If you are looking for the ultimate outdoor adventure, the quintessential winter wonderland and the most memorable snow-topped landscapes around, then you need to visit the Banff National Park in winter.
Not only is this time of year the best time to visit the Canadian Rockies but there are so many sparkling, snow-dusted adventures to be had.
So, get comfortable and bookmark this blog as we offer you the ultimate guide to visiting Banff National Park in Winter.
Taking a deeper look at Banff National Park
For those unfamiliar with this picturesque location, the Banff National part is actually Canada’s first national park. It is made up of emerald lakes and rivers, snow white glaciers and pristine wilderness that surrounds the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, Canada.
This incredible getaway is not adored for its winter themed experiences but the mere fact that this little escape is known for only having 4% of its natural terrains accessible by road. This means that wherever you are able to drive, you know that you will be surrounded by untouched, unspoiled nature in all of its wintery glory!
When is it winter in Banff National Park?
The region’s winters fall between the months of January and March with the air being noticeably cold and dry. That being said, it is significantly warmer than similar mountainous areas in Alberta with the area only receiving a moderate amount of snow – unless you are on high ski hills. Despite the cold, there’s plenty of sunshine and not a lot of wind.
It is important to keep in mind that January is by far the coldest month in Banff National Park, with an average low of about -15°C (5°F). While January may be the coldest time of the year it is the best time to visit this location. Not only will you experience the full snow-draped experience, but it is also less busy at the end of January as many people are returning home from their trips.
How to get to Banff National Park
If you are preparing for your Banff winter trip you will most likely be flying into Calgary International Airport. Once you’ve landed you will then embark on an incredibly scenic 1.5 hour drive down the TransCanada Highway that will take you through the heart of the park. You will then continue west until you reach the mountains of Banff.
How to travel around Banff National Park in Winter
When it comes to any vacation, it is natural to want to rent a car. If you are looking to have a little more freedom to go and do whatever you want at a time of your choosing, renting a car is a great idea. Keep in mind that there are heavy snowfalls, so you will want to have some experience driving during or right after a snowstorm.
There are also a number of car rental providers in the town including Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise – all of which have offices in the area. You can search across all car rental providers here.
Alternatively, you could skip the renting of a car all together and opt for local transportation options. Even during the winter, they are fully operational and incredibly affordable too. There are a number of shuttle options available that can take you from the airport to your accommodation and take you around the entire area. There are also notable eco-friendly bus options that can easily take you to your next activity.
What to wear when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter
Naturally, you will be packing all of your regular essentials from your toiletries to your electronics and chargers, passports and all. However, given the fact that you will be experiencing some pretty cold bouts of weather it is essential that the following items are in your suitcase.
- Layers. You will without a doubt be layering for most of your trip as a way to insulate yourself. Try to get as many long-sleeved cotton shirts and leggings as possible. Read more about why Merino Wool clothes are perfect for layering!
- Winter boots. Nevermind aesthetics, you will need functional, warm boots that can handle the snow, water and mud. If they have some grip, even better!
- Woollen socks. It is common for tourists to get frostbite in their toes due to a lack of proper, adequate socks. Keep those toes warm and as dry as possible with THICK Merino Wool socks.
- A hat. This may seem strange given that it is winter but keep in mind that the sun is very much still present and oh so harsh, so make sure to bring a hat that not only protects you from the sun but can keep your head nice and warm.
- Ice cleats. On the topic of being able to trudge your way through the snow, purchasing/ renting high quality ice cleats is an absolute must.
- Mitten. Here comes the frostbite again. It is so easy to lose feeling in your fingers given the cold. Keep your hands protected with the help of insulating mittens that can keep you warm even in the harshest of winter weather. Don’t forget your scarves and beanies too!
If you’re going hiking in Banff National Park (in winter or summer) – check out these hiking sunglasses.
Where to stay when visiting the Banff National Park in Winter
Fairmont Banff Springs
If you are looking to experience a world class winter escape then look no further than the Fairmont Banff Springs. This gorgeous resort has a 32 m lap pool and a 20 m heated outdoor pool. Better yet, after a long day taking in all of the activities on offer, you can make use of the resort’s Willow Stream Spa that has 27 treatment areas and offers a variety of relaxing massages and beauty treatments. Other on-site activities for guests include bowling, tennis, horseback riding, and golfing.
Rimrock Resort Hotel
If you are looking to live in a lap of luxury then the Rimrock Resort Hotel is your ideal accommodation spot. Not only does it offer all guests access to the exclusive indoor pool and a hot tub, but Rimrock Resort Hotel is located 6-minute drive from Banff centre and near the Upper Hot Springs. There is also a renowned on-site restaurant that has a number of decadent dishes and local cuisines on offer.
