Thinking that Banff is just a summer vacation spot? Wondering what to possibly do in the freezing cold Canadian winter?? Well let me tell you – Banff is BETTER in the winter. There is a special romance that can only be captured with hot cocoa by the fire and a brisk walk in that cool mountain air. Here is a list of my top things to do while visiting Banff when the snow and ice hit!
10. Hike Tunnel Mountain
This is the little mountain you see in the middle of town when driving down the highway. It looks like a little mole hill compared to the surrounding mountains – Sulpher, Cascade, Rundle (iconic Banff mountains). But this little hike up is a great activity for the whole family. It will give you a taste of what hiking the rockies is like with rewarding views over looking the town! There is no technical requirements, just a good pair of shoes. The trail will be icy depending on the time of year of course, so make sure everyone has some sort of grip to their shoes, remembering the way down is the slipperiest!
Personal images @leahtylerszucki
9. Banff Cave and Basin
This “free for everyone” trail is a walk through history! From the early settlement of Banff, to how Banff thrived as a town in the middle of the mountains with no heat or electricity in the harsh winters, to how it grew to be an icon of Canada! Can you guess the location? Hint: It may be smelly, but the water is warm! You got it – settlers survived by the hot springs! Although this is not where you can swim in the springs, the park has done a great job of displaying how they were used. There is staff on site dressed up to reenact historic scenarios and help keep the kiddos entertained! This indoor/outdoor museum is great for the whole family!
Personal images by @leahtylerszucki & http://www.parkscanada.com
8. Snowshoe or Ski one of the many designated trails
Now what could be more Canadian that snowshoeing?! Well there’s a couple things… but I highly recommended trying it out. Or, if your experienced, maybe trying skiing? Cross country skiing has been around since before time and parks have done an excellent job of creating groomed trails for everyone to use so why not take advantage of them?! I won’t list the top trails as they tend to change over the years due to various reasons including animal closures. It is best to go to your local ski shop or parks office and ask for a current map and best routes, this way you will ensure all the information is up to date. The Fairmont Lake Louise also offers many groomed trails to explore with rental opportunities . Unfortunately, if you are not a hotel guest, you do not get first crack at them, but don’t panic, there are plenty of rental shops in town. I do recommended reserving equipment before hand, especially on the weekends. This will prove to be a super fun activity for everyone to try – even beginners!
Banff Adventures – Rental Gear
Personal images by @leahtyleszucki
7. Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Want to get all the rewards without the work?! Hit the gondola! Located within town limits, this mountain ride will give you a 360 degree birds eye view of everything you came to Banff to see. Its one thing to see if on the ground.. but its another to see it 7,486 ft in the air! Sit back relax and take in the view – maybe enjoy some of the fine dining when you get to the top. I hear wine apparently tastes better at the top 😛 ! Although this is the more expensive way of climbing a mountain… if time or mobility is an issue, it is truly a great way to spend a couple hours.
Feeling ambitious? Take the ride up and hike down! Make sure you have proper footwear of course, but this is another great way to experience Banff. The trail is switchbacks and well maintained and a wonderful compromise to get the best of both worlds.
Banff Gondola Official Page
Images provided by http://www.parkscanada.ca & google images
6. The Grizzly House
Its not what your thinking! There actually is no house for the Grizzly’s… we just let them roam free 🙂 ! The Grizzly House is the best eats your going to get in downtown Banff in my opinion. Originating all the way back to 1967, this rustic food joint is to die for. The amazing fondue and hot rock selections are available in over 14 different varieties including beef, buffalo, chicken, rattlesnake, lobster, shark, cheese and chocolate. If exotic is what your looking for – this is your place. If your not so daring, like myself, and just prefer regular delicious food, this is still the place for you!
Image provided by The Grizzly House
The Grizzly House Official Site
5. Skate Lake Louise
Don’t let the hype of the stunning blue summer waters of Lake Louise let you think its not enjoyable it the winter. It is actually quite the opposite! Lake Louise is probably the most romantic setting you can find winter or summer, while being in crowds of people of course. This charming winter setting offers horse carriage rides, ice hockey games, hot cocoa, ice sculpture competitions, public skating plus much more and its perfect for the whole family! Being just a short drive from Banff, you will get to experience a “truly Canadian moment” because I promise you – there will be a hockey game going on! Forgot your skates? Don’t worry! The hotel offers rentals by the hour and has every size possible from baby to big foot, do not let this opportunity pass you by.
Images provided by Lake Louise chateau Fairmount
Lake Louise Chateau Fairmont
4. Ski or Snowboard Sunshine Village
This is what brings most people to the area in the winter, and why wouldn’t it?! Skiing in the mountains is a whole new experience and worth every penny! With over 138 runs and 12 chair lifts you will have tons of different terrain for all ski levels. Sunshine village also offers many food options to choose from and not just at the base! Enjoy a hot cup of coffee or a burger half way down your run, talk about convenience. There are a few package options to choose from including discount rates if your staying on site, skiing multiple days, using the day care option or ski lessons. All this information can be found on the Ski Banff Official Site
Personal images by @leahtylerszucki and Banff Sunshine Official Website
3. Banff Hot Springs
This is an experience you can only get in the mountains. These naturally fed hot springs are one of the top attractions you can experience while staying in Banff. Although they are not “natural springs”, as in they have been converted to a pool-like setting and no longer a hole formed in the side of the mountain, the water is all naturally fed and they are hot! Sit back and soak in all those mountain minerals and enjoy the amazing views they have to offer. This authentic heritage experience is a must do! Early bird gets the worm is the word of thumb here – to have the most relaxing visit head over first thing in the morning.
Images provided by Banff Upper Hot Springs Official Site
2. Johnstone Canyon
Personally, this place is in a tight race to number 1. Although there are a lot of crowds on the weekends, this is truly the most magical experience in the winter. The mountains were left with a beautiful gorge through the canyon where two water falls stand tall and brace the bitterness of the cold. Due to the high rushing waters and the cold temperatures most of the winter, the waterfall is left half frozen. This is very cool to see, a giant icicle with rushing waters behind it. Parks has made gated walk way that lead most of the way allowing you to cross over the river and crawl through a cave space to view the lower falls . I recommend continuing on and heading to the second falls as you might get a chance to watch some of the ice climbers! A truly incredible and risky sport, these climbers are embracing winter and conquering the world!
1. Dog Sledding!!
Now I know I keep saying what can be more Canadian than this, but the truth is, thats what Banff is all about. It has combined cultures and activities that have been embraced across the country and added it all into one tiny town and that is why it is so special. Dog sledding has been a very controversial sport for a few years now and I have had my doubts. But the truth is, these companies run dogs that need to be ran, they were born to do this and it is evident they LOVE it. I am an avid dog lover, my dogs are my babies, so I get it, rest assured, strict laws have been imposed to ensure that each company cares for, feeds quality food, provides medical attention when needed, proper living space and much more for the safety and well being of all of these dogs. Why are the prices so high, because all of these things cost money and lots of it. The companies around Banff will allow you to see there living quarters as well, you have the opportunity to meet the dogs and see there living conditions and note that there are no closed doors. I am the biggest animal lover and 100% against any type of abuse and I believe denying dogs of their natural born right is a form of abuse. This breed of dogs were not meant to be stuck inside our homes, this experience not only provides them with an amazing life, it is truly one of the coolest things you could do. Bundled up in a buggy touring across the lakes where there are no cars, no people, just nature.
Photos provided by Banff Tours.com