castle festival by ONE. WEEK. *bows head in shame*
If you want to experience the warm weather and turquoise waters, go in late spring. I asked all the locals this question and they said summer’s are way too crowded and a lot of forest fires from British Columbia make the air quality bad during June – August.
– Where to Stay –
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is an experience in and of itself. In the winter months, this 5 star, luxury hotel is comparable to other hotels in the area. I would say the only downside to this hotel is it is far from restaurants and shops. The actual city of Banff is located about 40 minutes from Lake Louise.
However, this hotel has it all! Seriously… They have 7 restaurants, 2 bars, 1 wine bar, full service spa, hot tub, fitness center, and an entire mall in the hotel! You never need to leave this winter wonderland castle!
(This is the view from our room!)
In the summer months, the Fairmont is extremely expensive. If you’re looking for the luxurious experience, this will definitely be the hotel for you. Keep in mind, if you plan to do a lot of hiking in the summertime, it will be a far drive from many hikes. I would personally recommend staying at a hotel closer to the actual city of Banff. This way you can do hikes like Johnston’s canyon and Lake Moraine without having to drive too far, making your overall vacation more enjoyable.
– Must Try Food –
Poutine fries are the #1 thing you MUST TRY in Canada. It’s a big plate of fries covered in gravy with cheese curds sprinkled on top. Most portions are easily shared between a group, or you can have it all to yourself. Hey, calories don’t count on vacation right?!
Beaver tail is a pastry in the shape of a beaver tail that has toppings on it. You can add bananas, chocolate, caramel, oreo cookie… the world is your oyster!
A must try whenever it’s cold! Gruyere cheese is extremely popular in Canada. They put it on sandwiches, burgers, omelettes, and fondue!
You will find maple syrup in every single store. This is what Canada is most known for and produces 71% of the worlds maple syrup!
– Currency –
They take the Canadian dollar. A lot of places will still accept U.S. dollars and a lot of U.S. credit card companies (i.g. Discover and American Express). Of course though, don’t rely on only U.S. currency and credit cards because there will always be smaller shops that don’t accept it.
For American’s, the Canadian dollar is in our favor. Whatever it is listed in Canadian dollars, you can typically take about 30% off that. That is constantly changing though, so make sure you check to see right before you go.
– Itinerary –
Day 1: Arrive in Calgary & Drive to Banff
I would recommend flying in as early as possible so you don’t have to drive at night. While the roads were perfectly kept (like, not a SINGLE flake of snow), you would miss out on the breathtaking drive!
A two-hour drive in the dark, is well.. just a two-hour drive. But a two-hour drive winding through snow-capped mountains is going to be one of the best road trips of your life.
Yes, I would even go as far to say it was comparable to my road trip in Iceland.
I unfortunately flew in at night and didn’t get to experience the breathtaking scenery until my drive back to Calgary, so that is why I just ranted for 3 paragraphs… Hey, you live and you learn.
Regardless of your arrival time, check into your hotel, get a much needed glass of red wine and take in the heart-stopping views of Banff National Park.
Day 2: Banff Gondola & Sky Bistro Dinner
This is very important, so listen up. This would be an absolute waste of money if you don’t go on a clear day. You will not be able to see a single thing. This day could be interchanged with day #4 or #5, so make sure you check the weather when you get there and plan accordingly!
Start your morning off with breakfast at the famous, Touloulou (how stinking cute is that name?? And yes, I went there strictly because I wanted to say I went to Touloulou for breakfast. Don’t judge me). The line is always down the block, so either be prepared to wait, or get there early!
TIP: Buy HotHands hand warmers! I am the biggest baby when my hands are cold and these were my saving grace!
Walk around the adorable and festive town, shop for souvenirs, and stop in Eddie’s for a popular Canadian cocktail: The Bloody Caesar.
(yes, that is a chicken wing on top!)
TIP: If you forgot to get your National Park pass when driving in, you can pick one up at the visitor center in Banff. It’s roughly $20 CAD / day.
Next up, head over to the Banff Gondola I was so blessed with a perfectly sunny and clear day and could see for miles and miles. From the top, you can see the entire town of Banff, Bow River and the Canadian Rockies as far as the eye can see.
If you buy the bundle package, which I highly recommend, it’s $89 CAD for the gondola ride up and a 2 course dinner at Sky Bistro. We went up around 2, spent about an hour and a half walking along the board walk, and made it back to Sky Bistro for a sunset dinner at 4pm.
