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ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Banff in December

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Banff in December

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Banff, Canada is a beautiful resort town, making it the perfect destination for the wintery month of December! It is located right in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, offering incredible scenery.

You’ll be able to experience a combination of lakes, rivers, and mountains making it arguably one of the most picturesque places in Canada.

Winter is the ideal time to visit Banff, and in December, it’s even better when you add in the festive events of the season. Not to mention all of the beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere!

So if you’re thinking about visiting Banff in December this year, then look no further. This blog is all about everything you need to know about visiting Banff in the month of December including the best tours, events, activities, and so much more!

Why Visit Banff in December

Snowshoeing in Banff during winter
Snowshoeing in Banff in December

Whether you visit Banff in the fall, summer, spring, or winter you are sure to have a magical time with plenty of incredible activities in Banff to keep yourself busy.

That being said, December is extra special in Banff.

Picture snow, Christmas lights, Christmas markets, carols, parades, cozy fireside glasses of wine, skiing, and hot springs! To me, Banff is the ultimate Canadian Christmas destination as there is just so much to do and see in Banff in the winter– especially in December! 

Banff in December Weather

Bailey on a chairlift in Banff Natiobal Park
You better be ready for some cold weather – perfect for hitting the slopes!

When visiting Banff in December you can expect the daily high temperature average to be around -5°C (23°F), with the average daily low being around -13°C (9°F).

Typically around 19 days in December receive snowfall, with an average of 44cm (17in) of snow.

Events in Banff in December

Like I said, one of the best parts about visiting Banff in December is the holiday events that occur during this time! There is no way to visit Banff around Christmas and not get in the holiday spirit if you check out these events.

Christmas at the Castle  

Posing in the front of the Faimont banff springs hotel
The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel really is a winter Christmas castle!

Every year Banff’s historic castle becomes the center of Christmas celebrations. The Fairmont Banff Springs is one of the most luxurious hotels in Banff and during the holiday season they really get into the Christmas spirit with decorations everywhere, daily events, and Christmas-themed meals. 

The Christmas at the Castle calendar of events changes daily, with some events open to the public and some open for only hotel guests. Some of their most popular events include caroling performances and meet and greet sessions with Christmas Characters (Santa Claus and his elves!)

Christmas at the Castle is an annual event that starts at the end of November and goes until early January. To experience it the best, you should book a stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs.  

Banff Craft Beer Festival

A beer at the Banff brewery in Banff
The Pinta Colada is so amazing!

Banff Craft Beer Festival runs over two weekends in December (typically the first two), and offers craft beer samples from over 30 vendors. This festival exclusively features Alberta craft brewers, so you’re sure to be sampling brews that are local!

The festival is located at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and held partially outdoors. This means you get to enjoy your ice-cold craft beer with the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains alongside its glacier fresh waters.

They don’t refer to it as the World’s Most Beautiful Beer Festival for nothing!

Hot Tip: If you aren’t visiting during the beer festival you can still try amazing craft beer at some of the breweries around and near Banff – read all about them in our blog!

Chrsitmas Carols in the Park  

Who doesn’t love a good Christmas Carol?! In Banff, there are weekly free caroling concerts put on in Banff Ave Square. At 4 pm and 7 pm every Saturday in December leading up to Christmas, you can enjoy the caroling concert for yourself. 

This concert is outdoors and while there is a large outdoor fire to stay cozy, it can still be cold so be sure to dress warm! 

Official dates and times for Carols in the Park have not yet been released for 2021. Stay tuned for updates.  

Christmas Day FREE Lift Passes

Bailey skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort near Canmore, AB
Me, skiing in Banff National Park.

During the month of December, ski fields are open daily, even on Christmas Day! In fact, both Mt Norquay Ski Resort and Sunshine Village offer a full-day FREE lift pass for those who dress in a full Santa outfit (Mrs. Claus, elves, and reindeer count too!) 

You can find out more information on opening times and events on Mt Norquay and Sunshine’s websites. 

Looking for more free activities? Check out our blog about 33 FREE things to do in Banff!

Lake Louise Ice Castles

A lady poses for a photo at the Lake Louise Ice sculptures
Me, with Lake Louise Ice Castles

Every December at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise you’ll find beautiful ice sculptures sitting on the frozen lake. Kids love them and they’re also completely free.

