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!
Winter in Banff is unbelievably magical! Everything to do there like ice castle festivals, epic skiing, ice skating on frozen lakes, and fondue is a total adult playground!
Traveling to Banff? Don’t forget to check out my guide on Things to Know Before Traveling to Banff in the Winter!
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Best time to travel to Banff in the Winter
If you want to see Banff National park covered in snow, I would HIGHLY recommend going in late January for their ice castle festival! I did not know about this before I went and was so sad that I missed it… by one week! They were sculpting the ice castles while I was there and I was so sad I missed out on the festival!
I also think that before Christmas would be magical so you could experience all the adorable Christmas decorations in downtown Banff.
If you don’t really care about the ice castles, anytime between November and May will be perfect because that is the period when the snow is falling and the lakes are frozen over.
What to pack for Banff in the Winter
I don’t want to bore you with a never-ending packing list, but these are my top 3 things that I consider MUST-HAVE’S for traveling to Banff in the winter:
Guys, these things saved my life in Banff! Well, any winter destination really. They are fairly small and stay warm for several hours. I kept these in my boots and in my mittens while I was exploring outside. Click here to buy them!
I would get a few neutral colored beanies to match with all your outfits. Keeping your ears warm in the freezing cold is crucial, because if your head is not warm, YOU will not be warm. Simple as that.
I personally like the over-sized or “chunky” beanie style with the pom-pom top. Here is a cute option that comes in tons of colors!
3. Snow Shoes
Snow shoes are an absolute must-have for Banff because it is SO cold. You will be outside a lot during your time in Banff and you will want to make sure you stay as warm as possible. Not only do snow shoes keep your feet nice and toasty, but they also prevent you from slipping on ice and snow. There is snow pretty much everywhere you will be walking, so making sure you don’t slip and hurt yourself is super important! I have the Sorel Brand and I can not recommend them enough, kept my feet super warm and were very cute.
If you want more ideas on what to pack for a winter destination, I have a full guide that is constantly updated with all my winter recommendations. You can read my Winter Packing List here!
Winter in Banff 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! If the line is crazy long, there will be plenty of other breakfast places in downtown Banff, so just walk around and have breakfast at a place you like 🙂
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. And yes, that is a chicken wing on top! Most bars will have this, but Eddie’s (which is in the center of town) is known for theirs!
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. The visitor center is also in the center of town, near the Starbucks.
Next up, head over to the Banff Gondola to take in the breathtaking views of Banff National Park. 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 2pm, 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. Even though dinner doesn’t start until 4pm, they will let you come in a little early to get a drink and secure a table. My friend and I sat down around 3:30pm, but the second 4pm rolled around, all the best spots were taken!
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. During your tour, the tour guide will stop to show you some beautiful view points and share some history about the area.
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. This breakfast spot is located inside the Fairmont Chateau in Lake Louise, which is a total bucket list hotel! You truly feel like you are staying in a castle in the most beautiful place in the world. Regardless if you stay the hotel, you can still have breakfast at Poppy Brasserie & go ice skating!
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
Again, this feels a little freaky to be walking across the frozen lake, but you will see plenty of people walking along the lake. If you feel really uncomfortable, you can walk the rim around the lake to still take in the beautiful scenery. This is the same path the horse and carriage rides take, so you know it’s still scenic!
End your last night in winter wonderland with Gruyere and truffle fondue for two at Walliser Stube. I am still talking about this place a year later, it was unbelievably good! My parents traveled to Banff a few months after I did and they said it was one of the best meals they’ve ever had.
Walliser Stube is also located inside of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise!
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.
If you are staying in the actual town of Banff, this won’t be too far away from where you are staying. I would still recommend doing this before your flight out, because it is a great way to end your trip!
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! The drive from Johnston’s Canyon to Calgary Airport is a little under 2 hours, but it won’t feel that long I promise! The drive will be completely jaw-dropping the entire time.
If you don’t want to do Johnston’s Canyon, you can head back to Calgary early to explore the city a little bit. Some things to do in Calgary are:
– 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 want to know what to pack, where to stay, what to eat, and unique things to Canadian culture, head over to my guide on Things to Know Before Traveling to Banff in the Winter.
Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂
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