The boardwalk is roughly 3 1/2 miles (5.5 km) round trip, but I swear to you it doesn’t feel that long. You will be stopping every 10 seconds to get a picture of the jaw-dropping scenery. The trail is extremely well-kept, and has railings on both sides. This can be done by any age and fitness level.
If you get to Sky Bistro early enough, you can get a table right along the glass to soak in the views while you sip on your spiked hot chocolate.
End your night at the hotel hot tub to defrost from a cold day outside.
Day 3: Dog Sledding
This will be the most terrific thing you will ever do.
Kingmik Dog Sledding is the only dog sledding tour in Banff, located walking distance from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I wanted to start off by saying how amazing this company is. They have several “mushers” that have worked with the company for years. Not only are they dedicated employees while at work, they also live at the ranch and care for the dogs around the clock! They have a true love for these animals, which shows during the tour.
I recommend doing the earliest possible tour. The sun set around 4pm during the winter months, so if you do the later tour, you won’t have much day light left to do anything else. They have 2 hour tours running at 9:30am, 12pm and 2pm.
When you arrive, the dogs will be loud and excited to start your tour. They had some breakfast and are ready to run off all that energy! You’ll meet your musher, get into your sleigh and be on your way.
You’ll wind through Canada’s old highway that is only used for cross-country skiing and, you guessed it, Dog Sledding! The Canadian Rockies in the distance and snow-capped trees make it a serious bucket-list moment.
Also, don’t worry about pictures because you’ll have more than enough time to get as many shots as you want! The mushers stop and take pictures of you and the dogs throughout the entire tour.
TIP: They have longer tours, but I honestly believe that the Great Divide, two-hour tour was plenty. You are pretty ready to get out of the sled and into the warmth by the time the tour is completed.
The remainder of your afternoon will be a free day! I always like to ask local’s what their favorite spots are on the first few days and save time to experience them throughout the trip.
- Snowboarding / Skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort
- Hike to Lake Louise View Point
- Spa Day at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- Sip on some hot chocolate in front of the fire pits on Lake Louise
- Horse and carriage ride
- DO NOTHING! You’re on vacation, it’s totally okay to not have any plans.
Day 4: Ice Skating Lake Louise
Sleep in and enjoy your last full day in Lake Louise! Start your morning off with an amazing breakfast buffet with a view at Poppy Brasserie’s.
There is a well-kept ice skating rink on Lake Louise that is open to the public. You can rent ice skates from the Fairmont for either $15 for two hours or $25 for the full day.
Ice skating on an actual frozen lake has to be one of the coolest things! Yes, it’s a little freaky, but you’ll feel better when you see how many people are ice skating on it.
After you’re done ice skating on Lake Louise, you can also walk along the entire lake. If you’re a picture lover like me, you can spend hours photographing the snowy trees with the
hotel castle in the background! #DoItForTheGram
End your last night in winter wonderland with Gruyere and truffle fondue for two at Walliser Stube.
Day 5: Johnston’s Canyon and Fly Home
Okay, so the reason I planned this before a flight is because Johnston’s canyon is 45 minutes from Lake Louise. No one wants to spend another day of their short, 5 day vacation, driving. Johnston’s Canyon is on the way towards Calgary and if you fly out at night, this is easily doable.
Johnston’s canyon is split up into two hikes: Upper falls and Lower falls (creative, right?). If you have time, the upper falls is definitely worth the extra hour. You get to see
crazy ice climbers who climb the actual waterfall!
If you don’t have the time to see Upper falls, Lower falls is still 100% worth the trip. The entire walk along the snowy river is simply gorgeous. Seeing a frozen waterfall is something I looked forward to so much because the fact that moving water can freeze is so amazing to me!
After your hike, head back to Calgary, return the rental car and say goodbye to Winter Wonderland!
– Final Thoughts & Tips –
I already can’t wait to return to Banff (or maybe Jasper next time?) in the spring / summer months. As you can see, there is plenty to do in Banff for the non-snowboarder!
If you SUCK at snowboarding / skiing like me and my friend, Allison (Like, we would be those two idiots rolling down the mountain making ourselves into a giant snowball), this itinerary is perfect for you! Don’t hesitate to comment any questions below!
Psst.. If you are booking a trip to Banff soon (or any cold, winter location), you NEED to buy HotHands hand warmers! These saved my life in Banff and New York during the winter and in all honestly… will probably where them anytime I’m ever cold.
Thanks so much for stopping by ♥
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