It takes around 40 minutes to reach lake Louise from Banff but the drive itself is beautiful. In fact, why not take the scenic route there and drive the Bow Valley Parkway – another epic thing to do in Banff in winter!

There is a lot of paid parking available at the Lake Lousie foreshore, though it can fill up during busy times (weekends and public holidays). My advice is to arrive early in the morning (around 8 am). This will ensure you get a parking spot at the lake.

20 EPIC Things to do in Banff in December

There are some really great things to do in Banff in December. So, make the most of winter and get out and experience some of Banff’s best activities! 

1. Skiing and snowboarding

view from the top of Cascade Chairlift at Mt Norquay ski resort
Skiing at Mt Norquay is a great December activity in Banff!

Let’s start out with the most obvious and popular thing to do in Banff in December – skiing and snowboarding! I myself ski and my partner snowboards and together we just love hitting the slopes around Banff. In Banff, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to world-class ski resorts.

Here are some popular resorts around Banff:


Mt Norquay is the closest ski resort to Banff town. In fact, it’s only a 13-minute drive away. The ski hill offers some of the best views over Banff and is also open for night skiing. Mt Norquay isn’t the largest resort in the area and the runs to me aren’t the best. I find it suited to beginners or those not looking to ski an entire day.

Although not my favorite hill, the price for a full-day lift ticket is $74 CAD for adults, $56 for youth, $29 for children, and $56 for seniors. That’s cheap for Banff. The closest hotel to the resort is The Juniper Hotel & Bistro.

Mt Norquay is open every day in December including Christmas Day!


Sunshine Ski Resort is located in the heart of Banff National Park 20 minutes from Banff. As the name suggests, they’re known for the sunny weather and have a wide variety of runs for beginners and experts alike. The ski resort (which you get to by riding up the Banff Sunshine Gondola) is really good for advanced skiers and snowboarders with lots of black and double black runs. Although there are plenty of green runs too, most have flat spots which are not good if you’re still not comfortable going really fast.

A lift ticket costs $127 CAD for adults, $99 for youth, $49 for children, and $99 for seniors. You can also stay at the ski resort and ski in and ski out every day. The Sunshine Mountain Lodge is a luxurious hotel only meters from the chairlifts. It’s one of the best places to stay in Banff for skiing.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is the furthest ski hill from Banff at 40 minutes away. With that said, it’s one of the largest in Canada with a 935-meter verticle descent, 7 ski lifts, and 142 kilometers of groomed ski runs. It’s perfect for beginners, intermediates, and pros. I love the tree runs around Lake Louise and with so much resort to explore it will keep you busy all day. Oh, and on the colder days, the gondola is a lifesaver!

Adult lift tickets start at $129 CAD with a half-day option at $99. Youths cost $99, children $49, and seniors $99. If you want to stay close to the resort you’ll need to book a hotel in Lake Louise Village.

I have been lucky enough to ski at all the ski resorts above. So, which one is my favorite?

Well, in all honesty, I love Lake Louise the most. The ski area is huge and I love the terrain. Plus the gondola really saves you from the cold! My second choice would have to be Sunshine Village. It also has great terrain and the views are spectacular. For beginners though, I don’t recommend it. Instead, head to Mt Norquay where you can learn for just over half the price.

Related Read: Skiing is one of the best things to do in the cute mountain town of Fernie, BC in December too !

2. Ride the Banff Gondola

The top of the Banff Gondola on Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park, Canada
Views from the boardwalk at the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Canada

The Banff Gondola is possibly the singular most popular thing to do in Banff – and for good reason! From the top of the Banff Gondola, the views of the mountains and Banff town are out of this world. The first time I rode the gondola was during my first Christmas in Banff and I loved it!

The Banff Gondola is a 10-minute scenic ride from the car parking lot to the summit of Sulpher Mountain. At the top of the gondola, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe, a gift shop, lots of information on the area and wildlife, as well as my personal favorite, the boardwalk!

The boardwalk takes you to various viewpoints and takes around 1 hour to walk up and back the entire way. For the best views, walk all the way to the end and visit the old weather station. From here you can see the entire valley!

