11 of Our Favourite Things to do in Banff & Lake Louise

Skating in Lake Louise during winter

Posted by on 01 Nov 2019 , in North America

Located right in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, the resort town of Banff is a nature lover's paradise with its panoramic vistas and up-close encounters with Canadian wildlife.

Additionally, just a short drive up the Highway 1 and visitors can also call in on the hamlet of Lake Louise, famed for its blue-green glacier-fed lake surrounded by sharp peaks. Although both are fantastic spots to visit at any time of the year, Winter is when these places really transform into something out of a fairy-tale. From snow-capped mountain views and crystalline lakes, to hot springs and the northern lights, Banff and Lake Louise have all the makings for a memorable winter holiday.

1 . Explore a Winter Wonderland at the Ice Magic Festival

Set in the picturesque alpine town of Lake Louise, this 12-day Ice Magic Festival creates a fantastical winter event where guests can explore ice castles, ice bars, and ice carvings. The main event is the International Ice Carving Competition where skilled artists come from all over the world to turn a block of ice into a gorgeous piece of art in front of the attendees. This event is usually held in the middle of January.

2. Dance and ice skate your way across beautiful frozen lakes

Once the temperature drops, Banff becomes the dream town for the wonderful Canadian pastime of outdoor ice skating. Turquoise rivers and lakes freeze into natural ice rinks for everyone to enjoy. The favourite and award-winning Lake Louise is free of admission and maintained all winter long – it’s also the most picturesque. Other frozen surfaces that are just as breathtaking are Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, and the Bow River.

3. Test your skiing and snowboarding skills on the snowy slopes

Banff has some of the best skiing and snowboarding scene in Northern America. Right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, guests can expect a longer ski season. Three impressive ski resorts are easily accessible from Banff - Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mt. Norquay. Whether you’re looking for an easy run along the main hills or a challenging glide down snowy terrain, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better slopes.

4. Sit back and relax on a Horse-drawn Sleigh Ride Tour

For a fairytale ride with your family and loved ones, it can’t get any better than horse-drawn sleigh rides. Beautifully adorned sleighs will tour you around the frosted forests of Lake Louise while you’re bundled up and warm under cosy blankets. It’s a great way to spend your winter holiday at a slower pace and relax as you take in the scenic views of Banff.

5. Feel the Rush of a Dog Sledding Tour

Dog sledding was a mode of transportation pioneered by the indigenous Canadian Inuits during the early settlements in the Canadian Rockies. It’s an activity that will both educate and entertain; learn all about the history of Banff while spending an adventure-packed ride with your new furry friends. Sled tours will take you through the charming landscapes around the Banff National Park and Lake Louise while the guides talk about the local culture and history. It’s nothing short of exhilarating and is something everyone needs to try at least once.

6. Go Snowshoeing Along Scenic Trails

Snowshoeing is not nearly as intimidating as some might assume at first. Strap on a pair of specially-designed shoes allowing you to easily walk across even the fluffiest of snow and make your way through gentle trails, bringing you nice and close to nature. There are numerous trails throughout Banff for all expertise levels, so even first-timers can enjoy this wonderful activity, and can even join a snowshoe tour where local guides help navigate. Hot tip: start with a stroll along the icy Cascade River and the snowy terrain beside Lake Louise or walk around the Johnson Lake for a spectacular view of Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain.

7. Try out Tubing for an Adrenaline filled Activity

For those who crave the thrill of going down the slopes at thrilling speeds but don’t necessarily have the skills or experience to do so, tubing is the next best thing. Carry your tube to the top of the hill aboard an escalator, drop down and jump in, experiencing the incredible rush of sliding down your lane. Gently glide straight downhill or try spinning on your way down, if you’re feeling tricky. There are several levels of heights and runs from which you can choose, and it’s a great outdoor activity for families with kids as young as 4 years old.

8. Explore the Icy Beauties of Frozen Canyons 

Abundant in glacial rivers and waterfalls, the winter transforms Banff into the kind of magical winter landscape with sublime ice formations that’s normally reserved for fantasy movies. While you can go exploring the frozen wonders on your own, you can also opt for a tour with a local guide to show you the way. Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hikes during the summer and even in winter because of its majestic waterfalls cascading along the coast of Johnston Canyon. During the winter, it’s a favoured place for ice climbers who want to hone their skills. If you haven’t had the experience of witnessing icy blue waterfalls juxtaposed against a steep rock formation, then you’re missing out.

9. Rest and Rejuvenate in Nature’s Hot Springs 

After a day filled with winter activities, there’s no better feeling than relaxing in Banff’s hot springs. Originally established to protect the natural hot springs, Banff National Park has done well to preserve the hot springs that have been used by the aboriginal people for healing and ceremonies for centuries. The naturally heated mineral water is nature’s remedy for your sore muscles and aching body. Don’t forget to hydrate well after your steamy bath to keep your body in the healing process.

10. Encounter Wildlife Up Close and Personal

Throughout any season, Banff and the Canadian Rockies are home to many wild animals that you can spot at any time of the day. While the grizzlies and black bears are hibernating, wildlife such as moose, wolves, lynx, mountain goats, elk and cougars are among those still active during the winter. There are exhibits in the Banff Park Museum where you can learn more about the species that the park protects and cares for. But you can also spot wildlife on the side of the road even while driving down town or by the snowy terrain as you’re sledding through the slopes. Be sure to keep your distance and admire from afar – remember, these are wild animals and it’s their home too.

11. Witness the Aurora Borealis Dancing across the Winter Night Sky 

The north is a great location for viewing nature’s dancing sky lights, especially during the winter when nights are longer and skies are darker. Find the perfect spot away from the artificial lights and set up camp as you wait for the night sky to light up. Lake Minnewanka is a good area with open skies and just close enough to town. While the aurora is present most winter nights, you can check for the forecast online to find out which night has the highest chance.

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