Moose Hotel and Suites
If you are looking for a warm ambient experience that delicately balances outstanding architecture with spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes, then the Moose Hotel Suites are perfect for you. The design of the Moose is a combination of modern elegance with warm, rich, natural materials that replicate its surroundings. It is also located a 1-minute walk from the heart of downtown Banff, meaning you are nearby all of the hustle and bustle!
What to keep in mind when visiting Banff National Park in winter
Since Banff National Park is a popular place for tourists to visit, you will notice that the most common language spoken in this town is English. That said many locals do speak French, so expect to encounter a lot of strong, heavy French accents along the way. You will also notice that many of the signs around the area are written in both English and French.
If you are visiting Banff in the middle of winter you’re very fortunate that unlike many other mountainous areas, you have a significant amount of daytime. In fact, you can expect sunshine and daylight for about 10 hours of the day which is quite a win in comparison.
Remember to also exchange your current money for Canadian Dollars as that is the currency used throughout the town. Very rarely will any of the locals except any other currency, so make sure to exchange your money prior to jetting off on your vacation.
Winter activities in Banff National Park
Upper Hot Springs
Take a dip in the gorgeously geothermally heated and bubbling mineral water of the Upper Hot Springs. This incredibly rejuvenating water flows from the Earth’s crust through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault. Whilst you enjoy its warmth you can take in all of the panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains as the blue waters soothe your body. Once you are done, you can grab a quick bite to eat at the café at Upper Hot Springs.
Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking
Get some dirt under those shoes and explore the incredible terrains of the Banff National park by joining in on their Winter Wilderness & Wildlife Hiking experience. When it comes to figuring out what to do Banff in the winter, you cannot begin your adventure without adding a hike onto your list – especially at this location. A number of professional guides will take you through the various seasonal trains where you will have a number of memorable wildlife sightings.
Go snowshoeing in Tunnel Mountain
Pump some adrenaline and get your heart racing at Tunnel Mountain. This is a particularly great snowshoeing spot as it’s right in the heart of Banff. It is also beloved by locals given its accessibility and proximity to other activities in the area. It is also really great for all skill levels too and offers amazing views too.
Try the Fairview Loop Banff Cross Country skiing trail
Are you ready to glide your way through the spectacular landscapes of Banff National Park in winter? Then you need to make sure that you take part in some good old Banff cross country skiing at the Fairview Loop. Not only is this a much-loved sport in the country, but it is a great way to explore the surrounding areas. Just keep in mind that the general cross country season runs between mid-November and March.
Go Skating at Lake Louise
Canada is known for its scenic and charming lakes, but one that continues to reign supreme is the one and only Lake Louise. It is easily one of the most popular destinations for great skating in Banff moment. It has so much winter charm and there are a number of fun ice sculptures, horse-drawn carriages and a little ‘ice bar’ that serves a number of decadent drinks too!
You can also do a day trip to Lake Louise.
Take the Gondola Up Sulphur Mountain
Yes, indeed Canada has gondolas, and they are fantastic, especially when taking it up Sulphur Mountain. Gondolas in Banff are common and offer you the most goosebump-inducing experiences as you nestle your way through the forestry. Once you get to the very top, they serve an incredible lunch buffet for you to indulge in.
Just keep in mind that it is best if you book your tickets in advance. Not only is it cheaper than purchasing it at the ticket stand but it will also mean that you get to skip the line and head on straight to the gondola from the moment it arrives.
General tips for when you visit Banff National Park in winter
Definitely get a park pass.
It is crucial that you understand that the only way to get into Banff National Park is via a paid permit system, which supports the preservation of the park. You can opt for a day pass of the Discovery Pass which allows you to go to any park in Canada. Passes are available at the park gates, online and at visitor centres.
Leave open spaces in your schedule
It is easy to get overly excited about your trip and figuring out things to do in Banff that you overwhelm yourself. Give yourself time to wander through this vibrant town and see what’s on offer. You don’t have to plan everything until the last second.
Practice your French
Whether you are French speaking or a beginner, Banff is the perfect place to begin learning a new language. Not only are the locals friendly but they appreciate the efforts too. It is a sweet gesture that goes a long way, so try to download language learning apps or make use of free YouTube videos online.
The reality is that visiting Banff National Park in winter is an experience that you will never forget. Embarking on this winter wonderland escape will definitely be a story you share for years to come!