For the best views, it’s best to go up the Banff Gondola on a clear day but even a little low cloud won’t ruin your views completely. The Sky Bistro at the top of the gondola also offers a great dining experience at 7,510 feet for lunch and dinner.

During the month of December, the Banff Gondola also gets into the holiday spirit by offering special Christmas events including Santa meet and greets and other family fun events. These special events are free to those who already purchased the Banff Gondola admission ticket, and run daily from mid-November to Christmas. 

Important info: The gondola costs $64 CAD per adult but discounted rates are available for children or for those who purchase online in advance. Not to mention, you’ll also be able to skip the line that can get long during busy times! It’s really the best way to buy a Banff Gondola ticket!

3. Relax in the Banff Upper Hot Springs 

The Banff Upper Hot Springs during winter
Banff Upper Hot Springs in December

Just a short 5-minute drive up Sulphur Mountain you’ll find the Banff Upper Hot Springs, a public hot spring with incredible mountain views!

The hot springs are a crowd favorite in Banff, especially in December. I mean, who wouldn’t want to warm up in a natural hot spring with breathtaking views over the Bow Valley?

This magical hot springs in Alberta is run by Parks Canada and costs about $16.50 CAD to visit which makes it pretty reasonable to visit. This, however, means the springs can get pretty crowded and my advice is to visit first thing in the morning when the springs open at 10 am. In fact, get in line at 9:45 am so you can get through the gates and enjoy the pools before the crowds arrive.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs are open from Friday to Tuesday (currently) and close at 6 pm with the last entry at 5 pm. The springs are located up Sulphur Mountain near the Banff Gondola and although there is a large parking lot at the springs, it can fill up during busy periods. Regardless, this is a must-do in Banff!

Related read: Another amazing hot spring is Radium Hot Springs. It is also operated by Parks Canada and although a couple of hours away, located in the beautiful Columbia Valley!

4. Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride 

banff horse drawn sleigh ride
Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh is a fun, festive December activity in Banff!

There are few activities as Christmassy as riding in a horse-drawn sleigh through the snow around Banff National Park. It’s a beautiful and unique activity that is especially suited to the winter months in Banff.  

In Banff, you can choose to join a group horse-drawn sleigh ride for about $47 CAD per person for a 40-minute ride. Alternatively, you can book a private sleigh ride for two people for about $303 CAD. Either way, this is sure to be a memorable Christmas experience in Banff! 

Hot tip: The horse-drawn sleigh is completely open-air so be sure to dress accordingly! 

5. Johnston Canyon Icewalk

Views of the upper falls on the Johnston Canyon Ice Walk
Johnston Canyon is a winter wonderland!

Another way to take in the spectacular scenery in Banff in December is to visit Johnston Canyon and go on an icewalk. This famous attraction is open all year round but without a doubt, winter is the best time to go.

The drive from Banff to Johnston Canyon is about 30 minutes on the Bow Valley Parkway. From the parking lot, you’ll walk a 2.5-kilometer trail/boardwalk to the upper falls (ice cleats are recommended.) You can also stop at the lower falls and turn around for a shorter, 1.3-kilometer walk. Along the way, you’ll spot frozen waterfalls and huge icicles. Afterward, simply turn around and head back the way you came.

For those who want to learn more or don’t have their own gear, you can book a Johnston Canyon Icewalk tour. This specific tour is 4 hours long and includes transport to and from the canyon as well as an expert guide, ice cleats, and hiking poles. You’ll enjoy the views of frozen waterfalls and icicles while walking along the steel walkway. The tour is $95 CAD and includes a hot chocolate and a maple cookie snack at the end! 

6. Go Dog Sledding

Dog sledding in Canmore, Alberta
You’ll never regret booking a dog sledding tour!

Dog sledding is one of those once-in-a-lifetime activities I have always wanted to do. Finally, after years of thinking about it, Dan and I finally signed up for a dog sledding tour – and we couldn’t be happier with our choice!

On our tour, our guide and six beautiful dogs took us by sled on a 10-kilometer-long adventure in Spray Lakes Provincial Park. At the halfway point we got out to bond with the dogs as well as enjoy a delicious hot chocolate. We learned all about dog sledding and of course, the dogs themselves (our favorite part!)

We did our tour with Howling Dog Tours located in Canmore. Although not in Banff, it was their ethics that made the drive worth it. Howling Dogs Tours adopts the majority of their dogs and takes in any Alaskan and Siberian Huskies no matter what they look like (it’s actually funny because some of them don’t look like huskies at all!) On top of that, the dogs work a schedule with plenty of days off and only run to their ability.

The tour we did costs $225 CAD for adults and $115 for children and lasts for around 2 hours. Howling Dog Tours also offers a half-day tour if you want a longer experience.

Hot Tip: If you’re headed to Canmore for the tour, be sure to stick around and check out all of the other winter activities in Canmore too!

7. Go tubing at Mt Norquay

The tube park at Mt Norquay
Seriously the tube park at Mt Norquay is so much fun! Photo credit: Mt Norquay

Not a skier or snowboarder but still want to hit the slopes? Then be sure to head up to Mt Norquay and get yourself a ticket for their mountain tubing. I myself was skiing away when I saw it and just had to give it a go. I loved it!

Mt Norquay has the longest tube lanes in Alberta and you get some serious speed! The best part is the entrance to the tube park is only $39 CAD for adults and $34 for kids. With that, you can pretty much go as many times as you want.

The tube park is open during winter from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm every day with night tubing from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. This can change so always check before you go.

8. Go Ice Climbing in Johnston Canyon

A person Ice Climbs in Johnston Canyon
The views from an ice climbing tour in Banff

If sliding down a hill on an inflatable tube is not intense enough, try ice climbing! It’s definitely an adventure and a really unique wintertime activity in Banff. Ice climbing can be challenging and dangerous if not approached carefully, so joining a tour is the only way to do it safely for beginners.

This tour is a full-day adventure that helps people of all experience levels try out ice climbing. An expert guide will walk you through all the basics of the gear and how to climb, and then you’ll climb a frozen waterfall yourself. The tour costs $186 CAD and leaves from Banff town. You’ll set off at 8 am and the tour lasts around 8 hours. There’s also a two-day experience available for the more serious climbers.

9. See a frozen waterfall

Frozen waterfall in Grotto Canyon
Just one frozen waterfall in Grotto Canyon.

When the temperatures drop in December the waterfalls around Banff become frozen in time… literally. If you haven’t already, be sure to take a trip out to at least one of these waterfalls to stare in awe at their beauty.

Above I’ve talked about Johnston Canyon, which is one of my favorites, but there are plenty of others. One of the best and least known is the frozen waterfall at the end of Lake Louise. To reach it, simply walk across the lake until you reach the end of the lake or follow the shoreline trail. The huge frozen waterfall extends up the mountain and on a sunny day, shines blue and white.

If you don’t mind driving you can also visit Troll Falls. This famous waterfall sits in Kananaskis Country and is a favorite among families because of the short, easy walk to the base of the falls.

Nearby in Canmore, you can also visit Grotto Canyon (mentioned below) and find frozen waterfalls along the hike. People actually come ice climbing here too!

In Banff town, head to the Bow Falls Lookout. This usually violent waterfall sits still with breathtaking surroundings.

10. Grotto Canyon Ice Walk

Hiking through a the frozen Grotto Canyon in winter
See all the ice below me?

Another awesome hike around Banff that is better in December than the summer months is Grotto Canyon. This trail requires ice cleats or crampons – without them, you might hurt yourself!

The Grotto Canyon Icewalk is a 4.4 km (2.7-mile) and you’ll actually walk right on a frozen river through the canyon!

To begin the trail, drive out to the parking lot at Grotto Mountain Pond. From here, it takes around 1.5 hours each way if you allow time to explore the canyon and take some photos. It takes 30 minutes of walking until you reach the canyon and from here on out you’ll follow the frozen river up the canyon to frozen waterfalls and an Inukshuk Garden. Along the way, there are also indigenous pictographs (but you’ll need a keen eye to spot them!)

If you’re worried you’ll miss the hard-to-find attractions in the canyon such as the pictographs you can actually join this tour through Grotto Canyon. You’ll explore all the cool rock formations, frozen waterfalls, and learn about the history and geology of the area. It costs $88 CAD to join and includes hot chocolate to warm up as well as ice cleats. 

11. Take a Stroll on Banff Ave

The main street of banff during a warm summers day, Banff Ave
Banff Ave is the main street in Banff and it’s beautiful!

This one sounds obvious, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give you some advice on the best places to check out along Banff Ave!

Banff Ave stretches straight through the middle of Banff and the views from the street are so amazing it’s considered one of the most Instagrammable places in Banff National Park.

There are tons of hotels at one end and the Bow River at the other. . And in the middle are tons of bars, restaurants, and shops to explore. You could literally spend weeks here going into every shop!

Personally, I recommend the following awesome spots:

Cool as a Moose souvenir store – Here is where you’ll get the coolest souvenirs in town. Amongst all of the souvenir shops, this recommendation will be valued highly!

Banff Candy Store – Buy some Canadian classic candies here including chocolates and Saltwater Taffy!

Park Distillery – This distillery offers daily tours at 3:30 pm. Any other time of the day you can enjoy their bar and restaurant and have a cocktail made with their local spirits!

High Rollers Banff – High Rollers is a bowling alley/ bar that’s a really fun place to take the family. Bowling, beers, and pizza – what more could you ask for!?

The Grizzly House – This restaurant has been around Banff for practically ever. It specializes in Fondu and has a cute and quirky setting.

12. Go ice skating

Ice skating on Vermillion Lakes
Wild ice skating on Vermillion Lakes!

Ice skating is one of the classic Canadian winter experiences. Of course, you can simply go to Lake Louise (mentioned above), however, there are a lot of places much closer to Banff too.

One of the closest is the Downtown Rink at Banff Community High School. The outdoor rink is completely free to visit, located right in Banff, and with Banff’s views, you’ll feel like you’re wild ice skating. At the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, you can also go ice skating indoors if you want to avoid the cold. Entry to the rink is $6.

On top of skating at the official rinks, you can also go wild ice skating during certain conditions. Vermilion Lakes, Johnson Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake, and Cascade Ponds are popular choices. Of course, heavy snowfall can interrupt this but early in the season, or if people have cleared some of the snow, these lakes are perfect. Above you can see me ice skating at Vermillion Lakes – how beautiful!

Important: Skating on frozen lakes is dangerous without the right expereince. Only skate on ice thick enough to hold your weight and skate at your own risk.

13. Adventure to Marble Canyon

Emerald Lake in winter is so beautiful!
Marble Canyon in winter is so beautiful!

Marble canyon isn’t exactly in Banff, in fact, it’s actually located in Kootenay National Park. However, with its close proximity to Banff National Park, it’s actually really easy to visit from Lake Louise.

The canyon is gorgeous and thousands of years of erosion have created a deep cut in the earth with smooth walls. In winter, the water freezes, and the surrounding area becomes covered in snow. Visitors can walk to a 1-kilometer trail along the canyon staring down into a winter wonderland. At the end of the trail, there is a huge frozen waterfall.

For an even cooler experience, join this Marble Canyon snowshoeing tour from Banff. The 4-hour tour includes transport from Banff as well as all your snowshoeing gear. Then, it’s off to explore the canyon with an expert guide.

14. Go on a scenic flight

A helicopter sits on a mountain in Banff National Park in winter with two people
Get up and explore parts of Banff few get to! Photo credit: Banff Adventures

Want to see the Rockies from the best seat in the house? Then book yourself a scenic flight and soar high above the mountains in a helicopter.

In December, there are a few different tours you can do with Banff Adventures over the Rockies. The cheapest is the Three Sisters Helicopter Flight which takes you from Banff over to the famous Three Sisters Mountain Range in Canmore. This tour lasts for 20 minutes and costs $200 CAD.

If you want a longer tour, the Royal Canadian Helicopter Flight is a great option. At 40 minutes long, you’ll get to take in breathtaking views for twice as long as you pass over Banff National Park, the Sundance Valley Mountain ranges, and Goat Pass Range.

There are also lots of other tours available depending on your budget but personally, I’d pick a flight longer than 30 minutes so you can truly enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

15. Visit Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake during winter in Banff
Two Jack Lake is gorgeous in December!

Two Jack Lake is one of the most popular lakes to kayak and SUP in the summertime. However, by December the lake freezes over, and although less popular to visit, the lake is the perfect place to capture stunning photos.

Grab a coffee on your way out of Banff at one of the local coffee shops and take a drive out to Two Jack Lake to enjoy the gorgeous views. Stop at the day-use area and catch spectacular views of Mt Rundle, then, continue onto Lake Minnewanaka!

16. Then head to Lake Minnewanka

Sitting back at relaxing at Lake Minnewanka in winter
The famous red chairs you’ll find all over Canadian National Parks!

Lake Minnewanka is one of my favorite lakes to visit in December. This huge lake freezes over with sections over 2 feet thick. The ice is so solid it turns a dark color and under the snow and you can even see some small patches of methane bubbles here. My favorite activity though is to go ice skating.

Lake Minnewanka is very popular for ice skating and almost every day throughout December you’ll find people skating here. Although the lake gets a lot of snow, people bring down shovels to clear it. Even if the snow is an inch deep you can still skate the surface with no problem. When I lived in Canmore I spent many afternoons skating on the lake and enjoying the spectacular views!

Of course, you do need to be careful not to skate in areas near flowing water or thin ice. The safest way to do it is to stay close to the boat ramp area and don’t skate early or late in the winter season.

After you’re done skating, take the short walk from Lake Minnewanaka through Stewart Canyon. The trail isn’t overly spectacular but it’s still beautiful and you’ll get great views of the lake. The 7-kilometer return trail takes around 2 hours to complete if you walk the entire trail.

Related Read: If you come back to visit the lake anytime from May-October, make sure to book a cruise on Lake Minnewanka for spectacular scenery!

17. Spot wildlife/go on a wildlife tour

An Elk in Banff National Park in winter
There’s plenty of wildlife around, you just need to know where to look!

Banff National Park is famous for its abundance of wildlife. I myself have seen plenty of cool wildlife in Banff including bears, moose, and tons of elk. I’ve not yet seen a wolf in the wild but it’s on my bucket list!

As a visitor, it would be such a shame to come all this way and miss out on the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in person. By simply enjoying the outdoors you’ll have plenty of chances to see wildlife, however, if you’re finding yourself not so lucky then join a wildlife tour.

This specific wildlife tour lasts for 3 hours and includes 4 main stops around Banff National Park. Your expert guide knows where to spot Banff’s unique wildlife so you’ll have the best chance possible of seeing them.

On top of that, it’s also a sightseeing tour that includes your transport around the national park. For under $80 that’s a pretty good deal, especially for Banff!

18. Spirit of Christmas Store 

spirit of christmas banff store
Look at all the Christmas decorations!
Photo credit: The Spirit of Christmas

Located right on Banff Ave is the perfect store for all of your Christmas-themed shopping. The Spirit of Christmas store is a huge 2-level store that features an endless amount of Christmas-related items including ornaments, decorations, gifts, and more. It’s quite literally the best Christmas store I’ve ever been to.  

During the holiday season, the Spirit of Christmas store also has Santa Claus for meet and greets!  

Wandering Banff Ave and stopping at the Spirit of Christmas is a must-do in Banff in December!  

19. Take a short drive to Vermillion Lakes

People Ice skating on Vermillion Lakes near Banff
At sunset, the sky glows off the ice!

The closest lake to Banff town is Vermillion Lakes. From Banff town, you can reach the lakes in 5 minutes by heading down Vermillion Lakes Road. From here, drive along the lakes stopping where you please.

If you’re visiting in the middle of winter most of the lake will be frozen, however, there are sections where the water flows, and here you can get magical reflections of Mt Rundle – Banff’s most famous mountain. The views are spectacular and I recommended coming here for sunrise or sunset. It’s so close to town that you can be inside enjoying a beverage within minutes afterward!

20. Walk the Hoodoos Trail

Views from the Hoodoos Trail in winter, Banff
The viewpoint at the end of the Hoodoos Trail!

I didn’t know Banff had its own hoodoos until my 6th visit! For some reason, they remain off the typical tourist trail and that’s such a shame. Although the hoodoos themselves aren’t the most spectacular it’s the views from the short, easy trail that make this must visit in winter.

You can reach the hoodoos two ways. The first is to drive up to the parking lot on Tunnel Mountain Road. From here, it’s only a 10-minute walk to the viewpoint at which point you can turn around and head back. This is what I usually do simply because it’s so convenient.

The second way is to hike from Suprise Corner (next on this list) walking the Hoodoos Trail to the viewpoint. The entire trail is actually a loop that you can start and end in Banff town, however, this means you need to walk back on Tunnel Mountain Road. Instead, walk from Suprise Corner and return via the same trail. It’s about a 10-kilometer walk that takes 3 hours.

Where to Stay in Banff in December

The Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff
The gorgeous Rimrock Resort Hotel! Photo credit: The Rimrock Resort

Banff, being the holiday destination it is, has no shortage of beautiful hotels. In fact, it’s hard to book a bad hotel in Banff. With that said, there are a few stand-out hotels for every budget. You know, those places that offer more for less.

For budget-conscious travelers, the HI-Banff Alpine Center is my top choice. I love this hostel for its fun social atmosphere as well as clean rooms and good facilities. One thing to note though is the hostel is located a decent walk from the main area of Banff.

If you still want a rather inexpensive hotel but would love a great location the High Country Inn has both (much cheaper in winter though.) The hotel is only a few blocks from the action and although a little outdated, offers an indoor pool, sauna, and hot tub, as well as an onsite restaurant.

For the more luxurious travelers, the Rimrock Resort Hotel has everything you need. The rooms are gorgeous and those mountain views are hard to beat. On top of that, they have all the facilities you could want including an indoor pool, spa and wellness center, onsite restaurant, room service, and restaurant. Their location is a little out of town though.

If money ain’t a thing then the Fairmont Banff Springs (mentioned above) is the most luxurious option. Featuring 11 onsite restaurants and 14 stores, this hotel is an experience above and beyond just a beautiful stay. With a heated outdoor pool, indoor pool, and day spa it is perfect for relaxation.

December is one of the busiest months in Banff, so be sure to book your hotel well in advance. If you can’t get a hotel in Banff, check out the nearby town of Canmore which has more hotels. Canmore is also a great destination in the month of December with lots of events and things to do.

Please note: Hotel prices in Banff differ from winter to summer. In fact, most hotels are more than double the price in summer.

Parks Canada Pass Quick Info

If you plan on spending time in Canada’s national parks (including Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Kootenay, and more) then you’re going to have to pay for a Parks Pass.

Single Daily Admission:

This type of pass is valid for one person for one day. It is ONLY the best value if you are traveling alone and only plan to visit a national park for a couple of days.

  • Adult (ages 18-64) is $10.50 CAD
  • Senior (65+) is $9.00 CAD
  • Youth/Child (17 or younger) is FREE

Group Daily Admission:

If you’re traveling in a group or with family, you can buy a single-day admission for your entire vehicle (up to 7 people in one vehicle.)

  • $21.00 CAD gets your entire vehicle entry for one full day

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is what Parks Canada calls their year-long (365 days from the purchase date), multi-park entry pass. This pass will give 365 days of access to all participating national parks in Canada. This includes the most popular parks like Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and so much more.

  • Adult (age 18-64) – $72.25 CAD
  • Senior (64+) – $61.75 CAD
  • Group/Family (up to 7 people in one vehicle) – $145.25 CAD

Hot Tip: Although more expensive up front, if you plan on spending more than 7 days in different parks in Canada within a 12-month period, then the Discovery Pass is actually the better deal!

Parks Canada Passes can be bought online here or at one of the Visitor Centers or booths at the entrance to many national parks.

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is memorizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Related Read: Another popular destination in Alberta in December is Calgary – read all about it!

Before you go…

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie at Consolation Lakes in Canada
Thanks for reading!

Banff is such a beautiful place to stay, visit, and explore. And visiting it during the winter, especially in December, it’s simply magical. There are so many fun outdoor activities to try, as well as fun seasonal events.

I hope this list helps you plan an awesome vacation to Banff in December! No matter how you spend the day, I know you’ll love it here!

If you found this blog helpful, be sure to check out the rest of my blogs about Banff, Jasper, and Canada in general. Some you might particularly like are:

The Perfect 1, 2, or 3 Day Banff Itinerary

ULTIMATE Guide to Visiting Jasper in December

What to do in Calgary in Winter

Guide to Visiting Revelstoke in December